Learn Something New Everyday!

Pretty in Pink

California finally had some rain!

IMG_4123Not enough yet to compensate for a three-year drought, but it was great to hear the rain on the roof and enjoy the clouds and occasional down pours.  My area received about an inch of rain—the mountains got more but still need extensive snow pack to start to get the state back to where it should be.  Some parts of Northern California received close to 12 inches, while others that had earlier wild fires were plagued with mud slides.  Nothing is ever perfect.  But this rain adds a great element of hope to the upcoming holidays.

IMG_4037I was lucky enough to be out of town for some of the rain driving along the coast and through some rolling hills.  I slowed down for the occasional storm and marveled as the fog rolled in over hill and sea.  All around me were the muted colors of winter:  the greys and whites and varying shades of blue, offset by the muted green, yellow, and orange remnants of fall that clung to the trees.  The weather could be labeled dark, dismal or even dreary, but it was still great.

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IMG_4108I was lucky enough to be out of town for some of the rain.  I slowed down for the occasional storm and marveled as the fog rolled in over hill and sea.  All around me were the muted colors of winter:  the greys and whites and varying shades of blue, offset by the muted green, yellow, and orange remnants of fall that clung to the trees.  The weather could be labeled dark, dismal or even dreary, but it was still great.

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IMG_4447In contrast to these muted tones, I was greeted by a vibrant splash of pink as I headed into my apartment Friday afternoon.  Right at my door is a poorly placed camellia bush that rarely produces blossoms in the best of springs.  I grew up in Temple City, a place that boasts camellias as its city flower and that hosts an annual Camellia Day Parade every February.  I knew December was not the right time of year for these blossoms to be on display, but there they were.  They hung quietly at the bottom of the bush, almost hidden out of sight.

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I took their existence as a good sign!  They represent the joy of the unexpected, the hope that Spring is on the way, the promise of Christmas right around the corner, and an immediate delight at simply being home.  I trust these flowers will brighten your day a bit as well!

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What are you appreciative of as Christmas approaches?

Any surprises jump out at you lately?

Let the hustle and bustle fade away and enjoy the holidays!

220px-GreatPumpkinI have always liked Halloween.  As a kid—back before razor blades and such other atrocities worried parents—we would wander the neighborhood having a great old time.  I always appreciated It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown (1966).  But now, years later, Halloween festivities seem a bit different.  There are more planned parties and haunted houses to attend.  Some neighborhoods report that trick-or-treating still goes on, often to hundreds of kids in costume who seem to be bussed in from some other neighborhood.  It is a different world.

I do like to see the kids in their costumes, but no trick-or-treaters have wandered to my door over the last several years. And since I do not have my own kids, I am not attending the Safe Halloween Party hosted in Bakersfield at the Kern County History Museum. I thought about attending a midnight viewing of The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975).  It is being shown in town at the historically refurbished Fox Theatre.  But, been there, done that.  So I am not heading out to see that movie again this year.  Instead I am staying home trying to decide what to watch that would have an appropriate Halloween theme.

I am not crazy about horror or slasher movies, so many of the logical choices for my night’s viewing are not even being considered.  I am avoiding the various iconic movies or series such Halloween (1978), Child’s Play/Chucky (1988), The Shining (1980), The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974) and A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984).  Even the Scary Movie (2000) series is not the best for me since I have not seen the original movies being spoofed.  I’m also not looking for lighter fare such as Halloweentown (1998), the first of a 4-part series of Halloween films by Disney or even Hocus Pocus (1993), no matter how much I like Bette Midler.  I do like psychological and supernatural thrillers as well as some space invasion films—it must be the fun of being scared!

Here are the various mini-marathons I am contemplating for this evening’s viewing pleasure.  I better make a decision soon!

A Classic Alfred Hitchcock Trilogy:  Rear Window (1954), Psycho (1960) and The Birds (1963)

Invasion from Space Marathon:  Start with Twilight Zone Episodes “Monsters Are Due on Maple Street” (Season 1, Episode 22); “Will the Real Martians Please Stand Up” (Season 2, Episode 28); and “To Serve Man” (Season 3, Episode 24). Then watch War of the Worlds (1951) or Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956).

War of the Worlds Extended:  Listen to the original 1938 broadcast and then watch the original film version from 1951.  Then for a quirky treat, end the series with The Adventures of Buckaroo Bonzai across the 8th Dimension (1984)—there is a story-line connection.  Trust me!

Psychological Thrillers—Past & Present:  A classic trilogy could be Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? (1960), Rosemary’s Baby (1968) and Carrie (1976) but I would push the duo of Misery (1990) and Silence of the Lambs (1991).

Fright Night:  Frankenstein (1931), Bride of Frankenstein (1935), Young Frankenstein (1974) and for an encore The X-Files episode “The Post Modern Prometheus” (Season 5, Episode 5).  You could even add Twilight Zone’s “Eye of the Beholder” (Season 2, Episode 6) and Mask (1985) for a link to connections about how we perceive monsters.

Twilight Zone Double Take:  The original TV show episodes “It’s a Good Life” (Season 3, Episode 8); “Kick the Can” (Season 3, Episode 21); and “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet” (Season 5, Episode 3) followed by Twilight Zone: The Movie (1983).  Of course, the best part about the movie is the prologue and epilogue sequences with Dan Aykroyd’s “Want to see something really scary?”  If you do not want to spend all night on this, watch the two versions of “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet.”  It’s hard to say who plays the part of the frightened passenger better William Shatner or John Lithgow.

“They’re Heeerree!” Marathon:  Start with a couple Twilight Zone episodes:  “Long Distance Call” (Season 2, Episode 22) and “Little Girl Lost” (Season 3, Episode 26) and then the movie Poltergeist (1982).  Do not bother with any of the sequels to the movie!

Double Feature—Classic vs. Remake:  There are several to choose from that fit my I-like-science-fiction movies.  Here are some choices:  The Thing (1951 and 1982), The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951 and 2008), War of the Worlds (1953 and 2005), Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956 and 1978) and The Fly (1958 and 1986).  For most, I favor the originals, but Jeff Goldblum and the creepy reality of him becoming a fly outshines Vincent Price’s rather quiet plea “Help me!”  The remake of The Thing is better as well, but James Arness as the original monster is a hoot.

The Fun X-Files Episodes Marathon:  Don’t get me wrong, I like all of the X-File episodes, even the alien conspiracy tales.  But the ones I like the best are the ones that are reminiscent of Twilight Zone episodes and a later show called Kolchak: The Night Stalker with Darren McGavin from 1974.  Does anyone else remember that show?  Anyway, here are some great X-File episodes that would be good for Halloween:  “Bad Blood” (Season 5, Episode 12); “The Post Modern Prometheus” (Season 5, Episode 5); “War of the Corprophages” (Season 3, Episode 12); “Clyde Bruckman” (Season 3, Episode 4); and “How the Ghosts Stole Christmas” (Season 6, Episode 6).  Some other fun episodes are “The Rain King” (Season 6, Episode 8); “Arcadia” (Season 6, Episode 15); “X-Cops” (Season 7, Episode 12), “Hollywood A. D.” (Season 7, Episode 19) and “Sunshine Days” (Season 9, Episode 18).

the screamOf course, for something that will really keep you up nights with bad dreams, you could watch non-cable television and all the political ads that have been underway for several weeks now, given the upcoming mid-term elections.  Our choices—and views of our political reality?  Now that’s really scary!  Don’t forget to vote!

HOW DID YOU CELEBRATE HALLOWEEN?

DID YOU ENJOY BEING SCARED?

 A Few Treats for You!

 

GET OUT THE VOTE 2014

Dad in UniformPatriotic.  I have always considered myself to be patriotic.  I’m sure part of that feeling comes from Dad always flying the flag on special holidays and his service during World War II.

But it’s more than that:

Another Day with R & R 022*  I love to see the flag flying against a blue sky—and am not thrilled when the flag being displayed is worn and tattered.

*  I choke up when I hear someone singing “The National Anthem” or even “America, the Beautiful.”

*  JKF has been a hero of mine since I was a kid—probably because his death was the first news event that struck me, hard. Plus his idealism and courage.

*  I won my first writing contest in the 8th grade by defining patriotism—the contest was sponsored by the American Legion.

*  When I got the chance to vote for the first time, it was a big deal!

Of course, being patriotic does not mean that I agree with everything America does or even that I value the politicians who are supposed to be working for the people, but seem to just worry about winning the next election.  But I do value that as Americans we get to vote, to try and get some good people elected to make things better.  Besides, if you do not vote—from my view—you give up your right to complain.  And complaining, that’s another American ideal I value!  Even though it is only a midterm election, this year’s results will set the stage for the ongoing concerns for women’s rights.

So, I voted today by dropping my mail-in ballot off at the post office.  My views will get counted eventually.  Please, take the time to vote yourself.  To get you in the spirit of voting, I suggest you view this great video called A Bevy of Beauties Sing Along to This 50 Year Old Classic—WOW, This Song Is Magic!  The song is “You Don’t Own Me” made famous 50 years ago, but used to underscore the need to protect women’s right.   Lesley Gore even introduces the video!

Enjoy!  And get out the vote!

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QUOTES ON PATRIOTISM

“True patriotism hates injustice in its own land more than anywhere else.”    Clarence Darrow

“I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal’.”    Martin Luther King Jr.

“We here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain; that this nation shall have a new birth of freedom; and that this government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”    Abraham Lincoln

“And so, my fellow Americans: ask not what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for your country.”    John F. Kennedy

“We identify the flag with almost everything we hold dear on earth, peace, security, liberty, our family, our friends, our home. . .But when we look at our flag and behold it emblazoned with all our rights we must remember that it is equally a symbol of our duties. Every glory that we associate with it is the result of duty done.”    Calvin Coolidge

“What we need are critical lovers of America – patriots who express their faith in their country by working to improve it.”    Hubert Humphrey

“This country will not be a good place for any of us to live in unless we make it a good place for all of us to live in.”    Theodore Roosevelt

“True patriotism springs from a belief in the dignity of the individual, freedom and equality not only for Americans but for all people on earth, universal brotherhood and good will, and a constant and earnest striving toward the principles and ideals on which this country was founded.”    Eleanor Roosevelt

“Freedom is never granted. It is earned by each generation… in the face of tyranny, cruelty, oppression, extremism, sometimes there is only one choice. When the world looks to America, America looks to you, and you never let her down.”    Hillary Clinton

“Patriotism in the female sex is the most disinterested of all virtues. Excluded from honors and from offices, we cannot attach ourselves to the State or Government from having held a place of eminence. . . . Yet all history and every age exhibit instances of patriotic virtue in the female sex; which considering our situation equals the most heroic of yours.”    Abigail Adams

“The life of the nation is secure only while the nation is honest, truthful, and virtuous.”    Frederick Douglass

“America was not built on fear. America was built on courage, on imagination and an unbeatable determination to do the job at hand.”    Harry Truman

“We, the people, recognize that we have responsibilities as well as rights; that our destinies are bound together; that a freedom which only asks what’s in it for me, a freedom without a commitment to others, a freedom without love or charity or duty or patriotism, is unworthy of our founding ideals, and those who died in their defense.”  Barack Obama

“Real patriotism is a willingness to challenge the government when it’s wrong.”    Ron Paul

HAVE YOU VOTED YET?

Bryce Canyon National Park

Bryce NP, red rock canyon 001I have visited Bryce Canyon National Park several times over the years.  Each visit is always unique, regardless of extraneous variables such as season, weather, and even park construction projects.  A major part of the grand spectacle comes from the many contrasts inherent in this place.  Although one of the smallest national parks at 56.2 square miles, its high elevations (8,000-9,000 feet) mean the park occupies three different climate zones as it ascends 2,000 feet.  In addition, the drive into Bryce Canyon National Park is deceptive: visitors first encounter meadows and sparse forests that hide the stupendous vistas that eventually erupt, offering 200 miles of visibility.

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Of course, there is also the fact that Bryce Canyon National Park is not really a canyon. Instead, the area is comprised of a series of amphitheaters, each one cut 1,000 feet into the sandstone cliffs. Its 18-mile scenic drive takes visitors to numerous scenic overlooks and hiking trails, providing dramatic overviews of the park’s stark vistas and red cliffs.

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Bryce Vista River

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SOME FLOWERS & ANIMALS THAT CAN OFTEN BE SEEN

Utah Prairie Dog

Utah Prairie Dog

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SOME TYPICAL VIEWS

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INSPIRATION POINT

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NATURAL BRIDGE

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FAIRVIEW POINT

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GEOLOGICAL MAP OF THE COLORADO PLATEAU

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Bryce Fairview PtThis magnificent park is one of many national parks scattered throughout Utah, Colorado, New Mexico and Arizona. This four-state area is part of the expansive geological feature called the Colorado Plateau that—millions of years ago (mya)—was formed from sedimentary buildup, tectonic activity and ongoing erosion.  Bryce Canyon National Park, however, is one of the areas that was initially situated at the bottom of an inland sea.  The combination of this area’s special features—initially underwater, ongoing wind erosion complemented by the impact of freezing temperatures and annual rainfall—gives rise to park’s the most unique feature: hoodoos.

Bryce NP, red rock canyon 134Hoodoos are bulbous spires eroded out of the sandstone cliffs that are unique in the world to this national park in southern Utah.  These statuesque rock features look almost human as they populate the cliffs and terraces.  In 1936, Indian Dick was recorded sharing part of a Paiute Legend about the formation of this area and it ghostly apparitions:

“Before there were any Indians, the Legend People, To-when-an-ung-wa, lived in that place. . . . Coyote turned them all into rocks.  You can see them in that place now; some standing in rows; some sitting down; some holding onto others. You can see their faces, with paint on them just as they were before they became rocks. . . . The name of that place is Agka-ku-wass-a-wits (Red Painted Faces).”

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I love to sit and observe these hoodoos.  They seem so human that I swear I can hear their whispers as they huddle against the wind.  Some of the works by my favorite artists show individuals at one with nature who would be at peace wandering the trails that meander through these impressive cliffs.

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Although these artists did not live in Utah, their work captures the spirit and people of the Southwest and along with the hoodoos themselves  remind me that past and present, nature and families, history and culture intertwine together in this special place called Bryce Canyon National Park.

Carole Grigg, Cherokee, Oregon

Carole Grigg, Cherokee, Oregon

R. C. Gorman, Navajo, California & New Mexico

R. C. Gorman, Navajo, California & New Mexico

R. C. Gorman

R. C. Gorman

Amado Pena, Yaqui, Arizona & Texas

Amado Pena, Yaqui, Arizona & Texas

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If you have never been, consider visiting Bryce Canyon National Park.  It is a truly wondrous place.  Although native tribes had populated the area for centuries, this wondrous location was officially named Bryce Canyon National Park after a Mormon pioneer named Ebenezer Bryce.  The area was first preserved as a National Monument in 1923, becoming a National Park in 1928.  As a visitor brochure explains, “This dynamic mesmerizing place is like no other.”

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Scenic sounds a bit too generic, too common.  Idyllic sounds too poetic.  I guess if I needed to describe Bosque del Apache in one word, I would use pastoral or rustic.  But it really is a challenge to capture in words the essence of a visit to Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge in New Mexico.  I visited this refuge in May 2014 and almost had the place to myself.  I shared it with a few other visitors, quite a few birds, some mule deer, and a bunny.

Getting to Bosque del Apache should have been easy.  It is situated off Interstate 25 between Albuquerque and Las Cruces.  I even had my new GPS to help me plan the route.  The problem was that I did not have an address and the little towns it was close too were too small to be in the GPS database.  It seemed lucky—at first—that one of the websites I was reviewing about the location had one of those how-to-get-there-from-wherever-you-are features set up.  I plugged in my hotel’s address and received what appeared to be a back road’s route into the refuge.  At one time along the way I would even be traveling on old Route 66.  How cool was that?  The total distance implied I would arrive at my destination in about 30 minutes.

Armed with these directions, I started out, quickly being led to a back road vs. a major thoroughfare.  The directions seemed to be working.  All the turns were showing up right on schedule.  But there were a few glitches.  As I went along, fewer of the roads were marked, and most were not paved.  Eventually I turned off the main back road I was on, but the new road was rough dirt and gravel with lots of pot holes and seemed to cut across a farmer’s fields.  As I drove, the route became progressively worse, bouncing me along through the dust allowing me to travel maybe 8 miles an hour.  When my next turn displayed the road sign “unpaved bureau of land management road” and the gravel and pot holes worsened, I decided it would be better to find another route.

Now, don’t get me wrong.  It was a beautiful drive.

I loved the wide open vistas, the blue skies, even the cattle who wandered back and forth between the fields and the “road.”  After I turned around, I made it back to the interstate and had been out and about on my wild goose chase for only a couple hours. For the rest of the day, I figured I would take a drive and see what I could find.  And there it was, right off the interstate, a little sign saying “Bosque del Apache.”  I took the exit and followed the county road to my destination.  The route still seemed fairly isolated, but there were houses and it was paved.

I was delighted to have finally arrived at Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuse.  I was hoping for a chance to enjoy nature in solitude, marveling at a few wildflowers and maybe some birds.  I was not disappointed.  If I had visited in the fall, I would have seen many more birds. At that time of year, 10,000 sandhill cranes and some bald eagles settle in for the season.  But the heat was not too bad, there was a slight breeze, and I saw quite a few birds and only a couple other people.  Nature and Solitude—my kind of day!

Most of the refuge was accessible via various self-guided auto tours that traversed along fields and waterways.  The Visitors Center was a nice little respite where I could ask a few questions, use the bathroom, and buy a few postcards.  When I returned to the Center late in the day, after closing hours, I saw a road runner dart across the driveway, too fast to allow a picture.  This little bunny must’ve felt he was hidden well enough in the bushes that he did not need to run away.

But the best part of the day was the silence, the solitude, the beauty, the activity as I wandered along the byways and waterways of this wildlife refuge that covers over 57,000 acres in the heart of the Rio Grande Valley. The website’s description says the refuge is a verdant and fertile land—and that is certainly true.  I could not help but think of Basho’s words: “Amidst the splendor of the scene and the silence, I was filled with a wonderful peace.” 

It was a great day!

 DO YOU HAVE A FAVORITE PLACE WHERE YOU GO FOR SILENCE AND SOLITUDE?

DISCOVERING THE NOVELS

First OneI keep being surprised that Alexander McCall Smith is a man.  You see, he writes a series of detective novels called The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency—and he seems to capture the heart and soul of the main character Precious Ramotswe so well that I keep figuring a woman must have created her.  The whole series focuses more on relationships and life than on the mysteries to be solved. However, there is a social conscience as well, as background issues surface periodically such as AIDS, domestic violence, sexual harassment, and women’s rights, adding texture and awareness to the stories.  Each novel also takes the readers on a wondrous visit to Botswana in all its complexities.

Each novel centers on solving a mystery or two of some sort.  But these mysteries are not anything as grand as a pre-meditated murder, car chases, or acts of espionage.  The mysteries solved by Mma Ramotswe tend to be simple problems of everyday people. She is helping people, not just solving crimes. The interactions between the characters unfold at a leisurely pace with patience and courtesy.  As Booklist notes in its review, “The brilliance of this series. . . is that what may seem like tiny cases expand into considerations of virtue, love, ambition, greed, and evil.”

Blue ShoesIn the first novel in the series—The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency (1998)—not only does Mma Ramotswe open her agency with an inheritance from her father, but she solves several cases: finds proof about a philandering husband, brings a con man to light, and returns a kidnapped boy to his family.  In the seventh book in the series, Blue Shoes and Happiness (2006), the detective investigates the irrational fear taking hold of the employees at the Mokolodi Game Reserve and the problematic blood pressure readings being given by a doctor.  In the fourteenth book in the series, The Minor Adjustment Beauty Salon, Mma Ramotswe investigates the rightful heir to an inheritance and determines who is undermining the success of a newly opened business, and why.

Every novel in the series intertwines several cases that need the detective’s attention against the lives of the primary characters.  Mma Ramotswe solves her clients’ problems with patience, a good sense of humor, keen observations and an understanding of human nature.  She spends some of her time reading her favorite book, The Principles of Private Detection by Clovis Andersen, reflecting on the problems at hand, and drinking a cup of red bush tea. There is enough suspense and complexity in the problems to keep the readers engaged, but the real intrigue is seeing the primary characters interact as their friendships grow.

Grace Makutsi is Mma Ramotswe’s quirky, somewhat critical even prickly secretary who wears large thick glasses and aspires to being an assistant detective.  She can be intrusive and outspoken, but she has a heart of gold and a willingness to help.  Mma Ramotswe’s neighbor is J. L. B. Matekoni, the best car mechanic in Botswana and owner of Speedy Motors.  He is kind, honest, and very soft-spoken, almost shy. He is a generous soul, always willing to help.  He treats cars and their owners with respect and can easily read what a car reveals about its owner.  Mr. Matekoni’s cautious courtship of Mma Ramotswe unfolds over several novels and helps bring to light some of the sorrow and misery of Mma Ramotswe’s past.

Mr. Makekoni has two apprentices—Charlie and Fanwell—who grow up a little throughout the novels and are featured in several cases throughout the series.  An occasional character is Mma Potokwane, who runs the local orphanage. Her skill is talking others into volunteering for various tasks to help the orphans.  She is a friend and confidant to both Mma Ramotswe and Mr. Matekoni, and the orphanage grounds become the setting for many scenes throughout the novels.  Other characters surface and become part of this extended family of sorts as the novels evolve.

Each character is finely drawn and seems so very true to life.  The behaviors and idiosyncrasies of these people remind most readers of people they know.  Throughout the series, the characters build their friendships, pulling readers along with them on every risk, insight, and adventure.  Finding how their lives unfold through whatever situations erupt in each novel keeps the readers turning page after page.  These are characters the readers want to know.

authorThere are two other constant characters in these novels that are closely intertwined and work together to add a unique element to the novels.  The first of these unique characters is Botswana itself.  Scottish author Alexander McCall Smith was born in what is now Zimbabwe and lived for a time in Botswana teaching law at the university. His knowledge of the country’s nature, history and culture are infused throughout the novels.  His respect for the land, its people, and their culture and traditions is evident. Mma Ramotswe is the main voice that champions Botswana and its virtues.

The other unique character that helps Smith and his character Mma Romatswe explore tradition and its role in modern Botswana is her late father, Obed Romatswe. He lives on in her memories and often comes to mind as she contemplates how to solve a case. His lessons to her as a child and her memories of him bring the culture to life. Most of these memories of her father are grounded in nature.  Thus the Botswana countryside—whether a desolate drive to her old village or the sun setting over her garden each evening—becomes an integral character within each novel.  The Boston Globe notes that any novel in the series can be “set apart from the genre by the quality of its writing, as well as by its exotic setting.”

Minor AdjustmentThe following reflection from The Minor Adjustment Beauty Salon shows the importance the author and his main character Mma Romatswe share about Botswana, about its importance and influence on all activity:

“. . . and yet all of us had a view from somewhere, a view of the world from the perspective of who we were, of what had happened to us, of how we thought about things. Her [Mma Romastwe’s] view was the view from Mochudi, where she had been brought up by her late father, that great man, Oded Ramotswe. And his view had been the view from where? The view from Botswana, she decided: the view of the world that seemed essentially and naturally right, because it was a view that understood how things really were and how God must surely have intended them to be when He first made Botswana. She smiled to herself as she savoured the idea that God had looked at the world, seen a wide stretch of land, and had said, This shall be Botswana. He had given it the Kalahari; He had given it the good land along the eastern border, and had added, for good measure, the Makadikadi Salt Pans.”

Good HusbandMore than the symbolic aspect of Botswana in the novels, everyday nature is also a constant reminder of the world the characters live in and react to. The desolate roads, the waiting for rain to end the long dry summers, the cattle of the past and the present in fields and streets, the need to be on the lookout for wild animals crossing one’s path especially snakes, the personal garden where husband and wife can sit together—all these elements of nature are a constant in the novels.  More than setting a scene, nature becomes part of the constant, cyclical, certainty of the Botswana way of life that is captured in these novels.  In the eighth novel, The Good Husband of Zebra Drive (2007), this awareness of nature is captured:

“They were just coming to the end of winter now, and there were signs of the return of warmth, but the mornings and the evenings could still be bitterly cold, as this particular morning was. Cold air, great invisible clouds of it, would sweep up from the south-east, from the distant Drakensberg Mountains and from the southern oceans beyond; air that seemed to love rolling over the wide spaces of Botswana, cold air under a high sun.

“Once in the kitchen, with a blanket wrapped about her waist, Mma Ramotswe switched on Radio Botswana in time for the opening chorus of the national anthem and the recording of cattle bells with which the radio started the day. This was a constant in her life, something that she remembered from her childhood, listening to the radio from her sleeping mat while the woman who looked after her started the fire that would cook breakfast for Precious and her father, Obed Ramotswe. It was one of the cherished things of her childhood, that memory; as was the mental picture that she had of Mochudi (her home village) as it then was, of the view from the National School up on the hill; of the paths that wound through the bush this way and that but which had a destination known only to the small scurrying animals that used them. These were things that would stay with her forever, she thought, and which would always be there, no matter how bustling and thriving Gaborone might become. This was the soul of her country; somewhere there, in that land of red earth, of green acacia, of cattle bells, was the soul of her country.”

MY RECOMMENDATION

If you have not read any of the novels in this series yet, they are worth your time and effort.  The first book in the series, The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency, was published in 1998. The Plain Dealer praised it as “One of the best, most charming, honest, hilarious and life-affirming books to appear in years.”  That review can be applied to any of the fifteen books in the series.  Other reviews capture the heart of the series as well.  The New York Times Book Review concludes, “Smith’s big-hearted Botswana stories. . . [allow] his readers to escape into a world of simple, picturesque pleasures and upstanding virtues.”   The Daily Mail (London) declares the series “Wonderful, hilarious, totally addictive. . . [with] wit worthy of Jane Austen.”  There is good reason for the novels to have achieved international acclaim.

AN HBO FILM ADAPTATION

Jill ScottHBO Film SeriesYou might also want to watch The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency seven-episode Original Series created by HBO in 2008.  This film version of many of the novels is well done as it captures the heart and soul of the characters and the location.  The casting and acting are impressive; the characters come alive for me just as I envisioned them.  Jill Scott, especially, brings Mma Ramostwse to life as a living breathing character of traditional build and proud of it. She is quick to smile and courteous to a fault, as is tradition in Botswana.  US Weekly gave the series Four Stars.  Entertainment Weekly concluded it was “Feel-Good Television.”

TearsOne of my favorite cases from the book series is told in the second novel, The Tears of the Giraffe (2000), and it was included in the fourth episode of the HBO series called “The Boy with an African Heart.” This case involves the disappearance of a young American years ago in the Botswana plains.  CCH Pounder beautifully plays the American mother visiting this country her son loved so much, trying to discover his fate.   The interaction between mother, detective and landscape is compelling.  This one case/novel/episode captures the essence of the entire series.

Overall, the film adaptation is not 100% faithful to the novels’ characters and cases, but it is true to the essence of the written series as it captures the novels’ main action and characters.  The main difference is the inclusion of a new secondary character, a gay hairdresser named BJ whose shop is next door to the detective agency.  He is a delight and fits right in with the intent and feeling of the series. Other changes are minor as might be expected moving print to visual media.  Perhaps the most impressive element of the HBO series is that it is filmed entirely on location in Botswana.  The color, the vibrancy, the openness of Botswana truly come alive as the stories unfold in this wonderful locale.

This following video is called Making of HBO’s No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency, and it shows the spark and heart of the characters and the stories.  Maybe it will entice you to give the novels a try. Or at least to watch the HBO series.  Enjoy!

This second video is called the Gem of Botswana. It shows aspects of the country and culture that are captured in the books and the film series.  It shows how compelling Botswana is as the locale and the heart of The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency.  I would love to visit Botswana some day and enjoy a cup of red bush tree under the shade of an acacia tree.  In some ways, it would feel like going to visit a good friend.

If you have read or seen any of the No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series, what do you think?  If not, I encourage you to give the novels or the HBO series a try.  You’ll be transported to Botswana and meet some fascinating characters.  You might want to slow down, appreciate life and nature around you, and enjoy a cup of red bush tea while you’re at it.

What books or film adaptations can you suggest?  There is at least another month left of summer!

THE NO. 1 LADIES’ DETECTIVE AGENCY NOVELS IN ORDER  (I love the titles!)

The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency

Tears of the Giraffe

Morality for Beautiful Girls

The Kalahari Typing School for Men

The Full Cupboard of Life

In the Company of Cheerful Ladies

Blue Shoes and Happiness

The Good Husband of Zebra Drive

The Miracle at Speedy Motors

The Time for the Traditionally Built

The Double Comfort Safari Club

The Saturday Big Tent Wedding Party

The Limpopo Academy of Private Detection

The Minor Adjustment Beauty Salon

The Handsome Man’s De Luxe Cafe

 

I always enjoy a good murder mystery, especially in the summer when I can lounge at the beach or curl up on the couch inside with the air conditioning.  These novels—although maybe not great literature—offer strong characters, intriguing plot twists, and exciting settings. The suspense of the mystery or thriller keeps me engaged, but the plots are not so intricate or themes so profound that I cannot be interrupted and keep continuity.  If I doze off while reading, no problem.  I can pick right back up again!

If I find a mystery author I like, I go back over and over.  Some of my go-to authors include Laurie King’s Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes series, Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum series, Tony Hillerman’s Jim Chee and Joe Leaphorn series, Sue Graftson’s alphabet mystery series, and James Patterson’s Women’s Murder Club series.  But I am always open for a good mystery to read, a new author to explore.

no rest for the deadA few weeks ago I was intrigued by a new title—No Rest for the Dead—because of its author.  I actually should say authors, plural.  What caught my eye about this tome was that it was a group project, written by 26 different mystery writers.  You know the concept of a progressive dinner?  Start a meal in one place and move on to another location for the next course?  That is how this book was created, a progressive draft where different authors wrote different chapters.

David Baldacci (author of King & Maxwell series) wrote the introduction to this collective endeavor and explained what a magnificent feat this joint project really was:This is a rare thing indeed because mystery writers are notoriously reclusive, paranoid, and unfriendly folks when it comes to their work. . . .  While they each deliver their own signature brand of storytelling to the novel, it is startling how these writers. . . have woven a yarn that seems to be the product of one mind, one imagination (albeit schizophrenic).”

And Baldacci was right:  No Rest for the Dead is an impressive collaboration. I was intrigued by the authors themselves, some of whom I had read before and enjoyed.  All are successful in their own ways, most having been on the NY Times Bestsellers List many times.  The 26 authors who worked together to create this murder mystery are listed below basically in order of the appearance of their contributions in the novel.  I have added a little info about the couple of authors that I have read before and liked:

  • Andrew F. Gulli
  • Jonathon Santlofer
  • Jeff Lindsay (Dexter series that was inspiration for Dexter TV show)
  • Alexander McCall Smith (The #1 Ladies Detective Agency and other series).
  • Raymond Khoury
  • Sandra Brown
  • Faye Kellerman
  • Kathy Reichs (Temperance Brennan series, basis for Bones TV show)
  • John Lescroart
  • T. Jefferson Parker
  • Lori Armstrong
  • Matthew Pearl
  • Michael Palmer
  • J. A. Jance
  • Gayle Kynds
  • R. L. Stine (Goosbumps series for kids)
  • Marcia Talley
  • Thomas Cook
  • Diana Gabaldon (Outlander series)
  • Peter James
  • Tess Gerritsen (Rizzoli & Isles series, basis for TV show)
  • Lisa Scottoline
  • Phillip Margolin
  • Jeffrey Deaver
  • Jeff Abbott
  • Marcus Sakey

I was also intrigued by No Rest for the Dead because of what prompted this extreme collaboration.  The idea of an anthology of mystery short stories that would generate income for cancer charities originated with Andrew J. Gulli, managing editor of Strand, the number one magazine for mystery and short story writers.  A friend of his, now late, suggested making the project a novel with many authors as a better way to entice readers.  That change helped the idea coalesce, and soon authors were coming on board for the project.  Gulli and his sister Lamia Gulli edited this jointly written novel. Other than payments to authors all proceeds are going to Leukemia & Lymphoma Society.  According to LLS, 148 people die from blood cancer every day.  Helping cancer research is a great cause!

Of course, the book will only sell and raise money for LLS if No Rest for the Dead is a good novel.  Fortunately, it is.  As the novel opens, the readers are aware that the woman convicted of killing her husband was put to death for his murder ten years ago.  But now, the main detective who helped convict her feels he was wrong and that an innocent woman was killed.  This former police detective, Jon Nunn, has been obsessed for the past decade with trying to find the truth.  This opening sets up a great dynamic, generating interest and suspense in finding the truth.

The plot unfolds in a two-part structure.  After the opening setup, the readers are taken back in time to just before the murder, so all the suspects and their actions can be clarified.  The murder victim is seen as arrogant and condescending, and many people have motive to kill him.  I don’t want to say that I cheered over the fact that he had been bumped off, but I was not very sad.  Then the readers are returned to the present when all these players are being brought together on the 10th anniversary of the convicted murderer’s death.  Current intrigue shows that someone is working to thwart the detective’s ongoing investigation to find out the truth.  As a reader, I was quickly committed to the plot, wanting desperately to know the truth about this murder.

Overall, No Rest for the Dead is a fun summer read. If you like murder mysteries, you will not be disappointed.  The characters are engaging, the action is compelling, and the final resolution offers a surprise twist.  I even stayed up one night to read just one more chapter. And then another.  But this mystery is also a good read for those who value the art of writing itself.  I was impressed by the smooth transition from one chapter to the next as new authors picked up the story and carried it forward.  The varying writing styles melded together well.  In fact, I was able to forget that so many different voices were penning this cohesive presentation.   I echo Baldacci’s comment on the success of this writing experiment:  “It’s hard what these writers have done. Give them their due.”

My final analysis?  Give it a try!  If you end up not liking No Rest for the Dead, most of your $10 will have gone to LLS. 

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

SOME QUOTES ON MURDER MYSTERIES (SORT OF)

“Novels are written word by word. If you can write a word, and then another word, you can write a novel—assuming your novel will be two words long. Here’s a two-word romance novel: I do. It’s also a murder mystery.”   Jarod Kintz

“Murder is easy, if no one suspects you.”  Agatha Christie

“The lady in the liquor store sold me a fifth of whiskey and the landlord’s name without taking her eyes off the book she was reading.”  Andrew Cotto

“The sweetest smiles hold the darkest secrets. . . “   Sara Shepard

“You don’t just spontaneously develop a fatal head wound.”  Detective Vega, CSI

“I specialize in murders of quiet, domestic interest.”  Agatha Christie

 “One must never set up a murder.  They just happen unexpectedly, as in life.”  Alfred Hitchcock

“There are 4 kinds of homicide: felonious, excusable, justifiable, and praiseworthy.”  Ambrose Bierce

“Truth will come to sight; murder cannot be hid long.”   William Shakespeare

“What the detective story is about is not murder but the restoration of order.”  P. D. James

 

What are your best summer reads? 

If you read murder mysteries, share some favorite authors!

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