Tuesday, 30 June 2020

Six Years of Rosie Amber's Book Review Team

I have been a member of Rosie Amber's Book Review Team (#RBRT) for five and a half years, now.  I first 'met' Rosie online when looking for reviews for my own early books, and through her some of the other bloggers who later became part of the team.

I admit to being wary of making the commitment when I joined the review team, but I'm so glad I did; Rosie has created something so positive for the independently published world (the team deals mainly with the self-published or those published by independents), and I am proud to be a part of it.  When I joined, I decided to start my own book review blog - I don't profess to be a 'proper' book blogger as I'm primarily a writer; I don't take submissions and use it only for reviewing for Rosie and my own reading choices, but it's something I enjoy doing. ๐Ÿ˜€

If you are interested in joining us, Rosie has written an article about how her review team works, on BookerTalk blog - you can read it HERE.  Details of how to apply to join are HERE.  You don't need to have a book blog, and you don't need any credentials apart from a love of reading.

There are two main reasons why I'm so glad I joined the team, equally important.  The first is the discovery of some truly excellent books; now and again, you find a real gem, that you want to shout about; so often these are books that are hidden away on Amazon and you would have never discovered, had the author not submitted.  Here are a few that made me feel this way (link takes you to my review):

The Men by Fanny Calder
The Usurper King  by Zeb Haradon
The World Without Flags by Ben Lyle Bedard 
Singularity Syndrome by Susan Kuchinskas
The Unrivalled Transcendence of Willem J Gyle by James D Dixon
The Unravelling of Brendan Meeks by Brian Cohn
Back Home by Tom Williams

Other books I've loved are highlighted on Rosie's two part post:


The second reason I love being a part of #RBRT is that some of us have become real life friends, too, enjoying several meet-ups.

Here are me, Rosie, Shelley, Cathy and Barb, in Matlock, April 2019 - a lovely weekend!

Leicester, December 2016

With Rosie, Cathy, Barb and Alison - Sheffield, October 2015

Here's to six more years of Rosie Amber's Book Review Team! ๐Ÿ’ƒ

Thursday, 25 June 2020

~ What To Avoid In Social Conversation ~

I saw this delightful list from late Victorian/early Edwardian times, on @serialsemantic's Twitter page, and considered how it might be translated into these days of social media conversation.

As you will see, I think some should still apply to Twitterly interaction, though others should be disregarded entirely. ๐Ÿ˜‰

If you click on the item below it will be big enough to read, but I've written out each one before my Twitterly translation.  Enjoy!

1.  Do not manifest impatience.
Building a Twitter profile takes time - do not manifest impatience about your lack of interactions and retweets, or certainly not via tweet.  If a new writer, do not publicly manifest impatience about your lack of book sales.  It takes time to build up a readership, too.  Also, it might make other people wonder why no one is buying it.

2.  Do not engage in argument.
Debating differing opinions is one of the joys of conversation, online and off, but do not call someone a self-absorbed c*** if their opinion differs from yours, as happened to me a short while back. Or say that they are 'sad' because they do not perceive a situation in the same way that you do.  If someone is not willing to reasonably accept a differing point of view, it is best to bow out gracefully. Then mute the dickhead.

3.  Do not interrupt another when speaking.
If you see a conversation between two or three strangers, and you have strongly negative feelings about the subject matter being discussed, do not butt in and tell them how offended you are by their conversation.  Unless you're the sort of person who goes on Twitter to seek arguments, of course.

4.  Do not find fault, although you may gently criticise.
When you get those DMs that we all hate, in which the person (inevitably a total stranger) asks you to download their music, subscribe to their Youtube channel, review their new book, etc, do not tear them off a strip.  They may simply be ignorant of the best way to use social media.  If you wish to comment, it is more productive to suggest that this may not be the best way to promote themselves, and let them know that such an activity is considered spam.

However, if they're rude back, or continue to send them, give 'em hell.

5.  Do not talk of your private, personal or family matters.
A couple of weeks back, I saw a tweet from a woman complaining that she was having 'a particularly heavy flow this month'.   
WHY?  Why would anyone tweet that?????  ๐Ÿ˜– ๐Ÿ˜ฉ

6.  Do not appear to notice inaccuracies of speech in others.
If they want to describe themselves as 'adverse' to something, or indicate their agreement by tweeting 'Here, here!', let them.  Unless it really, really irritates you.  Some inaccuracies, such as use of 'words' like 'irregardless' and 'deteriate' might cause you to spontaneously combust if not corrected.  In these cases, priority should be given to your own well-being.

7.  Do not allow yourself to lose temper or speak excitedly.
Do not call someone a self-absorbed c*** because their opinion, politely and amicably expressed, differs from yours.  If that insult is directed towards you, report and block.  But speaking excitedly?  What is life without joyful enthusiasm?  The floor is yours!

8.  Do not allude to unfortunate peculiarities of anyone present.
Unless they are Donald Trump, Boris Johnson, Katie Hopkins, etc.  In these instances, fill yer boots.

9.  Do not always commence a conversation by alluding to the weather.
But be aware that if you tweet about it, you will get more interaction on that tweet than on any other one before or since.  Much of it from people who have never spoken to you before, but feel the need to tell you that it's raining where they are.

10. Do not, when narrating an incident, continually say 'you see' or 'you know', etc.
Or those 280 characters won't go very far!

11. Do not introduce professional or other topics in which the company generally cannot take an interest.
Nah.  Do not feel scared to talk about stuff that you're enthusiastic about.  That's how you find like-minded people.  You will never please everyone, and trying to tweet only 'items of general interest' makes your profile look somewhat 'vanilla', as if you have read a book on How To Engage With Your Twitter Followers.  Your profile is your own; if you want to tweet about the sex life of the koi carp, go right ahead. 

12. Do not talk very loud.  A firm, clear, distinct, yet mild, gentle and musical voice has great power.
Do not greet someone in your Twitter feed by saying 'MORNING, FATSO!  SOLD ANY BOOKS YET TODAY?'  On the other hand, do not say, 'in my humble opinion' (IMHO) before expressing yourself; we know it's your opinion because you're saying it, and if you consider your opinion humble, so will others.

On yet another hand, it might be better to say, 'I'm not sure I agree with that' than 'You're talking out of your arse, mate'.

13. Do not be absent-minded, requiring the speaker to repeat what he has said, that you might understand.
It's perfectly acceptable to ask someone for that useful link a second time.  We all forget and lose stuff on our cluttered desktops, etc.  However, asking for a third and fourth time might get you a ๐Ÿ˜ฌ followed by the gritted-teeth suggestion that you keep the link somewhere you can find it.
14. Do not try to force yourself into the confidence of others.  If they give their confidence, never betray it.
If someone tells you in a tweet that they know a writer who sends DMs to other writers asking them to do review swaps, you'll be dying to know who it is, won't you?  Go on, ask them to tell you in a DM.  Just once.  If they don't reply, don't ask again.

And if they tell YOU in a DM that they haven't sold a book in three months, do not report this to anyone else.   

15. Do not intersperse your language with foreign words and high-sounding terms.  It shows affectation and will draw ridicule on you.
Or, at the very least, will make people mentally label you as pretentious.  It actually shows insecurity, but does not impress, as hoped; it usually has the opposite effect.

16. Do not aspire to be a great storyteller; an inveterate teller of long stories becomes very tiresome.  To tell one or two witty, short, new stories, appropriate to the occasion, is about all that one person should inflict on the company.
Do not use Twitter to detail, in a thread of tweets, the injustices caused to you by an former romantic partner, unless you already have an audience of online friends who have previously expressed their interest and concern, and are waiting for details of the latest developments.  If not, it will make you look like a nutcase.

~ Do unto other Twitter users as you would have them do unto you ~
๐Ÿ˜‰ ๐Ÿ˜‰

Friday, 19 June 2020

Lately I've Been Watching

More mini TV reviews ... including, by popular demand, where they can be watched!  But if you ever want to find out where you can watch something, generally, just google 'where can I watch *name of show*' and you should be able to find out.

I add to this series every month or couple of months; if you would like to see more, please click here: Lately I've Been Watching

Some good ones this month!


Series: Gangs of London - Season 1 (Sky)

5 stars plus ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

LOVED this!  London gang lord Finn Wallace, played by Colm Meaney, is murdered - and his loyal son and heir Sean (Joe Cole) is determined to find out who gave the order, as well as who pulled the trigger.  As events unravel, he discovers that his father was not the man he thought he was, and must contend with associates who may not be the friends he thought.  Michelle Fairley (Caitlyn Stark in Game of Thrones) also stars as the horribly deluded mother, who has much to discover about her late husband.

Alongside Sean's story is that of Elliot Finch, undercover cop who works as an enforcer for the Wallaces, and soon finds that he is in too deep.

Absolutely gripping, edge of the seat stuff, not a dull scene throughout. Highly recommended.  Lots of violence - you have been warned.

Series: The Son - Seasons 1 and 2 (Amazon Prime)

5 stars ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Based on the book of the same name by Philipp Meyer.  Pierce Brosnan stars as Eli McCullough, a Texas rancher and would-be oil man in 1915, battling with the local Mexican community, the big guns up north, and his favourite son, Pete (Henry Garrett).

Interspersed with the present day is Eli's back story - how his family's meagre home was attacked by Comanches, in 1849.  His brother, sister and mother perished, but he was kept as a slave by the tribe.  He soon learns their ways, however, and becomes a Comanche himself; he is adopted by the chief, expertly played by Zahn McClarnon, who you will have seen in every other other TV show and film that has ever featured a Native American (Westworld, Fargo).  

An unusual slant - it is soon evident that the main character of this show is no 'goodie' that you want to root for.  Although the young Eli (Jacob Lofland) is likeable, he grows into a manipulative and ruthless man.  Your sympathy will be with the Mexicans and possibly his wife and daughter; son Pete whines too much, and the elder son, Phineas, is as bad as his father.

This didn't grip me too much for the first couple of episodes, but as soon as it began to, I was totally sold; it's a great story.  Sadly, it was cancelled after only two seasons, and the story wrapped up.  So worth watching, and I must read the book, too!

Series: Homeland - Season 8 (Amazon Prime, Showtime, Channel 4)

5 stars ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

The final season, sadly - and it's another winner.  This time, the ever-tormented Carrie Mathison is suspected of being a Russian spy; echoes of Nicholas Brody.  It seemed a bit low-key in the first couple of episodes but got better and better as it went on, and the ending is completely satisfactory; it's not often one can say that, at the end of a long-running show.  

If you love Homeland you won't be disappointed, and if you've never watched it, you should start!

Reality TV/Documentary: Alone - Season 6 (Netflix) 

5 stars ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Survival series in which 10 contestants are sent to live alone in the wilds; the one who sticks it out for the longest wins the $500,000 prize.  This time, they're in the Arctic, facing the freezing cold, lack of food, bear attacks - all the usual stuff.  All contestants are survival experts; as usual they range from the irritating to the slightly nuts, to the admirable and likeable.  Great fun guessing who's going to 'tap out' next, or who will be removed on medical grounds (like losing 20% of their body weight in 2 months), but what I like most about this is finding out about all the survival techniques.  Love it :)

Limited Series (complete story): Quicksand (Netflix)

4.5 stars ⭐⭐⭐⭐

Swedish series dubbed into English.  Starts with a school shooting, and a girl (Maja, played by Hanna Ardรฉhn) covered in blood, staring at the dead bodies surrounding her; she is taken away by the police.  Very soon we realise that she is not victim but possible co-perpetrator - but why?  And what part did boyfriend Sebastian play?

The story alternates between Maja's time in prison, in semi-isolation, including meetings with her lawyer/interviews with the police, and a more or less chronological account from when she met Sebastian, through to how her life began a dangerous spiral downwards as their relationship progressed.

I was glued to this from start to finish (watched it all in one night), but took a half star off because I hated the ending.  Alas, I cannot say why, as it would be a total spoiler!  Also, it's only my opinion - others might love it.

Series: Reality Z - Season 1 (Netflix)

4 stars ⭐⭐⭐⭐ 

Brazilian dubbed into English, this is based on the original Charlie Brooker miniseries Dead Set, about a reality TV show in which the inhabitants of a Big Brother style house don't realise that the zombie apocalypse is taking place outside.  Created by Clรกudio Torres and produced by Brooker, these are no Walking Dead, shambling, slow Walkers - the Reality Z zombies are wild-eyed, fast, and terrifying.

It's nothing like TWD, or indeed Black Summer; it's dark, satirical humour.  I enjoyed it and would watch more, but liked it rather than loved it.

Documentary Series: Jeffrey Epstein: Filthy Rich (Netflix)

4 stars ⭐⭐⭐⭐

Four part documentary based on the 2016 book of the same name by James Patterson.  It's good, kept me interested, but felt more as though it was made for anyone who doesn't know much about him; it focused on the survivors' stories, and only touched upon Epstein's vast network of the rich, famous and influential.  I felt there was a lot left unsaid, about how much was covered up by whom and for how long, which makes one wonder if the producers were cautioned against saying too much.

Monday, 25 May 2020

To go Free or not to go Free?

I decided to write this post after talking to several newer self-published authors about whether or not free promotions for a first book are worth doing, and what results they should expect.  Much of this will also apply to those who have written two connected books (one book and its sequel, or the first two books of a series), or anyone who has not tried a free promotion before.

What are free promotions for?  The answer may seem obvious, but here it is:
  1. To get your book on Kindles far and wide.
  2. To find new readers for your other books, or those soon to be written.
  3. To get more reviews and ratings.
  4. To boost the book's visibility on Amazon.

So do they work?  Points 1 and 4, above, will depend on several elements:
  • The extent of your social media presence.
  • The cover and the blurb.
  • The quality of reviews already present.
  • Whether or not you are willing to pay a promotional company for extra exposure - more about this later.

Points 2 and 3 will depend on:
  • The quality of the free book - more about this later, too.
  • Whether or not it is your sole publication and, if so, how soon your next book will be published. 

Let's take a look at all these points.

1.  The extent of your social media presence, and Amazon visibility.

How it used to be: I did my first free promo in April, 2012, with just 1000 Twitter followers.  I put my first two books on free, and got around 33K downloads.  All I did was tweet about them, and get them posted on sites that featured free books at no cost, none of which exist any more.  The subsequent boost in visibility was sufficient to get them both into the Amazon UK Top 100 paid charts, after the promotion; one of them, You Wish, was selling every few minutes.

A major factor in determining how well your book sells is how often Amazon's computers show it to potential readers, e.g., in recommendations, in the 'also bought' and 'also viewed', etc.  If 20K people have downloaded your book over one weekend, Amazon's AI thinks, 'People like this. I'll show it to everyone, and it will make money for the Mighty Zon.'.

That was 8 years ago.  Times have changed - a lot!

I caught the last wave of the fabulous free promotions.  Six months later, it was over.  These days, everyone has Kindles jam-packed with books they will never read.  There are hundreds of thousands of freebies on Amazon every day of the week.  Many readers will have downloaded free books that shouldn't have been published in the first place, and assume 'free' means 'crap'.  Now, you have to sell a free book in the same way you would if it wasn't free, using hooks, quotes and taglines that will make people think, hmm, that sounds interesting.  If you have only 1000 followers on Twitter, it is likely that, because of the site's algorithms, only a few hundred, if that, will see your tweets.  Out of those, not all will be takers; possibly under 100 of them.

From my experience and observation, you need to get at least 2K downloads to make any difference to the book's visibility on Amazon.  You can get more by using Facebook (I am not on the site any more, but I believe there are lots of groups and pages that publicise free books), by retweeting others on Twitter so that they will retweet you back, and by paying a promotional site.  Yes, we're getting to that soon!

2.  The Cover and the Blurb

These are of varying importance, depending on the individual.  If a book's subject matter is something I want to read about, and the blurb draws me in, I don't give a stuff about the cover; it's the genre and blurb that 'speaks' to me.  Others are attracted mainly by the cover.  It makes sense, though, to have the best cover you can afford or make, and to make sure the blurb is sharp, to the point, enticing and error-free.  You could always try running it past some honest friends to see how it might be improved.

3.  The Quality of the Reviews Already Present

Obviously, it makes sense to have as many reviews on the book as possible before doing a special promotion.  Most new writers start off with reviews from friends, family and online writer friends, who usually make the mistake of making out it's the best book they've ever read.  It helps if you have a few from other avid readers, too, and book bloggers, not just eight 'Amazon Customers' who have never reviewed anything else.  You can read more about getting reviews by looking in the 'Reviews' section of this list of articles: HERE

4. Paying for promotion

'Is it crazy to pay for promotion for a book that's free?'  No, it's not.  On average once a month, I do a free promotion for one of my books using Freebooksy.  To book it, you choose one day during your promotion, pay your $90 or £72 (those figures are approximate), and your book will feature on their daily email to 1000s of subscribers. These will be mostly in countries that buy from Amazon.com, such as the US.  The boost this gives will get it high in the book's genre charts, so that on the days that are left, the downloads will carry on coming.  This is why it's best to choose the first or second day of your promotion.  Have a look on the Freebooksy site before booking it on Amazon KDP, as some days will be sold out.

I have also had reasonable results with The eReader Cafe and less so with Book Doggy but this is reflected in the price (it's only about £12).  

In my experience, a Freebooksy promotion will obtain 2K - 5K downloads, though some genres may do better; others, worse.  But this is enough to give a sagging book a lift, get future sales - especially good if your book is the first in a series - and obtain new reviews and ratings.

Then there is BookBub.  You've probably heard of it.  It's fabulous, and has not 1000s but 1,000,000s of subscribers.  It costs about £540 to promote a free book for one day (it works in the same way as all the others), but it's worth it.  You have to submit the book for their consideration, and they only take around 10% of those submitted, but you can keep trying; I know of one writer who submitted about 16 times before finally getting accepted.  I've been accepted twice so far, and got 37K downloads the first time, and 45K the second.  For each, I got over 300 new reviews or ratings across all sites (all Amazons, Bookbub itself, Goodreads) for each book (it's probably more by now), and the boost this gave me in Amazon visibility meant that I made the money back several times over in the two or three months that followed, in sales for the book that had been on promotion, and others.

For more details of any of these promotional sites, take a look via the links provided.  Do be aware, though that the wider your readership, the more likely you are to get some bad reviews.  Most of the ones I got for The Devil You Know were extremely positive, but I got a few humdingers for The House of York!  Unless you're getting a great deal of bad reviews, in which case you need to take a long, hard look at the book itself, it's just something you must learn to accept.  And you can learn from them, sometimes.

5.  The Quality of the Free Book

The ideal world: 1000s will download the free book, read it immediately, think, 'Wow!  I need more!', then leap to Amazon and to buy more of your work.  Of course, this rarely happens.

Think about your own reading habits.  If a book really grips you, you'll buy the next in the series or another novel by that author.  If it's just 'quite good' but didn't really grip you, or it's okay but still needs some work, you probably won't. Similarly, if you can see that it's good but it's just not your thing - no book appeals to everyone.

I have a four book series, and put the first one, Tipping Point, on free a couple of times a year. I get around an 80% 'read-through' to Book #2, Lindisfarne, and 70% for #3, UK2, though only about 60% to #4, Legacy.  But the people who do read all four often go on to buy others; the associated short stories, another book set in the same world, The Devil You Know, and my most recent, 2-book series. These are the ones who like my writing style—the more downloads you get, the more likely you are to find them.

If your free book is not soundly edited and proofread, with great pacing, characters that the readers care about, realistic dialogue and a well-constructed plot without any dodgy bits, you will get less read-throughs, and less reviews.  I say this from observation and, sadly, experience - my first two books needed better editing and proofreading.  I thought the fantastic free promo would get me started.  It didn't.  That came several books later, when I was more experienced in every aspect of novel-writing.  I did get some great reviews, and found readers who stuck with me, but I got some bad ones, too, and made errors with the subject matter of the third and fourth books - basically, it was a learning experience!

Putting one book on free is no guarantee of future sales.  However!  A lack of them might not necessarily mean your book is a mess.  It might be simply because of my theory, which I will now explain:

'Last month, my book got 1000 free downloads 
- so where are all the new reviews and read-through sales?'

The following amounts are general estimates, so please don't take me to task about it; it's not meant to be actual figures, but to illustrate why you should not expect your free promotion to propel you into Amazon best-selling glory.

Your book is downloaded 1000 times.  What happens next?
  • 500 people will never read it.  It will get lost in the thousands of other free books on their Kindles.
  • 50 may discover it in 6 months' time.  Or a year, or two years.  I was still getting the odd review for You Wish (that first book) two or three years after I put it on free.
  • 100 will start it, not like it, and abandon after a chapter or two.
  • 50 will start it, think it's okay, but not be that bothered about it; they may abandon simply when they see another book that excites them more.
  • 100 will finish it, and think it was good, but won't be gagging to read any more.
  • 100 will like it, and probably read more. Some time.  Not necessarily immediately.
  • Out of all the above, you may get the odd review or rating, though they probably won't be 5*.  There are now just 100 readers left.
  • 50 will like it alot, and get another one, though this may be on Kindle Unlimited, so you won't see an immediate sale; they may not even read it straight away.  
  • 50 will like it alot, even adore it; these could become 'your readers'.  But half of them may not get round to buying another book just because... well, just because.  How many times have you said, 'Oh yes, I really liked his first book.  I'll get round to reading the sequel some time.'?
  • Of those 50, 10 will tell other people about you, in person or on social media. They may tell you, too.  But most will remain anonymous.
  • These last 50 are your possible reviewers.  However, they may mean to, but never get round to it.  It's better now that readers can just rate on Amazon without having to write anything, though; 99% of readers don't review.  Also, do not forget that these magic people might not have actually read the book yet. 
Remember: a free download is not the same as a sale.
Your book's free ranking on Amazon has no bearing on its paid ranking

6.  Is It Your Only Book?

I would not advise paying for promotion for a lone publication, because however much a reader loves it, he or she will have nowhere else to go once it's read.  On the other hand, you may get some new reviews; generally, though, the only time I would advise paying is when the next book is imminent - and by that I mean will be published within the next couple of weeks.   If so, it is a good idea to write something to that effect either on the blurb or in the author's note at the back.  Or leave the option to sign up for a newsletter if you do one, or follow you on social media.

If the book is #1 of a continuing story, it's best to wait until the series is complete before spending out, or have at least three books ready to download. 
Otherwise, people tend to forget.  There are 1000s of books published every week - it is easy to forget about an author, even if you really liked them.

7.  What else can you do?

When promoting your free book on Twitter, do a good new pinned tweet every day of the promotion, giving an indication of the book's genre, and a line or two to say what it's about, or quotes from great reviews (from book bloggers, not your best mate or your mum).  Vary the tweets.  Use pictures.  RT others alot, tweet it a few times during the day. You can also DM Twitter friends to ask them to help you promote it.

But Don't:
  • Go overboard with the tweets; it'll annoy your followers (yep, done it myself!).
  • Focus your tweets on how many downloads it's already got, unless it's at #1 in a main genre chart, or has had something like 10K, which is a pull in itself.  On the whole, though, only other writers will be interested.
  • Say things like 'Let's get #1 of The Dragon Chronicles into the Top 100 #Free chart!'.  Some people will want to help, but, basically, you're the only one who cares.
  • Ask for reviews in the tweets: 'Please download, read and review'.  That's a huge no-no.
  • Call yourself a 'best-selling author' if you're not.  Getting to the top of an obscure genre chart for one day does not make you a best-selling author.  

If, having read this, you've decided against going free, you can always try a 99p/c promotion, for a week.  If it is published on Amazon KDP, you can do a Kindle Countdown promotion, which means that you can put the book on for as low as 99p/c and still get the 70% royalty.  The price can be increased gradually during the week, or you can just leave it at 99 for the whole week; I do.  Again, it is best to do this once the book has got some decent reviews, and has an enticing blurb, etc, etc.

I hope this helps, and good luck!

Thursday, 21 May 2020

Lately I've Been Watching

More mini TV and film recommendations, with trailers to help you make up your mind!  I've made a note of which site I saw them (mostly Amazon Prime and Netflix).

If you would like to see more, please click here: Lately I've Been Watching.  There are many of these posts; if you want to see them all, click on 'older posts' when you get to the bottom. 

Film: Greed (Amazon)

5 stars plus ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Stars Steve Coogan as Richard McCreadie, who is based on Phillip Green, the ruthless billionaire business man who owns Topshop, Evans, Burtons, Miss Selfridge and others.  Also starts David Mitchell as his autobiographer, and Isla Sinclair as his ex-wife.  Although it does not mirror Green's life exactly, there are many aspects of it that I am sure do.  It's excellent.  Don't miss it.


Series: Cardinal (Amazon Prime, Hulu, BBC4)

5 stars ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Standard sort of cop/murder/personal dilemmas series, set mostly in the town of Algonquin Bay in Quebec, but it's particularly good.  Scenery is fabulous; there are four seasons, each one a gripping story told in six episodes.  The first and fourth take place in a snow-covered winter, and have a Scandi-noir feel to them.  Highly recommended if you like these type of things; by far the best I've seen for a long time. A real shame that S4 is the final one, though some parts of it did come to a natural end.

Series: Onisciente (Omniscient): Season 1 (Netflix)

5 stars ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Brazilian, dubbed into English (well done).  In a future time, the people live in the cities, where they are monitored 24/7 by drones the sizes of flies, Carla must go outside the city walls to find out who murdered her father, and why.  It's clever, gripping, and terrifying, because this sort of surveillance appears to be what we are heading towards.  Loved it - watch it!

Film: The Quarry (Amazon on Demand)

4.5 stars ⭐⭐⭐⭐

Slow-moving film starring Michael Shannon as a cop in a rundown small town.  Along comes the new preacher, played by Shea Whigham - except he isn't really a preacher at all.  It's dark and atmospheric, though not particularly memorable, but I'll watch Michael Shannon in anything, and Shea Whigham is fairly fab, too.  I think the actors and the atmosphere made it, as the plot isn't that stunning.  I'd give it a definite tick and a thumbs up, though.

Series: Dollhouse (Amazon)

4.5 stars ⭐⭐⭐⭐

This was made in 2009, and cancelled after 2 seasons.  It's scifi, about a company that kidnaps young men and women and re-programmes their brains to make them function as 'actives' or 'dolls', who will perform whatever activity the paying customer wants them to.  The star of the show is a 'doll' called Echo, whose 'real' mind begins to fuse with her re-programmed one, as she discovers what is happening.  I love stuff like this; it's a bit daft in places but highly enjoyable.  Sorry about the quality of the trailer, but it was the only one I could find.

TWD addicts will spot Enver Gjokaj as one of the main dolls - he played Pete Dolgen in Season 4.

Series: After Life: Season 2 (Netflix)

4 stars ⭐⭐⭐⭐

I know most people think this is brilliant, and Ricky Gervais plays the grieving widower who can't get on with his life so well, but I only like it, I don't love it.  I find it a little too depressing, because of the narrow lives the characters lead; it's a bit too 'real' for me.  Good, but I don't like it quite as much as the first season.  I think I'm waiting for more to actually happen.  Also, I winced at his use of the word 'cunt' - not because I mind hearing it, but because I felt as though it was intended to shock.

Series:  Westworld: Seasons 1, 2 & 3 (Amazon)

4 stars ⭐⭐⭐⭐

I tried this once and wasn't that keen, then watched it all when Season 3 came out.  If you haven't seen it, it's set in the future, in a vast theme park where rich people can immerse themselves in a real life virtual reality (if that makes sense) with cyborgs who believe themselves to be real people.  Gradually, though, some of them begin to find out the truth, and rise up against the humans.  I liked the first season, especially the gradual unfolding of the life of William, played in his younger years by Jimmy Simpson, who I love, and later by Ed Harris.  The second season I found a little too drawn out and was pleased when it was over.

I thought Season 3 was possibly the best of all, certainly as good as the beginning, though I know that it hasn't been received so well by the show's biggest fans. Time has moved on, Westworld is finished, and some of the cyborgs are ready for a fight.  This season stars Aaron Paul, a favourite of mine, as a human who becomes involved with the main cyborg, Dolores, played by Evan Rachel Wood.  Also stars Thandie Newton, Jeffrey Wright, Anthony Hopkins and Luke Hemsworth (the not so good looking one!).

Dark Comedy Series: Dead To Me: Seasons 1 & 2 (Netflix)

4 stars ⭐⭐⭐⭐

Christina Applegate (Married With Children) stars as Jen, a woman whose husband has been killed in a hit and run.  She bonds with Judy (Linda Cardellini) at a grief therapy group - but Judy is not who she claims to be.  Lots of near misses with the police and people getting themselves killed.

I liked Jen all the way through this, and it's fast-moving, amusing, entertaining, etc, but my enjoyment was marred by the character of Judy, who is possibly the most irritating character I've ever seen on television.  Cringe-making, soppy, unreliable, a bit of a 'madcap'; I think she is meant to be endearingly kooky but I had an allergic reaction to her.  I'd still recommend, though - it's a nice 'easy watch'.

Film: Capone (VOD)

4 stars ⭐⭐⭐⭐

Tom Hardy stars as the infamous gangster in this drama about his final year, at his mansion in Florida, when his dementia is making life pretty damn awful for everyone around him.  Linda Cardellini plays his wife (and is not irritating at all - see above!).  It's quite gruesome and depressing; Hardy is excellent and it's good, but I would have liked it more if there had been flashbacks of his glory days rather than his hallucinations... I didn't like it as much as I'd hoped.

Series: Run (HBO)

4 stars ⭐⭐⭐⭐

College sweethearts Ruby and Billy make a pact that, in the future, however their lives pan out, if one of them texts 'Run' to the other, and the other replies with the same word, they will drop everything and meet up in Grand Central Terminal to travel across American together.  On the morning when Ruby receives the text from Billy, she is in a supermarket car park.  Her marriage is not particularly happy; Billy is a motivational speaker whose career has just taken a disastrous nosedive.

No, all does not go smoothly, especially when Billy's super-possessive agent tracks him down.  It's amusing and I liked it.  Merrit Weaver (Denise in The Walking Dead) is great as Ruby, though Domhnall Gleeson is fairly irritating as Billy; a clichรฉd feckless Irishman who I think the viewer is meant to find quirkily charming.  

Film: Inheritance (Amazon)

3.5 stars ⭐⭐⭐⭐

Thriller - Lily Collins plays a successful barrister who receives a strange legacy from her father.  I can't say much more than that as it would give the plot away.  Simon Pegg, who I usually can't stand, is excellent as the ... person I can't describe because that would give the plot away, too.  It's worth watching, for sure, but I took a half star off for the weak ending.  Would have been okay 20 years ago, but plots are much more intricate these days, and I was waiting for the final twist or two that never came.

Series: Sequestered (Crackle)

3.5 stars ⭐⭐⭐

About a jury staying in a hotel while they try to reach a unanimous verdict on a man accused of murder.  Much corruption occurs, as the members sway this and that.  12 episodes, each half an hour.  It's good, not memorable.  Stars Jesse Bradford and Summer Glau.

Series: Liar: Season 2 (ITV)

3 stars ⭐⭐⭐

Set in an idyllic south of England (as are so many of these series) in a coastal area, starring Ioan Gruffudd as a murderous doctor, and Joanne Froggatt as one of his intended victims.  I liked the first season well enough, but I felt it should have stopped there; the second is after Gruffudd has been killed, with the police trying to solve the murder.  It's okay, but some of the plot felt a bit contrived.  I find that too many of these ITV and BBC series feel a little pale after watching the much more sophisticated US ones.  However, the whole series has had most positive reviews, so it's probably just me.