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Monthly Archives: March 2017

Five stars or none: my review ratings explained.

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I thought I’d better post this before it’s time for my March reviews (coming soon, of course).

Whilst sharing my monthly reviews with you I’ve been wondering what makes me really love some books. I often read books, even those written by friends, which are fine – no criticism – but which don’t attract my five star rating. Not because they’re badly written. Not because there’s anything wrong with them. Because they aren’t exactly right for me. So what is?

To begin with, my five star book has to have impeccable grammar. If the writer uses things like fragmented sentences they have to know what they’re doing and break the rules carefully, showing quite clearly that they know the rules in the first place and are breaking them for special effects. I can easily be ‘thrown’ by dangling participles for example, though I usually have no objection to prepositions at the ends of sentences.

Then there’s the structure of the writing. (I’ll come to plot later.) Repetition annoys me, whether it’s repeated adjectives or repeated information. It’s acceptable in dialogue where it might relate to a character’s speech patterns, but not elsewhere. Too much use of flashbacks annoys me. Flashbacks can be interesting but for me, they need to be used very sparingly and I need very clear signals that the section is not in the same ‘timeline’ as the main story. The same applies to recounts, where you find out what is going on through a letter, a phone call or a character spending time bringing everybody up to date. Changes of point of view have to be shown quite clearly, preferably by an extra line break or a new chapter. I recently mentioned Joanna Trollope, who switches point of view in the middle of paragraphs. Ugh! Information dumps are occasionally necessary but should be punctuated with action. Even in a long serious lecture real people move, cough, look out of the window etc. Characters should do this too. It’s almost unbearable when characters ‘tell’ other characters what they should know already, presumably so that the reader will be better informed. There are other ways to educate the reader. I like plenty of dialogue but find it hard to cope with the way some authors try to use a different way of saying ‘he/she said’ with every line. The word ‘said’ doesn’t shout at the reader and provided it’s occasionally changed to ‘asked’ or similar, the dialogue flows smoothly. There are better ways to tell us the character was shouting or laughing than to use these verbs instead of ‘said’.

I can accept typos as long as they aren’t frequent. There are some mainstream publishers who seem to expect their authors to do all their own proof reading and even writers like Terry Pratchett and Robin Hobb are not immune. But provided the typos are few and far between, I’m just sympathetic. Sympathy takes a nose dive when it comes to an inability to recognise homonyms and an obvious reliance on a spell checker to catch them, which it can’t. Similarly, I object when writers use long words and choose the wrong ones. Again, spell checkers are not the best judges of this. You need to know what you’re doing before you use a spell checker in much the same way that it’s better to have some kind of grounding in arithmetic before using a calculator.

I personally dislike books that can’t make their minds up about style. Some highly respected writers (e.g. Hilary Mantel) move from first to third person, from plain narrative to a kind of screenplay, etc. in an effort to retain the attention of the reader. It doesn’t do anything for me other than irritate me although I know some critics regard the practice with awe. I am less concerned about the type of admonitions given in books such as the Chicago Manual. To begin with, novels are not journalism, which is what the Manual was always intended for. Also, if you look at almost any page in any of the classics or modern classics (e.g. Lord of the Rings)the Chicago Manual and its advice (or the equivalent when the book was written) has been, thankfully, ignored. The past tense, formed using ‘was’, is sometimes essential. Adverbs have an important part to play in description. Etc. I do not want my fiction (or serious non-fiction) written in journalese.

I also find it almost impossible to read long stories in present tense. There is a growing tendency to use it. I think it’s some kind of effort to make text resemble the way films give us an immediate look at what is happening. I can read it when the writing is a very short story but anything longer and I get quite stressed at the immediacy and would truly rather keep it for films! Short passages in e.g. a crime story can be effective, provided they really are short and the writer reverts to past or narrative tense as soon as possible. When people are talking about something that happened to them, even recently, they usually use the past narrative tense. Present tense tends to be used only by people who have a poorer command of language and this is another reason I think the practice annoys me when used for characters who are clearly reasonably well educated within their ‘world’.

I also find it quite difficult to read sustained passages in italics. Sometimes authors use italics for e.g. letters but I always hope they won’t be long. I find italics visually disturbing (perhaps the very reason we use them for emphasis) and always wish I could easily change the font of the text as well as the size.

The formatting has to be reasonable. I abandoned a book in March because it had line breaks after every two lines and I simply couldn’t concentrate.

So – impeccable grammar and excellent style, with my own personal quirks attended to. I need these, and quite often I can tell within a page or so whether I’m going to get them. If one is missing, the book can still hold my attention because of the content or something else I appreciate. (With Trollope it’s her descriptions and her witty ways of expressing characters’ opinions.) Having got those or most of those, there’s the question of content.

I like well developed characters who appeal to me from the start. I’m never attracted to characters I would not like to meet in real life and don’t much enjoy reading a story told from the point of view of a villain or even someone I just disapprove of. I accept that such writing might be clever and interesting – admirable, even. All I’m saying is that it isn’t to my taste. So if, for example, a crime story starts with a look at the crime from the point of view of the criminal, I’m quite likely to abandon it without caring whether they are caught or not. I want to know the feelings of the victim or of the investigator from the beginning. This is not quite as much of a problem in fantasy or romance, of course, though there may well be e.g. romantic detective stories I have not read because of this type of introduction.

Sometimes, characters just bore me, and if after a few pages I couldn’t care less what happens to them, that’s also a signal to give up. I’m sure there are other readers who would follow their adventures with eagerness and it isn’t a criticism, just an observation that is more about me than about the writer. I find it very hard (though not impossible) to get interested in vampires, ancient Egypt, medical and technical research, or high school and college students so books about any of those have to try harder to ‘hook’ me.

My favourite characters live on in my head long after their ‘story’ has finished and I admire the writers who can create these new fictional friends for me. Sometimes I will turn to fanfiction, my own or that of other writers, to explore the further adventures of characters I love.

Once we have characters who have ‘hooked’ me we reach plot. I hate plot holes with a really fierce hatred. I have read crime stories published by the big mainstream publishers where questions are raised and never answered or where I can see the flaws in the information given. I have read fantasy or sci-fi where the basic premise of the story or world is never properly explained. I have read romances where the ‘chemistry’ between the main characters is not obvious, or not obvious enough to explain their apparent passion. In all genres there are stories where events clearly couldn’t happen the way they’re described. I know I once wrote a story where a minor character could not possibly have been where I said they were at the time stated. I caught the error and if I hadn’t my editor would have done, I hope. It’s easily enough done, but it certainly throws me out of the story and I find it hard to get back in. The same applies to other types of incorrect information. I remember reading a historical romance set in the time of the Borgias and based on some real characters. As soon as the writer had chocolates served at a party I lost all trust in her and never regained it. (Whilst chocolate arrived from South America at the end of the Middle Ages, chocolates, in the form of sweets as opposed to the drink, were not created till much later). This need for correct information is just as strong in fantasy and sci-fi. Good writers build a fictional world and must stick to the ‘rules’ they themselves lay down, whether those refer to our reality or another. And of course their editors must be aware of the pitfalls. I personally gave up on writing about a world with two moons because I couldn’t get my head round the difference this would make to things like tides and seasons.

So my favourite writers have a grasp of language and style that appeals to me. They introduce characters I can’t bear to leave. Their plots are handled deftly and I can trust their information.

Finally, they need an underlying message I can relate to though I don’t want to be preached at and I don’t enjoy fiction that is just a vehicle for pushing an agenda – I’d rather read non-fiction for that, and I probably read as much non-fiction as fiction, if not more. Non-fiction also needs good language and style as well as trustworthy information. Info dumps are slightly more acceptable but there are still ways of splitting text into manageable portions.

I want to read things that agree with my world view. I am aggressively anti-racist, anti-sexist, anti-homophobic, etc. I accept that other people will have different religious and political views but don’t want their beliefs pushed at me. I believe in human rights for everyone. I don’t expect all the characters to agree with me but the overall tenor of the book should be acceptable. I know that horrific acts take place in our world and am interested (though not happy) to read about them in non-fiction but would prefer my fiction to have less of a focus on the gory, the depressing, etc. unless I can be assured of a happy ending. Escapist? Up to a point – the point where my fiction and non-fiction reading diverge.

For example, a pair of books I read about a year ago one after the other were The Spanish Holocaust by Paul Preston and Too Many Fairy Princes by Alex Beecroft. The Preston book dealt in horrendous detail with the Spanish Civil War and I was mesmerised, distressed and interested enough to seek out more books on the subject. Alex Beecroft’s fantasy, whilst it did deal with a kind of civil war in a fae kingdom, gave me romance, beauty and hope, a sort of counterpoint to the realities of Franco’s regime.

I rarely read books in the same genre without a hiatus to read something else. When I give something five stars I really really mean it! Any flaws at all lead to a four star rating. Books that are good enough in their way, possible even excellent for other readers, and quite often technically good get three. Then there are those with two (lots and lots of flaws but I carried on reading) and one (dire). An abandoned book might not mean any flaws at all, just that the book wasn’t to my taste. I abandon books that don’t interest me after a very short trial. I give five start rating to books I would absolutely recommend and those vary enormously.

To sum up:

Five stars: I adored it and would recommend it highly
Four stars: I liked it and would recommend it but there are criticisms
Three stars: fine but not really my ‘thing’ – neutral about recommendations and suggest readers look at the blurb.
Two stars: fascinating enough to finish but exasperating because of all its flaws; not really recommended
One star: dire. (I rarely finish a one star book but some short stories fall into this category)
Abandoned: abandoned (!) and that could be either content or style. As with three stars, read the blurb.

 
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Posted by on March 30, 2017 in personal, reviews

 

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February Reviews (late)

I forgot to post these and we’ve nearly reached April and the March ones.

I’ll use my star system – five for excellent, four for good with flaws, three for OK, two for not recommended, and one for dire.  I’ll post at greater length about my ratings another time.

February television: series and films:

A million ways to die in the west ***** Hilarious and thought provoking. I loved this, with its amusing yet gripping plotline and its subtle commentary on America past and present.

Elementary (pilot)*** Well, it was watchable and if it was on at a friend’s house I wouldn’t look away, but I was disappointed. I thought it tried so hard to make itself thoroughly ‘transformative’ that it lost sight of the original concept.

The world’s most extraordinary homes (4 episodes)**** I enjoyed this series but admit to having fallen asleep once or twice. I adored the house built into one of NZ’s protected forests and was fascinated by the underground homes. Some of the others worried me because I thought the architects had not considered what might happen if the owners were permanently or temporarily disabled – or their visitors or families were. There is perhaps something to be said for the EU rules on making all new buildings accessible to those in wheelchairs.

The great interior design challenge ***** I don’t often watch ‘reality’ TV but this series had me absolutely gripped. Interior design is something that really interests me and I got completely caught up in the designs and in the competition element. I knew only one person could win but I was slightly disappointed – I would have voted for the other finalist. An added bonus was the information about the various types of houses the competitors were assigned with some history of the areas.

Sherlock season 4*** I didn’t enjoy this at all. No criticism of the actors who did really well and were worth watching. I didn’t like the way it strayed so far from the original idea into fairly gruesome and unpleasant territory and into realms where I found it hard to suspend disbelief. Initially I disliked the emphasis on Mary’s past as a spy, then towards the end of the series I disliked the new discovery of the female Holmes. In so many crime shows recently (Whitechapel, Ripper Street, Hawaii 5.0) the focus has switched from the cases and the methods used to solve them and homed in on the lives of the main characters. The change of emphasis doesn’t appeal to me. That isn’t saying it’s either good or bad – just that it isn’t for me.

Books – I’ll comment properly on the four and five star ones. 17 this month if I ignore some I quickly abandoned because they just weren’t of interest to me. I haven’t included  abandoned titles in this list because it isn’t fair to authors who might be perfectly good if their stuff is what you’re looking for.

Five on Brexit Island/Bruno Vincent*** (humour) OK but not very funny.

Just Stay/Aria Grace*** (m/m romance) OK but I wouldn’t bother with any more by the author. The writing is fine, but the plot is ultimately forgettable.

So this is Christmas/Josh Lanyon**** (m/m romance/crime) A lovely addition to the Adrien English series, which all fans thought was over. But even after the guys get together, there are crimes to be solved. And some of them happen at Christmas. This one is a missing persons case. Adrien and Jake are an interesting couple and the extended family adds to the feeling that these are real people. Recommended if you already know the series.

The Secret History of Fantasy/ed Peter S. Beagle**** (anthology with extra essays) Mixed quality, as most anthologies are. The essays, by Peter Beagle, Ursula Le Guin and David G. Hartwell talk about modern fantasy, its genesis, history, etc. and there seems to be a small amount of snobbery directed at the kind of fantasy that involves any kind of fae, though why, when they all approve of Tolkien, I have no idea. One of my all time favourite twisted fairy tales is in the book: Snow, Glass, Apples by Neil Gaiman, which turns Snow White on its head.

There are 19 stories altogether.

9 (incuding the Neil Gaiman) are good or excellent

7 are OK or interesting

3 were boring but well written

The Gaiman story was the only one I had seen before. Recommended if you’re interested in what I can only describe as alternative fantasy.

How it Works: The Dog/Jason Hazeley and Joel Morris ***** (humour) These Ladybird books for adults are hilarious and this one is no exception. The style and format are based on the Ladybird children’s books. Recommended for dog lovers.

The Complete Mary Berry Cookbook**** (cookery) I got this at a massively reduced price in Aldi and it was worth it. The recipes are good and so are the explanations about various techniques and ingredients. However, if I had paid full price I might have been annoyed. The editors (Dorling Kindersley) had made a lot of proofing errors, putting the wrong pictures with some recipes, and leaving out essential information for others. Nothing I can’t cope with but I’m a fairly experienced cook. I’m busy going through it again to note the recipes and tips I want to access quickly. Most of our good recipe books are in Portugal and it will be nice not to have to consult the laptop and then carry the info in my head to the kitchen!! Recommended for serious cooks but not for the beginners because the errors make some of it confusing. I should also perhaps say that yes, I read cookbooks cover to cover.

The Tales of Beedle the Bard/J.K.Rowling**** (fantasy) I’ve kept meaning to read this! It was very sweet though I like the commentaries on each tale, by Albus Dumbledore, better than the tales themselves. An interesting addition to the Potter pantheon and I was impressed that JKR could make me believe (whilst reading) that these were genuinely old tales. Recommended for HP fans.

I’m Watching You/Karen Rose**** (crime) I like Rose’s books – formulaic, yes, but gripping. The usual scenario – cop meets woman lawyer/teacher/etc in the course of a serial killer murder case and romance ensues. I found I’d read this before – the titles and blurbs tend to merge and my paperbacks are in Portugal. Last time, I see, I gave it five stars – perhaps it wasn’t quite as exciting second time around because whilst I was still enjoying the story, I remembered who the villain was. Recommended for anyone who enjoys crime/romance. However, I will only now be buying this author in second hand bookshops. The Kindle price, let alone the hard and paper back versions, is prohibitive. I have one more on my Kindle which I will probably read soon.

Faery Born/Donna Joy Usher**** (fantasy) A witch discovers she is half fae and that she’s good at fighting. She joins the border guards to protect both peoples from goblins. There is also a budding romance with a fairy prince. Well written and a fresh approach to both fae and witches, but although it’s the first in a trilogy I won’t be buying the others because there is too much fighting for me and I can do with slightly less gore in my escapist fiction – goblin brains over breakfast don’t altogether appeal. However, if bloody battles are your thing and you like feisty heroines and fantasy, I can recommend this.

Once upon a dream/Megan Derr**** (m/m fantasy/short stories)This is a collection of the author’s short twisted fairy tales written at various times in her career. Some are excellent and others are boring. Like JKR Derr has captured the ‘voice’ of old fairy stories and when the tales are good, they’re captivating. Recommended for readers who like to see fairy tales given a new look.

The Sinclair Selkie/Chris Quinton**** (m/m fantasy romance) Well, obviously, a story in which human meets selkie. There’s a mystery, too, and the whole plot is excellent. However, as with another friend’s selkie story, (Priddy’s Tale by Harper Fox). I was disappointed not to learn more about the kingdom under the sea. I shouldn’t really criticise either of them for that – these were the stories the authors wanted to tell – but for me personally, this lost a star for the omission. Recommended for anyone who likes the Scottish Isles and selkies.

Half Broke/AE Wasp**** (m/m romance) This is part of a series about military veterans and it explores issues of PTSD among those returning from war and those who have had trauma in their lives at home. Set on a ranch with some nice minor characters including some interesting children. Recommended but I’m not sure I’ll be following the series and indeed another story set in the same series was one I abandoned as being so impenetrably American that it was not really accessible for non US readers.

Next of Kin/Joanna Trollope**** (family story/modern fiction) I wasn’t going to read this but it was in the same hardback as the other book of hers I read last month. Again, the writing is beautiful – superb descriptions, well developed characters, interesting turns of phrase, etc. etc. But again, the plot just doesn’t exist. The characters react to a death in the family in various ways. That’s it. I don’t totally regard this as a novel because it has very little in the way of beginning, middle and end, it relies on flashbacks and some confusing changes of viewpoint, and is more of a portrait of a family than a story. I gave it four stars for the writing, but I’m not sure I should recommend it.

The Challenging Behaviours Pocketbook/Fintan O’Regan***** (psychology/education) This was a refreshing book. It spent very little time on the causes of challenging behaviour but actually described examples and suggested sensible ways to deal with it. I really feel it ought to be required reading for the staff at my grandson’s current school. Recommended.

Lessons in Love/Charlie Cochrane***** (m/m romance/crime/historical) I realised I hadn’t read any of Charlie’s books and in fact had mixed her up with another author. As she’s a friend on DW, WordPress and FB (and might be reading this) I thought I should rectify the matter. I adored this book. It’s set in Cambridge where two academics in the first years of the twentieth century get drawn into investigating crime, and into each other’s lives. The characters are wonderful, the mystery and conclusion are satisfying, and the historical element is interesting. The very best thing is that this is the start of a long series so I have lots more pleasure to come. Charlie was published by Samhain, who have just closed, but I managed to get the first eight books before they disappeared. Apparently they are to re-appear either with another publisher or self published. Highly recommended.

Wanted, A Gentleman/KJ Charles***** (m/m romance/historical) I loved this. The story is a regency romance that turns regency romances upside down with one of the main characters a freed slave and the other a disgraced writer. Apart from the characters, who are interesting and let the author explore concepts of how much we owe to other people and why, and the meaning of freedom, the story is a standard one of an eloping heiress and attempts to prevent her marriage at Gretna Green. One friend who is a reviewer on Goodreads thought it was too short but I enjoyed it very much. I like all KJ Charles’ writing because she invariably casts new light on the society her characters are inhabiting. Recommended for anyone who enjoys regency romance.

St Nacho’s/ZA Maxfield***** (m/m romance) A gorgeous romance which also manages to explore the psychology of addiction, of guilt, and of different kinds of love. I got it as a ‘freebie’ and wasn’t expecting too much but it was one of my favourite books of the month. Highly recommended.

Fanfic – a good haul of ‘keepers’ this month.

I’ve given a rough wordcount so that you know whether or not you’d have time to read them! They’re all on AO3. No ratings – I only tell you about five star fics. I’ve also given the URLs. Guests are welcome to read on the Archive though some authors have disabled guest comments. If you like the story you can still leave kudos.

The Last Shreds of Autumn/merripestin (Lord of the Rings) 16k Frodo/Sam. The story takes place in the ‘gaps’ of canon, starting in Rivendell. Beautifully told and very plausible.

http://archiveofourown.org/works/366658/chapters/595983

My Time/Pale Rider (The Professionals) 58k This is essentially a ‘prison fic’ exploring issues about prison. Doyle is in prison after his (canon) trial – he doesn’t escape a sentence. So we see the British prison system through his eyes. The slash is minimal and serves as a background rather than a main part of the story. Blink and you’ll miss it. Very well researched and extremely thought-provoking.

http://archiveofourown.org/works/8878033

Oak and Mistletoe/HildyJ (The Hobbit) 55k An AU in which Smaug never took Erebor. Prince Thorin comes to Bilbo as a last resort. Bilbo is a healer or wiseman, and Thorin is seeking a cure for an inability to use his senses. A nicely told story, with a long build-up to romance. There are a couple of short sequels on AO3

http://archiveofourown.org/works/3674136/chapters/8123694

They Do That Sometimes/nagi_schwarz (Stargate Atlantis, Stargate SG1) 8k John’s nieces are kidnapped and the team goes into action, helped by Daniel Jackson. Exciting and ‘different’. An m/m element is present but only as background and there is no explicit romance.

http://archiveofourown.org/works/8883298

Rich and Strange/hedda62 (Lewis) 18.5k A gripping case fic with a first time romance blossoming at the same time. The story is very loosely based on concepts in The Tempest, and there are lots of Shakespearean and other literary references to intrigue the reader.

http://archiveofourown.org/works/482648

Next month (which is approaching rapidly), I hope to be more organised and do reviews at the beginning, after which I hope I can keep it up all year!

 
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Posted by on March 24, 2017 in reviews

 

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March

It didn’t come in like a lamb or a lion.

More like a skittish goat, or a March hare

ready to box for domination.

Or perhaps a polar bear

exploring tentatively

south of the ice cap

but prowling,

not roaring,

quiet to lull

the unsuspecting population.

…………………………………….

Strong gusts

came without warning,

amid snow, frost, hot sun.

Not so much

global warming

as severe change

and a dizzying sense

of doom.

…………………………………..

Spring leapt into action:

cherry blossom, daffodils,

crocus, forsythia

and even, on the south coast

rumours of magnolia

and then

it snowed again.

…………………………………….

It wasn’t friendly snow.

It didn’t fall softly overnight.

The children never got

to build a snowman or sledge

down a slope of white.

It snarled the traffic

(and the flower buds)

then crept away

before anyone could play.

………………………………….

If the lion and the lamb

are absent,

unaccountably diverted or delayed

will the month depart

soft with Easter chicks and rabbit kits

or will

high winds from the north pole

shatter the world apart?

Whatever looms I think

most will be glad when this March

is spent.

………………………………………

Can anyone tell me how to get WordPress to accept line breaks between verses? I have edited and edited until I’m blue in the face and eventually settled for lines of dots. It only behaves like this when it senses poetry!!

 
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Posted by on March 18, 2017 in poetry

 

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Brexit

I haven’t said much about Brexit, on any of my social media platforms, though I’ve reposted things on FB. However, today made me feel I should make my feelings very clear, if only for the sake of showing solidarity with others I know who feel likewise.

I am personally distressed by the idea of leaving Europe. I have always felt European first, Brit second and English trailing last. My family were proud of their connections with Scotland, Ireland and France. My husband’s mother was German. We own a house in Portugal. We have close friends (and some family) in Germany, France, Spain and Portugal. Needless to say I voted to join the EU in the first place and thought that the membership would be forever.

As well as my personal feelings I believe that a strong EU is our best defence against the threats of political movements such as neo-fascism and the safest way for our industries (such as they still are) to prosper. There are other important considerations like pan-European research projects which affect industry, universities and medical advances. The EU has helped us to make huge strides in areas like the environment, protection for women, for workers, etc. Whilst there is some vague reassurance that laws will simply be re-enacted so that they are Brit laws instead of EU ones, there has to be some doubt, too. Even though Britain helped to develop the European Human Rights Act it had to be dragged kicking and screaming through the courts to keep some of the provisions.

Brexit made me cry, on and off, for about a month. I am personally afraid for more than just my feelings of being European. I am worried about our second home, about the stuff we invariably cart to and fro ranging from wine and oranges from Portugal to marmite and cheddar cheese from UK. I am worried about our Portuguese bank account. I am worried about our Portuguese car, about the rates on our house, about the cost of travel to and fro, of insurance, and about medical reciprocity between here and there. I can’t make any plans or decisions because it will take two years (at least) before we know the details of the break-up.

But this is pure selfishness compared with the situation facing some of my friends. Some examples:

*how will this affect someone with a UK passport living in Germany with a German partner, children and grandchildren? And the woman in The Netherlands who is divorced but works there full time and has two children in higher education?

*how will this affect people with businesses in Europe – things they invested in in good faith whilst retaining their UK passports? One lot are both Brit, another is half Brit and half Maltese. How can they plan their businesses sensibly?

*what happens to couples of mixed nationality – a Brit guy with a Belgian partner living in Portugal and working in both Portugal and Belgium?

*how does someone involved in research at a UK uni seek either European co-operation or funding, or for that matter offers of career advancement if they aren’t UK passport holders?

*what happens to the European guy brought over here to work by his firm – in good faith on everyone’s part – who uprooted his family and settled here – when he is asked to leave, or when his firm gives up and leaves, uprooting him again?

They aren’t all retirees sunning themselves on the Costa del Sol, but even if they were, they went there in good faith (one such couple I know are retired after a lifetime of service in the RAF) and now their pensions, their healthcare, their property rights etc. are all at risk.

All the above are very real people and are my friends – people who really matter to me.

Then there are the Leave voters who tell us it will all be all right in the end. And accuse us of being Remoaners. Even, in once case, telling us we should remove ourselves to Portugal and not return. Goodness knows what they’re saying to my friends who are not UK passport holders.

Today saw two last straws.

First of all, there was a campaign leaflet through the door for the Greater Manchester mayoral election. Not related to Brexit? Bear with me.

We were asked, some time ago, to vote on whether the ‘satellite’ boroughs around Manchester should be more closely connected with Manchester city, with a mayor. The consultation and vote were expensive (paid for by our local taxes). All the boroughs, Trafford, Stockport, Wigan, Oldham, Bury, Tameside, etc. etc. with a variety of political leaders heading their councils and some wildly varying styles, campaigned and the vote was overwhelmingly against the whole idea. A resounding NO. We celebrated, right and left alike. Nobody wanted closer contact with Manchester city which has very little in common with the outlying towns. We did not want the expense of another tier of government, especially one so diluted and so difficult to tailor to fit all. The government shrugged and said that our expensive vote was not binding and they would go ahead anyway. After a democratic vote the ‘will of the people’ was completely discounted and we are now having an expensive campaign (paid for by our local taxes) for a mayor nobody wants at all. The front runners appear to be a right wing councillor who might, for all I know, be fine in his borough but has no connection with ours, and a left wing politician who is ambitious but not particularly connected with Manchester at all.

So I am pretty cynical about anything that involves ‘the will of the people’. Politicians of every hue will carry on with their own agenda regardless. It’s very nice for them and for their supportive media, if a popular vote happens to coincide with that.

Which brings me to the media. I have been shocked by the politics of hate promulgated by some of our press and have joined the Stop Funding Hate campaign. I am quite certain the constant diatribes of some newspapers contributed to a great deal of hate crime and the death of Jo Cox. I have just been shopping and looked at the headlines on display as I left the supermarket.

I think the Daily Fail surpassed itself and its headline encapsulated a great deal of what is wrong.

In response to Ms Sturgeon’s application to hold a second Scottish referendum the Fail says:

Keep your hands off our Brexit, Nicola.

You mean we aren’t dragging Scotland along with us into this mess?? And Ireland? And the rest of Europe? And people who couldn’t vote because they didn’t have UK passports or had lived outside UK too long?

Our Brexit? Not mine. I am ashamed of my country.

 
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Posted by on March 14, 2017 in personal, protest

 

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Monthly reviews


Since I’ve been subjecting my social media friends on Dreamwidth and LiveJournal to reviews which have sparked interesting conversations, I thought I’d post them here too. Of course, I’m now running to catch up because the end of January and even the end of February are well behind us, but by the end of this month I’ll be in sync with my other blogs. Providing them with reviews was a commitment to a new year’s resolution.

Let’s see how long I can keep it up…

I’ll list the books I’ve read each month but will only review in depth the ones I either adored or think are important. I’ll include long fanfic that I think deserves to be read. I’ll also mention films, plays and TV series but only when they’re over, and again, only the things that mattered to me.

Reading first.

The excellent:

The Folklore of Discworld/Terry Pratchett and Jacqueline Simpson
A fantastic look at the Discworld myths, legends and superstitions, comparing them with their earth counterparts. Quite informative about earth and very funny about Discworld. The co-author is a folklore specialist. Lots of explanation as to where Pterry found some of his inspiration and a great deal of tongue-in-cheek research about cross-cultural fertilisation between here and there.

Hexbreaker/Jordan L.Hawk
I quite liked her Widdershins books and expected to be mildly entertained – and then was blown away. She creates an early twentieth century alternative New York with shape shifters and witches as ‘normal’ elements in the population and puts them in an m/m crime story. Lovely writing and I really hope that there’s going to be a series, which is her usual m.o. I desperately want to leave a review somewhere but know I didn’t buy it on Amazon. I can’t work out where I did get it but strongly suspect somewhere like All Romance which of course is now scattered to the winds. Any advice?

Brexit: What the hell happens now?/Ian Dunt
Useful book which doesn’t so much bemoan leaving as explore what could happen next. Pulls together all the threads we’ve been getting in the news and presents them along with credible alternative scenarios stretching years ahead. Frightening and serious but contains advice both for politicians and protesters.

Pwning Tomorrow/ed EFF
25 stories – speculative fiction based around modern technology and where it might lead. Like most anthologies, this is mixed but I think everyone would find at least some stories that would appeal. I got it as a freebie because I’m a member of Electronic Frontier Foundation but they ask people to spread the word so if you want to give it a try, donate at https://supporters.eff.org/donate/pwning-tomorrow

Monks and Wine/Desmond Seward
We got this very cheaply and it’s out of print but there are some sensible offers on Amazon. I would recommend it highly. The book traces the influence of monasteries on viticulture and along the way describes the various areas, buildings, etc. and gives the non-Catholic reader (like me) a useful amount of information about things like the differences between monks, friars, etc. and their history. It was published in 1979 so the final chapter: ‘Monks and wine today’ is perhaps less inspiring than the rest because obviously a lot will have happened since then!

My Lady Dis/ChibiMethos
Gorgeous fanfic (http://archiveofourown.org/works/1401862). The story is now in my head canon and bridges the gap between The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings. Dain invites Dis to join the rest of the family (what’s left) in Erebor and on the way she has to pass through Mirkwood. Thranduil comes himself to escort her and brings Tauriel who had a baby by Kili (so film canon, not book) and therefore considers herself a widow. The women bond, the baby is wonderful, and Thranduil ends up in love with Dis. All perfectly believable and romantic without being over sweet. Beautifully written and a lovely long story (51,426) that unfolds slowly with lots of diversions and extras. I suppose it’s het romance, which doesn’t always appeal to me, but the culture clash of elves and dwarves made it instantly intriguing.

The reasonable:

The Modern Natural Dyer/Kristine Vejar
Interesting and useful.

Dead in L.A./Lou Harper
M/m crime. Quite well done and readable.

The Best of Friends/Joanna Trollope
I like her writing, her world building and her characterisation but deplore her plots.

Needing A Little Christmas/Silvia Violet
Pleasant and nicely written m/m Christmas romance.

Fractured Hymns/A.M.Arthur
Competent exploration of PTSD in an m/m romance context.

Neurocomic/Farinella and Ros
Beautifully drawn and produced ‘comic’ exploring the brain.

And two to avoid:

Incognito/L.A.Watson
Rather confusing and badly put together m/m crime story. I am still not sure who anybody worked for or what happened.

A Matter of Scale/Jonathon Burgess
The cover and blurb of this freebie were delightful – a wizard takes on a litter of baby dragons. Very short, badly formatted, and not terribly well written. Plus, he only really takes them on at the end.

So – 13 published books and about the same number of fanfics though only one is mentioned here.

Screen and stage.

We went to The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Night Time.

The National Theatre production finally left London (well, no, it’s still in London till summer but the tour started) and came on tour, starting in Salford at The Lowry. Simon Stephens, who adapted Mark Haddon’s book for the stage, came from Stockport so is a ‘local lad’. The Lowry was a great venue to start the tour. Local/regional TV made the most of it! Bruce McGregor, one of the (new) touring cast, is a close friend and near neighbour of ours – he had been regaling us throughout rehearsal time (which was in London) with dire tales of ‘bootcamp’ and various injuries. The performance is amazing – lots of exciting sound and light to show us neurotypicals how Christopher experiences the world, and lots of strenuous work by the actors who literally throw and carry Christopher around. I had already watched a programme about the adaptation and staging and was fascinated by the end result.

Highly recommended if it comes to a theatre near you. The only downside was the cost. After paying for three of us (husband, daughter and me), plus car parking, plus programme, plus pre-show drinks (beer and ginger beer so nothing spectacular) we felt we might need to take out a mortgage. And we didn’t go for the expensive seats – Bruce had warned us that you actually get a better view of all the movement from high above.

Then we went to Alice In Wonderland at Hyde Festival Theatre.

This was adapted for the stage by a couple of local writers/producers/directors and performed by a cast drawn from a local amateur theatre group working with a local children’s drama academy. The adaptation was excellent. The show was full of music and clever lighting, with some stunning choreography, dance sequences and costumes. I just wish whoever taught the children to move so well had taken the time to train them to speak a little more slowly and facing the audience. One or two were ‘naturals’ but the majority were inaudible. However, the story was carried bravely by the adult actors and the whole evening was very enjoyable. The entire event, including a programme, only cost two of us the price of one seat at The Lowry (and parking was free).

We went with some friends, one of whom is a pianist who works closely with the local theatre group. His wife was, like me, a teacher, and remembers teaching one of the writers/producers at primary school. She said that in those days he was hopeless and nobody thought he’d ever amount to anything. How wrong can schools be??!!

I’ve already posted about my reactions to To Walk Invisible, the BBC film about the Brontë Sisters. It was one of my TV highlights for January.

The series that had me hooked all January was Class, the Doctor Who spin-off which was totally gripping. It was broadcast two hour-long episodes at a time, starting at 10.30 on a Monday night and given very little publicity. I have not seen it mentioned once online and am wondering if I was the only one to see it? (And adore it.) If it’s still on iPlayer or if it’s repeated and you get the chance… It’s all set in Coal Hill Academy where Clara taught, and a group of sixth formers have to battle aliens. One of them is, in fact, an alien and he is in love with another of the group, a Polish boy. One of the teachers is an alien, too and then there’s the new headmistress. The Doctor did try to rescue things at the start but then went off in his Tardis and left them to it. There is to be another season but it won’t make much sense unless you saw this one.

I watched The Real Marigold Hotel On Tour (in USA and Japan) and The Real Marigold Hotel (in India) and was fascinated both by the cultures they explored and by the celebrity pensioners themselves. They (and their needs and beliefs) seemed about as alien to me as the places they visited did to them. It was all worthwhile for the in depth look at ordinary life in Japan and India.

I’ll be posting my February reviews in a day or two.

 
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Posted by on March 9, 2017 in reviews

 

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