I received La's Orchestra Saves the World from my bf Liz for Christmas. Both of us are unabashed Alexander McCall Smith fans, and, although the book had come out in November, I hadn't picked it up yet. What a stroke of luck, that Liz sent it to me for Christmas.
McCall Smith is known for his prolific series writing--The No.1 Ladies' Detective Agency, 44 Scottland Street, Portuguese Irregular Verbs, and (my favorite) The Sunday Philosophy Club/Isabel Dalhousie novels. La is a stand-alone novel, told in flashback.
La--short for Lavender--has not expected to live an exciting or important life. But when her husband leaves her for a French woman, La moves into her in-law's country house to rebuild her life. Her wayward husband's unexpected death leaves her rather well off, and she is faced with the dilemma of what to do with her life--until the onset of World War II.
While La is assisting an elderly local farmer, she gets the idea to create a local orchestra to boost morale. With the help of TIm, a local RAF officer, and the local townspeople, the orchestra is a clear success. However, La's life becomes more complicated when Felix, an ex-pat Polish airman, who assists on the farm and plays flute in the orchestra, seems to be hiding something from La--and everyone else.
Imbued with McCall Smith's trademark charm and luminous characters, La is a worthy addition to his literary output. As a stand alone novel, it does well (although the beginning is a big ambiguous) compared to his other multi-volume series. La is his typical plucky heroine, though she is not without flaws. While World War II novels, movies, and memoirs can seem like a dime a dozen, this one is a real addition to the existing stacks of books. It's about heroism of a much quieter kind, and how one person can do much more good than she ever thinks.