books I've read

Anne Hawn's books

Who Moved My Cheese?
If Democrats Had Any Brains, They'd Be Republicans
Scientific Secrets for Self-Control
Just One Damned Thing After Another
The Vanishing
Exercises in Knitting
The Good Dream
The Very Best of Edgar Allan Poe
The Chosen
BT-Kids' Knits
Talking God
The Professor
The Christmas Files
The Finisher
Home Decor for 18-Inch Dolls: Create 10 Room Settings with Furniture and 15 Outfits with Accessories
Dracula and Other Stories
A New Song
All Quiet on the Western Front
File Under: 13 Suspicious Incidents

Anne Hawn Smith's favorite books »

I'm reading 150 Books

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency

This is one of my favorite series. It has a comfortable, old-shoe feeling. I want to visit the characters just as I like to visit old friends.

The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency (No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency, #1) The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency by Alexander McCall Smith

My review

rating: 5 of 5 stars
I love this book! I think I have read it 3 times. Every time a new one comes out, I go back and read them all again. I think that's because these books are not about plot, they are about relationships. Precious Ramotswe is a wonderful character and I would truly love to meet her. The books are beautifully written and remind me of Alan Patton's, Cry the Beloved Country. Both have captured the timelessness of Africa.

Precious Ramotswe solves problems for her clients, but the work of the agency is more like a vehicle to express the daily life and philosophy of an extraordinary woman. Her kindness and simple wisdom are a refreshing change from the hard-driving, iconoclastic female detectives that are so popular. I absolutely fell in love with her...even more so when I found some of the bush tea that makes up such a big part of her day. (It is actually delicious and I have been haunting the Internet to find more.) Do yourself a favor and sit down with a cup of tea and meet a new friend.

Tears of the Giraffe (No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency, #2) Tears of the Giraffe by Alexander McCall Smith

rating: 5 of 5 stars
Again we meet Precious Ramotswe as her family begins to expand. Her friendship with Mr. J. L. B. Matekoni has become a trek towards marriage but before that can happen, her household is enlarged to 3 as she takes on the orphans Mr. Matekoni has been talked into rearing. Precious takes them in her stride and they prove to be charming and grateful adding a new dimension to the story.

Her secretary, who graduated with 97% at the Secretarial school has begun to take on detective duties and the contrast of personalities of all the characters becomes more marked. I feel like these are real people who have very little need to change or manipulate each other. In fact, this inclusiveness is one of the reasons these books feel so good. Mr. J. L. B. Matekoni has immature and almost worthless apprentices at his car repair shop and yet Smith doesn't just make them disappear. Mr. Matekoni struggles with his duties as a role model and teacher and you can feel his dispair at ever teaching them anything, but he continues to care about them and to try.

When I finish reading one of these books, I feel like I used to feel as a child playing with my dolls at the feet of my relatives when we all sat on the big back porch. As they chatted about the things that grown ups talk about, I felt a sense of security and peacefulness. At the end of this book, I felt like I had been visiting with a wise old friend. In fact, I even found some bush tea and now my friend and I sit together and drink tea every Saturday...I just realized that!

Morality for Beautiful Girls (No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency, #3) Morality for Beautiful Girls by Alexander McCall Smith

rating: 5 of 5 stars
Reading these books is more like visiting with friends. If you are looking for action and plot, this will not really appeal to you, especially if you have read some of the others. These books are more of a slice of life.

This was one of my favorites because of the depression that overcomes Mr. J. L. B. Matekoni. It comes over him so gradually and the people who love him are so concerned for him. I could almost feel myself becoming concerned for him also. Since I suffer from depression from time to time (not just the blues) I found the characterization very good. It's hard to portray how abnormal a person's thinking becomes and Smith does a great job. It's easy to stand on the outside and tell the depressed person to get out and visit friends, but the sick person feels that no one would like to be around him and that he is a burden to his friends; he thinks they would all sigh with relief if he got out of their lives.

And that brings up another thing I like about these books. The people are not perfect. They are a combination of the good and the bad and they all struggle to get along in the best way possible. They don't just walk away from each other either.

View all my reviews.

The Kalahari Typing School for Men (No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency, #4) The Kalahari Typing School for Men by Alexander McCall Smith

rating: 5 of 5 stars
In this book, Mma Makutsi, is becoming a better defined character. She is always looking for a way to use her training at secretarial school and her extraordinary 97% score. She decides that men need to know how to type in this computer age and thinks that they are reluctant to study with females in their class because they have come lately to a skill that has been associated with women in the past. She begins her school and is delighted to find that it is very successful.

There's a new detective agency in town and Mma Patience Ramotswe meets her new competition with poise and grace and triumphs because of her compassionate in insightful nature. Mr. J. L. B. Matekoni seems reluctant to set a date for the wedding after his depression and that is of some concern, but it all works out in the end.

This book, like the rest, is not about the crime solving. Most of the problems are typical, but not necessarily easily solved. They are mainly used as a vehicle to participate in the characters lives. Again and again loyal readers come back to check on our friends lives and enjoy visiting and drinking bush tea.

The Full Cupboard of Life (No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency, #5) The Full Cupboard of Life by Alexander McCall Smith

rating: 5 of 5 stars
This is the first of these books that I listened to on a CD and I highly recommend it. I've loved the series from the beginning, but hearing the book read with the right pronunciation and the gently flowing voice of the reader makes them even better.

Again, this book is not about the mystery or the plot. It is a slice of the life of Mma Precious Ramotswe and the people who surround her. The book is filled with bits of philosophy and down to earth wisdom. Each of the characters is more developed, but none as much as Mma Potokwane, director of the large orphanage. Botswana has the highest percentage of AIDS/HIV cases in Africa, or in the world. Vast numbers of children are left orphans and while this book does not devote a lot of time to the problem, it is an ever present reality. Mma Potokwane is a large overbearing woman of great heart and soul. She loves her orphans and has had to beg, borrow and steal to get their needs met. She takes advantage of Mr. J. L. B. Matekoni terribly, but with the best intentions. He has repaired just about anything that has an engine and a lot more besides. Still, she genuinely loves, Mr. Matekoni and is willing to mastermind the long awaited wedding with Mma Ramotswe.

In the Company of Cheerful Ladies (No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency, #6) In the Company of Cheerful Ladies by Alexander McCall Smith

rating: 5 of 5 stars
Since so many people are writing reviews about these wonderful books and discussing the plot, I think I will talk about Africa and especially the way Mma Ramotswe feels about her home and her people. Reading these books has given me the same feeling I got from the beginning of Out of Africa and Cry, the Beloved Country. There is such a deep love of the land in these characters and I find myself wanting to be there with them. I also find myself remembering how I felt in the days of my childhood. There seemed no better place to be. Life was filled with troubles, but there was always the land and free and easy friendships to help me along. I think that may be what we all are relating to, or at least it is to me.

I also am reminded of a time in our lives where we were not so mobile and people lived in areas where we weren't homogenized. We had to learn to not only get along with some of the more unique and prickly members of our community, but often come to value them. I feel like my life was made much richer by relating to a local alcoholic who got saved at least twice a year, or the man who named all his sons after himself and called them each by nicknames to keep them straight. (I'm not kidding. There were four and they all had the same names.) We visited with people of varying ages and classes and our lives were made richer in a way that watching television in the evening never could. Maybe that is why these books appeal. I'm tired of Hollywood's two dimensional characters and long for what Mma Precious Ramotswe has.

Blue Shoes and Happiness (No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency, #7) Blue Shoes and Happiness by Alexander McCall Smith

rating: 5 of 5 stars
There are so many great reviews of these books that it is hard to not be repetitive. This book was one of my favorites because of Mma Makutsi and her "blue shoes." Like so much else in Smith's books, the shoes are a vehicle for philosophy. There is a contrast between Mma Ramotswe's contented life and Mma Makutsi's need driven one. Mma Ramotswe sits under trees and looks at the land with such contentment and joy. She doesn't escape from her problems, but she does let the land put them into perspective. When I am reading these books, I am reminded to step back and thank God for all my blessings. I want to follow her example and live my life consciously instead of piling up task after task, goal after goal. Mma Makutsi, however, is always looking for new shoes that make her feel stylish and different from her usual self.

Here's a great example. I am a retired teacher and librarian. I homeschool my grandchildren, but it is now summer and I don't even have lesson plans to do. For the last four hours I have explored Goodreads and written reviews of the No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency books trying to understand what they have taught me and why I like them. Still there is a little gremlin in my head telling me to stop indulging myself and get up and do some real cleaning. Now, my house is just fine. There are things out of place, but there are no roaches, no visible dirt piles or much dust on furniture. Why would I feel that it was just play to stop and think about all the things I have learned from these books and to put them into words? Why would I feel that it is more valuable to sweep this almost clean floor, chase a bit of dust, and get rid of some clutter? I think that is what I like about Mma Ramotswe. She reminds me of what is important...and Mma Makutsi takes a giant step in realizing that in this book.

The Good Husband of Zebra Drive (No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency, #8) The Good Husband of Zebra Drive by Alexander McCall Smith

rating: 5 of 5 stars
This book was a little different from the previous ones and I think I felt a little threatened when Mma Mkutsi left the agency. I could almost hear myself saying, "Oh, no, this is my island of security! This is the wonderful, enduring, changeless land in Botswana that speaks to me through the old friends of this book. I don't want anyone to go away! Even Charlie is necessary. Don't change what's working!!!"

But then, even change is necessary to pique the interest and create tension. I have to tell you that I was very relieved when the problems were resolved and everyone got back in their places. I missed hearing more about Phuti Radiphuti and I expect that Smith will have to add another book to round out that character.

I have come to love Botswana as seen through the eyes of Mma Ramotswe. Here love of her country, the endless land, the wide big skies, the cattle and the simple needs of its people. I know things are changing and there are horrible problems with AIDS/HIV, but they are all played out on a background of the enduring land that Smith has managed to reproduce for us.

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