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.

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.

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.

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.

A Red Herring Without Mustard by Alan C. Bradley

Summary:

In the third installment of this bestselling, award-winning, sister-poisoning, bicycle-riding, murder-investigating, and utterly captivating series, Flavia de Luce must draw upon Gypsy lore and her encyclopaedic knowledge of poisons to prevent a grave miscarriage of justice.

My take: 4 looks

Another wonderful book in the Flavia de Luce series! Bradley delights in the same vein as the great Agatha Christie when it comes to British villainy. The protagonist, Flavia, is so very charming, quick-witted, and intelligent. The fact that all of these are far beyond her young 11 years adds to the charm of this larger-than-life heroine.

Faced this time with an injured Gypsy, lots of stolen loot, and a dissident religious sect, it is a mile-a minute romp in which Flavia again turns to her laboratory and reliance on chemistry to find the killer. Working with the police inspector, and sometimes behind his back, Flavia is the precocious girl we all wanted to be when we were young. With her trusty bicycle Gladys and her stalwart groundskeeper, Dogger, she is ready to face the secrets hidden right under her nose.

This book, while it can be read as a stand-alone, provides additional insight into Buckshaw, Harriett, and Falvia’s father’s financial concerns. The mystery is compelling, introducing temporary characters, bringing back familiar Bishops Lacey’s characters, and tying it all up at the end with a nice, tight ribbon.

Bradley has six in this series, and I am keen to read each one.

Highly recommended.

Die Trying by Lee Child

Summary:
A Chicago street in bright sunshine. Jack Reacher, strolling nowhere, meets an attractive young woman, limping, struggling with her crutches, alone. Naturally he stops to offer her a steadying arm, and then they turn together – to face twin handguns held level and motionless and aimed straight at their stomachs.

Chained to the woman, locked in a dark, stifling van racing 2,000 miles across America, Reacher needs to know who he’s dealing with. The kidnappers are saying nothing and his companion claims to be Holly Johnston, FBI agent. She’s fierce enough and tough enough, but he knows there must be more to her than that. And at their remote, hostile destination, they will need to act as a team and trust each other, pitting raw courage and cunning against insane violence and seemingly hopeless odds, with their own lives and hundreds more at stake.

My take: 2.5 looks

Normally I love a good Jack Reacher novel, but this one was slow-moving and more … emotional than the others I have read. While it’s true that I have read them out of order, this is a very different Jack Reacher than in later novels. But I am getting ahead of myself.

The story revolves around the kidnapping of one woman on purpose, and Jack by accident. The woman is an FBI employee, who constantly whines about being the daughter of a high-ranking government official. The militants who capture them are seriously crazy, and at least one has a very dark streak.

Like other Reacher novels, it is full of fighting, figuring, weapons, and pretty straightforward. What I didn’t like about this one was it was a bit long in the tooth. I felt that it could have been edited down to be more succinct. Also, the FBI Agent’s whining got thin quickly. And Jack was so much more emotional. His line of questioning on whether or not his fellow captive had a boyfriend was shockingly out of character.

All-in-all, while this was a fast read, I can’t recommend it as one of the better Reacher novels.

The Marriage Bureau for Rich People by Farahad Zama

Summary:
Alexander McCall Smith meets Jane Austen in this delightfully charming Indian novel about finding love. What does an Indian man with a wealth of common sense do when his retirement becomes too monotonous for him to stand? Open a marriage bureau of course! With a steady stream of clients to keep him busy, Mr. Ali sees his new business flourish as the indomitable Mrs. Ali and his careful assistant, Aruna, look on with vigilant eyes. There’s the man who wants a tall son-in-law because his daughter is short; the divorced woman who ends up back with her ex-husband; a salesman who can’t seem to sell himself; and a wealthy, young doctor for whom no match is ever perfect. But although his clients go away happy, little does Mr. Ali know that his esteemed Aruna hides a tragedy in her past—a misfortune that the bureau, as luck would have it, serendipitously undoes. Bursting with the color and allure of India, and with a cast of endearing characters,

My take: 4 looks
Another joy to read! The notion that this is a combination of Alexander McCall Smith and Jane Austen is the perfect summation of this delightful first book in a series. Mr. and Mrs Ali are wonderful protagonists and encounter a variety of people as he runs the bureau out of his home. Being completely ignorant of this way of life, I found the processes very understandable, beautiful, and sometimes comical. The colors, textures, smells and idea of life in this Indian town permeate the text and add a richness to the story that makes it very satisfying.

I will read the rest in this series, and recommend it.