Films and TV
Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell****
Two powerful magicians disagree about the way to practise magic in nineteenth century England. Their work for the government related to the Napoleonic wars is fascinating and leads to inevitable comparisons with Temeraire by Naomi Novik. The descriptions of ‘fairyland’ or the lost lands are magical in themselves. I had read and loved the book by Susanna Clark and was looking forward to the TV series. Then I was away and unable to watch it. My daughter bought me the boxed set. I thought it was very well done with some excellent acting, and was very true to the book. However, the film version didn’t manage to include quite as much detail about either the magic or the characters as the book and I prefer the written story. The magical roads and the fae ball were beautifully presented but every time they appeared we saw the same stairs and rooms. I would have liked more variety.
Secret Life of the Zoo****
The series ended with episode 7 in early April. Watching the animals at Chester Zoo as the keepers attempted to ensure mating and continuation of each species was fascinating and gave real insight into both animal behaviour and the reactions of those who work in conservation in any way. I found the entire series much more informative than the Spy in the Wild series that was supposed to be so ground-breaking. I think perhaps the animals at Chester were allowed to be simply themselves, without so much commentary and the viewer was able to make up their own mind. Beautifully filmed and presented. If they have another series next year, do try to watch!
Dr Who. The Pilot. ***
I watched the first episode of the new Dr Who season so at least I was introduced to the new companion. I have downloaded episode 2 to iPlayer but for some reason iPlayer is refusing to go completely full screen and I am finding myself reluctant to watch. There has been an episode 3 since then, too. I like Peter Capaldi and quite like Bill, the companion. She breaks some new ground for the series, being lesbian and mixed race, and the actress does a very assured job.
Only eight finished this month and only three five star. I have been reading a lot of articles in various magazines (Searchlight, New Scientist and National Geographic) and avidly following some political commentators in The Guardian.
Lessons in Desire/Charlie Cochrane*****
This is the second in the Cambridge Fellows mysteries (early twentieth century m/m romance and crime) and it didn’t disappoint. Jonty and Orlando go on holiday to Jersey, a compromise because Jonty yearned after foreign travel while Orlando was worried about leaving Cambridge. Someone staying at their hotel is murdered and they get thoroughly involved in the case and with their fellow guests. The descriptions of Jersey were evocative, the banter and developing relationship between the sleuths are delicious, and the mystery is solved with a nice twist to the resolution. I have the rest of the series (so far) and will no doubt be reviewing one a month for a while. Highly recommended.
Inheritance is a series by Amelia Faulkner. I got the first book free and having read it instantly ordered the sequel.
Jack of Thorns***** introduces us to Laurence, a psychic who is also an ex drug addict, and his new boyfriend Quentin, a British aristocrat who is fleeing his family. The characters are interesting, and the tension is gripping, both between the men and between Laurence and other men and supernatural beings. Quentin has unresolved issues that he has blocked from his mind and these make the romance proceed at a snail’s pace. At first I couldn’t quite believe in Quentin because he didn’t sound like any Brit aristocrat I’ve ever met (and I’ve met a lot) but I gradually accepted his quirks, particularly the language quirks, in view of what we learnt about his childhood.
Knight of Flames*****develops Quentin’s point of view, and his own psychic abilities, further and like the first book, has a mystery and crime element that at times keep the reader on the edge of the seat.
Lord of Ravens**** sees Laurence learning to harness his magical skills in order to protect and avenge Quentin. Quentin’s father emerges as the true villain of the series. I enjoyed the book but the series is rapidly getting too far into the realms of pagan deities for me personally. The books are extremely well written with great character development and I have bought book four. I have no idea if it’s the final in the series. I want to know what happens to the main characters and their families and friends but would only recommend the series to people who enjoy a lot of pagan mythology brought to life in modern America and Britain. If you do, this is for you.
Enemies of the State (Book 1) by Tal Bauer****
I absolutely loved this at first. It’s an espionage thriller with an m/m romance central to the story, set in the White House, in the style of The West Wing (a series I adored). However, by the end, the romance had become almost too good to be true and I may not buy the sequel. The writing is excellent.
Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone/JKR/Jim Kay****
I have read all the Harry Potter books and admire JKR for the way she has encouraged children to read huge chunks of unillustrated text. However, I find her writing rather flat and her characters somewhat stereotyped. I love the school, which reminds me of my own Brit boarding school with added magic, and I like the way the magic in the books is carefully explained and developed. But to be honest, I prefer the films. So, having said I think one of the strengths of the series is its lack of illustration, why did I read this? Well, Jim Kay has done a fabulous job of creating art that is incredibly detailed. Reading the story again with his pictures interspersed brings the story to life. And yes, so do the films, but this volume can be carted around, and you can spend a long time looking at the detail in each picture. I would recommend this for the art, if not altogether for the text.
The Jane Austen Book Club by Karen Joy Fowler***
This book took me ages. The characters meet to discuss Austen’s novels (which I like) but most of the book deals with their lives and loves. A lot of it is told in flashbacks which I often find annoying, and there is a faint mystery, never resolved, as to who the narrator is. Maybe each section has a different narrator? I didn’t like any of the characters enough to care much about their lives and got quite bored. It has had great reviews and I can’t really think why. The writing is competent enough but the plot is simply not very interesting.
A pleasant enough shifter novel; I finished this one, unlike the other shifter story I tried this month. Daciana is a nice heroine, working at an animal institute in Romania except on the full moon. However, the work is clearly part of a series and whilst there was enough information to make it unnecessary to have read previous volumes, the ending is abrupt and yet didn’t lead me to want to buy the next story. It also seemed to me that the entire story was written about somewhere in North America and arbitrarily transported to Romania, perhaps to increase sales. It was not clear why Connell, the lead cop and a potential boyfriend for Daciana, had a British accent. There was a mystery (kidnapped bear cubs) but although the first chapter dealt with a bear shifter we never saw him (or her) again.
Shift (Wolves of Hunters Rock Book 1) by Shelley Grayson
I abandoned this. I simply couldn’t bring myself to care about the characters but then I don’t read a lot of ‘shifter’ novels even though I like the concept.
My recommendations this month are for two stories that fall into the fairytale/myth category.
Po Pouli ‘A’aki (A Night So Dark It Bites With the Teeth) by Zolac_no_Miko*****
This is set in Hawaii 5.0 and is a Steve/Danny romance but mostly an action adventure with magic. I always liked the old show, not least for the Hawaiian locations, and started watching the new version with great interest. I gave up when it became clear that the characters’ stories were of more importance than Hawaii or the crime element. This story is set in Season 2 and the author bemoans the fact that the writers of the show stole her Hawaiian folklore. But really, if they wanted to make a Halloween episode they didn’t have too many other options and it was a great episode! This story is great, too. The case starts as a normal chase after a criminal and ends in some kind of other world version of the ‘big’ island. There is a lot about the regional legends and beliefs, and there are some lush descriptions of the local flora and fauna. I loved the way that like the detectives, the reader is drawn so gradually into believing in the magical and supernatural. The romance is mutual but unrequited until the very end. You can find it at http://archiveofourown.org/works/394451 and it is 36,975 words long.
Born of Mortal Flesh by anactoria*****
This is a story that is set in the Supernatural fandom and loosely follows The Ballad of Tam Lin. You don’t need to know the TV show though an acquaintance with the ballad might help. Dean, helping his father clear some magical artefacts, stumbles through a magic mirror into fairyland. He is befriended by a vampire who helps him escape and later returns to rescue his rescuer. There is a hint of m/m romance but nothing explicit. The story was written for a reverse big bang in which writers are given art around which they build their tale. The art in this case was created by a friend of mine, which is why I came across it and can be seen at The Raven Path by MistressKat at http://archiveofourown.org/works/10037438. The story is at http://archiveofourown.org/works/10034756 It is 27,745 words long.
For anyone who isn’t sure, you don’t have to be a member of the Archive to read stories stored there. Some authors don’t allow comments except from other account holders but if you enjoy what you read you can always leave kudos, which are much appreciated. The works can be downloaded in various formats and are, of course, free.