I get so excited for every season, but I love the cosiness of autumn as it draws in during September and October. I’m already enjoying eating pumpkin spice-flavoured everything even though Savannah hasn’t cooled down too much yet, and spending evenings curled up with cups of tea and books, as well as exploring things to listen to and watch. Here are the five things I’ve been enjoying so much the past few weeks – and of course, all with plenty of history involved:
Read Love in Colour, by Bolu Babalola
This is Babalola’s debut book and I’m already hoping that she has more in the pipeline. It is a collection of short stories based on love stories of myth and legend, focussing mainly on West Africa, as well as Ancient Greece, the Middle East, and places long since disappeared. I think I was hooked as soon as I found out Babalola is obsessed with romance and love stories, which is also me (her introduction begins with
“To say that I love ‘love’ would probably be akin to me saying that I am quite fond of inhaling oxygen. Love is the prism through which I view the world.”
She also writes in one of the most stunning ways I’ve ever read – seriously, beyond the fact the stories are fantastic, this book is worth reading just for her style.
I enjoyed every one of the thirteen tales in her collection (ten Old Tales, three New Tales), but I did have a couple of favourites. Psyche, with Olympus reimagined as a powerful magazine and Psyche as an assistant wishing desperately to become an editor, pursued by the supportive Eros, captured my imagination for its incredibly unique spin on the original tale, as well as its The Devil Wears Prada vibes.
I loved Naleli, for its teenage romcom setting of a pool party which leads to the heroine learning to love herself just the way she is. Similarly, Yaa follows a young woman unsure as to whether she can stand up for what she truly believes in, as it would mean moving away from the political dynasty everybody expects her to marry into, and writing herself a completely new future.
And Thisbe captures the blossoming of a new relationship, next door neighbours in a university hall of residence that initially hate each other. I absolutely loved that one.
Whether you want to dip in and out of this fun and innovative collection, or read them all together, these stories are definitely ones to get your cup of tea (or glass of wine) ready and sit snug in an armchair with.
Read The Night Portrait, by Laura Morelli
This historical novel combines the stories of Leonardo da Vinci painting the portrait of Cecilia Gallerani, or Lady with an Ermine, in 1490s Milan with the Nazi looting of art across Europe, specifically Poland, during World War Two, and the efforts of the Monuments Men to recover it. If you know anything about my reading preferences, this ticks many boxes for me: a dual time narrative, art and women’s history.
Morelli beautifully weaves in the stories of four different people, two real and two fictional: Cecilia herself, and her painter, Leonardo, alongside Edith Becker, a German painting conservator and specialist in Italian Renaissance art, and Dominic Bonelli, an American soldier liberating Europe, who is assigned to protect the Monuments Men, but is also an artist himself.
I found that I couldn’t put the book down as I desperately wanted to know what happened to Lady with an Ermine, which Hans Frank, the Nazi Governor General of Poland (more commonly known as the “Butcher of Poland”) during World War Two, coveted for himself. It was found in his country home at the end of the war. Becker, a fictional character who, though employed by the Nazis as a curator, works hard to preserve the legacies of all the stolen art, secretly completing ledgers so that they might be returned to their former owners after the war, was such a compelling character to follow. The stories of she and Bonelli become increasingly intertwined, showing the horrors of the Second World War from different perspectives, as well as the extraordinary stories of the art looted and hidden during the war.
Not only this, but the story of Gallerani, the mistress of Ludovico Sforza, also shone through the exploration of Gallerani’s desire to be recognised at the Milan court in her own right, as a well-educated woman with a stable place. Though in completely different situations at different times in history, both Gallerani and Becker show resistance to the pressures of the world around them, fighting expectations and succeeding in their own missions.
I would definitely pick up other books by Morelli – I love the way she wrote, it was immersive and thought-provoking, and this is a great book, both sad and full of hope, to spend an evening gripped by not only a story, but fictionalisations of true events that happened in history.
Thank you to HarperCollins UK/One More Chapter for gifting me a free copy of this novel in exchange for review.
Listen to Greyhounds, Audio Drama by Time & Again Theatre Company
I have to admit, this is my first audio drama that I’ve ever listened to, and I enjoyed it immensely. Written by Laura Crow, it tells the story of everyday life during the Second World War in a small English village called Shuttlefield. I love the ensemble feel of this: there is secret war work going on, romance, mystery, putting on a production of Shakespeare’s Henry V in aid of the Spitfire Fund, and a fun cast of characters that all bring something different to the table. It very much explores the life of real people amongst a global, all-encompassing, life-altering event – something we can perhaps understand in current times.
Time & Again are a theatre company based in Manchester, and of course, because of current events, theatre productions have been stopped. So instead, they took their skills to audio drama, and produced this fantastic show, in fourteen episodes, supported by Yorkshire Air Museum (great museum!) and The Library Presents. I love Time & Again’s mission as a theatre company, which is to look to the past for inspiration (as a historian, obviously this is very important) so we can understand the here and now.
Without ruining any of the story lines that run through the episodes (beginning in 1941 and ending in 1945), my favourite parts of the drama are a story line concerning a conscientious objector, an actress who escapes London to live in the country with her aunt with an uneasy marriage and an intelligent young woman desperate to have some kind of higher purpose. All of them, of course, are overlooked by local busybodies – what small town or village isn’t?
If you enjoy period dramas and comedies such as Home Fires or Dad’s Army, or The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, I very much think you’ll like listening to this! Find Greyhounds here.
Listen to Sistory Untold, Podcast
There are so many fantastic history podcasts, and I’ve been enjoying getting back into listening recently – especially directed by Hisdoryan’s recent blog posts, which you can find here. And this was the first one that got me back into listening – though I may now seem a little biased, as its hosts, creators and real-life sisters, Sabrina and Marva, were kind enough to invite me to be a guest on it. But I promise I was loving this podcast way before that!
Sistory Untold is history from the perspective of sisterhood. Anything that is women’s history driven fascinates me, but I love this angle so much because, not only is it refreshing, but it focusses on female relationships, whether they were actually family or friends, or indeed, rivals. I enjoyed so much the episode on Madame C. J. Walker and Annie Turnbo Malone, which examines the relationship between the two women – were they mentors or rivals? And the show on Kitty Fisher and Maria Coventry, who were the talk of London during the eighteenth century.
Sabrina and Marva do a great job of looking around the world, and to different periods in history, for their exploration of sisterhood. I’m so excited to catch up this weekend on their episodes about Pre-Raphaelite women and Hawaiian Goddess sisters Pele, Kapo, Hi’iaka and Namaka. Find the podcast here.
Watch The Secret Garden, 2020 & 1993 versions
So I have to express my love for BOTH of these adaptations of Frances Hodgson Burnett’s novel. I’ve loved the 1993 film since I was little (as well as the original book of course), and was very, very worried about the new film. Turns out, I needn’t have worried. It is spectacular, different to the adaptation I grew up loving, but in ways that mean they can sit alongside each other as both beautifully representing the novel. (I know there are other adaptations too, but I haven’t got around to watching those ones yet!)
Mary Lennox grows up the spoilt child of parents who don’t have very much time for her in India, before she is orphaned during a cholera epidemic and sent to live with her Uncle Archibald Craven at his home of Misselthwaite Manor in Yorkshire. The Manor is a lonely place, haunted by the loss of Mary’s aunt, who cultivated a beautiful garden in the grounds which is now neglected and hidden from plain sight. However, Mary finds the garden and finds happiness with her friends Dickon and Colin (her sickly cousin), and the whole of the Manor, and her Uncle, become rejuvenated by the rejuvenation of the garden.
Both adaptations are heart-warming and quite faithful to the novel, with the newer, 2020 version, starring Dixie Egerickx, Colin Firth and Julie Walters, introducing a little bit of magic with the stunning and never-ending garden. Also, I cannot wax lyrical enough about the sets of Misselthwaite Manor – the wall paintings and use of objects and props are STUNNING. If you’re into that kind of thing, the new movie is worth a watch just to marvel at the beautiful colours and storytelling through set dressing.
And, if you’re taking a peek at the new version, there is also nothing cosier than returning to a childhood favourite, with the 1993 classic starring the wonderful Maggie Smith proving a lovely rewatch.