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September reviews

Reviews for September. Late, but not as late as the last lot!! I don’t seem to have had a brilliant month in any category.

Films etc.

Nothing pleased me. I watched:

Heartbreak Ridge – with Clint Eastwood as an unlikely army sergeant. **

Kill Bill Two – I missed the beginning and was mystified throughout. I expect it didn’t help that I hadn’t seen the first Kill Bill film. **

Black Lake (ep 1) – I don’t find Scandinavian noir appealing (though I love their police shows) so I didn’t watch any more episodes. **

Books.

Nothing gained five stars this month though there was quite a lot of solid and pleasurable reading in the four star list.

The Montana series by RJ Scott ****

1.Crooked Tree Ranch

2.The Rancher’s Son

3.A Cowboy’s Home

These were enjoyable but increasingly improbable. Three families own a ranch and the series follows various family members. Of seven sons, how likely is it that four are gay? There is a sequel relating to the sheriff but I have a severe case of disbelief.

Dragon Prince/Star Scroll/Sunrunner’s Fire by Melanie Rawn****

I was enthusiastic at first – interesting magic, and lovely dragons (who didn’t appear often enough) but by the end of the third book I was frustrated because every time the characters solved a problem another worse one arose, and the huge cast and timeline meant some of my favourite characters were gone. When I gathered that it wasn’t a trilogy but would have further volumes I gave up.

Awfully Glad by Charlie Cochrane****

An enjoyable short novel set just after World War 1. This author is really good at period detail and I liked the way the m/m romance was set against the background of very real fears of being ‘outed’. Well written but personally I prefer her longer series.

And then there was the three star book that took me almost as much time as the others put together…

The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton***

This had so much hype with lots of awards. I’m sure the author’s depiction of the New Zealand gold fields of the nineteenth century was authentic and well researched but I could have read a history book. There wasn’t a single character I cared about, and the mystery was less than enthralling. The structure of the novel, using different points of view, led to a great deal of tedious repetition. Not worth the effort it took to plough through its considerable length.

Fanfiction.

Nothing to recommend in fanfiction, either. I spent quite a lot of time reading the contributions to the Lewis Summer Challenge and there was some good writing but unless you’re a fan of both the show and the fanfiction, nothing to bring to you.

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Posted by on October 15, 2017 in reviews

 

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Reviews for July and August 2017

Where to start? First of all with an apology. We were in Portugal with internet woes. By the time we worked out that to get any service at all we needed to buy a 4G hub we were knee deep in visitors and I had simply no online time at all. At least I’ve managed this post before September has quite finished, and I didn’t altogether expect to!

So, reviews for July and August!!

Films and TV.

I watched Skyfall for the second time and liked it all over again.

I watched the finale to this year’s Dr Who and whilst I didn’t dislike it I decided I only watch Dr Who because the family do and that it’s one of those shows that I can take or leave… I do think Peter Capaldi is a good actor and I am sorry we are losing him.

I then watched Season 5 of Game of Thrones and still adore it. It brings the books to life and I appreciate the author’s involvement in the screenplay. I am hoping for Season 6 for my birthday and yes, I am ‘behind’ but since I am up to date on the books I am unlikely to read anything that is a serious spoiler.

I watched something called The Book of Life and appear to have given it four stars but can’t remember the first thing about it…

Books

Five star:

Days of Blood and Starlight by Laini Taylor. I love the writing and this middle book of the trilogy did not disappoint but the final part, Dreams of Gods and Monsters, only got four stars because I felt the ending was rushed.

The Course of Honour by Avoliohttp://archiveofourown.org/works/9720611#main. Yes, this is from the AO3 Archive but it’s an original work. The Archive hosts works that are derived from fandom tropes. This one dealt with arranged m/m marriage in an SF storyline and was both exciting and romantic. (You can download it for free in various formats.)

Lessons in Seduction and Lessons in Trust by Charlie Cochrane. I really love this series and intend to keep following the detective adventures of Orlando and Jonty.

Heat Trap by L Merrow. Another series I really love. This was the fourth story and I must investigate to see if there are any more!

All The Countries We’ve Ever Invaded (And The Few We Never Got Round To) by Stuart Laycock. This is a semi-humorous but ultimately serious account of British, or rather, English history with a focus on invasion of other places. Amazing. Some of it was not news to me; in fact I knew a lot of what the author presented, but to have it all in one place was fascinating. It also helped to set various invasions in context.

The Persistence of Memory by Jordan Castillo Price. This is an intriguing start to what I hope will be a series. It’s sci-fi and the hero designs and sells or implants mnemes or memories, to order.

The Bones of our Fathers by Elin Gregory. A museum curator and a construction worker join forces to protect an archaeological find in South Wales. To say any more would be to spoil the story but be aware that m/m romance ensues, complete with a fair degree of misunderstandings and angst. Lovely!

Four star:

The Laini Taylor book mentioned above.

The High King’s Golden Tongue by Megan Derr. This was a pleasant m/m romance in a fantasy setting but whilst the writing was good I didn’t feel desperate to hear more about the characters, so only four stars.

Empress Orchid by Anchee Min. I had already (rather a long time ago) read the biography of the last empress of China (by Pearl Buck) and this added some welcome detail about her early experiences. It wasn’t exactly hard to read but it took me a long time and I somehow failed to enter the ‘world’ of the empress, which was disappointing because books about China and Japan usually draw me into the different cultures.

The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd. This is the story of one of the early anti-racist campaigners in America who was also a staunch feminist. She is a historical figure but the other ‘heroine’ of the novel is a slave who is semi-fictional and in fact died in childhood. I perhaps unfairly compared the novel to Tracy Chevalier’s The Last Runaway and it suffered in the comparison. I don’t think the fusion of fact and fiction worked well but the story was interesting and well written.

Damocles by SG Redling. This is an interesting sci fi novel about language and culture but I stopped reading when I realised I had read it fairly recently and could remember most, if not all of the story.

Other books read:

A Country of Refuge – edited by Lucy Popescu. This is a selection of writings, both fact and fiction (and some poetry) dealing with the experiences of refugees. I subscribed to it on Unbound and was happy to have done so since it’s a ’cause’ I support, but the quality of the pieces was very mixed, and to read it straight through was, inevitably, depressing.

Try: A Short Story by Ava Thorpe.

Pure Adrenaline by Nikki Prince

Especially at Christmas byYolande Kleinn

Fairly short stories, all m/m romance. Pleasant but not memorable.

Fanfiction – only one worth mentioning

to change the course of the future by authoressjean available at http://archiveofourown.org/works/700097

The story begins after The Battle of Five Armies, the final film of the Hobbit trilogy. The author tweaks canon dramatically. Thorin and his nephews survive the battle. Bilbo realises that his ring is Sauron’s one ring and decides to take it to Mordor by himself. The story therefore effectively replaces The Lord of the Rings and is a fascinating exploration of ‘what if?’ It does what good fanfiction should always do, which is to transform the canon and present it in a new guise with new questions and answers.

 

So there we have it – my summer reviews. Almost time for the September ones!!

 
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Posted by on September 29, 2017 in reviews

 

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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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Autism Awareness Month

Autism Awareness Month is of passing interest to people who are not involved with autism on a daily basis. For those of us who have a close family member with the condition, we don’t have ‘autism month’ – we have autism day after day after day, month after month, year after year.

However, autism month does at least give us the chance to share our thoughts with the hope that people might be slightly more willing to listen – not just to sympathise but really understand.

Autism is a spectrum and people diagnosed as autistic can be almost anywhere on it. They can be highly skilled, or unable to function in nerotypical surroundings. They can be apparently easy to deal with, simply seeming to be reserved or cold, or they can have all the social problems of a toddler with uncontrollable tantrums. They can be anywhere between all these, or different again. The media don’t understand and just lump them all together. People with physical conditions such as blindness, deafness or paraplegia are not lumped together in quite the same way. (Governments manage it, but only in terms of costs and benefits.) Most people, even journalists, can see the different problems and needs when it comes to physical problems.

My grandson is autistic. He also has ADHD and high anxiety levels. He is, into the bargain, gifted across all subjects other than personal and social education, and team games. He is nine years old. He has the academic skills of a teenager (and some of the knowledge) and the social skills of a four year old. He was diagnosed at the age of five, when it became obvious that his progress in mainstream school was causing difficulties for everybody, he has an EHCP (these replaced the old ‘statements of special educational need’ and cover health as well as education) and he has medication, prescribed and monitored by a psychiatrist, to calm his anxiety and help him concentrate.

He is gorgeous. Really interesting to talk to, charming most of the time, imaginative and caring. He finds it hard to understand sarcasm, satire, and hidden agendas. He is truthful, and expects the same of others. He loves animals, sport, computers and books. He has friends and enjoys outings to the park or the swimming pool. He is easily upset and has occasional panic attacks and meltdowns, more often at school than at home. He is aware of his condition, approves of his medication, and finds his psychiatrists ‘interesting’.

For the last twelve months he has been receiving only part time education. When he has a meltdown he is taken out of the classroom by his teaching assistant (full time funded by the EHCP) and kept in a ‘calm room’ where he is given a choice of educational activities on an iPad. He is allowed to choose whether or not he goes back to class. (Guess what he chooses!) In any case, he does not attend school in the afternoons, he is not permitted to join the class for things like swimming, and until recently he often missed playtime (until his meds were increased). The school have tried really hard to cope but nobody on the staff has specialist training or knowledge, and the only advice they have comes from a special school for autistic children with low academic ability. (They told them to reduce pressure at all costs.) Parents and grandparents are, of course, not regarded as experts.

The local authority have been trying to find a placement. We, as a family, rejected the offer of a place at the school for low ability children. He would be just as isolated there, and with even less chance of studying to higher levels with anything resembling a peer group or adequate science facilities.

Now, at last, there is good news. A school run by a private trust, for children with challenging behaviour, has opened just a few miles away and he has been offered a place (after two interviews and a lot of to-ing and fro-ing of files). It sounds ideal – its sister schools in other parts of the country are good – and it will take him right through to GCSE in the core subjects so he will be able to avoid the trauma of transfer to a secondary school that would almost certainly be even less able to cater for his needs than his primary school.

For him, for us, and for the primary teachers who tried and failed, this is excellent news but it makes me think hard about the way we provide for children like him.

The local authorities in UK have had to close many special schools. This has been basically a cost cutting exercise although there is an attempt to pass it off as ‘inclusivity’, good for both children with special needs who will feel included, and ‘normal’ children who will mix with children with different needs. Frankly, I don’t think my grandson was ‘included’ at any stage and I’m fairly sure this is the case for a lot of children with his problems. The cost cutting has not resulted in extra money going into classroom provision for children like him or into extra staffing and staff training. It has merely allowed local authorities to keep up with rising costs. It has done nothing to educate either the teaching force or the media.

It all strikes me as very similar to the much vaunted ‘care in the community’ for adults with mental health problems. People with widely differing needs are abandoned to social services that are already stretched to capacity.

It is possible to extrapolate wildly from the arguments for inclusivity or community care. We could suggest that intensive care patients could be nursed at home or that patients from e.g. Broadmoor could live in locally managed sheltered housing. These are extreme examples, of course, but nobody would dream of suggesting they should be tried. But there are many people who fall between these extremes and the commonly held image of ‘special need’. The problem is that until someone is in really dire physical or mental straits it is considered reasonable to try to accommodate them in facilities that are designed for the average person, child or adult. When this doesn’t work, there is panic as officialdom tries to find placements that do not exist within public provision.

So what happens? Private companies move into the gap in the market. Some of them, including the trust that runs the schools I have already mentioned, do an extremely good job and we can only be grateful to them. The same applies to private medical facilities that help the NHS to cope. But the fact remains that they are private, that they make a profit, and that that profit comes from the taxpayer. The local authority are funding my grandson’s place at the special school and are paying fees similar to those paid to private schools, from our tax.

I am grateful to them. I am grateful to the school, simply for existing, for providing something that is not available in ‘mainstream’ provision.

I still think the philosophy and policies that have brought about this state of affairs are morally wrong.

My grandson looks ‘normal’. Until you watch his behaviour or listen to him, you have no idea there is anything unusual about him. He is extremely intelligent, articulate, nice looking and physically graceful so he doesn’t quite fit the usual ‘special needs’ definition. He is also in extreme need – need of somewhere that can deal with his challenging behaviour at the same time as stretching his mental skills, and somewhere that does not simply put him in an isolation room with an iPad, reducing his wish to learn and his will to succeed.

Research is still ongoing and expert opinions and knowledge about autism are in flux. There are some brilliant psychiatrists doing their best to find out more, and to explain their findings, but the knowledge trickles down very slowly to the grass roots of teachers or even educational psychologists. It takes even longer to reach the media, the general public and the politicians. Fifty years ago, my grandson would either have been punished into some kind of submission for his expressions of his anxiety, or would have ended up alienated from the school system and possibly from society. We can only be glad that this is no longer the case.

He, and others like him, have a great deal to contribute. I can foresee him in some kind of IT work, helping to shape and maintain the future for all of us. I know of similar children who excel at the arts – music, in one case, drama in another. These are by no means the ‘idiot savants’ so beloved of media stories. They are highly intelligent young people who simply cannot function in a class of thirty mixed ability pupils with just one teacher but who can be helped to interact with society, given patient tutors and calm surroundings.

As I said, autistic people are as different from each other as they are from neurotypicals, but there are a lot of them, all with very special needs, and it seems only the private-for-profit sector is prepared to meet these.

If a month devoted to autism helps to educate people about these needs, then it will be welcome. But at the end of the month, children like my grandson will still be with us, needing to learn, needing to socialise, and most of all needing to be understood and loved.

Autism is a spectrum. Yes, I’m repeating myself but it bears repetition. People with the condition can be almost anywhere on the spectrum. We need to get this across to the public at large. Now.

 
4 Comments

Posted by on April 5, 2017 in personal, protest

 

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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.

 
9 Comments

Posted by on April 2, 2017 in reviews

 

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