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What we loved: January 2023
A time travel thriller, rom-coms and character-driven contemporaries. Plus, crime dramas, creme eggs and carrot cake.
Welcome to our first monthly wrap Substack. We’re really excited to make this a space where we share the things we’ve loved and hear what you’ve been reading, too.
At the end of each month, we’ll share two books we think you should read, watch or listen to. Plus, a bonus thing we’ve loved. If you see an asterisk beside a book, it means we’ve been lucky enough to receive a copy from the publisher.
This month we were shocked and devastated to hear of the sudden death of Gabrielle Williams. While we didn’t meet her in person, Gabrielle joined us on the podcast back in 2017 to discuss My Life as a Hashtag. Simmone Howell writes beautifully about Gabrielle’s life and legacy. Our thoughts are with all of Gabrielle’s family and friends during an unbearable time.
Wrong Place Wrong Time by Gillian McAlister
It feels like so long since I’ve read a book that I felt almost magnetically pulled to. I think it’s one of those things you don’t realise you’re missing until you find yourself so hooked on a story that you’re in bed, calculating how long you can keep reading before work the next day is a total write-off. And then, when you do get to work (clinging to caffeine), all you can think about is what will happen in your book. This is a rather specific example, but if it’s not a testament to how much I enjoyed this book, I don’t know what is.
Wrong Place Wrong Time is a thriller meets time loop. We open with Jen, a mum waiting up late for her 18-year-old son Todd. But as he walks down the street towards home, Jen watches in horror as he pulls a knife and stabs a man. The next day she wakes up only to realise it’s the day before. How far back will she go to stop a crime before it happens?
This book is deliciously twisty and compulsively readable. But it’s also a touching exploration of the little moments of life and motherhood, the tiny things we miss when we’re caught in the emotion. And that’s exactly what Jen must learn to look beyond if she’s to find the clues to prevent her son from becoming a murderer.
Better Then the Movies by Lynn Painter
All I’ve wanted to do since I finished read this book is rewatch a bunch of rom-coms. So I have, including 27 Dresses and Something Borrowed. Every chapter starts with a quote from a rom-com movie, so once you read this book you’ll probably feel the same way!
Liz’s longtime crush, Michael, has just moved back to town and she’s determined to get him to notice her. So she enlists her neighbour, Wes, to help her. It’s a mix of fake dating and enemies-to-lovers as Liz and Wes get to know each other. Liz’s love of romantic comedies is present throughout the novel and potentially cloud her vision of what happily ever after should look like. Full of hijinks, great banter, funny moments plus quite a few heartfelt ones.
Crushing by Genevieve Novak*
This one comes with a hearty thank you to Caitlin for sending me a proof of one of my most anticipated books of 2023.
In Crushing, we meet Marnie. Self-described ‘serial monogamist’ adept at moulding herself to match her boyfriend of the moment. So what happens when you’re dumped again and left feeling like you actually don’t know a thing about yourself? Swear off relationships, obviously.
Enter Isaac: a man who gets her but solves the relationship dilemma because he’s got someone else, and they can’t be more than friends. Can they? Exploring her relationships with new bestie and roommate Claud, sister Nicola and pessimistic boss Kit, Marnie questions what life looks like when we’re on our own.
Novak’s writing is both lush and piercing. Just like her debut, No Hard Feelings, I was immediately enveloped by these words and left wondering if I’d ever write anything that captured this same feeling of warmth and humour and searing honesty. It is the type of book that’s equally a joy to read and sparks my own creative crisis.
Cleopatra and Frankenstein by Coco Mellors*
My first read of the year, I picked this one up off my TBR to take to the beach on my last day of summer holidays. I hadn’t read much over Christmas and wanted something to kickstart a good year of reading. It was a great choice.
I’d heard so many wonderful things about this book for a year already, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect once I actually dived in. I loved the writing style and the pace of the book. Michelle and I often joke that we love a book where nothing happens, where it’s all character development. With Cleopatra and Frankenstein, I started to feel like I wanted something to happen. The characters were interesting to read about (and the point of view switches a couple of times, which was brilliant) and I really cared for them even when they were a bit awful.
I think maybe I let the hype, and expectation that I would like it, get to me with this book. Ultimately I really enjoyed reading it and would recommend bumping it up your TBR if you haven’t gotten to it yet.
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Happy Valley (season 3)
I am shamelessly, utterly obsessed with this season of Happy Valley. Writer Sally Wainwright has kept us waiting seven years for this final season of the gritty Yorkshire cop drama; mainly crucial child character Ryan can be played by the same actor in his teens.
Happy Valley is a masterclass in story: taut, emotional and with no shot or line wasted. If you’re yet to meet Catherine Cawood, do yourself a favour and revisit the first two twisty seasons before catching up on the gripping finale. Season 3 looks to be bringing the Cawood family’s personal tragedies to a head and apparently even the actors don’t know how the last episode will play out. The show holds nothing back, so be prepared for some brutal scenes.
We’ve been watching week-by-week at the same time it’s released in the UK (thank you, VPN), dying to binge it but also relishing the seven days to chat theories with fans online. I also listen to two podcasts recapping the episodes and discussing theories (Obsessed With… Happy Valley and Shrine Podcasts). I think that is half the enjoyment, really!
Just jumping in-between Michelle’s more dramatic choices with my sitcoms, as I always do. I’ve been seeing Abbot Elementary around for a little while, as the show just finished airing its second season and has picked up multiple Emmys, Golden Globes, and many other awards so far.
It’s a mockumentary style sitcom set at an elementary school in Philadelphia. The school is underfunded, the younger teachers are incredibly enthusiastic, the more senior teachers are dedicated, the principal is underqualified (and absolutely hilarious), and the substitute is observing it all.
Very fresh, smart, and super funny while also highlighting the incredible work of teachers. Two seasons are on Disney+ now, so start watching. I think this is a show that could be around for some time yet and I hope it is.
At the end of Dopesick I felt both heartbreak and burning rage. This drama mini series is a haunting portrayal of the opeoid crisis in the US and the multiple systemic failings that led to the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people.
Based on a book of the same name and adapted by Beth Macy, the series dives into the lives torn apart by addiction. It also puts the Sackler family under the microscope – this is truly where I found myself raging. I watched Dopesick after listening to this episode of Redhanded podcast. As Hannah and Suruthi say in that episode, there are a lot of serial killers out there but the Sackler family’s drive for billions of dollars in profit over people’s lives is pure evil. This series was released a while ago and I’m a little late to watch it, but if you’ve already seen it I recommend diving into this New Yorker piece or listening to the above podcast episode.
Bumper In Berlin
I know, but hear me out. Elizabeth Banks was inspired to create this series after Marvel’s Loki. If they can make a whole show about their lovable villain, why can’t they? Bumper’s character in the Pitch Perfect films is barely a villain, just kind of an asshole. But he’s the perfect character to expand on!
Bumper’s TikTok cover of ‘99 Luftballons’ goes viral in Germany, and the guy from Das Sound Machine (from Pitch Perfect 2) invites him to Berlin. Sarah Hyland is his American assistant, and together with his DJ/producer sister they set out to make Bumper a star. Competing against Jameela Jamil’s character for a newcomer spot at Germany’s Unity Day concert.
Yes, it’s bonkers. But it’s so much fun! Adam Devine and Sarah Hyland are so wonderful together, my favourite moment is their version of ‘It Wasn’t Me’.
‘Glorifying Obesity’ and Other Myths About Fat People by Maintenance Phase
This podcast co-hosted by Michael Hobbes and Aubrey Gordon debunks the biggest myths of the wellness industry. Obviously, I recommend devouring every episode. But January’s episode on the myths around fatness was, as always, insightful and educational.
A Conversation with Billie Eilish on Office Ladies
I love the Office Ladies podcast and have been re-watching and listening along for (wow) 3 years now. If you don’t listen, starting now seems like too big a task, or rewatch podcasts aren’t your thing - but you like The Office, I recommend this episode. Billie Eilish is a big The Office fan, I’m not really a big Billie fan, but even I knew that. I didn’t know she’d sampled the show on one of her songs! That story, along with others about how the show is a part of her life plus her favourite episodes, moments etc. are just a joy to listen to.
‘More’ by Sam Ryder
Okay, I’ll admit part of why I love this song is because I’m absolutely still in the midst of the newlywed love bubble. Sorry, not sorry. Jack and I discovered Sam Ryder after he snagged second place for the UK at the 2022 Eurovision and for the first time in a long time, we both adore the same music. His music’s been on repeat in our house for months, but there’s something just a little bit sweeter about ‘More’.
‘Body Better’ by Maisie Peters
The first single from Maisie’s second album is here!! I’m just recommending ‘Body Better’ because it’s new and on repeat. If you haven’t listened to Maisie before, you might as well start here. Favourite lyric; ‘The worst way to love somebody is to watch them love somebody else and it work out’.
Paul Hollywood’s simple carrot cake
I was determined to flex my baking muscles for Jack’s birthday this year. His request? Carrot cake. This Paul Hollywood version is super simple to make (including the optional candied orange garnish) and absolutely delicious. I did make the mistake of baking it in a larger round tin, so it was a bit too thin to cut in half. But that gives me an excuse to make it again, right?
P.S Jack’s actual birthday present was a ‘meet the meerkat’ experience at our local zoo. Will a present ever top this cuteness? I think not!
Cadbury Creme Egg block
Easter is still a while away, but all the treats are here for us to enjoy. I know Creme Eggs can be controversial, some people don’t like the texture of the filling, and I swear they’re getting more expensive every year. But they are my favourite Easter chocolate by far. Now available in a full block! And it’s delicious of course, but also the chocolate-to-filling ratio is better, the texture of the filling is smoother (similar to other fillings, like peppermint or pineapple). If you don’t like Creme Eggs, take this recommendation for all Easter chocolate. If they’re on supermarket shelves already, we might as well enjoy them.