actors, Are You Not Entertained?, authors, books, culture, directors, Film Spotlight, movies

Are You Not Entertained? Books, Shows, and a Film

I can recommend several books this month as well as an entertaining television series to binge on and one outstanding movie which deserves praise and recommendation.


The Swans of Fifth Avenue by Melanie Benjamin (The Aviator’s Wife). The flavor of NYC elite starring Truman Capote and his socialite friends. Benjamin takes real people and imagines their thoughts and feelings. Historical fiction? No. Not a biopic. It claims to be fiction, but I don’t know how. It’s entertaining if you like Truman Capote, and peeking into the culture of the lives of the rich and famous in the 1950s and 60s. It’s not disclosed when, but a cable limited series of the book starring Bryce Dallas Howard as Truman Capote’s best friend, Babe Paley, wife of CBS founder William Paley is on the horizon. 3.5/5.

The Kitchen House by Kathleen Grissom is historical fiction set on a Virginia plantation during the early 1800s. It follows the life of an orphaned Irish girl who is raised by slaves in the kitchen house. When she turns older, she is sent to live with white relatives of the owner of the plantation. It’s a saga that ends like a soap opera, but the historical climate is impeccably created by Grissom. 4/5.

The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen is the best-written book of the lot. As one would expect since it is the winner of the Pulitzer Prize. If the torn fabric between Vietnam and the United States during the war interests you, then you’d be quite satisfied. Its dark humor and dissection of both sides of the government are revealing and damning. 4/5

Thunderstruck by Eric Larson (The Devil in the White City) I found the history surrounding Guglielmo Marconi and his wireless communication very interesting. A second plot surrounds a murder of the (almost) perfect crime where the culprit is arrested due to Marconi’s invention. If you like Edwardian London, the history of the wireless, and the makings of ocean liners, you’d enjoy this well-researched historical novel. 4/5

Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders is a winner of the Booker Prize and spouts of magnificence but I cannot fathom why. It’s the staccato narrative which inserts ever line or so the source it came from that I find infuriating. The story surrounds Abraham Lincoln and the death of his son Willie in 1862. I’m all for research, but I’m accustomed to seeing the endnotes or the Bibliography after the fact rather than be the narrative. I just couldn’t wrap my head around it. Please, tell me why you liked it. Should I pick it up and try again?

Mr. Churchill’s Secretary by Susan Elia Macneal. I was trying to find a mystery. I rarely read them and so I milled around the mystery section at the bookstore and found the first of many by Susan Elia Macneal. I liked the topic–Britain during the Blitz, Winston Churchill, and a young woman who becomes not only his secretary, but solves the mystery of spies. Read this if you are reclining by the pool and your head is muddled from too many Margheritas the night before. You will then find it intellectually satisfying. Her strength was the descriptions of London. Her strength was the rise of her protagonist. She sets the historical climate well. Her varying POV discloses all the mystery, so it seemed self-defeating. Still. When you want easy entertainment, this is your novel. 3/5.

The Alienist by Caleb Carr is the right mix of intelligent writing and engaging plot. Set in 1896 New York, Carr’s best attribute is to create the historical climate of the city and the contrasting worlds of poverty, decadence, science, and technology into a thrilling chase of a serial killer. The tale is the American version of Jack-the-Ripper. You like ghouls and gore? You will like this story. Now that I’ve read the book, I’m anxious to watch the series starring Dakota Fanning, Daniel Brühl, and Luke Evans. 4.5/5.


She’s only my step-sister and mother’s not really crazy, just the result of badgering by greedy white guys.

Taboo (2017) is the BBC television drama series starring the marvelous Tom Hardy as James Delany who returns from Africa to London in the early 1800s with a key bit of property that would secure a trading route to China. It’s something the U.S. and the British would like to have. Delany outwits both governments and side steps death creatively. Its dark, foul plot is its weakness but deviousness was never executed by such a fantastic cast. My favorite character is played by Tom Hollander as the eccentric chemist who turns shit into explosives. If only a little light entered the dismal lives to balance out all the taboos and witchery. Did they all really say “fuck” so much back then? Or is this the sphere of influence of Games of Thrones? 4/5.


The Skin of the Wolf (2017) by Samu Fuentes

Blunt? Affected by the reclusive scenery? Grappling with morality? Sickness and Melancholia? Sounds like Chekov, doesn’t it? Well, this Spanish film is outstanding. I haven’t seen such a good movie in ages. Let the abandoned monastery in the Pyrenees and the wolves and breathtaking visuals seep in. Watch how the characters who say so little, say a lot. This is a story of a nineteenth-century mountain man whose loneliness motivates the purchase of two daughters. Unable to show tenderness, only when they are hurt does his sensitivity come through. Its subtlety might bore some. Critics thought it was too long and asked too much from the audience. I thought the haunting score, and the male-female dynamic of marriage fascinating. If you can hang on until the final act, you won’t be disappointed. Mario Casas gave an outstanding performance. 4.5/5

35 thoughts on “Are You Not Entertained? Books, Shows, and a Film”

  1. Thanks for your round-up, Cindy.
    I think I can say with some certainty that they did say ‘Fuck’ that much back then, as well as ****, and many other words considered beyond the pale since the Victorian Age. You know how much I love ‘Taboo’, so I am happy that you didn’t hate it. 🙂
    I haven’t read any of the books, but they all look to be worth the time, as does the film.
    Best wishes, Pete. x


    1. Thank you, Pete. I believe you. I’m trying to remember primary sources from British history and cannot confirm or deny the use of the F-word. The only criticism I have with the series is the complete darkness of the time period. There were good people and good situations. Too much darkness gets boring after a while. I read there’s a second year scheduled.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I can’t wait!
        I know what you mean about the darkness, Cindy, but it;s a dark subject, albeit set at a time when there may have been something nice going on elsewhere. (But not much, unless you were rich) 🙂
        Best wishes, Pete.


        1. I know, I know. There was a film I watched the other night. Mary Shelley. With Emma Fanning set during the time we are discussing. I love British Romanticism, and it was a delight to hear the poetry during the course of her story. Lord Byron was perfect. Can’t think of the actor who played him. Anyway, it was dark but not black, just gray.

          Liked by 1 person

          1. Douglas Booth. He played the young Boy George (the singer with Culture Club) in a BBC biopic on TV, and was also in an adaptation of Great Expectations. He’s 25, so should have a long career ahead.
            As for Mary and Percy, they came from upper class backgrounds, not really having to worry about surviving on the streets, so their lives would have been a fantasy to ordinary working people of course.
            (You know me, I prefer ‘Dark’. 🙂 x )


        2. BTW, I just finished Taboo in its entirety and loved it. I’m looking forward to season 2. The sister was a wasted role, I thought. James discarded her after the duel. Now he’s going to have the hots for the stepmother, you can see that coming. Anyway, they spent half the season on the sister and then poof, she jumps and it’s done.

          Liked by 1 person

  2. Good stuff Cindy. It’s funny, my wife and I said the same thing about Taboo. Seemed like the really wanted to wedge in a lot of F-bombs. Felt odd for that period.


  3. Would you believe that I’ve had “The Alienist” on one of my book shelves for (don’t know how long) and haven’t gotten around to reading it. I didn’t even know it was going to be a series. Will that be on regular TV or a Netflix type channel?


        1. I rent an episode to try it out for $2.99. Then, if I like it, I’ll purchase the series. I’m picky. So many people seemed to like the series, I will give it a go. Especially after reading the novel.

          Liked by 1 person

    1. LOL. I’m not a prude, well, maybe a little, I just think it’s insulting to the intellect. I used to really be into the dark when Gothic had a resurgence in the 1990s. Now the shock factor has amplified. Sex and ghouls and murder and mayhem are in your face. I like inference and subtlety with a shock now and then. Brits once did that best… Ah, yes, Tom Hardy is beautiful to behold. I would rather see him smile than constantly grimacing. Ok, I’ll stop.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. We’ve been having fun going to the Prescott Library and picking up TV series DVD’s. We just finished watching “The Paradise” which takes place in England’s first dept. stores. I’ll check into Taboo but might be a more dark themed plot than I prefer. We loved Downton Abby.


  5. I don’t know if the movie has played my area yet (Philadelphia region), or if it’s yet to come. Or maybe it never will be in my local theaters. In any event, it’s on my to-be-tracked-down-and-watched list.
    Take care —

    Neil S.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Isn’t it interesting how important it is to select a good title for book or video production. The title can pull you toward a read or send you on to the next possible read. Once a title has arrested my attention in a bookshop or online I go to the back of the book or description for a short teaser to the story. That’s the final selling point for me.


    1. It sure is! The title means a lot. I look to see if it’s been ranked high–NY Times Best Seller or better yet, a Booker Winner. I always try to read the Pulitzer Winner for the year. Finalists are always a sure bet. The back description on the cover often reveals too much, but I am attracted to certain time periods and literary themes. Sometimes it’s a random pull and a give-it-a-go try. Very often it’s a blogger who recommends something. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

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