Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Summer Book Reviews

The Miracle at Speedy Motors
by Alexander McCall Smith

This series of literary pearls are part contemporary morality tale, part tribal folk tale, and all delightful. Mma Precious Ramotswe and her assistant Mma Grace Makutsi solve big mysteries and small problems with warmth, insight and humor. My lesson in this particular volume was all about faith. Not the Supreme Being variety, but the kind of faith in a spouse that allows him/her to pursue a dream, unencumbered by doubt and skepticism. Wow. As usual, these quiet little tales seem to skim the surface, but there is a depth and resonance to both the characters and the stories. If you still haven't read the No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency series yet, start at the beginning.

Sarah's Key by Tatiana de Rosnay
Julia Jarmand, an American journalist living in Paris, discovers a shameful chapter in French history: in 1942, French police detained thousands of Jews in the Velodrome d'Hiver for days, then deported them to concentration camps in Germany and Poland. The story follows a 10-year old girl who instinctively, impulsively, locks her 4-year old brother in a secret cabinet when the police come to their door, not knowing that she and her parents will be unable to return. Her story is told in flashbacks, alternating with the journalist's present life. As Jarmand unravels the story of the Jewish family, it appears that her husband's family may have been involved and the inevitable tensions put her marriage at risk. The author resists a neat ending, so the story loses momentum near the end, but that is more realistic than a happy Hollywood conclusion. Still, it is a good story with haunting elements.

Spotted in France by Gregory Edmont
I'm only a third of the way through this light non-fiction romp, and while it's not great literature, it's a fun, entertaining summer read. In case you didn't know, the French love dogs. An American writer (yes, another one) acquires a Dalmation, nicknamed "JP" for his lengthy, unpronounceable French name. Greg and JP set off on a vintage Vespa, touring the heart of France en route to meet a Dalmation breeder. Mistakenly called "Pongo" for a famous Disney Dalmation, JP opens hearts and doors among the notoriously aloof French. Of course, I now desperately wish to tour Provence on an old Vespa with Miss Molly in the passenger seat. I know my back couldn't take it... but perhaps a vintage mini Cooper? or even an old Renault?

Next up: The Cat Who Went to Paris by Peter Gethers
Yes, there is clearly a theme, at least this month.

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