The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency

“It is sometimes easier to be happy if you don’t know everything.”

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Reading this book changed me, and changed my life forever.

It’s become a favourite in a way not many other books could; I love the main character, Precious Ramotswe. She seems so real to me that I’d have to remind myself (were I so inclined, which I’m generally not) that she is a fictional character. I love spending time with her, and sometimes I actually miss her like an old friend.

Alexander McCall Smith, the author of this hugely popular book and its follow-on series, is a genius. I have more respect for him than for almost any other living writer.

Being the first novel in a series (which I hope will never end in my lifetime), we are given a pleasantly meandering introductory tour of Precious’ life leading up to her starting her business. It hasn’t been an easy life, but what makes it beautiful and sweet is her, and her heart, and her perspective. And the author’s sense of humour!

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Cattle are the traditional source of prosperity in her beloved country, Botswana. And it is just this inheritance from her honoured and much-missed Daddy that allows Precious to establish herself as a business woman. That, and her ethics. She cares about people.

“There was so much suffering in Africa that it was tempting just to shrug your shoulders and walk away. But you can’t do that, she thought. You just can’t.”

She sees things in a way that is so clear to her, and makes so much sense, that to “help people with the problems of their lives” is a perfect career for this “traditionally built woman.” I couldn’t count the number of times I’ve laughed while reading about her and her many and varied exploits.

“The problem, of course, was that people did not seem to understand the difference between right and wrong. They needed to be reminded about this, because if you left it to them to work out for themselves, they would never bother. They would just find out what was best for them, and then they would call that the right thing. That’s how most people thought.”

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Gabarone, Botswana’s capital city

When the lawyer who was administering her late Daddy’s estate came to speak with her about her inheritance, she stated her intention to buy both a house and a business. He was less than enthusiastic when she announced her plan to “start from scratch” with a detective agency. He made the mistake of asking- out loud- could women even do that?

“Women are the ones who knows what’s going on,’ she said quietly . ‘They are the ones with eyes. Have you not heard of Agatha Christie?”

Our large-and-in-charge leading lady doesn’t wait for grass to grow under her feet. She gets right on with it and is soon open for business. And sure enough, clients come walking through her door with mysteries to solve.

Some are intriguing in terms of human interest (like the case of the teenage girl with a suspected, but unapproved boyfriend, and the philandering husband who she outsmarts at the Go-Go Handsome Man’s Bar…)

Others are a little more complex (think: stolen car, and con man.) One is truly terrifying; a young boy has gone missing, and a witch doctor is the prime suspect. Mma. Ramotswe (Precious) has the courage, instinct, and wits to handle them all.

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She’s clever, and somehow her reflections on life are always refreshing even though they seem so sensible and true that they should be obvious. In spite of her important and challenging work, Precious never lets her work stresses ruin her healthy appetite.

Oh, no. She loves to eat beef, and cake, and pumpkin.

“It was time to take the pumpkin out of the pot and eat it. In the final analysis, that was what solved these big problems of life. You could think and think and get nowhere, but you still had to eat your pumpkin. That brought you down to earth. That gave you a reason for going on. Pumpkin.”

Haha! I wonder how she cooks her pumpkin to make it so appetizing…? She never mentions pumpkin pie, but seems to enjoy it as a savoury vegetable, which is a bit of a mystery to me… anybody else like to eat pumpkin this way? I’d love to see a good recipe…!

Have you read any of Alexander McCall Smith’s delightful novels? 

Do you, too, know and love Precious Ramotswe?

What’s your favourite story from the books about her?

Thank you for reading with me!

Leah 🙂

p.s. I hope you enjoy this post; if you like it, please feel free to subscribe to my book blog!

 

 

The Summer Before The War

“War does have a way of interfering with one’s most closely held desires.”

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This yummy novel is part love story, part ode to the English summer of 1914, and partly a gentle feminist manifesto.

Beatrice Nash is a very clever, well read, highly educated woman; more so than is deemed quite proper, really. She’s coming into the little East Sussex town of Rye as a newly appointed Latin teacher, and several of the traditional people there find her a bit shocking. She would become a writer if she could, but has to earn her living, and is frankly fortunate that her own education allows her to do so by using her brain.

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Alas, she is also quite lovely to look at. Still recovering herself after the death of her old father, Beatrice is ready for a fresh start. Thanks to Agatha Kent (an old family connection who is also a well-established matron in Rye society) she has secured this new job. Agatha is a strong proponent of women’s rights and education for all children, including those labelled ‘gypsies’. She’s a super-likeable character, and if I were in the novel, I’d want to spend time with her in the hopes that she’d ‘rub off’ on me!

As so often happens, life has more in store for Beatrice than she had in mind for herself. Though she’s not looking for love, Agatha’s sensitive nephew Hugh Grange (a medical student on his summer break) finds his aunt’s bright and lovely young protege irresistible. Their friendship is growing to mean more to both of them by the end of that fateful summer than either of them expected it to…

“But if all else fails, I can always write her a sonnet.” “A sonnet?” said Hugh. “No woman can resist having her name rhymed with a flower in iambic pentameter,” said Daniel.”

Beatrice had found Hugh’s cousin Daniel pretty charming, but there was no future for the two of them as Daniel is homosexual. As are a pair of young local women Beatrice gets to know. Of course this is all kept quiet, as society was unforgiving toward such individuals….

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….And toward unmarried women who were no longer virgins. This is appallingly evident in the awful case of Celeste, the daughter of an old Belgian professor. They are taken in as refugees by England, as were countless other Belgians early in World War 1. (Naturally, they were a more palatable family to bring into one’s home than many others, who were made far less welcome due to their ‘peasant’ status.)

But poor Celeste is pregnant with the child of the German soldier who had raped her, and incredibly, she’s treated as ‘damaged goods’ by narrow-minded residents of Rye. It’s a relief to me to see how Beatrice Nash is able to make a difference at a time of terrible upheaval and long-overdue change!

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It’s a little tricky to know what to make of the local ‘man of letters’, Mr Tillingham. He seems like a nicely intellectual, slightly eccentric old character; but there’s something about him that feels like sand in my teeth.

Daniel is killed in the fighting, and their poor young Romany student returns home with P.T.S.D. Helen Simonson doesn’t spare her readers a view of the reality of war, which of course contrasts sickeningly with the insanely feverish, flag-waving excitement that drew so many off to battle. Beatrice and Hugh find in each other the love they so deserve after he returns from serving as an army doctor. It doesn’t feel especially romantic, but more like a piece of comfort. They and their lives, like those of millions of others, are forever changed by the war.

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This novel makes the same statement as did Testament of Youth. Violence and death is a senseless waste of life. I wrote a blog post about this intense autobiographical book shortly after I read it. Here’s a link to that: Vera Brittain.

It also reminds me of a more recent post, in which I blogged about another historical novel from the same period and not far away; Jacqueline Winspear’s  The Care and Management of Lies…

Which literary character do you wish you could actually get  inside the world of a novel and hang out with?

If you enjoyed reading this, I hope you’ll follow my blog and pass it on to someone else who might like it, too!

Thank you for reading with me,

Leah 🙂

 

Footsteps in the Dark

“It was growing late, and though one might stand on the brink of a deep chasm of disaster, one was still obliged to dress for dinner.”

~ Georgette Heyer

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Delicious. This really hit the spot.

Interwar England is one of my favourite settings to read in, and Georgette Heyer is one of my favourite reasons for this! Published in 1932, Footsteps in the Dark is the first of the many mystery novels written by this prolific author. I enjoyed it so much that I went straight on to her next mystery, and don’t plan to stop until I’ve read them all.

(Or until I run out of access on my library app for the month. That happened fast.)

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Georgette Heyer

I could compare it to Agatha Christie’s detective stories; only somehow a little lighter in tone, and a little more emphasis on the action as it happens than on the brilliant mind solving the crime. I like how Georgette Heyer always seems to write one character who is terribly clever in that very dry English way; it lightens the mood of the book and really takes the edge off the tension created by creepy mysteries unfolding among such prosaic and unsuspecting snobs.

The old-fashioned thriller woven through with social comedy is a perfect combination, like eating sour candy.

When the story begins, Celia Malcolm and her siblings (Peter and Margaret Fortescue) have just inherited a charming old country house.  Against the advice of Celia’s husband Charles, they decide to keep it as a summer residence. ‘The Priory’ has barely been maintained since the tenants were haunted away a few years ago by the resident ghost (a ‘monk’.) There’s no telephone or even any electricity installed, but they (with their elderly aunt, Mrs. Bosanquet) cheerfully drive up the long lane through the forebodingly dark woods to the house for a season of rustic, if genteel rest and relaxation…

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Charles and Peter’s idea of a good vacation involves a bit of fishing, so they take full advantage of the estate’s trout stream, and on their way home one day they happen to spy a couple of men who are acting and talking rather suspiciously. One of them is the mysterious stranger who helped Margaret out when she had car trouble the day before, and the other is the shifty character they’d recently spotted eavesdropping on their conversation with the innkeeper in the local pub. Hmm.

There aren’t many neighbours of sufficient social standing to get together with for dinners and card parties, but the Fortescues do enjoy some such visits with the local gentry; enter Colonel Ackerly (a retired military officer who plays a mean game of lawn tennis), and the eccentric Mr. Titmarsh (a devoted and enthusiastic collector of rare moths), as well as Dr. and Mrs. Roote (the tipsy village doctor and his long-suffering wife)…

There are a few other locals who show up in this old-school cast, but the last one I’ll mention is Monsieur Duval. He’s an appallingly rude, drug addicted artist who lives in a secluded cottage near The Priory. His egotism is matched only by everyone else’s utter distaste for his company (and his art.)

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If you’re in the mood for secret moving panels, winding passages, skeletons, and terrifying noises in the night, barely laced with a little touch of romance, this vintage thriller might be the book for you.

While this novel is not to be taken at all seriously, it’s brilliant as lightly thrilling escape literature! Of course, reading novels set long ago and far away is one thing, but I find that when I read ones that were actually written in other periods I have to overlook some very out-dated attitudes in order to enjoy the story for what it is. This is fine with me; I’m not a fan of revisionist history and the flavour is more authentic than anything a modern author could dream up.

Do you prefer to read stories set in modern times, or take in a little time travel on your way through a book?

Thank you for reading with me,

Leah 🙂

 

 

 

Pemberley Shades

“Are the shades of Pemberley to be thus polluted?”

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Ooh. Aah. This is a vintage sequel, the second Pride and Prejudice spin-off ever published… It came out in 1949!

(Incidentally, the first ever sequel to Pride and Prejudice, the most famous- of Jane Austen‘s novels, was published in 1915, entitled Old Friends and New Fancies.)

Back to our feature presentation: Pemberley Shades.

What a delightful book. The language feels quite authentic and the story is imagined really well, which is believable since its author was a clergyman’s daughter who grew up (with a governess) in Victorian England, and lived out her days as a single woman living with her family- as had Jane Austen herself.

~I’m excited to share with you an excellent blog post I discovered about the story of this story, especially it’s recent republication!

Pemberley Shades: The Legend of the Lost Sequel

On to the story itself…

Things are not always what they seem. Least of all, people.

This photo of the Derbyshire countryside (where our story takes place), seen through the mist, really captures our novel’s tone; trying to get a clear view through a screen of lies…

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Photo by Ali Gooya on Unsplash

So, we begin just a few years after the end of Pride and Prejudice… at Pemberley (the famous Darcy family estate) with Elizabeth and Darcy; happily married parents of young Richard (their cute, but somewhat spoiled son and heir.) Darcy’s musically talented younger sister, Georgiana, is still single and so living at home with the happy couple.

As their local rector has recently passed away, Darcy is on task to fulfil his responsibility of choosing and providing a new one to preach and minister to his tenants. He’s determined to avoid having the unbearable Mr. Collins foisted upon them all by Lady Catherine de Bourgh, who has a hate on for her former favourite.

In the meantime his friendly neighbour Robert Mortimer of Clopwell Priory has been kindly filling in at the pulpit. But alas, in spending so much time at Pemberley, he finds himself infatuated with Georgiana. Which is sad for him, as she does not return his sentiments.

In the nick of time, Darcy receives a recommendation for a clergyman who sounds like just the ticket. Enter Mr. Stephen Acworth. And this is where the plot thickens.

I don’t want to spoil the book for you, so I’ll now become a little vague (to match the thickening plot.)

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English manor house, site for the BBC’s filming of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice

We are treated to a  letter from Mr. Collins, and extended visits by several amusing characters from the original cast; including Lady Catherine De Bourgh and her poor daughter Anne (who seems to have had enough of her domineering mother), the hopelessly good-natured Jane with her beloved Bingley and their children, as well as Elizabeth’s somewhat reformed younger sister Kitty, their mildly eccentric father, and the all-around wonderful Aunt Gardiner.

“Sound principles are not always found in conjunction with a sweet temper, a superior understanding and elegant manners, but Mrs Gardiner possessed all these attributes and more besides.”

The ‘lightly gothic’ tension in the plot of Pemberley Shades reminds me of Northanger Abbey (Jane Austen’s slightly spoofy Gothic drama.)

So whet your lips for some thrillingly awkward, even frightening scenes deep in the shady woodlands, some shockingly improper behaviour by those who should know better, and some downright satisfying (if surprising) romantic entanglements!

I’m sure any fans of Jane Austen (and her entourage of follow-on novels) will enjoy this book as much as I did.

Which other Austen-esque ‘sequels’ or ‘alternate endings’ have you read, and which would you recommend?

Thank you for reading with me,

Leah 🙂

 

 

 

The Department Of Sensitive Crimes

“Sometimes we stumble over the truth. We think we find it, but it finds us.”

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Have you heard of ‘Scandi-noir“? (a.k.a. “Nordic-noir”)

I had, but only vaguely. In case you’re as innocent of this relatively new, darkly disturbing crime fiction as I was until recently, it’s meant to be a bit of a cultural expose uncovering creepy elements of society purportedly lurking beneath the calm surface of life in northern European countries.

You may recall a recent post I wrote about  Lagom (the Swedish concept of balance and harmony)… Well, in the words of Alan Bradley, here’s what we’re now encountering:

“With astounding heart and mind, Alexander McCall Smith launches a bold and original new series. With The Department of Sensitive Crimes, he invents a new and compassionate genre: Scandi Blanc…”

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Photo by John Flygare on Unsplash

Ulf Varg is a detective who lives and works in Malmo, Sweden. From an inconspicuous office, he leads a small team in solving crimes which are beyond the scope (or beneath the notice) of the regular police force, while stoically enduring the occasional joke about his names, which both translate as ‘wolf.’

In classic Alexander McCall Smith style, we are invited into the personal as well as the professional life of our protagonist…

We learn the sad history of his failed marriage and meet his therapist; “Dr. Svensson had once counselled him to think of the things you’re doing rather than the things you did. It was useful advice- he knew that- even if the therapist liked to claim he was not dispensing advice, but helping him to work out what was the best thing to do. That was the trouble with Dr. Svensson, thought Ulf: he often denied that he was there- an odd thing to do, especially when you charged so much for being present.”

We also get to know Ulf’s deaf labradoodle (Martin) and Mrs. Hogfors, the retired neighbour who cares for him while while Ulf’s at work… “Martin loved Mrs. Hogfors, and she adored him in return, allowing him to sleep on her sofa, feeding him a constant diet of fattening treats, and refusing to countenance any talk of faults on his part.”

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Photo by Sander Weeteling on Unsplash

Ulf’s co-workers are endearingly human and amusingly Swedish. But don’t expect to find nothing more than a lot of crime detection and platonic social interactions. Ulf is in love, and it’s heart-rending to delve a bit into the two sides of that ill-fated relationship…

I highly recommend this mentally and emotionally provocative novel to anyone who enjoys life. It’s not heavy, but with the light touch he’s famous for, this brilliant author hits another home run.

Have you read other books/ series by Alexander McCall Smith?

What do you think of this new series?

Thank you for reading with me!

Leah  🙂

 

 

 

 

Becoming Mrs. Lewis

 

“What on earth would become of me if I should ever grow brave?”

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What a heartbreakingly beautiful true story.

I was vaguely aware that C.S.Lewis had been married late in life to an American woman in ill health. That was about all I remembered from the film, Shadowlands. Then I happened upon this book in a library e-reader app last week, and could hardly put it down until I came to the inevitable end.

From the first page, it compels.

Who knew that the woman who would one day become Mrs. Lewis started out as a highly intelligent, atheist Jewish child in New York City?

That she lived and wrote as a communist, and graduated with a masters degree from Columbia University?

That she endured years of infidelity and abuse with an alcoholic  husband before fleeing with her two little boys to save her health and hope…?

Not I…

Early in this historical novel (which reads more like an autobiography) Joy had a totally unexpected experience when she fell to her knees in desperation and fear on the floor of her baby’s bedroom one night. She was surprised to find herself uttering a prayer, which was answered by an immediately overwhelming sense of comfort and peace. She could never look at her life the same way again.

“Much of what I’d done — mistakes, poems, manipulations, success and books and sex — had been done merely to get love. To get it. To answer my question: do you love me? . . . From that moment on, the love affair I would develop would be with my soul. [God] was already part of me; that much was clear. And now this would be where I would go for love — to the God in me. No more begging or pursuing or needing.” (‘Joy’) 

She was an award winning writer in her own right, and knew other writers; one of her friends had spent time in England with the well-known author, C.S. Lewis (known to his friends as Jack.) She wrote to him, searching to understand her spiritual experience and gain clarity as a Christian convert.

They did have some things in common, most importantly their incredible intellect, and their surprise at being forced by their own undeniable experiences to forsake their atheism for Christianity.

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~The Kilns, Lewis’s home

(photograph: awesomestories.com)

Joy met her match in Lewis, an Oxford professor 17 years her senior, who worked in a world of academics (of which she was undoubtedly one) and men (of which she was undoubtedly not one.) The college where he worked wasn’t even open to women students!

Little did he know then that this was ‘the beginning of the end’ of his life as a confirmed bachelor. He was originally from northern Ireland, and when Joy stepped into his life he lived contentedly in the English countryside with his older brother, Warnie (who was a dear, and loved her as a sister.) But alas, Jack’s friends didn’t approve of her, especially not for him. It really is amazing that they ever got together.

“It is not hopeless,” he said with surety. “It is uncertain, and this is the cross God always gives us in life, uncertainty. But it is not hopeless.” (‘Jack’) 

Love conquers all.

Patti Callahan ( author of Becoming Mrs. Lewis) has researched minutely and read extensively; so much so that she’s able to write convincingly in the first person about Joy’s courageous suffering through her ‘once upon a time’ and brave living which propelled her eventually into her own ‘happily ever after.’

Becoming Mrs. Lewis left me craving more about this brilliantly gifted writer who waded through chronic illness and faced down relentless prejudice to produce an impressive body of written work and captivate the heart and mind of one of the most famous writers and speakers of his time (and the author of The Chronicles of Narnia!)

It’s safe to say she was the love of his life, as he said this of her:

“She was my daughter and my mother, my pupil and my teacher, my subject and my sovereign; and always, holding all these in solution, my trusty comrade, friend, shipmate, fellow-soldier. My mistress; but at the same time all that any man friend (and I have good ones) has ever been to me. Perhaps more.”                                                 -Person Jr., James E (16 August 2009). “Books: ‘Out of My Bone: The Letters of Joy Davidman'”. The Washington Times. Retrieved 8 December 2011.

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Joy Davidman (findagrave.com)

I know Joy wasn’t alone in her experience of feeling at first that she had to do or be something, good enough somehow, to ‘earn’ the right to be loved by ‘proving worthy of it’…

I’ve experienced powerful change in my own life, by realizing that I, in my flaws, am and always have been perfectly loved by God.

How about you?

Also, can you recommend to me any other good books or movies about Joy and Jack?

Thank you for reading with me,

Leah 🙂

 

One Reason I Read.

Reading is a magical experience; the pages of good books pull us in like magnets, and only the stern necessity of sleep can persuade us that it’s time to re-emerge.

As beguiling as it is to wander, and to linger in the other realities created for us by clever authors, do you ever wonder what makes it so?

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World Travel!

~Travel~

Where do I dream of going…?

When would I love to see…?

There’s no place or time I can’t experience by slipping in between the covers of a good book.

I once saw a fancy bathtub ad in a magazine; a woman luxuriating in a glamorous soaker tub silhouetted against a huge window. The caption to this alluring image said,

“Therapy is expensive and vacations are scarce. Choose your tub wisely.”

Being the kind of person to have cold feet from about October until May each year, I am a proponent of relaxing in a hot bath before bed. But I almost never immerse myself in that happy place without a book. It would be akin to arriving at an airport without a passport; an exercise in futility. Naturally, my books become rather wrinkled from the steam but this hardly matters. They’re fulfilling their destiny.

I’m not alone in seeing books as passports for world travel, tickets into steam-filled booths for transporting myself to other places and times.

Consider Lucy Pevensey, C.S.Lewis’ fearless character from The Lion, The Witch, And The Wardrobe…. Millions of readers have turned the pages, stepping with her through the doors of the magic wardrobe into the fantasy land of Narnia.

How about J.R.R.Tolkien’s Hobbit? When we crack the cover of his epic tale, we are passing with this very relatable character through the round door of his cozy abode ‘in a hole in the ground’, and onward to the ends of Middle Earth.

And… that’s about the end of my fantasy repertoire.

On to real places and times…!

Honestly, I find it far more tempting to hop on a train with Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes, or to step through the sombre doors of a manor house swathed in mystery and mourning with Agatha Christie’s intrepid Miss Marple or Hercule Poirot.

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I can never resist the appeal of trekking across field and farm with Jane Austen’s Elizabeth Bennet or Fanny Price between country estate dwellings a couple centuries ago.

I don’t even try to avoid following Charles Dickens’ Little Dorrit into debtor’s prison, any more than I’d consider failing to accompany Lucie Manette across the English Channel to find her long-lost father in Revolutionary Paris between the leaves of A Tale of Two Cities.

I’ve even endured the hopelessness and terror of having stepped up the gangplank with Herman Melville’s Captain Ahab on a whaling ship after the notorious Moby Dick, borne the seemingly endless struggle to survive after drifting ashore with Daniel DeFoe’s Robinson Crusoe, and journeyed back and forth between the mansions of aristocratic Russians and the battlefields of Waterloo in Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace.

(In all honesty, I can’t recommend the last three very highly. I made myself read them because I wanted the education, even if it occurred in a bathtub rather than a lecture hall. But, to each her own.)

I held on tight, (too scared to do otherwise) while scaling the city walls of Paris with Cosette on the broad back of Jean Valjean in Victor Hugo’s incomparable Les Miserables. I even went willingly into the ancient sewers with him, so intent was I on being there to witness the impossibly heroic rescue of her beloved Marius…

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Do tell…! Which of these stories have you read, (and which ones did you actually enjoy? 😉

Also, which other books have provided you with such exhilarating travel opportunities?

Thank you for reading with me,

Leah 🙂

 

The Care And Management Of Lies

“No one ever told me that grief felt so like fear.” ~C.S. Lewis

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Perusing the library shelves, judging books by their covers; I suspect many of us indulge in this delicious pursuit. But this isn’t always the most reliable method for laying my hands on a book I’ll hardly be able to put down. Still, libraries are one of my favourite places to meander, and it’s always worth a try.

This is exactly how I first discovered this week’s author, Jacqueline Winspear. I was uncommonly lucky that day; I happened to pick up the first book in her well-researched historical mystery series (Maisie Dobbs)! Suffice it to say, I now pounce upon each new instalment with fervent energy and devour it so quickly I only wish it were longer.

This book, however, is her heartrending standalone novel. In this sense, I could almost compare it to Alexander McCall Smith’s  La’s Orchestra Saves The World (https://leahsletters.blog/2019/03/02/las-orchestra-saves-the-world/) except that it’s set during the first, rather than the second World War.

“What is certain, is that war will not leave us as it found us.”                                          ~Woman At Home, February 1915

Dorothea and Kezia are old schoolmates, who (not without some bitterness) become sisters-in-law. While one woman focuses on her career in the city and the fight for women’s rights, the other struggles to learn the trade of being a farmer’s wife.

It still takes my breath away to sense the sickening numbers of loved ones who left for the war and never came back. I can’t comprehend what it would be like to carry on, intimately faced with such widespread grief.

I was immediately drawn into the keenly felt nuances of long-standing women’s friendship, complicated by the upheaval of war. I wonder how many of us today can even relate with the brave and selfless urge to persistently write cheerful lies to the battlefront.

This story really made me think. A lot. And wonder.

Ethical questions are served here, and pushed around like overcooked vegetables on a child’s plate…

 

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Women’s issues are at the forefront of social awareness for a lot of us today. Just over 100 years ago, things were very different, or were they?

Of course the historical perspective is compelling and the farm setting enchanting, but the very different ways these two women face down their enemy- war- is what makes this a book not to be missed.

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What behind-the-scenes ‘battles’ have you read about?

And I’d love to hear what you think of the questions raised in this conundrum of a novel…

Thank you for reading with me!

Leah 🙂

The Colours of All the Cattle

“Life happens, she thought; whatever we do, life just happens.”
― Alexander McCall Smith, The Colours of all the Cattle

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And… he’s done it again! One of my favourite living authors, Alexander McCall Smith has conjured up yet another Precious Ramotswe story. I’m delighted every time a new novel in this series comes out, and I’ve never been even remotely close to disappointment after reading one. How does he do it? I wonder… How does a man in Scotland write so convincingly about a woman in Botswana!? Am I the only one who has to tell myself (time and again) that if I were to take a trip to Gabarone, I would be faced with the cruel reality that no such business exists as the No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency?

This morning I was reading in Carol Shields’ Startle and Illuminate, a book on writing. I came across this comment, which is absolutely true of this series:

“… radical regionalism often produces a universal response.”

I’ve always wanted to travel to Africa, ever since I first saw the sunrise in Disney’s Lion King as an idealistic 16 year-old. Still, I am not the only one for whom McCall Smith has put Botswana on the map. Apart from that, it’s delicious to feel so immersed in a far-off place; the culture is palpable in these lovely books.

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Gabarone, beloved (if fictional) home of beloved (if fictional) Mma Ramotswe

Now consider another piece of Carol Shields’ advice, this one on appropriation of voice; we must be sure to convey others’ experiences with authenticity and respect.

This, I am convinced, is the key to Alexander McCall Smith’s brilliantly successful star character, Precious Ramotswe.

Charming as these novels are, the reason I keep coming back for more is not just for the  light humour, the little mysteries, or the trip to exotic Africa; but because what’s written in them matters. It simply does. The kind of ethics that just make good sense, which are woven like a golden thread throughout, catching the light occasionally, but never detracting attention from the people and their stories. That’s the magnet for me.

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If Precious were a tree, she would be this one.

“But please be careful—and never, never think that you are justified in doing something wrong just because you are trying to do something right.”

Spoken with her unfailing kindness, and accompanied by generous action, who could resist such wise counsel?

Which books do you return to for renewed perspective?

Thank you for reading with me 🙂

 Leah 🙂

 

Dear Mrs. Bird

“Never give in, never, never, never–never, in nothing, great or small, large or petty–never give in except to convictions of honour and good sense.”    ~Winston Churchill

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This is the tale of the life-changing and heart-rending experiences of Emmy, a young woman with journalistic ambitions and seemingly endless energy, during the Blitz in WW2 London. It’s written in a light, good-humoured (almost diary-like) tone that invited me to smile along with her; but this voice was contrasted by the unimaginable horrors through which she somehow kept heart enough to Keep Calm and Carry On.

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I wanted to read this book as soon as I saw it featured in a library. (book-lust at first sight;) I’ll chalk that instant attraction up to the vintage-style cover, especially the old-fashioned typewriter keys. I liked it even more once I opened it up and started reading! I am always drawn to stories from this time and place, and the main character’s somewhat disarming flaws drew me right into hers. What she occasionally lacked in ‘honour and good sense’, Emmy made up for in compassion and her brave determination to act on it.

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For anyone who enjoys some witty ‘British-isms’ sprinkled liberally throughout a highly readable novel that takes you into the heart and mind of a likeable young woman, give this book a go; it won’t disappoint!

Also, do tell… what other historical fiction from this era do you recommend?

Thank you for reading with me,

Leah 🙂

p.s. I’m not the only blogger (on WordPress) writing about this one!

Check these posts out, too:

https://wordpress.com/read/blogs/44595095/posts/16643

https://wordpress.com/read/blogs/77612352/posts/1721

https://wordpress.com/read/blogs/84556689/posts/54921

https://wordpress.com/read/blogs/44873370/posts/10851

https://wordpress.com/read/blogs/30727745/posts/6902