The Book Pile: Willa Cather, Phryne Fisher, Ross Poldark, and more

So books!  What have I been reading lately?

Well, work has been so crazy for the last six weeks that I’ve mostly stayed away from the heavy stuff. I’ve put away some pretty mindless chicklit, the kinds of titles that I’d be embarrassed to share here.  But even among all the beachy stuff, there have been a few titles of substance that I’m happy to crow about.


Death Comes for the Archbishop by Willa Cather was an unusual read. It’s not so much a novel as a series of vignettes about two priests who settle in New Mexico.  It’s lyrical and beautiful; Cather doesn’t shy away from the brutal aspects of life on the frontier, but there is a vein of hope and human goodness in this story that links all of the different episodes.  It makes me want to read more Cather, and to spend more time in the Southwest.

Apparently the Poldark series of books by Winston Graham (first written in the 1940s) were made into a popular British TV series in the 1970s.  I haven’t seen the series, but I’ve just read the first two books, and they’re terrific.  They take place in eighteenth-century Cornwall, a place I love to read about (blame Daphne DuMaurier), and they center on the young squire Ross Poldark and the various people in his world.  Love! Loss!  Family feuds!  Sassy servants!  Mining!  It’s all here, and it’s a treat. (Ross Poldark is the first one in the series, if you’re planning to start.)

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My mom is a huge fan of Gladys Taber, a mid-twentieth-century columnist/writer who lived in an old farmhouse in Southbury, Connecticut.  She wrote several books about her life in New England, and this past summer, my mom gave me the 1959 book Stillmeadow Sampler.  It’s arranged by season, and is a compendium of Taber’s musings about living in the country, about cooking, about family, about dogs, and about life in general.  It’s an utterly delightful book, the kind of book you read with a cup of tea on the table next to you.   Highly comforting.



This past summer, Scott and I got  hooked on the Australian TV series Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries.  It’s based on a series of books by Kerry Greenwood, and I just had to check them out.  So far I’ve read four, and they were great; the setting of 1920s Melbourne is unique, and the characters are a blast.  I can’t really call them “cozy mysteries”; the stories are a little too dark for that, and Phryne Fisher is not a cozy kind of character, though she is certainly an entertaining one.  She’s sort of the female James Bond,  adventurous both outside and inside of the boudoir (even moreso in the books than in the TV series — skip these if you can’t stomach bedroom scenes in your mysteries), and she has a fabulous cast of supporting characters.   These are very engaging mysteries that keep you guessing.

So what have you been reading lately?

4 responses to “The Book Pile: Willa Cather, Phryne Fisher, Ross Poldark, and more

  1. Great list! I love Willa Cather, but have not made it through that book; I am going to give it another try. And now I love New Mexico… Her book, O Pioneers is one of my favorites.

    As for Southbury, CT, my nephew and his family live there, I know it well! I like the sound of the Stillmeadow Sampler.

    Let’s see – I reread To Kill A Mockingbird. I read some books about North Korea, a weird obsession of mine. And I am now reading We Are Water by Wally Lamb.

  2. Fran, my mom is such a fan that she even visited Southbury last summer! It sounds like a lovely place. Taber actually wrote several books about her farmhouse there; I’ve seen several at our local library. If they are anything like this one, they’re gems.

  3. Ginny, I’m so happy that you enjoyed your introuction to Gladys Taber via Stillmeadow Sampler. I have now read four of her books and love them all; they are as comforting as a cup of tea on a winter night and never cease to make me feel happy.
    And now a turnabout . . . I just completed the book you gave me, Miss Buncle Married . . . and loved it! Such a charming story, filled with unique and eccentric English characters! A joy to read! For all of your blog readers, I do recommend reading the prequel first, Miss Buncle’s Book, which you also gave to me!!
    And one more . . . I’m only one third of the way through The Boys in the Boat by Daniel J. Brown, but I can already highly recommend it! The story of the US crew team which fought for gold in the 1936 Olympics in Berlin, the book is a character study, the story of a dysfunctional family, and a history lesson all rolled into one. Excellent writing! That’s it for now! Love, Mom

  4. The Miss Buncle books are the best! So gently amusing and comforting.