We apologize for the irregular blogs of late and are trying to get back on track! Here’s Jack’s review of 44 Scotland Street by Alexander McCall-Smith
I’m a huge fan of McCall-Smith, ever since I began devouring his No1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series. But he has a number of others that deserve attention, including Corduroy Gardens and the Scotland Street one.
I should explain right away that I lived most of my life within 30 minutes’ drive of the center of Edinburgh, where this series is set, so I’m very familiar with Scotland Street and the surrounding Georgian part of the city. McCall-Smith captures not only the geography beautifully, but its character through the residents, from the rugby following upper middle class to the quirky academics, the hard working cafe owner and the inimitable and much put-upon child of a demanding liberal-minded mother.
This series started as a serial in one of Scotland’s national newspapers and quickly built a devoted following. So much so that McCall-Smith was persuaded (by them) to turn it into a real book and then to publish two more follow-ups.
The one I’ve just finished re-reading is the second book (although I have read them all), and I was once again captivated by his ability to get right inside the mind of his characters – not just their surface characteristics, what they say and do, but what lies behind them; the professional or cultural world they inhabit. This might seem like a recipe for boredom, but he is such a wonderful observer of human nature and has such a way with words that it never is. Of course he lives in the Edinburgh Georgian ‘new town’ of which he writes and in many ways is just setting down what he lives and experiences every day.
Finally – just like in the Corduroy Gardens series this one has a dog as one of its main characters and I absolutely love how (in both cases) McCall Smith relates to his readers the world from the dog’s point of view. Anyone who has ever been owned by a dog will get it!
Lucy mailed this book to me so I could blog it. I like cozy mysteries, and this one is food-based. It is set in Key West with her recurring detective Haley Snow, a food writer. Hayley has been assigned to interview Edel Waugh, chef/owner of Key West’s hottest new restaurant. But off the record, Edel reveals someone’s sabotaging her kitchen and asks Hayley to investigate.
It all goes downhill from there, with some funny bits about ex-husbands and love interests. This is a great beach read, seeing as it takes place over Christmas and at a beach. The dialogue is quick, the action straightforward and the humor cute. If you happen to be a foodie (I’m not) you will have extra special fun with some of the humor and descriptions. Since I was reading it on a plane while starving over their $8 cheese plate (two slices of cheddar and half an apple) some of the funnier bits may have been lost on me.
Context is everything.
Death with All the Trimmings is part of a series, and since there is some character development based on prior relationships, you may want to start at the beginning. Check out Lucy’s web page for the books in order: http://www.cozy-mystery.com/Lucy-Burdette.html
And have fun!
Filed under between books, Big Stone Gap, book reviews, bookstore management, humor, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, publishing, reading, Sarah Nelson, small town USA, Uncategorized, Wendy Welch, writing
An extra guest post from Jack this week, while Wendy is aloft on her way home from Oregon –
Laurel is our middle-aged foster cat. A beautiful Siamese with a touch of nervous eczema, she is no longer nervous, it seems. In fact she has gone from hiding in corners to dominating the entire bookstore.
As part of her new-found persona, she has taken to ambushing all the bookstore staff kitties – particularly young Hadley (she is now the one who has taken to hiding in corners).
Laurel has also become very ‘shouty’, demanding to be fed first and then sitting at my feet meowing to be picked up and put on my lap, where she will then lie happily surveying her domain.
All of this, I am sure, will come as a great surprise to my fellow members of the ‘Team Laurel’ gang on FaceBook. We have been exchanging tips for weeks now on how to encourage her to come out of her self-imposed purdah and re-engage with the world.
So – where from here?
Well, it’s clear to me that Laurel should ideally not be sharing space with other cats (she seems fine with dogs), although she came originally with a companion and they seemed to get along OK. Maybe she needs to be dominated by a nice muscular tom-cat?
Of course the Quaker side of me hopes that when she ‘centers down’ for an hour of meditation (something she appears to find no difficulty with), she might find that ‘light within’ that we all seek and emerge changed for the better. However I fear that may be a forlorn hope!
It is great to see her engaging with the world, but I can’t help feeling sorry for Owen, Nike and little Hadley as they peer over their shoulders wondering where and when she will pounce like Kato in the Pink Panther movies.
Onward and upward, I suppose – – –
Jack’s weekly guest post –
This has been quite the week – – – –
My niece Vicki and her daughter Elle flew off back to Scotland on Tuesday, while meanwhile Wendy headed off to Oregon on Sunday for a week. Vicki and Elle’s trip was incident free and they were home in Aberdeenshire by Wednesday morning, but Wendy got caught by the storms in Texas and ended up overnighting in LA before finally getting to Portland almost a day late. Of course the wonders of that interwebby thing meant I could share in the delights of the trouble-free journey as well as the horrors of the other one.
Meanwhile our ‘cafe couple’ Kelley and Sam took the low road and drove to Charlotte NC for a concert by ‘Night Wish’, the avant garde Finnish group, with tickets and a back-stage pass courtesy of my old singing buddy Barbara Dickson (one of the members of NightWish is Troy Donockley, Barbara’s musical arranger and band leader).
But what of me?
I have gone from living in a busy, bustling home full of relatives and friends to a solitary existence with only dogs and cats for companionship (and the foster-kitten population went from seven to three over the same period). Yesterday and today the cafe has been closed due to Kelley’s absence and mid-week is the bookstore’s quieter time. As the time moves towards noon and all the cats, dogs and kittens settle down to their siestas, I wait to see if I have to explain diplomatically to cafe customers as I did yesterday that Kelley deserves the occasional break (and who NightWish is!).
I often say that you can’t appreciate good health and lack of pain until you’ve experienced the opposite, and I think for a gregarious person like me, the same applies to companionship.
Haste ye back y’all!
I got this book because my agent recommended it. (We have somewhat similar reading tastes.)
Kotler fell in love with a woman who rescued dogs, and he liked dogs, so he became a dog rescuer. And dog philosopher, because this book is chock full of ethnographic and philosophical divergences into how dogs see the world, and how humans think dogs see the world. Those were pretty interesting.
The story is less a story than journalism, because Kotler is a research journalist. If you’re looking for “this puppy was SOOOOOO cute,” this isn’t the rescue book you’re looking for. It’s got a lot of depth to its analysis of why people rescue, but even more on why dogs (and all animals) matter. When you get to the part about Kotler getting in the cage with a mountain lion, you know you’ve having fun.
I wouldn’t say this is a book only animal lovers will love. Actually, Kotler’s love for his wife, which drove him to move to New Mexico and run a household dog rescue, is the unexamined force behind all the research he does into why dogs matter. And his observations of what it takes out of her to do this work are very astute. I’d almost recommend this book as a spousal manual for those who love rescuers, rather than rescuers themselves.
Still, it’s a wide ranging read, and New Mexico itself is an interesting (perhaps hysterical) character in the plot overall. The plumber won’t come on Thursday because the earth energy forces are bad. That kind of thing.
I was entertained, informed, and moved by this book – a rare triple crown. If you’re driven by stories, maybe this won’t interest you so much, but if you like journalistic storytelling, you’re gonna love it.
Filed under animal rescue, book reviews, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, out of things to read, publishing, reading, small town USA, Uncategorized, Wendy Welch, writing
Jack’s weekly guest blog is on a happy subject this week: family reunions!
My niece Vicki and her daughter Elle are here for a week’s vacation from Aberdeenshire in Scotland, continuing in the footsteps of Scottish friends who have availed themselves of our guest-room over the last few years.
It’s always good fun introducing them to our friends, to the town and to the area. This time is a bit different, though because it’s family! When you are separated by thousands of miles from your family, then a visit like this is very special (when I do my annual Scotland tour I rarely have time for family visits).
Since they’re only here for a week it’s been hard to decide what try to fit in, but we are definitely including a visit to a local drive-in movie theater and the famous tour of the coal camps and mining areas conducted by our good friend Gary. Last night we took them along the riverside greenbelt walkway as far as Johnny’s enigmatic carved faces in the trees bordering his camp ground. Right now they’re out discovering the magnificent Victorian mansions on Poplar Hill and the quirkiness of ‘Vintage on Main’ (our favorite local store).
There’s something very special about re-connecting with family and especially in these circumstances. Facebook is no competition with sharing the same space!
But the highlight of their visit will probably be Saturday night when some of our closest (and craziest) friends will gather for a ‘games night’ to play Cards against Humanity. These nights are always outstandingly funny and a great way to cut across cultural boundaries.
Unsurprisingly, Vicki had read ‘The Little Bookstore’ and said yesterday that one of the stories in it had particularly grabbed her. I thought she was going to talk about one of the stories of our odder customers but I’d forgotten about a family story in there. She meant the story about the death of my mother (her Grandmother). She was unprepared for it and found it very affecting.
So the bookstore, its story and the stories of the customers and friends who support it is now joined in the most concrete way possible to my family.
I couldn’t be happier!