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February Reviews (late)

24 Mar

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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2 Comments

Posted by on March 24, 2017 in reviews

 

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2 responses to “February Reviews (late)

  1. gayflashfic

    March 25, 2017 at 12:55 am

    I love this idea of posting monthly reviews. Wow, amazed at how much you have read and seen. What do I do with my life?

    When you mentioned ‘Elementary’, did you mean the American Sherlock Holmes series? I quite enjoy that, although not sure if I have seen the pilot episode. I do think the Sherlock actor (Jonny Lee Miller) does a very good aspie Sherlock. (I don’t see why they needed to make Watson a woman. I mean, America! sheesh!).

    And speaking of Sherlock, your comments – within the British Sherlock review – in regards to how so many crime thriller shows these days seems to concentrate on the personal lives of the detectives and not on the crimes, I agree so much, and I just hate it. I don’t want to know about their personal lives. It is not relevant to the story. Sheesh! A background where they are happily married with a quirky wife, like in Midsomer Murders, works fine, keep it like that, we need no more! (shakes head in frustration).

    I’ll have to check out the books you mentioned. I’ve been stuck on reading Tolstoy. Enjoyably so.

     
  2. jaymountney

    March 25, 2017 at 9:20 am

    I do read a lot. I was going to say I don’t have a son to look after but actually, even when I had a child and was working full time, I read this much. I read whenever I’m waiting for anything – kettle to boil, tea or coffee to steep, dinner to cook – and have about three books on the go as a rule, one upstairs, one downstairs and one in my bag for the car/coffee shop/queue of any kind.

    Yes, I meant the American Elementary. I can see why they did it – they needed yet another ‘twist’ on the original book ‘canon’. But it struck me as artificial, and as I said, I’d watch if someone else had it on, but not otherwise. Good acting, yes, and good direction, but the concept left me less than inspired.

    I’m glad I’m not the only one to be exasperated by this new fashion of involving crime story characters in huge personal drama. It isn’t what I watch a crime show for! If I want drama, I’ll go to straightforward drama series which usually do it better, anyway. I think quite a lot of us feel this way and I really wonder why the writers and directors do it. After all, sometimes (Whitechapel) they then fail because the funding dries up, and sometimes (Sherlock) they seem to be painting themselves into a weird corner. They certainly lose my interest and I think I’m a fairly ‘normal’ viewer. I’m happy enough if the detective is the quirky one, not their spouse. I adore The Bridge (Swedish, with an autistic detective and if you haven’t seen it try to!!) and often some of the French and Danish ‘thrillers’ seem to have got it ‘right’.

    I’m not fond of Tolstoy – or any of the classic Russian authors, really. Distant admiration is about all I can manage. So it’s ages since I read any. Glad you’re enjoying your Tolstoy-fest!

     

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