Posts Tagged ‘television’


This audiobook was narrated by Colleen Prendergast, who I have previously enjoyed listening to as a narrator. She did a great job here too, but unfortunately I did not particularly enjoy listening to this book.

The story is narrated by Nina Penhaligon, an actress on the brink of making it big in television. After making a massive blunder and embarrassing her agent, she decides to get away from it all and goes to stay with her brother in Devon. There she meets up with an old friend named Theo, who has problems of his own. Theo and his wife Kate’s marriage is floundering after they struggle to get over a traffic loss. Nina gets involved with helping Theo set up his holiday let business and falls for the quieter pace of life in Devon, as opposed to the hustle and bustle of London.

In between trying to help Theo and Kate mend their marriage, Nina also has to find out the truth about her own family history, help her brother see that too much work is not good for him, get involved with trying to save a local landmark, and of course, there’s a big dollop of romance in there too.

I’ve long ago come to the conclusion that chicklit is not a genre which really works for me, but when listening to audiobooks, I can sometimes enjoy it. This one started out fairly well, but it went on for so SO long. I felt that a few of the storylines could have been cut out completely and the book would have been better for it (I’m not going to be too specific here, as I don’t want to give away spoilers). It seemed to be about twice as long as it needed to be. The other thing was that the way the holiday let business got set up was just unrealistic. Nina basically happens upon Theo’s rundown, unkempt and completely unfurnished holiday cottages, and transforms them in ONE AFTERNOON!!

I appreciate that we are meant to be rooting for Nina, but I found her quite annoying by the end of it. They should have just called her a fairy godmother, given her a magic wand and have done with it. She managed to solve the problems of practically everyone in the village, and it felt like she was going around sprinkling her fairy dust everywhere. The other problem was that some of the plot points were so obviously signposted that it seemed incredible that Nina didn’t spot what was coming herself.

On the positive side (yes, there is one!) I thought the Devon setting was lovely and it did  make me think that I too would love to live in a place like that.

I should mention again that this is not really a genre I read a lot, because I generally find it very predictable, which was one of my niggles with this book. I’ve read several other reviews of this book, most of which rate it really highly, so if you do enjoy chicklit, then don’t be put off giving it a go. Unfortunately it just wasn’t really for me.

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Nick Hornby has always been what I would call a reliable author, by which I mean that I might not have loved everything he has written, but I have found some enjoyment in everything of his that I have ever read. But actually I did love this book, and think it is his best yet.

Set in the 1960s, it tells of Barbara Parker from Blackpool, who wins the title of Miss Blackpool, promptly decides she doesn’t want it, and heads off to London to realise her dream of becoming a comedienne like her heroine, Lucille Ball.

Before long, Barbara has become Sophie Straw, landed a lead role in a new, successful tv sitcom, and the world – or the UK at least – is at her feet. She becomes part of a close-knit team, with her co-star, writers and director and life is wonderful for a while. But as they grow older and wiser and real life starts to get in the way, they have to rethink just how long the show can continue.

As I mentioned above, I really enjoyed this book. I liked Sophie so much – she was quick-witted, intelligent and full of fun – and I also liked the team she worked with. The writers, Tony and Bill, both gay men at a time when homosexuality was illegal and both dealing with it in very different ways; the director Dennis, gentle, kind, cuckolded by his awful wife Edith; and co-star Clive, who should have been easy to dislike with his womanising, his unfaithfulness and his professional jealousy, but who nonetheless was charismatic and made me laugh.

Hornby weaves real people in and out of the narrative, and I liked this; the prime minister and Lucille Ball both make an appearance amongst others. The tone is light and humorous, but never superficial. I felt as though 1960s London was brought to life.

Definitely a thumbs up from me for this one – I highly recommend.

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This is the story of two New York sisters – Meghan Fitzmaurice is America’s favourite breakfast television anchor, while younger sister Bridget is a social worker, trying to help women from the Bronx projects find a better life. The sisters are good friends, and life seems to be coasting along nicely – until the day that Meghan, not realising that she is still on air, swears on live television and her career and personal life both go into freefall.  The fallout affects not just Meghan, but her husband Evan and their teenage son Leo.

Narrated by Bridget, the story takes in not just the aftermath of Meghan’s error, but is also a love letter of sorts to New York, and a history of the two sisters’ lives as well as their relationships with the men – and other people – in their lives.

I wasn’t too sure what to make of this book. On the one hand, I definitely think Anna Quindlen is a talented writer and I found myself reading large chunks in one go which is always a good sign (a bad sign is when I put a book down after a few pages and look for something else to distract myself). On the other hand….I felt slightly removed from the action. This was not one of those books where you feel excited to find out what will happen next and neither did I really care about any of the characters. Although the on-air gaffe was entirely unbelievable, the incredible over-reaction to it was not so much. I didn’t warm to Meghan much at all, and possibly this was because the story was narrated by Bridget – even though Bridget is possibly her sister’s biggest supporter. I think it was an interesting idea to have the sister as the narrator, but it would have been quite nice to see Meghan’s point of view, even if perhaps they alternated chapter narrations.

From other reviews I’ve read it seems that fans of Quindlen’s other books were largely disappointed with this one. For me, this was actually the first book of hers that I’ve read and I would probably be interested in trying another on the back of it.

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…Or to give the book its full title: Difficult Men: From The Sopranos and The Wire to Mad Men and Breaking Bad: Behind the Scenes of a Creative Revolution.

In this fascinating book, Brett Martin discusses what he calls the Third Golden Age of Television – a revolution in television broadcasting, that gave the viewers a new type of protagonist; a man (it was almost always men) who was morally compromised, not always likeable, sometimes acting very much on the wrong side of the law.  In short, a difficult man, the most obvious examples of which include Tony Soprano of The Sopranos, Jimmy McNulty (and many other characters) of The Wire, Don Draper of Mad Men, and Al Swearengen of Deadwood.  And the audience are supposed to care for and root for these characters – not always an easy sell.

Martin demonstrates how, in a reversal of typical roles (such as always good cops, and always evil villains), more complicated protagonists (such as those mentioned above) started emerging in the 1990s.  (Suggestions of such anti-heroes were seen in shows such as NYPD Blue and Hill Street Blues.)  HBO were largely responsible for the start of the Third Golden Age, with The Sopranos being the groundbreaking show that opened the door for those that came after it.  Basic network cable followed suit with shows such as The Shield, Mad Men and Breaking Bad.

The book is fascinating, and hard to put down.  It is packed with details of how the shows were put together, what life was like in the writers’ room, and how various problems were overcome.  Many of the main players in the story were interviewed for the book, which provided insight into their world.

I couldn’t say whether the title of the book is intended to have two meanings, but the term Difficult Men certainly could apply equally to the men (again, it was always men) who created some of these shows.  While they had undoubted talent and vision, it becomes clear that some of them were very difficult to work for or with, due to reasons such as temper, addiction, or various eccentricities.  It makes for interesting reading.

One word of warning: The books contains several spoilers, of varying size, for The Sopranos, The Wire, Deadwood, The Shield, Breaking Bad and Mad Men, so if you are not up to date with any of these shows and want to read the book, it might be best to wait until after you have seen all the episodes.

I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book, and definitely recommend it.

(Author’s website can be found here.)

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As the title suggests, this book is a collection of letters sent to and from comedian and actor Groucho Marx.  Groucho was a prolific letter writer, and corresponded with friends, colleagues, politicians, other writers, and many more.

I am not going to list the many people who received or sent the letters in this book – it would take too long, for one thing – but the book is a shining example of Groucho’s wit and wisdom, his acerbic sense of humour, and (to a lesser extent) his beliefs.

My favourite exchange was between Groucho and T.S. Eliot.  It was clear that Groucho was much in awe of Eliot’s work, and when the two met for dinner, he hoped for a ‘literary evening’ – only to discover that Eliot was equally in awe of Groucho, and just wanted to discuss Marx Brothers’ films!

I liked this book, and thought that it was great to dip in and out of – there were some extremely funny one-liners, and Groucho was also clearly a very astute man.  My only criticism is really an editorial one – a lot of the correspondents may not be known to people reading the book (I know that I certainly had to look some of them up to see who they were, and how they were connected to Groucho), and therefore, the context of the letters isn’t always entirely clear.

Nonetheless though, this was highly enjoyable read, and one that I would definitely recommend.

(For more information about Groucho Marx/The Marx Brothers, please click here.)

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In 1994, Michael Moore (subsequently best known for Fahrenheit 911, Bowling for Columbine, and being a general pain in the butt to the Republican Party) produced, with others, a television show called TV Nation.  The idea behind the show was to raise awareness of injustice and corruption in America, and to do so in a humorous style.  Less than 20 episodes were made (although Moore went on to do another similar show called The Awful Truth), but durng its short run, it was highly acclaimed.

This books covers just some of the pieces which the show did –  including Crackers the Corporate Crime Fighting Chicken, the CEO challenge (can the highly paid CEO’s of various companies, actually do the lesser paid jobs which their employees do?),  and finding work for former KGB operatives (to name just a few).

The book, like the TV show, is all done in Moore’s familiar irreverent style, and does set out to achieve it’s aim, in that it provides laughs, but also deals with serious subjects.  It also shows the compromises that had to be made in order to get certain segments on air, and the sometimes dangerous situations that Moore and his crew found themselves in.  (There were actually some segments that never made it to air, or were severely edited before they were shown.)

I do tend to agree with Michael Moore on many issues, but don’t always agree with the way he reports them, as his reporting can be heavily biased and edited to make things look the way he wants them to watch.  Nevertheless, he highlights the hypocrisy of the media and the people that run it, as well as certain politicians, and he manages to make serious issues watchable and interesting to read about.

Overall, this is an easy and enjoyable read, and I would recommend it.  It’s also worth mentioning that you do not need to have seen any episodes of TV Nation – or indeed any other of Moore’s work – to fully enjoy this book.

(Michael Moore’s website can be found here.)

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In 1960, Jay Bernstein came to Hollywood, hoping to make his fortune.  He had no idea what he was going to do, and no idea how he was going to do it.  But he did have determination, confidence and the ability to work as hard as it took.  With guts and grit, he became a publicist to many stars, including Farrah Fawcett and her then husband Lee Majors, and The Rat Pack.  He later branched out into managing stars, and producing, directing and writing for movies and television.  This book is his memoir of his long career in Hollywood, with the highs and lows, triumphs and let-downs, and of course, what life was like with such icons of the day.

I enjoyed the book a lot.  Bernstein is an engaging and very witty narrator; he’s also very frank, not only about the people who he worked with, but also about himself, being more than willing to admit when he made mistakes and bad decisions.  He also pulls no punches when it comes to his opinions on others (Frank Sinatra does NOT come out of this book well!!)

The book concentrates mainly on Bernstein’s work for Farrah Fawcett (the story of her rise to stardom, thanks to the hard work of Bernstein, is fascinating), Suzanne Somers, The Rat Pack, and Stacey Keach on the Mike Hammer television productions (based on Mickey Spillane’s books about Hammer).  Sadly, Jay Bernstein passed away while the book was being written, and a note at the end points out that there were far more stories he wanted to share, but his death meant that they are not in the book.

For anyone who is interested in movies or television, and the truth behind the glamorous facade of the industry, this book is enjoyable, easy to read, eye-opening and funny.  I highly recommend it!

(For more information about Jay Bernstein, please click here.)

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Peter Finch (who won a posthumous Oscar for this role) plays Howard Beale, a news anchor, who upon being told that he is being fired due to low ratings, has an on air-breakdown where he says that he will kill himself live on tv the following week.  He is given a chance by his bosses to redeem himself and make a live apology, but when he is due to do so, he simply says – again on-air – that he is sick of “bullshit.”

The tv company’s immediate reaction is to fire him, but his friend Max Schumacher, who sympathises with Beale, keeps him on and Beale eventually ends up with his own show, where he is known as the Mad Prophet.  In his show, he rants about America, about corporate lies and life in general, and the ratings go through the roof…but the television network will only look after Beale for as long as he is a valuable commodity to them…

This film was made in the 1970s, but it is just as relevant, if not more so, in today’s world.  It perfectly portrays the exploitation that we see in so much television today.  For instance, it is clear that Beale is suffering from some form of mental illness (he starts to have visions and hear voices talking to him), yet nobody at the network is interested in helping him; in fact, helping him is the last thing they want to do, as his shows will not work if he is totally in his right mind.  We see much the same thing in shows today like Big Brother, where people are put on screen simply to be laughed at or gawped at, however cruel this may be.  And think how many people are shown in the audition stages of X Factor, simply to be laughed at (as an aside, it’s worth remembering that the people who get to audition on tv in X Factor have already been through three auditions before they get to be in front of the four main judges.  It is clear that some of them are put through purely to be humiliated).  This film understood and showed all of that happening.

In another storyline, ambitious tv producer Diana Christensen (Faye Dunaway) gives a gang of terrorists their own television show, on the basis that they film their crimes as they commit them.  In one of my favourite scenes, a bunch of tv executives are sitting around discussing contracts and terms with the terrorist group.  This gang are killing and robbing, but hey – who cares as long as they give good ratings, right?  Robert Duvall is excellent, as always, as Christensen’s boss Frank Hackett.  Hackett is heartless and cares for nobody except himself.

All in all, this is an entertaining and very relevant film.  Highly recommended.

Year of release: 1976

Director: Sidney Lumet

Writer: Paddy Chayefsky

Main cast: Peter Finch, William Holden, Robert Duvall, Faye Dunaway

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