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Pianos and Flowers–stories birthed from photos

Pianos and Flowers

by Alexander McCall Smith

It is not uncommon for teachers to present students with a photograph and ask them to write about it. The result is usually nonfiction and descriptive of what is seen in the picture. The Sunday Times asked Alexander McCall Smith, the Scottish writer famous for his No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series set in Botswana, to select photographs from their archives of everyday people in everyday settings. He then created short stories, one for each picture, which fictionalized what was happening to the people in the picture as well as their background. The result is a collection of unrelated stories that bring these people to life. Naturally some appealed to me more than others. “Sphinx” is a gentle romance set in the 1930’s. “Pianos and Flowers” is about Brits working and living in China and how it affected their families. “Architect” had interesting observations about family relationships and culminated in a surprise ending. “Urchins” contained sad stories about the plight of the pictured street urchins and what the future held for them. I smile as I recall “St. John’s Wort,” the story of a retired man who was worried about everything. A friend of the wife gave her some timely advice. As you can see, each story in Pianos and Flowers is unique. There was only one story of the fourteen that I actually noted as not liking.

I read these at the rate of one or two stories a night at bedtime. They were a nice way to end the day on a calm and gentle note.

I would like to extend my thanks to NetGalley and to Knopf Doubleday (Pantheon) for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.

Rating: 5/5

Category: Short Stories

Publication: January 19, 2021— Knopf Doubleday (Pantheon)

Notes: The subtitle is Brief Encounters of the Romantic Kind, but I found that to be a misnomer. The stories are fictionalized snippets of life so there is some romance, but not very much.

Memorable Lines:

Parents are inexplicably embarrassing to sixteen-year-olds—they always have been.

We belittle the things we secretly want ourselves.

“A metaphor must be strange—it must make us sit up and take notice in a way in which a literal expression does not.”

The Whole Art of Detection–more of Sherlock

The Whole Art of Detection

by Lyndsay Faye

the-whole-art-of-detectionThe Whole Art of Detection is a Sherlockian’s dream come true.  Written in the style of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, this is a collection of fifteen stories purportedly from publications by Watson in The Strand, from his journal, and from Holmes’ diary.  All are written by Lyndsay Faye, and most were originally published in the current version of The Strand Magazine.

These stories do not make for a quick read as the vocabulary and style harken back to an earlier time and also reflect the British setting.  Most of the tales are excellent mysteries and the reader is amazed along with Watson at Sherlock’s powers of observation and deduction.

I enjoyed the camaraderie between Holmes and Watson as they comment for the reader on the predictability of the other.  Although Holmes is often almost unforgivably disparaging of Watson, it is obvious that they value each other immensely.  The book is divided into four parts in chronological sequence giving the reader a feel for the history of their relationship and how it deepens over time.

If you are a mystery lover, I suggest a visit to mysteriouspress.com.  This company was founded in 1975 by the owner of The Mysterious Bookshop in New York City. They are digitizing classic mysteries with care and are publishing new mysteries such as The Whole Art of Detection at Grove Atlantic.

I would like to extend my thanks to netgalley.com and to Grove Atlantic (The Mysterious Press) for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.

Rating: 5/5

Category: Mystery

Publication:   Grove Atlantic–March 7, 2017

Memorable Lines:

I myself have on occasion found London a strain upon the senses during its darkest month and had cause to reflect that, for a man of my friend’s minutely pitched sensitivities, the bleakness of its icy Decembers must have been grating in the extremest degree.

Nothing is so desirable as that which is denied us.

Our temperaments were so wildly antithetical as to be perfectly matched.

What I seek cannot be found by traveling backward.

…every vein aquiver with the intoxication of the chase.

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