Posts tagged ‘Alexander McCall Smith’

Expectation is the mother of something – My year end book round-up thing

IMG_5512.jpgI read an unusually large amount of books this year (72 to be exact).  The only way I can really account for this large number is an entire Spring, Summer and Autumn of evenings on our new porch.  The space is peaceful – even with my children and dog tumbling through it.  I found that even when I have worked a long day I just needed reading time in that space. So I guess what I am saying is that I am the shallow person that needs pretty spaces while I read and if that happens then 72 books are totally within my grasp.  IMG_5515.jpg

In all of those piles of books I read this year there were great finds, disappointments and just plain ridiculousness that made me wonder how the author landed with any kind of book deal let alone was acclaimed by some list or carried some kind award winning stamp of approval.  Here is my list.

Favorite Books that made me think: 

  1.  Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and Birth of the FBI by David Grann – This book covers the history of the Osage tribe as well as their systematic murders by the white people in their community wanting their wealth.  It is a story that is shocking in and of itself, the fact that it is true is devastating.  This book made me realize how very little I know about Native American history even just in the last one hundred years but also how few books there are that cover that period of history.
  2. The Round House by Louise Edrich – I have not read anything by Edrich before and this book was beautiful, sad and compelling.  Edrich chronicles Native American life but perhaps most importantly reservation life.  The story is told through the eyes of a boy, Joe, who learns that his mother has been savagely attacked and raped.  After the crime, Joe watches his parents try to return to some normalcy while failing miserably.  Between the tribal justice system (which includes Joe’s father) and the white justice system (which does not seem to care), Joe decides that the only way he can find out who attacked his mother is by investigating the crime himself with his friends.   There are a lot of books about boys trying to solve something that has changed their lives but this book is something more.  It is a deep look at Native American culture, white culture has hindered any hope of a future and how even in the most vulnerable moments for our children parents will fail them.
  3. We Crossed the Bridge and it Trembled: Voices from Syria by Wendy Perlman – Before we made any decisions about how to handle refugees from Syria we all should have read this book.  It is akin to where we tell a story about someone who sounds like you living through war and having to leave everything but then say but they are actually Syrian.  It is lawyers, scholars, mothers, students, it is you and I living through something harrowing and expecting the world to care.  But we didn’t.
  4. Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi – To me this was the best book I read this year. It is a three hundred year history of a family in Ghana that at one point splinters into tribal royalty and into slavery.  It is brilliantly written and, even though the characters change frequently, there is a connection from generation to generation that keeps the reader invested.  I absolutely loved it.

Favorite Suspense Books: 

  1.     The Dry by Jane Harper – I was hesitant to read this one because of all of the critical acclaim but Harper earned it. This is the story of Aaron Faulk coming home to a painful past in his Australian home town while wrestling with the appearance that his childhood friend has murdered his family and killed himself.
  2. The Good Daughter by Karen Slaughter – If you like suspense books you just should read Slaughter. Her books are just well done all the way around.
  3. The Ice Princess by Camilla Lackberg – I am new to Lackberg but her novels set in Fjallbacka, Sweden have that wonderful blend of likable characters that find themselves dealing with a murder in their small town and suspense. These character driven mystery novels have become my favorite blend in this genre.

Books that me wonder why they were considered so amazing:

  1. The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead – This book was everywhere. Acclaimed, talked about, chased after.  But I really didn’t like it, didn’t find it enlightening and was really frustrated by it.  I sometimes wonder if books about such a tough topic that receive critical acclaim make it hard for readers to just be honest about how it resonated with them, instead of just nodding and saying “yes, so deep and insightful.”  Let’s just admit here and now that even the great Toni Morrison has a miss now and then and it is okay to not love everything that examines our nation’s painful past and current race relations. Just because it attempts to create a space for discourse does not render it quality or literature.
  2. Tribe: On Homecoming and Belonging by Sebastian Junger – This book made some good points but completely lost me on some of the political points as well as completely frustrating me when tribe is used as an excuse to lose our sense of what makes a community healthy and meaningful.  We have to be smarter and better than that.
  3. The Rules of Magic by Alice Hoffman – I really hate to add this to the list but this book was disappointing for me.  It is meant to be prequel to Hoffman’s “Practical Magic” and that had such appeal and Reese Witherspoon loved it so there’s that. I felt a bit like these were a lot of short stories Hoffman has written that she then wove together to create a bigger story and then it became the prequel so it was marketable.

Nice Surprises that are wonderful reads:

  1. My Italian Bulldozer by Alexander McCall Smith – it is sunny and set in a gorgeous place, read it on a cold day when you are wishing to travel.
  2. Bruno Chief of Police by Martin Walker – it is a mystery but also such a great focus on Southern French culture and food that it was just too lovely to not enjoy. Read it when you have a good bottle of wine and cheese on hand.
  3. The Marsh King’s Daughter by Karen Dionne – This is her first book and it was a compelling story of what life would be if you were born out of your mother’s captivity but still loved your father who had held her captive.  There is a level of writing here that really makes me curious to see what Dionne writes next. Read it when you want a good suspense novel with some excellent writing.
  4. Who Thought this was a Good Idea by Alyssa Mastromonaco – written by President Obama’s deputy chief of staff this book has so many funny moments but is also such a great reminder of how hard being a woman in politics is and makes you hope that the days of this type of integrity are not a thing of the past. Read it when politics are depressing you and you have a good drink in hand so you can really forget about our current woes.

Never ever pick up:   No matter who says otherwise I would beg you not to read books by Victora Aveyard (Red Queen series), B.A. Paris (I know they sound good in the descriptions but trust me), Shari Lapena (maybe the first one she wrote but otherwise no), or maybe anything else Paula Hawkins writes.

And so ends 2017. May your 2018 be filled with joy, happiness and lovely places to curl up with a good book.

 

 

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December 30, 2017 at 6:34 pm Leave a comment

Let’s all go to Tuscany, shall we? – “My Italian Bulldozer” by Alexander McCall Smith

I cannot say enough about how much I loved this book.  It is just…well, lovely.  As always Smith has such a style that  makes me walk away feeling lighter and happier.  His writing is not shallow but it has a quality that allows him to address some fairly tough things with self-effacing humor and perspective which, if we are honest, is something we could all use a lot more of in our lives.

We meet Paul Stewart, a writer of famous lifestyle-foodie books, at the point of his life where he finds himself alone after a four year relationship has ended. It seems his girlfriend, Becky, enjoyed her work-outs with her personal trainer a bit too much and has left him for work-outs of an even more personal kind.  Paul with the help of his editor, Gloria, decides that the best way to move-on is to head to the small Tuscan town of Montalcino and finish his latest book about food in Tuscany.

After landing in Pisa, with a few mishaps (including a brief stay in prison), Paul finds himself in need of a rental car with none available.  Luckily, he finally finds a vehicle.  So, of course, Paul heads to Montalcino in his rented bulldozer.  Yes, even he admits it is ridiculous. Unknown-1.jpeg

Paul then spends  his time in Montalcino writing and meeting the quirky locals – the local wine-maker who is depressed about land borders, the local school principal who is spending his summer reading the paper at the local cafe and judging the youth who walk by, the hotel proprietor who knows everything about everyone.

This story is not brilliant in and of itself but it is the experience of reading at its best.  Everything Paul sees and eats and experiences you long to be a part of.  I am bound and determined to get to Montalcino and eat their mushrooms, drink their wine and stare out on the countryside while I write my world-renowned books. Okay so the last part about writing not reasonable but the rest can happen.   You also love all of the characters because they are just the kind of people you want to meet on vacation so you have stories to tell later.  I was sad when I had met all of the characters and was coming to the last few pages.

I read somewhere that Smith’s books are palate cleansers because they are light and easy reads.  This is an underestimation of what Smith does.  His books feel like palate cleansers because he writes deftly and doesn’t need a lot of heavy plotting and escapades to make his stories beautiful.  Whether he is writing about Botswana or Scotland or Italy, he clearly understand people and culture in way that brings the reader along.  He has a humor in a lot of his writing that matches P.G. Wodehouse wit for wit but never in a way that feels too snarky.

I also read a review of Smith in the Times that said that he writes books as easily as baking a cake because he writes so many.  The best part of this for readers is that means getting through all of his books will take some time.  And it is always time well spent.

Now all of that said, where shall we stay in Tuscany?

montalcino-wedding.jpg

June 11, 2017 at 6:45 pm Leave a comment

The stories we tell on trains – “Trains and Lovers” by Alexander McCall Smith

Trains and Lovers” by Alexander McCall Smith, Published in 2013. 

This book is beautiful.  It is the kind of book you end with a sigh and a happy heart.

It is a simple story.  Four strangers, riding the train from Edinburgh to London.   They are sitting two on each side of the coach, facing each other.  And somehow a story starts.  The simple “why are you going London?” turns into a story about a possible career in both art and love.  Then everyone has a story, some outwardly expressed and some revisited internally.  But all of the stories are about love and how it has brought them to this particular train, this particular path.

“Trains are everyday, prosaic things, but they can be involved in, be the agents of, so much else, including that part of our human life that for so many far outweighs any other—our need for love—to give it and to receive it in that familiar battle that all of us fight with loneliness.”

Trains can make us wistful. They take us away from something. They take us  towards something else.  They move on a set path that does not change.  You can board trains in snow or rain or beautiful sunshine.  Your lover can wave to you from the platform.  You can see the people you love slowly disappear as the train pulls away.  Trains rock back and forth, in a consoling manner as you watch the landscape change.   Trains make us wistful for good reason. They are not unlike love really.

Smith is a brilliant writer. He weaves the story of the train not just into the actual setting of the characters telling their stories but the trains play a part in each story as well.  The stories are not scintillating or shocking or laced with suspenseful moments. They are sweet, charming stories. They are the stories of everyday lives that could be told on a train to a stranger, who can then nod and add their own story.  Smith has the gentle touch of an old storyteller who knows what is important in life.  And his wisdom makes his writing beautiful  – “We live and breathe love. Loving someone is the good thing we do in our lives.”

English: Train leaving Waverley Station (Edinb...

English: Train leaving Waverley Station (Edinburgh). Nederlands: Vertrekkende trein uit Waverley Station (Edinburgh). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

November 8, 2013 at 7:50 pm Leave a comment


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There is some great literature out there, but there is a lot of bad literature as well. We shouldn't all have to read it. These are my recommendations and thoughts about the books I read.

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