What we loved: March 2023
Culty vibes, crime dramas, Steve Carrell and binging new podcasts.
Our bookish world has this month been almost completely taken over with all things Better Words because we started releasing new episodes! The first two of the season can be found wherever you listen to your podcasts.
If you’re already subscribed to this Substack, you’ll keep getting a weekly email with a little info about each new episode as we release them. Please do come back and leave a comment if you listen to the episode and want to share your thoughts.
But with a new season comes a lot of podcast-related reading. We’re both buried in books to prep for future interviews and trying to read enough other stuff to recommend in each episode and this monthly wrap. So do forgive us if there are some repeat recommendations at times 😉
*denotes review copy
The Mysterious Case of the Alperton Angels by Janice Hallett
I will read anything Janice Hallett writes – this was a ‘most anticipated’ book for me even though when I started, I realised I didn’t actually know what it was about. Turns out it’s about cults and true crime. Both topics are a massive ‘yes’ from me! It’s told in her signature ‘found documents’ style, which proves a twisty and surprisingly engaging format. I tore through this, but it was stuck in my head so much that I then wrote a bit more about it for. (We’ve also recorded a discussion about this and her first novel, The Appeal, for an upcoming Better Words episode, so stay tuned).
One Night With You by Laura Jane Williams*
This is basically the only book I read that wasn’t for an upcoming podcast interview! One Night With You has an excellent rom-com premise: Nick is new to London and needs to buy a couch. Ruby is moving to Manchester and needs to sell her couch. They meet on Facebook Marketplace and end up having a one night stand. That should be it, but no! They keep crossing paths and stay in each other’s lives as Nick explores his new life and Ruby is working on a documentary for her masters. The side characters - their friends, roommates, siblings, documentary subjects - are absolutely wonderful. By the end of this book I was wishing I could turn on the movie adaption, it feels like an epic and classic rom-com that should star Tom Hanks & Meg Ryan or Hugh Grant & Julia Roberts.
Idol by Louise O’Neill
This is a challenging book to read and, honestly, not one I particularly enjoyed in the traditional sense. But I love the way O’Neill explores nuanced subjects through protagonists that make you feel a bit uncomfortable (she’s a previous podcast guest, too). In Idol, O’Neill digs into the world of wellness gurus, the complications of parasocial relationships and what it takes to break through carefully curated social media personas. And while I prickled against our main character Sam, I was drawn into her story completely. It’s one of those books that I keep thinking about, which means it’s possibly something I’ll write about for– it's definitely a book that will make you question or mull over plenty of things.
Orphia and Eurydicius by Elyse John*
We did encourage your forgiveness, and I’d like to remind you of that now. I technically haven’t finished reading Orphia and Eurydicius but wanted to take this opportunity to share it. Also, it is a HarperCollins book, and I am working on the marketing campaign, but that doesn’t affect my decision to recommend it here. It will be published in May.
This novel is a gender-flipped and feminist retelling of the Orpheus and Eurydice myth. Orphia is a strong warrior who longs to learn more about art, music and poetry. Eurydicius is a gentle shield-maker. After they meet, Orphia begins training with the Muses and honing her talents. By the time she meets Eurydicius again, she’s conflicted about pursuing love or fame and glory. The writing is beautiful and immersive, you fall into the story every time you open the book.
After the Verdict
You know, sometimes you want to read a cheesy trope-filled romance or something sugary and light that doesn’t have *that* much substance but is an enjoyable thing to consume? That’s how I feel about After the Verdict. In this, we meet four people who’ve just finished jury duty on a high-profile murder case. The accused was found not guilty but once they return to normal life, the jury start questioning that decision. They start to investigate, and drama ensues. It’s got a few great Aussie actors, but Michelle Lim Davidson as Clara is my favourite. Enjoyable? Yes. A tiny bit forgettable? Also, yes. But that’s not always a bad thing when you enjoyed watching it at the time.
Back In Time For The Corner Shop
The Ferrone family are back! Hosted by Annabel Crabb, this ABC series follows on from Back In Time For Dinner (2018) and Further Back In Time For Dinner (2020), where the Ferrone family home and their lives were transformed to mirror different decades. In Back In Time For The Corner Shop, they run a corner shop as a family. It is so delightful to watch as they fumble with imperial weights, old currency, evolving technology, and key moments in Australian history. All three series are available on ABC iView.
(hey, Michelle here – I will second this recommendation and also curse Caitlin for writing it in this doc before I got a chance to. It’s brilliant!)
Another crime drama, moi? This one also has a true crime podcast plotline, so you’ll see why I love it. In contrast to my previous recommendation, this falls on the serious drama end of the spectrum. DI Karen Pirie is tasked with re-opening the cold case murder of a young woman in St Andrews, Scotland, after a podcast raises concerns about the original investigation. Karen is picked as the token woman for the optics but heads in with more gusto than her bosses expect. It was beautifully shot and with enough touches of humour that it never felt overly grim. The plot was twisty, with flashbacks to the year of the crime. After finishing, I immediately Googled whether there was a season 2 in the works (there is). I also discovered it’s based on an old Val McDermid novel which has cleverly been modernised and adapted to present day through the addition of the podcast plot line – I’m really glad they didn’t do a straight early-2000s setting, and I can’t wait to see more of Karen Pirie.
I think I had heard of this show before, but it really came across my radar as the new season started airing this year. First on in 2009-2010, Party Down follows a group of actors, comedians, and writers in Los Angeles as they work in catering to make ends meet. The cast is truly outstanding. Adam Scott, Lizzy Caplan, Jane Lynch (then Megan Mullally in S2 because Jane was on Glee!) Martin Starr, plus Veronica Mars alums Ken Marino and Ryan Hansen. Then there’s the guest stars! Incredible guest stars as this group of dreamers work everything from high school reunions to funerals, from backstage at a concert to porn awards after party. Available to watch on Stan.
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James Acaster on In Writing with Hattie Crisell
One of the delights of podcasting is that you can come to something late and explore the archives. This is the pleasure I’ve had with this podcast (after findinghere on Substack). Anyone who knows me and my husband well knows that we are *obsessed* with James Acaster, so when I found this episode from 2021, I was very excited. It was fascinating to peek inside the mind of my favourite stand-up – which is very much one of the things we love about hosting Better Words. So much of what James shares here is applicable to all creative and writing work, not just stand-up, including his advice to do the work if you actually want to get better at something. I can’t wait to listen to more of these conversations.
Flightless Bird with David Farrier
An offshoot of Armchair Expert, Flightless Bird follows New Zealand journalist and documentarian David Farrier as he explores America. He was in the US when COVID hit and was unable to get home, hence the joke about a Kiwi being flightless. I started off listening to an episode here and there (mainly seasonal episodes on Halloween, Christmas and Valentines Day) but am officially obsessed and listening from the beginning. I recommend doing the same thing, because once you’re into the podcast listening in the order they were released makes more sense as David’s journey evolves. As an Aussie, I find myself being baffled by the same things as David. A perfect example is the second-ever episode: Toilets. Why are they so different?! Recently I loved the Waffle House and Sandwiches episodes.
Medieval Animals on You’re Dead to Me
This podcast makes nerdy history topics so enjoyable, thanks to host Greg Jenner (the brains behind Horrible Histories). It’s a podcast I’ve listened to a lot over the years, but I really loved this episode on how medieval society interacted with, thought of, and used animals. The comedic guests are always so fun, and the whole premise of the podcast is to take a hefty topic and explain it in simple terms. In this episode, the guest is Kiri Pritchard-McLean, co-host of my favourite podcast, All Killa No Filla.
Steve Carrell on Office Ladies
In January, when I recommended the Office Ladies episode where Jenna Fischer and Angela Kinsey interviewed Billie Eilish, I knew they were almost up to ‘Goodbye Michael’ and that I would want to recommend this interview. Steve Carrell has never appeared on Office Ladies, listeners have known for a while that he’ll come when it’s time to say goodbye to Michael Scott. I don’t even know how to recommend this, because if you don’t want to listen to Steve Carrell talk about one of his most iconic characters, then you won’t. As a bonus, Will Ferrell was also on Office Ladies this month to chat about his 4 episode arc on The Office as the new boss in Season 7.
Despite my high school holiday obsession with building fancy houses on The Sims 3 (motherlode, anyone?) I’ve had no interest in console games. That is until Hogwarts Legacy. I felt such a childlike glee when I pre-ordered it, picked it up after work on a Friday afternoon and played all weekend. Now I really do get why people love gaming so much. It’s the closest I get to meditation and shushing my (sometimes overwhelmingly loud) mind. It helps that Hogwarts Legacy is a beautiful game to play. I’m hooked on exploring every inch of this world!
Ed Sheeran Confesses: Tears, Trauma, and Those Bad Habits in Rolling Stone
Michelle and I saw Ed Sheeran in concert at the end of Feb. One week later, he announced his next album, - (Subtract). This article with Rolling Stone is a moving introduction to the new album before we hear it. If you don’t know, Ed has his set of five math symbol albums and has been working on the last one, - (Subtract), for a decade. Then while writing (with Aaron Dessner! Taylor Swift introduced them!) during an awful year, he ended up with - (Subtract).
(Michelle butting in again to say I’m so excited for the Disney+ doco on Ed’s mathematics albums, expect us to discuss it in next month’s email!)