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Books with lots of charm

Some books are just simply charming. With these books it matters not that they're not heavy on plot or full of angsty happenings or people doing horrible things to each other. And more and more... certainly over the last few weeks anyway... I seem to be reading quite a lot of this type of book. Books that you know won't upset you but will just make you feel good the minute you open them and start reading. Authors that spring to mind who write, or wrote, this kind of book: Angela Thirkell, D.E. Stevenson, Alexander McCall Smith, Alan Bradley, Carola Dunn. But there are 'loads' more and everyone has their own favourite 'charming' or 'comfort' authors I'm sure.

Anyway here are three of my recent 'charming reads' First up, Tea Time for the Traditionally Built by Alexander McCall Smith. This my book 11 for Peggy's Read Scotland 2014 challenge as Alexander McCall Smith is of course, a Scot.

Tea Time



Mma Ramotswe is approached by the owner of a local football club to find out why the team hasn't won a match in ages. Mma Ramotswe is reluctant to take the case as neither her nor her assistant, Mma Makutsi, have any knowledge of the sport and nor do they wish to acquire any. The owner suspects match fixing and feels they are the ones to investigate. Mma Matkutsi has problems of her own. Her fiance owns a large furniture shop and has just taken on a new assistant in the bed department. It's Violet Sephotho, an attractive woman who knew Mma Makutsi at secretarial college and who has had a couple of run-ins with her in recent times. Mma Makutsi feels Violet is up to something, but what? At the same time Mma Ramotswe's very ancient but precious van is on its last legs. Her husband, who's a car mechanic, will be bound to give it the death sentence but she is determined to hang on to her 'old friend' at all costs. How will all of these problems be solved to everyone's satisfaction?

I haven't read a No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency book for a couple of years now. I even wondered if I would read any more to be honest. Some series just run their course with me and I lose interest in reading more. But I suddenly had an urge in the library to pick a couple up, did so, and was immediately back in the world of Mma Ramotswe in Gabarone, Botswana, when I began reading. They are my personal comfort, 'charming' reads there's no doubt about it. I love Mma Ramotswe's extended thinking on all kinds of subjects... her country, cattle, being a private detective, Mma Makutsi and her 97% at secretarial college, being tradionally built, 'men'... lots of private cogitations about men. The crime being solved takes second place to her life and her thoughts. I know some people are really not keen on these books but I absolutely love them to bits. I'm very happy that, because I haven't read any in a while, I now have four or five still left to read.

Next, Wild Strawberries by Angela Thirkell.

Strawberries


Pretty, young Mary Preston goes to spend the summer (early 1930s) with relations in the country. Lady Emily and her husband, Henry Leslie, are head of the household. Staying there as well are their daughter, Agnes, and her three young children, and occasionally visiting are their widower son, John, youngest son, David, and orphaned grandson, Martin. Martin's father was killed in WW1, his mother has moved to America with her second husband. Mary promptly falls for David, which is unfortunate as, due to an independent inheritance, he has no need to work and tends to be selfish and a bit caddish, although rather likeable with it. Mary quickly grows to love her adopted family. Lady Emily is scatter-brained and interfering, Agnes, vague but beautiful and adores her children, and John, dependable and kind. Into the mix comes a French family who have taken the vicarage for the month of August; suddenly everything becomes very much more romantic and interesting, especially with Martin's seventeenth birthday celebrations rapidly approaching.

This was simply delightful. It's very much a book about relationships and how each person occupies a niche within his or her family. The family here is very strong. It's had to be as the loss of the eldest son in the war hit them hard and continues to do so years later as Martin grows to look more and more like his father. Despite that, this is not a sad book. It's full of humour and very astute observations. Lady Emily is particularly well drawn. She would drive me mad but the family accept her as she is and are always kind. Tolerance pervades the book to be honest. People accept others as they are without judgement or nastiness. It's very refreshing and, yes, 'comforting'. I'm so pleased I have three more of these Barsetshire books to read and that there are loads more after that to collect.

Lastly, Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell. Thanks to byslantedlight for being kind enough to lend me this one to read.

Fangirl


Cather and Wren are 18 year old twins who have just started college in Lincoln, Nebraska. They come from Omaha where they live with their father, their mother having walked out on the family when the girls were 8. At college, Cath had assumed she would share a room with Wren, but Wren told her no, she wanted to branch out, meet new people. If she shared with Cath they would just be twins that no one would bother to approach. Cath is very hurt... and scared. Her new room-mate, Reagan, is older than her, decidedly not friendly, and has a boyfriend, Levi, who is always around. He's very nice to Cath but he's taken... isn't he? She doesn't know anyone, has no idea how things work around the campus and her sister doesn't want her. All Cath has to fall back on is her fan-fiction. For Cath is a writer in a fandom called Simon Snow... a sort of Harry Potter fantasy series of books that have been made into films... a very popular fanfiction author in fact. She starts writing non-fanfiction with Nick, a boy she meets in her fiction writing class, and Reagan eventually and reluctantly starts to take Cath under her wing. But things get more and more difficult with assignment problems, friendship problems, family problems... 'every' sort of problem. Life at college is in fact a bit of a nightmare for the reserved and frightened Cather.

Once I started reading this I simply could not stop. Being someone who's rather close to the idea of fanfiction I could indentify with it completely. Not only that, I'm like Cath (weird that she's my namesake) in that I'm pretty sure I would find it as hard to settle and find my place at uni or college as she did. I had no problem understanding her predicament... a quiet, old fashioned girl suddenly in surroundings where everyone is a partygirl, super-confident, experienced with boys/men. She's none of these things and I really felt for her, especially when her sister basically abandons her to take up the persona of a social butterfly. She's saved by her writing. She knows that 'somewhere'... ie. on the internet... she 'belongs' and is darn good at what she does. This might sound like a sad book: it's not. It's uplifting and fun and hugely comforting to know that there are plenty of people like yourself out there... no matter how nerdy you are. As a coming of age story Fangirl is very satisfying. The author, Rainbow Rowell, clearly 'gets it' and I like that very much indeed. I liked this whole book very much indeed... one comment I read suggested the book was overlong at 460 pages. I disagree. Some books don't need to be that long but this one is just fine as it is. It's very readable, a pageturner, a perfect summer read. Set in Nebraska it told me a bit about how it is to live in that state so I've added it to my list of books read for my personal American states challenge.

Comments

Fangirl wasn't a loan - don't send it back! *g* Feel free to pass it on if you don't want to keep it yourself. I just had a feeling that you'd like it, and you've sent me so many books, to borrow, keep, pass on. How odd that someone felt it should be shorter - I absolutely can't imagine it any shorter than it is now, in fact I'd hate it to be!

So glad you liked Wild Strawberries too. Good point about how people in the Barsetshire books just do tend to accept each other for what they are. If someone does something really unforgivable then it's different, but people's personalities are accepted as just them, and that is comforting - as is knowing that so many other people get fandom, all around the world, even if you'd never realise it to see them walking down the street... *g*

I tried The Ladies Detective Agency years ago, and couldn't get into it at the time, though I know most people love the series. Maybe I should try again...
Are you sure about Fangirl? You may want to read it again... If you don't then I'll lend it to my eldest daughter who I think would really enjoy it too. Believe me when I say I'm so happy to pass books on to you. I like giving books a good home and just well, 'sharing', you know?

ETA: My charity shop box is almost full but it won't be going anywhere until you eventually manage a visit and can see if there's anything you want... and have room in your new room for etc.

I'm loving these AT books. So gentle and pleasing somehow. And I've got *three* more to read. And then I'll buy more! Woo!

Yes, I can remember you saying that you didn't care for the Ladies' Det. Agency books, and another close friend whose tastes often reflect mine, doesn't either. These little differences in taste are interesting (I like diversity) and I can well understand folk not liking them as they do meander a lot and really aren't universally loved. In fact I can name three of you straight off who are not keen so you're not alone! LOL!


Edited at 2014-08-07 10:32 pm (UTC)
I like the Ladies, and also the series that involves the little boy Bertie, but cannot for the life of me get into the Isabel Dalhousie books. Odd...

Happens with Janet Evanovich too. I love Stephanie Plum but her other books don't do it for me. Perhaps it's that particular first person voice. These days I get the audiobook versions from the library and just relax into the rowdy, bawdy narrative, checking off the expected scenes (Stephanie's apartment gets firebombed, Grandma Mazur does something outrageous at a funeral viewing, car gets totaled, doesn't sleep with Ranger, does sleep with Joe, etc. Kind of restful in small doses!)



Edited at 2014-08-08 06:13 am (UTC)
It's so odd the way AMcS affects people. I like Mma Ramotswe and Isabel Dalhousie (though I've not read any in a long while) but I tried one of the 44 Scotland Street books and couldn't get into it. My daughter is not at all keen on Mma Ramotswe but loves the 44 Scotland Street books. It's bizarre.

My husband likes Stephanie Plum and tells me about Grandma etc. I must try them at some stage. I've only read one by JE and that was Wicked Appetite which I thought was 'ok' but not amazing.

One author that all my family 'love' but I just can't get into is Kelley Armstrong. Read the first book, 'really' well written, but I didn't give a fig for anyone in it. My family don't understand me. LOL! I'm the same with Jaqueline Winspear's Maisie Dobbs. No accounting for individual tastes it seems.
I have another copy of Fangirl... two if you count the Kobo version. *g* And I had a feeling your daughter might be interested, from what you'd said in the past - she should so read it! *g* And yes, sharing books and passing them to good homes is a lovely thing, isn't it! I'll have to remember to keep a box in the back of my car for you to rummage through too... *g*

I thought I was pretty much alone in not getting the LDA books, so it's quite... a relief! to hear that I'm not... *g*
I have another copy of Fangirl...

Oh well, that's ok then. And thank you!