Chick lit

International Travel Through Literature: The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series

1-The-No-1-Ladies-Detective-Agency-limited-edition

“The quality of the idea, the skill of the plot, the depth of the characterization, the distinctive style of the author – that’s the best I can do by way of defining a good book. When you find one, you recognize it.” Gladys Hunt, Honey for A Child’s Heart

One of the primary reasons I read fiction and go to the movies is so that I can travel. Vicariously of course. I used to actually go to foreign places: Brasil, Honduras, Israel, to name a few. Now I am bound to American soil with many responsibilities so I “go places” through books and film. Recently, one of my favorite literary trips has been to Botswana, Africa.

The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency is a series set in this southern African country and first published in 2007. The first book in the series, entitled The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency starts a wonderful journey into the fascinating world of memorable and humorous characters.

The series is fairly slow-paced, avoids gruesome descriptions of murders, and does not thrill with conspiracies and thwarting “take-over-the-world” type villains. However, it is appealing because it takes the reader deep into the world of cultural Botswana.

Bestselling author Alexander McCall Smith, born in Zimbabwe and a law professor in Scotland, worked for a time in the setting where he helped set up a law school at the University of Botswana.

Though not necessarily a series only for women, the main character, Precious Ramotswe, is a middle-aged woman who opens a detective agency because “a woman sees more than a man sees”. In her own words, Mma Ramotswe claims: “It is my duty to help…. my brothers and sisters…solve the mysteries in their lives. That is what I am called to do.” (The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency, p. 4)

One of the cultural treasures I received from these stories is how Mma Ramotswe and her rich cast of supporting characters show the universal need for kindness and courtesy in human relationships. My teenage daughters and I greet each other in the morning now with the customary Batswanan words: “Have you slept well, Mma?” a greeting that is used whatever time of day a stranger, acquaintance or friend is encountered.

To my delight, Alexander McCall Smith is a prolific author.  He continues to write stories in this lovely series.

no-1-ladies-detective-agency tv

A film adaptation, directed by Anthony Minghella, and produced by the Weinstein Company, premiered on HBO in March 2009. I am frustrated that nothing more has been produced, since this first effort was excellent! Jill Scott is wonderfully cast as Mma Ramotse.

Categories: Chick lit, Humorous, Inspiration, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , | 3 Comments

I Want to Meet Jan Karon

55f34ea132c30-image

I am a fan.  I hope not a crazy one, but I do have favorite celebrities that I follow and admire. As often as not, they are authors, not actors (though I have my preferences in that category, too).

Jan Karon is at the tippy top of my list.  She began writing her Mitford novels later in life, and it shows – they run over with her wisdom, humor, and pain.

I thought she had wrapped up the stories, but miracles do still happen and Ms. Karon began to write again in 2014 (Somewhere Safe with Somebody Good).

For you Mitford fans out there, you will understand the great joy I experienced knowing that I would finally learn what happened to Dooley and Lacy.  They deserve their own story and so, it was with intense delight, that I breezed through the most recent Mitford novel, published in 2015, entitled Come Rain or Come Shine in which they are the key characters. Good old Father Tim is still front and center, like a well-loved grandfather.  Cynthia still sparkles, but Dooley and Lacey “take the cake”.

I offer no plot description.  I can’t breathe a word more in case I would spoil it for you.  Just read it.  Catch up with the series first, of course.  I order you to do so.

Summer is coming and these books are perfectly designed for the open reading venues of beaches, hammocks, and lakeside docks.

Karon’s Mitford novels also got me through some hard times.    I have inhaled five in a row this Spring after a  complicated surgery and a long rehabilitation. They are the best medicine I know for sorrow, disillusionment, or illness.

Enjoy! Happy Reading!

734546207001_3779948618001_sue386-jan-karon-vstill

 

 

 

Categories: Chick lit, Christian Fiction, Humorous, Inspiration, Read Aloud, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Plan Ahead for Summer Reading

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIt’s almost summertime and I am pushing my “read more” agenda again! Here are some specific ideas for getting more from your reading this summer:

1) Read more – set higher personal reading goals! Summer reading is a special experience because is often takes place out of doors, on a beach or a porch swing. We can allow ourselves a large allocation of time to read during this season because our routine is changing as we welcome our children home from school and make vacation plans.

My goal: Read a minimum of an hour a day June -August.

2) Connect with others in your reading! Reading is not a solitary happening, but a satisfying conduit for building common experiences. Use your inner circle’s reading recommendations – children, spouses, parents, librarians, and friends. Target your children’s favorite book and watch their pleasure as you become familiar with the plots and characters they love.

My goal: Read The Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L. Konigsburg

See! A boy is reading in this candid photo.

See! A boy is reading in this candid photo.

3) Stretch your mental muscles! All have the capacity to enjoy a classic book. Although there is no harm in seeking a “light” read; the mental challenge in reading classic literature propels you into new depths — past the shallow water of superficial plots and stereotypical characters.

My goal: Read The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde

4) Re-read a childhood favorite! Go down memory lane and enjoy that classic children’s book again. Perhaps a family member might join you in this endeavor, but even when you read something independently, you can still take time to share excerpts that you felt most impacted by; whether it be humorous, serious, or touching.

My goal: Read Winnie-The-Pooh by A.A. Milne.4cd2e-the_sweetness_at_the_bottom_of_the_pie

5) Listen to an audio version of a book! On a family car trip or even during your mundane work commute, pop in an audio book and enjoy a good story as the miles roll by.  As a side effect, if your children are listening too, audio versions of books allow them to participate and experience literature above their own reading level.

My goal: Listen to the fourth book in the Flavia de Luce mystery series, I am Half-Sick of Shadows by Alan Bradley (Book #1 is The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie – all the books are narrated splendidly by Jayne Entwhistle)

6) Be a good reading example to others! Maybe this summer is the time to read purely for enjoyment. Others watch what you do more than what you say, so if you especially want your spouse or children to pick up a book in their spare time, – to “read for pleasure” – as the phrase goes, then you must do the same.  Show them by example that reading isn’t always work!

My goal: to put up my feet in the daytime and read when the chores are not yet done.

7) Hit the library! Make use of your tax dollars and browse the local library for good ideas and free books to borrow. Library summer reading programs for kids and adults help direct our goals to increase reading with their prizes and recognition.

My goal: Sign us all up for the Dauphin County Library summer reading program on June 1st.

da69a-girl-reading1So, enjoy some special reading adventures this summer and please tell me about them!

Categories: Autobiography, Biography, British novels, Chick lit, Children's Books, Christian Fiction, Classics, Fantasy, Girl Fiction, Historical Fiction, Humorous, Inspiration, Mystery, Read Aloud, Romantic Fiction, Uncategorized, young adult fiction | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

The Yada Yada Prayer Group – Chick Lit at Its Best

I extend an apology to my blog readers of the male gender, but this post blatantly promotes a book series that is squarely in the “chick lit” genre; one which I think has been given a”bad rap”:

“Chick lit is smart, fun fiction for and/or about women of all ages. Many of these books are written from a first-person viewpoint, making them a bit more personal and realistic. The plots can range from being very light and fast-paced to being extraordinarily deep, thought-provoking and/or moving.” (www.chicklitbooks.com)

As a woman, my favorite stories, written or visual, deal with the push and pull of intimacy versus isolation. Personal relationships are messy; they are full of conflict, misunderstanding, and hurt and yet, we are fascinated by them and are pulled in almost against our will.

Contemporary author Neta Jackson’s Yada Yada Prayer Group stories, set in the city of Chicago, focus on this relational theme. The women’s group is named “yada yada” from the Biblical Hebrew word that means “to know and be known intimately”. A motley crew of twelve diverse women overcomes distrust and learns to support one another when it really counts. The first title in the series of seven novels, The Yada Yada Prayer Group, was published in 2003 and introduces the reader to Jodi Baxter who is married, white, and an elementary school teacher in an urban Chicago school. Jodi’s façade is firmly in place – she seems in control and confident, yet she soon faces a crisis that reveals her true fragility and she finds out just how much she needs the Yada Yada sisters to help her navigate through it. Neta Jackson writes very authentically about women from varying backgrounds: Asian, African-American, Jewish, Hispanic, Filipino, etc., but chooses to tell all the stories through the voice of white, middle-class Jodi whom the author resembles and understands the most. Throughout this series, Jackson successfully shows how people are very similar despite differences in outer appearance – race or ethnic heritage, age, economic status, or occupation. I personally resonate with this theme because I want others to believe that there’s more than meets the eye when they meet me, and to take time to get to know me. I hope I pursue friendships in this same manner, offering genuine interest. In my opinion, the spiritual themes in this series are never heavy-handed or shallow and would be a good first foray into Christian fiction for someone who has yet to read this genre. Another four book series by Neta Jackson, also set in present day Chicago, focuses on the wide gap between wealthy and poor as an elderly bag lady and lonely socialite develop an unlikely friendship. This series deals sensitively with dysfunctional marriage and the cycle of urban poverty. The House of Hope books in publication order are Where Do I Go?, Who Do I Talk To?, Who Do I Lean On?, and Where is My Shelter? More about the author can be found on: http://www.daveneta.com P.S. Many years ago, Neta Jackson teamed up with her husband Dave to co-author forty award-winning historical fiction novels for children. Each of the books portrays a significant period in a hero or heroine’s life as seen through the eyes of a young protagonist. Many of these titles have gone out of print as paperbacks, but are available as e-books at www.trailblazerbooks.com

Categories: Chick lit, Christian Fiction, Inspiration | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Somewhere Safe with Somebody Good: Jan Karon Invites us to Return to Mitford

“Oh, the comfort, the inexpressible comfort of feeling safe with a person: having neither to weigh thoughts nor measure words, but to pour them out.  Just as they are – chaff and grain together, knowing that a faithful hand will take and sift them, keep what is worth keeping, and then with the breath of kindness, blow the rest away.” Geo. Eliot 1819-1880

Back in March 2014 I blogged again on author Jan Karon, recommending the Mitford companion book Patches of Godlight. Here I reprint those words of my post about the Mitford series that I now cheerfully “eat”:

“Jan Karon has finished writing about Mitford, so for those of us who have come to the end of the novels, this volume and the Mitford Bedside Companion help us manage our feelings of loss.” (https://pineneedlesandpapertrails.wordpress.com/2014/03/17/patches-of-godlight-companion-book-to-jan-karons-mitford-years-series/)

With great jubilation I now type the following: Ms. Karon wrote another novel in the Mitford series, published on September 2, entitled Somewhere Safe with Somebody Good. Promoted as the tenth Mitford novel, it comes in chronological order as the 13th about Father Tim Kavanaugh. (See publication list below.)

If I knew the author personally I would bring her a bouquet of two dozen roses of her favorite hue and kneel down to kiss her hand after laying the flowers across her arms. Since I am simply one of her millions of fans, I humbly offer this glowing book recommendation in lieu of flowers to show her my gratitude for returning to Mitford to give us another wonderful story.

Reprinted with permission Photo Credit: Candace Freeland

Reprinted with permission
Photo Credit: Candace Freeland

2005 was the year the penultimate Mitford novel was published (Light from Heaven), yet Ms. Karon masterfully and seamlessly brings Father Timothy Kavanaugh and his wife, Cynthia, back, in place and time, to the small town of Mitford, North Carolina in Somewhere Safe with Somebody Good immediately after their exhausting travels in Ireland (In the Company of Others, pub. 2011)

Andrea Larson, a goodreads.com reviewer and a Readers’ Advisor at a public library in suburban Chicago, summarized the main theme and plot lines of the newest novel:

“This may be one of my favorite book titles ever. After all, isn’t it what we all wish for? And if you’re a Father Tim fan, you’ll know that he has, in fact, gotten this wish. He’s finally back in Mitford, the idyllic North Carolina mountain town that is the scene of the first nine books in the series, with his lovely wife Cynthia and the eccentric cast of characters we’ve come to know so well. But although he’s back at home, Father Tim’s life is not the same. He’s no longer the rector of Lord’s Chapel, the local Episcopal church, and he must now figure out how he wants to spend his time in retirement. Without his calling, he’s a bit at sea, but as always, somehow events conspire to help him find his way.

Karon has an incredible gift for illuminating the sacred in the everyday, and she does it with her usual brilliance in this book. Ordinary life becomes something greater. Meaningful quotes appear on the windows of the town bookstore. A visit to the Children’s Hospital precipitates a turnaround in the delinquent behavior of one of Father Tim’s teenage charges. A wayward priest earns forgiveness from his flock. Karon’s trademark gentle humor is also ever-present – one recurring theme is the opening of a new spray-tan machine at Fancy Skinner’s beauty salon, which goes over like gangbusters, much to Father Tim’s dismay.”

Father Tim manages to profoundly influence the lives of friends and relatives in the community. However, this main character, albeit central, is not like some Superman, saving the day all by himself, with superhuman strength. The entire community of Mitford struggles to answer the question put so baldly by intrepid journalist Vanita Bentley of the local Mitford Muse newspaper: “Does Mitford Still Take Care of Its Own?” The 511-page novel wrestles with that question because people are in trouble and the town is neglected.

Echoes of this important query reverberate within me: Do I care about others? Is my community intact, thriving, and growing? Am I a contributor to this growth?

“Hope springs eternal” in Jan Karon’s novels, yet not because life is idyllic. Do you realize how intense are the themes the author weaves through the stories set in the “sweet small town” of Mitford? (Marital infidelity, alcoholism, clinical depression, schizophrenia, sex addiction, cancer, and child abuse.) And yet, we readers do not finish the book and close the cover despairing. Why not?

Because, like Victor Hugo, Jan Karon subtly yet steadily tells us, through each situation in Mitford, that God is at work, and  often through human intermediaries: “Have courage for the great sorrows of life and patience for the small ones; and when you have laboriously accomplished your daily task, go to sleep in peace. God is awake.” (Victor Hugo, author of Les Miserables)

People can, and will, rise to new heights of sacrifice to help others. Do you believe this? I do. I am strengthened by Ms. Karon’s books to do my part and to have faith that God is doing His with great effectiveness and love.

Here is my favorite blog comment from my original post on Mitford https://pineneedlesandpapertrails.wordpress.com/2013/04/14/have-you-been-home-lately-at-home-in-mitford-by-jan-karon/: “Jan Karon is one of my favorites. She can walk you into another life from the first word on the page. I loved each person that she introduced to me on our journeys together, and cringed at the mishaps and felt embarrassment when they did. Ms Karon has the magic. Father Tim has my devotion. I walk away from each visit with Father Tim with a sermon in my heart”. http://blessedx5ks.wordpress.com

PRIZE FOR BEST COMMENT: I will send a free copy of the 20th Anniversary edition of At Home in Mitford to whoever writes the best comment on this post.

The Mitford series novels in order of publication: At Home in Mitford (1994), A Light in the Window (1995), These High, Green Hills (1996), Out to Canaan (1997), A New Song (1999), A Common Life (2001), In This Mountain (2002), Shepherds Abiding (2003), Light From Heaven (2005), Somewhere Safe with Somebody Good (2014)

The Father Tim novels: Home to Holly Springs (2008), In the Company of Others (2011)

Author’s website: http://www.mitfordbooks.com

Categories: Chick lit, Humorous, Inspiration, Romantic Fiction | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 16 Comments

City of Tranquil Light – Summer Reading Favorite

city of tranquil light 4Summer reading is a very special type of experience because it often takes places out of doors, on a beach or a porch swing. Often we allow ourselves a larger allocation of time to read during this season, giving ourselves a little break from the hard work ethic of the school year and the full calendar of goals and achievements.

So that means we need some rich reading options and I have one to recommend: City of Tranquil Light by Bo Caldwell, first published in 2010. I blogged on this novel eighteen months ago, but if you missed it here is another chance.

A former Stegner Fellow in Creative Writing at Stanford University, Bo Caldwell demonstrates her ability to provide a fulfilling sensory experience as she recreates a slice of place and time in early twentieth-century China. The two thousand-year-old dynasty is crumbling and civil war rocks the county. Into this turmoil steps a set of unmarried mid-western Mennonite missionaries, Will and Katherine, who are each determined to give their skills and their hearts to the people of China.

They are the good kind of missionaries with the respect for their adopted country that is the foundation of true service: “Katherine, there are practices in this country that you will dislike, I assure you. But some of these we must accept as they are. We are here to offer the gift of faith, not to remake their way of life, even when the change seems necessary and right. It is a question of choosing your battles. Remember that we are guests, and uninvited ones at that.” (Will Kiehn)

Caldwell thoroughly researched the history of her grandparents’ lives as missionaries, as well as this historical period in China, and that background gives this fictional story a realism in its setting and a high level of tragedy in its plot line.

Poignantly, Caldwell describes the resultant suffering as the Communists defeat the Imperial government. Will and Katherine marry and then align wholeheartedly with their Chinese friends to endure this troubled period in an ancient and beautiful land. The opening chapters detail the couple’s initial meeting, but the majority of the book takes place as they walk out their married life together.

In my opinion, this novel satisfies the avid historical fiction reader, the romantic, those who love beautiful prose, and the reader searching for an inspirational story. In the novel, Will reflects on his long life “When I was twenty-one and on my way to China, I tried to envision my life there. I saw myself preaching to huge gatherings of people, baptizing eager new converts, working with my brothers in Christ to improve their lives. I did not foresee the hardships and dangers that lay ahead: the loss of one so precious, the slow and painful deprivation of drought and famine, the continual peril of violence, the devastation of war, the threat to my own dear wife. Again and again we were saved by the people we came to help and carried through by the Lord we had come to serve. I am amazed at His faithfulness; even now our lives there fill me with awe.” (p. 9)

Bo Caldwell

Bo Caldwell

 

 

 

 

Categories: Chick lit, Historical Fiction, Inspiration, Romantic Fiction | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Divergent by Veronica Roth– Pineneedles Goes Popular

Veronica Roth’s first published novel Divergent (publication 2011) hit the young adult fiction world with a great splash. Following it are two more novels in the trilogy: Insurgent and Allegiant. I have only read Divergent, so I beg my readers to refrain from imbedding “spoilers” about the plot line or fate of the characters in your comments.

Divergent is about a young woman named Beatrice Prior (“Tris”) who lives in a futuristic Chicago that is divided in to five factions called Dauntless, Abnegation, Erudite, Amity, and Candor. Each faction is dedicated to cultivating a particular virtue in its members: bravery (Dauntless), selflessness (Abnegation), intelligence (Erudite), compassion (Amity), and honesty (Candor). Tris grew up in Abnegation, where she has always felt stifled, but at the age of sixteen, she will have the opportunity to choose which faction she wants to belong to for the rest of her life –but if she leaves Abnegation, she’ll also have to leave her family, and there’s no going back.” Veronica Roth, www.veronicarothbooks.com

Divergent

The dystopian world created by Roth features a re-organized government in war-ravaged Chicago that works tirelessly to keep order, but allows for little free will and the protagonist, Tris, needs more and is more than boxed in conformity. As the tale unfolds, her divergence shakes the entire foundation of this skewed society.

Tris’s faction trainer and love interest, Tobias “(Four”), explains his epiphany about the flaw in the Faction system: “’I think we’ve made a mistake,’ he says softly. ‘We’ve all started to put down the virtues of the other factions in the process of bolstering our own. I don’t want to do that. I want to be brave, and selfless, and smart, and kind, and honest.’ He clears his throat. ‘I continually struggle with kindness.’” (Divergent, p. 405)

Numerous other themes run through this young adult series that I look forward to processing, including the questions: what is our core identity? how do we obtain the freedom to grow in it?

It looks like Roth got ahead of herself while studying for her creative writing degree at Northwestern University as her author bio reads: “while she was a student she often chose to work on the story that would become Divergent instead of doing her homework”. This quirky comment inspires me as an author to write creatively in the midst of other responsibilities.

Roth continues to pour forth stories set in her futuristic world, told from the perspective of Tobias: Free Four, The Transfer, The Initiate, The Son, and The Traitor.

Also available for Divergent fans is the movie of the same name released in March 2014 and starring Shailene Woodley, Theo James, Ashley Judd, Ansel Elgort and a stunning cast of excellent actors and actresses. I was one of the “see the movie first” fans, and then played catch up by reading the novel.

divergent moviehttp://www.imdb.com/title/tt1840309/?ref_=ttfc_fc_tt

As an endnote, I would like to promote the value of cultural literacy, different from literacy in general, that allows us to interact knowledgeably with others in the broader world around us. Although I have parameters regarding what I expose myself to in popular movies, media and books, many offerings from these sources excel in describing what is happening in the minds and hearts of our fellow world citizens and give me the means of connecting with people of different ages and beliefs.

Please note: unlike other books I have recommended, this novel has an element of sensuality as the “chemistry” between the main characters is described in several scenes.

 

Categories: Chick lit, Fantasy, Girl Fiction, young adult fiction | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 12 Comments

Patches of Godlight: Companion Book to Jan Karon’s Mitford Years Series

Fictional Mitford

I love words. I like to write them; I like to say them, but I am much more enamored of the brilliant words of others and am therefore happy to recommend a book by bestselling author Jan Karon that is chock-full of lovely words: Patches of Godlight Father Tim’s Favorite Quotes was published in 2001 by Penguin Putnam as a companion book to the bestselling Mitford Years series which I wrote about in my post entitled: “Have You Been Home Lately: At Home in Mitford by Jan Karon”.https://pineneedlesandpapertrails.wordpress.com/2013/04/14/have-you-been-home-lately-at-home-in-mitford-by-jan-karon/

Karon wrote her series to “give readers an extended family, and to applaud the extraordinary beauty of ordinary lives.” Father Timothy Anthony Kavanagh, the central character in Jan Karon’s nine novels is an Episcopal priest in his sixties whose love for every soul extends far beyond the boundaries of his small North Carolina parish. Delightfully, Father Tim is intelligent and well read; within each novel his speech flows with literary quotations and references.  Now these quotations are available in one volume that whimsically creates a facsimile of Father’s Tim’s notebook written in his own hand, with typewritten notes taped askew every so often.

Patches of Godlight offers a rich word feast from a variety of thinkers, philosophers, and poets:

“Oh, the comfort, the inexpressible comfort of feeling safe with a person: having neither to weigh thoughts nor measure words, but to pour them out.  Just as they are – chaff and grain together, knowing that a faithful hand will take and sift them, keep what is worth keeping, and then with the breath of kindness, blow the rest away.” Geo. Eliot 1819-1880

“We – or at least I – shall not be able to adore God on the highest occasions if we have learned no habit of doing so on the lowest.  At best, our faith and reason will tell us that He is adorable, but we shall not have found Him so, not have “tasted and seen.” Any patch of sunlight in a wood will show you something about the sun which you could never get from reading books on astronomy.  These pure and spontaneous pleasures are “patches of godlight” in the woods of experience.”  C.S. Lewis from Letters to Malcolm: Chiefly on Prayer.

Jan Karon has finished writing about Mitford, so for those of us who have come to the end of the novels, this volume and the Mitford Bedside Companion help us manage our feelings of loss.  Karon advises us to create our own Mitfords: “People say to me quite plaintively, ‘Oh, how I wish Mitford could be real.’ Well, Mitford can be real. Mitford is real, but we have to do our part. Mitford doesn’t just come to us like some cute little idyllic, cozy Kincaid greeting card. We have to pitch in. We have to keep our eyes and ears and hearts open to others. We have to be willing to put ourselves out there. It doesn’t all come to us. We have to go out to it. If we go out to greet it, we will find it. Do something for somebody else. Give somebody a hug, and do it with a full heart. Listen to the humor. Watch and observe the humor in other people’s lives and in your own. Don’t take yourself so seriously. Just get out there and wade in up to your neck into that sea of humanity, which is so needy. Smile at somebody for goodness sake!” excerpted from an interview with cbn.com http://www.cbn.com/entertainment/Books/elliott_JanKaron.aspx

I love this volume of beautiful words, but I feel the need to create my own treasury of quotations so that I will not lose those that touch my mind and soul.  How do you preserve your treasured words?

The Mitford series novels in order of publication: At Home in Mitford (1994), A Light in the Window (1995), These High, Green Hills (1996), Out to Canaan (1997), A New Song (1999), A Common Life (2001), In This Mountain (2002), Shepherds Abiding (2003), Light From Heaven (2005).  The Father Tim novels: Home to Holly Springs (2008), In the Company of Others (2011)

Categories: Chick lit, Humorous, Inspiration, Read Aloud | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 12 Comments

Crossing Cultures: The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency

“The quality of the idea, the skill of the plot, the depth of the characterization, the distinctive style of the author – that’s the best I can do by way of defining a good book.  When you find one, you recognize it.” Gladys Hunt, Honey for A Child’s Heart

One of the primary reasons I read fiction and go to the movies is so that I can travel.  Vicariously of course.  I used to actually go to foreign places: Brasil, Honduras, Israel, to name a few.  Now I am bound to American soil with many responsibilities so I “go places” through books and film.  Recently, one of my favorite literary trips has been to Botswana, Africa.

The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency is a series set in this southern African country and first published in 2007.  The first book in the series, entitled The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency starts a wonderful journey into the fascinating world of memorable and humorous characters.

The series is fairly slow-paced, avoids gruesome descriptions of murders, and does not thrill with conspiracies and thwarting “take-over-the-world” type villains.  However, it is appealing because it takes the reader deep into the world of cultural Botswana.

Bestselling author Alexander McCall Smith, born in Zimbabwe and a law professor in Scotland,  worked for a time in the setting where he helped set up a law school at the University of Botswana.

Though not necessarily a series only for women, the main character, Precious Ramotswe, is a middle-aged woman who opens a detective agency because “a woman sees more than a man sees”.  In her own words, Mma Ramotswe claims: “It is my duty to help…. my brothers and sisters…solve the mysteries in their lives.  That is what I am called to do.” (The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency, p. 4)

One of the cultural treasures I received from these stories is how Mma Ramotswe and her rich cast of supporting characters show the universal need for kindness and courtesy in human relationships.  My teenage daughters and I greet each other in the morning now with the customary Batswanan words: “Have you slept well, Mma?” a greeting that is used whatever time of day a stranger, acquaintance or friend is encountered.

To my delight book #13 was published in April 2012, The Limpopo Academy of Private Detection. It was just as wonderful as the previous twelve. Now I am on the library waiting list for the most recent titles in the series The Minor Adjustment Beauty Salon (2013) and The Handsome Man’s De Luxe Cafe (2014).

A film adaptation, directed by Anthony Minghella, and produced by the Weinstein Company, premiered on HBO in March 2009.  I am frustrated that nothing more has been produced, since this first effort was excellent!

Jill Scott as Mma Ramotse

A quick disclaimer: It is undeniable that we have different tastes in fiction.  That means some of my readers will not like what I like.  The books recommended today address some weightier social ills and unlovely personal life choices, but all within a context of characters who, I believe, leave us with a true residue of goodness and inspiration.

For more information about Alexander McCall Smith

Categories: British novels, Chick lit, Humorous, Inspiration, Mystery, Romantic Fiction | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

True Romance: “Tales of London”

I avoid romance novels, for the most part, because they disappoint me.  They are too shallow, too sexy, or too predictable, but that magnetic pull toward romantic stories still exerts its influence on me no matter how disgruntled I become, and now I can say I have found an author who writes this type of fiction well.

Lawana Blackwell sets her “Tales of London” novels in late 19th century England, and follows multiple characters over an extended period of time: The Maiden of Mayfair (2001), Catherine’s Heart (2002), and Leading Lady (2004) published by Bethany House.

I read the novels in order and accepted each chronological jump forward, becoming emotionally engaged with the new characters in each subsequent book while enjoying the cameo appearances of earlier protagonists.  What helped me track with the changes in time and character was the fact that Mrs. Blackwell maintains continuity with the same London setting and extended family.

Also, I found the stories satisfying in their complexity and length (each novel weighs in at over four hundred pages).  Plots go far beyond the simplistic “boy meets girl, boy falls for girl, boy marries girl”.  (Oh, did I mention? There are no sex scenes – hurrah!) In contrast, characters live within their communities and pursue various life choices.  Issues of personal identity, vocation and calling, emotional wholeness, family bonds, and childrearing add richness to the romantic story lines.

In addition, Mrs. Blackwell expertly weaves cautionary tales into her novels that I didn’t find too heavy-handed. Stalking, obsessive love, and emotional neediness are themes that should be addressed when developing stories around relationships. I even found myself empathizing with certain missteps made by characters that paralleled my own relationship errors.

I found an example of this depth of insight into love relationships in Catherine’s Heart, the second in the series. The leading man breaks two very important factors in “true love”: !) he is physically attracted to his fiancee, but then finds himself drawn to another woman who crosses his path and doesn’t resist that temptation. 2) this “Mr. Wrong” doesn’t embrace the core life interests of his lady love, and doesn’t share a mutual life purpose or “mission” with her.

On the surface, we may enjoy reading about or watching the intense experience of first attraction and falling in love, but, in my opinion, what is more satisfying is seeing love unfold with a worthy man who truly loves a deserving woman.  He doesn’t even need to be “indecently gorgeous”, to borrow Daphne de Luce’s description from The Weed that Strings the Hangman’s Bag.  But we know he must be good, strong, protective, and kind which goes for the leading lady in romantic stories, too.)romance novels

Romantic comedies and “chick lit” will always be with us because the human heart longs for stories that show the fulfillment of our deepest desire that two people will find and value each other and experience a lasting love. Lawana Blackwell gives that to us in the context of historical fiction set in 1800s England, but still appealing to the modern woman.

An additional note about the author: Lawana Blackwell came late to fiction writing, after years of teaching and community service.  I find her story inspiring, probably because, I, too, am a middle-aged woman who has yet to achieve my writing dreams. Her author profile on http://www.cbd.com chronicles the start of her writing career: “Life begins at 40—or so they say. Such was the case for the literary life of Lawana Blackwell. Writing had been a dream, simmering like a big pot of stew on the back burner of her existence for years. As she faced the milestone of her 40th birthday, she began asking herself when “one day” would finally arrive. Suddenly it became clear to her that she had been procrastinating all that time out of fear of failure.”

http://mayrobinson.wordpress.com/2012/07/01/book-review-of-the-maiden-of-mayfair-by-lawana-blackwell-8/#respond

Categories: Chick lit, Girl Fiction, Historical Fiction, Inspiration, Romantic Fiction | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Create a free website or blog at WordPress.com.

%d bloggers like this: