Six picks: recommendations from the Monitor staff

Behind Churchill's public face, a ramble through Britain's backroads with Robbie Coltrane, a novel about Cuba pre-Castro, and more.


Behind an icon

Does history make the man or does the man make history? Join Winston Churchill's granddaughter as she trots the globe in her famous ancestor's footsteps looking for answers to those questions. History comes alive as we track Churchill's emergence onto the world stage, from 19th-century New York Harbor to Cuba, South Africa, and beyond. Chasing Churchill: In Search of My Grandfather, a new three-part series airs on PBS, beginning July 21 at 10 p.m.

This 'Vacation' is no holiday

In The Year My Parents Went on Vacation, a Pelé-obsessed Brazil is focused on winning the 1970 soccer World Cup. But in São Paulo, 12-year-old soccer fanatic Mauro has a different goal: He just wants to be reunited with his parents. The pair of political dissidents, fearful for their lives, had dropped off their son at his grandfather's without realizing he had just died. Left to fend for himself, Mauro finds adolescence thrust upon him in this sweet, observational drama.


A clean-shaven Hagrid pops into a cherry-red vintage Jaguar and meanders from London to Glasgow – by back road, not M1 – in Robbie Coltrane: Incredible Britain (Acorn Media, $29.99). Follow the food-loving actor and funny man into the Cotswolds and then through a series of shires, where he meets real Britons – including wing walkers in training, asparagus growers, and denizens of a town that annually weighs its mayor. Jolly good fun.

Summer Tunes

Turns out that Jon Foreman, singer and songwriter from the band Switchfoot, is a man for all seasons. His just-released Summer, an impressive follow-up to his earlier "Fall," "Winter," and "Spring" EPs, ranges from the tabla-and-electric sitar of "Resurrect Me" to a delicate trickle of piano notes in "Deep in Your Eyes." Amid lyrics about spiritual yearning, Foreman includes an inspired musical arrangement of Psalm 23 that you'll be listening to well into the next solstice.

Postcard from a vanished island

If you like beach reading with a little intellectual bite, dip a toe into Telex From Cuba, the debut novel by Rachel Kushner. Told from the perspectives of two young teens, assorted society matrons, and an exotic dancer and her arms-dealer lover, the novel chronicles the privilege-soaked lives of Americans in Cuba in the run-up to revolution. There are fishing trips in the company bay, mansions full of servants, and the occasional Hemingway sighting. Plus, exploitation of the locals so breathtaking, it causes one sugar company executive's son to run away and join the rebels. Like many journalists-turned-novelists, Kushner has an eye for detail and writes so engagingly readers may not even realize they're getting a history lesson.

A familiar voice

On the run and no time to scribble down an appointment or a to-do item? Call 866-JOTT-123 and leave a message: "Tell Tom to buy toothpaste." The free voice-to-text transcription service Jott Networks will send you an e-mail or text msg. To set up a free account, go to

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