Thursday, May 8, 2014

He was ready to be stolen

It's always a very happy day when there is a new adventure featuring Mma Ramotswe and her able assistant Mma Makutsi.  The Minor Adjustment Beauty Salon is the latest installment in the series concerning the events at the No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency in Gaborone, Botswana.

While the office of the agency still shares the building with the Speedy Motors Garage (run by Mma Ramotswe's husband, Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni), lots of new developments have occurred.  Mma Makutsi and Phuti Radiphuti have become parents, Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni decides to become a "modern husband," and Charlie the apprentice reveals a new side of his personality.

But even with all these new and exciting developments, there are still cases to be solved.  The main case this time involves an inheritance matter.  Mma Sheba, a lawyer, is attempting to fulfill the bequests in a will left by a local farmer who has recently "become late."  The man left his farm to his nephew, who used to come from a neighboring country to spend the summers with his uncle, but the lawyer is not at all convinced that the young man who has stepped forward to claim the estate is who he says he is.

At the same time, the owner of the new Minor Adjustment Beauty Salon finds that her business is the subject of unfounded rumors in town which are scaring away potential customers.  Since she recently stole away another woman's husband, it would seem to be pretty obvious who the rumor-monger is, but Mma Ramotswe isn't so sure.

To add to her difficulties, Mma Makutsi is on maternity leave, and poor Mma Ramotswe feels her absence around the office.  There is no one to bounce ideas off of, or to take frequent tea breaks, or to offer loud and unsolicited advice on the matters of clients.  Even though Mma Makutsi (she of the unheard of and yet to be equalled 97% exam score from the Botswana Secretarial College) is only an Associate (or is it Assistant?) Detective, Mma Ramotswe learns how valuable she is as an employee and friend once she's no longer in the office on a daily basis.  Luckily, Phuti's bossy and opinionated auntie comes for a stay after the baby's birth, so her presence will be an incentive for Mma Makutsi to return to work quickly . . .

I was very happy to spend some more time in the lovely country of Botswana with the kindly characters and their perplexing problems.  It's always a welcome treat to visit the characters and settings that are so wonderful -- even if it ends all too quickly!
Final Verdict for The Minor Adjustment Beauty Salon:   Four Gherkins, for being a comforting visit with some beloved friends


Monday, May 5, 2014

The neighbors from hell

As if being called Skunk wasn't bad enough, the young heroine of the film Broken has to deal with much more than any young girl should.  Skunk lives with her father, older brother and nanny in present-day London.  Her mother left the family some time ago, but her father (played by a very sympathetic Tim Roth) is a successful lawyer and is very involved in the lives of his children.  One day, Skunk has just spoken with her neighbor Rick when another neighbor comes flying out of his house and begins beating Rick.  Skunk is frozen with horror while witnessing the unprovoked attack.

It turns out that the hostile neighbor, Mr. Oswald, believes that the mentally slow Rick has raped one of his daughters.  The Oswald family is also without a mother, but she died and left the three daughters behind to be cared for by the mentally unbalanced Oswald.  In stark contrast to Skunk's father, Mr. Oswald's form of parenting involves shouting and threats interspersed with general neglect.  The police show up and, taking Mr. Oswald's word that Rick is a rapist, arrest the injured young man.  Once again, Skunk is a witness to this strange behavior from the adults.

At the same time, the nanny Kasia is in a long-term relationship with Mike (Cillian Murphy).  While visiting his girlfriend, Mike spends a lot of time with Skunk and her brother.  It turns out that Mike is nearly finished with a teacher training course, and so Skunk is delighted when he turns out to be her teacher when school begins again after a break.  Too bad that Kasia has grown tired of the status quo of their relationship and broken it off.

Rick is soon found to be innocent by the police, but he's so traumatized by the events that happened to him that he refuses to leave his room.  Skunk tries to visit her old friend, but his mother won't let her in the house.  Luckily, Skunk has found a boyfriend and begins spending time with him at a junkyard that's near her home.

The Oswald sisters, however, are definitely the villains of the story.  Mean, meaner and meanest, they spend their time shouting abuse at people in the street, bullying classmates, throwing wild parties, and generally being terrors.  When two of the sisters corner Skunk on her way home and begin assaulting her, Mike is able to save her because he happens to pass by and witness it.  However, now Mike has also caught the attention of the evil trio, so when one of the sisters turns up pregnant, I wonder who they'll blame?  And of course, their father, Mr. Oswald, isn't one to take kindly to people having sex with his daughters (real or imagined).


Things go from bad to worse for Skunk as her boyfriend informs her he's leaving town while at the same time  her father begins a relationship she doesn't approve of.  When she doesn't come home one night, her father begins a frantic search for her.  Skunk is also suffering from Type I diabetes, and all this stress has been hard on her health.  In the end, Skunk has to make a decision about what direction her life is going to take.

I was wondering if this movie would be too depressing, but I really enjoyed it.  Skunk is a cheerful, resilient character who is trying to make sense of the events going on around her.

Final verdict for Broken: Four Gherkins, for being an uplifting look at the life of an irrepressible young girl

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Put your money on a diet

With the rise of easy credit, many people find themselves in over their heads when it comes to their finances. The book The 21 Day Financial Fast attempts to help people reign in their spending by giving them a daily lesson on finances and a daily assignment, both in the context of being on a financial fast -- not spending money for 21 days.

The author uses Biblical principles to underlie most of her ideas.  At the same time, she incorporates a lot of common sense into her suggestions.  The main ideas are the usual ones:  set a budget and stick to it, cut out non-essential spending (after defining "non-essential" -- cable is not essential), get over feelings of entitlement, etc.  By going on a three week spending fast, the author hopes to re-condition the reader to break out of negative spending habits that have resulted in debt and financial problems.

Each of the 21 chapters that relate to one day of the fast begins with a main point and a pledge to help focus on what negative habit or positive change will be worked on that day.  Some of the topics include "the Salvation of Saving," "Marrying Your Money" and "the Curse of Credit."  There are also testimonials sprinkled throughout from people who have followed the fast and gotten their finances under control.

Most of the information was pretty obvious, but for people in dire financial difficulties, I can see how following the daily guidelines set up in the book would be beneficial (although if someone really needs to be told to take their property tax amount, divide it by 12, an set aside that much per month so they can pay their taxes, they are probably beyond help!).  I did find some of her advice to be a bit questionable.  For instance, she is very big on tithing, which is fine, but she goes so far as to suggest that people go to non-profit agencies or churches for food and clothing aid, so people don't have to tap "into your tithe to pay your expenses." So, you may have enough money to pay your expenses, but better to get handouts so you can give your own money away?  This makes no sense, especially as advice for those who are financially challenged to begin with.

Still, for people who have absolutely no idea how to control their money, this step-by-step program offers some concrete steps to take.  The back of the book includes budgeting forms and expense journals to help people keep better track of where their money is going.

Disclaimer:  I received a copy of this book from Booklook Bloggers in exchange for this review.