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42 of 44 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon 26 November 2008
Finding a new Alexander McCall Smith book in my local book shop is always a pleasure. He is almost the only current writer whose books I will buy in hardback without any misgiving and without knowing anything about the book first. But, lately, he seems to be getting ever more prolific.

Mostly set in my favourite county, Suffolk, with most of the action (such as it is) during the World War II, this is the kind of book that would make an excellent short TV period drama series (or maybe just a single long drama). It's nice to have a one off novel from this writer for a change, as Precious Ramotswe and Isabel Dalhousie will soon need a bookshelf all to themselves in my house. I enjoyed the story this book tells, but like the other reviewer I found the ending somewhat underdone and unsatisfactory. None of the characters in this book really stand out: the charm definitely lies more in the evocation of a lost time and way of life. This is not really vivid enough to make the book unmissable, but overall I'm happy enough to have this book and will probably enjoy reading it again some time.
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48 of 51 people found the following review helpful
TOP 100 REVIEWERon 17 November 2008
This is a sweetly old fashioned story set in Suffolk during the Second World War. The heroine, La (it's short for Lavender), moves to the country after her marriage ends. Initially she's very lonely, but gradually she builds relationships and then she has the idea of forming an orchestra for members of the nearby air base as well as for the local villagers. At the same time, the book is about her relationship with a Polish worker (Feliks), for whom she has an unrequited love while also harbouring doubts about his background.

The book starts slowly, spending a lot of time on La's back story. The orchestra is only formed at the half way mark. I found the central part (during the war) very involving, but then it slows right down again after the war ends. McCall Smith does a good job of building suspense about Feliks, but then he lets it dissipate so that when we do eventually find out the truth, we're past caring. There is also one chapter towards the end when the narrative switches to La's point of view and which pre-empts any tension about what might happen when she meets up with her Pole in the next chapter. I felt that there should have been a better way to integrate La's thoughts into the book.

La is a curiously bland and passive character - neither as engaging nor as pro-active as Precious Ramotswe or Isabel Dalhousie. In fact, none of the characters ever came alive for me, although I did really enjoy the way that it captured life in the English countryside at that time. It's an enjoyable story, but it needed to be tightened and it badly needed a better structure. It pains me to be critical because I do love Alexander McCall Smith's writing, but this one felt like it was rushed out for Christmas rather than going back for another re-write.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
A curious one, this. The first half of the novel greatly appeals, it easy to identify with La and to savour the evocative descriptions of England at war. La, her life in disarray after tragedy, tries to settle in an old Suffolk farmhouse. She tends chickens on a neighbouring farm and turns her garden over to vegetables. Gradually she makes friends with a pilot named Tim and a Pole named Feliks. The pace is leisurely, the characters beguiling.

Then everything goes askew. Note the title. Yes, La starts up an orchestra to help raise morale. Surely the orchestra from this point should take centre stage (especially as the author has so much experience of being in one)? Instead, for the most part, it remains on the periphery. More focus is needed on the people in it and its effect on the community. Sadly, everything is further thrown off balance by a creaking subplot involving "stolen" money - the novel's conclusion unsatisfyingly fragmented and seeming rushed. I never worked out how the orchestra saved the world but felt featuring it more prominently would have saved the book.

Contrast the end with that wonderfully intriguing opening chapter! I could not help wishing the novel had as its grand climax the concert to celebrate the end of war, a postscript then taking us back to those two brothers of the start: they still have something of worth to contribute. Everything would have thus been more integrated.

Thanks to Alexander McCall Smith's books I have relished visits to Scotland and Botswana and enjoyed meeting the people he describes. For various reasons, this novel lacked similar impact.
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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
La - short for Lavender - retreats to rural Suffolk after a failed marriage. It is shortly before the outbreak of World War II. She settles into rural life and domesticity until she feels she needs to make some sort of contribution to the war effort even though she has enough money not to need to work after the death of her husband. She agrees to work without pay for a local farmer - the cantankerous Henry - looking after his hens. Then she meets Feliks - a Polish pilot who is grounded because he lost the sight in one eye during a mission - who also goes to work for Henry. As a result of talking to Feliks La hits upon the idea of starting an orchestra made up of local people and members of the RAF from a nearby base. It is this orchestra which keeps the community going. How La's relationships develop and what happens to the orchestra makes for an interesting plot. It is a gentle moral story with Alexander McCall Smith's customary light touch. I enjoyed it even though it is not in quite the same class as 44 Scotland Street or the No 1 Ladies Detective Agency.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
La's Orchestra Saves the World is a stand-alone novel by Alexander McCall-Smith. It is set around the time of the Second World War in England. Lavender Stone (La to her friends) leaves London for a Suffolk village in the wake of a disastrous marriage. When the war starts, she becomes a part of the small community in her village. She sets up an orchestra which brings the village and the men on the nearby airbase together and gives them some hope for the future. She also meets Feliks, a shy Polish pilot who has an unexpected effect on her. For me, this book somehow has the feel of Mary Ann Shaffer's Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, perhaps because it is set in the same time period. The end seemed to be headed for a let-down, but the last page was a pleasant surprise. As with all Alexander McCall-Smith's books, filled with gentle philosophy: it was a joy to read.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon 7 September 2009
I'm a great fan of the Botswana series, the 88 Scotland Street books, and the von Igelfeld trilogy, which is frankly superb. Thus this book was a great disappointment. The spirit of the age is well captured with AMS's usual delicately understated prose, but unfortunately one expects a bit more than this! The storyline is a quite simple one but ultimately doesn't really deliver very much. Just when we think the story about the identity of Feliks might take an unexpected turn, it actually doesn't. Some poignant moments but AMS'S trademark tongue in cheek humour is not so evident here. Apologies, Mr McCall Smith, but 3-Stars is as much as I can honestly commit to here.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon 3 April 2009
As I read this, I couldn't help wondering if it would have stood a chance of being published if it weren't by Alexander McCall Smith. As others have commented, the annoyingly-named La is bafflingly passive, and never comes alive as a character, and nor does Feliks, the mysterious Pole. The period detail is not very well done, and although the book is (in part) about the power of music, and the joy of being in an orchestra, this wasn't conveyed either. AMS writes with an almost childlike simplicity, which works well in the Botswana books, but doesn't come off here.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 3 December 2010
This is a lovely novel, but I can't help agreeing with some of the other reviewers in that it isn't as engaging as many of McCall Smith's other books. La's character isn't as alluring as Precious Ramotswe, for example. It's not long, though, and reading La's Orchestra was definitely a pleasant way to pass the time.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 17 August 2009
fans of smith won't be disappointed in this. makes a change from his usual repertoire. an easy, light holiday read.
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on 18 April 2013
I've listened to a lot of Alexander McCall Smith and enjoyed all his books, so I expected to enjoy this.
Well, I wasn't disappointed. Different from my previous titles of his, but equally enjoyable. I just love
his style of writing. I will listen to this again and hope to keep finding more of his works.
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