Monday, May 16, 2022

Read Jacqueline Winspear's A SUNLIT WEAPON


Jacqueline Winspear’s A Sunlit Weapon is a fine, but not great, addition to her long series of Maisie Dobbs novels.  Maisie and her familiar entourage are now placed in the middle of WWII. Eleanor Roosevelt is about to tour Britain and dark deeds in the homeland as well as from abroad are afoot. British airplanes being ferried about the country by brave female pilots are being shot at, Maisie’s American husband just happens to be in charge of security for Mrs. Roosevelt’s visit, and a young black American serviceman is found bound and gagged in an old barn. Meanwhile Maisie’s daughter is being bullied at her school and her assistant Billy’s sons are in uniform and exposed to danger. I am amazed at how Winspear manages to weave all these threads together, but the chapters at the end that are devoted to unscrambling things go on too long. 

Certainly, the mysterious traitorous events keep the story line moving, while Winspear works the underlying themes of racial and class differences between England and the United States and the  emancipation of women in the war effort.  Maisie Dobbs continues to be a fictional standard bearer for all women through the years as they juggle professional careers, family responsibilities, and motherhood. For that alone the series continues to worth reading.    

Another more personal area that struck me was the way in which a sense of place infuses depth into the detection aspect of the novel. Maisie relies on her former mentor Maurice for her ability to locate the hidden truths that at first seem to be disconnected. She quotes Maurice, who said years ago, that “Place is a crucial factor in our work—and places leave their mark in the same way that a human being can touch us. We have to make our peace with place, with the locations where we have spent time.  We must consider how we’ve been affected by being present in a certain spot—and how the place itself is changed by what has come to pass.”  

My wife and I are at this very moment readying our long-time family home for sale. We were surrounded by a sense of place as we wandered for the last time through those empty rooms a week ago. They kept reappearing in my mind fully furnished and inhabited with years of memory.  All I can say is I agree with Maurice and Maisie. We must look and pause--listen to the vibrations, soak up their presence, and find their essence. Through that we may know the history in a place and find and feel the truth.





Friday, May 13, 2022

Jim and Jan Walk With Shakespeare


William Shakespeare will not harm you.

Join Jim and Jan De Young Tuesday,  May 17th  at 10:30 AM in the Forum Theatre (at Grand Living in Cedar Rapids) for a pleasant walk with Shakespeare along the South Bank of the Thames River in London to visit the site of the original Globe Theatre and the new re-built one.

Even if you have been to London before, we think we may be able to show you a few things you have not seen.

Sunday, May 08, 2022

Wapsipinicon State Park

 We haven't had a field trip for quite a while and yesterday, with warmth and sun making the world seem new and fresh, we took a ride to Anamosa and  Wapsipinicon State Park. I think both of those names are spelled right, but if not, forgive me. . 

We left from Grand Living where the flags were half mast to commemorate fallen Iowa State Troopers. 

We arrived at the park in about 40 minutes and took time for a look at the now unused bridge and the dam on the river. 


A fisherman was trying his luck just below the dam.

The park is nestled in a valley cut by the Wapsipinicon River or the "Wapsi" as the locals prefer. The park roads and trails sometimes follow the river and at other times move along the higher ridges and  bluffs. The rocky cliffs are definitely interesting to geologists and there are several stone quarries in the area.   A number of the park's structures were built with this local stone by prisoners at the state prison in Anamosa. The prison itself was built of this hard grey stone as well.  

What was truly enjoyable was to see the patches of new spring growth and wildflowers. We need more knowledge here but these are Sweet Williams we think. 

This one needs more research. 

Some early violets were easy to identify.

This one is still a mystery.

These seem to be Morning Stars

May Apples are easy. 

Watch out for this one. It's stinging nettle.

The woods still show some damage from last year's derecho. 

Under current forest management philosophy most of the trees are left to decay where they fell. Occasionally when a larger one blocked  a road, it was cut. 

The park features a sporty nine hole golf course.

The Anamosa Rotary Club has built a nice shelter on an open hillside with a pleasant view.

At one point you even get to drive through a small stream.

It was a lovely day and in spite of  all the many problems of the world, it was possible to put cares on hold and enjoy the natural beauty of the planet. 

Thanks to Art and Carol who led this little excursion. 



Thursday, April 28, 2022

The Last Bookshop in London (Review)


The Last Bookshop in London--a novel of World War II by Madelaine Martin

Madelaine Martin’s novelistic tribute to the joys of reading will have you stimulated, tearful, and chuckling at various times in its 200 plus pages. Whatever the emotion the focus always settles back on  the heroic Londoners who are experiencing the horrors of the Blitz during World War II.  

Ms. Martin's heroine, Grace Bennett (Yes I did get the little Jane Austen reminder), arrives in London just before the war as a na├»ve young country girl.  She is eager to make her way, but lacks a needed letter of recommendation. Luckily, her landlady cajoles, Mr. Evans, the owner of the Primrose Hill bookstore, into hiring her and although Grace has never even been a reader, she proves herself as an employee by quickly by setting out to organize and modernize the little bookstore.  A handsome young visitor to the shop recommends that Grace start reading by giving her a copy of The Count of Monte Christo and she does. It sets off a romance with the young man, who becomes a pilot in the RAF, and also begins a reading binge for Grace that carries through to the very end of the book.  

As the bombs begin to fall, Grace reads aloud to people at the bookstore and later she reads to the people gathered the shelters during air raids. She even becomes an air raid warden to “do her part” in the more nasty elements of the bombing. Mr. Evans, the bookstore owner, has seen a mirror of the future in Hitler’s war and his penchant for burning books.  He declares early on that Heinrich Heine’s comment on books needs listening to. “Wherever they burn books, they will ultimately burn people as well.”  

The other characters, from Graces’s more flamboyant friend Viv, her air raid warden partner, and a number of other bookstore owners are neatly developed and individualized.  It is, however, the milieu of the London Blitz itself that grips you most firmly.  It’s noise, blinding smoke, blood, and destruction is true to history as well as relating quite movingly to the current Russian bombing of Ukraine. 

You can also feel Ms. Martin’s own love of the lush and tactile nature of the act of reading itself. The joy and solace of holding and reading a book emanates from almost every page.  I will cite just one of many descriptions of reading from the book. “The jacket was smooth, the print black against a yellow background dotted with small yellow houses. She slid her fingers under the lip and drew the volume open. The spine, not yet stretched, creaked like an ancient door preparing to unveil a secret world.”  If you are already a reader you will love this book and if you aren’t, you may be tempted to check out some of the titles the main character chooses to read.