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.

The book was better.

I’m sure you have seen this illustration before on movie-versus-book discussions. With the sudden influx of movies based on books, I feel that I have to stress again how much richer and more satisfying reading a book is over seeing the movie adaptation.

When you read, you are creating your own movie. Your brain is more engaged and invested in a book. It is a very active process, combining the words you are seeing, processing, and understanding to create a full-color, vivid, on-demand movie in your mind. You are director and producer. You are in charge of makeup and costumes. You choose the locations and scenes. All of this in a split second.

That’s why reading makes you smarter. Not only are you able to learn new words, but you are also engaging so much of your brain in sequential, systematic, and parallel ways – many times all at once!

There will never be a better movie-maker than your own imagination.

Some books to try instead of the movie:

The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
One of my top 10 books, the story presents a challenge to the screen because it is primarily internal monologue. While the film and television series are true to the dystopian nature of the story, it is impossible to capture the parallel thoughts and feelings of the protagonist and the other handmaids as told in the double narrative-style of the book.

The Giver by Lois Lowry
Another one of my faves, this is the first book in a quartet. While the film adaptation, again, presents the general idea of the book, the fact that one character was given a much bigger part in the film (Streep’s characterization of the Chief Elder) in order cash in on her star power doesn’t sit well with me. The book is about exploring feelings, making decisions, and actions bringing consequences.

The Lost Weekend by Charles R. Jackson
The film version was highly acclaimed, nominated for seven Academy Awards and winning four. What is missing here, however, is the raw and visceral pull of alcohol on the main character. It consumes him, drives his behavior, and pulls the reader in opposing directions of disgust and sympathy for him. Thought of as the seminal American novel on addiction, this desperation cannot be captured on film. That, coupled with homosexual overtones, makes this 1944 novel a must-read.

These are just three of my pics for you. Let me know of other books-into-films you have experienced, and what your impression on the comparison was.

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.

David Bowie had a reading list?

Heck, yes! Superstar musician and brilliant performer David Bowie was a prolific reader. As a matter of fact, it is said that he took all 400 books in his then-collection when he went on location to film “The Man Who Fell to Earth.”

That set a pattern of taking a travelling library on tour and Bowie said: “I had these cabinets – it was a travelling library – and they were rather like the boxes that amplifiers get packed up in. . .  because of that period, I have an extraordinarily good collection of books.”

When Vanity Fair asked him “What is your idea of perfect happiness?” he responded simply “reading.”

In 2013, Bowie posted his 100 favorite books on his public Facebook page. The list is a characteristically eclectic list featuring everyone from Junot Diaz and George Orwell to Angela Carter and Muriel Spark.

To find the complete list, look no farther than his official site. I can think of no better tribute on this one year anniversary to The Thin White Duke than to delve into the list, and then into one of the books.

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.