Posts Tagged ‘Alexander McCall Smith’

where the sidewalk ends chatham ma

What I read on vacation, and what I’ve been reading since we came back:

Bertie Plays the Blues, Alexander McCall Smith
The seventh 44 Scotland Street novel finds Matthew and Elspeth welcoming triplet boys; Domenica and Angus preparing for marriage; and Bertie, age six, pondering how to get himself adopted. I loved revisiting these characters again – as ever, this series is quirky, amusing, gently meandering and so much fun.

Smart Girls Get What They Want, Sarah Strohmeyer
Gigi, Bea and Neerja are straight-A students and best friends who fly mostly under the radar at their Boston-area high school. They’ve never been bothered by their lack of social cachet, but as their sophomore year begins, each girl vows to take on a challenge that scares her: Gigi runs for student school board rep, Bea rejoins the ski team and Neerja auditions for a play. This was a smart, funny read with wonderfully real characters – and as a smart girl myself, I was cheering them on the whole way. (I also loved the scenes set in Harvard Square – my workplace neighborhood.) Smart girls unite!

The Apothecary, Maile Meloy
It’s 1952 and Janie Scott has just moved to London with her parents, whose jobs as TV writers place them under scrutiny by the House Un-American Activities Committee. As Janie adjusts to her stiff new school, she meets a mysterious apothecary and his son, who must prevent an old and valuable book from falling into enemy hands. A fast-paced, fun story with a bit of magic, a lot of action and a bit of romance. Wonderful. I can’t wait to read the sequel (just out).

More Things in Heaven and Earth, Jeff High
Fresh out of medical school, Luke Bradford reluctantly takes up a post as the town doctor in tiny Watervalley, Tennessee. He longs for a research job in a large city, but gradually finds himself warming to his new staff and patients (including his sharp-tongued housekeeper, Connie). The novel follows his first six months in Watervalley – including a baffling flu epidemic – and sets the stage for a new series. Reminiscent of the Irish Country Doctor series (though I didn’t find it quite as captivating). To review for Shelf Awareness (out Oct. 1).

Also Known As, Robin Benway
Maggie Silver, daughter of spies, is a top-notch safecracker who’s lived in multiple countries. But when her family gets an assignment in New York, she has to go to high school – and befriend a cute boy whose father may be plotting against her parents. Maggie is cocky, snarky and a little melodramatic, but she’s determined and good-hearted (I loved her friendship with ex-mean-girl Roux). Fun and fast-paced, in the vein of Ally Carter’s Gallagher Girl series.

Aimless Love, Billy Collins
Collins is my favorite living poet. This collection of new and selected poems is shot through with his signature whimsy and depth. I loved revisiting poems from four previous collections, followed by a bounty of new poems. He takes the everyday and makes it luminous, turning it like a prism so its different facets are visible, making me look at the ordinary in an entirely different way. It’s a rare gift. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Oct. 22).

Her Royal Spyness, Rhys Bowen
First in a series of mysteries starring Lady Victoria Georgiana Charlotte Eugenie, (known as “Georgie,”) 34th in line to the British throne, in the 1930s. Penniless, single and bored, Georgie escapes to London to make something of herself, going undercover to start a cleaning service. But then a Frenchman (who’s been trying to steal her family estate) ends up dead in her bathtub, and she must use her wits to solve the mystery and clear her family’s name. Witty, light and fun. I’ll be picking up the sequel.

This post contains IndieBound affiliate links. And I’m participating in the Twitterature link-up over at Modern Mrs. Darcy.

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scotland st books alexander mccall smith

Regular maps have few surprises; their contour lines
Reveal where the Andes are, and are reasonably clear
On the location of Australia, and the Outer Hebrides;
Such maps abound; more precious, though,
Are the unpublished maps we make ourselves,
Of our city, our place, our daily world, our life;
Those maps of our private world
We use every day; here I was happy, in that place
I left my coat behind after a party,
That is where I met my love; I cried there once,
I was heartsore; but felt better round the corner
Once I saw the hills of Fife across the Forth,
Things of that sort, our personal memories,
That make the private tapestry of our lives.

—Angus Lordie, in Love Over Scotland, Alexander McCall Smith

I’ve been working my way through the 44 Scotland Street series. So far, each entry in the series has concluded with a party at the titular address, at which Angus Lordie, eccentric portrait painter, sometime poet and owner of Cyril, the gold-toothed dog, stands up to deliver a poem.

Angus muses, as McCall Smith does throughout the books, on the small, everyday interactions and decisions that make up our lives. In most chapters, nothing particularly grand or dramatic happens to the characters as they move through Scotland Street and the rest of Edinburgh. Rather, they go to work or school, visit their favorite cafes or bars, interact with family members and friends, face the small crises and irritations we all face in the course of a given week. This series is no epic tale: it is a tribute to the small beauties of the quotidian, the “private tapestry of our lives.”

Since moving to Boston, I have been piecing together my own mental map of the city, first as a means of navigating unfamiliar terrain: this subway line will take you here, these streets intersect at a certain point, this highway exit will lead me home. When I began working downtown, spending my weekdays close to the Common, the map grew infinitely more detailed and colorful. I can point you to my favorite hill on the west side of the Common, my favorite stand at the Copley Square farmer’s market. I grew to recognize the employees at my favorite bookshop, the corner burrito joint, the Starbucks in my building. I have a particular knowledge of that tangle of streets I roamed for two years.

Since starting my new job in Harvard Square, I have been drawing a new map: different routes to work from the subway station, good places to grab lunch or a cup of tea or a chai latte, bookshops and boutiques to browse. Now that the weather is warming up, I am noticing budding trees, electric yellow forsythia, bright pink azaleas. Every week I discover something new. None of these discoveries are particularly earth-shaking, but they are important, and they are mine.

budding trees gutman library harvard square

Last week’s terrible events left me, along with other Bostonians, shaken and bewildered, tense and sad. We still don’t understand (we may never understand) why Boston, why the Marathon, why the bombs. But we are back at work, riding the subway, walking across the Common and Harvard Square, cheering on the Red Sox at Fenway, going about our lives. We are pulling out, and adding to, those maps of our private worlds, so quotidian and also so precious. We are heartsore, but we are still here, still living. And we are grateful.

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