Friday Reads: 44 Scotland Street, a Scottish Delight!

Friday Reads: 44 Scotland Street, a Scottish Delight!

posted in: Books, British, Entertainment | 2 | This post may contain referral links. See privacy policy for more.

I discovered the 44 Scotland Street series while listening to Confessions of A Serial Novelist by Alexander McCall Smith, an obscure audio offering in the OneClickdigital App. I downloaded it because I had read The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency some years earlier and was curious to hear what nuggets of wisdom such a successful author as McCall Smith might have to share.

The recording turned out to be a one hour lecture given in New York City in 2006 and featured more humor than substantive advice on how to succeed as a novelist. (Although, perhaps that is a good lesson in itself. Perhaps humor is the secret to success as a novelist?) The highlight of the lecture came at the end: an excerpt from the second 44 Scotland Street novel: Espresso Tales.

44 Scotland Street takes place in Edinburgh. Pictured above is <a href="" target="_blank">Edinburgh Castle</a>, one of many Edinburgh landmarks mentioned in the series.
44 Scotland Street takes place in Edinburgh. Pictured above is Edinburgh Castle, one of many Edinburgh landmarks mentioned in the series.

The passage was about a six-year-old boy named Bertie whose mother forces him to learn Italian and play tenor saxophone. This was interesting. I immediately checked the app for the 44 Scotland Street audiobook and downloaded it. While the passage McCall Smith read focused on Bertie, the series features a much larger cast of characters, some of whom are listed here on his website.

The first book of the series focuses primarily on the residents of the building the book is named after. (While Scotland Street is a real street in Edinburgh, there is no number 44.) There is Pat, a young girl of 20 on her 2nd gap year, working as a receptionist at an art gallery. Pat’s flatmate is Bruce, a rugby shirt-wearing narcissist with a passion for hair gel who works as a surveyor (real estate appraiser in the US). Across the hall is Domenica: world-wise anthropologist, widow, advisor to Pat, and friend to Angus. Angus lives on a neighboring street: a 50-something portrait painter and companion to Cyril, a beer and coffee-drinking dog with a gold tooth.

There’s also Matthew, the somewhat dejected owner of the art gallery Pat works at, who often enjoys long coffee breaks at Big Lou’s. Before Big Lou purchased Big Lou’s, it had been a bookshop. After the purchase, Lou moved all the remaining book inventory to her residence. She reads them whenever she is not running her coffee bar, giving rise to thoughtful and occasionally spirited philosophical discussions over coffee with customers.

With all the characters and funny storylines, I am reminded of Julian Fellowes and Downton Abbey. The books are fun to binge on, another thing in common with Downton Abbey! I discovered the series in August, four months ago, and I am already on the fourth book of the series: The World According to Bertie.

I have plenty more to say about the books, their author, and the narrator of the audiobooks, Robert Ian Mackenzie, but I will save it for a later post. For now, I will leave you with this interview with Alexander McCall Smith that I discovered from The Guardian. In it, he discusses the 44 Scotland Street series in his usual light-hearted and modest style. Happy Friday!

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Dragonsinger Book Review: Harpers, Hogwarts and a Hawaiian Kolohe

Dragonsinger Book Review: Harpers, Hogwarts and a Hawaiian Kolohe

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Earlier this month, I reviewed Dragonsong by Anne McCaffrey. Today, I will be reviewing the second book in the Harper Hall of Pern trilogy, Dragonsinger. If you wish to read the first book, I highly recommend you stop and read the first review, as this second review may spoil a key surprise.

In my last review, I drew comparisons between Dragonsong and the Giver Quartet. Dragonsinger then is most comparable to Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, but McCaffrey’s book is more upbeat (i.e., light hearted and less serious).

There are quite a few parallels between Harry Potter and Dragonsinger.

We join Menolly arriving on dragonback to the Harper Hall. This is the place of which she has dreamed of likely since Petiron began teaching her about music back at Half Circle Sea Hold. The Harper Hall is not at all what she had imagined it would be like, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. She is there to learn music and throughout the book, there are many teachers who invest a great deal in her education (much like Harry Potter’s education at Hogwarts).

Dragonsinger Book Review

I listened to this book, just like Dragonsong, through the OneClickDigital subscription through my local library. Sally Darling narrates again and once more, she does a lovely job!

Master Robinton has a twinkle in his eye similar to that of Albus Dumbledore, and like Dumbledore, he tracks the movements of his star pupil, Menolly, while keeping busy, managing any business that crops up throughout the continent of Pern. He is a very busy man, but remains compassionate, thoughtful, and generous. The best kind of leader.

The difference between Dragonsong and Dragonsinger is night and day, quite literally. Dragonsong is filled with a sad darkness and a sense of emotional and physical isolation. The ways of Half Circle Sea Hold are quite insular, given its closed off location, but also the mentality of Menolly’s father who happens to be the leader of the community. Menolly’s family attempts to snuff out her musical gifts at ever opportunity causing Menolly to feel she has no choice but to run away, at great personal peril.

Dragonsinger, on the other hand is full of light, laughter and friendship. Menolly’s gifts are revered and celebrated, even if a few Harpers are skeptical at first. They attend a Gather, pretty much a festival with lots of food, drink, entertainment, and trade/shopping! Life flows freely and abundantly in the Harper Hall – quite a 180 from Half Circle Sea Hold. There are still challenges to overcome, but none as serious as those she faced in the first book. Dragonsinger is a comparative breath of fresh air to Dragonsong.

The best part of reading Dragonsinger was the characters. Menolly’s fire-lizards continue to play a big part in the story, especially with regard to Menolly’s emotional growth. Each Master Harper has something unique to offer, as well as the Journeyman Harpers. We meet Piemur, a young rascal with an angelic soprano voice. Al and I spent a few years during our childhood in Hawaii, and there is a Hawaiian word that captures Piemur’s mischievious spirit: Kolohe (pronounced ko-lo-hay). Basically it means “endearing troublemaker” and that’s Piemur to a T.

I have begun reading Dragondrums and Piemur is the main character. I was surprised that Menolly was not the main character in this book since she was in the first two of the trilogy. That being said, I am on Chapter 5 and it really isn’t an issue. Piemur is a very pleasant character to spend time with. Stay tuned for my review of Dragondrums!

You can read a full summary of Dragonsinger at the Pern Wikia page here.

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Dragonsong Book Review: A Joyous Flight through Pern on Dragonwing

Dragonsong Book Review: A Joyous Flight through Pern on Dragonwing

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Ever since we finished bingewatching all five seasons of BBC’s Merlin a few months ago, I have been on the look out for more dragon literature. John Hurt’s the Great Dragon was one of my favorites of all time.

After typing in the word dragon in the search of the local library catalog, I was scrolling through a list of books and came across an unexpected book cover. It featured an older woman with a tiny dragon perched on her hand. The book turned out to be the biography of Anne McCaffrey, Dragonholder, written by her son, Todd McCaffrey.

I was intrigued. I decided to check out some of Ms. McCaffrey’s books and settled on Dragonsong because I liked the name. I found the audiobook, read by Sally Darling on the One Click Digital App and downloaded it. It took a while to get used to Ms. Darling’s reading style and also to get to know the world of Pern. But wow, it was worth it.

Dragonsong is right there with my other favorite fantasy/sci-fi books, from the The Hobbit to Animorphs to the Giver Quartet.

It is quite a bit like Gathering Blue and Son, the 2nd and 4th books in the Giver Quartet. All three feature female protagonists that face life’s challenges with strength and grace; Menolly in Dragonsong, Kira in Gathering Blue, and Claire in SonDragonsong was written much earlier though, published in 1976 while the Giver Quartet was published from 1993 to 2012.

Though Menolly sometimes moans and groans in excess, that is perfectly normal for a 14-year-old, especially a neglected and misunderstood one. Menolly’s distress is genuine and as a reader, you really feel for her. Yanus, Menolly’s father, reminded me of Uther Pendragon from BBC’s Merlin and got me throwing shade like… oh no you didn’t.

The physical copy of this book is 192 pages. It only took me 10 days to listen to the whole book, which is quite speedy for me. I tend to lose interest in books quickly. I can’t wait to read more. I’m already on Chapter 2 of the second book of the trilogy: Dragonsinger. The audiobook is also read by Sally Darling.Dragonsong by Anne McCaffrey Review - 2

Fire lizards and Spiderclaws, Thread and Harpers, Benden Weyr and Half Circle Sea Hold, I’m so glad we met!

Dragonsong by Anne McCaffrey: ★★★★★ (5/5 Stars!)

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Dragonsong by Anne McCaffrey Review Featured

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90’s Road Tripping vs. 2016 Road Tripping

90’s Road Tripping vs. 2016 Road Tripping

posted in: On the Road, Travel, Woof Trekking | 0 | This post may contain referral links. See privacy policy for more.

Now, we have already established that we are millennials. That means we are around the big 3-0, and when you’ve been around for about three decades, we think it is okay to give into a little nostalgia now and then.

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One of our most cherished childhood memories is going on road trips and one of the best parts of said road trips was listening to books on tape. On one road trip, we listened to the entire delightful cassette tape version of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, narrated by the many charming voices of Jim Dale. Only recently did we discover that Stephen Fry was the voice of the UK version of Harry Potter book on tape. We love Stephen Fry, but when we listened to a sample, it just wasn’t the same. Jim + J.K. forever! <3 <3 <3

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, Book 1

On another road trip, we listened to a book called The End of the Road, also on cassette tape, written and read by Tom Bodett. Penned in 1989, it is a hilarious novel featuring several interconnected stories about a small town in Alaska. The most memorable section was about an outrageous lime green fire truck. You should read it! Actually, you should listen to it. It is Tom Bodett after all! An abridged version is available through Audible. Bodett’s voice draws you in like few other audiobook narrators. No wonder he has been the voice of Motel 6 for 30 years.

The End of the Road

Road Trip Activities in the 1990’s

batteries road trip

-Listen to cassette tapes on your Walkman. These could be the aforementioned audiobooks or something cooler, like Michael Jackson’s Dangerous album. That cover was gorgeous!

-Play your original Gameboy. Remember the thick gray plastic body with the greenish-yellow screen and gray graphics? Remember carrying around all of your game cartridges with you? Those were the days…

-Play CDs on your bulky portable CD Player. Whip out your 4 slot mesh binder CD collection on the bus to band camp. Yeah, I’ve got Chumbawamba. Wazzup?

-The Old Standbys: the license plate game, Slug Bug, and I Spy. Not sure if these are still popular with the kids these days.

Road Trip Activities Now

Don’t Forget Your Charging Station!

-Stream podcasts, audiobooks, or music on your phone.

-Read books on your eReader or phone.

-Play realistic games or watch TV on your phone.

We may be biased, but just looking over these two lists, it seems obvious that road tripping in the nineties was da bomb diggity.

That being said, there is no doubt that smartphones changed the road tripping game forever. The only limit is your data plan and the amount of coverage provided by your network. In some remote areas, there is no service. Now what, Gen Z? Now what? SLUG BUG!

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Books on the Brain: Scientific Self-Help (Part 2)

Books on the Brain: Scientific Self-Help (Part 2)

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Welcome back for Part 2 of Books on the Brain: Scientific Self-Help! Today, I will be discussing: Quiet by Susan Cain and Presence by Amy Cuddy.

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In Part 1, I discussed leveraging your local library for free books and audiobooks, as well as the possibility of achieving a calm mind through a calm body, as discussed in A Calm Brain by Dr. Gayatri Devi.

Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking

Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking

I recently discovered that I have spent a great deal of my life pretending to be an extrovert. This book opened my eyes to the fact that not only is to okay to be an introvert, but it is actually a bit of a superpower!

(Have you noticed that sometimes it is spelled “extrovert” and other times “extravert”? Read more about why on the Scientific American.)

I don’t need to be ashamed or fearful of being quiet anymore. It is who I am, and it is because I am an introvert that I am able to work independently, spend many hours working alone, and have the ability to leverage my own imagination, rather than depending on input from others.

This book really struck home for me. I give the book 5/5 stars. *A must read for introverts!*

Just last week, Susan Cain released Quiet Power, which applies principles from Quiet for kids and teens. I wish that I had found this book when I was a kid!

Quiet Power: The Secret Strengths of Introverts

Below is Susan Cain’s TED Talk, which is definitely worth watching. My favorite line was “R-O-W-D-I-E; that’s the way we spell rowdy! Rowdy! Rowdy! Let’s get rowdy!” There have been so many times in my life when I had to put on my “Scooby Suit” (As labeled by Lauren Groff, author of Fates and Furies, on Charlie Rose. See the interview here.) in order to participate with everyone else, rather than just withdrawing into myself.

Thanks to reading Quiet, I feel much more comfortable in my own skin. 

Presence: Bringing Your Boldest Self to Your Biggest Challenges

A few weeks after reading Quiet, I came across this book. I will be honest: it was hard to read at first. I had seen an interview with Amy Cuddy on CBS This Morning a few months earlier and was excited to read the book. However, after 50 pages, I thought about quitting, mostly because the content did not meet my highly built-up expectations.

Presence: Bringing Your Boldest Self to Your Biggest Challenges

The title of the book is Presence NOT Power Poses. (That’s what I thought the book was going to be about.) I continued reading despite my irritation and found that the book really picked up around page 100.

It stinks when you have preconceived notions about a book which then prevent you from fulling living in the moment, listening to each word. That’s what happened to me at the beginning of this book- I was NOT being Present. LOL!

I eventually got to the power pose section of the book, and it was all that I hoped it would be. I was excited to start practicing. At the beginning it was hard to pose for so long without feeling silly but I felt undeniably and inexplicable strong effects on my confidence level. Presence is similar to A Calm Brain in that they both investigate how the body can affect the mind. 

This book is about so much more than Power Poses. It is a holistic view on how to live in the now and get past your anxiety. I have started listening to it a second time and am enjoying it much more than the first. I give Presence 4.5/5 stars.

Below is Amy Cuddy’s now famous TED Talk! *But remember the book is about more than the talk.*

The next book I want to read in this genre is called Grit by Angela Duckworth. She has also given a TED Talk, which you can view here. I am excited to read it and have already placed a hold on it at my library.

Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance

I hope you enjoyed these book reviews and that you are living comfortably in your skin!

Also, remember to go to the library! It is a fun place. 🙂

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