June Highlights: Family Reads

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Half of my June was delightfully spent traveling. We enjoyed a lovely family get-together, a time to celebrate my inspirational reading Mom, who will be turning 96 in August. The family spent a week reminiscing, laughing, walking, visiting a museum and a special library, eating at as many different restaurants as we could, watching sports and fun mini-series on TV, and talking about books. I’m always interested in what others are reading, and I particularly love to hear what my family recommends. Here are a few of the books that were being read or that we discussed:

Poldark

Aidan Turner as Ross Poldark

Oh yes! Poldark weekend has arrived! I’d never read any of the Poldark saga books, by Winston Graham, although they’ve been on my TBR list for a long time (along with many other books about or that take place in Cornwall!). But I decided to read the first one in the series, Ross Poldark, A Novel of Cornwall 1783-1787, before the new Masterpiece Theater version begins this weekend. I enjoyed the book, fell a little in love with the character of Ross Poldark, and am looking forward to watching the show and that gorgeous Aidan Turner on Sunday evening!

Vacation Reading

 

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We are enjoying a beautiful, early June vacation, and early June is such a beautiful time to travel! While teaching, early June would be filled with end-of-the-school year fun and stress, busy as could possibly be. Field trips, testing, finishing units and projects, report cards, and tenderheared goodbyes. In my old school district, there are still 8.5 days of school left! But now retired, we are able to enjoy traveling at a time when temperatures are mild, hillsides are lush green, and roads not yet jammed with traveling families. Ah…the joys of retirement.

So I brought my Kindle along on the trip, and my earphones for listening to my audiobooks. I’m enjoying my traveling reading and listening, relaxing over beautiful scenery and distances with these books:

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The Lake District Murder

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I hadn’t heard of the “British Library Crime Classics” until I found John Bude‘s book, The Cornish Coast Murder, last year. I liked it a lot and just read another fun one by him, The Lake District Murder, which I also enjoyed very much. Now I’m excited to read as many of these fun classic mysteries, by John Bude and a number of other authors. The books in this series are considered the  “forgotten gems of the Golden Age of British crime writing,” according to the Globe and Mail.

Superintendent Meredith is the persistent and creative problem-solver of the Lake District Murder. He is a hard-working and very thorough detective who follows up on every clue.

It was all very well to expound suppositions, but the cleverest supposition in the world was quite worthless in the eyes of the law, unless backed by proof. To reconstruct a crime was fairly simple but to prove the truth of that reconstruction was a task that called for tremendous patience, acute observation and the devil’s own amount of hard work!

By the time I finished the book, I felt as if I had solved the crime myself, detail by minute detail! And being the armchair detective that I am, (trained by Nancy Drew herself, and with skills honed by many hours of reading the books of Agatha Christie, Dorothy Sayers, Ngaio Marsh!) I can’t wait to “solve” my next mystery by John Bude, and then move on to read all the other authors in this series. Lots of mystery and fun ahead for me!

The Breaking Wave

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In the last few months, I’ve listened to two audiobooks by Nevil Shute: The Far Country and The Breaking Wave. I enjoyed both very much. Nevil Shute’s books really speak to me with their decent characters, kind and caring relationships, the sweeping landscapes of Australia, and interesting connections between vast distances in the world that make it all seem smaller and much closer together. His stories are interesting and compelling. The Breaking Wave was a sort of mystery because it started with the suicide of a young English woman in Australia, a former WREN during World War II, and we didn’t find out until the very end exactly WHY she did such a thing, and how she ended up in Australia.

The Breaking Wave, first published as Requiem for a Wren, was a sad story but told in such a way that I wasn’t overcome with sadness. It was a thorough exploration of how war changes lives and continues to play havoc with people’s lives long after it is over.

Even into this quiet place, the war had reached like a tentacle of an octopus. It had touched this girl and brought about her death. Like some infernal monster still venomous in death, the war can go on killing people for a long time after it’s all over.

It was a story of love and loss, and of a generation shaped by World War II.

For our generation, the war years were the best times of our lives, not because they were war years but because we were young. The best years of our lives happened to be war years. Everyone looks back at the time when they were in their early 20s with nostalgia, but when we look back, we only see the war.

Nevil Shute was a wonderful storyteller, and I especially love listening to his stories as audiobooks. I know that for 10 or so hours, I will be completely immersed in a vast and wonderful world filled with characters who have integrity and courage, warmth and caring.

The Dolls’ House

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When I was a little girl, I had a dolls’ house. It was made of painted metal, nothing fancy, and although it had little plastic furniture, I don’t remember any dolls that might have come with it. I loved it, though, and with my own collection of dolls spent hours and hours lost in imagination.

Dolls'HouseRumer Godden wrote some wonderful novels for children. I just read her book, The Dolls’ House, and, yes, I would have loved it as a child! And I would especially have loved the edition illustrated by Tasha Tudor!

The story is of the dolls who “live in the nursery of two little girls called Emily and Charlotte Dane.” The oldest doll, Tottie, once belonged to Emily and Charlotte’s great-grandmother and their Great-Great-Aunt Laura. Tottie was made of wood, a “farthing doll,” and was a very kind head of the family. We get to know each doll and their unique personalities, but as we all know, dolls depend on their owners to come to life:

It is an anxious, sometimes a dangerous thing to be a doll. Dolls cannot choose; they can only be chosen; they cannot ‘do'; they can only be done by; children who do not understand this often do wrong things, and then the dolls are hurt and abused and lost; and when this happens dolls cannot speak, nor do anything except be hurt and abused and lost. If you have any dolls, you should remember that.

The dolls dream of having a house of their own to live in, so they don’t have to live in a shoebox any more. One day, the girls are given an old Victorian dollhouse, and the dolls are wonderfully happy…until Marchpane, a very vain and selfish porcelain doll arrives on the scene.

The writing and the imagination in this little story are lovely and fun. The book was written for those of us who love dolls and were even lucky enough to have a dollhouse at one point in our lives. I just wish I had found this book and read it during my own dollhouse years. It’s one I would have loved and remembered forever.

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Goodbye, Ivan Doig

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Sad news yesterday about Ivan Doig. We’ve lost yet another wonderful author. I have a special place in my heart for Ivan Doig. My father loved reading his books, and so did I. When I read his memoir, This House of Sky: Landscapes of a Western Mind, I felt that we were most definitely kindred spirits. In this memoir, his stories of his Dad and his Grandmother and their Montana ranching lives reminded me in many ways of my own Dad and my own Wyoming Grandmother. They didn’t ranch, but they, too, were real characters shaped in similar ways by that western landscape.

As a girl from mountains, I also loved his descriptions of the western landscape that was so familiar to me.

The western skyline before us was filled high with a steel-blue army of mountains, drawn in battalions of peaks and reefs and gorges and crags as far along the entire rim of the earth as could be seen…

When my husband and I decided to relocate to the Pacific Northwest from the Intermountain West 25 years ago, I read his books, Winter Brothers: A Season at the Edge of America and The Sea Runners. Both were amazing stories that capture the heart of the Northwest, and those books, along with Wintergreen, by Robert Michael Pyle, and The Good Rain, by Timothy Egan, helped turn us into Northwesterners at heart.

If you visit Doig’s website, he has a note for his readers. He didn’t consider himself a “western” writer, and this is why:

One last word about the setting of my work, the American West. I don’t think of myself as a “Western” writer. To me, language—the substance on the page, that poetry under the prose—is the ultimate “region,” the true home, for a writer. Specific geographies, but galaxies of imaginative expression—we’ve seen them both exist in William Faulkner’s postage stamp-size Yoknapatawpha County, and in Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s nowhere village of Macondo, dreaming in its hundred years of solitude. If I have any creed that I wish you as readers, necessary accomplices in this flirtatious ceremony of writing and reading, will take with you from my pages, it’d be this belief of mine that writers of caliber can ground their work in specific land and lingo and yet be writing of that larger country: life.

Ivan Doig was a writer of caliber, and his “poetry under the prose” spoke to me directly and touched my life in many ways. King County Library, on Twitter today, paid him a wonderful, simple and perfect tribute:

“Scene: The flat plain is a brilliant green. A lone figure walks toward the distant mountains. Goodbye Ivan.”

 

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Author Ivan Doig for Seattle Magazine © Jeff Corwin

 

Oxfordshire in the Blood

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The Hubby and I just finished watching the old Inspector Morse series (all 33 episodes) which we first watched on Masterpiece Mystery many years ago. The books were written by Colin Dexter; the setting was Oxford, England; and the main characters were the brilliant Chief Inspector Morse and his hardworking colleague, Detective Sergeant Lewis. I’ve never read any of Colin Dexter’s books, although I always thought I would like to because we enjoyed the TV version of Morse so much. On my TBR list! The TV series was intelligent and well-written, very good mysteries, and enjoyable to watch again this many years later.

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My great, great, great grandfather, Thomas Gomm.

Another reason we returned to the series was because I have been reading some family history. My paternal great, great, great grandparents all came from Oxfordshire. When I remembered that the Inspector Morse series was filmed in Oxford, I thought it would be fun to see the area and watch a good mystery program at the same time. I was not disappointed. The mysteries were great and the filming of that area was wonderful. Many beautiful shots of the city and outlying areas.

Of course, the more I learn of my family history, the more I would love to travel to Oxfordshire and visit the locations where those distant grandparents lived. But that probably won’t be happening very soon, so my reading and TV viewing will have to do for now. Just for fun, I spent some time online and compiled a reading list of books set in Oxfordshire. There are probably many others I missed, but it turned out to be a fun list that would provide me with many hours of reading pleasure. Here’s some of the list I’ve compiled:

  • Jude the Obscure, by Thomas Hardy
  • A Discovery of Witches, by Deborah Harkness
  • His Dark Materials (trilogy) and Lyra’s Oxford, by Philip Pullman
  • Brideshead Revisited, by Evelyn Waugh
  • Gaudy Night, by Dorothy Sayers
  • Last Bus to Woodstock (Inspector Morse), by Colin Dexter
  • An Instance of the Fingerpost, by Iain Pears
  • Three Men in a Boat, by Jerome K. Jerome
  • To Say Nothing of the Dog, Connie Willis
  • Some Tame Gazelle, by Barbara Pym
  • Tom Brown’s Schooldays, by Thomas Hughes
  • Oxford Blood, by Antonia Fraser
  • The Oxford Murders, by Guillermo Martinez
  • Byron’s Child, Carola Dunn
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Side-by-side photos of my great, great, great grandparents in Oxfordshire…