Espresso Tales

Espresso Tales (44 Scotland Street, #2)Espresso Tales by Alexander McCall Smith
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Another reread for me, audiobook narrated by Robert Ian Mackenzie. Just as delightful as the first time!

Book Description (from Amazon.com)
Back are all our favorite denizens of a Georgian townhouse in Edinburgh. Bertie the immensely talented six year old is now enrolled in kindergarten, and much to his dismay, has been clad in pink overalls for his first day of class. Bruce has lost his job as a surveyor, and between admiring glances in the mirror, is contemplating becoming a wine merchant. Pat is embarking on a new life at Edinburgh University and perhaps on a new relationship, courtesy of Domenica, her witty and worldly-wise neighbor. McCall Smith has much in store for them as the brief spell of glorious summer sunshine gives way to fall a season cursed with more traditionally Scottish weather.

 

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44 Scotland Street

44 Scotland Street (44 Scotland Street, #1)44 Scotland Street by Alexander McCall Smith
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This was a reread for me, and one of my challenges for the year is to reread and catch up with this series, as well as focusing on this author in general. I loved revisiting these characters: Pat, Bruce, Matthew, Big Lou, Angus and his dog Cyril, Domenica, Bertie and his overbearing mother…

Pat moves to 44 Scotland Street, moving into an apartment with the very narcissistic Bruce. She is on her “second gap year” from college and takes a job with Matthew, whose very wealthy father has set him up with an art gallery. A painting which might be a Peplow? is inadvertently taken by Bruce and raffled off at the Conservative Party ball. 5-year-old Bertie tries to rebel when his mother forces him to learn Italian and play the saxophone. He is suspended from nursery school, and his mother takes him for psychotherapy with Dr. Fairbairn.

Audiobook narrated by Robert Ian MacKenzie.

 

 

Corduroy Mansions

Corduroy Mansions (Corduroy Mansions, #1)Corduroy Mansions by Alexander McCall Smith
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Typical McCall Smith. A collection of people / characters with some connection to an apartment block in Pimlico called Corduroy Mansions. Originally serialized on the internet, the rambling structure lacks any sense of a plot. If there is a theme at all, each of these characters is trying to find a sense of connection and companionship in their lives, whether it is the companionship of flatmates, family, pets, co-workers, neighbors, etc. After one book, it has not captured me the way the 44 Scotland Street series has, but I will continue with it and see how it develops.

Description: Corduroy Mansions is the affectionate nickname given to a genteel, crumbling mansion block in London’s vibrant Pimlico neighborhood and the home turf of a captivating collection of quirky and altogether McCall-Smithian characters. There’s the middle-aged wine merchant William, who’s trying to convince his reluctant twenty-four-year-old son, Eddie, to leave the nest; and Marcia, the boutique caterer who has her sights set on William. There’s also the (justifiably) much-loathed Member of Parliament Oedipus Snark; his mother, Berthea, who’s writing his biography and hating every minute of it; and his long-suffering girlfriend, Barbara, a literary agent who would like to be his wife (but, then, she’d like to be almost anyone’s wife). There’s the vitamin evangelist, the psychoanalyst, the art student with a puzzling boyfriend and Freddie de la Hay, the Pimlico terrier who insists on wearing a seat belt and is almost certainly the only avowed vegetarian canine in London.

The Wine of Angels

The Wine of Angels (Merrily Watkins, #1)The Wine of Angels by Phil Rickman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I have FINALLY finished this book! Started it a couple years ago, borrowed from the library the next county over. It’s a chunkster and I had to return it because of holds. So then I bought the ebook and started over, and made it more than halfway before I got bogged down with other things I had to read, and just never seemed to pick it up again. However, I liked it. I like it a lot – the setting, the characters, all the threads of the mystery, with some paranormal events, the themes of good vs. evil, religion vs. pagan beliefs and folk customs, a woman vicar (okay – “priest in charge”), a teenage daughter with WAY too much freedom – let’s just say she doesn’t lead a sheltered life!

I knew if I wanted to finish this book, I would have to get it on audio. Well, the library didn’t have it. Interlibrary loan didn’t have it. So I took the plunge and decided to join Audible. Will it be worth the $15 a month? Well, I already bought the sequel and looking forward to it. I just don’t read the way I did when I was young. And I drive. A lot. So yay for audiobooks! The narrator was very good.

Oh yes, I should also say, this takes place in Herefordshire on the Welsh border. I have ancestors from there (Wales and Herefordshire…) The author is from that area and knows his “people.” The book is very atmospheric of both the place and the people. Loved it! Took off a star, because I like to give a series room to grow, and because I got bogged down in the length and the exposition in the print version. The tension really ratcheted up at the end and almost became a thriller. Then the ending… seemed anti-climactic. But I will definitely go on with the series. I need to learn how Merrily becomes an exorcist in the next book….

Description: The new vicar had never wanted a picture-postcard parish—or a huge and haunted vicarage. Nor had she wanted to walk into a dispute over a controversial play about a 17th-century clergyman accused of witchcraft, a story that certain long-established families would rather remained obscure. But this is Ledwardine, steeped in cider and secrets. A paradise of cobbled streets and timber-framed houses. And also—as Merrily Watkins and her teenage daughter, Jane, discover—a village where horrific murder is a tradition that spans centuries.

Narrated by Rebecca Lacey.

 

A Man Called Ove

A Man Called OveA Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book was an absolute delight. Laugh-out-loud funny, with interesting characters, but it will also tug at your heart. Ove has lost his wife, the love of his life, and all sense of purpose. In his grief and despair, he plans to kill himself, (but only if conditions meets his sense of what is proper). Needless to say, he gets interrupted repeatedly by neighbors needing him for one thing or another. He even becomes something of a local hero when he plans to jump in front of a passing train and ends up rescuing a man who has fallen on the tracks. We alternate between the present day and episodes from Ove’s past that explain how he became the man he is, and he learns to find the man that he WAS.

Description: Meet Ove. He’s a curmudgeon – the kind of man who points at people he dislikes as if they were burglars caught outside his bedroom window. He has staunch principles, strict routines, and a short fuse. People call him “the bitter neighbor from hell.” But behind the cranky exterior there is a story and a sadness. So when one November morning a chatty young couple with two chatty young daughters move in next door and accidentally flatten Ove’s mailbox, it is the lead-in to a comical and heartwarming tale of unkempt cats, unexpected friendship, and the ancient art of backing up a U-Haul. All of which will change one cranky old man and a local residents’ association to their very foundations.

Audiobook narrated by George Newbern.

The Weird Sisters

The Weird SistersThe Weird Sisters by Eleanor Brown
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

3.5 rounded up. A quick, fun read. I loved the Shakespeare angle. Told in first person plural voice as if the three sisters were one person or telling the story collectively. It worked. Not terribly deep – we don’t really know how these sisters got to be so dysfunctional, and so wrapped up in themselves that they haven’t grown up yet. The oldest sister seems to have held the family together for years (or thinks she has) and can’t give up her martyr role. She holds out hope of getting a job at the local college, while her fiance is off teaching in England. She has rigid ideas about what her future will look like, and needs to learn to let go and step out of her comfort zone. The middle sister seemed the most lost to me – pursuing the fast life, clothes, money, men – trying to fill the void of feeling worthless compared to her sisters. She returns home in disgrace having been caught embezzling money at her job. And the youngest – filled with wanderlust and unable to commit to anything. Now she is pregnant. Back home together again, the three sisters debate the past and present, their life choices, and the nature of happiness and self-worth.

Book description: Three sisters have returned to their childhood home, reuniting the eccentric Andreas family. Here, books are a passion (there is no problem a library card can’t solve) and TV is something other people watch. Their father-a professor of Shakespeare who speaks almost exclusively in verse-named them after the Bard’s heroines. It’s a lot to live up to. The sisters have a hard time communicating with their parents and their lovers, but especially with one another. What can the shy homebody eldest sister, the fast-living middle child, and the bohemian youngest sibling have in common? Only that none has found life to be what was expected; and now, faced with their parents’ frailty and their own personal disappointments, not even a book can solve what ails them…

Blue Lightning

Blue Lightning (Shetland Island, #4)Blue Lightning by Ann Cleeves
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This one probably needs to be read in order. The first three, not so much, but this one has a clear ending to the original quartet. Still, life goes on – there are three more books (at the present moment) after this one. I won’t say more than that, except that I’ve taken off one star for the authors continued propensity to wrap everything up in one big data dump, as Jimmy explains his suspicions, and how he knew what he knew. For the rest of us, it is a little frustrating to not have all the pieces allowing us to reach our own conclusions. But I’ll still give her high marks for setting and atmosphere.

Note on the TV series: The “fiancé” has been left out of the TV series entirely, so it is much changed from this story. And the rest of the series is not taken from the books.

Book description: Inspector Jimmy Perez takes his fiancé home to Fair Isle, the tiny island he comes from, to meet his parents. The island is a magnet for bird watchers, who congregate at the local inn and lighthouse. When a local married celebrity, who had an eye for the lads, is murdered, Perez discovers that the suspects are very close to him indeed.