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Friday 26 February 2021

Friday Favourites: TV, Books, Podcasts - February Edition

It's the monthly round-up of TV, book and podcast reviews.  I didn't necessarily like all of them - but you can always count on me for being honest and objective!  Without further ado....


Author and film director Dolly Alderton. Copyright The Irish Times
Ghosts by Dolly Alderton 

Dolly is a film director, Sunday Times advice columnist, podcaster and journalist.  Her latest novel Ghosts is about a  successful food writer, Nina. She has loving friends and family and a new home and neighbourhood. All she wants is a relationship, so in a fairly familiar trope she tries online dating, and, along with her brilliantly drawn quirky friend, is deceived and ghosted by a couple of loser (Bridget Jones called them fuckwits). Nina  realises that good women friends will outrank men any day.  

In spite of its predictability, the book captures well the anxiety and pressure on women in their 30s to have made something of our lives, and in many ways pressure to to conform: to have children and live in the suburbs.

Girl A by Abigail Dean

This debut novel has had a lot of acclaim - "astonishing,"  "a masterpiece"  "the book that will define a decade" are some of the superlatives being thrown around. Girl A sold in the UK after a 9-way auction, and also sold at auction in the US. The novel has since been acquired in 27 other territories, and television/film rights have sold to Sony. Johan Renck, director of Chernobyl, is attached to work on the television adaptation of Girl A.

I'll be honest with you, I wasn't quite as blown away.  

The narrative constantly shifts between the present and the past.We catch up with the lives of Lex Gracie and her siblings, who were horribly mistreated as children and virtually starved in chains. Each survivor has their own perspective and way of coping or not coping with the aftermath.  The conclusion is described as many reviewers as jaw dropping but I had seen it coming, and I had to re-read it to make sure I wasn't missing something. But hey, so many people have liked it don't let me put you off.

Uncanny Valley: Seduction and Disillusionment in San Francisco’s Startup Scene by Anna Wiener 

I've spent the last 25 years working in the tech industry with frequent trips to Silicon Valley, so I find books about the corporate giants and the start-ups fascinating. Wiener's story starts when she leaves  a poorly paid but enjoyable job in traditional publishing to join a start-up with grand ambitions.  This is at the start of the dot com era when investors were going crazy and companies were springing up everywhere and soon over-reaching their flimsy business propositions.  Wiener takes us with her as she works at several other companies.  

It's irritating that she doesn't mention any by name.  Facebook for example is referred to as "the social network everyone hates" . But it was easy enough to find out which companies she's referring to.  The book becomes very philosophical in the last few chapters as she ponders the egos involved, the male domination and the resulting culture that perpetuated. But I found it fascinating and it raises a lot of questions about how we perceive success and achievement.

The Family Holiday by Elizabeth Noble

If you want some light reading of the type you would take to the beach, this is the novel for you.  Elizabeth Noble writes about families, their quirks and arguments, and there is invariably a comfortable ending. Nothing to frighten the horses. 
Charlie wants to celebrate his 80th birthday with his family. He invites them to share a house in the Cotswolds for 10 days. Tensions flare between the different generations and siblings who haven't spent much time together, with a new American wife to get to know. A well spun tale with a nice pace.

Black Widow by Cate Quinn

I haven't finished this book yet but I'm enjoying it so thought I would include it.  Blake Nelson is a polygamist, living in the Utah desert as a pariah with his three wives.  One day he's found dead.  Hardly anyone knows where their ranch is, so who could have murdered him?  The three wives, who don't like each other, don't have a clue - or that's what they're telling police. The characters of the three women are very well defined and it's a gripping tale. 

TV in February

Bridgerton (Netflix)

We finally got round to watching this. I have never cared for Jane Austen type Regency period dramas, and this is not quite as prim and proper as the Austen dramatizations.  But in all honesty I found it over-hyped and poor in quality.  It was a terrible old potboiler of a story, up there with Fifty Shades of Grey.  The costumes, jewellery and fake flowers looked very cheap. Some of the choices of actor were strange.  I wasn't tempted to binge watch it.  We nearly stopped watching through boredom by episode four. The only thing I liked about it was that it used black and white actors with no distinctions between their position and role in life, and it was joyful to see.  

The Legacy (Prime)

The Legacy is a Danish production, a very classy and nuanced family drama.  Eccentric and chaotic artist Veronika Gr√łnnegaard knows she has cancer, and finds her adopted daughter Signe. Her sudden death, and a letter given to Signe on her death bed, sparks a battle for Veronika's estate among her other three children.  It's beautifully done - and oh joy, there are three seasons.

News of the World (Netflix)

The bad news is that the Netflix "blockbuster" films are anything but.  They have all the ingredients - the right stars, the locations, the stories, but somehow they are low-powered and fizzle out before our eyes.  News of the World, a revival of the western genre, stars Tom Hanks. It's set in post Civil War America and Hanks goes from town-to-town "reading" the news:  delivering stories from the papers to rapt audiences.  He finds himself having to care for an orphaned girl who had been snatched by native Americans a few years before. They have several adventures before he reunites her with her with her "real" family - an aunt - whom she doesn't know.  I expected this drama to be a real weepy, but my eyes remained dry.  

The Killing - Series 2 (Prime)

We enjoyed the second series with Sarah Lund and her jumpers making a welcome return.  Memo to Prime:  we would love to see Series 3, which isn't showing anywhere - the Danish original. 

The Bay - Series 2 (Hulu, Britbox, ITV Hub)

This police series set in the northern town of Morecambe stars Morven Christie as Lisa Armstrong, who was demoted in the last series to constable after having sex with a man who turned out to be a suspect in a murder case she was investigating.  In the latest series, Armstrong makes a return to family liaison but under the control of her former partner, Med.  It seemed a stretch to me that Med had been promoted because he certainly didn't show any promise. I enjoyed Series 2 - it was good to see Armstrong's two children off the path of crime - and Joe Absalom was excellent as the feckless absentee husband who turns up out of the blue trying to win Armstrong and the children back.  Annoyingly, there were a lot of loose ends that weren't really tied up. Christie has reportedly said she won't return for series 3. 

Pick of the Podcasts

Every month I will choose two podcasts to go into my Hall of Fame on my Is This Mutton Podcast Page

This month it's Catching Melanie's Killer  (ITV News) and Where is George Gibney? (BBC Radio). These are both true crime podcasts, and outstanding examples of the genre.

Melanie Road, 17, was brutally murdered as she walked home from a nightclub in Bath in June 1984. The podcast Catching Melanie's Killer tells the story of her murderer's capture, 32 years later, thanks to the meticulous way that detectives stored samples, even though in 1984 there was no DNA in police investigations, just blood types, and not much in the way of CCTV.  No-one living nearby had seen or heard anything. The killer simply vanished.

But the dedication of cold case investigator Julie Mackay paid off. Julie had been a police constable on the original case when Melanie was found murdered. She returned to the case as a senior detective, and persisted even though a chief constable told her to close the case down. 

The podcast includes interviews with Julie and members of Melanie's family, and I defy anyone not to weep in the final episode at the bravery of Melanie's mother, now in her 80s, as she delivers a damning impact statement.

Where is George Gibney? is about the search for an Irish Olympic swimming coach, whose trial on charges of sexually abusing some of his young swimmers was terminated for ludicrous legal reasons:  he hadn't kept a diary, it was too long ago for him to remember where he had been at any given time. 

Gibney then managed to get a swimming coach job at a private school in Edinburgh, even though those who gave it to him knew about the allegations.  The way the swimming profession closed ranks around Gibney is sickening. Several other coaches and a priest were later sentenced for similar charges.

Gibney then fled to the US and secured another job which got him his visa. But as reporter Mark Horgan tracks him down, it's clear that Gibney - known as John in the US - is a haunted man, living a lonely, covert life. 

What makes the podcast so gripping is its integrity.  We don't get lots of salacious detail (and don't want them) but those abused by Gibney tell their stories with dignity and bravery.

To this day the man is at large, being sheltered by organizations who should know better, including the Catholic Church. 

From Now (QCode) 

A podcast puffed up by its own importance is From Now starring Richard Madden (Game of Thrones) and Brian Cox.  I had high hopes. A famous lost spaceship, USS Hope, suddenly returns to earth after 35 years. The lone survivor looks exactly as he did all those years ago. He can't remember what has happened, doesn't think any time has elapsed,  and thinks he's being hoaxed by the strange world he has returned to. 

He's reunited with his twin brother (Cox) who looks exactly as he should 35 years on. The six part drama focuses on themes such as sibling rivalries and family loyalty, technological advances and the future of space exploration, climate change and human adaptation, and how we as individuals process time itself.  I found it a bit wearisome and couldn't relate to the characters, so didn't listen to the end. 

The Mid-Point with Gabby Logan

There are plenty of podcasts where celebrities unburden themselves ----they talk about their failures, their endurance during the toughest times (Life, Interrupted) and, in Gabby Logan's Mid-Point, they talk about how they feel about getting to the mid point of their lives.

I enjoyed the episode with Fi Glover and Jane Garvey, who are so marvellous in the Fortunately podcast. But I felt they and Gabby were a bit mean to the giggling nutritionist who could hardly get a word in, and was thrown curve balls such as the importance of yams in the diet of menopausal women. 

My Wardrobe Malfunction (Acast)

Susannah Constantine is back with Series 6, and her opening guest, actor Jane Seymour, was a big name to start the new series. It's unusual for Susannah (pictured) to be occasionally silenced, or indeed gobsmacked, by her guest, but Seymour was determined to talk about her varied career, and not much about clothes at all, unless she was making them and selling them at famous boutiques, or flogging a new line of scarves. 

I have no idea how she's had time for an acting career when you consider the children's books, the interior design, the clothes design, the art works sold for thousands. She was asked to model for Escada but didn't like their clothes, so designed something for them so she would have something she was prepared to wear.  Quite jaw dropping. 

Sharing this post with #NeverendingStyle at the Grey Brunette, Rena at Fine Whatever, #LinkUpOnTheEdge with Shelbee on the Edge, Not Dressed as Lamb, #FabulousFridays at Lucy Bertoldi #AnythingGoes at My Random Musings

What have you been enjoying?  Do share your recommendations in the comments. 

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