Posts Tagged ‘BBC’

keep calm browse books sign

We’re digging out from moving chaos over here and my brain feels like scrambled eggs. But I have (as always) been reading to stay sane. Here’s the latest roundup:

Radio Girls, Sarah-Jane Stratford
It’s 1926 and Maisie Musgrave is thrilled to land a job at the fledgling BBC. She quickly finds herself swept up by this exciting new medium and by her colleagues, especially her bold, brilliant supervisor, Hilda Matheson. I loved this novel – full of strong women, witty dialogue and thoughts on the power of ideas, in a setting (interwar London) that I adore.

The Tea Planter’s Wife, Dinah Jefferies
Young, naive and hopelessly in love, Gwendolyn Hooper follows her new husband from London to his Ceylon tea plantation. But her new home isn’t paradise: a meddling sister-in-law, an irritating American widow and family secrets threaten her happiness. I loved the lush, exotic setting, though I found Gwen irritatingly passive for half the book. Still a solid historical novel. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Sept. 13).

The Cuckoo’s Calling, Robert Galbraith
I’ve been curious for a while about this first adult mystery by J.K. Rowling (written under a pseudonym). Engaging characters – I liked gruff PI Cormoran Strike and his assistant, Robin Ellacott – but a bit grim and gritty for me.

Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race, Margot Lee Shetterly
Before computers were machines, they were people, and many of the most brilliant computers at NACA (later NASA) were black women. Shetterly tells the story of the women who played an integral (hitherto unsung) role in the U.S. flight program and later helped launch astronauts into orbit. Meticulous research + engaging writing + fantastic real-life characters = amazing. (It’s going to be a movie too!) To review for Shelf Awareness (out Sept. 13).

The Perfume Garden, Kate Lord Brown
I picked up this novel at Bookmark in Halifax. It’s a gorgeous, moving story of family, love and perfume, told in two intertwined narratives set during the Spanish Civil War and right after 9/11. I loved main character Emma and her wise, brave grandmother, Freya. Bonus: it’s largely set in Valencia, a city I adore.

Links (not affiliate links) are to my favorite local bookstore, Brookline Booksmith.

What are you reading?


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grantchester tv series

During my trip to Oxford last fall, I picked up a mystery novel at Blackwells: Sidney Chambers and the Shadow of Death. (It was on the 3-for-2 table, and I love a good British mystery.)

Sidney is a young, jazz-loving priest living in Grantchester, a village just outside Cambridge, England, in the 1950s. As the book opens, he agrees to take the funeral of a man who ostensibly killed himself, but the dead man’s lover suspects foul play and begs Sidney to investigate. The local police inspector, Geordie Keating, isn’t too happy about this, but the two men solve the mystery together.

The book includes three more cases, which Sidney solves while dealing with his trenchant housekeeper, a new puppy, and his complicated love life. Every week, he and Inspector Keating meet at the pub for a pint and a game of backgammon, during which they solve the world’s problems and often reach new breakthroughs in the current case.

These books are leisurely, erudite, full of Sidney’s thoughtful musings on faith, crime and the nature of love (and Keating’s blunt but insightful responses). Some of the mysteries are much more intriguing than others, and Sidney can be frustratingly indecisive, but I like him and the supporting cast so well that I’ve read all three books in the series.

This winter, there’s a brand-new BBC adaptation of the series, called Grantchester, airing Sunday nights on PBS. I stayed up to watch the first episode (after Downton Abbey) a few weeks ago, and immediately fell in love. The hubs is usually skeptical of my BBC obsessions, but we watched the second episode together and now he’s hooked too.

The casting – particularly of Sidney, Geordie, and Sidney’s childhood friend Amanda – is fantastic. The jazz soundtrack is utterly bewitching, and the golden stone towers of Cambridge make a perfect backdrop for Sidney’s adventures. I love watching him dart around town on his bike, and the chemistry between Sidney and Geordie reminds me of Sergeant Hathaway and Inspector Lewis. And Dickens the lab pup has stolen my heart all over again.

This series is right in my wheelhouse: England, mysteries, philosophy, faith, witty banter and love stories are a few of my favorite things. If you’re a fan of any of the above, you might love it too.

(Image from pbs.org)

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call the midwife cast

(Image from pbs.org)

I heard rave reviews of Call the Midwife this winter, mostly from the same friends who introduced me to Downton Abbey and Lark Rise to Candleford. But I was busy following Downton‘s fourth season and untangling the plots, murder-related and otherwise, on Castle. Besides, I’ve never been much for watching birth scenes, and I figured (rightly) that a show about midwives would involve a lot of them.

However, after hearing yet another friend rave about this show, I picked up the first season at my library. And I’m utterly beguiled by Jenny Lee, her fellow midwives, the nuns at Nonnatus House, and the tough but fascinating East End of London, where they live and work.

Jenny comes from a sheltered middle-class background, and she is continually shocked by the living conditions in the East End. This is the 1950s – an era still in living memory – but many homes lack basic amenities. When a woman goes into labor, someone has to run to the public phone box down the street to summon a midwife – the doctor is only called in serious cases. Most births happen at home; some women have a baby every year (though the Spanish woman in episode 1.1, with her 24 children, is a rarity). Jenny’s colleagues are a kind but no-nonsense crowd: they’ve seen it all, and they expect her to take the difficulties of the job in her stride.

The nuns at Nonnatus House are no cloistered idealists: they are tough, resourceful and pragmatic, even when faced with horrifying or deeply uncomfortable situations. I loved wise Sister Julienne and kind Sister Bernadette at first sight, and I’ve warmed to the brusque but goodhearted Sister Evangeline. And Sister Monica Joan, with her hilarious non sequiturs and penchant for stealing cake, is so much fun. Fred the handyman, with his wacky moneymaking schemes, is a comforting presence, and Constable Noakes, who falls in love with tall, gawky midwife Chummy, is so sweet.

I also love the period details of the show, from the vintage cars to the midwives’ bicycles to the modish dresses they wear on their days off. The music of the era winds through the show (though it sometimes seems jarringly cheerful during sad scenes). The midwives’ occasional nights out (or nights in with sherry and board games) provide a lift after the often difficult labor scenes. And I’m waiting for Jenny to move on from a past love affair and fall in love with a good man.

Have you watched Call the Midwife? (Do you get squeamish at birth scenes, like me?)

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Back in November, I fell deeply in love with Lark Rise to Candleford, a BBC miniseries set in the Oxfordshire countryside, in the 1890s or thereabouts. I watched the first two seasons, relishing the daily round of life in the Candleford post office, where postmistress Dorcas Lane and her apprentice Laura sell stamps, send telegrams and dispense advice and comfort.

dorcas lane snow lark rise to candleford bbc

I watched as strait-laced postman Thomas Brown began courting sweet Margaret, the vicar’s daughter, and as Minnie, the hapless scullery maid, found her place in the post office family. (Thomas, who is devoutly religious, made the following declaration to Minnie at one point: “You have the Lord, and you have the post office. And neither will fail you!”)

laura timmins lark rise to Candleford

During the cold, snowy days of February, I’ve spent many more hours in Lark Rise and Candleford, listening to the hamlet folk sing as they bring in the grain harvest, and grieving with them as a measles epidemic attacks their children. I’ve watched Laura’s parents, Emma and Robert Timmins, navigate the daily strains and larger crises of building a life and raising children together. Their marriage is strong and loving, but refreshingly complex and real.

This show is everything I love: warm honest friendship with lots of tea and cake, lovely clothes and a charmingly old-fashioned way of life, witty dialogue and lovable characters—ordinary people made extraordinary by their deep love for the land and their work and one another.

Dorcas Lane often says the post office is more than a job for her; it is a vocation, a life. Robert Timmins takes pride in his craft as a stonemason. All the adult characters, from the Pratt sisters (seamstresses) to Queenie (who keeps bees), draw strength from doing work they love, living in a community where they are respected and known. Their joy and contentment are utterly charming, and inspiring as I navigate my modern-day, faster-paced, big-city life.

At the end of my days, I want the same things they do: pride and purpose in my work, good food and a warm home, loved ones to share it with. That last is the most important of all: the people of Lark Rise and Candleford cherish their work and their independence, but most of all, they cherish each other.

I’ve got one more (shortened) season to go. Which is a good thing, because I’m not ready to leave Lark Rise just yet.

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I love small towns. And the English countryside. And quiet, witty, heartwarming dramas filled with characters whose lives twine about each other in amusing and interesting ways. So when my friend Allison recommended a BBC miniseries that fit all these criteria, I paid attention.

Sarah had gushed over this series last winter, but for some reason I didn’t pick it up then; perhaps it wasn’t the right time. But she alluded to it again recently, just before Allison rhapsodized about it. So I took myself to the library and picked up the first season. And oh, I am in love.

laura timmins lark rise to Candleford

Image from the Guardian

Based on a trilogy of semi-autobiographical novels, the story follows Laura Timmins as she moves from the Oxfordshire hamlet of Lark Rise to the nearby town of Candleford, to work in the post office under the guidance of Dorcas Lane, her mother’s cousin. What Laura (and viewers) quickly discover is that the post office is the hub of Candleford. In addition to letters and parcels, the secrets, worries, hopes and problems of the town all seem to pass through Miss Lane’s domain and, eventually, through her capable hands.

Miss Lane is a wonderful leading lady – spunky, sweet and slyly mischievous, as well as witty, sharp-eyed and fiercely independent. She understands, and relishes, the uniqueness of her position as a single woman who owns a business vital to Candleford’s day-to-day life. Though she holds herself and her employees to high standards, she does occasionally use the power of her office to do a bit of well-intentioned meddling in her neighbors’ lives. The results are occasionally disastrous, but always entertaining. And Laura – prim and shy at times, but headstrong and feisty at others – proves a willing and capable apprentice. It is so gratifying to watch her grow into herself.

dorcas lane lark rise to candleford

Image from Life on the Cutoff

This series features the sort of ensemble cast I adore, with characters ranging from plain, simple country folk (Laura’s family and neighbors in Lark Rise) to up-and-coming townspeople (such as the nosy but lovable Pratt sisters, who run a clothing and alterations shop). The inner circle of the post office, including Thomas Brown the devout postman and Minnie the hapless scullery maid, forms a tight little family of its own. They love and scold and take care of one another, no matter what small squabbles or larger troubles they face. Back in Lark Rise, Laura’s parents have a wonderfully realistic marriage. They love one another and their children fiercely, but they do argue from time to time. And their sweet, elderly neighbors, industrious Queenie and her lazy husband Twister, are such fun.

I’m deep into the second of the show’s four seasons (and have developed a crush on Fisher Bloom, the dark-eyed, plain-speaking traveling clockmaker). Some things have changed: there’s a new maid in the post office, a new hotel owner in town with eyes for Miss Lane, new challenges for the residents of both places. But the warm, witty dialogue, the bucolic charm and the spunky, winning characters (all of whom I’d like to meet) remain.

Have you watched Lark Rise to Candleford? If so, what do you think? (No spoilers, please!)

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