I wrote that the first book in this series was "just ok", but 6 months later, I found a had a hankering to read another. The characters continued to grow on me after I finished the book. Now I've read the second, and I am somewhat more enthusiastic. Still not anything compelling and irresistible, and still nowhere near as good as the Ladies' Number One Detective Agency series, in my view, but I did enjoy this book.
Like the Ladies' No. 1 series, these stories are gentle, not terribly fast-moving or full of action. Much of the book consists of the internal thoughts of the characters, some of them rambling and tangential to whatever led to them. The characters are all likeable. and some of them are real "characters"! Some of the action and dialog is kind of goofy, but meant to be, and amusing, in a gentle sort of way (not knee-slapping hilarity, but pleasantly amusing). There are many different characters, whose lives intertwine only superficially (most of them are neighbors to each other), and the book is told in an ever-rotating series of episodes in each of the main character's lives.
I found that some of the character-plot-lines worked better than others, and were of more interest to me. Some of it is kind of ho-hum, but all in all, I just LIKE being with these characters - they are all like real people who have (mild) real-world problems (although the stuff about William and his dog getting mixed up with spies is not terribly realistic) that real people can relate to.
Yes, the books in this series are all quite formulaic, as is the case with mystery series in general. And yes, they all run together enough in my mind that I would have a hard time saying anything unique about any one of them. But I ADORE them. I keep coming back for more because Peters just does SUCH a great job with them, and Barbara Rosenblat is OUTSTANDING at bringing them to life.
I would never have guessed that I would be interested in books set in Egypt and about a bunch of Egyptologists. For that reason I resisted beginning this series for a long time, although my sister was sure I would love them. She finally brought the first one on a long road trip we took together and I was immediately hooked. The Egypt aspect is now one of the things I like most about the series - I have learned so much from these books! (I have listened to them all - not read them in print, but I sometimes wish I had the print version available to see how some of the words are spelled.)
The plots are well-done - yes, a little formulaic, but still keep you guessing about who the villain is until the very end, and with enough twists and turns in the action to keep things interesting.
But by far the crowning achievement of the series is the characters - especially those of Amelia, her husband Emerson, and their son "Ramses". These are three of the best characters in all of fiction, absolutely delightful in their various idiosyncrasies and the relationships between them. Much of their dialog is laugh-out-loud funny and wonderfully quotable. I don't know whether or not I would have been as enthusiastic if I had first encountered them in print, rather than in audio format read by Rosenblat. She is simply astounding in her ability to portray countlesss characters of different genders, ages, nationalities, and personalities. And she does a SUPERB job with all three of the Emersons (as well as ALL the other characters).
It's amazing that Elizabeth Peters can keep the stories coming for so long, and the characters fresh and continually appealing through so many different books, but for me, it's still working on this, the ninth installment. I think I will never tire of listening to these books.
I was looking for a novel about people on the Austism Spectrum for an ASD teenage girl, and I would say this fit the bill pretty well. It's not an outstanding work of literature, but it does include a rather good portrayal of a girl with Asperger's, and the narration in that character's voice seemed fairly authentic to me, once I got over an initial mild aversion to the way Ghawi did it. I do think she did a fairly good job of capturing the relatively expressionless and idiosyncratic way that some autistics can talk.
If you are looking for a book specifically in this category, and for a young person, I would recommend this (might be more interesting to girls than to boys). As a general read, nothing remarkable, in plot, character, or writing.
Mrs. Pollifax is not for everybody - improbable tales of a little-old-lady-turned-spy, more of a "thriller" genre than mystery, but I say "thriller" in quotes since it's not all that thrilling - very tame, as thrillers go, I imagine. Thrillers are not my genre, but I know that sensational events and violence and extreme suspense are popular these days, and those elements are pretty much lacking from Mrs. Pollifax. But she has charm and spunk, and travels to some interesting parts of the world. Maybe good stories for little old ladies (I almost am one) for whom "real" thrillers are too much. The story is OK, and makes for entertainment when you really need it, but there are plenty of more compelling things out there.
Barbara Rosenblat is a top-notch reader - unbeatable for multiple accents and personalities.
I ADORE the Ladies Detective Agency books. This is only the second or third of McCall Smith's books that I've read outside of that series, and all have disappointed. This one was OK - nothing offensive about it, and once I was well into it the characters did kind of grow on me to the point where I wanted to see them through. But there isn't that much to see through - the plot is slow and not much happens. There are TOO MANY characters and subplots woven together, and really, none of them is all that compelling. It really was kind of boring, and seemed to go on and on and on (100 chapters!?)
The reading was FINE - well done.
There were a few characters that really were a hoot - Oedipus Snark (mostly for his name) and I especially liked Terrence. But there was nothing really compelling about it - either plot or characters. And although much of it was mildly amusing, I just don't get how anyone could find it "hilarious" -?!
I'll stick to Mma Ramotswe and friends in the future. THOSE are a GIFT!
Unfortunately I didn't notice this was an abridged version until the very end of the listen. As I was listening, I kept feeling like the action was truncated, and that it would be so much better if the action and the characterization were more fleshed out. Assume this would be the case in the unabridged version.
The story is a little sensationalistic; not entirely believable - a few Dickensian coincidences in the connections between characters. Perhaps this is Maeve Binchy classic, I'm not sure - this being only my second of her novels. But the plot is definitely compelling - an examination of the difficult relationship choices women face and the long-term consequences of those choices. The characters are well drawn and sympathetic (would be more credible, I'm guessing, in the full version), and the nature of the small community very appealing. The reader is terrific - Irish accent is lovely and authentic.
One minor flaw was the incidental music - which could have been a nice touch, but was often too loud, even drowning out the text where they overlapped for a few seconds, and at times the choice of music seemed trite - too melodramatic, or cutesy, or whatever. Didn't add much, and may have detracted. (But there is not that much of it - not a big deal.)
All these words have been used to describe the action and characters of this book. I'd say they pretty well sum up the book. Maybe I'm naive, sheltered, pollyannish. But I hated this book. I will grant that the writing was compelling and "riveting" in a sickening way. I sort of have a policy not to ditch out on a book once I've gotten halfway through it. And this one compelled me that far, with hope that there would be some redemption eventually. No such luck. I wish I had left it at the halfway point, or never started it to begin with.
Not one really likable, sympathetic character, all the way through. Not one bit of hope or comic relief anywhere. Once I had given up on either of those, I was hoping that at least someone would get what was coming to them. Never happened.
The narration was quite well-done - Julia Whelan especially did a great job of portraying the many different characters within the character of Amy. Unlike some narrators, however, neither of these is quite believable doing the voice of the opposite gender. I found Whelan's male voices mostly really annoying. (The characters were all more than annoying, but the voicing didn't make it work.)
I suppose I must grudgingly admit that I think the writing shows talent - but of a sick variety. Too bad the ability can't be turned to a more positive end. Is it more a cause or an effect of the abysmal state of our society that people find this kind of thing entertaining? Maybe a little of both.
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