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Monday 4 April 2022

March Favourites: Books, TV, Podcasts

 Woman reading a book with backdrop of the sea. Image from Pexels.

Dear friends. Welcome to March Favourites, my reviews of books, TV and podcasts. Lots to discuss so let's dive in. 

TV and Films

Love and Anarchy (Netflix)

We enjoyed this offbeat Swedish comedy, where Sofie, a married mother of two,  and a young IT professional kick off a flirty game that challenges societal norms, Set in a publishing house under pressure to modernize, there were faint echoes of Call My Agent. 

Formula 1: Drive to Survive (Netflix)

This fly on the wall documentary series, often abbreviated to "DTS,"  has been credited with bringing Formula 1 to a whole new younger audience.  Every week the series spends time with two competing men - drivers or owners - and it's gripping stuff. Not only do you see the pampered princes throwing their toys out of the pram  (excluding our wonderful Lewis Hamilton, who's a one off, never to be repeated), but the bitter rivalries between the constructors, are exposed. Plus we see the heavy lift of actually staging the races and the fallout after crashes.   

The Witchfinder (BBC iPlayer)

Had high hopes for this, a comedy set in 1647 when people lived in fear of witches. Witch finding, and extracting confessions by any means possible, is a burgeoning and competitive profession.  With this in mind, and a stellar cast including Jessica Hynes and Daisy May Cooper, I was expecting comedy gold.

But there was too much focus on witchfinder Tim Key, and the pacing was off. The only time I found myself laughing was when Key and Cooper were forced to dine with Key's former fiancee and her family, in their posh castle. The jokes about class came thick and fast when they realised Cooper was actually....gasp...a peasant who wasn't able to read, although she was adept at eating "with forks."

Vikings Valhalla (Netflix)

A hundred years have passed since the last series, so don't worry if you haven't seen it before.  I was a bit immune to the charms of the previous seasons, but Valhalla is a sensation. Bigger budget, more gore, more battles and more hair, and loosely based on truth. 

The Last Kingdom (Netflix)

Staying loosely with Vikings, the dramatization of Bernard Cornwell's books is back with series 5. 
I always liked this series but we were completely lost after episode 1 of the new season.  Too much time has elapsed between seasons 4 and 5, and the names of all the characters and who's who is just too complicated. It seemed very low budget and faintly boring after Vikings Valhalla.

Deadwind (Netflix)

A police series from Finland in the proud Noir tradition. We eagerly consumed series 1 and 2.   Series 1 is about the investigation of a murder of a woman with ties to a Helsinki construction company. It comes just months after Detective Sofia Karppi lost her husband, and she is now balancing her career with care of her young son and stroppy stepdaughter. Karppi is a kick ass, independent loner, who resents being "lumbered" with a new professional partner, Nurmi (left). 

Traces (BBC iPlayer, Britbox)

Traces is a crime drama set in Dundee, Scotland, and centers on three professionals at the fictitious Scottish Institute of Forensic Science and Anatomy.  Crime writer Val McDermid is co-creator and co-writer, and in real life she is friends with eminent forensic anthropologist Professor Dame Sue Black, so there's a rich seam of potential story lines.  It's a bit plodding to start with but unfolds nicely with good character development among the women leads.  Two seasons available.

Film:  Black Crab (Netflix)

An unspecified war is tearing Sweden apart, and the only hope for a victory rests with a band of soldiers who who must skate hundreds of miles across ice, past enemy lines, to deliver two mysterious canisters to a research institution.

The always interesting Noomi Rapace is persuaded to take part in the expedition after learning that her daughter, whose whereabouts is unknown after terrorists grabbed her,  is waiting for her at the destination.

But when the nature of what's in the canisters becomes known, there's a moral dilemma, casting doubt on the mission’s accomplishment.  I'd give this one six out of 10. 

Film: The Lost Daughter (Netflix)

I watched this when J was away as I knew it wouldn't be his cup of tea.  Maggie Gyllenhaal's directorial debut follows the story of a professor, Leda  (played by both Olivia Colman and Jessie Buckley), who, on a relaxing beach holiday,  becomes fixated with observing a noisy family nearby.  

Watching the young mother, she realizes some of the mistakes she made in raising her two daughters. Leda befriends  the young woman and eventually tells her that she committed the taboo of leaving her husband and daughters.  

I was conflicted by the film: it seemed brave subject matter, but something was missing. I didn't feel sympathy for Leda (was I supposed to?) as she seemed uptight, selfish and capricious.  I'd give this six out of 10. 


The books read by blogger Gail Hanlon from Is This Mutton in March 2022 including A Terrible Kindness, Girl A and Again, Rachel

Above: the books I read in March. The stand out was "A Terrible Kindness" by Jo Browning Wroe. If you've watched The Crown, you may have learnt about the Aberfan tragedy in Wales for the first time. I watched transfixed because I actually remembered the news footage from that terrible day in 1966, although I was only five years old.  I could recall the scenes of desperate parents searching through the rubble. 

The story unfolds with a newly trained embalmer, the sensitive 19 year old, William Lavery,  answering an appeal to go to Aberfan to help deal with the bodies of 144 people, mostly children. The experience has a profound effect on William and his life. He resolves never to have children because he is tormented by dreams where his own child dies and he has to carry out the embalming.  His relationship with his mother, and his joy in being a chorister in Cambridge, come to an abrupt end after an incident at what should have been one of his most triumphant moments.

This is a beautifully written book addressing several difficult topics which were just not talked about in the 1960s (or even now!). 

Again, Rachel by Marian Keyes is the long awaited follow-up to Rachel's Holiday, published 25 years ago. I wrote about the previous book here.  In the new book, Rachel is now a therapist at The Cloisters, where she overcame her drug addiction.  But her life is far from sorted. 

I'm so pleased to see the new design of Keyes' books - moving away from "chick lit" - her novels are anything but chick lit. She writes in a deeply empathetic, moving and realistic way, and builds wonderful portraits of memorable characters.

"Where Blood Runs Cold" by Giles Christian was the first time I've read anything by this author, who normally writes historical fiction.  A father and daughter set off on a bonding skiing expedition but get caught up in a complicated plot and multiple murders as they're pursued across the arctic wastes.

It wasn't a wholly satisfying read. I felt the kitchen sink had been thrown at it. The family was grieving the loss of another daughter who died in a tragic accident;  the father and daughter lost their means of contacting anyone, and the plot which finally emerged seemed less than credible. 

When I realised early on that the whole book revolved around the father and daughter fleeing an assassin who was behind them in the wilderness the whole way, my heart sank, but fortunately some additional characters were thrown into the mix. I felt the Inuit character was poorly served, sacrificing his life and his dog's to help a couple he had never met before. 

A Flicker in the Dark by Stacy Willingham. Twenty years after several young women were killed, a copy cat murderer seems to be on the loose in the same area. It brings back traumatic memories for Chloe, a psychologist in Baton Rouge. Her father was in prison for the original murders. As with most who dunnit's, you have to figure out which character is likely to be the criminal. I'd figured out the protagonist fairly early on. Nonetheless, a promising start from a debut writer. 

Girl A by Dan Scottow:  a satisfying thriller about a woman who has been hiding from her past. As a child she was involved in a sickening crime along with a friend a few years older.  Her past is now catching up with her. I had guessed who the protagonist was, but not the twist around that person's identity. 

Today a Woman Went Mad in the Supermarket by Hilma Wolitzer:  a collection of short stories, thought provoking and memorable, over the decades from Wolitzer, now in her 90s.  One constant throughout the stories is the marriage of New Yorkers Howard and Paulette. 

It's interesting how her stories from the early 70s have stood the test of time. Has the lot of women, trying to juggle careers, look after teenagers and elderly parents, and grouchy husbands, actually improved? 


Bio Hacked: Family Secrets (Biohackedpodcast.com)

Imagine doing a DNA test via one of the ancestry websites, and finding out that the man you've always called Dad isn't related to you, and you have several half siblings you knew nothing about.  That's the story in episode one of this fascinating podcast. Men who acted as sperm donors while at college in the 70s and 80s fathered literally dozens of children, and were well protected from detection by their offspring. Bio Hacked goes into the Is This Mutton Hall of Fame. Find  my podcast recommendations 

Call Me Curious (Wondery)

I'm a very curious person - I love exploring the offbeat, the unusual, the unexpected. So this podcast is right up my street. Each episode asks a question, and in this age of fake news and news overload, it's a balanced look at the topic in hand.  Questions so far include: does intermittent fasting work? Is sugar really more addictive than cocaine? Should I buy crypto?

I hope you enjoyed this month's selections, and as always I'd love to hear your thoughts and recommendations in the comments. 

Sharing this post with: #AnythingGoes at My Random Musings, Rena at Fine WhateverTalent Sharing Tuesdays at Scribbling Boomer, Link Up Pot Pourri and Traffic Jam Weekend at My Bijou Life#SpreadTheKindness  and #Linkup on the Edge at Shelbee on the Edge#Neverendingstyle at The Grey Brunette


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