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.
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.
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.
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.