May 2010


This is the first book in Smith’s series about a lady detective in Botswana.

Mma Precious Ramotswe is a woman in her thirties. Her father is a former miner who managed to invest his money is cows and so make a small fortune. He dies and Mma gets the cattle. His dying wish is for Mma to sell the cattle and open up a small shop. Instead Mma realizes her dream and found the first Ladies’ Detective Agency in Botswana.

The book is made up of small vignettes instead of a conventional storyline. We get to know about some of Mma Ramotswe’s more eccentric cases and about her first case. A couple of chapters are devoted to her father’s life’s story after the observation that ordinary people’s lives don’t usually get recorded. Mma Ramotswe’s brief and unhappy marriage is also told. However, except for her marriage, her life has been a happy one.

The cases aren’t flamboyant but instead quite ordinary and Mma Ramotswe can usually solve them by using a little bit of knowledge about the local people and customs. In fact, I think that these small cases are more likely to be what most detectives face, instead of the usual detective stories.

I’m afraid that I’m going to have to call these stories charming, again. I’ve never been to Botswana or Africa, so the setting seemed exotic to me. It was nice to see another side of Africa because the side I’m used to seeing is of famine and war. Here, people live ordinary lives with customs that are somewhat different than the ones I’m used to. However, underneath we’re all people.

Mma Ramotswe, and many of the other women in the book, are sexist against men. They think that men are stupid and lazy and only looking for other women. On the other hand, some of the men don’t have high opinion of women, either.

Many of the books in this series have been translated into Finnish and my read was a translation. Some of the Amazon reviewers commented that the book had simple language. If so, it didn’t show in the translation.

It’s a fair book for the first in the series.

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Booking Through Thursday

Are your book choices influenced by friends and family? Do their recommendations carry weight for you? Or do you choose your books solely by what you want to read?

Most of my influences come from emailing lists and blogs of people who are interested in similar books. Sometimes I even check out books in the Amazon recommendations. I choose books that sound interesting and read some reviews about them before I choose to get them. I tend to read reviews from different sources and not just one or two places. When I read Amazon reviews, I tend to read both the one star and five star reviews because sometimes a well written one star review can tell more than a couple of glowing lines in a five star review. Also, people have different tastes.

Obviously, availability is also a factor for English language books. I don’t live in US, so when a book is out of print, the postage could cost far more than the book itself. Sometimes they can be available through BookMooch, though.

In his third book wizard Harry Dresden fights ghosts.

First things first, James Marsters narrates the audiobook. Swoon!

The book starts with Harry driving as fast as he can with it old car. A Knight of the Sword, Michael Carpenter, is in the car with him. Apparently, Michael is an old friend and they are driving into danger. On the way, Michael starts to question Harry about his lovelife with Susan. Harry is annoyed but admits that he loves her, he just can’t say it.

They stop at a hospital and charge in. They are determined to stop a ghost who is preying on infants. Unfortunately, Harry’s chivalry bites him in the butt again. The ghost Agatha had a hard life herself and Harry can’t help but to see her as a victim, too. Michael has to save the day and even then, Agatha escapes into the Nevernever. However, she can still reach kids and so our heroes will have to journey to the Nevernever after her.

In a flashback, a mysterious, beautiful (of course), and seductive young woman is looking for Harry’s help. She says hostile spirits are after her and she knows it because she has the gift of prophecy. Harry gives her his protective talisman and tell her to go to a church if there’s trouble.

Back in the Nevernever, Harry and Michael confront Agatha but come face to face with Harry’s godmother Leanansidhe. Harry made a deal with her earlier and Leanansidhe wants to collect it. She’s, of course (add eye rolling here), inhumanly beautiful and an archetype of the seductive villainess.

The duo manages to escape but are arrested. Later, Harry is invited to a masked ball in the honor of the local vampire queen, Bianca. Also, it seems that someone or something is stirring up ghosts which are popping up all over Chicago.

There are a lot of things going on in the book and it’s fast-paced. Once again, Harry is sometimes beaten down and rather quickly back on his feet and slinging spells. The ending is likely to have consequences in the next books.

Some new characters are introduced in the book. Unfortunately, they aren’t really original and their backstories aren’t told so they stay pretty two-dimensional.

I’d love to know more about Leanansihde. Where does she come from? Why is she interested in Harry specifically or does she have deals with many other humans?

Michael seems like an interesting character, but there’s no backstory to him. I sort of like that he’s one of the hard fighting good guys and still has a wife and family. He seems very uncomfortable with magic which doesn’t come from religion. I’d like to know how Harry managed to convince him to work with him. Also, unfortunately, his wife Charity seems to be of the “barefoot and pregnant” type without a life of her own. The fact that they both are deeply religious (and Catholics) just makes it worse.

Again, a quick read but nothing special.

Larissa at Larissa’s Bookish Life has a post and a giveaway about Kick-ass heroines:

There are so many heroines out there that fit in this category and its impossible not to love their attitude and their “shoot first, talk later” ways.

It’s so easy to let yourself live vicariously through these women and let yourself get lost in their adventure and their seemingly fearlessness. I say seemingly because the reason I actually am able to love and relate to them is the fact that they are flawed and scared, and despite that they still go out and kick-ass, which in my eyes is what makes them so brave.

Some of my favorites are:

Anita Blake, Allie Beckstorm, Cat Crawfield (Night Huntress Series), Kitty Norville, Kate Daniels, Jaz Parks, Sirantha Jax, Rachel Morgan, Sasha Trudeau (Crimson Moon Series), Xhex and many, many more!

What about you?

* What makes a Heroine, Kick-ass in your book?
* Who are some of your favorites?

For me a kick-ass character is someone who usually wins physical fights. She’s a martial artist, mistress of the blade, or the best gunslinger around. Usually, she also doesn’t take crap from anyone. Also, plot- and character wise she can’t be a victim, hostage, or a liability. In other words, she’s competent in her job. If the reader or audience is constantly told that a character is competent but has to be rescued all the time, she’s not kick-ass.

However, in order to be a heroine she has to be smart, defend the helpless and the innocent, and fight for a noble cause.

The first kick-ass heroines that come to my mind are from movies and TV:
Sarah Connor from Terminator 2, Xena, Buffy, Trinity and Niobe from the Matrix movies, Zoe from Firefly, and of course Ellen Ripley from Alien.

There are also a lot of kick-ass heroines in comics. Sadly, some writers write them as victims, though, so their kick-ass ability is more flexible:
She-Hulk, Binary/Warbird/Ms. Marvel, Rogue, Storm, Big Barda, Hawkwoman, Black Canary, Elektra…

Perhaps I read the wrong books but I just can’t find as many kick-ass heroines in books. Most of the time they just don’t seem to be very smart.

Steven Brust writes perhaps the most kick-ass women around: Sethra Lavode is the most powerful person in her world and she’s definitely kick-ass. Sadly, many of the other Dragaeran characters lack in the smarts or noble cause department and so they can’t really be heroes or heroines.

Kristine Smith’s Jani Killian is a former military and she has a lot of street smarts because she’s been on the run from her government for a long time.

My current favorites: Sarah Connor, Xena, Buffy, Sethra Lavode, Storm, Rogue, Jani Killian

This is the second book in the Crossroads epic fantasy series.

Spoilers!

The large cast of the previous book is back and there are also some new point-of-view characters, most for whom are women. Frankly, I approve of this because the previous book had only one woman POV. Still, the cast of characters is mightily huge.

The Quin soldiers are trying to make a home for themselves in the Hundred. With the money they earned in the previous book, they have bought land. They are also trying to get local woman as their wives. Their Captain Anji is still suspicious and is trying to raise an army of both Quin and local men to protect the city.

Meanwhile, the reeve Marit, who was killed at the start of the previous book, has come back to life. She’s disoriented but soon she realizes that she is, indeed, alive even though her eagle is dead. She meets another of her kind and tries to find out what is happening to her. It appears that she has become one of the mysterious Guardians, a protector of justice in the Hundred. However, some of the other Guardians seem to have been corrupted. She decides to investigate.

Another culture is added into the mix: tribes who live on the grasslands and are led by women. It’s also possible that we’ll get to know the Sirniakan Empire better in the coming books. So far, we’ve only seen glimpses of their culture.

Like the previous book, this is a huge tome. There are a lot of descriptions of places and people, and its strength is in the world-building. Sadly, the plot moves very slowly. Some of the reason is that the many POV characters have split up in almost as many places as there are POV characters. We finally get some answers about the Guardians but there are still a lot of unanswered questions.

I liked both independent Marit and a new character called Nallo. Nallo is interesting because she’s not attractive and she says what she wants, when she wants to. She’s stubborn and independent. They’re both very different from the delicate little Mai who has been pretty much the only female POV character so far.

There’s no modern romance in the book as such. An established couple from the previous book returns (yay!) and near the end of the book one of the POV males experiences love at first sight. However, he doesn’t speak to the woman in question and instead, well, leaves the country. So, I’d be really surprised if the woman turns out to have any feelings for him because they’ve never even spoken to each other. The Quin soldiers are trying to settle down in the Hundred and in order to blend in more, they are looking for local wives. There is some match making, so to speak, but they remind me more of business deals than romance. Many of the wifely candidates are women who have lost their families and villages in the war, and a marriage to an almost unknown man is the least bad option open for them. Some women are artisans or merchants who now have a chance to get a marriage where they can continue their trade. This is probably the way many marriages were arraigned during most of human history, so it fits with the feeling of the book. However, romance readers are likely to be disappointed.

There’s a lot of rape in the book. A lot. Only very few secondary women characters have not been gang raped by soldiers. On the other hand, only one of the POV women has been raped. Yet, the rapes have not been written to titillate but to show the brutality of war, treatment of slaves, and the evilness of the bad guys. It does get a bit too much at times, though. Also, the Quin are the only soldiers in the book who are not rapists and even they use whores and slaves.

I’m still intrigued enough to get the next book to see how the bad guys are going to be stopped.

Booking Through Thursday

So … you’re halfway through a book and you’re hating it. It’s boring. It’s trite. It’s badly written. But … you’ve invested all this time to reading the first half.

What do you do? Read the second half? Just to finish out the story? Find out what happens?

Or, cut your losses and dump the second half?

Before I start to read a book, I usually research it enough to avoid just this kind of situation. I’m likely to dump it; I’d glance at the ending and then choose another book.

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