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Friday 2 July 2021

Friday Favourites, June: Podcasts, TV, Books

 Listening to a podcast, Is This Mutton's Gail Hanlon in the monthly round-up of programs to watch and books to read.

Greetings all. Here I am with my round-up of last month's entertainment.  I read quite a few books, probably because TV was a bit dire and there are no podcasts really commanding my attention at the moment.  As always, love to see your recommendations for what I missed, in the comments. 


The Golden Rule, Amanda Craig

My expectations weren't too high when I read the story outline.  HOWEVER.  The book is very powerful in terms of the anger it expresses:  anger at the rich poor divide in the UK;  anger at Brexit;  anger on behalf of "Generation Rent" who can't buy houses, and most of all, anger on behalf of women who get sucked into useless marriages and then cast aside, having to fight their ex's for money to survive. 

Hannah's career starts off promisingly - she's at an ad agency, and married to old-money mummy's boy Jake, whom she met at university. They have a daughter. But we learn she was sexually harassed by senior males at work. When her marriage to Jake ends, she finds it hard to make ends meet and works as a cleaner so she can support their daughter, with Jake often forgetting to pay for the rent. 

On a train to Penzance, to visit her mother who is dying, she is enticed into a First Class carriage where she talks to glamorous stranger Jinni.  They hatch a plot to kill each other's husbands. This sounded a bit ludicrous, and even more so when Hannah went straightaway to the house where Jinni's husband is supposed to be living.  

It felt a bit like a book in two halves which could have been written by two different people.  A lot of anger in the first half, where Hannah's situation appeared utterly hopeless. And then in the second half,  things pick up for Hannah in unexpected ways.  There's a slight reversal in the viewpoint that all men are bad, as we learn that some women marry for reasons not always connected to love  (surprise surprise), and can be equally as bad when marriages end. I'm not sure it paints the picture of the resilience of women, as the blurb claims, because Hannah's good fortune seems to stem from gifts rather than her own endeavours.  An intriguing and engrossing read.

The Other Black Girl, Zakiya Dalila Harris 

When you're the only black girl in the office, and routinely exposed to micro aggressions and micro inequities, seeing another black girl recruited can only be a good thing, surely?  Not necessarily in this best seller, which is part office satire, part thriller. Its pace was a bit slow because it wasn't always apparent that new girl Hazel's game was to constantly undermine Nella. Other characters were introduced early on and given their own sub plot, and it wasn't clear until near the end what their relevance was.  But it kept me turning the pages even if I did feel a little short changed at the ending.

Lives Like Mine, Eva Verde

Set in London, we meet a dual-heritage mother who's struggling with her racist in-laws and not getting any support from her husband. Monica is estranged from her parents and her children have never met their grandparents, despite them living not too far away. She starts an affair with Joe and through their relationship starts to tackle parts of her life which trouble her. Her husband's family are truly horrendous and their encounters with Monica are toe curling. I was screaming inwardly for Dan to stand up for his wife for once. A promising debut from Eva Verde.

Available, Laura Friedman-Williams

This is the true and unfiltered - definitely unfiltered  - account of a woman's adventures in online dating after her husband of 27 years dumped her.  After the initial shock, she starts trying dating apps and picking men up in bars.  She and her ex-husband undergo some counselling but it doesn't go anywhere because Friedman Williams is furious with him and blames him totally for going off with another woman. I did wonder if she would ever consider her own role in the marriage and ask herself if she had somehow contributed to the state of affairs? Her pursuit of men seems all-consuming. Maybe I'm being a Puritan but it seemed to be at the expense of her children.  It's an eye opener.

Both of You, Adele Parks

A new novel from Adele Parks is always an exciting event for me - I have been reading her books since she started, and they always offer an intriguing plot and thought-provoking dilemmas.  In Both of You, a woman goes missing. She sets off for work but never turns up.  Her husband and family are distraught.  Meanwhile, wealthy businessman Daan Janssen is also distraught that his wife Kai has disappeared into thin air.  As always, lots of twists and turns, and I galloped through it in breathless pursuit of the end.

Podcast Picks 

There are a few new releases but they're not floating my boat I'm afraid. Let's start with one of those because it's had a lot of hype:  

Edith! (QCode)

Edith! is a drama starring Rosamund Pike in the "true-ish" story of America's secret First Female President.  After President Woodrow Wilson suffered a massive stroke, Edith Wilson did the unthinkable: she told no one, and for almost a year, acted as an unelected President.  It sounds like a gripping plot but a podcast either wins or loses you in the first few minutes, and I'm afraid this one lost me.

Jude the Obscure (BBC Sounds)

Much more enjoyable is the drama Jude the Obscure (BBC Sounds), one of my favourite novels, dramatized in three parts. I remember reading this novel, the last written by Thomas Hardy, many years ago and gasping at the horror and tragedy of what unfolded. 

Jude Fawley dreams of becoming an educated man, a scholar, and going to the famous city of Christminster (Oxford) to follow in the footsteps of his teacher Mr Phillotson. He marries publican's daughter Arabella which is a disaster.  Later he falls in love with his cousin Sue, who is briefly married to Phillotson.

Hardy was way ahead of his time as he ponders the nature of marriage, particularly for women.  He has Jude and Sue living together as man and wife without being married, very scandalous in the time of writing in 1896.  A fantastic adaptation.

British Scandal (Wondery) 

The subjects of the first two series's of this true life documentary series didn't interest me, the Litvinenko poisoning and The Sexed Up Dossier, about a controversy centred on the Iraq war. 

However, I'm finding the third series about The Murdoch Phone Hacking so entertaining that I may revisit the earlier programs. It's about the scandal of how British tabloid newspapers began tapping the phones of celebrities, the royal family, and even the phone of a schoolgirl who was murdered. The resulting furore led to the closure of one of Britain's top selling papers, The News of the World.

TV Picks

I only have one recommendation this month.  The Euro football championships were consuming a lot of our viewing hours but there was also a paucity of anything new and decent to watch.  We tried a good few programs including Sweet Tooth (Netflix), Trying (Apple TV), Home Before Dark (Apple TV)  and Ragnorok (Netflix) and others, but didn't get very far with them. 

Staying with the footballing frenzy we watched a film about football, The Bromley Boys. It was a pleasant watch about 70's non-league football, but not remarkable. I then had an urge to watch 2009's The Damned United (BBC iPlayer), about the greatest manager England never had, Brian Clough.  In a class of its own, as was Clough.  Lots of stars in it including Jim Broadbent, Michael Sheen, Timothy Spall, a young Stephen Graham as Billy Bremner, and a very young Martin Compston (Line of Duty) as Derby player John O'Hare. 

Clarkson's Farm (Prime)

Clarkson's Farm - the hit series of June 2021 for Is This Mutton blog

This was the big hit of June for me, and a total surprise at that. I've always disliked Clarkson and his  misogynist petrol head persona.  But this series is laugh out loud funny. 

The premise of the series is that Clarkson, who has a vast farm in the Cotswolds, has to start farming himself when the tenant farmers move on. He buys the flashiest and biggest tractor possible, a Lamborghini, and has to be shown how to use it by a woman in the first of several put-downs. 

He is constantly the butt of jokes in the village and among the team of people helping him. Young  Kaleb, who's never been further than Banbury, has become an instant TV star.  I challenge anyone not to laugh their heads off at episode two, where Clarkson buys 72 "sheeps" including a couple of rams. 

Initially he uses a barking drone instead of a sheep dog, to save money, but the sheep aren't fooled for long.  Then they start to make bids for freedom.  They're so out of control he has to hire a shepherd (another woman), and is then chastised by one of his experts for making a huge loss on his sheep farming enterprise. 

Clarkson is made to look a prize buffoon but he comes out of it OK. It was very educational too - I learnt so much about some of the principles of farming, and the challenges posed by the weather and other hazards. Highly recommended.

That's it for June, do share your thoughts and recommendations in the comments.

Sharing this post with #TheWeekendLinkUp at Claire Justine#LinkupOnTheEdge  at Shelbee on the Edge, #AnythingGoes at My Random Musings,  Fabulous Fridays at Lucy Bertoldi, Rena at Fine Whatever 

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