The Dog Who Came In From the Cold

The Dog who Came in from the Cold (Corduroy Mansions, #2)The Dog who Came in from the Cold by Alexander McCall Smith
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

As might be expected from the title, Freddie de la Hay, our Pimlico terrier living at Corduroy Mansions, finds himself on loan to MI6 for some espionage work. Fortunately, we know that whatever might befall, all will be well in the end. These characters are beginning to grow on me: Freddie, of course, and his owner William French -having turned 50 he is having a bit of a midlife crisis, especially where romance is concerned – Barbara Ragg, who seems to have found true love with the Scotsman she met in the last book, and escaped from her former lover Rupert, who covets her comfortable home – Berthia, the sensible sister of Terrence Moongrove, whose innocence and gullibility never fails to get him into trouble – Caroline and her “sensitive” friend James – is he gay or isn’t he? – and the mysterious and elusive Yeti. What all of them come to realize at the end is “There’s no place like home.”

Audiobook narrated by Simon Prebble.

Book description: In the elegantly crumbling mansion block in Pimlico called Corduroy Mansions, the comings and goings of the wonderfully motley crew of residents continue apace. A pair of New Age operators has determined that Terence Moongrove’s estate is the cosmologically correct place for their center for cosmological studies. Literary agent Barbara Ragg has decided to represent Autobiography of a Yeti, purportedly dictated to the author by the Abominable Snowman himself. And our small, furry, endlessly surprising canine hero Freddie de la Hay—belonging to failed oenophile William French—has been recruited by MI6 to infiltrate a Russian spy ring. Needless to say, the other denizens of Corduroy Mansions have issues of their own. But all of them will be addressed with the wit and insight into the foibles of the human condition that have become the hallmark of this peerless storyteller.

Advertisements

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.

 

A Constellation of Vital Phenomena

A Constellation of Vital PhenomenaA Constellation of Vital Phenomena by Anthony Marra
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Beautiful prose writing, but ultimately a very depressing book. It is the story of war and what it does to ordinary people, and the things they need to do to stay alive, from sex-trafficking to selling out your neighbors to the enemy. The only bright spot is Havaa, but otherwise the plot jumps around in time, I didn’t particularly come to care about any of the characters, and a few days after finishing it, I’m not sure I remember what happened to any of them. I didn’t love it, but I didn’t hate it either.

Description: In a small rural village in Chechnya, eight-year-old Havaa watches from the woods as Russian soldiers abduct her father in the middle of the night and then set fire to her home. When their lifelong neighbor Akhmed finds Havaa hiding in the forest with a strange blue suitcase, he makes a decision that will forever change their lives. He will seek refuge at the abandoned hospital where the sole remaining doctor, Sonja Rabina, treats the wounded. For Sonja, the arrival of Akhmed and Havaa is an unwelcome surprise. Weary and overburdened, she has no desire to take on additional risk and responsibility. But over the course of five extraordinary days, Sonja’s world will shift on its axis and reveal the intricate pattern of connections that weaves together the pasts of these three unlikely companions and unexpectedly decides their fate.

Read by Colette Whitaker.

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 Language of Flowers

The Language of FlowersThe Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This was not at all what I was expecting. With no time period mentioned in the description, I was expecting a historical novel – Victorian or early 20th century. I would put this in the ’60s/70s or perhaps 70s/80s since there is mention of a microwave oven, but no cell phones or computers. Hard to say for sure. I was also expecting a love story, and it really was more about coming of age and dealing with a painful past. It alternates between Victoria at age 9-10, and age 18-20 something. It is also about an older woman, and her quest for reconciliation with her estranged sister, and what it means to be a family. Themes of foster care, abuse and recovery, motherhood, post-partum depression, worthiness, and family. A solid three stars, but not outstanding. Parts of it dragged for me but all things considered it was a good read, and would be a good choice for book clubs.

Description: The Victorian language of flowers was used to convey romantic expressions: honeysuckle for devotion, asters for patience, and red roses for love. But for Victoria Jones, it’s been more useful in communicating mistrust and solitude. After a childhood spent in the foster-care system, she is unable to get close to anybody, and her only connection to the world is through flowers and their meanings. Now eighteen and emancipated from the system with nowhere to go, Victoria realizes she has a gift for helping others through the flowers she chooses for them. But an unexpected encounter with a mysterious stranger has her questioning what’s been missing in her life. And when she’s forced to confront a painful secret from her past, she must decide whether it’s worth risking everything for a second chance at happiness.

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.