Hello and welcome to Blog Post the Second where I will be sharing a few more book, TV and film recommendations to help get us through these strange times. In my previous post I rounded up my favourite feel-good, cosy novels and shows, and though there are still suggestions below that fit this bill, I wanted to include some here that one could get really sucked into.
A Guide to the Birds of East Africa - Nicholas Drayson
A lovely light, slightly quirky story set in East Africa. Unhurried and uncomplicated. Mr Malik is a member of the East African Ornithological Society and head-over-heels in love with the leader of the local Tuesday-morning bird walk, Rose Mbikwa. As he plucks up the courage to ask for Rose's hand, thieves, potential kidnappers and corrupt officials, not to mention one particularly determined love rival, seem destined to thwart Mr Malik's chances.
Blood & Beauty - Sarah Dunant
A fantastically rich novel charting the rise of the Borgia family in 15th century Italy. At this time in the country's history, the beauty and creativity of the country is matched only by its brutality and corruption. When Cardinal Rodrigo Borgia buys his way into the papacy, he is defined not just by his wealth, charisma and power, but by his blood: a Spanish Pope in a city run by Italians. If he is to succeed, he must use his Machiavellian son and innocent daughter.
Fierce Attachments - Vivian Gornick
Familial relationships ain't easy, especially mother-daughter ones, and Vivian Gornick’s relationship with her own mother is no different. At the age of forty-five, she regularly meets her mother for strolls along the streets of Manhattan. Weaving between their tempestuous present-day jaunts and the author’s memories of the past, Gornick traces her lifelong struggle for independence from her mother - from growing up in a blue-collar tenement house in the Bronx in the 1940's, to newlywed grad student, to established journalist - only to discover the many ways in which she is (and always has been) her mother’s daughter.
The Franchise Affair - Josephine Tey
My chance introduction to 1920's crime writer, Josephine Tey, came after picking this up in a secondhand bookshop. I can now confirm my fan status and am working my way through her back catalogue. Marion Sharpe and her mother seem an unlikely duo to be found on the wrong side of the law. Quiet and ordinary, they have led a peaceful and unremarkable life at their country home, The Franchise. Unremarkable that is, until the police turn up with a demure young woman on their doorstep. Not only does Betty Kane accuse them of kidnap and abuse, she can back up her claim with a detailed description of the attic room in which she was kept, right down to the crack in its round window.
Summertime - Vanessa LaFaye
This is sure to take your mind off things. Tensions simmer as Heron Key, a small town already divided by race, is torn apart by the deadliest of hurricanes.
"A storming debut novel [that] captures the racial and social tensions in southern America after the First World War. Part social history and part love story, this features the hurricane as a forceful, malevolent character in its own right, whipping through the pages." * THE BOOKSELLER *
The Secret River - Kate Grenville
Grenville's beautifully rich, lyrical and thought-provoking novel is one of my most favourite books. London,1806. William Thornhill (loosely based on Greenville’s ancestor, Solomon Wiseman), is a waterman on the River Thames. One fatal day he makes a terrible mistake for which he and his family must pay dearly. His sentence: to be transported to New South Wales for the term of his natural life. We follow him and his family as they struggle to make a new life for themselves in this harsh and unforgiving world. A universal and timeless story of love, identity and belonging.
The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet - David Mitchell
Mitchell is probably known best for his slightly odd, futuristicy, sci-fiy novel Cloud Atlas. Which is also a good read (though perhaps save it, and his others, for when the madness is over), but The Thousand Autumns is better (in my opinion). Nagasaki, for two hundred years the sole gateway between Japan and the West. Here, in the dying days of the 18th century, a young Dutch clerk arrives to make his fortune. In a tale of integrity and corruption, passion and power, the key is control - of riches and minds, and over death itself.
Disagree with me all you wish, but in my opinion, the Romola Garai version captures the soul of this hilarious novel perfectly.
High Seas (Netflix)
Agatha Christie fan? Then this is for you. Mysterious deaths on a luxurious ship travelling from Spain to Rio de Janeiro in the 1940's uncover secrets surrounding two sisters travelling together to a new life. If they make it there in one piece of course.
[Spanish with subtitles]
Most Beautiful Thing (Netflix)
Uplifting girlpower story set in 1950's Brazil which means fashion to die for. After her husband disappears, meek Maria Luiza turns his property into a bossa nova club and begins to come into her own as an independent woman.
[Portuguese with subtitles]
Upstart Crow (Netflix / BBC iPlayer)
Fab ensemble cast; witty, tongue-in-cheek humour; light-hearted entertainment (except watch out for the season 3 finale. Hits you full in the heart). History and absurdity collide in this series focused on an upstart writer named William Shakespeare and his less-than-supportive family.
Jane the Virgin (Netflix)
Have you not met Jane yet? Boy are you in for a treat! Conceived (pun intended) as a parody of the telenovela set-up, this romantic dramedy is a total love letter to the form. After vowing to remain chaste until marriage, 23-year-old Jane Villanueva learns she's pregnant due to a medical slip-up. Allow yourself to get swept up in the drama, romance and fun.
Somewhat grittier and by no means romantic or free-spirited. Set in 1931 amidst the American labor wars of the Great Depression, Damnation follows Seth Davenport, a man with a violent past who poses as a preacher as he rallies townsfolk to stand up against greedy industrialists and the corruption of the local bank, sheriff's department, and newspaper.
The English Game (Netflix)
Just going to put it out there - I don't like football. I loved this though. It is about football, well, about the origins of the game in England, but really it's more about the people playing it. Having been developed by Julian Fellowes you won't be surprised to learn that it's about class, the relationships within and between said classes and the changing face of English societal structures. There are also some very attractive people in this, in case you needed further persuasion.
Good Girls Revolt (Amazon Prime)
Sadly axed after just one season, this was great fun. Women's liberation story set in New York, in the late 1960's. Inspired by real events, "Good Girls Revolt" follows Patti Robinson and her fellow female researchers at News of the Week, who decide to ask for equal treatment. Their quest initiates an upheaval that impacts romantic relationships, careers and friendships, and propels Patti and her friends into unfamiliar territory that they never dreamed of.
To be honest with you, I hit play on this before reading the blurb simply because Jennifer Aniston is in it. I was not disappointed. It has heart, it has sparkles and it has a killer Dolly Parton soundtrack. The plus-size, teenage daughter of a former beauty queen signs up for her mum's pageant as a protest that escalates when other contestants follow in her footsteps, revolutionising the pageant and their small Texas town.
The Other Woman (Netflix)
One of those films you keep going back to when you're ill, have had a bad day, or there's a global pandemic. After discovering her boyfriend is married, Carly soon meets the wife he's been betraying. And when yet another love affair is discovered, all three women team up to plot revenge on the three-timing S.O.B. 'Tis great fun.
You do not need to know who Molière is, or anything about his work to enjoy this film. I guess you could say it's a little like the French equivalent to Shakespeare in Love, but - fully prepared to be thrown in the stocks for this next comment - it's better. In 1645, the French playwright and actor Jean-Baptiste Poquelin (better known as Molière) mysteriously disappeared for several weeks, and this lavish comedy drama imagines a scenario that could explain what may have happened to him.
[French with subtitles]
A Matter of Life & Death
This film blew me away on the first watch, still does if I'm honest. The special effects may, at first glance, look verrrry dated, laughable even, BUT hear that it was made in 1946 and you will suddenly see it's genius. After miraculously surviving a jump from his burning plane, RAF pilot Peter Carter (David Niven) encounters the American radio operator (Kim Hunter) to whom he has just delivered his dying wishes, and, face-to-face on a tranquil English beach, the pair fall in love. Turns out though, that he's unwittingly cheated death and must now argue for his life before a celestial court.
Roman Holiday (YouTube / Google Player)
I think you'd all agree that Audrey Hepburn was a goddess among women. And that Gregory Peck was a god among men. So really, what are you waiting for? Stuck with boredom in her luxurious confinement, a princess (Audrey Hepburn) escapes from her guardians and falls in love with an American news reporter (Gregory Peck) in Rome. Can I trade isolation pods Audrey? Pleeeease??
Nappily Ever After (Netflix)
Hair is important, everyone knows that. And hairdressers are sure going to have their work cut out (oooh, another pun!) for them when we all get released back into the wild. But until then, enjoy this unassuming, heart-warming tale of one woman's relationship with her hair. A soulful barber helps a woman piece her life back together after an accident at her hair salon makes her realize she is not living life to the fullest.
The Emperor's New Groove (YouTube / Google Player / Disney+)
My sister and I have a habit of speaking in film and tv quotes, and when it's not Friends quotes, it's TENG quotes - "Kronk, you're talking to a squirrel". Barmy, but magnificent. Arrogant young Emperor Kuzco is transformed into a llama by his power-hungry advisor -- the devious diva Yzma (voiced by Eartha Kitt). Stranded in the jungle, Kuzco's only chance to get back home and reclaim the high life rests with a good-hearted peasant named Pacha. Together, they must return Kuzco to the throne before Yzma tracks them down and finishes him off.
Enjoy folks! More to come next week :)