Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Tears of the Giraffe by Alexander McCall Smith

This is the second of the Ladies' No. 1 Detective Agency series. I happened into these books out of good intention and boredom. My Mom had sent me the first of these books after reading it herself and enjoying it. But it sat on my shelf for a little while until it got found again one day while looking for a new read.
The second I had to find for myself.
This book is a sheer delight. Really. They are timeless books that seem to take complicated matters and make them simple in a very fine writing style. The series follows Precious Remotswe. A lady in Botswana who decides to open her own detective agency. She is not highly trained, but is highly intellegent and knows people well. And it is from these traits that she earns her success.
I really just love how these books are written. Nothing fancy. Nothing over the top. Just very insightful.
Here's a quote from p. 6 of Tears of the Giraffe that stuck with me:
"She now knew why Mr J.L.B. Matekoni had never invited her to the house before. His office at Tlokweng Road Speedy Motors was bad enough, with all that grease and those calendars that the parts suppliers sent him. They were ridiculous calendars, in her view, with all those far-too-thin ladies sitting on tyres and leaning against cars. Those ladies were useless for everything. They would not be good for having children, and not one of them looked as if she had her school certificate, or even her standard six. They were useless, good-time girls, who only made men all hot and bothered, and that was no good to anybody, If only men knew what fools of them these bad girls made; but they did not know it and it was hopeless trying to point it out to them."
When I read that I wanted to share it with somebody and read it out loud. But there was no one around at the time and since I'm currently sick and cough I wouldn't do it justice anyway. As you can tell from that one little paragraph, this a book that is just as charming and insightful as its main character. But please do start with the first book first and then this one. I'm going to start tracking down the third.

19 Minutes by Jodi Picoult

I was very interested to read this book. Yes, once again Jodi Picoult features a topic that will end up in a courtroom at some point (I sense a pattern as I read here). This time the topic is very real, very sad and very scary. The topic is a school shooting. It is the story of the boy who is the shooter, his mother (a nurse), her once best friend (a judge), and her daughter (a student at the school).
I read a non-fiction book last year that covered this topic brilliantly. It was The Bully, The Bullied and The Bystander by Barbara Coloroso. She is a parenting expert who has a heart for these kids. The ones who are bullied to death, or bullied enough to commit murder. She raised the painful question, just how innocent are the rest of us when these atrocities occur?
I think Jodi Picoult's fictional offering is extremely honest, to a point that may be difficult for some as they raise their own sons and daughters. I know I certainly thought of my own small boys as I read this and wondered am I teaching them all they need to know to treat people well and to not get stepped on in the process?
And yes, she got me again, once I was into this book, I was into it constantly. I think I would have read while driving the car if I could have (don't worry, I will never do that). If you really want to have a look at why we have kids killing kids out there read this book.

Last Chance Saloon by Marian Keyes

I read a lot of Marian Keyes this summer. Having heard that she was the 'new Maeve Binchy' and the 'queen of chick lit' I had to try her out. Much as I have been enjoying her writing, I take execption to the two titles that led me to her in the first place. The first: Sure, she and Maeve Binchy are both female Irish writers, that's about where the similarity ends. Binchy's work often flows from and older Ireland into the new. A lot like having a cup of tea and a good chinwag with an old friend, a delightful way to spend the afternoon. Marian Keyes' work delves into a more modern Ireland, or Irish who are now living elsewhere, such as London or New York. Her subject matter is a lot darker too. She does not flinch at drug addiction, death, or marital infedelity which leads me to the second: her work is not fluffy chick lit at all. The covers and marketing of her books may look that way, but there is no rambling heroine who stumbles through life. Any of these at some point must face their own harsh realities.
Last Chance Saloon follows a small friend group. The main 3 grew up together in Ireland moved to London as young adults. Tara currently lives with her terrible boyfriend (and he really is terrible). Katherine spends much of her life being perfect, alone. Fintan has found true love and lives the dream life. But as life often does, something happens that will change all of them and leave them questioning their own happiness and way of living. The serious subject in this book is cancer and Keyes does a nice job of not sugar coating the reality of this disease. She gives a very honest portrayal of how the disease affects both the carrier and those who who love him.

Vanishing Acts by Jodi Picoult

Is life what you know it to be? Are there reasons in the past that affect your current behaviours? Who do you trust most? Why? What would it take for that trust to be taken away? Della lives in New Hampshire with her father and her young daughter. She works in special rescues with her bloodhound. She has a longtime best friend and is engaged to her daughter's father. Everything should be great for Della. Execpt that one day it isn't. One day the police come knocking on her door and everything is not what she thought it was. Once again, Jodi Picoult seemlessly writes this tale from a variety of perspectives. It has so many twists and turns tha you think you would get lost along the way, but you don't. Very well written.