Utopirama: Precious and Grace…

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After an extended break, I am happy to report that I have made some time to catch up with an old friend: Precious Ramotswe, that traditionally built lady and founder of the No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency.  I was delighted to receive a copy of Precious and Grace, book number seventeen in Alexander McCall Smith’s excellent series set in Botswana, from Hachette Australia for review.  Of course, with such a series there could be no more appropriate review format than that of Utopirama and so here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

The delightful seventeenth installment of the ever-popular, perennially best-selling No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series.

Precious Ramotswe, Botswana’s premier lady detective, is a little short on help. The co-director of the agency, Grace Makutsi, is busy with her own case, her client none other than their erstwhile assistant, Mr. Polopetsi, who has unwittingly involved himself in a pyramid scheme. The agency’s other assistant, Charlie, may also need more help than he can offer, as he is newly embroiled in a romance with a glamorous woman about whom the others have their doubts.

So when a young Canadian woman approaches Mma Ramotswe with a complex case, it’s up to her alone to solve it with her signature intuition and insight, of course. The young woman spent part of her childhood in Botswana and needs help finding a long-lost acquaintance. But much time has passed, and her memory yields few clues. The difficult search and the unexpected results will remind them all that sometimes it’s those we think we know best who most surprise us.”

precious and grace

Quick Overview:

I am a little behind on this series as of this moment.  The last book of the series I read was The Saturday Big Tent Wedding Party, which puts me at a four book disadvantage but this is one of those series in which it doesn’t really matter if you miss a few books because coming back to the story is like coming back to a group of old, forgiving friends.  That, and the fact that the author does a neat little summary at the beginning of most of the books so as you don’t miss any of the big plot points.

If you haven’t read any books in this series, you really should.  Start with the first and then skip about as you fancy, but definitely make a start and you will no doubt fall in love with the darling characters who inhabit the pages.  Precious and Grace felt like a microcosm of the series as a whole: beguiling, gentle, and following its own rhythm toward a satisfying and thought-provoking conclusion.  After the initial recap in which the reader is reacquainted with the current situations of each of the characters, we are introduced to Mma Ramotswe’s main case for the book, that of a lady born in Botsawana, whose move to Canada as a small child has opened up feelings of homesickness.  On the surface, this seems like a simple case of a lady wanting to revisit her roots, but as ever, Mma Ramotswe discovers the truth behind the lady’s quest and peels back the layers of emotion to get at the nub of the matter.

In the meantime there are subplots about a dog almost made late by Fanwell, that ends up in the most perfect situation, and a very shady scheme indeed in which Mr Polopetsi has unwisely placed his hopes.  The growth of Mma Makutsi’s character is interesting in this one – possibly I have missed something telling in the previous four books – but she seems to be more forthright and abrupt than even her normal resting level of forthright abruptness.  Something to investigate, indeed!

Coupled with the gentle humour of the story is the unflinching commitment in the narrative to the idea that humanity can always redeem itself; that no matter how low we can sink in our perpetuation of the suffering of others, there is always the opportunity for positive change.  The ending of this story had me feeling quite emotional especially in the current climate of fear and distrust that is often exploited by the media.  The unassuming exhortation to be better is at the heart of these novels and was proffered particularly deftly this time around.

This felt to me like an intake of breath in the series; a pause, if you will, before more significant life events unfold.  As such, it was the perfect choice for the situation of feeling like I had too many books to read and not enough time to read them.  This familiar, gentle little gem put me back on the road to internal harmony and helped me avoid a possible reading slump.  

Utopian Themes:

Forgive and forget and remember

Finding one’s home

Life’s second chances

Drought-breaking rain

Protective Bubble-o-meter:

protective bubbleprotective bubbleprotective bubbleprotective bubbleprotective bubble

Five out of five protective bubbles for the contented snoring of a dog who has found his people.

Until next time,

Bruce

Odds and Ends: Double Haiku Review and Fi50 Reminder…

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Good morning to you, munchkins of Blogland! I have a bit of a mixed bag today – firstly, Mad Martha will present you with two haiku reviews for some great books we’ve encountered recently, and then I’ll provide you with this month’s Fi50 prompt, so you can all get working over the weekend on your micro-narratives.

Well, after a spate of middle grade and young adult ARCs, we shelf denizens have spent a little bit of time reacquainting ourselves with big people’s books.  Today’s first offering, Green Vanilla Tea by Marie Williams is a highly readable memoir in which the author reflects on experiencing the journey toward her husband Dominic’s terminal illness, alongside their two teenage sons.  Green Vanilla Tea recounts the experiences of this young family before, during and after Dominic’s diagnosis with early onset dementia and motor neurone disease in his early forties.  William’s memoir charts the confusing and sometimes frightening incidents pre-diagnosis, through the everyday struggles of caring for a young man in rapid decline, and the difficult decisions she faced around finding suitable end-of-life care for her husband.  One would expect the subject matter of this book to be harrowing and deeply depressing, but William’s honest reflections and use of humour lift the book out of that mire and result in a life-affirming and ultimately hopeful read that we highly recommend.  And we also give bonus points for being an Australian book.

Mad Martha’s haiku for this one is based on her favourite anecdote in the book…

green-vanilla-tea

Wife losing life’s love

asks, “How would you like your tea?”

Perplexed. “In a cup”

And while on the subject of hopeful, uplifting narratives, I recently discovered that shelf-favourite Alexander McCall Smith has released as an e-book The Slice of No. 1 Celebration Storybook: Fifteen Years with Mma Ramotswe, to celebrate this milestone of the No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency series.  As great fans of this series (that was introduced to us through the inspired gifting of a very insightful friend of the shelf!) we simply had to purchase this, despite it’s e-format.

The book is quite miniscule and contains two short stories with all the old favourite characters – nothing ground-breaking here, but certainly a happy addition to the series for long-time fans.  I’ve recently seen some reviews for the No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency, panning the books because there simply isn’t enough mystery or crime-solving going on in their pages.  I can’t help but feel those people have missed the point of the books.  For my money, the books are about relationships, pure and simple; and how we can recognise and affirm each other’s humanity (or creaturely-ness as it were, depending on your origin) in the most mundane of encounters.  If you haven’t ever picked up one of these books, start at the beginning when you’re in the mood for something light and relaxing.

slice of celebration

Pride of Botswana

reaches jubilant milestone

Congratulations!

And finally, a reminder that the monthly Fiction in 50 (Fi50) Flash Fiction Challenge is on again starting next week from the 23rd of September!

fiction in 50

….the prompt for this month is…

…UNCONVENTIONAL RELATIONSHIPS…

So pick up your pen, stylus, keyboard or pointy finger and create a piece of fiction in 50 words or less, then post a link so we can all enjoy your efforts.  It doesn’t have to be good, it doesn’t even have to be insightful or serious, but it does have to be MICRO-SIZED!

For more information and a slightly more detailed explanation of the challenge and its requirements, click on the button above, or the appropriate page in this blog’s header.  Hope you will all join in!

Until next time,

Bruce and Mad Martha

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Ode to an Author: Alexander McCall Smith

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Mad Martha here with the week’s Ode.  This week I have chosen one of my favourites (and possibly the only one I’ve actually met) – Alexander McCall Smith.  An ode to him is well overdue, as Bruce has presided over a number of his hardbacks for many a long year.  This is the man who brought the phrase “traditionally-built” to rotund ladies the world over and they continue to thank him today.  He is also a great fan of tea and common courtesy (together or separately).  Also, anyone who plays the Bassoon in an ensemble called “The Really Terrible Orchestra” must be worth knowing.  But my favourite thing of all about AMcS is the fact that he is not afraid to laugh uproariously at his own jokes….this is a trait I share. So sit back with a steaming cup of Red Bush tea and mull over my Ode to Alexander McCall Smith:

 

 

No doubt to blame for his two second names are the parents of one Alexander.

A Scotsman for sure, he’s filled up bookstores with tomes that are worth a quick gander;

‘Bout Edinburgh’s cobbles, relationship squabbles, detectives who like to meander,

Vegetarian dogs, poems in epilogues and a woman, Irene – we can’t stand her!

So give him a try – it should satisfy, for he writes with great humour and candour.

A nice cup of tea, a biscuit or three and a story – now what could be grander? 

 

 

Ta-ra my dears,

Mad Martha