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Saturday, July 26, 2014

The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency

The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency (No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency Series #1)       

Review of The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency by Alexander McCall Smith

Overview from This first novel in Alexander McCall Smith’s widely acclaimed The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency series tells the story of the delightfully cunning and enormously engaging Precious Ramotswe, who is drawn to her profession to “help people with problems in their lives.” Immediately upon setting up shop in a small storefront in Gaborone, she is hired to track down a missing husband, uncover a con man, and follow a wayward daughter. But the case that tugs at her heart, and lands her in danger, is a missing eleven-year-old boy, who may have been snatched by witchdoctors.

My Review:

As luck would have it, I stumbled upon this book at the library the other day when I only came there to use their printer. Ever since I read McCall Smith’s other series (Portuguese Irregular Verbs), I had wanted to give this one a try but I wanted to start it from the beginning.

We begin with our main character Precious Ramotswe, a thirty-something woman living in Botswana who has just inherited a very valuable heard of cattle from her dying father. She sells them and with the proceeds decides to open the first detective agency in her country to have a woman at the helm.

There are a few slight detours into other characters’ lives but on the whole we focus on Mma Ramotswe and her efforts to help her clients sort through the mysteries in their lives.

The story is told in much the same style as McCall Smith’s other series, that is in little vignettes (centering mostly around her cases), but it seemed less humorous too me. And for good reason, I think. Some of these stories are heart-breaking. Others are just mildly amusing.

I don’t know how authentic the characters are compared with the people who actually live in Botswana but the author appears to know more about the place than I do. I know, that’s not saying much but that’s all I can say.

I can say that I liked the character of Precious Ramotswe. She seems to be a truly kind person who cares about the lives of her neighbors and her clients. Reading her back-story of her troubled marriage made me truly sympathetic to her goal of wanting to succeed as the first lady detective in her country.

It was that sympathy that later made me fearful for her life when she got mixed up in the case of a boy who she feared was probably taken by a witch doctor. I can see how she would make an ideal protagonist for a series.

I am still not sure that I will continue to read this series yet or not. There was an enticing ending, though not the kind I expected. And I did like the story.

However, I did not love it. As I said earlier, it was not as funny for me as Portuguese Irregular Verbs but it had its own charm and pacing. I might give the second one a try yet. And I am recommending it as a good light summer read.

Contains: some violence, sexuality

Saturday, July 19, 2014

The Sable City

The Sable City  

Review of The Sable City by M. Edward Mcnally

Overview from "Matilda Lanai, she of the sickening fall and the miraculous, silt-spitting, quaking resurrection. It might be a sign at that. The Island girl wasn’t stupid. She knew how to work. And she had it inside her to be ruthless. Block had seen it plain as day."
Epic Fantasy, Muskets & Magic. Historical fiction in a fictional world

My Review:

Finally I found a book in the Fantasy genre that picked my interest for this week and it turned out to be a very good one. It is called The Sable City and is apparently part of a trilogy.

We begin our story through the eyes of one Captain Block who is a Miilarkian dwarf. Though the islands of Miilark are populated primarily with humans, Captain Block long ago adapted to the customs of the place (including shaving off his beard as Miilarkian men are all clean-shaven) and made it his home.

Block is tasked with going on a special quest assigned to him by his house, which is how Miilarkian societies are divided, and must choose someone to help him. Rather than searching for the top person for the job, Block seems to be looking for someone rather mediocre and choses Matilda Lanai who is also of the same house.

We are not told what “Tilda” and Block’s mission is and they also keep that information from others that they encounter in their travels. Later it is revealed that they are looking for a man who was long ago exiled from Miilark but they don’t say what they will do when they find them Dugan, a deserter soldier who they team up with on the road, assumes that their intention is to kill the man when they find him.

Dugan is looking for the same man and promises to lead them to the man if they promise not to kill him also. Thus, they come to an uneasy truce.

Soon the mission begins to unravel. They encounter strange giant mosquitos and a knight bent on vengeance against Dugan. And all the while, Tilda wonders why Captain Block has chosen her for this mission when he had his choice of the best of their house, yet she can’t ask him because it is somehow against their culture. How will she continue when she has so many questions and faces so many strange new places? She is a trained assassin but one who has never left her homeland. Everything is so new to her.

This is what the reader will uncover if she or he continues to read. The story is very engrossing as well as unique compared to many Fantasies of today. No stealing from The Lord of the Rings here.

I would love to go on about all the great characters in this one but I would give away too many spoilers I think. Suffice it to say it is well worth the time spent getting to know them and hearing their stories as well as their backstories.

I will end, instead, with a great quote from the story. “Good luck wears off, the Tulls had said. Bad luck lasts forever.” Isn’t that the truth? Well, seems like it anyway.

Contains: Fantasy violence, mild language, sexual innuendo

Saturday, July 12, 2014



Review of SpeakEasy by Lissa Staley

Overview from It’s a chick-lit mystery with some history, written collaboratively by over 20 local authors as part of the community novel project of the Topeka and Shawnee County Public Library. In modern-day Kansas, Ronni Long interviews 108 year old Julia, who doubts all the adventures of her long life should be revisited. As the mystery unfolds, Julia’s secrets and Ronni’s lies put both women in danger.

My Review:

This story is easily a first for me both as a reviewer and a reader. The story has multiple authors. A separate author for each chapter in fact. And when I read that (about the different authors) along with the premise of the story, I knew I just had to try this one out.

The premise I alluded to earlier center’s around the lives of two of our main characters: Ronni and Julia. Ronni is a graduate anthropology student writing her dissertation about the Prohibition Era in Topeka when she finds out about Julia Stanford.

Julia is 106 years old, I think (I don’t remember the exact age right now but it is a few years over a hundred), and has worked in a well-known speakeasy of the time called Mike’s Mirage. At the start of our story she quietly resides in a local nursing home where Ronni hopes to interview her for her project.

Of course there are several things that conspire to keep that from happening, the first of which is car trouble. But Ronni quickly finds a ride only to encounter more problems. As we are drawn into the story we find out that no one is what they seem. Nearly everyone has something to hide. We go along for the ride to find out what and why.

The positives on this one are first and foremost the premise and the story. Who doesn’t love a good mystery combined with historical fiction?

The characters are great too. Well most of them anyway. The secrets we later find out about the guys in Pete’s band and Charles as well as Pete’s grandfather seems to stretch credibility. I can understand the main characters having secret lives but in this story practically everyone has a secret and that was a little hard for me to swallow.

Also, narrative voice does seem to suffer a bit from having multiple authors. And some of the continuity isn’t there. In one of the first chapters we see that despite having spent time in the auto shop, Ronni’s car still doesn’t work quite right but then in the next chapter she is seen driving it back to Julia’a with no problems or explanations. It just doesn’t make sense.

Some of the characters even seem to speak differently from one chapter to the next. I realize that they all have something that they are trying to hide so they might act differently from one scene to the next but somehow it just didn’t fit together the way it should.

On the plus side, it was valuable lesson for me that the proverbial “they” are right when they say you can usually distinguish one author’s voice from another, even when they are trying to imitate someone else. I noticed a difference in tone from one author to another in most cases even if they didn’t all stand out like a sore thumb.

Still, I am recommending this book as a good read. It is interesting and worth the time.

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Lady Macbeth's Daughter

Lady Macbeth's Daughter 

Review of Lady Macbeth's Daughter by Lisa Klein

Overview from Albia has grown up with no knowledge of her mother of her father, the powerful Macbeth. Instead she knows the dark lure of the Wychelm Wood and the moors, where she’s been raised by three strange sisters. It’s only when the ambitious Macbeth seeks out the sisters to foretell his fate that Albia’s life becomes tangled with the man who leaves nothing but bloodshed in his wake. She even falls in love with Fleance, Macbeth’s rival for the throne. Yet when Albia learns that she has the second sight, she must decide whether to ignore the terrible future she foresees—or to change it. Will she be able to save the man she loves from her murderous father?  And can she forgive her parents their wrongs, or must she destroy them to save Scotland from tyranny?

In her highly anticipated follow-up to Ophelia, Lisa Klein delivers a powerful reimagining of Shakespeare’s Macbeth, featuring a young woman so seamlessly drawn it seems impossible she was not part of the Bard’s original play.

My Review:

Double, double, toil and trouble boil out the cauldron in this retelling of Shakespeare’s Macbeth but with a twist. Macbeth and his lady have a daughter.

After being promised by an old hag soothsayer that he will have lots of sons, Macbeth, thane of Moray, flies into a rage when a daughter with a deformed leg is born to him and Lady Grelach (Macbeth). He orders the girl killed and thus begins the descent of the Macbeth’s marriage into the abyss.

Unbeknownst to either parent however, Lady Macbeth’s maid Rhuven saves the child, giving her to her sister to raise her. They name her Albia. She grows up not knowing her true origin and wondering about her family’s connection to the later King Macbeth.

This story is somewhat short as it is a YA Historical Fiction story but that does not mean that it is lacking. The interjection of Albia into the story works very well. I don’t want to spoil the ending but Albia herself becomes part of the story so that she seems as likely as the others to be a character in this play. It is as though she belonged in this story all along and was accidently omitted by the Bard. She fits in that well.

I am not sure however that I liked the witch characters all that much, the others that is. Sure they saved Albia’s life but with the exception of her adopted mother, they always seem to be up to some mischief. They want to tinker with fate and sometimes it seems that they are cruel to other characters when they do it.

I love Albia’s story however and since she features strongly in the plot, I kept reading. I would highly recommend this story to anyone with an interest in the Shakespeare play or Medieval Scotland in general. It also has some beautiful quotes. The only thing that saddened me about was that I found it at a dollar store. I don’t think it deserves to be there.

Contains: some violence and sexually suggestive scenes.

P.S. My apologizes for not posting a review last week. My personal life was crazy and I just didn't get to it.