RSS

Tag Archives: 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 Beltr├ín, 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.)

Books

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.

Fanfiction

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 http://archiveofourown.org/collections/Pros_Big_Bang_2017 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 http://archiveofourown.org/collections/Pros_Big_Bang_2017/works/12457350
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 http://archiveofourown.org/series/839529. 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!

Advertisements
 
Leave a comment

Posted by on December 4, 2017 in reviews

 

Tags:

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…

Books
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.

Fanfic
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 https://archiveofourown.org/works/7825753#main
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 http://archiveofourown.org/works/12442674
Back in my March reviews I recommended the writings of Small_Hobbit. You can find her work on AO3 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. 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!

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on November 1, 2017 in reviews

 

Tags:

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.

 
2 Comments

Posted by on October 15, 2017 in reviews

 

Tags:

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!!

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on September 29, 2017 in reviews

 

Tags:

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!

 
4 Comments

Posted by on July 8, 2017 in reviews

 

Tags:

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!

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on June 5, 2017 in reviews

 

Tags:

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.

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on May 2, 2017 in reviews

 

Tags: