Monthly Archives: October 2015

‘The Woman who Walked in Sunshine’ by Alexander McCall Smith

The Woman who Walked in SunshinestarstarstarHere is the latest (the 16th) instalment from the No. 1 Ladies Detective series. Of course when you have read the other 15, it’s not possible not to read the latest! It’s lovely to see what a good marriage Mma Ramotswe and Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni have, how Charlie is fairing as the latest employee (switching over from the garage) and see what the evil Violet Sephotho is up to next. There are some surprises when Mma Makutsi is left in charge while the No. 1 detective goes on a rather strange holiday.

But there are too many reflections from our friends in Botswana with less detective work going on and that is a problem. The earlier works had a good dose of both which helped to drive the plot forward while still maintaining the charm. I wouldn’t want to miss McCall Smith’s lovely commentary on life and the ethics of human behaviour but when that takes over, something is lost. I hate to say it because I am a huge McCall Smith fan, but perhaps it’s time to retire Mma Ramotswe (and leave the party while we’re still having fun) or have the editors demand a bit more from this author.

‘The Illegal’ by Lawrence Hill

The Illegalstarstarstarstar“The lives of undocumented refugees have haunted me for years. Will they be welcomed or deported? Persecuted in countries new or old? The countless question marks in their lives inspired me to write The Illegal.”–Lawrence Hill

This is a timely novel, appearing when the news is full of the migrant crisis. Boatloads of hopefuls arriving on distant shores, refugees fleeing certain death in their home country, economic migrants hoping for a better life, questions of ethnicity and identity, oppressive regimes, corrupt government officials, genocide….this novel has it all. The setting of the story is imaginary. Freedom State is the third richest nation in the world and just across the Ortiz Sea is Zantoroland, a poor country ravaged by colonization and populated by a desperately poor and persecuted people. Hill has produced a novel that is all about complex social commentary, but reads like a thriller. He did the same thing in his epic novel The Book of Negroes/Someone Knows My Name, one of the most successful Canadian novels of all time. The Illegal will no doubt meet with similar success.

There are so many interesting characters in this novel, including a disabled/black/gay journalist, a philanthropic brothel madam, and a very feisty grandmother! But running like a thread right through the book is the main character, an “illegal” marathoner named Keita Ali who just wants to escape the horrors of genocide and loss, trying to find a way to save his life and that of his sister. The only resources he has are his legs and his ability to run. And he uses these gifts not to promote his own career, but in a selfless desire to help others. Through Keita Ali, we get a first hand look at what it would be like to be stateless and paperless.

‘The Love Song of Miss Queenie Hennessy’ by Rachel Joyce

The Love Song of Miss Queenie HennessystarstarstarstarThis is a companion volume to The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, Rachel Joyce’s first book, which was long-listed for the Man Booker in 2012. Harold Fry is the amazing story of a man who suddenly decides to walk across the country to visit a dying colleague (Queenie) who he hasn’t seen in years. The premise may be twee but the books aren’t. Joyce has a gift for spinning an engaging story and conveying profound emotions in a real and simply unaffected way. Although Queenie is the focal point in Harold’s story and the reason for his pilgrimage, we actually learn very little about her. In The Love Song of Miss Queenie Hennessy some questions are answered and Queenie embarks on a journey of her own, while telling her story to atone for what she believes she has done. I loved both books and they would be excellent to read in tandem.

Queenie is terminally ill, residing in a hospice, when Harold decides to visit, asking her to hold on and wait until he gets there. I loved the description of the hospice, as loving and caring a place as many real hospices are.  I loved the line she was given when she was admitted there, “You are not here to die, you are here to live until you die.” Queenie meets a colourful cast of characters at the hospice that join her in cheering Harold on as he makes his way across the country. I don’t know how I feel about the twist in the ending. Will need to talk about that with someone who has read this, but I can’t say what it is without spoilers! I liked the little surprise in one way because all along I thought I knew what the ending would be from Fry! Though this parallel companion attempts to complete the story, perhaps Joyce leaves us with a more real view of humanity. Life is messy and imperfect, full of pain and regret, but there is also plenty of beauty, love, and joy.

Rachel Joyce is a talented storyteller. I also really enjoyed her book Perfect.

A McCall Smith Marathon

Sunshine on Scotland StreetBertie's Guide to Life and MothersThe Revolving Door of Life





starstarstarLately I’ve been a serial reader, which in literary terms is binging on a series…hmmm, my husband and I are also know for doing that with television series, watching as many as possible on a weekend evening…perhaps there is a pattern emerging. But it is just so relaxing and satisfying to keep finding out what happens next to these characters that we have come to know so very well. Book series are a great way to hook young children into reading as well! Actually 44 Scotland Street is in fact a real serial read, an episodic novel which has appeared weekly in The Scotsman for years. In fact it is the longest running newspaper serial in the world.

Alexander McCall Smith has a series of series :), which you can check out on his website. He is such a prolific writer I find it hard to keep up–he writes them quicker than I can read them! I’ve been catching up on McCall Smith’s 44 Scotland Street since Bertie Plays the Blues and reconnecting with all of those benignly problematic and amusing Edinburgh residents who I now feel I would recognize if I met them on the street. And McCall Smith’s novels are not just feel good stories with no substance…moral and ethical dilemmas abound!

For fans who already know the characters, here is a glimpse of the latest. Poor Bertie who has been six for a very long time (several years, in fact) finally turns seven. His over-protective annoying mother wins a ticket to Dubai but ends up being kidnapped by a Bedouin sheikh where she starts a book club in the harem. No one at home seems to miss her very much, in fact granny Nicola is much more fun to have around. Stuart continues to have trouble locating his car after he has parked it and Matthew discovers a secret room in his new house. Bruce is his usual narcissistic self but for once it gets put to good use. Angus Lordie and Domenica get married and Cyril, Angus’ dog, gets his master into trouble by lapping up a bowl of Guinness in the local pub.

‘The Royal We’ by Heather Cocks and Jessica Morgan

The Royal WestarstarstarWhew, after the heaviness of the last book, I was ready for something much lighter, and this fit the bill quite nicely!

“American Rebecca Porter was never one for fairy-tales. Her twin sister, Lacey, has always been the romantic who fantasized about glamour and royalty, fame and fortune. Yet it’s Bex who seeks adventure at Oxford and finds herself living down the hall from Prince Nicholas, Great Britain’s future king. And when Bex can’t resist falling for Nick, the person behind the prince, it propels her into a world she did not expect to inhabit, under a spotlight she is not prepared to face.”

It’s really a silly imaginary courtship story about Will and Kate, but it did tickle my fancy and actually does give a glimpse into the unique pressures of living the royal life. I loved descriptions of Oxford and Windsor, and the apt portrayals of naughty red haired brother Freddie, as well as an entertaining version of Queen Eleanor. I think the true story is probably quite a bit more boring and a lot less boozy than this one, but celebrity fashion bloggers Cocks and Morgan have taken royal watching to a new fictional level with imaginings that do no harm and in fact do possess some warmth and wit. William and Kate do seem to be a sensible strong couple in real life, dealing creatively with the tricky situation of their lives, and this book underscores that.