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June reviews

I know, I know, I’ve been absent again. Well, this time it was due to iffy internet in Portugal. The guy at the PhoneHouse where we pay for our service said it would have been better if we’d bought the 4G hub instead of the 3G one but as there was no 4G when we bought it…

Anyway, access was erratic and actually trying to load anything anywhere was a step too far. Sorry! Have some reviews, and I have other posts ready to load over the next week or two.

Films and TV

I intended to watch various things but ended up spending the evenings outdoors. Absolutely nothing to report this month except that the moon was beautiful!

Books

The five star ones first – all highly recommended:

Lessons in Power/Charlie Cochrane*****

Lessons in Temptation/Charlie Cochrane*****

I am still working my way through the Cambridge Fellows Mysteries and loving each one in turn. There is a wonderful mix of period detail, m/m romance and intriguing crime. The characters (including some of the minor ones like the College Master’s sister, and Jonty’s father) develop more with each story which adds to the pleasure of these books.

Pressure Head/JL Merrow*****

Relief Valve/JL Merrow*****

Heat Trap/JL Merrow*****

This is the Plumber’s Mate series, set in St. Albans (though I suspect from poring over a map that some of the other locations are fictitious). Tom, a gay plumber. is a psychic who can find things (including corpses and leaks). Think Rivers of London style mixed with m/m romance and lots of humour. I’m thoroughly enjoying the series and am sad that there is only one more to go, so far as I know.

Nor Iron Bars A Cage/Kaje Harper*****

Excellent fantasy romance. Good magic and well developed main characters. Tobin (ex soldier and now royal messenger) takes Lyon, a sorcerer with a nightmare past, to help stop an invasion. (A freebie from Goodreads but apparently the author has other books which I must investigate.)

My Highland Cowboy/Alexa Milne*****

Duncan has a ranch in the highlands and Drew is a fashion designer in London. They bond over Drew’s sister’s wedding and then have to see if there’s any future for them. Whilst I don’t often give five stars to romance that doesn’t have something else going for it (crime, history, fantasy…) I was really gripped by the central concerns of this book and found all the characters, including the minor ones, intriguing.

An Unnatural Vice/KJ Charles*****

This is the second volume in the Sins of the City series and it was good to see some of the characters from the first story again and find out what was happening about the inheritance that formed the plot (and the crime/mystery) of the first. Victorian London is really well depicted. Another series that has crime and historical interest added to the m/m romance.

 

Then the four star books that were good but won’t have me rushing to find the next in the series.

Lars:Witches of London/ Aleksandr Voinov****

A well written romance with a lot of angst about illness and healing. Too much pagan religion for my taste though the details were interesting.

Bodyguard to a Sex God/RJ Scott****

Fanfic writers blur fic and reality and turn stalker. Good, though I guessed whodunnit before the end.

Guarding Morgan (Sanctuary 1)/RJ Scott****

Nice bodyguard story – too short for my taste and I won’t buy the rest of the series but would read if they were free.

The Cowboy and the Pencil Pusher/S.C.Wynne****

A banker helps to save a ranch (and its owners). Nicely done.

Regeneration/Louise Lyons****

Competent space romance including artificially enhanced humans, alien planets, space ships, etc. Nice concept and good writing but I wasn’t personally hooked by the main characters.

Sollicito/Charlie Cochrane****

Weresloth shifter story. Amusing and unusual.

Diversion/Eden Winters****

Competent ‘cop buddy’ tale with two guys who are in effect foxes set to guard the henhouse re drug diversion by big pharmaceuticals, but I wasn’t hooked by either character and I was a bit disappointed because I like this author’s style.

A Twist and Two Balls/Clare London****

Pleasant story about a ‘resting’ actor and his lawyer/cabbie boyfriend plus their friends who run an ice cream shop.

 

Three star. Well enough written but I had to try very hard to remember what it was about.

Nothing Special/A.E.Via***

Competent cop buddy story that initially hooked me but had too much sex that did nothing to further plot or character. God and Day were nice enough characters. Apparently a series…

 

Two star. Less than stellar, though some people might enjoy it.

A Place to Call Their Own/Dean Frech**

Two veterans of the civil war set out to claim a homestead together. Despite the excitement of Indians, tornadoes and fires, the book is boring – reads like a how-to manual on setting up a farm.

 

And this month, four I abandoned because they simply didn’t interest me after the first few pages. Remember, this doesn’t mean they’re bad books, just that they don’t appeal to me. If I think a book is actually bad (and sometimes I do) I’ll say so!

Aqua Follies/Liv Rancourt

A lifeguard to a synchronised swimming troupe falls for a musician from another act at the festival.

Breathe and Release/Katherine Hayton

A woman with amnesia and another imprisoned without any idea or where or why. There didn’t seem to be anything actually happening and the characters were not particularly appealing.

Helping Hand/Jay Northcote

A college story about friends becoming lovers.

Promises Kept: The Story of Number Two/Giacomo Giammatteo

A cop story about a woman who has faked an identity to enter the police force.

 

Fanfiction

Just one highly recommended story this month. Most of the others I read were very short ficlets and drabbles.

Rivers of Ankh-Morpork/melannen ***** http://archiveofourown.org/bookmarks/167187597

Rivers of London/Discworld. Gen. (No romance of any kind.) 6,380 words.

A brilliant crossover story in which Peter, from Rivers of London, is accidentally (or maybe on purpose) catapulted into the Discworld and has to find his way home with help from Vimes and others.

 

And yes, I read quite a lot. That happens when the internet is less than accessible!

 
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Posted by on July 8, 2017 in reviews

 

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May Reviews

I must apologise for my absence in May. We came to Portugal and although we have internet we have had very erratic bandwidth. WordPress in particular has been reluctant to open at all. So I had some posts ready but have utterly failed to bring them to you. Hopefully, June will be easier.

Films and TV

I didn’t actually watch any films in May. We followed the latest episodes of Dr Who – I still like Peter Capaldi as the Doctor and I quite like Bill as his companion. We also watched various documentaries about science, philosophy, history, etc. and they were enjoyable but there is nothing I feel impelled to recommend. Other viewing was mainly news and politics.

Books

Nothing dire but only four ‘highly recommended’.

A Worthy Man by Jaime Rees***** I love this Men of Halfway House series. This once deals in depth with car design, and as usual, explores miscarriages of justice and brings in the other characters from the previous books. I think that’s what makes the series so appealing; we follow the characters after their own ‘story’ is over. The romance can occasionally be a little too sweet and repetitive but the books are a good read.

Lessons in Discovery by Charlie Cochrane***** Another lovely episode in the Cambridge Fellows mystery series. This one sees the pair investigating a mediaeval murder on college premises using old manuscripts and dragging other members of the family into the case. There is also the angst associated with illness for both the main characters, and their private misfortunes are as gripping as the detective work. If you like mysteries with period detail and m/m romance, this series is for you.

An Unseen Attraction by KJ Charles***** This is a new series by a favourite author, set in Victorian London. The mysterious blackmail uncovered by the protagonists is interesting, and the two main characters are delightful. One, socially inept but good at his job, keeps a lodging house, and the other, who lives there, is a ‘preserver’ who works with dead animals, creating lifelike ‘stuffed’ birds, dogs, etc. As usual, there is meticulous research and some excellent writing. I understand the ‘heroes’ might feature as minor characters in later books in the series and I will definitely be buying more! I can recommend all this author’s work.

Once upon a time in the Weird West by multiple authors***** This anthology is uniformly excellent. I would give every story in it five stars. The theme is Westerns with sci fi or steampunk differences, and an m/m twist. All the tales are brilliantly written and full of surprises. A collection I can highly recommend and will be re-reading.

And the rest – mostly good but not five star for me.

Good Morning My Angel by Sue Brown**** An online boyfriend turns out to be the boss, and they are caught up in fighting criminals together. Well written but fairly predictable. Enjoyable but not something I’d re-read.

While you see a chance by Alexa Milne**** This is a story set in Wales about two men who were in love as teenagers but never admitted their feelings and meet again when they are nearing sixty. It was beautifully written and I was pleased to read about older people in love. The story was pleasant but insufficiently gripping for my taste. Recommended if you want romance with no thriller elements.

A Certain Persuasion edited by Julie Bozza.**** I won this in a ‘giveaway’ and was delighted because I had read good reviews, but was then disappointed. The short stories are all based around Jane Austen’s novels, with an LGBT twist. However, unlike Jane’s lighthearted romances with humour and happy endings, more than half of these were either melancholy or even tragic. They were all very well written but I wouldn’t really recommend the collection. If you’re a keen Austen fan you might enjoy seeing what the writers have done with the theme.

Memoirs of Hadrian by Marguerite Yourcenar**** This took me half the month. It came highly recommended and indeed contains a great deal of information about Hadrian and Rome. However, as a novel, I thought it failed. It purports to be a letter to Hadrian’s heir; I think he would have stopped reading after the first few pages. It took me a while to realise what was wrong. The memoir is, naturally, told in the first person, but there are no breaks in the text – no accounts of actual dialogue or any other changes of pace for the reader. As there are no chapter breaks, only half a dozen very long sections, this leads to ploughing through what is actually a history book with a nod to the mindset of the narrator. It was also very depressing, partly because of the way he is writing as he is dying, and partly because of events in his life. I was disappointed not to learn more about his wall; it is mentioned, but as I grew up in its shadow I had hoped for more detail.

Reeve of Veils (Inheritance 4) by Amelia Faulkner*** I’ve enjoyed the Inheritance series which are a well written paranormal m/m romance story but felt cheated by this volume. It looks at the events of the previous three novels through the eyes of a different character. Whilst he was interesting and his own romance was intriguing, I felt annoyed that the plot had not been carried forward, and I don’t think I will risk any more in the series.

Equality by Helena Stone*** An m/m romance set in Eire, during the run up to the 2015 marriage equality referendum. A little more about the politics might have made the book more interesting. As it was, this was a romance with very little in the way of angst. The writer was clearly not Irish as there were a number of Americanisms in the writing. Pleasant but forgettable.

And two abandoned, but they might be fine for others!

The Fall of Arcadia by M.H.Soars: abandoned. This was a sci fi/fantasy that seemed to be in the middle of a series.

Run by Cait Forester: abandoned. It seemed to be about a threesome between some criminals or ex criminals and I couldn’t get into it at all.

Fanfic

Breaker of Horses by sineala***** http://archiveofourown.org/works/4018945 (47,943k words) This was an AU (alternate universe) story in a fandom I don’t know, but I know the writer’s other work and the alternate universe for the characters involved is ancient Rome. I read it as a kind of counterbalance to Memoirs of Hadrian, and it takes place during the period covered in the first part of Yourcenar’s book. The main characters are a centaur, somehow ‘created’ by Caesar, and a slave gladiator who was originally brought up in Rome as a hostage. The story was fascinating as was the research about the games. Since there was already a glaring inaccuracy in the person of the centaur a few inconsistent details about how the slave became a gladiator could be forgiven. A lovely story, followed on the Archive by a short epilogue in which the centaur and the slave discover how they can be together. Highly recommended. (This and the Memoirs led me to use a picture of a ruined amphitheatre, in Portugal, as my photo for this post.)

Hurtfew Abbey or ‘Should a Magician Marry?’ by Nothingshire***** http://archiveofourown.org/works/5941174 (52,038k words) This is set in the world of Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell, and follows an Austen-style romance between Norrell and Childermass. Strange does not appear in the story other than as a throwaway mention. The writer has managed to fuse the worlds of Susanna Clarke and Pride and Prejudice and the result is clever and delightful. Recommended.

A Night on the Tiles by merrymoll***** http://archiveofourown.org/works/191602/chapters/282185 (10,878 k words) An absolutely lovely account of a night spent climbing over the roofs of Ankh Morpork. The main characers are Lord Havelock and a maid from the palace who happens to be in the wrong place at the wrong time but appeals to his lordship’s sense of chivalry. If you like Pratchett’s Discworld, this is an excellent addition to the universe he created!

 
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Posted by on June 5, 2017 in reviews

 

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April Reviews


April

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.

Books

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.

Cloaked/TJ Walsh***

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.

Fanfic

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.

 
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Posted by on May 2, 2017 in reviews

 

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March Reviews

Since I’ll assume you’ve now all read my post about how I rate things I can include the abandoned!

March Films and TV

Spy in the Wild (BBC)*****

A highly enjoyable series which filmed animals using spy-cams – things like tree stumps, dung, etc. were all utilised, and some of the cams were sophisticated robot animals. The final programme showed how it was all done and I assume the cost goes towards future filming for other series. However, I’m watching Secret Life of the Zoo (BBC) *****, which is an ongoing series following animals and keepers at Chester Zoo. I got interested because it’s my nearest zoo, and it’s a lovely programme. Also, I think it has in fact taught me more about animal reactions to each other than Spy in the Wild did, despite the fact that that was the stated purpose of the spy idea, and the secret life is more of a ‘diary’.

Yuri on Ice Season 1***

So many people are so excited by this. The story is sweet and the animation is good, but I would be more likely to watch the same thing filmed with live actors. The skating sequences are very pretty but also very long and leave little room for plot progression. I won’t be watching season 2. The basic story is the growing relationship between a Japanese skater and his Russian coach who is an ex-skater. Nice, but not world shattering. I’ve read better storylines in the Ice Hockey Real Person Fiction fandom.

Lewis season 9 *****

The final season. I was away so much I had to rely on boxed sets and my family and friends gradually got them all for me. I have loved the entire series. I have two complaints about this last season. Firstly, the directors changed the introductory scenes and music, which had always been, for me, part of the charm. Then the storyline that paired Lewis with Laura Hobson never seemed to me to be believable; there was no on-screen chemistry between them. It isn’t just that I wanted a slash pairing. I was always happy (in Morse) with Lewis’ marriage, and in Lewis I was happy with the various pairings attributed to Hathaway. Lewis and Hobson? No. I think the writers wanted to round the series off with a romantic ending (why? viewers don’t demand that) and couldn’t find an alternative. However, I’ll still give it five stars, for the episodes, for the acting, for the locations, for the entire concept. Morse had spin-offs – Endeavour, as well as Lewis. I think Lewis could well generate another spin-off. Hathaway and Lizzie make a good team, with the extra dynamic of the new Chief Superintendent. Crossing my fingers for a series called Hathaway, though I believe Laurence Fox is less than keen!

Sense and Sensibility****

I’ve been wanting to watch this for ages and a friend kept saying they would lend it to me and then saying they couldn’t find it. So I finally bought it. It was good – good acting and true to the book. But there were aspects of the direction I found flawed. For instance, sound was lowered when the characters were further away. Now this might be realistic, but it doesn’t make for ease of following the dialogue for the viewer. Probably, in the cinema, it wouldn’t matter because cinema sound is always so loud. But my laptop was not able to compensate.

Dark Horse ***

A lovely true story about a winning racehorse bred by a village syndicate in Wales. However, the film was presented as a long documentary which didn’t quite work because the supposed ‘live’ clips inevitably didn’t always use the right people or animals, or used them but not at the right age. Also, the DVD was faulty towards the end.

2Cellos on YouTube*****

I keep telling myself I ought to actually buy the music these guys make. The trouble is, I like watching the videos too much and for most of the music, whilst they’re good, without the visuals they’re not playing pieces I would listen to frequently enough. So I go to the YouTube versions and follow them on Facebook. I assuage my conscience by thinking that YouTube hits add to their profits. My favourite – which I fell in love with even before I knew who they were – is their version of the Game of Thrones theme, played in Dubrovnik. The vids are stunning and the guys are such eye candy…

Not a lot this month – I’ve been concentrating on the news and related stuff online!

March Books

20 altogether and then 4 abandoned.

The excellent: 11 highly recommended (five star) this month (which might be a record).

Don’t Kiss The Vicar/Charlie Cochrane*****

Absolutely delightful m/m romance between a young vicar and a member of his congregation. There was a mystery involved, which was interesting and eventually satisfying. Although it was only a poison pen mystery, not a murder, the characters were engaging enough to make it quite gripping and I didn’t guess who the writer was till quite near the end. I would hope there might be more parish problems for this pair to solve. As a vicar’s child I was all too familiar with some of the problems faced by the vicar and his parish council. Highly recommended.

Down Under/Bill Bryson*****

I love Bryson’s wry humour and have read a lot of his work. This book takes us on a trip round Australia and as I had visited some of the locations he explores I felt really ‘at home’. He always so obviously loves the people and places he pokes gentle fun at. And of course there’s a wealth of factual information in there too. I was glad I had the paperback and not an e-book version because I kept referring to the maps. I know you can do that with e-books but it’s less satisfactory and you, or I, at any rate, risk losing the place… Highly recommended.

Daughter of Smoke and Bone/Laini Taylor*****

Wow!! One reviewer suggests an amalgam of Northern Lights and Pan’s Labyrinth. I would add Good Omens and Neverwhere to the mix. A fabulous fantasy that starts in Prague, deals with otherworld explanations for angels and devils, has heartbreaking romance and characters who twine themselves into the reader’s soul. Karou is both a modern girl, an art student, and not quite human. Akiva is both an angel and a soldier, a reluctant killer who thinks he has lost the great love of his life. The writer, in her notes, says she writes because she finds it unsatisfactory that life does not, for instance, contain dragons. Nor, so far, does Elsewhere, in this story. But there are two more volumes to come. I might have to wait till my birthday. So highly recommended it’s off the normal charts.

When Christmas Lights Are Blue/Harper Fox*****

It’s only a short novel but it manages to include homophobia, racism, honour killings, Lockerbie, the paranormal, the state of the NHS and even Brexit. A gripping m/m story set in rural Northumberland, with winter storms, ambulances and love. I like Harper Fox’s style and her characters are always so three dimensional – even the paranormal manifestations. Highly recommended – especially as a Christmas ghost story with a happy ending.

No Place To Hide/Glenn Greenwald *****

I watched the film at the time Snowden’s whistle blowing hit the headlines. Then recently, with all the focus on surveillance, I felt the need to remind myself of just what had happened. This is a fascinating account, much better than the film in many respects because it explores the motives of the press etc., as well as the protagonists, in more depth and recounts the experiences of Greenwald’s partner and other related stories. Highly recommended for anyone interested in the politics of surveillance.

Nowhere Ranch/Heidi Cullinan*****

Roe leaves a homophobic family and ends up with Travis on Nowhere Ranch. On the way we get a good look at BDSM (the good consensual kind that 50Shades hasn’t heard of), ranching, homophobia in various shades, education, unplanned pregnancies, and other assorted delights. I didn’t want the story to end! Heidi’s minor characters are always so well rounded that I feel as if she’s writing about my neighbours and when the book ends I’m sad they’ve moved away! I’m not always a BDSM fan but this was really well done, and not particularly explicit for readers who are not into that. Highly recommended.

The Last Runaway/Tracy Chevalier*****

I love Chevalier’s books because she takes a well known period of history and looks at it from a fresh and unexpected angle. (Mediaeval tapestries in The Lady and the Unicorn, Dutch art in Girl with a Pearl Earring, Dorset fossil hunting in Remarkable Creatures). In this story a Dorset Quaker goes to America in the mid nineteenth century with her sister who is going to marry another Dorset Quaker who emigrated in advance. The book chronicles Honor’s experiences both as an immigrant in Ohio and in relation to the Underground Railroad helping runaway slaves reach Canada. Chevalier explores the range of northern attitudes to southern slavery and the amount of help that even Quakers were prepared or not prepared to give. Honor’s life in Ohio was fascinating and cast a new light on already known facts about the escaped slaves. Beautiful writing, well developed characters and a great story. Highly recommended.

Eleventh Hour/Elin Gregory*****

Miles and Briers are spies in London in 1925, working to defeat an anarchist plot. Guns and cars and grenades. Undercover spying and observation. Homophobia. Sewers. Cross dressing. This is a brilliant and exciting m/m ‘thriller’ which should appeal to anyone who loves either the later Bond films or the Professionals series. I adored it and hope to see them at work again. Highly recommended.

Fiddleback/J.M.Morris*****

This calls itself a novel of mystery. At the start, Ruth is searching for her brother Alex, who is missing, and looking back on her relationship with an abusive ex-lover, Matt. The search for Alex leads to unexpected places and events. The mystery deepens until we, like Ruth, are not sure what is real and what is not. The ending is almost satisfying and yet there is a twist right on the last page which leaves the reader shivering. I don’t usually like horror stories but this is not really explicit, just very, very dark in places. I was totally hooked and didn’t realise what was going on until Ruth did. So the writing was obviously structurally very assured as well as being technically good. Highly recommended for anyone who enjoys psychological thrillers.

Labyrinth/Alex Beecroft*****

This is an almost luminous book set in Minoan Crete. Kikeru has not quite decided whether to be male (and forced to marry) or female (forced to be castrated and then to be a priestess) then events intervene in the shape of Greeks who want to invade. The story deals with the way Kikeru defeats the invasion with friends and family to help, but even more so it deals with various shades of sexuality and desire. The legend of the Minotaur is nicely twisted to further the plot. The research is impeccable (as I have come to expect with this author) and the only ‘inventions’ for the sake of the story are those which researchers disagree about anyway. A gorgeous tale that will bear re-reading. Highly recommended, especially for those who love history and archaeology.

The Silent Scream/Karen Rose*****

I know I said I wasn’t going to buy any more of Rose’s books but I already had this and I’m glad. There was more than one villain, all coming from different perspectives and the mystery of motives and links was kept going right to the end. The use of deaf victims and witnesses and the problems of interviewing them was well handled and interesting. The romance was a bit OTT but was a nice tie-in to an earlier book. It follows another book which I had read, but apart from knowing a little more about one or two minor characters, the first book wasn’t essential pre-reading. Highly recommended for those who like romantic thrillers. And now I really am abandoning this author, partly because of the cost of even her e-books. No more, unless I see them in a charity shop.

And the rest, good: 10 books which were fairly good but which don’t come quite so highly recommended.

In the Spotlight/Charlie Cochrane****

This is two books, packaged together. All That Jazz is a longish novella that explores attitudes to cross dressing. If Music Be is a short story that has the protagonists taking part in a production of Twelfth Night and visiting their own prejudices in light of the play. The stories work well together because of their connection with the theatre. I just wanted more, in both. And the proof reading could have been better. Good, but not five star.

The State of Hate: Hope Not Hate report for 2016****

Political information presented in an easily digested form. Useful if you are interested in current Brit politics.

From Venice to Istanbul/Rick Stein****

Eastern Mediterranean cookery presented with perhaps too much emphasis on the author’s wanderings in the region rather than the people he got the recipes from. Some nice recipes to try and it made me go out and replace my empty bottle of pomegranate molasses.

Sheep’s Clothing/Elin Gregory****

A reluctant gay werewolf plumber moves to Wales. Amusing and romantic but far too short. It’s part of a series but there’s no indication of whether we are likely to meet this particular hero again so I’m reluctant to indulge.

The Complete Book of Spices/Jill Norman (1992)****

This was a re-read but last time I think I skimmed, looking for spices I already knew. This time I read about all of them and it was quite informative but didn’t, sadly, spend much time (or photography) on the really unusual ones. Also, over 20 years later, remarks about availability in shops can be rather quaint. Worth having for reference.

lab romance/Brad Tanner***

Well written romance between researchers. I didn’t end up caring about either of the ‘heroes’ but it should be a popular read.

Chat-Line/Clare London***

Nicely done brief (too brief?) tale of a mistaken phone call that leads to possible m/m romance.

Twelfth Night/Clare London***

Another pleasant m/m/short story with one partner watching the other playing online games and waiting for them to return to reality.

Clare’s writing is good but I prefer longer stories in this genre. If you like short stories, these could be for you.

Murder Any Witch Way/N.M.Howell***

First in a series of urban fantasy crime stories. I found the heroines tiresome and the heroes were shaping up similarly so I won’t be following their adventures. Quite an amusing mystery plot and well written.

Formatting e-Books for Writers/Susan K. Stewart***

This didn’t tell me anything I didn’t already know and personally, I think the free guides from Smashwords and Amazon are a better bet, but –  if you are going to self publish and you aren’t sure which platforms to use, and you want to know things in advance of hiring ‘experts’ to help, this might be the book you need.

and bad: nothing, this month, between reasonably good and totally unappealing (to me). 4 books I abandoned:

Incoming/AE Wasp.

Abandoned. I mentioned this last month and I tried again. But I’m not American and I just couldn’t grasp the basic premises of this to an extent that would let me enjoy the story.

Willow/Amy Richie.

Abandoned. Bad formatting made it impossible to read in comfort.

Red Mountain/Boo Walker.

Abandoned. The story of four very boring people in the wine growing region of California and how their lives intertwined. Nothing was happening and I didn’t much care whether it did or not.

Piercing the Veil/Nicole Taylor.

Abandoned. It started in some kind of fantasy world then moved to modern US. A woman here was possibly being followed by a man from there. No interesting characters appeared and whilst it was obvious our world and the fantasy one were going to intersect I found I didn’t care.

March fanfiction.

I’ve read quite a few short fics and drabbles but none worth separate mention. I’ve been concentrating on the articles in:

Transformative Works and Cultures Issue 23

This is an online zine which is a project of OTW (Organisation for Transformative Works). As you should know by now, I’m a staffer though my work is mostly connected with Archive Of Our Own, the fanwork archive which is another OTW project. The zine is a prestigious one full of peer reviewed articles on aspects of fandom and highly regarded by university departments specialising in e.g. media studies. This issue is completely given over to Sherlock and the various guises of Sherlock fandom. The articles were totally fascinating. Highly recommended for anyone even remotely interested in Sherlock, original, later or modern. You can read it at

http://journal.transformativeworks.org/index.php/twc/issue/view/27/showToc

and I’m uploading the gorgeous cover here.

Some of the short works I have been reading were also in the Sherlock fandom and I have to recommend the writings of Small_Hobbit. You can find her work on AO3 listed on her dashboard at http://archiveofourown.org/users/Small_Hobbit/pseuds/Small_Hobbit and dip in almost anywhere. Some of her offerings are newspaper items or diary entries couched in the style of the original Holmes stories and the newspapers they appeared in. Some are pure fantasy, with Mouselet, a mouse who lives in the wainscot at Baker Street and is in love with Inspector Hopkins. Or avatars of Holmes and Watson in the animal world. Quirky, well researched, and absorbing. Enjoy!

I thought that while I was talking about AO3 with no specific recommendations from March, I would recommend two of my favourite stories. Both are ‘gen’ in the sense that they contain no romance of any kind or any hints of romantic or sexual relationships. Contrary to ‘popular’ or perhaps media belief, fanfiction is not all sex driven.

The first is Sharpe’s Dragon by DisaLanglois. This is a crossover between the world of Sharpe (Bernard Cornwell) and the world of Temeraire (Naomi Novik). It’s an exciting story of an alternate Napoleonic war, with dragons, of course. Long and satisfying. I’m sure Naomi, who was one of the founders of OTW, would approve. Here’s the link to Part 1 (45,451 words) http://archiveofourown.org/works/129908/chapters/184803

and then Part 2 (34,794 words) is at http://archiveofourown.org/works/136503/chapters/195615

Bear in mind it’s novel length.

The second (touching on the mouse theme again) is The Honour and Glory of a Mouse by Transposable_Element at http://archiveofourown.org/works/4599858

This is very short (only 731 words) but quite lovely. The focus is on aspects of feminism, something that is sometimes covered in Narnia, where the story is set, but this tale takes the idea a step further. When I first read it the author was hidden behind anonymity because the story was for a challenge. Challenges, where the authorship is not revealed till the challenge is finished, can be one of the excitements of following fanfiction.

I hope there’s something for everyone there! I’ve now caught up with myself across all my social media platforms so from now on, there will be one review post per month.

 
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Posted by on April 2, 2017 in reviews

 

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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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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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