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Friday, 5 June 2020

Friday Favourites June Edition

Woman enjoying herself listening to music
Welcome to my monthly round-up of what I've been reading, watching and listening to. First up, reading. Nigella Lawson and others have been writing about how they're struggling to read during the pandemic. Nigella has found audio books a great alternative.  I'm still reading at my usual rate, getting through around two books a week.


Adults- Emma Jane Unsworth


I loved the sample of Adults by and jumped in with gusto. It's very much a book of the Instagram age. Our protagonist, London based Jenny, anguishes over her Instagram posts and frets if an influencer she admires stops following her. It's been described as "wincingly relatable" and this is very true if you're a millennial.  I enjoyed the humour  (yep, even Boomers "get" Instagram) but about halfway through, it fizzled out for me and I couldn't help  thinking Jenny needed to get a life.

Little Whispers - K L Slater


I devoured this in two gulps. Pacey and with a seriously complex tying up of loose ends, this psychological thriller keeps you guessing until the end. Janey Markham is thrilled to find her family's fortunes changing, thanks to her husband getting a new high-powered job, and they move to an upmarket address.  Pulled into a clique of glossy ladies who lunch, Janey starts to get over the pain of her mother's recent death and the devastating secret that she told  Janey on her deathbed.  But Janey finds there's a heavy price to pay for the glamorous lifestyle of Buckingham Crescent.


Podcast Awards 


The nominations have been announced for the 2020 British Podcast Awards. Flicking through the very long list, I get the immediate impression that the panel was mostly millennials. The few podcasts aimed squarely at mid life listener have been ignored.  I'm surprised that Fortunately with Fi and Jane didn't make the cut, or even Gardeners' Question Time, which has been going for years but is hugely popular and well done. My Wardrobe Malfunction with Susannah Constantine is perhaps too new for this year's list but a definite contender for next year with its starry guests. Panel, if you need some mid life inputs for next year, happy to oblige! There's still chance to vote for the listeners' favourite here.  The winners will be announced on July 11.

I made a note of a couple of the nominated podcasts that piqued my interest: Meet Me at the Museum, where well-known presenters such as Kirsty Wark and Fi Glover take us to their favourite museum; Co-Existence, described as a kick-ass sci-fi  power struggle, and The Last Days of August, a true crime podcast where Jon Ronson delves into the death of a 23 year old porn actress, August Ames. 


TV Viewing

The Last Kingdom (Netflix)
Alexander Dreymon as Uhtred of Bebbanburg in The Last Kingdom (Netflix)

Finally we got to the end of the latest series (four) of The Last Kingdom on Netflix. I wasn't bowled over to start with, it was low-budget and a bit underwhelming after the likes of Game of Thrones. But I gradually got into it. The drama covers the Viking invasions of Britain and the Saxons' attempts to win back their kingdoms. At the centre of the drama is Uhtred of Bebbanburg, the son of a Saxon lord who was adopted by a Dane after his parents were killed. Uhtred treads an uneasy line between the Danes and Saxons.  He is a charismatic figure with a Mohican hairstyle, played by Alexander Dreymon, a German whose sing-song Nordic accent is a bit hit and miss.  

I found I learned a lot about this period because I was constantly going to Wikipedia to find out more about some of the major players: King Alfred, who did more than burn the cakes, and King Cnut (Canute) whose role in history is seriously under called in the series. 

By series 3 and 4, more money was clearly lavished on the drama, with better battles and more extras fighting in them. 

Little Fires Everywhere (Prime)


After two episodes of Little Fires Everywhere I've decided it's a series I will probably watch on my own. My husband found it a bit slow. The series is based on the novel by Celeste Ng which was chosen by Reese Witherspoon as her September 2017 book club pick. Soon afterwards it became a bestseller. Witherspoon is also in the series along with Kerry Washington.  

Little Fires Everywhere follows the intertwined fates of the picture-perfect Richardson family and the enigmatic mother (Washington) and daughter who upend their lives. The story explores the weight of secrets, the nature of art and identity, the ferocious pull of motherhood – and the danger in believing that following the rules can avert disaster.

The Big Flower Fight (Netflix)
Netflix poster for The Big Flower Fight on Netflix

This is Netflix's attempt to recreate the Great British Bake Off with flowers. It's clearly made to appeal to as many countries as possible because the competitors and judges are a truly international bunch. 

The problem for me was that the whole concept of creating from junk, and flowers, a giant sculpture, was a bit naff.  In the first episode the challenge was to create a  massive insect. 

When the various competitors were introduced to us, a lot of them seemed to be ordinary florists.  It didn't seem that they had an experience in creating huge installations with bits of scrap metal, chicken wire, vast quantities of plants and stuffing. But it turned out they all knew what they were doing. The fact that this is a highly specialised discipline that most of wouldn't have tried goes against it.  With Bake Off, all of us have probably made a cake at some point, so we can relate to it. Same with Sewing Bee. I can't sew to save my life but I do occasionally replace a button. I found the Flower Fight uninspiring and a bit flat. 

Unorthodox - Netflix 


A glimpse into a community seldom seen on TV, and beautifully done. Based on a true story, Unorthodox is the story of a young woman, Esty, who flees life in the Hasidic Jewish community in New York for Berlin, where she starts a new life.  Her husband Yanky and his cousin are sent to Berlin to track her down. It's only four episodes but the Hasidic wedding ceremony, where Esty and Yanky are married, is mesmerizing. I loved the luminous performance of Shira Haas from Israel as Esty.

Finally - Don't Miss This TV Magic - All Creatures Great and Small (BBC iPlayer)


One of the most successful dramas of the 1970s was All Creatures Great and Small, based on the  gently hilarious memoirs of Yorkshire vet Alf Wright, writing under the pseudonym James Herriot.  BBC 4 ran a documentary, "The Cult of All Creatures Great and Small" followed by two precious episodes.  I hoped there would be more, but sadly just episodes one and two (so far).  I told my mum it was on and she texted me to say she wept at how wonderful it was. And it truly was. We rarely get a drama of this quality and charm nowadays. Everything was perfect, from the cast to the scenery, and of course the characters. People like rich Mrs Pomfrey amd her spoilt dog Tricky Woo. Tricky Woo suffers from complaints described by Mrs Pomfrey as "flot bot" and "cracker dog."  He sends "Uncle Herriot" lavish presents after being treated, but likes to get a personal letter of thanks which Uncle Herriot has to read to him over the phone.

 And then there are the dour Yorkshire farmers who don't like to pay vets' bills, but don't want their cattle to die, resulting in a constant stand off between vet and customer.  A real treat. Unfortunately the broadcast quality is not great on a big screen, but ignore that to enjoy TV gold.
The cast of the original BBC series All Creatures Great and Small about a vet's practice in Yorkshire
I hope you enjoyed reading about my selections and look forward to seeing your recommendations in the comments below.

Sharing this post with #Linkup on the Edge at Shelbee on the Edge, Anna at Muttonstyle and #AnythingGoes at My Random Musings

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