Tag Archives: Alexander McCall Smith

Friday Faceoff – On the right track but on the wrong train… #Brainfluffbookblog #FridayFaceofftraincovers

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This meme was started by Books by Proxy, whose fabulous idea was to compare UK and US book covers and decide which is we prefer. This meme is being nurtured by Lynn’s Book Blog and this week we are featuring covers with images of TRAINS. I’ve selected Trains and Lovers by Alexander McCall Smith of The Ladies’ No 1 Detective Agency fame. And in case you haven’t encountered this little gem, I wrote a review of it back in 2014 – see my review of Trains and Lovers.

Pantheon, June 2013

This edition was produced by Pantheon in June 2013, and is the original cover design, so has set the tone for the subsequent covers. I actually like it very much. It’s clever and to the point – we see the train speeding past with a series of ardent couples all engaged in various stages of courtship. I like the contrast of the beige background colour and the grey train, which ought to be boring but somehow is not. I also like the title font, particularly the colouring of it, though I would have preferred that it was just a little more bolded to give a bit of extra heft for when it is in thumbnail.

Polygon, November 2012

Published in November 2012 by Polygon, I think this cover is trying just a tad too hard. Heart-shaped clouds if you must, with the sun peeping out – but flowers bouncing around the train wheels and a fluttering in the air. Really?? Apart from anything else, this is giving the completely wrong idea of the overall tone of this book, which is far more nuanced and ambivalent about the business of falling in love and what happens next. So, while I’ll agree that it is an attractive cover, I don’t like it as I think it tips into sentimentality which I LOATHE.

Anchor, December 2013

This edition, published by Anchor in December 2013 is far more sombre in tone, despite the bright red colouring. The seat facing the track with two single people sitting alone gives a sense of loneliness – and the randomness of encountering someone that you bond sufficiently well that you fall in love. This cover is certainly a contender.

Italian edition, April 2014

This Italian edition, produced by Tre60 in April 2014 is back to the theme of the love train. The punchy blue backdrop and high bridge makes the train with its trail of hearts look small and rather fragile. I also like the treatment of the font, which really grabs the eye and stands out well in thumbnail.

Polygon, August 2017

This edition, published by Polygon in August 2017, is my favourite. I love the station scene and the punchy contrast between that saturated blue, which works well as a backdrop to the title font, and the yellow arches. The station clock and flowers act as a pleasing set for the lovers meeting on the station platform. It’s very simple and pared back, as are all the cover designs for this book, but this is the most visually pleasing and works well for this particular book, I think. Which is your favourite?

Friday Faceoff – If there’s no chocolate in Heaven, I’m not going… #Brainfluffbookblog #FridayFaceoff

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This meme was started by Books by Proxy, whose fabulous idea was to compare UK and US book covers and decide which is we prefer. This meme is currently being nurtured by Lynn’s Book Blog and the subject this week SOMETHING SWEET has to feature on any of our covers, so I’ve selected Friends, Lovers, Chocolate – Book 2 of Isabel Dalhousie series by Alexander McCall Smith.

 

This edition was produced by Pantheon Books in September 2005. I like the design – the colourful shop front and pavement café looks delightfully enticing. But that horrid textbox slapped across the top blocks out far too much of the design – and given the café is at a slight angle and the textbox isn’t, the resulting clash of perspectives is jarring. If only it hadn’t been there – this one would definitely have been my favourite… *sigh*.

 

Published in August 2006 by Anchor Books, this cover is harking back to the past. The plain bright yellow really pops and I like the contrast with the chocolate brown for the borders, artwork and text, which gives it a classic feel. The touch of tartan and the dramatic hand dropping the cup of chocolate all give appropriate clues as to what the book is about. I really like this one.

 

This edition, published by Abacus in July 2006 has also gone for the vintage vibe. The bold, blocky artwork, strong primary colours and clear, capitalised text all refer back to the mid-20th century and the heyday of the whodunit. This is another strong candidate for this week’s favourite – I really like this one.

 

Produced by Little Brown in 2005, this is my favourite. I love the artwork, the chocolate drink, the rather natty glove draped over The Scotsman newspaper – all very nicely done. The lavender sprigs down the side also provide further eye appeal.

 

This French edition, published by Editions des Deux Terres in September 2013 is another strong contender. I love the image of the delicious chocolate cake with the single bite taken out of it – somehow more effective than a pristine slice. And while I’m not a fan of plain white backgrounds, this time it really works. I also think the lettering, both of the author and title is attractive and effective. Which is your favourite?

Review of Trains and Lovers by Alexander McCall Smith

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trainsI thoroughly enjoyed The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series, so scooped up this offering as soon as I saw it on the shelves – would I also enjoy this book?

Imagine you are in a train. Think about all the other people on the train with you, what their lives are or have been, the different experiences you’ve all had. But there is one thing that you undoubtedly all share: you have all been in love at one time or another. In this story, four strangers share their different experiences of love…

That’s as much of the very chatty blurb I’m prepared to share, as I’m allergic to spoilers. So this is an episodic novel, with these strangers sharing their very personal stories – or in one person’s case, not sharing their story… But for me, the slice of the book that has lodged in my head was the Prologue – in fact I haven’t been able to get this extract out of my head:

Love is nothing out of the ordinary, even if we think it is: even if we idealise it, celebrate it in poetry; sentimentalise it in coy valentines. Love happens to just about everyone; it is like measles or the diseases of childhood; it is predictable as the losing of milk teeth, or the breaking of a boy’s voice. It may visit us at any time; in our youth but also when we are much older and believe we are beyond its reach; but we are not. It has been described as a toothache, a madness, a divine intoxication – metaphors that reflect the disturbing effect it has on our lives. It may bring surprise, joy, despair and occasionally perfect happiness.
p. 7, Alexander McCall Smith (Polygon Books, 2012)

I think the fact that these stories are told on the journey between Edinburgh and London is significant – many of us have been on a train journey where we have somehow struck up a conversation with those around us. While McCall Smith is often described as a ‘cosy and heart-warming’ writer, don’t go away with the impression that he is remotely interested in giving us the sentimental Valentine’s hearts and teddy bears version of love. Even the happiest story is shadowed by the fact that both people involved are dead and gone, with their life’s work also obliterated and their tale of love is being narrated by their daughter.

As ever, given that McCall Smith is the author, this isn’t a huge volume with only 191 pages of well-spaced prose. But what it lacks in physical heft, it makes up in the perfect pacing, interesting characterisation and nuanced storytelling that leaves us in no doubt that love is a chancy business. And maybe the reason why we keep revisiting romance over and over in our fiction, is because when loves strikes us, it so often isn’t the happily ever after we are promised in all the fairy stories. If you want a far more realistic, clear-eyed version then track down this book – I personally think it should be required reading for all idealistic pre-teen and teenage girls glutted on a diet of Disney and Hollywood romcoms.
10/10