PBS Inspired Books

Sunday night viewing is getting better on PBS – a reprieve from the long wait for the return of Downton Abbey.  And unlike the Maggie Smith driven saga created by Julian Fellowes for television, two PBS televised series follow real books, published and available: Poldark and Grantchester.

Poldark-umbrella-icon,-675x290-scale-2000x2000Poldark – the newest addition from the BBC for Masterpiece theater – is based on a series of twelve books by Winston Graham.  After reading Stephen Brunwell’s review – What Merits a Remake?   – with his promise of “a wealth of back stories missing from the televised versions,” I found the newly reissued books and plan to immerse myself in the Cornwall saga of a Revolutionary war hero who returns to find his land in disrepair, and his former love lost to another man.

Grantchester – sadly appearing only briefly on PBS, with the second series not Grantchester-675X290-scale-2000x2000available until 2016 – follows a series of books by James Runcie.  The handsome, erudite Canon Sydney Chambers is the clergyman/detective solving crimes with his sidekick, local police officer—Inspector Geordie Keating, in a small village near Cambridge in the 1960s.

The books are available through public libraries and in paperback.  If you want to follow the stories in order, Poldark begins with Ross Poldark (1945), followed by Demelza (1946).  To continue reading, find the list and a few free downloads at  NLS Minibibliographies.

The Grantchester Mysteries begin with Sidney Chambers and the Shadow of Death, published in 2012.  Muncie has been churning out a book a year, with the latest, Sidney Chambers and the Forgiveness of Sins (2015).

Comfortable and comforting – cozy with romance and mystery – just what I need right now.


The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry

Harold is the Englishman who writes a letter, heads out to post it, and then decides instead to walk the 500 miles to deliver it in person in Rachel Joyce’s The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry.  In a moving unravelling of emotions – regrets, forgiveness, guilt, understanding, love – Joyce delivers a subtle but powerful story of one man’s search for redemption that made the long list for the Man Booker Prize.

When Harold Fry receives a farewell letter from a dying co-worker whom he hasn’t seen in twenty years, his intention to mail her a get-well note is sidelined by a young waitress he meets on his way to the mailbox.  With faith that his friend will stay alive until he reaches her at the hospice, Harold begins his journey in his trainers (sneakers), with only his debit card in his pocket and leaving behind his cell phone.  At first, Harold’s walking seems a selfless tribute to his old friend, but his task is ill-conceived as his shoes fall apart and his feet blister.  As he meets assorted characters along the way, he reminisces about his wife, his son, and his job, and clearly, his journey is more personal than a kindness to a dying woman.

Slowly, Joyce reveals the real reason behind Harold’s pilgrimage through conversations with characters he meets along the way – a swath of humanity that is both giving and taking, generous and ruthless.  At one point, the image of Forrest Gump jogging across the country, with mindless followers straggling behind him, came to mind; Harold Fry has a following for a while as well in his fifteen minutes of fame.  Like Calvin Trillin’s character Tepper, Harold also provokes confidences from the people who meet him by chance, and like the children’s book character from Harold and the Purple Crayon, Harold Fry seems to be drawing his reality as he goes.  They all congeal into a sad, older man who is looking back on his life – hoping it’s not too late to make it better.

Maureen, the wife left behind, has the expected initial reaction when Harold calls her from a phone booth to tell her of his adventure, but her emotions and her life changes as Harold continues to walk.  She moves from trying to have a doctor declare her husband insane, to missing him and wanting him home again – regretting the years of coldness and miscommunication.

Joyce cleverly conceals the real reason for the estrangement, and its revelation shifts the story’s theme.  The clues are so subtle, I found myself rereading sentences – sure that I had missed something, but the surprise motive does not appear until the book has almost ended.

Joyce conveniently provides a map of England with Harold Fry’s trail, and you will want to flip to it as he marks the way from the southern tip, up through Cornwall, the Cotswolds, across Hadrian’s Wall, to the northern most tip at his destination.  The descriptions of the countryside and the towns will have you feeling like one of his followers.  His renewal through the beauty he encounters is energizing.

The lessons learned are thoughtful, and thankfully the ending is a satisfying one.  But don’t be fooled by the flirty title – this is not a humorous travelogue.  The story moves quickly from its main character’s whimsical decision to walk, into a serious observation of human behavior.

Try a Little Romance with a Frenchman

Need a change?  Looking for romance and adventure? What better than 17th century Cornwall and passion with a pirate? Best known for the haunting Rebecca, Daphne du Maurier plays to romance in Frenchman’s Creek.

Escape without embarrassment; read a classic and break away with Dona and a handsome French pirate.

Dona, the lady of the manor, who chafes at the restricted life of her proper and dull existence in London with her wimpy husband, escapes to her country estate for rest and reflection. Instead of solitude, she finds William, the new caretaker, who becomes her friend, ally, and matchmaker to his master,  the handsome, erudite French pirate – think Errol Flynn or Douglas Fairbanks in those old swashbuckling movies.



Dona joins the Frenchman on his ship, and disguised as a cabin boy, she participates in a raid on her wealthy neighbors.  Though her thoughts are what you might think, her actions are chaste – Frenchmen’s Creek was published in 1942, and she is, after all, a thirty year old wife with two children. But excitement and danger eventually lead her to succumb.

Do yourself a favor and reread the first chapter, after you finish the book. You’ll dream of Dona and Jean-Benoit sailing away on La Mouette.

Daphne du Maurier used the Cornish area in many of her books, and her fans celebrate her writing every year in Fowey at an annual festival in May.


Wonder if those characters still haunt the seaside, gardens, and rocky cliffs? Might be worth a trip – even if you can only get there vicariously.

The Forgotten Garden by Kate Morton

You know this story – set in Cornwall – because you’ve already read it many times in other books.    It doesn’t matter that you know the ending half-way through – Kate Morton’s The Forgotten Garden will draw you into the mystery.  It’s a comfortable formula and you will not want to leave its world.

In the style of another famous Cornish “Authoress,”  Daphne du Maurier, the story combines the romantic beauty of the sea with a story of family intrigue.   The Upstairs/Downstairs characters intermarry, of course, and you will predict how the short tales interspersed in the action reveal the characters’ flaws and strengths.

The story changes time and place throughout – connecting Nell to her childhood in Cornwall, in search of her mother’s identity.  How did four -year -old Nell arrive alone  in Australia on a ship from England – with no name or memory – and a only a book of illustrated fairytales as the clue to her background?

Morton explains all – with the help of Cassandra, Nell’s granddaughter – to  a satisfying and predictable ending.

Have a “cuppa” tea and enjoy.