Posts Tagged With: Women’s Fiction

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

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

The Yada Yada Prayer Group

“I solve problems in my life by sharing in the lives of others.  I grow spiritually by encountering the wisdom of people who have thought through issues that still cause me to struggle.” Gladys Hunt, Honey for a Woman’s Heart

Sometimes I avoid Christian fiction because I am held back by my personal bias that their plots are superficial or formulaic; i.e. too much romance, problems solved too easily.  But I also crave hope and strength from the books I read.  I certainly don’t want a “gray” book, which offers only hopeless tragedy or no answers to life’s problems!

The Yada Yada Prayer Group by Neta Jackson (Integrity Publishers, 2003) may have a bright neon-colored cover but what lies between the pages is not a “light” read.  The main character, suburban elementary school teacher Jodi Baxter, encounters real-life issues and problems when she gets assigned to a “random” prayer group at an urban Christian Women’s Conference.  Her reluctance and naiveté are not enough to keep her from becoming sucked into the vortex of the lives of eleven other women who are culturally diverse, but in need of the genuine caring of one another.   In Jodi’s own words: “We were a drawer of mismatched socks if ever there was one –I wasn’t sure we even liked each other.  But we were Prayer Group Twenty-Six and we had the chance… to give God a sacrifice of praise and love a young woman who was fresh out of prison.”

What results is an amazing journey of true heart connections.  As the reader I related to many of the book’s characters; even those who were so different from me.  The author describes two women in the prayer group: Avis (the classy principal of the elementary school): “she had a kind of authority — not bossy, just firm, confident — that gathered up the loose ends and knotted them so they wouldn’t fray any further.” (p. 27) and Florida (5 years saved, 5 years sober) : “Our lives were about as different as two people’s could be, but I liked her.   Really like her.  I could only imagine everything she’d been through, but she was so upbeat.  So close to God.  Where did that come from?” (p. 84)

Jodi’s spiritual journey drew me right in.  Her connection with God and the prayer group women keep her from drowning when faced with a horrific personal crisis.  I truly learned from this story: to pray more in faith, to leave assumptions of others at the door, to persevere in friendship when others are in trouble.  I don’t know how autobiographical this story is, but the dedication page may indicate that author Neta Jackson learned some of these lessons herself:  “To my sisters in the women’s Bible studywho loved me anyway and stretched my faith.

If the story and the characters grab hold of you, six more Yada Yada Prayer Group books await.  My friend Heidi, a die-hard non-fiction reader, succumbed to the book series’ appeal and is currently reading book #4.  Learn more about the author: http://daveneta.com/index.htm.

I had the fun experience of hearing back from Neta Jackson by email, thanking me for my positive blog post about the Yada Yada Prayer Group series.  She has written another wonderful series – the first title  is Where Do I Go?

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

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