Tag Archives: Scotland

*** The Revolving Door of Life by Alexander McCall Smith

The Revolving Door of Life continues the adventures of Bertie, which I’m reading slightly out of order. It does not matter, since each book is a compilation of meditations on the small things in life. In this installment, Bertie’s mom is away so he enjoys a much more normal young boy’s life with this grandmother’s indulgent care. And the Association of Scottish Nudists is plotting to exclude members from outside Edinburgh, proving that politics can infect any gathering of humans.

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*** A Time of Love and Tartan by Alexander McCall Smith

In A Time of Love and Tartan, our friend Bertie‘s mother is moving out and his father quits his job, setting us up for a very different kind of story in the next installment, I think. (The overbearing mother’s theme was getting, well, a bit overbearing!) In the meantime, we are treated to the usual lovely observations of Bertie’s teacher trying to mediate peace with his difficult classmates, a gallery director who gets into trouble with his old English teacher, and a young woman who is tempted by a terribly inappropriate old flame. Or, and some Pygmies come for lunch, too.

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*** The Bertie Project by Alexander McCall

Bertie’s mom is back, sadly for him — but I predict he will grow into an even more thoughtful and strong young man as a result of her overbearing upbringing. So as he trudges from psychotherapy to Italian lessons to saxophone lessons, he is learning. We also have lots of adventures with the triplets and their au-pairs, and a new child appears on the scene so children all around.

Back to the mom: aren’t evil female characters enjoyable , and mothers to boot?

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** Bertie’s Guide to Life and Mothers by Alexander McCall Smith

Bertie’s Guide to Life and Mothers (in the 44 Scotland Street Series) brings us Bertie without his mother, who has been waylaid, improbably, during a stay in Dubai (hence the two-star rating — surely there would be a better way to make her disappear for a few months!) Freed from his obsessed mother, he can participate in all kinds of delightful activities, from eating ice cream to ditching his psychotherapy sessions, and displays his considerable charm and caring to his heretofore-remote grandmother. Assorted other characters also make an appearance. Lovely if you can compartmentalize that silly disappearance device.

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*** The Importance of Being Seven by Alexander McCall Smith

In the 44 Scotland Street series, The Importance of Being Seven is titled for Bertie, who is indeed about to turn seven and still trying to escape the domination of his controlling mother (he does manage to bring his baby brother to school, unassisted, in this episode!). But it also stars his old teacher, now married, whose first pregnancy ultrasound brings many blessings, and a remarkable holiday in Tuscany by a group of friends, who bears a suspicious but entirely charming resemblance to My Italian Bulldozer.

 

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* At the Water’s Edge by Sara Gruen

At The Water’s Edge stars a trio of spoiled Philadelphians who decide to go photograph the Loch Ness monster near the end of the Second World War, bringing with them a breaking-down marriage and very little money as they have been cut off from the family fortune after one too many escapade. Their haughty and oblivious behaviors do not endear them to the locals, but as the two men leave the woman to wait for them at the inn, she mysteriously acquires half a brain, realizes that she is acting as a twit, and even manages to contribute a bit to the world. A love story ensues, of course, in which she is forever rescued from her weaknesses by the stoic, taciturn local. Cliches abound. I did not like.

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*** The Strings of Murder by Oscar de Muriel

I can feel a new crime series starting: with The Strings of Murder, we not only encounter a blood-soaked Victorian mystery, but also two inspectors with, as we would say today, personal baggage, one a London snob who is slumming it in Edinburgh after having been kicked out of his job at Scotland Yard in the midst of a political intrigue and the other a local with a frightful family history. The mystery will be solved, after many more murders and twists, and I imagine the inspectors will make it to another book.

Every once in a while the historical details seem overdone, or the conversation is anachronistic (no teenagers in Victorian times!) but the overall effect is engrossing.

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*** Rise by Karen Campbell


Rise is the fictional story of another kind of escape into the countryside, from sexual abuse into a small Scotland village. But there are no cliches about abusive relationships, no platitudes about small-town life, and, mercifully, no harangues about the Scottish independence vote, which is about to happen as a minor theme in the story. The story is thrilling but the focus is on the heroine and her complicated feelings and scheming as she burrows into a local family for protection, while the family is imploding, in part because of her actions. Even the ending is properly sober. Highly recommended!

 

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** Closed Doors by Lisa O’Donnell


A story from Scotland on a day important for Scotland!

The narrator of Closed Doors is a young boy whose mother is assaulted but will not go to the police because she is afraid that her small island community would ostracize her and her family. The writing is very good, but somehow it sounded just a little too precious to me. I did like how the author was able to convey the almost suffocating atmosphere of the closed-in island community, where getting along is more important, it seems, than one’s own survival.

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** Trains and Lovers by Alexander McCall Smith

Surprise! A novel by Alexander McCall Smith that is not part of an existing series, whether the legendary No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency,  Isabel Dalhousie, or 44 Scotland Street series. Trains and Lovers takes place on a train, between Scotland and London, and brings together four people’s stories of love that went mostly wrong.  I doubt that any train companions would talk so long and deep about their lives but novels are all about suspending disbelief, right, and the stories are engaging and tender, coming  together in a pleasing whole rather than simply being four juxtaposed short stories. Another bonus is the story from Australia (Perth), a location that has figured in other Mc Call Smith’s books and is nicely highlighted here. Nicely done and charming, although no more than that.

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