My Lockdown Books: Forty Nine

My sister wanted me to write about an Alexander McCall Smith book so here you are: School Ship Tobermory.  It’s the first in a series about (you guessed it) a school on board a sailing ship.  However, if I had to categorise them, I’d say they were as much adventure/mysteries as school stories although they don’t really fit neatly into any genre.  And that’s a good thing as I think they’ll appeal to all sorts of readers.

The book was published by Edinburgh based Birlinn who played a big part in launching Alexander McCall Smith’s fiction writing career.  I was very happy to review it in The Scotsman in 2015.

Ben and Fee are looking forward to starting at a new school, a very different kind of school, on a sailing ship. They quickly make friends but soon they are drawn into rivalries, mysteries and danger. School Ship Tobermory: a school story set at sea. That’s two of my favourite things in one book. Added to that it’s written by Alexander McCall Smith with all that means in terms of style and humour, and illustrated by the brilliant Iain McIntosh. What joy!


12th December

In a sneaky move I’m including a second book by Dorita Fairlie Bruce who, you may remember from last week, is my favourite collectable author. The Serendipity Shop introduces Merran and Julia Lendrum, orphaned sisters living happily enough with relatives in London. In the great tradition of Dorita Fairlie Bruce, though, they’re exiled Scots, and when an unexpected legacy recalls them to their home town they fight off all opposition from their well-meaning relatives and return. The book is set in Colmskirk, a thinly disguised Largs, and it makes me happy! Julia and Merran are welcomed back to the town warmly. Merran, the reserved older sister, has inherited an antiques shop and, along with it, an enemy. Insouciant Julia, still at school, makes friends with the enemy’s daughter. In an unexpected turn, however, all four are thrown together in an effort to save the town from an unscrupulous businessman. Dorita Fairlie Bruce’s characterisation is always strong and the description of the small town setting with its idealised sense of community is my best kind of feel-good.

It was Alexander McCall Smith’s No 1 Ladies Detective series that rocketed him to fame. Mma Ramotswe struck a chord and put Botswana securely on the map for many readers. But Botswana had been front and centre of my mind for a long time. Brought up in the United Free Church of Scotland, I knew more than most about the southern African country where much of the denomination’s overseas work was focused. I loved the series from the outset and got very over-excited in the staffroom one day when a real life character who had once stayed with us got a mention. Shrieking wasn’t in it! However I also enjoy the Edinburgh based books and it’s one of them I’ve chosen for my list. Alexander McCall Smith’s deceptively simple style of writing is well known and The Right Attitude to Rain exemplifies it well. It is the third in his Isabel Dalhousie series set in middle class Edinburgh and meets the high standard of its predecessors. I enjoyed the first two books in the series (The Sunday Philosophy Club and Friends, Lovers, Chocolate) but for me this was better than either of them because of what we learn about Isabel. In this book, Alexander McCall Smith sensitively describes her emotional character. He also leaves us on the edge of a precipice that I certainly never saw coming…