Tag Archives: reviews

Forest Dancer: a review

I’ve just read an amazing book and wanted to share it with everybody.
Forest Dancer by Susan Roebuck is very special.

The story is set in Portugal where Flora, a ballerina with career problems, has inherited a cottage. This turns out to be inhabited by a woman who may or may not have been Flora’s father’s mistress and a child, Raquel, who may or may not be Flora’s half-sister. Raquel has leukaemia and Flora is tested to see if her stem cells will be a good match for a transfusion.

Flora is drawn into helping stage a cultural event in the village, which is at risk from fracking. Marco, a forest warden, helps to stage the show. Gil, a Portuguese TV star, comes to open the festa. Both men are interested in Flora. Gil is also interested in the standing stones by the forest lake and the legends and mysticism that surround them.

Raquel has leukaemia and Flora is tested to see if her stem cells will be a good match for a transfusion.

Lots and lots of interesting themes, including a very small mm sub-plot, and I couldn’t stop reading. I had to know what happened to the major characters (including the escaped budgerigar), and I even put my own writing on hold while I finished the book.

It’s extremely well written and brings the Portuguese countryside vividly to life. The author clearly knows and loves it. As well as the brilliant world building and fascinating sub plots, the basic romance is beautifully handled, always very realistically and with the lightest of touches. There is anxiety, not only about relationships but about the fate of the village, and Raquel’s health. There are amusing moments, too, sometimes poignant as when most of the villagers have their heads shaved to support Raquel, and when the children are rehearsing their dance under Flora’s direction.

I personally know Portugal well and was transported to the village where Flora was staying. However, I think anyone could enjoy this glimpse of the Portuguese countryside which includes an introduction to the language which Flora is practising. There is plenty to interest anyone who loves dance, nature, and stories that explore both culture and relationships.

Altogether a delightful novel and one that I hope will do really well for the author.


Posted by on March 17, 2018 in reviews



February reviews (2018)

The weather in UK (and, I think, most of northern and central Europe) is dreadful, so I suggest everybody curls up with a good book.

Films, Theatre and TV

I booked for this ages ago and went to London to see it with friends. Fabulous! The style – a kind of rap against a background of melody – echoes Sondheim’s Into the Woods but where that twists fairytale Hamilton twists history. Except that it doesn’t, really. It tells the actual story of the US Founding Fathers but shows the men and women in a different and more personal light, and the diversity casting (plus the songs of King George III) make us focus on both issues of immigration and of independence (and Brexit). All the cast were magnificent and I can’t really pick out anyone as special. The dancing was amazing, and the staging was intriguing and impressive. Five stars plus, and if you’re going to see it, enjoy! If you haven’t already booked, you’re too late, in UK, anyway. It’s deservedly sold out.

The double bill season finale was wonderful, as always. I adore this French cop show which is not just a police procedural (although there is always an involved case that takes all season to solve) but a look at policing, lawyers, politicics, personal relationships, etc. It’s an ensemble cast but I have to admit I was on pins in case they decided to write out either Laure (Caroline Proust) or Gilou (Thierry Godard). After all, it’s the kind of show (like Spooks which I also adored) in which nobody is safe – in the previous season we lost Pierre (Gregory Fitoussi) – admittedly to the demands of Hollywood but the French chose to kill the character off. The underlying theme of this season was parenthood, and it ended with Laure literally running, finally unable to cope with her baby’s much desired survival. Superb.

The Book Thief****
Absolutely beautifully directed and acted. However, the book didn’t completely grab me and neither did the film. I think that for wartime dramas I prefer those based on fact (e.g. Schindler’s List) rather than fiction, however artfully presented.


The excellent (all mm romance this month):

Two Feet Under by Charlie Cochrane. *****
The teacher and his policeman lover get involved in a murder uncovered at an archaeology dig in this third volume in The Lindenshaw Mysteries. Excellent as usual. I love the way this series is absolutely right about modern schools in UK so that I then trust the author about details for other things like policing and archaeology. I may have mentioned previously that I also love the dog. The writing is very assured with a flowing style and plenty of world building. I like the way the mm romance element is presented as normal, and is the background rather than the focus of the story. I feel as if I know the characters and am looking forward to the next volume in the series. Highly recommended but start with Book 1.

Lessons for Idle Tongues by Charlie Cochrane *****

This is in the Cambridge Fellows series. It’s hard to talk about this episode in the lives of the Cambridge dons turned amateur detective. The entire story hinges on whether or not there was a crime (or crimes) in the first place so anything further about the plot would be a spoiler. There is, however, a definite sub-plot involving the kidnap and eventual rescue of a wooden cat. You’ve probably gathered I’m very impressed by Charlie’s books. The same applies to this as to the Lindenshaw Mysteries: gentle mm romance underpinning interesting crime investigation and a cast of fascinating supporting characters. The writer transports the reader to pre-WWI Cambridge and London, and it is a wrench to return to the 21st century when the book is over. I have already bought a number of books in the series and am trying to make them last. Highly recommended, but again, start with Book 1

When First I Met My King by Harper Fox *****
This is Book 1 in the Arthur Trilogy and since I love Harper’s style lyrical, mystical and yet down to earth at the same time) and love Arthurian legend (well, yes, and have written some myself) I had to read it. It didn’t disappoint! The author twists the legend so that Lancelot’s story is set against a background of Northumberland, where the author lives and where I grew up. This makes it all even better, for me! Of course the details of the setting are exactly right, and the whole premise of the story so far, making young Arthur and young Lancelot tumble head over heels in love with each other, makes sense of some of the other legends. I have bought Book 2 and am already worrying about how Guinevere will interrupt the idyll. But I haven’t started it yet.

Agent Bayne by Jordan Castillo Price *****
This says it’s Book 9 in the Psycops series and I am fairly confused because I think I’ve read them all and there are more than 9. But maybe novellas don’t count? Vic (who sees and talks to ghosts which can be useful in a crime investigation) is now a federal agent like his lover, Jacob. The stories, which are all told from Vic’s point of view, are engaging – he is a very real character – and the crimes are interesting. This volume concentrates on Vic’s early days as a Fed, and promises to take the series in new directions. As for the Charlie Cochrane books, highly recommended but start at the beginning of the series.

Caught by JL Merrow *****
Played by JL Merrow *****

These are the first two books in the Shamwell series and probably need to be read in order. They are standalone mm romances, but the same characters do appear in a supporting role, so it helps to be aware of their story.
In Caught, Robert, a teacher trying to escape his past falls for Sean, a pest control agent. The story is sometimes poignant, sometimes funny, and always exciting as we hope they will sort out their misunderstandings and get together in the end. Well written and highly recommended.
In Played, Tristan, an actor spending the summer sorting out an inherited cottage in Shamwell, ends up involved with the local amateur dramatic society and with Con, the local handyman. Con is dyslexic and Tristan coaches him for a part in a play. The play within a story makes a delightful theme, especially because it is Midsummer Night’s Dream, which also contains a play within a play as well as giving plenty of opportunity for puns and other humour. Very well done and I enjoyed the story immensely, but I have to say I think the author is at her best when writing in first person (in Caught, and in the Plumber’s Mate series). Still, highly recommended.

The very good (two, only one of which is mm):

Dragon and Phoenix by Joanne Bertin ****

This is the sequel to The Last Dragonlord and I enjoyed the story. The dragons are lovely and the weredragons are well developed characters. The book deals with how the weredragon who thought he was the last dragonlord, along with his newly discovered soulmate and their other weredragon friends need to rescue a dragon and a phoenix who are being held captive to power the magic that supports a tyrannical regime in a foreign land. However, this book took me ages to read. It was a print book and was set in a type so small I had problems, even with my reading glasses. As I don’t, at the moment, need new glasses, this annoyed me intensely, especially since the blurbs for other books (from the same publisher) at the end were in perfectly readable type. I see the book is now available as an e-book and wish I had waited, but because it was first published in 1997 I suspected it wouldn’t be brought out in Kindle format. Also, the sequel, which I presume is the last in the series, is not in Kindle so I won’t risk buying it. I don’t think I could plough through another volume in that excruciatingly small type.

Christmas Wishes by RJ Scott ****
A writer, deliberately isolating himself in a remote cabin, finds a young father and baby on his doorstep after a car accident in a snowstorm. The common tropes are delightfully expanded into a story that is in some ways fluff but is quite engrossing. I was disappointed by the end and would have liked to follow the new family a little further into their planned life together. Recommended as a nice Christmas story (and yes, I do know it’s now March and I read this in February).

The reasonable:

Christmas Scavenger Hunt by Aly Hayden ***
Another Christmas story that got missed in December. This one was quite sweet and nicely written but too short to interest me deeply. It also struck me as being to some extent an excuse for the final explicit sex scene. Not particularly recommended but read it if you trip over it…

And the dire(Avoid):

Bakeries and Bones by Nic Roberts*
This longish short story presented itself as a free sequel to the Westford Bay B&B series of ‘cosy mysteries’. As a mystery, it lacked much in the way of mystery or investigation. The characters were uniformly silly about everything from relationships to murder. The author warned the reader that the characters lived in London so Brit English would be used. Well, they probably altered the spellings to Brit English but the speech patterns were ignored and the vocabulary was suspiciously American. Guess who won’t be buying any of the series!

The Tinner’s Corpse by Bernard Knight
I abandoned this after a few chapters. I usually enjoy mediaeval mysteries and was looking forward to it but I hated the style. Every time a new character was introduced the author stopped the story to tell us what they were wearing and what their hair and eyes were like. The whole thing could be used for a creative writing class session on Show Don’t Tell. I see the author has a number of these mysteries (centred on a coroner in Exeter) published and well reviewed. I won’t be reading any more.


Most of what I read this month required an in-depth knowledge of the original books or shows the fanfic was based on, so I won’t even review it. However, there are some exceptions.

As usual, Small_Hobbit provided entertainment, this time in the form of a gift fic for me. Mouselet and the Rather Fat Dragon *****, which you can find at , has the animals in this Sherlock Holmes alternate universe putting on a play or tableau.
Mouselet is one of my favourite characters in this ‘universe’. She has her own series in The Ocelot Collection at and also contributes to the Marylebone Monthly Illustrated which is at This tongue-in-cheek publication also includes excellent short articles and stories by okapi who writes as Inky Quill, a porcupine. All the entries are short so go and enjoy them bit by bit!

I finally finished the stories so far available in the Seasons series by asparagusmama (another fandom friend). The series can be found at and although it is entirely based on the characters in Lewis (TV) I think it will stand alone as a series you can read without any real knowledge of the show. All you need is to know that Lewis and Hathaway are Oxford police officers. The rest is clarified in the stories which are gripping, and at times rather grim but with a lot of hope in the ending. If you like cop-buddies-turned-lovers with some genuine case stories thrown in, then go and enjoy!

I thought I would also warn you that not all fanfiction is worth spending time on. In the course of a plagiarism investigation for the archive I volunteer for I came across a story on a rival site: Name to forget, face to remember by kamikaze fox. I read to the end (or what purported to be the end because it left the reader up in the air) because it was in many ways a train wreck (or kamikaze mission?!) and I was fascinated. The story has a soldier in the WWI trenches killed and transported to Zootopia (an animated series with animal characters who walk and talk). I thought it sounded interesting and the concept was, but the execution was dire. The author claimed people had helped them edit but I’m not sure who missed the sentence about how ‘he grabbed his shit and wrapped it around the wound’… I wasn’t sure whether to laugh or cry. There were a lot of other typos but that was the one that stood out. The protagonist found himself reincarnated as a wolf and couldn’t get used to having paws instead of hands, resented having to steal clothes to be respectable, and found socialising with rabbits nerve-racking. There was no attempt to explore the psychology behind these conflicting thoughts. I was left assuming there was to be a sequel but will not be reading it. The plagiarised version, which we had, of course, to delete, was actually better written, though I didn’t get as far as the fight scene with the wound. It claimed to be a parody, but used far too much of the text of the original.

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Posted by on March 1, 2018 in reviews



January Reviews 2018

I’m not sure what happened but it seems to be February already so here are my reviews for last month.

    TV and films

New Year Concert from Vienna ****
This is something to watch every New Year morning – always worthwhile though the programme varies quite a lot. There is an orchestra, obviously, plus ‘tours’ of various interesting buildings in Vienna, and ballet in other locations. The ballet, this year, wasn’t quite as exciting as it sometimes is but the entire concert was worth watching and listening to.

Secret Life of the Zoo*****
This has ended now. Baby tapirs are glorious – just saying!!

The French cop show I adore. Only two more episodes to go then I’ll have to try to be patient till next year.

Game of Thrones season 6*****
I have season 7 so I won’t suffer from withdrawal symptoms. I’m up to date on the books but there are beginning to be events that have not been in the text version yet.


First, the very very good.

Jury of One by Charlie Cochrane *****
Second in the Lindenshaw Mysteries series. Adam is a teacher and his partner Robin is a cop. The crime that was the focus of this story involved Adam because of a stint of jury service he’d done quite a long time ago. I love the way this author builds a perfect world in a fictitious group of villages and small towns, and I love the deepening relationship between the main characters. Most of all, I love the dog. The mystery is nicely complex, and the writing seems effortless, usually a sign that a very great deal of effort has in fact gone into it! Highly recommended.

Lessons for Suspicious Minds by Charlie Cochrane *****
This is the eighth in the Cambridge Fellows series. The sense of the period is exquisitely developed, always with a light hand but amazing attention to detail. In this story Orlando and Jonty are asked to investigate a suspicious death that occurred at a house party in a stately home. And yes, you might have guessed I would thoroughly recommend Ms Cochrane’s books to anyone who likes very gentle mm romance with a heavy helping of crime and mystery. Highly recommended.

Christmas Collection by RJ Scott *****
The three stories in this collection are pure fluff for Christmas. but extremely well written, delicious fluff. We have a novella, a long short story and a very brief short story, all with very different characters whose mm romances come to fruition at the Christmas season. I thoroughly enjoyed these and will almost certainly re-read them at the same time next year. Highly recommended.

Divorce can be Deadly by Emma Jameson *****
Another crime story in a period setting (early WW2) and in this particular case another murder in a stately home. Quite a contrast to Charlie Cochrane’s books because the romance, while equally gentle, is male/female. However, the research is less accurate and the occasional American speech patterns or lack of understanding of British society are slightly irritating. This is the second in the series (Dr Benjamin Bones) and yes, I will buying the next despite my criticisms. The main characters are delightful and the mysteries, so far, are absorbing. Recommended.

The merely good.

Fire and Fury by Michael Wolff ****
I read an e-book version. It was fascinating, not so much because of any new information about Trump but because it clarified, for me, the roles of some of the White House team, and helped me attach names to the correct roles, too. Very often, American politics makes very little sense to a Brit reader because the job titles are so unfamiliar and of course we don’t usually know much about the people, either. The book was an ‘easy’ read and was not worth spending a great deal of time or money on, but overall I’m glad I read it. Some of the specific analysis of Trump was already well known, and some had to be taken with a pinch of salt. I think the parts that dealt with Bannon and his ongoing role in the campaign and the first year were perhaps the most interesting, and certainly helped to make sense of his recent split with Trump. If you’re interested in US politics, read it!

The Globe (Science of Discworld 2)/Pratchett, Cohen and Stewart****
I expected this to be as good as the first of the Science of Discworld series and was slightly disappointed. The main focus was on the development of language and culture. The interwoven Discworld story was as amusing as ever, but I think I prefer Cohen and Stewart when they are dealing with the ‘hard’ sciences.

The Rose and the Beast by Francesca Lia Block (Fairy Tales Retold) ****
Someone recommended this author knowing I also write fairy tales retold so I thought I’d see what their work entailed. The tales are the standard well known ones such as Cinderella, Snow White, etc. Some of them are given a modern setting, others are given some kind of twist. I thought the ideas were good and the writing style was good too, but somehow I never engaged with the characters. Others might, and I have no real criticisms to offer. It’s probably just a matter of my personal taste.

Call To Arms by various authors (series ed Julia Bozza)****
This is an anthology of mm stories set during WW2. A few were excellent, by some of my favourite mm writers such as Charlie Cochrane and Elin Gregory. Others were mediocre. None were poor.

The mediocre.

Salvage Trouble: Mission 1 by JS Morin ***
The blurb suggests that anyone who misses Firefly would enjoy this book. The plot, with the spaceship full of misfits who are carrying out a variety of semi-illegal missions, certainly echoes the show, and so does the use of some quirky humour. However, I didn’t completely fall for any of the characters and although this is book 1 of a series, I don’t think I’ll bother with the rest.

John Betjeman: The Illustrated Poems (illustrated by David Gentleman)***
Disappointing. I got this at a charity shop and was excited about my ‘find’. My last memory of my father, just before he died, was of a train journey during which we shared a copy of Betjeman’s Poems in a Church Porch. The train was taking me to boarding school and when I came home for my father’s funeral I found another clergyman had thrown away the slim book, telling my mother she wouldn’t want ‘that kind of rubbish’. At the time I was devastated but later forgot all about it until I saw this book. My tastes must have changed a lot, because I found most of the poems were a kind of high class doggerel. The forced rhyme schemes reminded me of some of Abba’s songs and whilst this is marginally acceptable for pop music it is somehow cringe-worthy in poetry by a writer who has a good reputation. The ideas were good; it was the execution that was lacking. I also recall arguing with my father about the works of Dylan Thomas and I still love those, so perhaps my tastes haven’t changed altogether; I probably remembered Betjeman with rose tinted spectacles because of the context in which I read the poems.

The bad.

Death at the Café by Alison Golden **
This was the first in a series and I won’t be reading any more. The heroine who solves the mystery is a young CoE clergyman. There is a gushing review by a real clergyman but I strongly suspect the review is fake. I was irritated by typos and Americanisms ( the story is set in London) and by the lack of research into the way in which the Church of England functions. As someone brought up in a vicarage and a CoE boarding school I know enough to find the errors in this writer’s work seriously annoying.

Killer Climate by Alannah Foley **
Another ‘first in series’. I will definitely be avoiding this one, too! An Australian surfer comes to UK to be in a TV show, all shot on location, and finds crimes at the sites. Very repetitive style, clumsy plotting and a lack of research about UK.

Sink by Perrin Briar **
I got to the end but I had to grit my teeth. Two guys in the Australian outback fall down a sinkhole and find an underground civilisation. The unlikeliness of almost all the plot was stunning. The characters were completely unattractive. The writing was flat and dull. I will not be following the sequels.

And the ugly/dire.

Book of Earth (Bradamante Saga #1) by Robin Brande. Abandoned.
A young woman is taught warrior skills in visions of herself as an adult. Nothing happens in real time and the ‘heroine’ didn’t interest me. This was another book from the Women in Fantasy ‘Bundle’ that I bought and am regretting. I suspect the editor who chose the books for the bundle does not share my tastes but has also not heard of things like info-dump as signs of poor writing.

Raining Men and Corpses by Anne R Tan. Abandoned.
This is classed as a ‘cosy mystery’. The heroine is a Chinese American graduate student and is neither appealing nor interesting. After a couple of chapters I just gave up. I didn’t even get as far as the mystery though I knew from the blurb who was going to die.


No recommendations this month. I have been reading odds and ends – ficlets and drabbles – nice but not very accessible unless you are already familiar with the fandoms.

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Posted by on February 8, 2018 in reviews



Reviews for December 2017

Happy New Year (well, it’s still January).


As usual, I watched quite a lot over the holiday period.

First, the five star ones:

Flint Street Nativity***** This is my all-time favourite Christmas viewing. However often I watch it, it never fails to have me crying with laughter. My original copy went up in smoke in Portugal so a close friend bought me a new copy for Christmas.

Spiral (episodes 1 and 2 of season 6) ***** Waiting a whole week for more episodes reminds me of why I have previously waited and bought the DVD.

Secret Life of the Zoo***** – ongoing series on Channel 4 (including Christmas special). I hadn’t thought about it but the fun the keepers have giving the animals ‘presents’ let them observe family interactions.

Rango ***** Lovely animation with the main character voiced by Johnny Depp.

Dame Vera Lynn: Happy 100th Birthday.***** It was great watching her reactions, and also the reactions of viewers who were in the forces in the war and saw her at the time.

Timeshift: Bridging The Gap – How The Severn Bridge Was Built***** Fascinating. At the time the bridge was built I had relatives in that part of South Wales and was very aware of the whole project.

Then the four star, which were worth watching but not quite five star material.

League of Gentlemen**** (BBC – 3 episodes) I loved the original series and this was good too, with a lot of familiar characters. But like any show of its kind it was mixed. Some sections were brilliant and others were mediocre.

Dr Who Christmas Special **** The only thing we watch on Christmas Day (so dinner has to be timed to fit). I liked it, and am looking forward to the new Doctor, but am sad to say goodbye to Peter Capaldi.

Concorde: A Supersonic Story **** Interesting.

The Blue Planet **** (repeated on Yesterday). I enjoyed this but thought a great deal of it was eye candy – superior eye candy but still candy.

Jools Holland Hootenanny**** Well, it was reasonable watching for New Year’s Eve but I thought the offerings were very mixed.

Reindeer Family and Me.**** I was interested because I have Finnish (though not Sami) friends. Enjoyable.

And finally, the ‘also-ran’.

The Dirty Dozen (1967) *** I have probably seen this before and forgotten it. I found it very dated and was not altogether impressed by the acting.


Some excellent five star reading this month.

Wyrd Sisters by Terry Pratchett ***** This was a re-read. I have no idea yet whether my Pratchett collection survived the fire (there are boxes in the intact garage) but a friend sent me this to comfort me and I loved it all over again. Pratchett is my comfort reading – incredibly funny and at the same time really serious about the human condition.

Truth Will Out by A.D.Garrett***** A forensic scientist and a police DCI investigate a serial killer. The book was excellent – great plot and superb character development. But then I was thinking there were sequels to come and found out this was in fact book 3. Since there were lots of spoiler-type references to the earlier books I’m not sure I will read them. However, I think I’d recommend the series.

Marriage can be murder by Emma Jameson ***** The plot and the characters were great – the ‘detective’ is a country doctor at the beginning of WW2 and the romance element is delightful. But there are flaws – a lot of Americanisms and cultural errors that show the author is not British. However, I’ll forgive them and will be reading the next in the series.

Bring Me the Dead by Becky Black ***** This is archaeology in space with wonderful world (or rather worlds) building, and lots of UST in the m/m romance which underpins but never overwhelms the plot. I loved it and am looking forward to reading the sequel.

Belle Starr by Belinda McBride *****This one was werewolves in space and I was relieved to find it really well written and exciting. Both themes appeal to me enormously but are not always well developed. Another one where a sequel will be more than welcome.

Then the four star one

Better Off Wed by Laura Durham**** A ‘cosy’ mystery with poisonings investigated by a wedding planner and her friends. It was a fun read, but almost too ‘light’ to be adequately gripping. I might read the rest of the series, but only if they are cheap.

And a mediocre read.

Shit happens so get over it by Summersdale Publishing*** This is a collection of ‘wise’ sayings collected by a publishing house which didn’t even attribute it to an editor. Some of the ‘advice’ was good, or amusing. My nine-year-old grandson thought the title was hilarious.

Finally, two books I would not recommend at all.

Swords against Darkness edited by Robert E.Howard ** I was really disappointed. Whilst swords’n’sorcery is not my ultimate favourite sci fi or fantasy sub genre I usually enjoy it. These stories were by well known authors but were, to my mind, tired and stale. The excitement of the editor perhaps reflected his own lack of reading outside his immediate ‘circle’.

A Woman’s Shed by Gill Heriz (photography by Nicolette Hallett)** As a coffee table book, to dip into, this worked and contained some interesting storage ideas, but the photography, whilst excellent, seemed chosen for effect rather than elucidation of the subject and text, and the premise of the book mystified me. Yes, women, as well as men, have sheds, but bringing together such disparate items as luxury studios and run-down garden storage seemed to be grasping at straws to build a book. As a side note, I couldn’t quite work out why every time the author used the word ‘garden’ she had to add ‘(yard)’ in case her American readers might be puzzled, and almost as often had to add ‘(caravan)’ each time she used ‘trailer’.

I also read a number of short stories from various Advent calendars. Whilst I enjoyed most of them I didn’t actually keep track and nothing really stands out, though I loved some glimpses into the worlds I already knew by favourite authors such as Charlie Cochrane and Elin Gregory.


This was Advent calendar territory, too, and I read a number of bits and pieces including some lovely ficlets by Small_Hobbit whose work I have mentioned previously.

The only long piece I read and enjoyed was:

Code Black by starboydjh ***** which you can find at The story is RPF which is ‘real person fiction’ where real actors, musicians, celebrities etc. are inserted into stories as the main characters. The plots of these RPF stories are totally fictional but the reader can imagine the actor/whatever in the role which enables the writer to use both the looks and the public persona of their chosen ‘real person’ to underpin the story. In this one, a couple of YouTube presenters are used as the main characters in a story about a London hospital with a nod to the American show (called Code Black) about an American hospital. There is a mild m/m element to the plot but there is no explicit sex. I thoroughly enjoyed the detailed account of hospital work, and the slow build-up of the romance.


Posted by on January 14, 2018 in reviews



November reviews

Film and Television.

Maybe I should point out that I only review the things that are worth talking about. I watch a lot of news and documentaries, and some DVDs. I rarely watch drama series as they air.

Harry Potter: A History Of Magic**** was on BBC2 and was highly recommended (I watched it on iPlayer) but I was mildly disappointed. There was a lot of fascinating information about the history of magic in general but I did think we could have done with more shots of the artefacts and documents and fewer of JKR admiring them. The programme was made to coincide with the opening of the exhibition of the same name at the British Library. However, I’m not going to London… There’s a tie-in book with the same name but it’s expensive and I’m not sure, after seeing the programme, that it would necessarily be worth the money. I might look out for a ‘used and new’ copy. I was interested to hear that JKR has no fewer than four copies of Culpeper’s Complete Herbal and clearly refers to it often. I had a copy, also as a reference book for my fantasy work, but it has gone up in smoke in our recent disaster (the Portuguese fires for any reader who doesn’t know already). That’s something I must replace. An online version is not nearly as usable ven though it promises an interactive digital experience. (The thing is, I know I will want to use it as a reference book, not a single one way journey or for dipping into!) If the programme is still available on iPlayer, it’s worth watching.

Little Ashes***** This is a drama based on Salvador Dali’s memoirs, only shared in his final years, detailing his unconsummated love affair with the poet Lorca. Obviously, given the subject matter, it’s dark and tragic and the knowledge of Lorca’s death at the hands of Franco’s thugs hangs over the early part of the film, giving it a curiously sad quality even when the characters are enjoying themselves. The film is well structured and scripted, and quite beautifully shot. The acting is superb and I was amazed to realise that Robert Pattinson, the beloved of the Twilight fans, is a seriously good actor. His portrayal of Dali, a complex character if ever there was one, is brilliant. Beside him, the Spanish actor, Javier Beltrán, who plays Lorca was competent enough and very good looking but seemed almost wooden beside Pattinson, who shone. The only flaw in the film was the sound quality – something that seems more and more frequent in the last decade. Highly recommended viewing.

The Secret Life of the Zoo Season 4***** I love this series and was glad to see its return this autumn. I have only seen two episodes so far but will be sure to watch all the rest either as they are aired or on CatchUp (Channel 4 for UK viewers – no idea if it’s available elsewhere.)


This was a bit of a non-fiction month, with a focus on two of the books recommended here plus various copies of New Scientist, Private Eye, National Geographic and recipe magazines.

First of all, the five star brigade, with only one work of complete fiction this time.

Wake Up Call by JL Merrow (Porthkennack)*****
This is part of the Porthkennack series where a number of authors get to play in the same fictional Cornish town and give us interesting and well written m/m romances.. I love Merrow’s style of writing which seems superficially casual but in fact is layered with a deep knowledge of regional micro-cultures, speech patterns and little known facts. Devan, a motor mechanic of mixed race, adopted then orphaned, is seeking his birth family, and in the process meets Kyle, a barrister diagnosed with narcolepsy and cataplexy. It’s a fascinating story with great minor characters too. Highly recommended.

The Science of Discworld by Terry Pratchett, Ian Stewart and Jack Cohen*****
The science chapters which alternate with a Discworld story ( a novella rather than a novel) are almost as fascinating as the discussions held by the wizards of Unseen University. I struggled with the astronomy sections – this is a subject well outside my comfort zone – but the evolution and paleontology parts were fine so I have to assume the science contributors know what they’re talking about when it comes to the cosmos, and I did learn something about the universe even if I might not remember it all or be able to recount what I read. The wizards, you see, have a project on the go, which involves creating a world and indeed a universe, and watching it develop. I will be requesting the later books in the same mini-series as future gifts. This one was a birthday present and I am truly grateful for it. Highly recommended.

Academia Obscura by Glen Wright*****
This is a book to dip into rather than read in a linear fashion. It’s a wonderfully funny and informative account of academic publishing. I subscribed to it on Unbound and am pleased with the book. Though I think I’ve said in the past that I am not going to use Unbound again – it’s anyone’s guess as to when you get your copy (or a copy you want to give someone else) and the touted access to the writer’s thoughts as they complete their work is not particularly interesting. This was the last of the books I’d subscribed to in a rush of enthusiasm. Worth reading and now available on Amazon at a reasonable price so it would make a good Christmas gift for any academics in your life.

Somehow, I bypassed any good-but-not-outstanding books this month and ended up with three three star ones:

Hex in the City edited by Kerrie Hughes (In the Fiction River series)***
This book was meant to be the cutting edge of urban fantasy, a theme that appeals to me. But the collection of stories was not brilliant. I have read much better examples elsewhere, even by some of the writers ‘showcased’ here (e.g. Seanan McGuire). There was nothing dire, but equally nothing special. I bought this as part of a Women in Fantasy story bundle and I hope the other books in the set are better than this one. The only story that has really stayed with me is Somebody Else’s Problem by Annie Bellet and I might look for this author again. Bellet introduces the idea of ‘a future/ alternate Detroit where magic is only somewhat legal and rats are used to sniff out the illegal magic.’ The only other story worth mentioning is The Scottish Play by Kristine Kathryn Rusch who helped edit the collection and gave us her own version of magic in theatreland. The proofreading (on all the contents) could have used some work. Worth reading if you find it at the library but not worth paying for.

Colorado Connection by Sara York(Colorado Heart 6)***
This story of a guy who lost his lover in Afghanistan and was recruited into some kind of black ops group on his return didn’t really appeal to me, partly because I don’t totally approve of black ops and therefore felt disinclined to empathise with the main characters – but also because I think a lot of the story would have made more sense if I’d read the earlier books in the series first. However, I won’t be reading them. The writing was competent and the characters were well developed. The criticism is personal and should not deter readers who might like the theme.

A Stranger in Skoria and A Slave in Skoria by John Tristan***
Two novellas that I have lumped together because they are quite short. I believe there’s a further story (at least) in the offing but I won’t be buying it. The idea of aliens and slaves fascinates me, but in this case the situation was just an excuse for some very explicit m/m sex writing with very little in the way of character development, and some rather banal world building. Technically, the writing was quite good but I found the overall effect disappointing.

…and one that scraped two stars by the skin of its teeth.

Wolves of the Northern Rift by Jon Messenger (Magic and Machinery 1)**
I certainly won’t be buying book 2! I really enjoy steampunk and looked forward to this, especially as it also featured werewolves. But although the writing was technically competent with reasonable grammar etc., the plot was clumsy, the world building was poor, and the further addition of demons did nothing to recommend the story to me. It was as if a computer had been asked to write something that included everything currently popular in the fantasy genre. Maybe that’s what actually happened here? Not recommended.


Despite being fanfic, neither of this month’s recs are ‘slash’ (m/m) or het (f/m) love stories. They are what is known as ‘gen’ with no real romance elements whatsoever.

I finished reading the stories contributed to The Professionals Big Bang 2017. You can see the whole collection at if you’re a fan of the show but most of the fics are probably not very accessible to a wider readership. I do want to recommend Nice-Orno Ltd by Fiorenza_a***** which is at
It’s fairly true to canon despite being tongue-in-cheek. It has a delighful humour to it and a great twist at the end that makes it a suitable story to amuse you at Christmas. And at just over 33,000 words it’s a satisfyingly long read.

I’ve also been wandering through the Stargate Atlantis reverse big bang, where the art is what inspires the story rather than the other way around. I’ve also been reading contributions to the annual Monsterfest at a LiveJournal/Dreamwidth writing community. I’m usually active in this, though not this year. However the upshot is that I must recommend the writings of one of my online friends. ‘Brumeier’ writes both fanfic and original fiction and her work appears in both the collections mentioned. I want you all to go and read the three stories already posted in After the Eclipse***** at There are only just over six thousand words altogether so it won’t take you long to enjoy this quirky small town fantasy. Think Pratchett meets Dr Who with a helping of Welcome to the Night Vale. Superb!


Posted by on December 4, 2017 in reviews



October Reviews

So I’m on time this month. I can’t really claim full credit. I had no internet for a week so had plenty of time to organise lists etc.

Films etc.
Other than news and political commentary I’ve only really watched Star Trek Discovery episodes 1 – 5. I liked the new concept, with good special effects, strong female characters and a very multiracial/multi species crew. But once the main characters were introduced, the plots were, I thought, tired, and I got bored. Three stars, and I would watch more if someone else was switching it on…

A good crop of five star reads this month.
Foxglove Copse by Alex Beecroft*****
This was my introduction to Porthkennack, a fictional Cornish world which was the creation, I think, of Alex, but has been invaded by a number of my favourite authors. I have bought the next five books and am really looking forward to them. The stories are all standalones but set in the same town. This one was exciting and interesting, a well plotted thriller with an m/m sub plot. Sam, who is escaping his London family and job, joins Ruan, a local, to investigate an internet troll who is also responsible for nasty ‘curses’ in the form of sacrificed animals, intended to force Sam’s farmer landlord to sell. Recommended.
The Best Corpse for the Job by Charlie Cochrane*****
The introduction to another series by Charlie Cochrane who never disappoints. This is the start of the Lindenshaw mysteries, set in a small village with a teacher at the local school helping a local police inspector investigate a murder. Plenty of red herrings, a lot of realistic school detail, and some nicely developed characters. Again, I’m looking forward to the sequels. Recommended.
The Last Dragonlord by Joanne Bertin*****
A very competent fantasy novel with some lovely dragons and a lot of very well drawn characters and some great world building. The story was exciting and when the hero and heroine finally got together I heaved a sigh of relief. I bought the book, with its sequel, in a charity shop, and am looking forward to reading Dragon and Phoenix. Recommended.
An Unsuitable Heir by J.K. Charles*****
This was the final story in the Sins of the Cities series which has been consistently good. I love the depiction of Victorian London and society high and low. By the time this novel starts the heir to the earldom has been found, but turns out to be reluctant to take his place. He is someone with gender issues which are sensitively portrayed, as are his problems in denying the chance of a fortune to his twin sister, who luckily meets the man of her dreams. Well worth reading but it won’t make sense unless you’ve read the earlier books, An Unseen Attraction, and An Unnatural Vice. I recommend the trilogy.
Dating Ryan Alback by J.E.Birk*****
This was a fluffy contemporary m/m romance, but it was excellent fluff. Jason wins a date with a movie star, Ryan, in a talk show contest. The awkwardness is endearing and realistic, there is plenty of angst, the minor characters are well drawn, and although the ending is happy that is never a certainty. Recommended.
Dead Ringer by Heidi Belleau and Sam Schooler*****
Brandon turns escort/sex worker to pay the bills on a house inherited from his grandparents. Grandfather was a movie star and Brandon meets Percy, an avid fan of James Ringer (who I think is loosely modelled on James Dean). Percy is a partial invalid. The ensuing problems are engrossing and the detail on the escort business is fascinating. A great read and I will be looking for more work by these authors. Highly recommended.

Incidentally, I only found Dead Ringer and Dating Ryan Alback (see above) because they were part of Riptide’s Anniversary Sale. That shows that sales are an important way to get books, and their authors, known!

Then there were some good reads in the four star category.
The Heart of Texas by RJ Scott****
The son of an oil billionaire arranges a same sex marriage for himself in order to retain his inheritance but there are plenty of twists and turns in the story before the hero can breathe easily. As with a lot of this author’s work, the writing is excellent and the characters attractive, but the plot is slightly unrealistic.
Dirty Laundry by Heidi Cullinan****
I understand this was expanded from a short story and to be honest, I thought it would have worked better in a shorter form. Adam is ‘rescued’ by Denver when he is being bullied in a laundromat. Both men have problems and secrets that need to be sorted out before they can move on. Nicely written but for me, it has too much explicit sex which tends to get boring.
Back to You by Chris Scully****
Alex goes back to his old home town when his father is dying, and is reunited with his childhood friend Ben. However, the old mystery of Ben’s missing sister threatens them both when Alex, a journalist, investigates. Quite gripping but there is some unrealistic behaviour on everyone’s part, past and present.
The Law of Attraction by Jay Northcote****
Alec, a lawyer, finds that his one-night-stand Ed is his new temporary assistant. Competent writing but far too much explicit sex.

And one disappointment.
Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie***
After reading Half of a Yellow Sun, which is a wonderful novel exploring the Nigerian civil war, I was really looking forward to this. But the story of Ifemelu, who returns to Nigeria as an Americanah and is reunited with her high school/uni boyfriend, Obinze (who is married) meanders through their past and present with no surprises or excitement. The writing is beautiful, as one would expect from this author, but I kept waiting for the main story to start and it never did. The book explores American concepts of race from the point of view of an outsider, and is of interest in that respect (speaking as another outside who finds American ideas about race quite hard to understand) but I think I would have preferred the ‘blog’ that Ifemelu wrote which gave her her ‘living’ in America. The excerpts in the story, from the fictional blog, were perhaps the best bits! I found it hard to empathise with either of the main characters, both of whom were deeply flawed and at the same time less than interesting. I know Adichie is highly thought of, and that people are currently saying she should be on our university reading lists, but I think this example of her work is just ‘litfic’ with much less depth than I had hoped for.

I have been concentrating on the stories for the Big Bang for the Professionals fandom. For those of you who have never heard of Big Bangs, this is a fanfic tradition in which long(ish) stories are accompanied by art – paintings, photoshopped montages, videos – made by artist fans. The collaboration of the writers and artists together with encouragement from ‘cheerleaders’ once the contribution list is announced, and the beta/editing services of other fans give the whole concept great appeal. I am not recommending any of the works I have read, because unless you are in the fandom they would not be altogether appealing. Most of them are what are called AUs or alternative universe stories (I and a co-writer contributed one of these). The pleasure in the reading comes largely from seeing how the canon characters behave in entirely different circumstances.
However, a solid diet of Professionals gets to be indigestible, even for a fan, and I do have two recommendations for the month from other reading.
Of Witch I Am Familiar by Brumeier***** which you can find at
This is also an AU, this time with characters from Stargate Atlantis transformed into a witch’s animal familiars. The story is endearing if you like magic, cats, and ravens, even if you have no idea about the original show. 3,411 words.
An Extra Cup by Small_Hobbit*****: you can find it at
Back in my March reviews I recommended the writings of Small_Hobbit. You can find her work on AO3 at 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. It was my birthday in October and the writer (who I know quite well in real life as well as online) wrote me a birthday ficlet because she knows I love Mouselet. Only 252 words so do go and read it! Despite the fandom connection, it should be accessible to everyone who has ever heard of Sherlock Holmes!

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Posted by on November 1, 2017 in reviews



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. **


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.


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.


Posted by on October 15, 2017 in reviews