It would be fair to say that Spring 2020 was equal parts memorable and forgettable. One positive from the quarantine we are all undergoing to some extent, is there exists a lot of time that needs to be creatively filled. My new personal entertainment mixture includes reading books, listening to podcasts, and watching movies and series on Netflix and Amazon’s Prime Video service. Here are recommendations for each category.
In 2020 thus far, I am on pace to read a book a week, which would be and all-time high for me. My reading tends to run toward mysteries and historic non-fiction, with a conscious decision to strictly alternate between the genres. Here are six books I would heartily recommend.
“Where the Crawdads Sing” by Delia Owens - One of the best books I have read in the past several years, it is a mystery with the heroine raised in poverty and neglected by her parents, who creates a better life for herself. There is much more, but I don’t want to spoil the plot line.
“The Splendid and the Vile” by Erik Larson - I am an admirer of Winston Churchill and this book covers the final couple years of World War II as England tries to survive their battle with Germany. The book covers Churchill’s challenges as Prime Minister and his family’s travails over the same time frame.
“Hymns of the Republic” by S.C. Gwynne - If the American Civil War is a topic that appeals to you, this book about the final year of the War Between the States is for you. Well written and exhaustively researched, Gwynne covers all the main figures in the Civil War and is not afraid to state an opinion.
“A Better Man” by Louise Penny - This is the most recent of her books from the Chief Inspector Gamache series, set in a fictional small town outside of Montreal. The series is very well written and includes several recurring, colorful characters who populate the town. The books don’t need to be read in order, but if given the opportunity, that would be how I would approach the series.
“To Be Sung Underwater” by Tom McNeal - Coronado author Tom McNeal’s book is a love story set in both California and Nebraska. After reading and enjoying the book, I sent McNeal a possible epilogue scenario for the book, which he was kind enough not to directly dismiss. If you like this book, try “Far Far Away” by McNeal, which you will also enjoy.
“Ordinary Grace” by William Kent Krueger - If you are a member of any of the Coronado-based book clubs, you probably have read this book already. If you haven’t, do. Great writing and a really well-crafted mystery.
The current cultural currency is trading the names of series, often found on Netflix or Amazon Prime, that you would recommend. Recent series we enjoyed include:
“Schitt’s Creek” - A delightfully quirky series created by the father-son combo of Eugene and Daniel Levy, who both appear in the show. Set in Canada, with an entirely Canadian cast, it’s a modern day version of the Beverly Hillbillies in reverse. The sixth and final season dropped a couple of months ago, and the individual shows last about 20 minutes each. Many great lines and laugh out loud funny, the first five years are on Netflix and season six, at least for now, must be purchased through Amazon. As an aside, Stevie is my favorite character.
“The Stranger” - An eight episode British thriller, also on Netflix, is a fast-paced series that will keep you guessing until the end. Well-acted and with a strong plot, well worth a look.
“Dead to Me” - Season 2 just dropped on Netflix and this series comes typically in 30-minute bites. Part tragedy, part comedy and well-acted by leads Linda Cardellini and Christina Applegate, as soon as you think you know how the plot is proceeding, you don’t. We’re looking forward to Season 3 which was set up in the finale of Season 2.
“Bosch” - Just dropped their sixth season on Amazon Prime and my wife Sharon and I have been big fans from the outset. The television series follows the original source material of the Bosch novels written by Michael Connelly pretty closely. Titus Welliver appears in the title role and the cinematography of Los Angeles alone is worth your time.
“Goliath” - Not a big fan of Billy Bob Thornton in some of his work, but he is brilliant in this Amazon Prime series. A scene stealing actor in all the three years of the series, but in a good way, is Nina Arianda as Patty Solis-Papagian, part-time attorney, and part-time real estate agent. Thornton plays an attorney who has seen better days but rises to the occasion in the courtroom.
“Ozark” - Netflix is the home for this series, which has three seasons and a total of 30 shows to watch. Jason Bateman, who stars, is an executive producer of the series, and has directed eight of the shows, is superb in his role. Laura Linney and Julia Garner are the other primary leads and provide Bateman’s character with constant challenges. This is a first-rate series, based on a great concept, and well executed.
“After Life” - We are a house divided on After Life creator, writer, director, executive producer, and star Ricky Gervais. Sharon is not a big fan, but in medium-sized doses I think he is hilarious. This series is about a columnist for a free, weekly newspaper set in the fictional English town of Tambury, so what’s not to love about that? The character portrayed by Gervais is attempting, over the 12-episode run of the show, to deal with the loss of his wife. Sharon even liked this side of Gervais.
“Fauda” - Three seasons on Netflix, of 12 shows each season, this series is set in Israel, Palestine, and Gaza. Although it is violent in the extreme, you care about the characters and their well-being. The 36 episodes typically run close to an hour each, but the action is riveting.
“Sunderland Till I Die” - Two seasons on Netflix, this is a series about the City of Sunderland, located in Northern England, with an economy once based on ship building and coal mining, both of which no longer exist. The series follows the fortunes and misfortunes of the Sunderland Association Football Club, the professional soccer team loved by the locals.
Even if you do not like soccer, but are a sports fan on some level, it’s worth a look.