Funny Woman – Sky Showcase


Hmm … I still can’t quite make up my mind about this, but it’s definitely improving as the series has gone on.  I nearly gave up after one episode, on the grounds of a Londoner (the series is based on a book by Nick Hornby) showing a working-class Northerner thinking that “eau de toilette” was pronounced “eau de toilet”.  Not funny.  Not even remotely funny.

However, it’s got a lot better since then.  And I really do like the character of Barbara, played brilliantly by Gemma Arterton; and the programme’s portrayal of the showbusiness attitudes of the 1960s towards a pretty girl with a regional accent is probably not inaccurate.  We’ve seen Barbara, leaving behind her family and friends in Blackpool to seek fame and fortune in London, struggle to get a foothold in the industry but keep on fighting and win a TV comedy role.

There were plenty of showbusiness opportunities in the North in the 1960s, and I’d rather have seen her try her luck with Granada than all the awful cliches of a Northerner in London; but this isn’t bad, and I’m glad that I stuck with it.


Carrie Soto Is Back by Taylor Jenkins Reid



The idea of this book was that Carrie Soto, leading women’s tennis player of the late ’70s and the ’80s, came out of retirement after 5 years, at the age of 37, in an attempt to regain her record of the most singles Grand Slam titles, just equalled by a younger player.

I’m not sure that even the greatest of players could come back just for the four Grand Slam events – the book showed her doing just that, not playing any warm-up events – and go deep in two and win another.  And the whole idea of coming back to retake the record was a bit daft, when it was highly likely that the record would soon be broken again by her younger rival.

But I rather enjoyed having a tennis book to read. I particularly enjoyed the references to the history of women’s tennis and knowing on whose shoulders you were standing … although no real life players from the mid 1970s onwards were mentioned, so that all the players in the book could be fictional.  It rushed through Carrie’s career to get to her comeback, but then the book was *about* her comeback.   And focusing on only four tournaments probably made for a better read than a book which was just about one match after another, 20 or 25 weeks a year: it allowed time to focus on Carrie’s life off the court too.

A few complaints.  There were some issues with Eastern European surnames.  Also, the Wimbledon men’s singles final of 1995 was shown as finishing at 11pm, which couldn’t have happened in the 1990s: they’d have had to stop once the natural light faded.  And there were quite a few conversations in Spanish, with no translation, which gave my GCSE Spanish a workout but would presumably confuse anyone with no knowledge of the language.

But it was an interesting book, partly just because it was about tennis, and partly because I found myself rooting for Carrie even though she wasn’t a very nice character, nicknamed “the Battle Axe” and even “the Bitch”.  And the ending worked really well.  I actually enjoyed this much more than I thought I would.

Carry On by Rainbow Rowell


  I’m not really into “magic school” stories.   I did enjoy the Mildred Hubble books, but I’ve never read any others that I can think of, not even the Harry Potter books.  However, this was part of a reading group book challenge.   So I read it.  And I just didn’t get it.   There was very little background information about the characters, and all sorts of creatures kept being mentioned with no explanation as to how they fitted into the world of the book.   It was as if I’d started the book in the middle, but I hadn’t.  And this was definitely the first in the series, although two of the characters apparently appeared in one of the author’s other books.   It just didn’t flow.

The general idea was that magic was passed down through families, and that the children of those families attended a special magic school, in Watford.  That was the school’s name – Watford.  With all due respect to Watford, which is a perfectly pleasant name, it doesn’t exactly scream “magic” in the way that “Hogwarts” or “Miss Cackle’s Academy” does.   However, Simon Snow had emerged from a children’s home as the most powerful magician there.  But no information at all was given as to how this had come about.   There were three other main characters – Simon’s room-mate Baz, who was from a very well-to-do family but had been bitten by a vampire and was now a vampire himself, Simon’s best friend Penelope, and Simon’s ex-girlfriend Agatha.  Their world was under attack from something called the Humdrum, and there were mentions of numpties, goblins, merwolves and assorted other creatures, with no explanation as to how they fitted into anything.   It also emerged that Baz’s mother had been murdered, and that the pupils were trying to find out why.

It was all just so confused.   Bits of information came at random.   Some never came at all.  It was meant to be a young adult book, so maybe the author was bothered that too much explanation would make it sound as if the book was aimed at younger kids, but it just didn’t hang together.  Also, it kept using “spell” (as in magic spell, not as in to spell a word) as a verb instead of a noun, which really annoyed me.   I’m sure some people will love this book, but it really wasn’t for me.

Atlantic Crossing – Drama


I feel a bit guilty for watching this, because it’s caused quite a bit of upset in Norway over its historical inaccuracies.  I refuse point blank to watch The Crown, so I probably shouldn’t be watching this.  But it’s entertaining, and there’s not a lot else on on a Saturday night #excuses.  And I’m enjoying it.

When the Nazis invaded Norway, Crown Princess Martha, niece of the Swedish king, and her three young children, including the future King Harald, were evacuated to Sweden.   However, their presence there was seen as threatening Sweden’s neutrality.   The programme strongly suggests that King Gustav had Nazi sympathies, something which is a moot point.   As the situation worsened, King Haakon, widower of King George VI’s aunt Maud, and Crown Prince Olav, together with the Norwegian cabinet, were evacuated to London, but by then it was too late for British forces to be able to evacuate Martha and the children safely.  President Roosevelt, who’d met Olav and Martha on a state visit just before the war, sent a ship to evacuate them to the US via Finland.

The series strongly suggests that there was some sort of romantic friendship between Martha and FDR, which almost certainly wasn’t true and is what’s upset people in Norway.   So far – I haven’t seen the whole series yet – the suggestion is that he was infatuated with her, not that she reciprocated his feelings and certainly not that there was any impropriety.   But it does suggest a very close personal relationship.   It also suggests that Martha held far more sway over him than she really did – to watch it, you’d think that she’d been personally responsible for the entire Lend-Lease Agreement!

So, historically accurate it is not, strictly speaking but it draws attention to the sometimes neglected struggle of occupied Norway, and it makes for good TV.   I still feel a bit guilty about watching it, though!

A Marriage of Fortune by Anne O’Brien


This is the sequel to The Royal Game, continuing the story of the Paston family of Paston Letters fame.  Again, the title’s misleading, because it isn’t about one particular marriage.   It’s about several marriages, and marriages which never actually happened, plus the family’s ongoing struggles to hold on to Caister Castle, possession of which was seen as giving them gentry status, and the effects on them of the twists and turns in the Wars of the Roses.

The three women in the first book continue their stories in this book.  Margaret Paston, nee Mautby, tries to find advantageous marriages for her children.  Eliza Poynings, nee Paston, remarries happily, but is caught up in the rising against Richard III.  Anne Haute waits and waits for John Paston to marry her.   And we also hear from Margery Paston, later Calle, who famously married the family’s steward, and Margery Brews, later Paston, who famously wrote the first known Valentine in English.

Like all Anne O’Brien’s books, it’s a really good read.  It doesn’t go too deeply into anything, and the family tree at the beginning gives away any mysteries as to who marries whom, if you don’t already know; but it’s very entertaining, and highly recommended.

The Light Behind The Window by Lucinda Riley


I’m not usually a fan of dual timeline novels, but this one really isn’t bad.  In 1999, a young Frenchwoman, Emilie, inherits her family’s run-down chateau and a wealth of artwork and jewellery.   She meets and soon marries an Englishman, Sebastian, who’s in the area because his grandmother was there whilst working for SOE during the war.

One of the estate workers remembers the grandmother, and the book goes back in time to tell us some of what happened to her, and to Emilie’s father, who was in the Resistance, during the War.  Then it goes forward again, and we see the newly-weds moving to the husband’s family home, a large old house on the bleak Yorkshire moors, where his mysterious disabled brother lives in an annexe … it all gets a bit Bronte-esque at this point.

The book jumps backwards and forwards between the two stories, and we learn that Emilie’s new husband is actually a bad lot in more than one way.  All sorts of secrets from both the past and the present emerge.  It’s rather far-fetched, but overall it’s not bad.

Hotel Portofino – ITV


This didn’t tick too many boxes for originality, but it definitely ticked the box for glorious scenery (mostly filmed in Croatia, but let’s pretend that it’s the Italian Riviera) and plenty of different brewing dramas.    A posh-ish British woman has opened a hotel in Portofino in the 1920s.   Could we have a bit more about her family’s background, please?   I’m curious as to whether being called Ainsworth means that they’re from Lancashire.  She’s got an alcoholic husband who spends all their money, a grouchy war widow daughter with a child, and a dilettante son who’s a) scarred by his experiences in the war and b) possibly the object of affection of his best friend.

There are a lot of other stock characters.   Two Innocent Young Ladies, one accompanied by a snooty mother, the other by a hypochondriac aunt.  Two Flashy Americans.  Two Northern Servants.  Some Charming Italians, but also some Dodgy Italians with links to the rising fascist movement.

It’s not very original, as I said, but the shots of the coast were stunning, and the shots of local streets and markets were gorgeous as well.  There’s a lot going on, and we’ll see how it goes.

The American Adventuress by C W Gortner


This is a novel about Jennie Jerome, Lady Randolph Churchill.  I’ve always thought of her as just one of the Prince of Wales’s set, partying, running up debts with hardworking tradespeople and having affairs all the time; but this, written in the first person, really made me see her differently.  I didn’t know that she chartered a hospital ship during the Boer War, or tried to help the rural poor in post-Famine Ireland, or played a leading role in relief work during the Great War.

There were a few annoying errors, notably referring to the Prince of Wales as “His Highness’ instead of “His Royal Highness’ and getting muddled over when slavery in the British Empire was abolished. I’m not convinced that his portrayal of Winston Churchill’s political views was entirely accurate, and the author went way, way too far by suggesting that Winston was partially responsible for the sinking of the Lusitania, because it was carrying arms.  It was an unarmed passenger ship and the Germans had no right to attack it, no right at all.

Rant over!   The book showed a bit of Jennie’s childhood in New York, before moving on to her time in Paris society, interrupted by the Franco-Prussian War.   She and Lord Randolph Churchill met and married there, and then moved to London.  Winston Churchill was born 7 1/2 months after the wedding: the official version of events is that he was premature, but Gortner’s version is that Jennie and Randolph jumped the gun in order to force her family to agree to his family’s terms for the marriage.

After Randolph’s early death, from syphilis, Jennie remarried,  divorced, and married again, both marriages to much younger men.  She sadly died following an accident.   Her life really was interesting, and this book was a very entertaining read, despite its irritations!