Category Archives: Alexander McCall Smith

The Girl Who Married A Lion – Alexander McCall Smith

If you mention the name Alexander McCall Smith I have noticed that two things seem to happen. Either people utterly love him/really like him or, simply put, they really don’t. I am in the really like him camp… for some books! I really like to turn to Mma Precious Ramotswe and ‘The No.1 Ladies Detective Agency’ series when I am in need of some comfort and a jolly read. I am not such a fan of either the ‘44 Scotland Street’ or ‘Corduroy Mansions’ though living in London adds a certain something to the latter. Anyway I decided to try something completely different with my latest McCall Smith and went for his retelling of African folktales (which I originally thought was part of the Canongate Myths Series); I do like a good folk tale after all.

Originally entitled ‘The Children of Wax’ when it was first published in 1989‘The Girl Who Married A Lion’ is a collection of over 30 folk tales from Zimbabwe and Botswana that McCall spent a lot of time researching and being told from the people to who these stories had been handed down to through the generations. Some people may say ‘Well these aren’t McCall Smiths tales then are they?’ but they he has edited and changed somewhat to carry the McCall Smith feel and are his way, so he states in the introduction, designed to introduce readers to the wonderful tales of those regions and letting them live out in the world.

The tales themselves are really quite wonderful. I won’t give you a synopsis of each of the 34 tales because that would a) take forever and b) take the enjoyment out of the book for any of you who go on to read it. However I will try and give you an overview. In this collection we have cannibals, a woman who gives birth to children who are made of wax, a man who has a tree growing out of his head, a girl who marries a lion and several stories of how different breeds of animals learnt to mistrust each other through various escapades plus many more tales. Of course why all these situations came to be you would have to read the book to find out.

The whole collection does wonderfully evoke Africa (I went to Kenya when I was much younger and this brought it all back) even though each tale is a maximum of around four pages each. I love the idea of days from the past where animals and humans communicated and you are really carried away with your imagination. You can feel that they all have the history, landscape and heat of the country embedded in them. I loved the simplicity of them even though in many ways they are all magically surreal some more so than others, and you can see why this was re-issued as a book in both adult and child editions. These tales also carry a moral at the end of the story and I am sure all of us whatever age we may be could gain something from this book as well as thoroughly enjoying reading it. 7/10

This collection has made me want to read the folklore and fairytales from all over the world. I read Perrault’s tales not too long ago (am still enjoying Angela Carter’s retellings sparingly to savour them) and have Hans Christian Anderson and the Brothers Grimm’s collections in the TBR as well as a collection of Amazonian folk lore but which ones am I missing? Do you know of any? Or of any wonderful modern re-tellings?

(P.S Sorry for the late post, it’s my wedding anniversary today and so a second day of surprises has been lined up for both parties.)

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Filed under Alexander McCall Smith, Canongate Publishing, Review, Short Stories

Gran Needs Your Book Thoughts…

Before ‘Granny Savidge Reads’, or just Gran as she likes to be called, answers your questions later in the week (you still have today to go here and leave one or two) she has a favour to ask of you. As the year draws to a close one of the book groups that my Gran is in get to vote for the books for next year. This is one of the U3A groups not the MAD Book Group (which is named because they are in the Matlock and District… not because they are all mad, on the whole) which she founded.  There is a list of books and the members vote for favourite twelve from the list.

Gran and I thought it would be nice, as well as interesting, if you could help recommend which ones you think would be great for the group and which ones you would avoid. I have naturally already thrown in my tuppence worth, so now over to you. The ones in italics are the ones Gran has already read, but do recommend them more if you think fit.

  • The White Tiger – Aravind Adiga
  • The Yacoubian Building – Alaa Al Aswany
  • Black Diamonds – Catherine Bailey
  • Border Crossing – Pat Barker
  • Villette – Charlotte Bronte
  • Restless – William Boyd
  • Oscar and Lucinda – Peter Carey
  • The Short Stories – Anton Chekhov
  • Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell – Susanna Clarke
  • The Shieling – David Constantine  
  • The Inheritance of Loss – Kiran Desai
  • Our Mutual Friend – Charles Dickens
  • Alicia’s Gift – Jennifer Duchen
  • Last Train from Liguria – Christine Dwyer Hickey
  • Engleby – Sebastian Faulks
  • Human Traces – Sebastian Faulks
  • Is There Anything You Want – Margaret Forster
  • The Man in the Wooden Hat – Jane Gardam
  • Cold Comfort Farm – Stella Gibbons
  • Peeling The Onion – Gunther Grass
  • The Believers – Zoe Heller
  • The Beacon – Susan Hill
  • The Quiet Girl – Peter Hoeg
  • The True Deceiver – Tove Jansson
  • Idle Thoughts of an Idle Fellow – Jerome K Jerome
  • The Lacuna – Barbara Kingsolver
  • The Other Side of the Bridge – Mary Lawson
  • La’s Orchestra Saves the World – Alexander McCall Smith
  • The Road – Cormac McCarthy
  • Great Fortunes – Olivia Manning
  • The Glass Room – Simon Mawer
  • Things My Mother Never Told Me – Blake Morrison
  • The Shadow of the Wind – Carlos Ruiz Zafon
  • The Reader – Bernhard Schlink
  • The Stone Diaries – Carol Shields
  • Tales from a Travellers Life – John Simpson
  • Glassblower of Murano – Marianne Siorato
  • The Suspicions of Mr Whicher – Kate Summerscale
  • Love and Summer – William Trevor
  • Miss Garnetts Angel – Salley Vickers
  • The Night Watch – Sarah Waters
  • They Were Sisters – Dorothy Whipple
  • Proust and the Squid – Marianne Wolf

So that’s the lot. I haven’t put any pictures in today’s post as you might be swayed. I know I was when I saw some of the covers of the books that I had never heard of. Gran and I are very much looking forward to all your thoughts, so do get responding.

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Filed under Alexander McCall Smith, Aravind Adiga, Barbara Kingsolver, Bernhard Schink, Book Group, Book Thoughts, Cormac McCarthy, Salley Vickers, Sarah Waters, Susan Hill, William Trevor

Corduroy Mansions – Alexander McCall Smith

I was delightfully recently asked to take part in the ‘online blogger book group’ for the new Alexander McCall Series (and sequel to Corduroy Mansions) in The Telegraph. Now you all know me well enough by now that I cant read a series of books a few along. I have to start with the first one. This is being delivered in the post by the lovely people who asked me to join but I needed to be up to date before Monday and so I couldn’t wait. What emerged was a slightly crazy charity shop dash (which involved buying some books that weren’t Corduroy Mansions) through South West London, people doubted I could get such a new book at a bargain price but I did! The only problem was that in said shop this was t he window display, I think its best I don’t mention what else I walked out with…

Not a good sign

So was all the chaos worth it? Would the book be any good, if not would I be able to cope with following the new series ‘The Dog Who Came in From the Cold’? Also bare in mind that I had already tried McCall’s ‘Scotland Street’ series and wasn’t too sure about it even though I loved the No.1 Ladies Detective Agency series and still do, which category would this one fall into?

Corduroy Mansions is the tale of the inhabitants of…well Corduroy Mansions, and those they interact with outside of the building they reside. William lives at the top of the building with his son Eddie, though he wants Eddie out going as far as getting a vegetarian cat loving dog (the wonderful Freddie de la Hay) and then moving in the besotted Marcia as a flatmate, perfect situation for some wonderful comedy. One the floor below lives a group of flat sharing girls. Jo an Aussie fresh to the UK but loving it and possibly one of her housemates, Dee who works in vitamins and pharmaceuticals and wants to give her assistant a colonic, Caroline an Art Student who once featured in Rural Life Magazine and is now sort of infatuated with James who is worried he might be straight and the bookish Jenny who works for the odious Oedipus Snark (brilliant name) the nastiest Liberal Democrat MP you could ever wish to meet.

Not only do we get to follow these colourful characters lives we also get to meet and in some cases follow the people that they have in their lives such as Oedipus through whom we also get to follow his mother Berthea, who is writing her sons biography, and her wonderful ‘spiritual’ brother Terence Moongrove. There is also Oedipus’s long suffering girlfriend Barbara Ragg who runs a publishing company and is about to have quite a change in life. These characters are also wonderful and make you want to read more; it’s almost like wonderful character overload.

Now if you are wondering why I haven’t mentioned plot… well there isn’t a huge plot to it. It’s much more subtle than that. There are small storylines for all the characters as McCall Smith himself puts it “these stories are character-based: what interests me is what makes the characters tick rather than intricate and potentially confusing plots” and with this many characters it could get confusing but it never does. I really, really enjoyed this book and would recommend it for anyone who loved Armistead Maupin’s ‘Tales of the City’ series though it’s somewhat gentler, though there is more adult humour in this one than in 44 Scotland Street as I recall it. I would also recommend it for anyone who likes a good old nosey peep into normal characters lives, their little quirks and how they all interact. Delightful reading!

Has anyone else read this? Is anyone a fan of McCall Smith? If not could you be converted by this book? Can anyone recommend why I should try and read more of the Scotland Street series, should I start again? Are you following the new series? Does serialization work for you?

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Filed under Alexander McCall Smith, Review

What Our Furniture Says About Us

Just a very quick reminder that the new sequel to ‘Corduroy Mansions’ Alexander McCall Smith series starts today. You can read the first chapter of the book right here.

I won’t be reading it today,even though I was lucky enough to get this weeks advance chapters, but will be properly from tomorrow (I have to be honest about these things).

I have very fortunately managed to get my mitts on a copy of the first series which I am devouring and will easily finish on the tube back home tonight, I know we are getting sent one but by now you guys know me and I have to read things in the right order. It also means will be able to give one copy away in the not too distant future.  Plus . Anyway a small reminder today for you.

There will be another “non McCall Smith related” post later today that includes a give away so do make sure you pop back then!!!

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The Full Cupboard of Life – Alexander McCall Smith

I actually wanted to call today’s blog ‘Precious Time With Precious Ramotswe’ for that is exactly what it has been but am sticking to the formula of the books title but the thought was there. I had some really good reads in April (I will do a month review when have a spare moment) but the last couple of weeks, bar The White Tiger, nothing has completely blown me away. The longer books have taken a lot longer to read than I anticipated, partly because they were quite heavy (says the man who is trying Midnight’s Children this weekend) and I needed some gentle relaxing escapism. You can never go wrong with Alexander McCall Smith for just that, actually I didn’t love the 44 Scotland Street first book; maybe I need to dip into those again at some point?

The Cupboard Full of Life is the 5th in the No.1 Ladies Detective Agency Series which I would imagine everyone is aware of even if they have never read one. We find the delightful Precious Ramotswe, the owner of the No.1 Ladies Detective Agency, contemplating when exactly it is that she is going to get married. Her fiancé (of the longest engagement) J.L.B Matekoni has his own problems; he has somehow been pushed into doing a parachute jump to raise money for the local orphanage. So where I hear you cry is the detecting.

Well in all honesty I was wondering that in this book as well. I personally am only too happy to just sit and read Precious Ramotswe talk to her friends and observe life, but I do like it when she goes investigating and in this book there is only one case; a case of a woman who has many suitors. Mma Holonga is an owner of a very successful chain of hairdressing salons and has suddenly realised she is in her forties with no husband, Before she knows it she has four and cannot work out which of them has the genuine motives, will Precious Ramotswe be able to help? (Naturally I am not going to tell you or you won’t read the book.)

Having read the series in order (as you all know I do) I have to say though I loved it and truly escaped something seemed to be missing and I don’t just mean the crimes. My very favourite character Mma Makutsi doesn’t even appear until about seventy pages in and the two foster children were hardly in it at all and yet there seemed to be too many characters and mini plots going on which though made it very easy to read (and it was) made it slightly less addictive than its predecessors. I would give it 3.5/5 though I certainly haven’t been put off reading the next in the series.

I do actually have it on good authority that the next book In The Company Of Cheerful Ladies is a cracker as bizarrely out of all the books I have had out of my bag over the last few weeks this is the one that the most people have started talking to me about, which only goes to show just how popular they are. How have you all found the series if you have had a go at it? Don’t give anything away though please – no plot spoilers!

What have you made of the television series? I have to say I wouldn’t have cast Jill Scott as Precious as she is too young compared to the Precious in my head but I think Anika Noni Rose is wonderful and spot on perfect as Mme Makutsi and very oddly almost exactly as I had imagined she would be (even funnier in fact). The show itself did nothing for me at first, and then it completely won me over, before loosing me again with a rather limp ending. Why can’t books be made into great TV shows or films? I will be watching The Name of the Rose tonight so wonder if, as many people have said, this will be a change to that rule. I’ll report back in due course.

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Filed under Alexander McCall Smith, Books To Film, Little Brown Publishing, Review

The Kalahari Typing School For Men – Alexander McCall Smith

How can anyone not love an Alexander McCall Smith, actually I think I will change that, I haven’t been bitten by the bug of the 44 Scotland Street series after reading the first, haven’t tried the Sausage Dogs ones or whatever the series is yet, but I do want to read the second Isabel Dalhousie. Sorry I digress… How can anyone one not love a No.1 Ladies Detective Agency novel? In fact how can anyone not love the entire series?

I have just finished of the fourth and after the third being good but not as much as the last two I can safely say that he is back on form with this one (I am sure he will be so bothered by me saying that) especially as we see more of my favourite character Mme Makutsi, I know she isn’t the one the book is about and I do love Precious Ramotswe, there is just something about Mme Makutsi that I find really endearing, in this one she gets a love interest, I am getting ahead of myself.

A new detective agency ‘The Satisfaction Guarantee Detective Agency’ has opened in town and neither of the above ladies are happy, so much so that precious decided that maybe the new detective agency needs some detecting about, what results will she find and will they take all her business. Mme Makutsi worried her career may be over starts a Typing School for Men; where indeed she meets a man of her own a man almost too good to be true.

This is more of a stand alone book than its predecessors bar of course the first in the series and also slightly less ‘crime’ based than the others have been. The previous stories are summed up in the first paragraph and you could actually read this with having read the others altogether. McCall Smith is however building on the characters and if you haven’t read any of these and are like me you’ll want to read them in order anyway. Africa itself does take a slight backseat in this novel I noted. It didn’t seem as wild as before, not that it should always be the main feature it’s a nice part of the series individuality from other detective novels. Cannot wait to read ‘The Full Cupboard of Life’ though I shall try as I really don’t want to get to the end of this series… or catch up too soon.

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Filed under Alexander McCall Smith, Little Brown Publishing, Review