Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Review of "The Unbearable Lightness of Scones" by Alexander McCall Smith

This is the fifth book in the "44 Scotland Street" series.

In these affable, humorous books Alexander McCall Smith follows the lives of a group of people who reside in Edinburgh's "New Town" neighborhood. Many of the characters live in apartments at 44 Scotland Street - and others are their friends and acquaintances.

Bertie is a sweet, bright 6-year-old boy whose mother, Irene, would win gold if 'helicoptering' was an Olympic sport. In addition to attending school, Bertie gets Italian lessons, goes to yoga, and regularly sees a psychotherapist named Dr. Fairbairn. Irene decorates Bertie's room in pink, dictates his playdates, and almost never lets him do anything fun. Poor Bertie wishes Irene would get a hobby.....but realizes HE'S her hobby.

With a little help from his dad, Bertie fulfills his dream of joining the Cub Scouts, along with his friend Tofu. Unfortunately, the Cub Scouts are now co-ed, so classmate Olive - a supercilious know-it-all who's declared herself Bertie's 'girlfriend' (over his strenuous objections) - joins as well. Gear up for friction in the Cubbies! I thought it was fun that Bertie and Tofu met Ian Rankin (the writer) during a Cub Scout map-reading activity.

Bertie repeatedly puzzles over the fact that his new little brother, Ulysses, looks just like Dr. Fairbairn. Uh Oh! Moreover, Dr. Fairbairn has been offered 'a chair' at a Scottish university, and is leaving town. (Bertie is bewildered....he thought the doctor already had a chair. Ha ha ha) In any case, a new psychotherapist is coming on board, which may be a good thing for Bertie.

Angus is a portrait painter whose boon companion is his dog Cyril, who has a gold tooth. Cyril had 'an affair' in the last book, and Angus has been presented with six puppies. The pups cause a ruckus until a home is found for them....but the little guys might just be in peril. Concerned readers are worried ;(

Angus inadvertently becomes the custodian of a famous 'lost' (stolen) portrait that's come into the hands of Lard O'Conner - a local gangster. Lard and his cohorts know nothing about the painting's Angus hatches a plan to do right by the artwork.

Angus starts to think about marriage - and likes his friend Domenica.....but can these two independent spirits come together?

Matthew, a sedate art gallery owner, marries schoolteacher Elspeth - and they go off to Australia for their honeymoon. While enjoying a romantic walk on the beach Matthew gets swept away by an undertow - and the subsequent misunderstandings almost land him in a mental hospital.

Matthew visits an uncle in Singapore who (accidently) imparts news that leaves Matthew poleaxed. Matthew has a lot to think about now.

Domenica, an independent anthropologist, is irked because her neighbor Antonia 'stole' her blue Spode cup and is brazenly using it (the nerve!). So, when Domenica is asked to oversee a furniture delivery to Antonia's apartment, she sends Angus in to retrieve the cup.

This results in a 'cup crisis' AND reveals that Antonia is (apparently) a big drug dealer. Shocking.....but there may be an upside. If Antonia is arrested, Angus might be able to snag her apartment.....right next door to Domenica.

Lots of amusing misunderstandings in this plotline.

Bruce, an erstwhile surveyor, thinks his spectacular good looks are his ticket to success. Bruce has become engaged to a pretty heiress named Julia and now lives in her upscale apartment, has a car and job - courtesy of her father, and has plenty of spending money for clothes, men's cosmetics, expensive meals, and so on.

Bruce views Julia as rather empty-headed - and thinks he's got it made - but he's dead wrong. After a rude awakening Bruce rethinks his lifestyle.....and might just become an upstanding guy.

Big Lou is an amiable gal who owns a coffee shop.....and always gets involved with wrong 'uns. Her current boyfriend doesn't cheat (at least) but he's involved in a bizarre Jacobite plot to bring the 'Pretender to the Throne of Scotland' back from France.....and restore him to his rightful place.

The 'Pretender' is installed Lou's apartment - where he expects to be waited on hand and foot - while the Jacobites make their plans. There's a funny scene where the 'king' and his associate - dressed in historical togs - are mistaken for transvestites.

The book's title refers to the fact that Angus and Matthew suggest that Big Lou 'lighten up' her dense scones......but Lou has no use for feathery baked goods.

This is an enjoyable addition to the series, highly recommend to fans. Even if you aren't familiar with the series, you could probably enjoy this entertaining book.

Rating: 3.5 stars

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