Thursday, June 02, 2016

Summer Reading 2016

The Handsome Man's De Luxe Cafe - Alexander McCall Smith

   The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency often helps people find things they have lost.  But they have never had to help a client find herself - until now, in this latest installment ofAlexander McCall Smith's best-selling and beloved series.
   A kindhearted brother and sister have taken in a woman known only as "Mrs." - a woman with no memory of her name or of how she came to Botswana.  And so it's up to Precious Ramotswe and her new co-director, Grace Makutsi, to discover the woman's identity.
   Meanwhile, motherhood proves to be no obstacle to Mma Makutsi's professional success.  As she settles into her role as partner at the agency, she also launches a new enterprise of her own: the Handsome Man's De Luxe Cafe, a restaurant for Gaborone's most fashionable diners.  But even Miss 97 Per Cent isn't fully prepared for the temperamental chefs, drunken waiters, and other challenges that come with running one's own business.  Help may come from an unexpected source, if only Mma Makutsi can swallow her pride and ask.
   And next door to the No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency, Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni is all too familiar with the difficult decisions of business owners.  He is finally forced to make a tough choice, one that will bring major changes to both Tlokweng Road Speedy Motors and the No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency - at that will require all of Mma Ramotswe's finesse and patience to sort out.
   With sympathy and indefatigable good humor, Mma Ramotswe and her friends see one another through these major changes and discover along the way what true friendship really means.

**** I think I have read all of McCall Smith's books.  Each one is like a chat with an old friend.  Familiar characters and slightly-mysterious mysteries make for quick reads that are always entertaining.

The Year of the Runaways - Sunjeen Sahota
   Three young men, and one unforgettable woman, come together in a journey from India to England, where they hope to begin something new - to support their families; to build their futures; to show their worth; to escape the past.  They have almost no idea what awaits them.
   In a dilapidated shared house in Sheffield, Tarlochan, a former rickshaw driver, will say nothing about his life in Bihar.  Avtar and Randeep are middle-class boys whose families are slowly sinking into financial ruin, bound together by Avtar's secret.  Randeep, in turn, has a visa wife across town, whose cupboards are full of her husband's clothes in case the immigration agents surprise her with a visit.
   She is Narinder, and her story is the most surprising of them all.
    The Year of the Runaways unfolds over the course of one shattering year in which the destinities of these four characters become irreversibly entwined, a year in which they are forced to rely on one another in ways they never could have foreseen, and in which their hopes of breaking free of the past are decimated by the punishing realities of immigrant life.

**** I am not very familiar with Indian culture, so I am sure that many of the cultural references in this book went over my head.  I don't know any Indian slang or vocab, so there are quite a few words and phrases that I did not understand.  Given the context, I suspect many of them are swear words - but I wouldn't know.  (There is some crude language I could understand, however.) It is hard to understand how the Indian caste system can continue in present times, but I think you can find unofficial caste systems everywhere.  Reading this novel certainly gave me a better appreciation for what people are willing to do for a chance at a better life.  Whether people are going from India to England or Mexico to the United States, I think the stories are similar.

The Things We Keep - Sally Hepworth

   Anna Forster is only thirty-eight years old, but her mind is slowly slipping away from her.  Armed only with her keen with and sharp-eyed determination, she knows that her family is doing what they believe to be best when they take her to Rosalind House, an assisted-living facility.  But Anna has a secret: She does not plan on staying.  She also knows that there's just one other resident who is her age: Luke.  What she does not expect is the love that blossoms between her and Luke even as she resists her new life.  As her disease steals more and more of her memory, Anna fights to hold on to what she knows, including her relationship with Luke.
   Eve Bennett, suddenly thrust into the role of single mother to her bright and vivacious seven-year-old daughter, finds herself putting her culinary training to use at Rosalind House. When she meets Anna and Luke, she is moved by the bond the pair has forged.  But when a tragic incident leads Anna's and Luke's families to separate them, Eve finds herself questioning what she is willing to risk to help them.  Eve has her own secrets and desperate circumstances that raise the stakes even higher.

**** An ok summer read, but not one I will buy to keep on my bookshelf.  We barely get to know anything about Anna before she is just seen as a dementia patient and we don't know anything about Luke outside of his disease.  Once the players are established, the book moves along predictably and the 'surprises' are not very surprising.  I thought Still Alice was a more interesting read on the topic of early-onset Alzheimer's.

Moon Over Manifest - Clare Vanderpool

   Abilene Tucker feels abandoned.  Her father has put her on a train, sending her off to live with an old friend for the summer while he works a railroad job.  Armed only with a few possessions and her list of universals, Abilene jumps off the train in Manifest, Kansas, aiming to learn about the boy her father once was.
   Having heard stories about Manifest, Abilene is disappointed to find that it's just a worn-out old town.  But her disappointment quickly turns to excitement when she discovers a hidden cigar box full of mementos, including some old letters that mention a spy known as the Rattler.  These mysterious letters send Abilene and her new friends, Lettie and Ruthanne, on an honest-to-goodness spy hunt, even thought they are warned to "Leave Well Enough Alone."
   Abilene throws all caution aside when she heads down the mysterious Path to Perdition to pay a debt to the reclusive Miss Sadie, a diviner who only tells stories from the past.  It seems that Manifest's history is full of colorful and shadowy characters- and long-held secrets.  And as those secrets are laid bare one by one, Abilene begins to weave her own story in to the fabric of the town.

**** Categorized as juvenile lit, this novel is a fast read.  Jumping back and forth between the stories of 1918 Manifest and 1936 Manifest got a little confusing at times, but maybe just because I was reading late at night.  The characters are well-developed and sympathetic and reading about life in Manifest made me wish my kids were growing up in a small town.

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