McCall Smith is such a prolific author that he needs at least three readers to keep up with him. The series that transpire in Scotland have two performers. Davina Porter narrates the Sunday Philosophy Club series while Mackenzie performs the series about 44 Scotland Street. Porter is the better performer as she catches the various cadences of Edinburgh's middle class. Mackenzie's characters sound pretty much alike in terms of their accents, with the exception of Angus's hearty brogue. Its also annoying that some of the women are given the same tiny voices used for a six-year-old genius. Best is Mackenzie's over-the-top enactment of Lard, a Glaswegian gangster and his cohorts with their barely comprehensible street slang and thick accents. The major problem with this production is the lugubrious pace of the narration. Although Espresso Tales is the second book in a series, the audio helpfully provides two summaries of characters and events at the beginning. Despite the reader's lack of pep, the author's sly, gentle humor shines through and makes this audio charming and engaging. Simultaneous release with the Anchor paperback (Reviews, May 22). (July) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Adult/High School-This is the second volume of a serial novel that the author has been publishing in The Scotsman about a group of loosely connected people living in present-day Edinburgh. The most interesting character for teen readers is Bertie Pollock, a precocious six-year-old who is being forced by his mother to study Italian, play the saxophone, take yoga, and endure psychoanalysis because of his understandable rebellion against her efforts to prevent him from being an ordinary boy. Bertie and his father grow closer and eventually assert their independence. Mrs. Pollock, meanwhile, has her own moments of revelation as she discovers that the analyst is not as perfect as she thought. The other stories revolve around a coffee-shop owner and some of her patrons and the residents of 44 Scotland Street, who were the subjects of the first book. Many of the characters are strikingly flawed, but McCall Smith eventually finds some redeeming, human side to them. He examines Scottish culture, from would-be art and wine dealers to raincoat-wearing nudists and members of the Scottish mafia. The relationships among the characters grow in unexpected and touching ways. The author has a critical yet forgiving eye for human failings. This novel is a prose poem about the small things in life that are being threatened by globalization and mass entertainment.-Will Marston, Berkeley Public Library, CA Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Further adventures of the inhabitants of the Edinburgh townhouse that provided the primary setting for this novel's beguiling predecessor, 44 Scotland Street (2005). Its 105 brief chapters (again, originally published as daily installments appearing in The Scotsman newspaper) reveal a passel of irresistibly eccentric characters, comprising a spectrum of humanity that ranges from embattled innocence through romantic befuddlement to the fringes of contented old age. University student Pat MacGregor embraces the brisk energies of Edinburgh, but not necessarily the attentions of an attractive bloke who casually invites her to a "nudist picnic." Her flatmate, absurdly handsome and narcissistic Bruce, foresees prosperity as owner of a trendy wine shop, but manages as usual to overestimate both his own charms and his friends' tolerance levels. Art gallery owner Matthew resolves to protect his widowed father Gordon's wealth from an amiable "gold-digger"-with astonishingly unexpected results. In the best sequence, six-year-old prodigy Bertie seeks the strength to resist his mother Irene's soul-cramping progressive educational scheme. Bertie's determination to become a real boy is conveyed with impressive pathos, as is the "education" (so to speak) of his hitherto passive father, Stuart, who learns at last to assert himself, and foil Irene's micromanaging. Smith is a master of juxtaposition, and the considerable pleasures this novel offers are diluted only by a rather more frequent recourse to omniscient authorial commentary than was employed in 44 Scotland Street, and by excessive space given to two comparatively uninteresting characters. Sprightly cosmopolitan dowager Domenica Macdonald is anunhappy fusion of Muriel Spark and Auntie Mame. And in successive excerpts from conservative prig Ramsey Dunbarton's preening memoirs, Smith manages only to make a suffocating bore . . . well, suffocatingly boring. But they are exceptions in a winning human comedy redeemed and energized by its author's manifest affection for even the silliest of his creations. Vintage Smith, of a body and bouquet that even Bruce would appreciate.
Praise for the National Bestseller 44 Scotland Street:
“McCall Smith shows an Austen-like sensitivity to the interactions of daily life.”
—The Gazette (Montreal)
“It’s possible the novels of Alexander McCall Smith have been invented as a cunning antidote to the accelerations of modern times.”
—The Globe and Mail
“Irresistible. . . . Smith has rendered another winner, packed with the charming characters, piercing perceptions and shrewd yet generous humour that have become his cachet.”
“This soulful, sweet collection of stories will make you feel as though you live in Edinburgh, if only for a short while, and it’s a fine place to visit indeed. . . . Long live the folks on Scotland Street.”
—New Orleans Times-Picayune