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Friday 2 September 2022

Friday Favourites: Books, TV, Podcasts - August


Dear friends. Here we are again with the reviews and recommendations from the last month. Very strong in terms of TV, less so for books and podcasts.  As before, I've included my "Didn't Like It" section at the bottom, which includes some controversial choices!


Marriage (BBC iPlayer, Pure VPN in the US and Canada)

This one was real Marmite: you either loved it or hated it. I loved it. Anything starring Sean Bean, Nicola Walker and James Bolam is bound to be a winner. 

Marriage is a wholly realistic drama about the lives of a long married couple, warts and all. There's an  argument in a supermarket about which chicken to buy, and another at an airport where the husband grumbles about his wife getting him chips instead of a baked potato. And there are lots of long pauses and periods where nothing is said at all.  

It's genius though, like real life rather than the default we tend to get served of people over-acting and flashing high wattage smiles. 

Ian (Bean) has been made redundant and is finding it hard to get motivated. His jealousy comes to the fore when his wife Emma goes on a business trip involving an overnight stay with her awful boss.  

Emma is dealing with guilt trips from her elderly and very manipulative father (Bolam), who makes her go round to his house to prepare him a sandwich, saying his oven has broken, when she should be out with Ian celebrating their anniversary. 

Their daughter is in a relationship which looks coercive, and they have hidden grief over the death of their baby at eight months. 

Multi-layered and so perceptive. This was real grown-up drama, beautifully portrayed.

State of Happiness (BBC iPlayer, Sky Go) 

This wonderful Norwegian drama returned for a second series. It's based on the real-life tragedy of the capsize of the Alexander Kielland,  a Norwegian semi-submersible drilling rig that, on 27 March 1980, capsized in the Ekofisk oil field in the North Sea, killing 123 people. 

Series 1 dealt with the impact of the discovery of oil on the small town of Stavenger, with the arrival of American oil executives.  Series 2 continues where its predecessor left off but culminates in the tragic accident. And what a tour de force it was. The filming and sound effects combined to make us feel that we were floundering without hope in the North Sea. 

Blackbird (Apple TV)

Starring Taron Egerton ("Elton John") and Paul Walter Hauser, this 6 part drama is based on a true story. As Jimmy Keene (Egerton) begins a 10-year prison sentence, he gets an incredible offer: if he can elicit a confession from suspected killer Larry Hall (Walter Hauser), he will be freed.

It soon becomes clear that completing this mission is a huge challenge and success will not be easy.  Like many serial killers, Hall is manipulative and evasive, sometimes naive and charming, sometimes utterly chilling.

It's not an easy watch: the crimes are vile and the content very dark, but the acting was a soaring masterclass that took my breath away.

House of the Dragon  (Sky, Now, HBO Max)

I was so excited for this, the return of the Targaryens from Game of Thrones. And the excitement was worth it.  Immediately we knew we were back in safe hands:  multi million dollar episodes, classy cast, superb production, numerous dragons (!) and carefully crafted storylines. There is reassuring continuity with the same theme music to GOT and similar opening titles. 

Set around 180 years before Game of Thrones, we find Viserys 1 (Paddy Considine) desperate for his wife to produce a male heir. In gruesome scenes she dies in childbirth, and Viserys decides controversially to make his 15 year old daughter Rhaenyra his heir, rather than his younger brother, the flashy womanizing Daemon (Matt Smith) (who seems to be a doppelganger for Prince Harry in terms of being a "spare" hell bent on causing trouble). 

I won't go any further as we're only 2 episodes in, but it looks set to equal the success of GoT. I particularly like Rhys Ifans as the Hand of the King, trying to secretly effect a marriage between his daughter and Viserys.  I didn't recognise him for the whole of episode 1. A thrilling turn of whispering malevolence.


Other Parents by Sarah Stovell 

Rachel Saunders is the subject of local gossip in her rural town, having left her husband for a woman. Saunders is a successful businesswoman and a quietly benevolent supporter of the outstanding local school, attended by her daughter. 

The troubled son of Laura Spence also attends the school and Laura, who's struggling to make ends meet, has become active in the Parent Teacher Association.  Laura and Rachel soon find themselves at loggerheads as Laura gets involved in a petition about preventing children from being taught about homosexuality.  

This passed the time but I didn't feel it lived up to the hype of all the salivating reviewers' quotes. Rachel is supposed to be a likeable character (I think) but I found her the epitome of a certain type of entitled middle class smugness! The food fight is fun though. 

The Whalebone Theatre by Joanna Quinn

I baulked at the cost of this as I refuse to pay £9.99 for a Kindle book. In the end I succumbed, seduced by reviews and claims that it was the "new" Capture the Castle.

I'm afraid to say I wasn't as bowled over as the reviewers. The first part of the book deals at length with the creation of an amateur production staged outdoors in the jawbones of a whale - the theatre of the title - and masterminded by the spirited and determined Cristabel. Her production is a success and her stepmother Rosalind decides to take over the administration and future productions. We don't hear much about these because war intervenes, a few years later. 

The action switches to Cristabel's covert life in France as an operator working for the Resistance. Her brother Digby is also in the Resistance, but Crista has no idea where he is.  Step sister Flossie minds the estate and has a tryst with a German prisoner of war. which was beautifully realised and not exploited as a "happy ever after". 

The way I measure the impact of a book on me is if I can't wait to go to bed to read it each night, and this one unfortunately had me occasionally nodding off. It was perfectly nice, but lacked drama. 

The Trial by S.R. Masters

This was just 99p on Kindle and I thoroughly enjoyed it.  The Trial in question is a drugs trial. A group of people who respond to an online questionnaire are offered a luxurious island holiday if they participate in a drug trial.  One of the participants chosen has submitted the responses of her mother, after seeing it on her device and unable to find it anywhere else online.  

The luxurious holiday, somewhere in the Canary Islands, quickly disintegrates into a nightmare as it becomes clear the participants were chosen for certain personality traits.  


Podcast Pleasures

Not much to get my teeth into this month, so I was mainly listening to old favourites. I tried a few dramas but, horror of horrors, this genre seems to have been invaded by music. I hastily abandoned any "musical" podcasts. 
One podcast that did pass the time was: Fed Up, Wondery 

I was attracted by the story of this documentary, about a feud between the wealthy creator of a diet called the F Factor, and her former acolytes on Instagram who turned against her. 

Initially I thought it was about a diet from the 1980s created by Audrey Eyton  (reader, I remember that diet which was based on small portions of "fibre filler," and weird things like pease pudding and Granny Ann biscuits). But no, this is a different diet, based around a powder and bars, and something called GG Crackers. It was created by dietician Tanya Zuckerbrot and became very successful. 

It's an interesting listen but ultimately a bit inconclusive, because the number of complaints about the diet was actually statistically very low, and when Wondery tested a version of the powder, it was perfectly OK to consume. A storm in a teacup, or an example of what happens when "women in their kitchens start creating businesses and generating hype on Instagram," to para phrase the podcast. Or what I would call "Handbags." 

Didn't Like It

Amazon enticed me into a 40% discount off Jodi Picoult's books. Remembering how I used to love her books, I downloaded House Rules but soon recalled why I went off the books. Too bogged down in legal detail. Didn't complete it.

Harrow,  Amazon Prime, Apple TV

Dr Daniel Harrow is a forensic pathologist with a total disregard for authority in this dreadful Australian drama. Ioan Gruffudd is a complete ham in this, over acting to such an extent I found it unwatchable. 

The Sandman, Netflix

Loved episode 1, with the always menacing Charles Dance, but then he got bumped off and episode 2 became fantasy gobbledygook. However it scores highly on Rotten Tomatoes and one critic described it as exquisite, so I think it must be me  (although Mr Mutton agreed to give it up after episode 2 too). 

Bad Sisters, Apple TV

Had all the ingredients for success:  four feisty sisters conspiring to murder the oleaginous husband (Claes Bang) of their fifth sister . A good cast and filmed in Ireland, as well as written by the notable Sharon Horgan. But somehow it didn't achieve lift off.  After episode 3, we were done.  Again, we were going against the grain, according to Rotten Tomatoes, but I'm beginning to think that has as much credibility as an Amazon product review.

Ridley  (ITV)

Again, an attractive proposition, starring Adrian Dunbar  (Superintendent Ted Hastings from Line of Duty, who we all adore) but a terrible load of old tosh!

Every trope of the crime drama was here:  the grief stricken retired detective, who's dogged by a crime he never solved, and the highly suspicious "new boss" (who I reckon will turn out to be implicated in the crime). The only new angle was that Ridley (Dunbar) sings, although I do remember a series many years ago called "The Singing Detective." 

Jettisoned after one episode. 

So there you have it, my review for August. Love as always to hear your feedback and suggestions in the comments. If you're commenting on a phone, the Blogger comments form doesn't seem to work so I recommend you scroll down to where it says "view web version" where you can use Disqus or a Google log-in. 

Sharing this post with:  #Linkup on the Edge at Shelbee on the Edge, #AnythingGoes at My Random Musings, Rena at Fine Whatever,, #Neverendingstyle at The Grey Brunette, Talent Sharing Tuesdays at Scribbling Boomer, Link Up Pot Pourri at My Bijou LifeTraffic Jam Weekend at Marsha in the Middle Fabulous Fridays at Lucy Bertoldi, Friendship Friday at Create with Joy


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1 comment

  1. I loved reading this. I have never been into sci-fi so I wouldn’t like those kind of films or shows. But the other ones you suggested sound very interesting. I like the sound of the podcast as well. Have a great weekend.


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