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Friday 28 October 2022

Latest Books, TV and Podcasts: October

 Picture of a book with hands on either side.  By Enzo Munoz for Pexels
Dear friends. Another month has whizzed by and it's time for my round-up of TV watched, books read, and podcasts listened to.

This is the last post in the current format.  There will soon be a standalone book reviews post, with the first one on November 18 to join the What's On Your Bookshelf link-up.  Fear not, TV and podcasts will still be covered but in my review of the month, on the last Friday of the month.

All clear?  Great - let's launch into Books.


The London Boys by Marc Burrows 

This fascinating book explores the parallel lives of David Bowie and Marc Bolan, both born in 1947. It's a combination of biography and social history.  I've read most of the Bowie biographies, being one of his most ardent fans, but there's still plenty of "new" info here from writer Burrows. 

It starts with a blow-by-blow account of when Bowie graced his friend's fairly lowly TV show in 1977 and performed Heroes for the first time ever, which, according to the book, transfixed everyone in the studio. The day of rehearsals ended badly with Bolan drunk and the unions pulling the plug on the recording, meaning Eddie and the Hot Rods had to come back another day.  Bowie's security had also been very heavy handed, evicting people from the studio.

A few days later Bolan met his death in a road accident, aged just 29. Bowie attended the funeral and wept, exhibiting a rare show of emotion, according to a friend who knew him. 

I had no idea of the hideously complex family life of Bowie. When his father, known as John, married his second wife, they all lived in the same house as his first wife, a performer, plus a child of John's,  born to another woman. Bowie's beloved stepbrother Terry, 10 years his senior, eventually joined them.  It was not a happy family, and friends of Bowie said his  emotional detachment and aloofness was a result of his fractured childhood. 

What makes the book stand out is not just the biographical detail around two rock icons, but the social history of the time. It was not long after the war and Britain was changing fast, encouraging thousands of immigrants to start new lives in the UK, a move which was not always popular at the time. It was also a very creative time with plenty of other stars born in 1947, among them Elton John, Iggy Pop, Brian May, Jeff Lynne and Meat Loaf. 

Cold as Hell by Lilja Sigurdardóttir, Quentin Bates (translation)

As a huge admirer of Nordic noir TV, I was easily tempted by this best-selling Icelandic crime thriller.  Áróra returns reluctantly to Iceland to find her sister Isafold, who hasn't made contact with their mother for weeks.  The two sisters are no longer close, and Áróra has to confront Isafold's drug dealing boyfriend, who says that she left him and went back to Britain. 

There are some fascinating and weird characters in Isafold's life, as Áróra discovers. 

This wasn't like the usual crime thriller and it was all the better for that.  As a friend of her mother's, who happens to be a policeman, helps Áróra investigate Isafold's disappearance, we encounter drug dealers, domestic abuse and illegal immigration.

A very strong debut. 

No Comfort for the Undertaker by Chris Keefer

We're in America in the 1900s and widow Carrie Lisbon has moved to the quiet town of Hope Bridge to lodge with her only surviving relative, the uncle of her late husband. An experienced undertaker, who has trained as an embalmer and understands the language of flowers when making tributes, Carrie is asked to help lay out the body of a young woman when the official town undertaker's wife is indisposed.

In the days before pathologists and DNA, undertakers were one of the few professions who could identify how a person had died, and Carrie is alarmed that the young woman appears to have been murdered. 

She finds herself fighting for justice in the face of opposition from the sheriff, who is related to the dead woman's husband, and the general view of women at that time, which wasn't favourable when it came to them having a profession. 

Carrie is a very feisty and determined woman and gradually starts to win people over, including the sheriff. 

I liked the unusual angle of the book - a pioneer female undertaker - and it looks as if this is the first in a series of Carrie Lisbon mysteries. 

The Girlfriend by K.L. Slater

Having read previous books by this author I was keen to get my hands on The Girlfriend, and it doesn't disappoint. Cole Fincham and his wife are preparing to throw their annual lavish Halloween party when he takes a phone call and dashes off into his car.

The party never takes place because in the next few hours, his wife will be told that Cole has died in a traffic accident. 

There's a knock on the door and standing there is a young woman with a baby, who claims to be not only Cole's mistress, and mother of his son, but the owner of the Finchams' house, business and cars. And what's more, it all turns out to be true.

This is quite an intriguing proposition: I'm always interested in people leading dual lives. I liked Cole's wife because unusually in this genre, she starts investigating to get to the bottom of everything, and does quite a bit better than the police. 

Retirement Rebel by Siobhan Daniels

I've been following the adventures of former journalist Siobhan Daniels on Twitter  (@Shuvonshuvoff) and was interested to see she's now written a book about how she sold her house and most of her possessions to retire and live in a motor home, touring the UK to give motivational talks and interviews to help inspire mid life women.

During her 50s Siobhan had a horrendous time at work, battling the menopause and ageism, and her confidence was at a low ebb. She had put on weight and didn't want to do anything, but her daughter made her sign up for a marathon.  She was very reluctant at first but eventually knuckled down and secured some more sporting achievements. 

Siobhan is convinced that mid life women have plenty to offer, and retirement is just the start. Knowing nothing about motor homes she bought one and set off on her adventure, with Covid and lockdowns rearing their ugly head quite early on.  

Mastering a motor home seems very challenging for a woman on her own, not only the size of it on some of the UK's narrowest roads in the Outer Hebrides, but dealing with winds, campsite owners who were closed during lockdown plus mastering electricity and water supplies. 

As she gets more experienced, Siobhan finds a caring community of women and starts to spread her message about positivity in mid life through TV and newspaper interviews and speaking appearances. She also becomes finely attuned to nature and the privilege of being on her own and able to enjoy some of the finest sunrises. 


Wisting, BBC 4 (BBC iPlayer), Series 2 and 3 

It was more than two years ago we first met William Wisting in this Norwegian crime thriller. Wisting, a widower with a grown-up daughter, Line, is a detective. The second series has a gripping start:  a serial killer is being escorted to the desolate place where he murdered his victims to try to identify where one of them is buried.  Somehow he escapes, and Wisting and his colleagues have to race against time.  Line is also involved because she was filming the killer in her job as a podcaster and journalist.

What I like about Wisting is that the hero is not the usual gung ho, feisty character in TV cop dramas: the one who's always challenging or defying his boss.  Wisting seems like a genuinely nice guy, a bit buttoned up and reserved, but not flash or showy.  It seems a team effort when the crimes are solved.

Series 2 quickly segued into Series 3, where Wisting investigates the murder of a young refugee which attracts the attention of the FBI. 

Karen Pirie, ITV Hub, Sky, STV Player)

Another detective with a difference is Karen Pirie, the creation of crime writer Val McDermid. Unlike Wisting, Pirie is at odds with her bosses and determined to do things her way, but what's good about her and this drama is that everything feels very real. Karen is moved to a different team to investigate an old cold case after a podcast has aroused interest in the story.  A young woman working as a barmaid was killed on her way home, and her body found by young students who'd been in the same bar. The students were always the main suspects but seemed to have solid alibis.

I love cold cases because they're so difficult to crack, the crimes often perpetrated before the advent of CCTV and DNA. This series doesn't disappoint, and the ending is very exciting.

Snabba Cash Series 1, Netflix

Three people are chasing the lure of "easy money":  a young female entrepreneur, Leya;  Salim, who's working for a gang of drug dealers, and young Tim, who's disenchanted with school and wants excitement.  Their lives intertwine in this gripping but somewhat gloomy Swedish drama.  I nearly fell off the sofa at some points. 

House of the Dragon (Sky, Hulu, Disney+, and ESPN+) and The Rings of Power (Prime) season finales

So you may recall I was lukewarm about the prospect of The Rings of Power  (my review) and a bit more excited about House of the Dragon.  So how did they pan out, now that we've had the finale of their first two seasons?

House of the Dragon, a prequel to Game of Thrones about House Targaryen,  was a bit slow compared to its stablemate. We were slowly getting to know all the characters and the intrigue around who would succeed King Viserys. I read in an interview that series 2 will be much more familiar in a GoT way with more fighting, battles and set pieces.

The good thing about House of the Dragon is that, as with GoT, women have central roles, and this time, any sex or violence is not gratuitous.  The rape of a servant is not even shown, but we see the repercussions from the victim's point of view.  The drama does dwell quite a lot on childbirth however, and a gory spectacle it is too.  The finale wasn't a heart stopping thriller by any means, but it teed up all the parties for a hum dinger of a showdown in the next series, due to air in 2024.

Meanwhile The Rings of Power kept me on board, even though I've never been a fan of Tolkien or this genre. It was all just a bit worthy though, the complete antithesis to House of the Dragon with its lack of sex, violence or even bad language.  I can't remember the finale except that there were some good fighting scenes, and it became clear, at last, that everyone seems to be gunning for for the same villain, Sauron. 


The Witch Farm, BBC Radio 4

The Witch Farm is a new paranormal cold case from the team that brought us The Battersea Poltergeist.  Danny Robins investigates the terrifying case of a remote farmhouse in the Brecon Beacons, Wales, where a young family encountered weird happenings.

First their electricity bill shot up to five times what it should have been (a common phenomenon nowadays!); then there were the most thunderous footsteps, the smells of incense and sulphur, and an attempt to kill one of the family.  And we're only up to episode 2. 

The factual investigation by Robins includes conversations with the woman who was at the centre of the case, Liz Rich, as well as his panel of parapsychologists and a dissenting scientist. There's also a drama to enact the haunting, with Liz and husband Bill played by Joseph Fiennes and Alexandra Roach.  

It's already going into THE IS THIS MUTTON HALL OF FAME. My goodness, those footsteps - I nearly jumped out of my skin! Very creepy, and it provokes an uneasy reaction because you can't help thinking how difficult it would be to stage all this mayhem.  What if it really happened?

Con Juan, Apple Podcasts

The original case of the man who fell to earth! As a young man, Juan Carlos Guzman Betancur managed to stowaway in the wheels of an airliner and survived.  He was allowed to stay in America, claiming he was 13  (but looking a lot older), and promptly repaid the country by becoming one of the most prolific international criminals.

His MO's are quite jaw dropping, centred around robbing wealthy people in the most flash and luxurious hotels. He studies hotel guests, adopts their mannerisms and clothing and presents false passports to hoax hotels into thinking he's a guest who has lost his room key. Given access to "his" room, he then audaciously calls security, saying he has forgotten the unlock code. 

Darrell Brown teams up with former Metropolitan Police Detective Christian Plowman to take a journey through Juan's crimes - to unpack his extraordinary life - and to try and find him. it's a journey which takes two years, and spans the globe.

I hope you enjoyed this month's selections and will find something to watch, read or listen to.  As always, please share any recommendations of your own, 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 LifeWonderful Wednesday at Oh My Heartsie GirlTraffic Jam Weekend at Marsha in the Middle Fabulous Fridays at Lucy BertoldiThe Happy Now Link-Up at JENerallyInformed

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