Tuesday 3 November 2009

No 1 Ladies' Det. Agency books

I'm so far behind with reviews it's not funny. On the other hand I have finished two challenges over the last few days - RIP IV and the Support Your Local Library one (have not done a wrap-up for that yet) so it's not all bad. Perhaps I can do a brief summary of the four books in need of review and then start afresh.

One of the books I read and finished was Howards End is on the Landing by Susan Hill. I loved it to pieces but am not doing a review until I've had a chance to sit down and read it all over again. There was so much of interest, so much that inspired me in this book about books, that I feel I just can't do it justice until I've gone through it again. In the meantime here's my favourite quote from the chapter explaining how Hill simply doesn't get Jane Austen:

My younger daughter learned to love Jane Austen from the BBC television adaptation starring Colin Firth and a clutch of other fine actors. She watched it so many times that she knew it by heart and could hardly be deterred from reciting entire scenes for our entertainment, until, like Mary, she had delighted us long enough.

I just can't read that without giggling. Wonderful book and I am so thrilled I own it and can dip into it whenever the fancy takes me.

Also read and finished because my grandaughter recommended it was No Such Thing as Dragons by Philip Reeve. I'm a huge Reeve fan - his Mortal Engines series is one of the best YA sci fi series around in my opinion - but I think this one was just a wee bit young for me. I can quite see how any 8 to 12 year old would love it though, with its interesting young characters and dragon hunt on the mountains in the depths of winter. It's also beautifully illustrated with a cover that is stunning. How lucky my grandaughter is to be a child now when children's books are experiencing an amazing upsurge in popularity with some brilliant writers flexing their muscles and producing some wonderful books.

Last week we had family here for half-term and I really thought I would have no time for reading at all. So I chose book six in Alexander McCall Smith's Mma Ramotswe series, In the Company of Cheerful Ladies, as a book that is easy reading for the few moments I might have.

I haven't read one of these in a while - last year I think - but the joy of them is that you can pick one and up and in no time at all you're immersed in life on Zebra Drive and Tokleng Road in Gabarone, Botswana. I'm not even sure I would call them detective novels. There are small mysteries, yes, and people's problems and family problems and problems with the folk who work at Speedy Motors and The No 1 Ladies' Detective Agency. But the books are much more about the people in them than the crimes, fascinating as those are. In this book Mma Ramotswe knocks over a cyclist and gains a new employee for her husband. Her assistant, Mma Makutsi, takes up dancing lessons and finds romance, and Mma Ramotswe's cruel ex-husband, Note, returns. Doesn't sound like an awful lot of action I know, but somehow or other McCall Smith has a way of writing that makes it all so fascinating that you can't put the book down and when you do, you can't wait to pick it up again.
So I got through that book in no time flat, despite having visitors, and grabbed the next one to read - Blue Shoes and Happiness. In this one Mma Makutsi and Phuti Radiphuti are engaged but has she jeopardised the engagement by telling him she's a feminist? And Mma Ramotswe has worries of her own too. What's going on at the Mokolodi Game Reserve? Is it witchcraft or something else? And then there's a case of blackmail to solve... and an even stickier problem - should she go on a diet?

Wonderful. Absolutely wonderful. I only have three more of these to read so need to consider which of his series to read next. I have the first Isobel Dalhousie book, The Sunday Philosophy Club, from the library and am hoping that might be my kind of thing, but I also own The 2 1/2 Pillars of Wisdom, an omnibus which looks interesting too. We'll see. I'm just so glad that McCall Smith has plenty of other books and series for me to try because I'd really hate to have nothing new to read from this delightful author.


DesLily said...

hmmm that howards end book sounds interesting (I looked it up on amazon) I guess it's not for sale in the US.. only 2 new and 1 used book shipped from the UK... strange. I will be interested in hearing what your thoughts are on it...

Stacy said...

I have yet to read a McCall Smith but plan to change that in 2010. I feel the same about Hill's book and am excited about the authors she introduced me to. I also have been dipping in to reread and am enjoying these parts just as much the second time around.

Anonymous said...

I've read and enjoyed McCall Smith's urban books be they st in Edinburgh like the Isabel Dalhousie and 44 Scotland St series or London like Corduroy Mansions. I haven't tried his Botswana books yet, but encouraged by your review must get to them soon!

Cath said...

Pat, the Howards End book is not out in the States yet. I enjoyed it a lot and so did many others, but a few people didn't. Depends on whether you like books about what other people like to read. I'll keep an eye out in charity shops and if I spot a copy I'll grab it for you.

Book Psmith: You can't always tell what others will like or not like but, judging by what you like to read, I would say that you would probably enjoy McCall Smith's writing.

adevotedreader: I'm really looking forward to trying the Isabel Dalhousie book on my library pile. And I look forward to hearing your thoughts on the Botswana books when you get to them. I think you won't be disappointed if you already like McCall Smith's writing.

Marg said...

I love reading AMS's books and eagerly look forward to each new instalment! I do have a couple of his series that I haven't tried yet.

I am always glad that he is so prolific.

Cath said...

Marg: I'm pleased that McCall Smith is very prolific too as the three Botswana books I have left to read will not last me very long. And the next one is not due until 2011 I believe.

Anonymous said...

Really like the quote from Susan Hill, I can appreciate Austen but I am not an obssesive enthusiast, and I also have a daughter who discovered Austen via the BBC, we had similar experiences, when she was younger and still very much into dress ups, she would constantly dress up like a Jane Austen heroine. At least the BBC provided a nice intoduction to Austen who really isn't that accessible to young readers.

Really interested in the Phillip Reeve book, like you I think Mortal Engines is a brilliant series and I know a group of girls who just love dragon books, they are right in the age for the target audience and I was always looking for new dragon books for them in the library.

Cath said...

Book pusher: I'm like you, I like Austen but am not an obsessive enthusiast. I think I maybe even like the dramatisations more than the books, which is sacrilege I know. The BBC just redid Emma and it was just wonderful.

Oh, another Mortal Engines fan! Wonderful. I've read the first three and have the fourth still to read... and the new prequal. He is such a good author, lives on Dartmoor, not far from here.

I think your group of girls would probably like No Such Thing as Dragons a lot. It's a beautiful book and a good story for youngsters.

Vintage Reading said...

I'm interested in reading novels set in Africa at the moment so I think I'm going to try those McCall Smith novels. Nice review.

Cath said...

Nicola: the McCall Smith books are rather gentle books about Africa and well worth a try. Another gentle African book I enjoyed was The Camel Bookmobile by Masha Hamilton.