The two books I'm reviewing in this one space could not be any more different, which is the way I like to stagger my book choices.
Just before finishing Karin Slaughter's brutal novel Pretty Girls, I headed to the library looking for something lighter and friendlier to have at the ready. I'd put off reading any of Alexander McCall Smith's novels featuring Mma Ramotswe, but this seemed the perfect time to begin at the beginning, with The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency.
I expected to be charmed, and I was. My friend SuziQ, author of the Whimpulsive blog, tells me I really need to hear these on audio, and if I were better at staying awake and/or intensely focused I would love to try one in that format. I actually listened to, and enjoyed, the original Serial podcast on NPR, but even so I found myself snapping out of reverie so often and having to back up that I was months longer getting to the end that anyone else I knew who was listening.
I thoroughly enjoyed meeting Precious and her friends and suitors and clients. McCall Smith interjects what are sometimes jarring reminders that human beings are prone to frailties, sadnesses, and darker impulses. Most of the mysteries Mma Ramotswe are hired to solve she handles with delicious wit and common sense. I found myself chortling more than once, and when she attempts to intimidate a person she's questioning by telling them that she just cut a cobra in two pieces, I nearly fell out laughing. (You need to find out for yourself why, of course.)
Was it a great book? No. Not by a long shot. There was a tendency for things to move along so quickly that at times it read more like a series of vignettes than a novel. But I will go back to Botswana to spend more time with Precious, because it was tonic. I can certainly foresee using them as "breathers" between novels that require a little more from me, or which leave me clamoring for places and people that don't get under my skin in a bad way.
Published in 2003
Minette Walters wrote a couple of novels some years back--The Sculptress and The Scold's Bridle--that were unnervingly good. I'm not sure whether it was a her thing or a me thing, but I quit getting a rush from her novels, just a skosh at a time, until I quit reading her entirely. She's been off the radar for a few years, but when I learned that she was releasing a new book hope began to well up that she'd honed those sharp edges again.
The novella, The Cellar, is the story of Muna, a young woman kept slave for years in the cellar of the home of the Songali family. She has spent her years with them being cruelly abused by more than one member of the household. When one of the sons of the family goes missing it becomes necessary for the family to introduce Muna as their daughter, and to allow her access to the world beyond her dark confines. Suffice it to say, she has a number of issues that come up those stairs with her, and the moral of the story has something to do with reaping what one sows.
It was a fast, fast read, and at nearly every turn a predictable one.
Published in February 2016