No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency: The House of Unexpected Sisters

December 1, 2017

Before Louise Penny’s popular Inspector Gamache series set in Three Pines, there was Mma Precious Ramotswe of the No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series set in Botswana, Africa.

No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency: The House of Unexpected Sisters
by Alexander McCall Smith

House of Unexpected Sisters 2

Genre/categories: women’s fiction, contemporary fiction, detective/mystery, African culture (Botswana)

Summary:

The House of Unexpected Sisters is the eighteenth installment of this charming, easy reading series. All the usual characters are present, reflecting on life, drinking tea, embracing tradition, and investigating human nature in sunny Botswana. In this newest story, Mma Ramotswe is challenged with four problems to solve: she is asked to investigate the unfair firing of a female employee, she is faced with an unwelcome visit from someone in her past, she learns about a potential risk to her assistant’s husband’s business, and she bravely meets an unexpected family member that causes her to question the integrity of her beloved father who is “late.” Loyal readers will be rewarded with a delightful read. Amazon Rating (December): 4.6 Stars

My Thoughts: 

In the most soothing of ways, the story is predictable to the other stories in the series: readers grow to appreciate the beauty of Africa (Botswana is almost a character in the story); there’s always time for a cup of tea at work or a visit with your dearest friend and confidant (Mma Potokwani); and the characters are likable, quirky, and seem real. Mma Romotswe founder and owner of the No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency, is a “traditionally built woman,” gentle, honest, inclusive, compassionate, full of common sense, thoughtful, gracious, and wise. In fact, she always chooses kindness and forgiveness as her response and never revenge. Idealistically, she believes that people are good and kind and want to enjoy themselves and take care of each other. She is a proponent of the old Botswana morality and the traditional ways (especially the old way of greeting others). The focus of her work at the Ladies’ Detective Agency is on righting small injustices.

“Both of these matters had been resolved satisfactorily, which meant in Mma Ramotswe’s view that all those concerned had been persuaded to see reason. That, she felt, was the key to the solution of any problem: you did not look for a winner who would take everything; you found a way of allowing people to save face; you found a way of healing rather than imposing.”

It seems as if Alexander McCall Smith enjoys these characters as they are consistently and warmly drawn from story to story. From the way the story is told, readers might infer that the author greatly admires and respects his main character and her philosophy of life.

Family is an important theme in this heartwarming story (and in the others). She takes care of everyone who comes into her life as family.

“Families come in different ways, she thought: sometimes they are given to you, but sometimes you find them yourself, unexpectedly, as you go through life. That is perhaps not all that well-known, but it is still true.”

Even though this is an eighteen book series, readers could easily read The House of Unexpected Sisters as a stand alone. It might be a little tedious or repetitive for readers who’ve read all the stories, but Alexander McCall Smith does an excellent job of providing all the background information a reader needs to understand the story and characters.

I’ve read all the books in the series and I think this one stands out as one of the best. If it’s been a while since you’ve read one, I’d encourage you to pick this up.

I admit that my rating of 4 stars is subjective because reading these books is like coming home to old friends. If I had read this as a stand alone and didn’t have an emotional attachment to the series or characters, I think my objective rating would be 3.5.

I recommend The House of Unexpected Sisters to those readers who are familiar with the series, for readers who love Africa, for readers who desire a quick, easy, escapist read, for readers who need a comforting read at the moment (perhaps to relieve stress or to take on vacation or to recover from a surgery), and for readers who want a “clean” read with a touch of humor for themselves or as a gift for a lady (no graphic violence, language, or sex).

I caution readers against binge reading or speed reading the series. They are best read as stand alone stories…perhaps one every few months. Even though it’s comforting to return to the homes of old friends, I think life might be boring if every evening were spent with them. The books in this series need to be read when you’re in the mood for a slow-paced, character driven story with an abundance of reflection and description. It could be classified as the coziest of the cozy mysteries genre and a true comfort read. It seems that we always feel like we can be better people after spending time with Precious Ramotswe

cup of tea

Make yourself a cup of tea, and read this for yourself and meet Mma Precious Ramotswe!

My rating: 4 Stars

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House of Unexpected Sisters

Buy Here

Meet the Author, Alexander McCall Smith

Alexander McCall Smith

Alexander McCall Smith was born in what is now Zimbabwe and taught law at the University of Botswana. He is now Professor of Medical Law at the University of Edinburgh. He has written more than fifty books, including a number of specialist titles, but is best known for The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series, which has achieved bestseller status on four continents. In 2004 he was awarded British Book Awards Author of the Year and Booksellers Association Author of the Year. He lives in Scotland, where in his spare time he is a bassoonist in the RTO (Really Terrible Orchestra). More information at http://www.alexandermccallsmith.com/

 


Extra:

A Wrinkle in Time

Do you reread classics or have you read one for the first time as an adult reader?

Do you plan to reread (or read) Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle before the movie releases in March 2018?

More Information Here

Official Trailer Here


Happy Reading Bookworms!

“Ah, how good it is to be among people who are reading.”
~Rainer Maria Rilke

“I love the world of words, where life and literature connect.”
~Denise J Hughes

“Reading good books ruins you for enjoying bad ones.”
~Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society


Looking Ahead!

Help me decide between Lincoln in the Bardo and The Bear and the Nightingale
for my next read.

Let me know in the comments if you’ve read either one.

Lincoln in the Bardo

Lincoln in the Bardo Information Here

The Bear and the Nightingale

The Bear and the Nightingale Information Here

***12/2, edited to add that I’ve chosen The Bear and the Nightingale as my next read. (I suggested to hubs that we could buddy read Lincoln in the Bardo and after he listened a bit to the audio version, he decided that it wasn’t a good read for him.)


Sharing is Caring!

I’d be honored and thrilled if you choose to enjoy and follow along, promote, and/or share my blog. Every share helps us grow.


Let’s Discuss!

I’d love to hear if you’ve read any of the No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series or if you have an opinion on what I should read next.

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Glass Houses & Inspector Gamache Series

September 8, 2017

Do you love a gentle mystery filled with memorable characters placed in an idyllic Canadian setting? Do you love immersing yourself in a good series? Do you admire a kind, honest, thoughtful, moral main character committed to integrity and filled with compassion for others? Do you appreciate irresistible descriptions of food and cozy settings? If you answered yes to some of these questions, you might already be acquainted with Louise Penny’s Inspector Gamache Series, admire the beloved Armand Gamache, and dream of living in the imaginary setting of Three Pines. If not, please allow me to introduce you!

First, the Series

Glass Houses is the thirteenth installment in the series. The books in chronological order are as follows:

Still Life
A Fatal Grace
The Cruelest Month
A Rule Against Murder
The Brutal Telling
Bury Your Dead
A Trick of the Light
The Beautiful Mystery
How the Light Gets In
The Long Way Home
The Nature of the Beast
A Great Reckoning
Glass Houses

Buy the Complete 13 Book Series Here

Ratings:

I have not rated any of the books in the series below a solid 3 stars. Some I have rated 4 stars. As typical with any series, I think some are stronger than others. In general, readers consider that she hits her stride with book #4. Her most recent release is one of her strongest yet, which is amazing for a 13 book series! You can check my goodreads account (my “read” shelf) for my specific ratings. Amazon ratings vary between 3 & 4+ stars.

Strengths:

The stories are so much more than good mysteries, they explore unique and complex characters who are a mixture of good and less desirable traits. The stories examine motivation, ethics, honor, courage, and compassion for others. Through reading the series, the characters become like friends. Some readers have loosely compared the setting of Three Pines to Stars Hollow (Gilmore Girls). The setting of Three Pines is symbolic in that its a place of comfort, safety, and solace for those who are hurting or who’ve lost their way (except when there’s a murder of course!). As with any good series, when a reader receives the next installment, it’s like coming home. It’s interesting to me that during a recent interview, Louise Penny reveals that she created the main character Armand (Inspector) Gamache to be like someone she’d like to marry (CBS Interview). Inspector Gamache is honorable, kind, courageous, nonviolent (except when others’ lives are at stake), thoughtful, well read, and an astute judge of character and motives.

Brief Overview of the 13 Book Series

Chief Inspector Gamache is head of homicide for the Sûreté du Québec. He lives by a code of the highest ethics and seeks to provide justice for victims of crime. His team consists of people that he has hand selected that have experienced failure in some aspect of their law enforcement career but in whom he sees great potential. Gamache adores and deeply loves his wife and soul mate, Reine-Marie, and they have two grown children. When we meet Chief Inspector Gamache in the first novel he’s a seasoned professional who sometimes clashes with his superiors at the Sûreté. Nevertheless, he has a reputation of solving even the most difficult cases. In Still Life (the first book of the series) at the scene of his current investigation, Gamache is surprised to discover Three Pines, a tiny, unmapped village in the forest. Throughout the series, Gamache returns again and again to Three Pines for various reasons, establishes friendships with the colorful locals, and eventually he and Reine-Marie move there and become an integral part of the community. Gamache is skilled at observation, determining motive, and at examining the emotions that lead to a crime. Author Louise Penny is a master at establishing a setting, describing delicious food, examining ethics and character, bringing us colorful and unique characters, and creating atmosphere and tension.

Can I read the books as a “stand alone” or out of order?

Reading the series in order isn’t absolutely necessary because each novel presents a unique crime that is solved within its pages; however, there is an overarching issue with the leadership of the Sûreté which is explored bit by bit throughout many books in the series. Also, a reader would miss out on the character development that occurs from story to story. For a richer reading experience, I highly recommend reading them in order.

Do I have a concern or criticism of the series?

Readers including myself are generally very happy with the entire well loved and recommended series  (as evidenced by ratings) and Louise Penny has a huge following. However, some have mentioned and I sometimes feel that Louise Penny is somewhat antagonistic toward the church. In her recent release, for example, a character states, “No one goes to church any more.” It seems to me that Penny’s own feelings about organized religion leak out from time to time in her characters words and views. Penny doesn’t write from a Christian worldview but, even though I notice it from time to time, it isn’t enough for me to not read and enjoy her books. This is a personal concern and observation and it may not bother other Christians at all. It’s something I tend to notice.

Glass Houses
by Louise Penny

Glass Houses

Genre/categories: fiction, mystery, detective, thriller, suspense

Summary:

A mysterious figure appears in Three Pines one cold November day. Even though Armand Gamache and the rest of the villagers are curious at first, they soon become wary. The figure stands unmoving through fog, sleet, rain, and the cold, staring straight ahead. Chief Inspector Gamache, now Chief Superintendent of the Sûreté du Québec, suspects the mysterious figure has a unique history and a dark purpose. However, Gamache’s hands are tied because the figure hasn’t committed a crime, so he watches and waits. The villagers are tense hoping that Gamache will do something. The figure’s costume is historically tied to someone who acts as a “conscience” and comes to put pressure on an individual to pay a debt. Naturally, people in the village, including Gamache, start to examine their own conscience and wonder if the figure has come for them. Suddenly, the figure vanishes overnight and a body is discovered, and the investigation commences. This story is told in two timelines: the November timeline when the murder took place and later in July as the trial for the accused begins. In typical Penny style, more is going on a larger scale than just the trial. Gamache wrestles with his own conscience, the decisions he has made, and the personalconsequences he will pay. Amazon Rating (September): 4.7 Stars

My Thoughts:

This is a riveting story and is one of my favorite in the series. Whereas in other stories, Gamache analyses the motivations and actions of others, this story finds him also analyzing himself and we observe him taking actions that are not in accordance with his highest ethical standards. Something larger is at stake here, and Gamache and his team have to take great risks and be willing to endure severe personal consequences to bring about justice for the greater good. Interesting ethical dilemmas!

Symbolism of Three Pines

In Glass Houses, the following excerpts provide a bit of evidence for the symbolism of Three Pines as a safe place for the lost or hurting:

  • “People mostly come upon Three pines because they’re lost.”
  • “And then he went home. To Three Pines. To sanctuary.”
  • “I think everyone in this village believes that all shall be well,” Armand was saying. “That’s why we’re here. We all fell down. And then we all came here.”
  • And in the author’s own words: “The village does not exist, physically. But I think of it as existing in ways that are far more important and powerful. Three Pines is a state of mind. When we choose tolerance over hate. Kindness over cruelty. Goodness over bullying. When we choose to be hopeful, not cynical. Then we live in Three Pines.”

3 pines

Recommended for readers who would love to find a good series, for those who like mysteries and detective stories without a lot of violence or disturbing descriptions, for thoughtful readers who might want to consider character, motivation, and ethics. My Rating: 4.5 Stars

Read a free excerpt here.

Glass Houses

Buy Here

Meet the Author, Louise Penny

Louise Penny

LOUISE PENNY is the #1 New York Times and Globe and Mail bestselling author of the Chief Inspector Armand Gamache novels. She has won numerous awards, including a CWA Dagger and the Agatha Award (five times) and was a finalist for the Edgar Award for Best Novel. She lives in a small village south of Montréal.

Click Here: CBS This Morning Interview With Louise Penny

Happy Reading Everyone!

“Ah, how good it is to be among people who are reading.”
~Rainer Maria Rilke

Looking Forward:

Next week I’ll review America’s First Daughter By Stephanie Dray and Laura Kamoie if you’d like to “buddy read.” In two weeks, I’m thrilled to review Castle of Water by Dane Huckelbridge, a likely contender for one of my favorite reads of the year!

America's First Daughter

Buy Here

Castle of Water

Buy Here

Sharing is Caring:

I’d be honored and thrilled if you choose to enjoy and follow along, promote, and/or share my blog. Every share helps us grow.

Discussion:

I’m curious if you’re a Louise Penny fan or would consider checking out this series! Have you read any of her books? Please share your reflections on the Inspector Gamache series in the comments.

Extras:

This post is linked up with Modern Mrs. Darcey’s Quick Lit for September.

Check out Top Shelf Text and her blog post: Best Books of Summer 2017 here.

My husband recommends!

As reviewed in this post, my husband just read News of the World and really enjoyed it! In fact, as we were at breakfast this morning, we discussed and debated who should play the lead in the film version (should there be one)! I need to also mention that he especially enjoyed the excellent reader for the audio version.