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. :-D  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! :-D

The Icy Hand by Chris Mould

Title: Something Wickedly Weird, Vol. 2: The Icy Hand

Author: Chris Mould

Illustrator: Chris Mould

Unjacketed Trade Hardcover: 176 pages

Publish Date: September 2008

Publisher: Roaring Brook Press (div of Macmillan)

ISBN: 9781596433854

The yellowy-white translucent light of a long-dead and well respected scoundrel began to form by the side of Stanley’s bed until it was the fully formed (but headless) figure of a man. Of course, Stanley was blissfully unaware of this. It was three in the morning and he was wrapped in his bedclothes preserving warmth and dreaming furiously.

…The spirit felt for Stanley’s sheets, and when he was sure he held them in his hand, he unrolled the tight chrysalis with a prompt jerk. Thrashing wildly, Stanley rolled on to the floor.

… His dead uncle lifted the forefinger of his right hand and drew four words, on inside each small square pane that ran along the bottom of the window. I need my head.

-The Icy Hand by Chris Mould, pp 33-39

When I first came across a banner for The Icy Hand by Chris Mould, I thought it would be an incredibly fun book. With a werewolf, a headless ghost, angry pirates back from the dead and a talking fish, how could it possibly go wrong?

*sigh* Let me tell you how…

Within the first 30 pages, this book was off to a bad start. Part of its problems are poor transitioning. There are times when it goes from one event to another, hours later, without any break. The pacing and tempo is either all over the place or completely M. I. A. from this book. My thoughts on this issue were that, given it’s listed for ages 9-12, maybe it’s a style that works for the younger, less patient audiences?

So I grabbed my 9-12 year old (Maggie, age 10), and read her the books description. Like me, she thought werewolves, headless ghosts and pirates sounded promising. However, after only a few pages, she brought the book back to me saying, “It’s not my thing. I like stories with main characters in them.”

Which brings us to another problem with this book. The characters are poorly developed and rather two-dimensional. It is possible that they were developed in book one, which I have not read, but I’m disinclined to believe that. Again, with the characters, this book is all over the place. They do this then that… sometimes seemingly without purpose.

There is a bright spot with this book. The illustrations are fantastic. They’re dark and creepy, but still maintain a safeness that keeps them from being terrifying to small children. In some ways, the illustrations remind me of the Lemony Snicket series (though I don’t know exactly why), but they are uniquely Mould’s creations.

While The Icy Hand by Chris Mould has a few problems, it’s not entirely unlikeable or readable. I’d be willing to bet, though, this is one of those books that would make a much better movie. I definitely think it’d be a really cool movie, but it’d probably be better to make one of the whole series instead of just one book. I give The Icy Hand 3 out of 5 stars.

I found an interesting video to go with this post, but the embedding is disabled. Watch as Chris Mould creates the cover art for The Darkling Curse, another book in the Something Wickedly Weird series.

The Last Battle by C. S. Lewis

Title:  The Last Battle

Author:  C. S. Lewis

Paperback:  767 pages

Publisher:  HarperCollins

Publish Date:  2001

ISBN:  0066238501

Miscellaneous:  The copy I have read is in a complete book.  There aren’t 767 pages in The Last Battle alone.

 

 

 

“Look!  What’s that?”

 “What’s what?” said Puzzle.

 “That yellow thing that’s just come down the waterfall.  Look!  There it is again, it’s floating.  We must find out what it is.”

 “Must we?” said Puzzle.

 “Of course we must,” said Shift.  “It may be something useful.  Just hop into the Pool like a good fellow and fish it out.  Then we can have a proper look at it.”

 … He flung it down in front of Shift and stood dripping and shivering and trying to get his breath back.  But the Ape never looked at him or asked him how he felt.  The Ape was too busy going round and round the thing and spreading it out and patting it and smelling it.  Then a wicked gleam came into his eye and he said:  “It is a lion’s skin…. We’ll make this skin into a fine warm winter coat for you.”

 …As soon as he was alone Shift went… into his little house.  He found needle and thread and a big pair of scissors… Then he came down the tree and shambled across to the lion-skin.  He squatted down and got to work…

 Late in the afternoon Puzzle came back.  He was not trotting but only plodding patiently along, the way donkeys do…  “Come and try on your beautiful new lion-skin coat,” said Shift.

 … The skin was very heavy for him to lift, but in the end… he got it on to the donkey… No one who had ever seen a real lion would have been taken in for a moment.  But if someone who had never seen a lion looked at Puzzle in his lion-skin he just might mistake him for a lion…  “If anyone saw you now, they’d think you were Aslan, the Great Lion, himself.”

 

-The Last Battle by C. S. Lewis, pages 671-673

 

Thus begins the great deception and the beginning of the end of Narnia.  Shift the Ape manipulates and bullies Puzzle the Donkey into believing that Aslan himself wants them to go to the people of Narnia and claim Puzzle is really the Great Lion, and to rule the land through this pretense.  Puzzle has been used by Shift for so long (under the guise of “friendship,” though “servitude” might better describe the Donkey’s side of the relationship), that he is unable to stand up to the damn, dirty Ape (nod to Heston and “Planet of the Apes” hehe).

It is through this false-Aslan that Shift enslaves the land of Narnia, using the Animals as slaves and threatening anyone who dares to question his authority with the Wrath of Aslan.  “He is not a tame lion” is repeated over and over to fill their minds with terror, and, even when they know this new “Aslan” is the opposite of everything they’ve always been taught is the nature of the true Aslan, the Narnians are unable to throw off the Ape’s bonds and fight back.

Even when Shift brings in Calormene soldiers and announces that the Narnian Animals are to be sent to work, and all their wages are to be paid to “Aslan’s” treasury, for only “Aslan” can care for their true needs.  Compounding a lie with a lie, the Calormene Captain and Shift tell the Animals that Tash, the Calormene god to whom men are sacrificed, and Aslan are one in the same; two different names for the same person.  This new god is called “Tashlan,” the meshing of the two names.

When Tirian, the last King of Narnia, calls on Aslan to rescue his country, the Great Lion is silent, so Tirian, remembering how children from another world had saved Narnia in it’s darkest periods of history, calls on the friends of Narnia to come and save his land.  And, after a vision-dream of the seven legendary Friends sitting down to dinner and seeing the phantom of Tirian among them, he is surprised by the appearance of Jill and Eustace.  Along with Jewel the Unicorn, who is Tirian’s best friend, the two children and a Dwarf named Poggin, the stage is set for the last battle of Narnia.

 

In the shadow of the trees on the far side of the clearing something was moving.  It was gliding very slowly Northward.  At a first glance you might have mistaken it for smoke, for it was grey and you could see things through it.  But the deathly smell was not the smell of smoke.  Also, this thing kept its shape instead of billowing and curling as smoke would have done.  It was roughly the shape of a man but it had the head of a bird; some bird of prey with a cruel, curved beak.  It had four arms which it held high above its head, stretching them out Northward as if it wanted to snatch all Narnia in its grip; and its fingers – all twenty of them – were curved like its beak and had long, pointed, bird-like claws instead of nails.  It floated on the grass instead of walking, and the grass seemed to wither beneath it…. [They] watched it… until it streamed away… and disappeared.  Then the sun came out again, and the birds once more began to sing….

“I have seen it once before,” said Tirian. “But that time it was carved in stone and overlaid with gold and had solid diamonds for eyes…. [It was in] the great temple of Tash… carved above the altar.”

“What was it?” said Eustace in a whisper.

 

-The Last Battle by C. S. Lewis, page 712

 

 The entrance of the Calormene god Tash takes this final fight into the realm of the supernatural, as it becomes the epic battle of the ultimate good, Aslan, and his antithesis Tash:  Life versus Death.

 The message of The Last Battle, I believe, is this:  We are not always meant to win the good fight, only to FIGHT the good fight.  Early on in the book we know this is a lost cause, the side of evil will prevail, and the heroes’ lives  will be forfeit.  But, even then, Aslan will have the final say.

 In The Last Battle, Lewis also addresses two major questions of Christianity.  First, how can a person who has known the goodness and greatness of Christ turn his or her back on Him, choosing, instead, their own will.  Second, what of those people who have never heard the Gospel and therefore had no chance to believe?  Will He condemn them to Hell?

 Missing for the Friends of Narnia is Susan, and somehow I knew this immediate when I counted eight helpers of Narnia, but only seven Friends of Narnia.  Somehow I knew the missing person was Susan.

 

“Sire,” said Tirian… “there should be another… Where is Queen Susan?”

“My sister Susan,” answered Peter shortly and gravely, “is no longer a friend of Narnia.”

“Yes,” said Eustace, “and whenever you’ve tried to get her to come and talk about Narnia or do anything about Narnia, she says ‘What wonderful memories you have!  Fancy your still thinking about all those funny games we used to play when we were children.”

“Oh, Susan!”  said Jill.  “She’s interested in nothing nowadays except nylons and lipstick and invitations.  She always was a jolly sight to keen on being grown-up.”

“Grown-up indeed,” said the Lady Polly.  “I wish she would grow up.  She wasted all her shool time wanting to be the age she is now, and she’ll waste all the rest of her life trying to stay that age.  Her whole idea is to race on to the silliest time of one’s life as quick as she can and then stop there as long as she can.”

 

-The Last Battle by C. S. Lewis, page 741

 

Susan turned away from Narnia and Aslan and, instead, made vanity and things of the world her focus.  BUT, Lewis did not say she could not become a Friend of Narnia again.  Further, someone had to survive to tell The Chronicles of Narnia.

 As the Seven plus Tirian go “further up, further in,” they meet a Calormene who tells them of his meeting Aslan:

 

“Then I fell at his feet and thought, Surely this is the hour of death, for the Lion (who is worthy of all honour) will know that I have served Tash all my days and not him.  Nevertheless, it is better to see the Lion and die than to be Tisroc of the world and live and not to have seen him.  Both the Glorious One bent down his golden head and touched my fourehead with his tongue and said, ‘Son, thou art welcome.’  But I said, ‘Alas, Lord, I am no son of thine but the servant of Tash.’  He answered, ‘Child, all the service thou hast done to Tash, I account as service to me.’ Then by reason of my great desire for wisdom and understanding, I overcame my fear and questioned the Glorious One and said, ‘Lord, is it then true, as the Ape said, that thou and Tash are one?’  The Lion growled so that the earth shook (but his wrath was not against me) and said, “It is false.  Not because4 he and I are one, but because we are opposites – I take to me the service which thou hast done to him.  For I and he are such different kinds that no service which is vile can be done to me, and none which is not vile can be done to him.  Therefore, if any man swear by Tash and keep his oath for the oath’s sake, it is by me that he has truly sworn, though he know it not, and it is I who reward him.  And if any man do a cruelty in my name, then, though he says the name Aslan, it is Tash whom he serves and by Tash his deed is accepted.  Dost thou understand, Child?’  I said, ‘Lord, thou knowest how much I understand.’   But I said also (for the truth constrained me), ‘Yet I have been seeking Tash all my days.’  ‘Beloved,’ said the Glorious One, ‘unless thy desire had been for me thou wouldst not have sought so long and so truly.  For all find what they truly seek.’

 

-The Last Battle by C. S. Lewis, page 757

 

 Honestly, it was impossible to review this book without incorporating the religious aspects of it.  That is not to say it can’t be enjoyed without being religious.  It stands alone as the heart-wrenching finale of a much loved and favorite literary classic series.  I couldn’t help but cry at the end; for the beauty, for the Friends, for all who had been were together again… and for Susan, who, by her folly, missed the train (if you’ve read this, or when you do read this, book you’ll get that reference).

 The Last Battle by C. S. Lewis is beyond words, and I sigh with a bittersweet happiness, as I have come to the end of my journey through Narnia.  I leave you with the last paragraph of the last book of Narnia:

 

“And as He spoke, He no longer looked to them like a lion; but the things that began to happen after that were so great and beautiful that I cannot write them.  And for us this is the end of all the stories, and we can most truly say that they all lived happily ever after.  But for them it was only the beginning of the real story.  All their life in this world and all their adventures in Narnia had only been the cover and title page:  now at last they were beginning Chaper One of the Great Story which no one on earth has read:  which goes on for ever:  in which every chapter is better than the one before.”

 

-The Last Battle by C. S. Lewis, page 767

 

5 out of 5 stars.

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

Gooney Bird Greene by Lois Lowry

Title: Gooney Bird Greene
Author: Lois Lowry
Pages: 88
Publisher: Yearling (Random House Children’s Books)
Publish Date: 2002
ISBN: 0440419603

Gooney Bird Greene -that’s Greene with a silent ‘e’ at the end- arrived at Watertower Elementary and in Mrs. Pidgeon’s second grade class in October… the class would never be the same. She shows up wearing pajamas and cowboy boots, her red hair in pigtails, a lunch box and dictionary in her hands. She asks for a desk in the middle of the room because she likes to be in the middle of all the action. As the class begins studying how to write a story, the whole class decides they want to hear Gooney Bird’s story.

Gooney Bird adjusted the pink ballet tutu she was wearing over a pair of green stretch pants. Her T-shirt was decorated with polka dots. Her red hair was pulled into two pigtails and held there with blue scrunchies… She felt her earlobes, which were small and pink and empty.

“I should have worn the dangling diamond earrings that I got from the prince,” she told the class. “Maybe I’ll wear them next week.”

“Diamond earrings? Prince?” Mrs. Pidgeon asked.

“Well, actually, the prince didn’t give me the earrings. I got them at the palace,” Gooney Bird explained.

“Why were you at the palace?”

“Well, first I was in jail, and then -” Gooney Bird interrupted herself. “It’s a long story.”

Gooney Bird entrances the whole class, including their teacher, with her stories about how she came from China on a flying carpet, or how her beloved cat, Catman, was consumed by a cow, or why she was late to school because she was directing an orchestra. With every story, Gooney Bird reminds her audience that she only tells absolutely true stories.  And she does.

What brought me to Gooney Bird Greene is the fact Maggie and I have read the entire Junie B. series, and we’ve been looking for a replacement series. Gooney Bird does work great for that, and she’s quite creative, as well. Both characters are funny, extroverts who are often the center of attention. Both characters are rather unique individuals, and express themselves very well. The differences, though, are that Parks has developed Junie B’s character a lot more, as she has written over 30 Junie B books to Lowry’s three Gooney Bird books.

Maggie’s review is: Gooney Bird Greene is a good, funny and cute book. Her favorite things about it is Gooney Bird is funny and she likes it when Gooney Bird bosses the teacher around. The thing she didn’t like about it is when Gooney Bird lost her cat… that was sad… but it was funny that Catman’s tail got cut off by the lawn mower.

Back to me, now… to clarify the “bossing the teacher”, Gooney Bird isn’t mean and hateful with it, she says things like “look up China on the map”, or when the class erupts in questions saying, “Mrs. Pidgeon, do you want to deal with this?”. Even Mrs. Pidgeon gets so caught up in the stories that she interrupts, then apologizes. It’s this kind of polite role-reversal that is often what makes a favorite children’s book. Not only is there the “bossing” the teacher, but also directing the adults of the orchestra, and helping a neighbor find his dog. Gooney Bird takes the role of rescuer for the grown-ups.

Honestly, I can’t really find any negatives about this book, other than there are only three books, which means it’s not long before we’re hunting a new series very soon. We’ve read a couple Lucy Rose books, but she’s just not quite the same. We’ve just started Amber Brown Goes Fourth, and it’s promising, but I don’t know how many there are. I’ve also got an Anastasia Krupnik book, and a couple Molly Moons. SO, if you have any suggestions for Maggie’s dilemma, let us know!

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