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Friday 30 September 2022

September Favourites: Books, TV, Podcasts


Dear friends. Welcome to another Favourites, a monthly round-up of what I've been watching, reading and hearing. 

We're now getting seriously into the Autumn/Fall schedules, always heralded by the start of "Strictly Come Dancing".  I'm going to start with TV and a couple of the new season blockbusters.

The Rings of Power (Prime)

I've never liked anything remotely Hobbit-y, so I had sore misgivings about this, the most expensive TV series in history.  I was determined to give it a go because I knew the hubster would like it. 

I was dazzled by the first episode and the superb lighting and cinematography. House of the Dragon could learn lessons!  The first couple of episodes of any new drama are always a bit slow because you're meeting new characters and tribes, but it did seem quite promising.

If you're a Tolkien fan you may be wondering where this fits with the Lord of the Rings saga, and I am advised it's "the Second Age" and based on appendices by Tolkien rather than an actual book.

I think we're about five episodes in and my attention is beginning to lapse.  The problem for a Tolkien novice like myself is that there's very little context. This isn't surprising with this series being set hundreds of years before the known story. 

There are a couple of things that annoy me. Firstly, the various "tribes" all have stereotypical accents.  The fey collective of Harfoots  (predecessors of Hobbits), led by Lenny Henry, are supposedly Irish;  the fierce dwarves  are all Scottish, and so on.  I feared the Orcs would probably be English, as we're usually the enemy in films.  Elves are feared, it would seem, but the two main elves in this, Galadriel and Elrond, both seem a bit wet and worthy to me. 

Plot-wise, everyone seems to be fighting someone, or afraid of someone. There doesn't seem to be a lot of character development. Unlike House of the Dragon, there are no warnings when this drama starts:  no violence, sex, flashing images etc.  So it's quite tame, even the fighting, where elves whirl themselves around gracefully and somehow destroy everyone.

EDIT:  having watched episode 6, things have bucked up considerably! A good battle scene between the Orcs and humans with elf Arondir (the very charismatic Ismael Cruz Córdova), and, big bonus, the "leader" of the Orcs, Adar, is played by Joseph Mawle, who was Uncle Benjun in Game of Thrones. He commands all your attention whenever he's in shot.

I'm wondering what's happened to the Harfoots though. Haven't seen them for two episodes. 

Andor (Disney)

I'm afraid I must also 'fess up to not being a Star Wars fan either.  I'd never seen the films until I met J in the early 2000s.  I watched the main three  (goodness knows how many there are now) but found it a bit of a teeth gritted exercise. I can't remember anything about the plot(s).

So I wasn't looking forward to Andor, the new spin off on Disney, which is a prequel to a prequel, revealing the events that happened in Cassian Andor's life before he stepped up to lead a daring mission in Rogue One: A Star Wars Story.  (I can't recall who Cassian Andor is.  Did he "break through" in one of the other prequels?!). 

The first episode was pleasing.  It didn't demand prior knowledge of the series, and had a good dramatic opening with a murder. 

We're now up to episode 4 and as with Power of the Rings, they're failing to sustain my interest.  Lots of sub plots, baddies and rumblings about The Empire.  No clue about what's going on. Keep asking J why there are no light sabers, Jedis or Darth Vader, but I gather this series takes place before all that.  Stellan Skarsgard is having fun though. 

I shall be departing to our new Screen 2 to watch something else.

The Lørenskog Disappearance, Netflix 

This is much more my cup of tea, a dramatic semi-fictional retelling of a high-profile case that shocked Norway back in 2019. The wife of a wealthy 70 year businessman is kidnapped, and the kidnappers demand a ransom in bitcoin. Months go by and her husband is arrested, then released. All the time the tension is racheting up.  I haven't read ahead because I don't want to know yet what happened.  Gripping. 

Belfast (Netflix)

I'd been waiting eagerly for this film to become available as a reasonably priced rental, and it finally has. What a delight. It's a special film, as shown by the critical acclaim it won. I expected it to be a blub fest, but it wasn't until the dying moments of the film. 

Welcome to Wrexham (Disney, Hulu)

I can imagine how the conversation went between actors Ryan Reynolds and Rob McElhenney and their agents. 

"How about a series where you buy a struggling soccer team? In a country that has its own language? We can make a big deal about your lack of knowledge, and have a laugh at their expense, particularly the Welsh traditions?"

Yep, that just about sums up this series. 

Wrexham FC, which is in the fifth tier of British soccer, the National League, are still propping up their division but I reckon another season is on the cards to give the club one last chance to turn it round before the actors bail.

Michael Palin into Iraq (Channel 5, The Flixer, YouTube)

I'm not sure how national treasure Palin has ended up on Channel 5, but would imagine he's jumped ship from the BBC before being ejected for being an elderly white middle-class male, and therefore ticking all the wrong boxes.

Iraq has always interested me - we know so little about the country apart from the "bad stuff."

Palin as always is the perfect guide because he shows us the parallels in society - the poverty juxtaposed against the trendy, with their hand-made suits - but doesn't state an opinion or tell us what we're seeing. He leaves it to us to draw the analysis. 

The Cotswolds and Beyond with Pam Ayres  (5, My5, JustWatch)

We like to have an "amuse bouche" before we launch into the latest drama each evening, and this returning series fits the bill perfectly. 

Another national treasure, poet Pam, Ayres, does a fine job of showing us the beautiful Cotwolds in this charming series.  Seeing her become overwhelmed at the spectacle of Stonehenge in the sunrise was strangely moving. 

Her most famous poems are amusing, like "Oh I Wish I'd Looked After Me Teeth" . But as the Sunday Times said: "Forget the corny comedian: Pam Ayres is a proper poet, whose wistful, funny, and perceptive verse captures both the joy and unfairness of life."

There was a wistful and moving poem in the first episode about nature, but I can't find it online, and I think Ayres is doing herself a disservice by not including some of her lesser known poems on her website. 


Oh William! by Elizabeth Strout

This is one of the Amgash novels about Lucy Barton, a  successful writer living in New York, who grew up in poverty in rural Amgash, Illinois.

Shortlisted for the 2022 Booker Prize, this latest installment navigates the second half of Lucy's life as a recent widow and parent to two adult daughters. A surprise encounter leads her to reconnect with William, her first husband. Recalling their college years, the birth of their daughters, the painful dissolution of their marriage, and the lives they built with other people, Strout weaves a portrait, stunning in its subtlety, of a tender, complex, decades-long partnership.

The only fly in the ointment was that it ended quite abruptly leaving me hungry for more, and I have seen a couple of reviews for the next book which are very scathing, advising us not to read it. 

Fifty First Dates After Fifty: A Memoir, by Carolyn Lee Arnold

Books have become very expensive on Kindle lately, like everything else, and I've become a big fan of sites like bookbub.com that give us daily offers on books.  This was one of my 99p purchases which I read without seeing the sample.  

I was expecting the usual amusing and scary stories about dates from Tinder and Bumble with a slightly different spin because the author started her mission aged 58.

It turned out slightly differently.  Lee Arnold is a Californian who has embraced the trend for finding herself, training as a counsellor, attending many courses and along the way getting into paganism and polyamory.  

She moves in circles where she's constantly meeting men through friends, or at parties, so she doesn't need the dating apps (although a few of her dates do come from that direction).

Having shunned marriage in her younger years because she didn't want to be confined, and spending 18 years in lesbian relationships, she found herself in her late 50s wanting a husband.

It turned out, eventually, that her desired model was not just "a" husband, but someone else's husband. 

I found her lack of empathy quite astonishing at times for someone who has studied emotions and mental well being.  After sex with one man, she then told him she wasn't attracted to short guys.  What was he supposed to say?  (It seems he was expected to reason with her and convince her that short guys are OK!).  

So Lucky by Dawn O'Porter 

I've been an admirer of Dawn's since she first burst onto TV screens with her off beat documentaries. I remember one where she dieted to a size zero to see if it made any difference to her self esteem. 

And I mentioned self esteem in particular because that, and the perfection portrayed sometimes in Instagram stereotypes, is the theme of So Lucky.  The underlying message is not to judge any woman by her cover. 

It focuses on the lives of three women:  Beth, who seems to have a perfect marriage but hasn't had sex in a year; Ruby, who feels like she's failing, and Lauren', whose seeming happiness is fake news.

O'Porter writes in a frank, bold and humorous way. She shines a light on several current issues. 

The Serial Killer's Daughter by Alice Hunter

The second novel from this writer, The Serial Killer's Daughter tells how vet daughter Jennifer Slater starts finding disturbing packages outside her home, comntaining the remains of animals.  In the background, a woman has been kidnapped from the quiet village, and it turns out Slater has a motive for disliking her. 

Unknown to even her husband, Slater is the daughter of a serial killer and has spent her life running away from her past: changing her name and cutting contact with her controlling mother. 

I read to the end but I can't say I found it particularly gripping or compelling, because the narrative developed at such a slow pace. 


Lately I've been mainly listening to just my regulars because I haven't enjoyed any of the new podcasts I've tried, and there have been many.  I was pleased to hear about two new podcasts, "Hoaxed" and "Can I Tell You a Secret?" which are both true stories with a similar theme.

Hoaxed (Tortoise Media)

Tortoise brought us the very successful podcast "Sweet Bobby" about an astonishing case of cat fishing that went on for years.  I was looking forward to their new series, Hoaxed, an investigation into one of the most serious British conspiracy theories of all time.

I've only listened to the first episode so far and am finding it hard going, because it's jumping around all over the place without anchoring the narrative.  I like a podcast to have a beginning, middle and end, like a drama or book.  I'm also in the dark about the conspiracy theory: it doesn't ring any bells (and me a Times reader!). 

We start with the voices (concealed) of children giving evidence that they had been abused.  It seems a cult was involved - in leafy Hampstead. I'm going to carry on listening but I hope it all becomes a bit clearer.

Can I Tell You a Secret? (The Guardian)

This month's entry for the Is This Mutton Podcast Hall of Fame 

This docu series is more in the vein of Sweet Bobby. It concerns online stalking of a group of school friends by a particular individual. He was so prolific the stalking extended far beyond this group,  and across the UK.  Yet while he was arrested around 10 times,  police refused to investigate. Finally, a PC with no experience of cyber crime or stalking was moved by the victims and took action.

The podcast explores the laws around stalking:  just 0.01 of cases of online stalking in the UK are prosecuted successfully. Police prefer the charge of harassment, which doesn't go to court.

What happened in the case of this individual is very noteworthy for a couple of reasons. I'm not giving any spoilers, you'll have to listen! 

I hope you enjoyed this month's selections. As always, I'd love to hear your views, in particular those defending programmes I disliked! Please let us know your favourites in the comments.

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, Inspire Me Monday at Create with Joy


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1 comment

  1. Thank you for joining us at What's On Your Bookshelf. I love the mixture of streaming, podcasts, and books that you have shared here. I also appreciated your candid reviews. Some titles that I first thought I might like, I realized that I probably wouldn't and viceversa. Great post!


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