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Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Book Twenty-Nine

The twenty-ninth book we read this year is The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency, by Alexander McCall Smith. This book was selected for our Literary Salon book club. We have also had several people who have asked for it in the shop. And Doppelganger seemed to have enjoyed it.

In our reading we employed a free sample of the new Dog-Ear© Pagemark, a product of Magenta Enterprises. This is a small square piece of colored plastic similar to the flap on a pocket protector. This slides over the corner of the page you want to mark. A small sliver is left sticking up over the top and out beyond the side of the book. The benefits over a bookmark are that they do not weaken the binding. The benefits over a dart is that it is bigger and therefore easier not to lose, as well as soft, so if one does lose it while reading in bed, one does not get poked in the middle of the night by a metal point.

We can't say what exactly we were expecting of this novel, but it was not a story about a fat woman in Botswana who decides to open a detective agency. Precious Ramotswe is characterized as a traditional African woman possessing all the best qualities, which includes her size. She is practical and good-natured and a person one would enjoy having for a friend. Though some have labeled the book a mystery, it is not one in the sense of uncovering clues and figuring out whodunit. This is really a book about a woman whom the blurb calls "delightfully cunning and enormously engaging" and who spends her days as a private investigator as a way to help others.

Mma Ramotswe has several cases which she solves quickly and sensibly. The thread that seems to run through the whole book is her attractive qualities. She has been married before, and swears she does not need a husband now, yet nearly every man she encounters finds her to be the perfect candidate for a wife. The book closes with her facing another proposal, from a man who has already been rejected and will not give up. We will not reveal the outcome, but it is true to Mma Ramotswe's nature.

The cases she accepts are all intersting and engaging, and for the most part they are tame compared with those faced by Kay Scarpetta or the Woman's Murder Club. The book is refreshing in this way. There are also descriptions and details which convey the sense of place and some of its history, but no travelogues or political dissertations. The one thing that bothered us about the writing (which should come as no surprise to those who have read several of our reviews) was the shifts in point-of-view. Though this is Mma Ramotswe's story, there often suddenly appear paragraphs that are from the viewpoint of another character. Without even a scene break, such shifts serve more to interrupt the spell of the story than to shine new light on a character or plot development.

We would probably not pick up any other books in The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency widely acclaimed and highly popular series. The characters of this book often serve bush tea, and this is just not our cup of tea. There really is nothing wrong with the book, though. If one is looking for some light reading, something free of sex and slaughter, this book should serve well. It makes the perfect familiar summer reading.

Monday, July 2, 2007

Book Twenty-Eight

The twenty-eighth book we read this year is The Lost Constitution, by William Martin. This part-historical, part-detective novel follows a rare book hunter on his search through the past and present to find an original draft of the Constitution. You can read our review of the book at Estella's Revenge.

Be sure to also check out our column, this month about book donations.

The July theme for Estella's Revenge is Young At Heart, and this issue is bulging with interesting writing. Don't miss it!