Best podcasts of the week: The wannabe sleuths who believe Avril Lavigne was ‘replaced’ by an imposter | Podcasts

Picks of the week

Who Replaced Avril Lavigne?
BBC Sounds, episodes weekly

“I know what you’re thinking – she’s definitely dead.” Very funny comedian Joanne McNally has become obsessed with the internet’s wild decade-long conspiracy that Avril Lavigne was replaced by a doppelganger because she either died or retired – so she’s set up an office in her “current” boyfriend’s home and started this investigation. She’s not even a Lavigne fan, which only adds to the hilarity of her Stacey Dooley-like ambitions. Hollie Richardson

Terribly Famous: George Michael
Widely available, episodes weekly
This three-part series, hosted by perky duo Emily Lloyd-Saini and Anna Leong Brophy, looks at George Michael’s life through the lens of “post-Wham! babies”. It’s ideal for those who don’t remember how tough it was at the height of his 80s fame. A bonus episode has Russell Tovey talking about Michael’s life and legacy. Hannah Verdier

Berlin election workers during anthrax alarm in Germany, 2001. Photograph: Michael Dalder/Reuters

Where to Be a Woman
BBC Sounds, episodes weekly
How and where can women live their best lives? Scaachi Koul and Sophia Smith Galer talk to women around the world about body image, parental leave and friendship to find out who gets the best deal. In a time when wellness is marketed as something that can be bought, they get to the heart of what women need. HV

The Sports Agents
Widely available, new episodes Tuesday and Thursday
Gabby Logan and Mark Chapman are your hosts for this new behind-the-scenes sporting podcast from the same stable as The News Agents. As familiar voices in the arena, these two have seen their fair share of Euros, Wimbledons and Olympics so they promise to bring big-name guests and analysis to the packed sporting calendar. HV

Cover Up: The Anthrax Threat
Widely available, episodes weekly
How would it feel to know you could die just by opening your post? In the wake of 9/11, it became a reality as envelopes filled with anthrax started landing on the desks of journalists and politicians. Now Josh Dean, who was working in New York at the time, follows the seven-year investigation to find the culprit. HV

There’s a podcast for that

Cariad Lloyd and Sara Pascoe. Photograph: David M Benett/Dave Benett/Getty Images for Ghost Fragrances

This week, Rachel Areosti chooses five of the best podcasts on books, from Cariad Lloyd and Sara Pascoe’s book club for “weirdos” to Pandora Sykes’ exploration of old classics

A Good Read
Each edition of Radio 4’s long-running series critiques three books: two recommended by the episode’s celebrity panellists, the other by our pleasingly authoritative (and, at this point, frighteningly well-read) host Harriett Gilbert. Part of the appeal comes from the collision of worlds; the guests run the gamut from writers and comedians to chefs and doctors, and their recommendations are similarly diverse: Alan Titchmarsh chooses PG Wodehouse’s Summer Lightning; musician Lauren Mayberry plumps for Yōko Ogawa’s The Memory Police; explorer Ella Al-Shamahi opts for Prison Time in Sana’a by Abdulkader Al-Guneid. Criticism can be merciless, defence passionate and debate combustible: if other book review podcasts leave you adrift in a wash of equivocal opinions and indiscriminate raving, this is the one for you.

Weirdos Book Club
Book podcast origin stories don’t get better than this: comedians Sara Pascoe and Cariad Lloyd met while studying English at Sussex University in the late 90s – now they are resurrecting their student literary chat in a medium that wasn’t even invented then. Weirdo Book Club – named after Pascoe’s recently released debut novel – sees the pals discuss titles old and new with each other, friends and, occasionally, the people who wrote them: hear Nish Kumar discuss Sheena Patel’s I’m A Fan, Monica Heisey talk about her divorce comedy Really Good, Actually and our hosts get stuck into Iris Murdoch’s Under The Net. The guests are good but Pascoe and Lloyd are the USPs: brilliantly funny, slick yet convincingly casual and in possession of the kind of near-the-knuckle banter only decades of friendship can foster.

Book Chat
This literary discussion show from journalists Pandora Sykes and Bobby Palmer is built around one key rule: the books featured must be at least two years old. That means no appearances from breathlessly hyped debut novels or that thriller stuck on top of the bestseller charts. Instead the duo look beyond the zeitgeist, giving refreshingly cold takes on the big-hitters of decades past – from Zadie Smith’s White Teeth (2000) to Armistead Maupin’s Tales of The City (1978) – as well as taking a second look at smaller titles from more recent years, including Sarah Winman’s Tin Man and When I Hit You by Meena Kandasamy. It’s an approach that makes Book Chat feel like a calming reprieve from the chaotic hubbub of next-big-thing culture.

The LRB Podcast
The London Review of Books is home to some of the most compelling and interesting essays and criticism around; resolutely high-brow but never stodgy, serious but usually irreverent too. This series is essentially the magazine in podcast form; hosted by LRB’s staffers Thomas Jones and Malin Hay, it features conversations with the publication’s writers about their latest riffs on recent literature. The focus is typically nonfiction and the subject matter is varied to the point of eclecticism: there’s Amia Srinivasan on octopuses, Rosemary Hill on Mount Vesuvius, Tom Crewe on wrestling, Deborah Friedell on J Edgar Hoover and Jonathan Coe on British humour. Yet the end result – teaching you something you didn’t even realise you needed to know – is the same every time.

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You’re Booked
Reading, by its very nature, is a solitary activity, and the books we consume turn into lifelong companions nobody else can see. This podcast from journalist and novelist Daisy Buchanan goes some way to capturing the intimacy of our relationship with literature: each week Buchanan is joined by an author guest to peruse the bookshelves of their imagination, discovering the tomes that obsessed them as children and teenagers (for Naomi Klein it was Oriana Fallaci’s Interview with History), the novels they never got on with (Andrew Hunter Murray can’t stand The Mitfords) and the books that set them on the path to professional writing (Susie Dent was turned on to dictionaries by Our Mutual Friend).

Why not try …

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  • Soulbare Sessions – Where Momma At? takes a deep dive into one person’s extraordinary life story, offering a platform for them to talk freely about overcoming challenging starts in life.

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