In the Company of Cheerful Ladies by Alexander McCall Smith

In the Company of Cheerful Ladies (No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency, #6)
Summary:

In the newest addition to the universally beloved No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series, the charming and ever-resourceful Precious Ramotswe finds herself overly beset by problems. She is already busier than usual at the detective agency when added to her concerns are a strange intruder in her house on Zebra Drive and the baffling appearance of a pumpkin. And then there is Mma Makutsi, who decides to treat herself to dance lessons, only to be partnered with a man who seems to have two left feet. Nor are things running quite as smoothly as they usually do at Tlokweng Road Speedy Motors. Mma Ramotswe’s husband, the estimable Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni, is overburdened with work even before one of his apprentices runs off with a wealthy woman. But what finally rattles Mma Ramotswe’s normally unshakable composure is a visitor who forces her to confront a secret from her past. . . .

My take: 5 looks

I adore this series by McCall Smith, “No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency”. I love the name of the main character, Precious. I love that she considers herself a “traditionally built woman”. I love that she has such pride in her homeland. Everything. I love it all.

In this installment, we get to know more about the main characters, as well as being introduced to what I hope will be recurring faces. This is among the best of the “cozy mystery”, and I will read them as long as they are written.

Highly recommended.

Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders

Summary:

In his long-awaited first novel, American master George Saunders delivers his most original, transcendent, and moving work yet. Unfolding in a graveyard over the course of a single night, narrated by a dazzling chorus of voices, Lincoln in the Bardo is a literary experience unlike any other—for no one but Saunders could conceive it.

My take: 5 looks

Everything about this book is a breath of fresh air. The story of a night where spirits welcome the young Willie Lincoln to the cemetery. It becomes apparent that many of them do not realize they are dead, and as they become increasingly aware, it is both traumatic and funny.

The genius here is the story being told using historical text and perceived ghostly musings in tandem. Every comment is attributed to its source. With the insight of the historical records and the reflections of the spirits, the story is beautifully full and packed with feeling.

For example, the ghosts are used to seeing mourners come to the burial, then perhaps return a few times, only to trickle to never visiting again after a time. When Willie’s father comes to the burial site, looks at his son, and takes the little lifeless body into his arms, the ghosts are awash in love and respect for this father. One comments, ” We were perhaps not so unlovable as we had come to believe.”

The dawning on both Lincolns that Willie is not coming back, as well as the true situation dawning on the spirits, impact the story with a gentle but unwavering look at the reality of death, acceptance of it, and moving on from it.

This is a book that I will buy to read again and again. Highly recommended.

A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles

Summary:

A Gentleman in Moscow immerses us in an elegantly drawn era with the story of Count Alexander Rostov. When, in 1922, he is deemed an unrepentant aristocrat by a Bolshevik tribunal, the count is sentenced to house arrest in the Metropol, a grand hotel across the street from the Kremlin. Rostov, an indomitable man of erudition and wit, has never worked a day in his life, and must now live in an attic room while some of the most tumultuous decades in Russian history are unfolding outside the hotel’s doors. Unexpectedly, his reduced circumstances provide him a doorway into a much larger world of emotional discovery.

My take: 5 looks

A delightful book! So beautifully written, and such a nice combination of historical events, figures, and characters. I was truly sad to see it end, and yet so satisfied in its ending. I felt intimately familiar with The Metropol, which is a character unto itself. Who can resist the luxury of this famous bastion of Russian history, forging ground with its warm water and telephones in the rooms? Dining at night by candlelight in the prestigious Boyarsky Hall and slipping into the Art Nouveau Shalyapin bar for a nightcap before retiring to your room.

The author in Suite 217 with the Bolshoi in the backgroundEven today, they offer breakfast with musical accompaniment. I can imagine that Towles immersed himself in the glamour of 20th century Russia. Here is a photograph of the author in his Metropol suite, with the Bolshoi Theatre in the background.

Apart from the hotel, our protagonist, Count Alexander Ilyich Rostov, is a gentleman of gentlemen. Educated, well-traveled, speaking several languages, and presenting the patience and fortitude of the nobility, he is a delightful sort with the highest of morals, even if they are sometimes apt to bend just a little.

By his side is a host of colorful characters which go in and out of the story. It is a wonderful adventure through decades of Russian change, seen through the eyes of a man exiled in luxury.

Read this for the beautiful location. Read it for the wonderful characters. Read it for the beautiful writing. For goodness sake, just read it.

Waking Gods by Sylvain Neuvel

Waking Gods (Themis Files, #2)Summary:

In the gripping sequel to Sleeping Giants, which was hailed by Pierce Brown as “a luminous conspiracy yarn . . . reminiscent of The Martian and World War Z,” Sylvain Neuvel’s innovative series about human-alien contact takes another giant step forward.

My take: 5 looks

Again, any book read in one sitting gets an automatic 5 looks. I was a little hesitant to read this one without refamiliarizing myself with the first in the series, “Sleeping Giants”, but no fear. While it would have been a bit richer to build on the characterizations of the main players, it was not necessary to dive right into the story. Enough background was provided to jog my memory. However, I do recommend reading these in sequence.

I remembered the first book being quite the exciting rollercoaster ride, and this was the same. Written in epistolary form, the science fiction-heavy story is made personal and easy to follow. I am not a huge fan of science fiction because I get bogged down in the science, unfamiliar words, and implausibility of the scenarios. Neuvel makes this science fiction feel very real and possible, and brings the genre home to readers like me.

A few of my fave lines:
Scientists are like children: They always want to know everything, they all ask too many questions, and they never follow orders to the letter.
Believing you’re the only person with their head on straight is usually not a sign of good mental health.

This is highly recommended, and is available April 4th, 2017, by Del Rey.

Many thanks to NetGally for an advance copy in exchange for my review.

Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk by Kathleen Rooney

Lillian Boxfish Takes a WalkSummary:

It’s the last day of 1984, and 85-year-old Lillian Boxfish is about to take a walk.

As she traverses a grittier Manhattan, a city anxious after an attack by a still-at-large subway vigilante, she encounters bartenders, bodega clerks, chauffeurs, security guards, bohemians, criminals, children, parents, and parents-to-be—in surprising moments of generosity and grace. While she strolls, Lillian recalls a long and eventful life that included a brief reign as the highest-paid advertising woman in America—a career cut short by marriage, motherhood, divorce, and a breakdown.

A love letter to city life—however shiny or sleazy—Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk by Kathleen Rooney paints a portrait of a remarkable woman across the canvas of a changing America: from the Jazz Age to the onset of the AIDS epidemic; the Great Depression to the birth of hip-hop.

My take: 5 looks

My first finished book of 2017 was a winner! I was dazzled and intrigued by the title, and the fact that Lillian is an octogenarian, taking a walk through Manhattan on New Year’s Eve, made it that much more compelling. Rooney’s writing is fluid and strong, witty and poignant. I very much wanted to meet Lillian at the beginning of the book, and I felt as if I had met her when I finished the last page. Lillian’s personality, retorts, perfect timing, and sense of style came together to paint quite a character.

Imagine my surprise and delight upon discovering that Lillian Boxfish was patterned after a real person! Margaret Fishback Antolini (March 10, 1900 – September 25, 1985) was a published writer of prose and poetry, worked for Macy’s in the advertising department, was reportedly the highest-paid female ad copywriter during the 1930s, and married the chief rug buyer from Macy’s, which whom she had one son.

Because of the strong writing and compelling characterization of this fictionalized night in the life of a real person, I am looking forward to reading Fishback’s books, and finding out more about this intriguing woman. A book that springboards to additional reading and research is the best kind of book!

Highly recommended.

Many thanks to NetGalley for an advanced copy in exchange for my honest review.

The Library at Mount Char by Scott Hawkins

Summary:

Carolyn’s not so different from the other people around her. She likes guacamole and cigarettes and steak. She knows how to use a phone. Clothes are a bit tricky, but everyone says nice things about her outfit with the Christmas sweater over the gold bicycle shorts. 

After all, she was a normal American herself once.  

That was a long time ago, of course. Before her parents died. Before she and the others were taken in by the man they called Father.

My take: 5 looks

I think I have hit my favorite genre, a genre I call Science Fiction Horror. I would put Daniel O’Malley’s Chequey series in this category, as well. Humans vs nonhumans with a touch of needing to cover your eyes every now and again.

Carolyn seems like a normal young lady on the surface, as do her siblings. However, once you start to unravel the ties of the relationships with her “family”, you see that there is something very other-worldly going on here. Father, Steve, Erwin, and the twelve librarians all have quite interesting histories. Histories that have prepared them for this moment of convergence.

“Library” had me from the very first page. It was gripping, taut, and very well crafted. As the pieces started to come together at the end, I found myself wanting more pages, simply so I could enjoy it longer. I will now search for others by this author.

Recommended.

Stiletto by Daniel O’Malley

Stiletto (The Checquy Files, #2)Summary:

When secret organizations are forced to merge after years of enmity and bloodshed, only one person has the fearsome powers—and the bureaucratic finesse—to get the job done. Facing her greatest challenge yet, Rook Myfanwy Thomas must broker a deal between two bitter adversaries:

 
The Checquy—the centuries-old covert British organization that protects society from supernatural
threats, and…
The Grafters—a centuries-old supernatural threat.
 
But as bizarre attacks sweep London, threatening to sabotage negotiations, old hatreds flare. Surrounded by spies, only the Rook and two women, who absolutely hate each other, can seek out the culprits before they trigger a devastating otherworldly war.
 

My take: 5 looks and a CAT CALL

When I saw that Daniel O’Malley had released a sequel to “The Rook”, I immediately downloaded it and moved it to the top of my TBR.

The first in the series introduced us to the secret government organization tasked with protecting the general population from things of which they are completely ignorant. Kind of like “Men in Black”. With a kick-ass woman as the lead, I devoured the more-than-600-page book in just a few days.

This one was no different. Again led by strong women, this is a must-read for every fan of science fiction, fantasy, and feminism. It is a roller coaster of a story, well-written, and cleverly full of twists and turns.

Some highlights:

  • I am absolutely appalled to have you here, but I am also extremely well mannered and so I shall conceal that fact from you.
  • “But I hate her,” protested Odette. “Oh, I’m sure you think you do,” said Marcel cheerfully, “but you’re still young. It takes decades to really hate someone.”
  • The color could perhaps have been descried as sky blue, but it was the blue of a sky that would drive even the cheeriest and most tuneful of novice nuns to slash her wrists. It was a blue that had given up.

See? Wicked good! Highly recommended.