Love Over Scotland by Alexander McCall Smith

Title:  Love Over Scotland

AuthorAlexander McCall Smith

Illustrations by:  Iain McIntosh

Paperback:  357 pages

Publisher:  Anchor Books (div. of Random House)

Publish Date:  2007

ISBN:  9780307275981

Miscellaneous:  This is the third book in McCall Smith’s 44 Scotland Street series.

There was no electricity in the village, of course, and when night descended – suddenly, as it does in the tropics – Domenica found herself fumbling with a small Tilley lamp which the house servant had set out on the kitchen table.  It was a long time since she had used such a lamp, but the knack of adjusting it came back to her quickly – an old skill, deeply-ingrained, like riding a bicycle or doing an eightsome reel, the skills of childhood which never left one.  As she pumped up the pressure and applied a match to the mantle, Domenica found herself wondering what scraps of the old knowledge would be known to the modern child.  Would that curious little boy downstairs, Bertie, know how to operate an old-fashioned dial telephone?  Or how to make a fire?  Probably not.  And there were people, and not just children, who did not know how to add or do long division, because they relied on calculators; all those people in shops who needed the till to tell them how much change to give because nobody had ever taught them how to do calculations like that in school.  There were so many things that were just not being taught any more.  Poetry, for example.  Children were no longer made to learn poetry by heart.  And so the deep rhythms of the language, its inner music, was lost to them, because they had never had it embedded in their minds.  And geography had been abandoned too – the basic knowledge of how the world looked, simply never instilled; all in the name of educational theory and of the goal of teaching children how to think.  But what, she wondered, was the point of teaching them how to think if they had nothing to think about?  We were held together by our common culture, by our shared experience of literature and the arts, by scraps of song that we all knew, by bits of history half-remembered and half-understood but still making up what it was that we thought we were.  If that was taken away, we were diminished, cut off from one another because we had nothing to share.

Love Over Scotland by Alexander McCall Smith, pages 174-175

Love Over Scotland by Alexander McCall Smith was both the first book out of the 44 Scotland Street series that I’ve read, as well as my first experience reading Alexander McCall Smith.  It will not be the last on either account.

At first, though, I was uncertain if I would like it.  McCall Smith has a quiet writer’s voice.  Whereas other authors may have said Irene was a self-absorbed, narcissistic mother who lived her life vicariously through her six-year-old son Bertie, McCall Smith does this by simply having Irene constantly saying, “Melanie Klein says” this or that, as if to let the other person know they are a stupid twit and should stop talking (including her own husband, Bertie’s father).  Irene is an absolute helicopter mom, and McCall reveals this about her through Bertie, who thinks, “nobody [is] always there, except perhaps [my] mother.”  McCall Smith’s writing is subtle, and instead of compelling the reader forward, he floats you along on the currents of the story.

While being a 3rd book of a series, Love Over Scotland is perfectly capable of being a stand alone novel.  It may have helped in the beginning had I had the background, however the characters show themselves and develop quite well on their own in this book.

Quick Summary of Love Over Scotland:  44 Scotland Street is the address of the apartment building in which most of the characters live, with the exception of Angus, Matthew, Pat (who lived there in the previous novels but has moved), and Big Lou, who owns the coffee shop they all frequent. 

  • Irene, Stuart and Bertie are a young family in one flat, and the “Bertie Project” is Irene’s attempt at making Bertie into a super-genius and prodigy.  She pushes and bullies people, only listens to Dr. Fairbairn (Bertie’s therapist) because he’s the only one who is as intelligent and informed as she, and even goes so far as to manipulate the Edinburgh Teenage Orchestra into admitting her six-year-old son, much to Bertie’s lament and opposition.
  • Pat and Matthew are co-workers and Matthew has a thing for Pat, who sees him as being a “nice guy,” which means boring.  Pat, on the other hand, meets a man who calls himself “Wolf” and is smitten (or bitten?).  But honestly, is it possible for a guy named Wolf and who uses “Hey there, Little Red Riding Hood” for his pick-up line to be any good?
  • Domenica is an anthropologist who has gone to study pirates in Malaysia.  When she arrives at her bungalow in the village, she is told the young man on the porch is there to serve her in every way. 😀  While Domenica is having her tropical adventures, her friend Antonia, who is writing a historical fiction about sixth century Scottish saints behaving badly, is subletting her 44 Scotland Street flat, and isn’t getting along very Angus.  Cyril, Angus’s dog is dog-napped while tied up outside an Italian market and has to make his “Incredible Journey” back to his man.
  • And Big Lou’s heart is in the right place when she loans her fiance Eddie a big chunk of cash (£34,000) to open his own restaurant AND made him co-owner of her coffee bar.  When Eddie begins telling her of his new waitresses, ages 16 and 18, and his aspirations to open a gentleman’s club (complete with pole dancing) instead of the restaurant, Big Lou remembers his past legal troubles in the US with underage girls.

The book is altogether fun, with a message of loving and accepting each other and that you can greatly increase the happiness in the world by giving someone a gift. 🙂  The book is written from an omniscent third person POV, but not exactly the omnipresent.  You kind of flit from mind to mind, listening to the thoughts of each participant briefly, including peeks into Cyril the dog’s thought processes.

My favorite characters were definitely Bertie, Angus and Cyril, and Matthew, and I was rather fond of Big Lou, too.  I have mooched 44 Scotland Street from PBS and added Espresso Tales (the second book of the series) to my wishlists.  ALSO, there is a fourth book in the series, The World According to Bertie, that came out last year, and I’ve added it to my WLs, as well.  I’m going to have to give The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency books a go, too.  *sigh*  So many books, so little time!

For it’s fun, light hearted and warm storyline and characters, I give Love Over Scotland by Alexander McCall Smith 5 out of 5 stars.

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The following video clip is of a street performance in Edinburgh.  I thought it encompassed Bertie’s love of music, Wolf’s smexiness, and the city the book takes place in, not to mention the desire being felt by several characters and the exotic setting of Domenica’s pirates….  and okay, I admit it… the lead drummer is hawt! 😀

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Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day by Winifred Watson

Title:  Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day

Author:  Winifred Watson

Paperback:  234 pages

Publisher:  Persephone Books Ltd

Publish Date:  2008

ISBN:  9781906462024

…She must state her errand and go.  She must give up her position of equality as Miss LaFosse’s ally and take her correct one of humble applicant for a job, which she felt in her bones she would never get.

She knew too much about the private affairs of Miss LaFosse.  Miss Pettigrew had endured many hard knocks from human nature and understood how intolerable to a mistress such a situation would be.  She felt a hopeless, bitter unhappiness invade her.  But there was nothing she could do.  She must at last get her presence explained and end this wonderful adventure.

She couldn’t bear to do it.  She had never in her life before wanted more to stay in any place.  She felt she couldn’t endure to leave this happy, careless atmosphere… where some one was kind to her and thought her wonderful…  She felt the tears of loneliness and exclusion sting her eyes.

… Oh, if only for once the Lord would be good and cause some miracle to happen to keep her here, to see for one day how life could be lived, so that for all the rest of her dull, uneventful days, when things grew bad, she could look back in her mind and dwell on the time when for one perfect day she, Miss Pettigrew lived.

Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day by Winifred Watson, pages 52-53

I have not enjoyed reading a book as much as I did reading Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day by Winifred Watson since my last Stephanie Plum book!  I literally laughed out loud in several spots, and wore a silly grin of delicious pleasure throughout most of the book. 

There was something about Miss Pettigrew, weird as this sounds, that reminded me of Amelia Bedelia.  Perhaps it’s that both characters are domestics, Amelia being a maid and Miss Pettigrew a governess, and both have a charming simplicity about them.  Both characters are not very bright nor skilled in their professions, yet they are greatly cherished by both their employers and readers alike.  Both are unfamiliar with the slang phraseology used (it has never left my memory when Amelia was asked to “draw the curtains” she pulled out paper and pen), and seem to be out of a different era altogether from the rest of the characters in their worlds.

Miss Pettigrew had spent all but the last ten years of her life in the northern, more provincial areas of England before moving to London.  The forty-year-old spinster is the daughter of a clergyman, has lived a virtuous life, has never tasted alcohol nor worn make-up, and has never been flirted with, kissed, or otherwise known the affections of a man.  When she arrives at Miss LaFosse’s door, she is there to apply for a position of governess, painfully aware that if she does not get the job, she will be homeless and will be forced to go to the workhouse.

However, it is quickly apparent that the starlet LaFosse not only doesn’t have any children, but is the antithesis of everything Miss Pettigrew has ever been or known.  In the span of a few hours, she observes her would-be employer physically amorous with three different men and LaFosse tells her of even more men who have professed love for her.

LaFosse invites Pettigrew into her exciting world of glamor, flirtations, vices, night clubs and parties, and all sorts of naughtiness, as her friend and equal.  Miss Pettigrew is led away from her “dowdy, spinster governess” self like a daughter of Hamlin and LaFosse the pied-piper, and decides that if she could just have this life of the other half for just one day, the memories of that day could carry her through all the bad remaining in her life.

Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day is not only a fun little tale the adventures of a woman who finally decides to LIVE, it is also a peak into a past era.  Set in the mid to late 30s, the reader is treated to a fascinating glimpse of the society of women in a time when “talkies” are a new, exciting thing and telegrams are still sent, when Vaudeville acts and stage performers were on equal ground with film stars, and where the “upstairs-downstairs” mentality still abounded along with the old families-versus-new money tiffs, though social mindsets were beginning to change.

I cannot say that this book was profound or changed me, if all books were like that I’d probably stop reading, but it was a treat and a joy to escape in.  The writing isn’t hard, though some of the words are out of date and I had to look a few up (curate, “funked it,”and a Chesterfield are a few that threw me… and “cheroots?”  I divined there were something between a cigar and a cigarette given the context).

For the gift of laughter and rapturous pleasure this book brings the reader, I give Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day by Winifred Watson 5 out of 5 stars.  It’s  a classic and now one of my favorite books 😀

hated it!didn't like itit was okayliked itLoved it!

Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day has been adapted (albeit loosely from the looks of the trailer) into a movie. I’ve added it to my Netflix queue, but I’ll probably wait a bit before getting it. Like most people, I get so frustrated and angry when Hollywood ruins a book I really love. BUT… I thought I’d include the trailer for your viewing pleasure 🙂 It does look like an equally fun movie.

Eclipse by Stephanie Meyer


Title: Eclipse
Author: Stephanie Meyer
Hardcover: 629 pages
Publisher: Little, Brown and Company
Publish Date: September 2007
ISBN: 9780316160209

“Can I tell you what the worst part is?” he asked hesitantly when I said nothing… “The worse part is knowing what would have been…” Jacob shook his head. “I’m exactly right for you, Bella. It would have been effortless for us – comfortable, easy as breathing. I was the natural path your life would have taken…” He stared onto space for a moment, and I waited. “If the world was the way it was supposed to be, if there were no monsters and no magic…”

I could see what he saw, and I knew that he was right. If the world was the sane place it was supposed to be, Jacob and I would have been together. And we would have been happy. He was my soul mate in that world – would have been my soul mate still if his claim had not been overshadowed by something stronger, something so strong that it could not exist in a rational world…

Two futures, two soul mates… too much for any one person. And so unfair that I wouldn’t be the only one to pay for it. Jacob’s pain seemed too high a price. Cringing at the thought of that price, I wondered if I would have wavered, if I hadn’t lost Edward once. If I didn’t know what it was like to live without him. I wasn’t sure…

“He’s like a drug for you, Bella.” His voice was still gentle, not at all critical. “I see that you can’t live without him now. It’s too late. But I would have been healthier for you. Not a drug; I would have been the air, the sun.”

The corner of my mouth turned up in a wistful half-smile. “I used to think of you that way, you know. Like the sun. My personal son. You balanced out the clouds nicely for me.”

He sighed. “The clouds I can handle. But I can’t fight with an eclipse.”

Eclipse, pages 598-600

I am soooo addicted to this series. It’s everything I’ve loved in reading. It’s Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth Bennett from Pride and Prejudice (Twilight). It’s Romeo and Juliet (New Moon). It’s Heathcliff and Cathy from Wuthering Heights (Eclipse). In fact, I found that Edward points to these three couples on page 28 when I checked back to make sure I spelled Heathcliff correctly 😀 . Makes me wonder if Breaking Dawn will be Jane Eyre and Edward Rochester. (Those of you who’ve already read it, DON’T TELL ME!!!!)

I really enjoy Meyer’s writing style. Yes, this series is romantic in that it’s about lovers whose love is epic and the opposition to their realization of this love almost insurmountable. It’s everything I fell in love with when I read Jane Eyre and Pride and Prejudice as a teen. This series brings the same feelings of hope, agony, love, desire and despair, all occurring at the same moment, that I had at 15 with my first real boyfriend (by real I mean the first one you kiss for hours and wonder what’s beyond the kissing but the kissing is satisfying enough not to cross that boundary… the first boyfriend you park with… that first boyfriend that when we broke up it felt like my heart had been ripped out with a dull spoon).

Okay, I admit it… The Twilight series isn’t an intellectually stimulating set of books, they are more like brain candy. But it’s so nice that at 35 I can feel those fresh and new emotions. I give Eclipse 4 out of 5 stars.

New Moon by Stephenie Meyer

Title: New Moon
Author: Stephenie Meyer
Paperback: 563 pages
Publisher: Little, Brown and Company
Publish Date: 2006
ISBN: 9780316024969

“Bella, we’re leaving… I mean my family and myself.” Each word separate and distinct.

“Okay,” I said. “I’ll come with you.”

He took a deep breath and stared, unseeingly, at the ground for a long moment. His mouth twisted the tiniest bit. When he finally looked up, his eyes were different, harder – like the liquid gold had frozen solid.

“Bella, I don’t want you to come with me.” He spoke the words slowly and precisely, his cold eyes on my face, watching as I absorbed what he was really saying.

“You… don’t… want me?” I tried out the words, confused by the way they sounded, placed in that order.

He looked away into the trees as he spoke again. “Of course, I’ll always love you… in a way. But… I’m tired of pretending to be something I’m not, Bella. I’m not human.” He looked back, and the icy planes of his perfect face were not human. “I’ve let this go on much too long, and I’m sorry for that.”

“Don’t.” My voice was just a whisper now; awareness was beginning to seep through me, trickling like acid through my veins. “Don’t do this.”

He just stared at me, and I could see from his eyes that my words were far too late. He already had.

“You’re not good for me, Bella.” He turned his earlier words around, and so I had no argument. How well I knew that I wasn’t good enough for him.

 

In New Moon by Stephenie Meyer, I was forced to witness the horror of Bella and Edward’s breakup. I thought, “NO! THAT’S NOT RIGHT! I’m calling information RIGHT NOW and getting Ms Meyer’s phone number and BAWLING HER OUT!” But then reason washed over me as I realised this was just page 71, and I still had nearly 500 more pages to go, not to mention two more books… maybe good ol’ Steph has something planned. So I put the anger monkey back in her cage, turned the page and read on.

So, in the absence of my Edward, Bella kind of implodes on herself, going about the routines of life without awareness. I believe this state is called dissociative depression, or in layman’s terms, “The lights are on, but nobody’s home.” Until one morning Charlie (her father) threatens to send her back to live with her mother. The sudden threat of leaving the world in which Edward and her inhabited as a couple snaps her awake, and promises Charlie she’ll be better.

With the thought of reestablishing something normal in her life, Bella tries to reestablish relationships with her school chums. But when she’s in Port Angeles with Jessica walking to McD’s Bella experiences a moment of deja vu in a dark alley with four strange men. Along with a sense of threat and danger Bella hears Edward’s voice inside her head admonishing her to run. The discovery that adrenaline and risky behavior brings on an auditory hallucination, Bella turns to extreme (for her) recreation. She gets a couple motor bikes and rekindles a friendship with Jacob Black, who fixes up one of the bikes for her (the other’s for him) and teaches her how to ride.

This is when everything in the book goes screwy. Jake, as you may or may not recall, has really got a thing for Bella, and is in serious like-almost-obsessed-love with her. And Bella begins to start to think “Oh, well! If I can’t have Mr. Right… I guess I could settle for Mr. Handy!” Ugh! Every time I thought, “NO! THAT’S NOT RIGHT! I’m calling information RIGHT NOW and getting Ms Meyer’s phone number and BAWLING HER OUT!” But then I remembered there are still two more books and about 250 pages left, so I put the anger monkey back in her cage, turned the page and read on.

I really love, and am addicted to, the Twilight books. I have to wait for Eclipseto arrive in the mail from another BookMooch member before I can go on, but I think I can hold out for a second on it… I hope.

I did have a few issues with New Moon, though. First off: The whole “damsel in distress” thing is wearing a little thin for me. When she doesn’t have the friendly neighborhood vampires to protect her, the werewolves take up the standard to keep ickle widdle Belwa safe! It’s beginning to chafe.

and yes, Second: Werewolves? Vampires just didn’t have enough bite to keep reader interest? She had to go WEREWOLF?

Which brings me to my Third irritation: Is Bella really that stupid? or was Meyer’s dragging out the story for as long as possible? It took Bella two hundred pages to figure out Jake was a werewolf. I had that one figured out in like ten, tops. When she’s in the meadow and the “giant bears” show up, I knew right then what they were, AND remembered Jacob’s story he told her on the beach of La Push in the first book. But she was all like, “Duh? I think those bears look a bit more like dogs than Grizzlies… I know, they might be mutant wolves or something!” When I read that, I thought, “NO! THAT’S NOT RIGHT! I’m calling information RIGHT NOW and getting Ms Meyer’s phone number and BAWLING HER OUT!”

Okay… I want my copy of Eclipse, NOW!

Twilight by Stephanie Meyer

Title: Twilight
Author: Stephanie Meyer
Paperback: 498 pages
Publisher: Little, Brown and Company
Publish Date: 2005
ISBN: 9780316015844

“It’s not only your company I crave! Never forget that. Never forget I am more dangerous to you than I am to anyone else.”

Twilight by Stephanie Meyer is the ultimate good-girl-falls-for-bad-boy story. Bella, daughter of the local police chief, fall for the mysterious Edward Cullen… whom she discovers is a vampire. It is everything I remember from being a teenager, some of it wonderfully nostalgic and some of it painfully annoying. While there were parts that dragged, and I honestly could have stopped at the hospital scene at the end… about 50 pages less than the final 498 pages, for the most part it was fun, arousing, and quite a page turner.

I definitely want to linger on the point of arousal. Twilightfull of the kind of sexual sensations I remember from being a teenager. The flutters of the attraction, new and exciting feelings, and the lingering over the first moments, uncertain and inexperienced about what comes next. The long lasting moments spent staring, lightly touching and feeling the skin of the object of one’s affection. All this innocent (or mostly innocent) pleasure before the actual end-run of sex becomes common and mechanical, losing all the magic it once held. I really enjoyed this aspect of Twilight.

“So what you’re saying is, I’m your brand of heroin?” I teased, trying to lighten the mood.
He smiled swiftly, seeming to appreciate my effort. “Yes, you are exactly my brand of heroin.”
“Does that happen often?” I asked.
“Never.”

While Twilightis definitely no literary classic, for me there were aspects of other stories that are classics. I couldn’t help but see that obvious Romeo and Julietaspect of it. The fated lovers, separated by their identity (Capulet v. Montague, Human v. Vampire), brought together by their love. I also saw a parallel of Pride and Prejudice: Edward as a Darcy of sorts, loving Bella against all his better judgment, and Bella as an Elizabeth Bennett, opinionated, headstrong, and impossible for Edward (Darcy) to read.

It is definitely a YA fiction, but there is a lot in it for an adult to love, as well. I can, however see how it could seriously grate on a reader’s everlasting nerves. There is a soppy-sweetness to it that is, at times, indigestible. It’s a bit aggravating that Bella tends to be a bit dippy and put herself in dangerous situations… again and again. She could also stand to grow a spine, as she hooks up her potential suitors with her girlfriends instead of saying “No.” Damsels in Distress annoy me. But I couldn’t help loving Edward all the more for rescuing her. I couldn’t help, at thirty-four, imagining myself in the role of Bella.

He rolled his eyes and set his lips. “Bella, we’re not having this discussion anymore. I refuse to damn you to an eternity of night and that’s the end of it.”
“If you think that’s the end, then you don’t know me very well,” I warned him. “You’re not the only vampire I know”

With the end of Twilight, Meyer’s sets up New Moon with the possibility that Bella may get her way and become a vampire with Edward. This question is left hanging, and I have my suspicions it with remain so until Breaking Dawn. A new American Gothic, Twilight is a fun, fast read that will leave you thirsty for more. 😀 4 out of 5 stars.

Two For the Dough by Janet Evanovich

Two for the Dough cover art

Title: Two For the Dough: A Stephanie Plum Novel
Author: Janet Evanovich
Publisher: Pocket Books (div. of Simon & Schuster, Inc.)
ISBN: 0671001795
Publication Date: September 1996

“…Sweetie pie, you are the worst bounty hunter in the history of the world.”

“That does it. I have better things to do than to stand here and take your insults.”

I pushed him out of my foyer, into the hall, slammed the door closed, and threw the bolt. I pressed my nose to the door and looked through the peephole.

Morelli grinned at me.

“This is war,” I yelled through the door.

“Lucky for me,” Morelli said. “I give good war.”

My first experience with Stephanie Plum was Plum Lucky. I had never read anything that hilarious for adults, and could only compare the experience to reading Junie B. books with my nine-year-old. Stephanie is a sassy, independant woman bounty hunter with a helicopter mother, crazy Grandma Mazur, and over-sexed reluctant partner Morelli.

In Two for the Dough, the second Stephanie Plum novel, Stephanie is still learning the ropes of the fugitive recovery business. Her car is stolen, forcing her to use an obtuse eyesore she lovingly refers to as “Big Blue”, making stakeouts and tailings near to impossible. What starts out as a simple recover turns into a mad murdering lunatic with his sights set on Stephanie AND Grandma Mazur. There are funeral homes, corpses’ body parts lurking for Stephanie to find (at one point an embalmed “Johnson” is overnighted to her, causing her father to announce his desire to be cremated so he’ll go out with all his parts). The coup de gras of the book is Morelli standing in a darken parking lot in nothing but his unbuttoned shirt and socks, Stephanie’s taillights disappearing into the night.

Janet Evanovich’s writing is sarcastic and playful, and gets down to business when appropriate. She turns on a dime, one minute laughing at the antics of Grandma Mazur, next minute a frantic search for her. At one point in this book, I literally laughed off my chair, hitting the floor with a thud, so I can say I was actually “ROFL”.

There’s a cat found trapped in Rex the Hamster’s cage, Rex no where to be found. A severed foot in the fridge. Stephanie hits Morelli’s car four times (Stephanie, Morelli and a car… never a good mix!). Grandma Mazur with a gun, AGAIN. Stephanie in the backseat of a ’53 Buick with Morelli. Gradma Mazur on the slab in the funeral home. All these ingredients make up a recipe for a fast and fun read!