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on 17 March 2017
Very good as usual!
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on 20 June 2014
I have read many books from Alexander McCall Smith. I like this book most because it captures the mind of the little boy Charlie and how he sees the world. It is about the love we have towards our children. It is also about forgiveness. Isabel Dalhousie does not only solve a crime.
She learns more about the pitfall of human nature and the complexity of human relationships.
The clouds described as "Schäfchenwolken" are up in the sky and symbolic for the ever changing scenery as the wind will blow over.
Play with words and subtlety cause the reader to ponder about the real values in life.
This book is about ethic and moral values. Should we push our children to their limits or give them a decent childhood?

Isabel solves these problems with grandeur and seemingly with ease.

This book can be highly recommended.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 21 October 2012
This is the ninth installment in Alexander McCall Smith's series about Isabel Dalhousie, editor of an ethics magazine and occasional sleuth. The last couple of books in the series were somewhat of a disappointment to me, but I enjoyed this one considerably more. Whilst the plot is as slim as ever - centering on Isabel's efforts to assist in the retrieval of a stolen painting - the book weaves its gentle charm over you as you read it. The "action" is interspersed with Isabel's musings on subjects as diverse as how to deal with rudeness in others, with whether we owe more to the people who live near us than people abroad and how to deal with conflict in marriages. I think what I like most about this series is the way it gets you thinking about the simple ways that you can live a more considerate life, about the importance of manners and kindness, without feeling that you are being preached to.

While many familiar characters make an appearance in the book - Grace has a falling out with Isabel and Eddie has romantic problems - others are barely mentioned, if at all. Cat is largely absent (hooray! no unsuitable boyfriends for once), as are Professors Dove and Lettuce. I was grateful for this, as it made the book feel less formulaic. I remain unconvinced by Isabel's relationships with Jamie and Charlie. Neither to me feel realistic, but at least her relationship with Jamie is made up of a little more this time round than just thinking about how lucky she is to have him.

I'm giving the book 3 stars because I liked, it but never found it terribly compelling and I suspect that in a week's time I'll be struggling to remember any of it. Having said that, I think that fans of the series will definitely enjoy it.
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on 13 September 2012
Over the previous eight books we have come to regard Isabel Dalhousie as a friend. We have been there when she fell in love and married Jamie, the beautiful young bassoonist discarded by Isabel's niece, Cat. We have barracked for her when two sinister colleagues, professors Dove and Lettuce, have tried to derail her stellar career as a philosopher.
We have been in the nursery in her upper middle-class Edinburgh home as she raises Charlie, now aged three and three-quarters, helped by the loyal family retainer Grace, who attends a spiritualist church. We have listened in to her conversations with Brother Fox, the vulpine visitor she welcomes into her rhododendron dotted garden.
At the heart of each book is a mystery that persuades Isabel to put on her sleuthing hat and guide us through a moral minefield. Nothing gritty like Taggart or Trainspotting, but a mystery that turns on human nature and our flaws.
In these tender tales embroidered with W.H. Auden's poetry and illustrated with Scottish artists like Henry Raeburn, Alexander McCall Smith has won over a legion of new fans to add to the many millions who buy his books, especially The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency.
In The Uncommon Appeal of Clouds, Isabel looks up at the sky. People ask her to do things for them. She has no idea why. What did they think she was? A private detective? An agony aunt? No. She was editor of the Review of Applied Ethics.
Duncan Munrowe's forebears made their pile with rubber plantations in Malaya.
The family seat in Scotland was open to the public on occasions and a thief had taken the opportunity to steal a valuable Poussin. Duncan intended to transfer the painting he so loved to the National Gallery of Scotland. Could Isabel broker a deal with the thieves?
Isabel's mind flits from the propriety of eating fish while stocks are dwindling to settle on the nature of wrongdoers. She concludes criminals, in and out of uniform or in and out of public office, are bullies, prepared to take by force to achieve their goals.
By his acts, the criminal effectively says to the victim `you don't matter'. Whole nations say it to other nations. `You do not matter. You do not count'.
The thieves want Duncan Munrowe's insurance company to pay for the return of the painting, a dubious but common practice.
Isabel has other ideas. She is after all, an ideas person.
Highly recommended.
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on 27 December 2012
The original novel of this series was excellent; gentle but appealing and definitely of an intellectual bent. However, I think that McCall Smith is churning them out now rather as he does the Ladies Detective Agency and Scotland Street stories. Good to borrow from a library when in need of light entertainment but not worth buying and keeping.
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The Uncommon Appeal of Clouds is the ninth novel in the Isabel Dalhousie series by Alexander McCall Smith. Isabel is asked to help in the recovery of a very valuable painting (a Poussin) stolen from the collection of old-fashioned philanthropist, Duncan Munrowe. Jamie, Isabel's husband of one year, and father of their son, Charlie, knows better than to advise against her involvement: he pleads with her to be careful. As a result of her involvement, she encounters a distraught country gentleman, an unpleasant lawyer, a pair of aggressive thugs, a reserved daughter and a disapproving son. Isabel manages to engineer a surprising resolution to the whole affair. Three and three quarter year old Charlie shows an aptitude for mathematics; Isabel gives Eddie some sorely-needed support; and Grace resigns (again!). Along the way, Isabel ponders or discusses: the nature of genius; child prodigies and pushy parents; our responsibility to future generations; the art of judging social cues; insincere compliments and heart-sink friends; dress codes and personal hygiene obligations; arguments about nothing; projectile vomiting; answering the telephone; the criminality of illegal parking; the morals of unearned money; the expiry date of sympathy; when does a reward become a ransom; loyalty to government, country and family; the ownership of leftovers; email expectations; and, of course, clouds. There are plenty of laugh-out-loud moments (the reincarnation of Professor Lettuce being one of those) and Isabel creates some marvellous expressions like trial by cocktail, and romantic sabbatical. There is plenty of gentle philosophy and quite a lot of wisdom. My favourite quotes: "Children understood that adults could become angry - curiously so, and for no apparent reason, just as the weather could change and a smiling day might suddenly frown." and "'Gaydar can be misleading, you know,' said Jamie. `It needs to be calibrated'" and "You can only blame people for that which they have chosen to do". Thought-provoking and funny, always a pleasure to read.
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In "The Uncommon Appeal of Clouds" Isabel Dalhousie is still agreeably pondering life's interesting questions, but I think author Alexander MCall-Smith has recalibrated slightly the sharpness of the characters and the intensity of the protagonist's challenges and relationships with other story characters. For that reason, this ninth episode of the series seemed an improvement over its immediate predecessor (in my opinion).

"The Uncommon..." involves Isabel in the recovery of a stolen painting by Nicolas Poussin--an artwork worth several million pounds/euros/dollars that was destined to be a gift to the National Gallery of Scotland. The resolution of the theft is definitely connected to a complicated set of family relationships involving the painting's owner and his son, daughter and her fiance. Is the theft about money, sibling rivalry or oedipal angst? Isabel forces a catharsis in the matter.

Also at the center of this episode is young Eddie, assistant to Isabel's niece Cat and gradually recovering from some childhood trauma that has left him with little self-esteem. This time around, Eddie has gone through some big changes after an American road trip, and connecting with a local lass. A big problem threatens his progress and Isabel steps in to help.

Meanwhile, Isabel's immediate family has a full platter of domestic issues to sort out. Husband Jamie (still uncomfortably perfect) has a wee bit more to say this time around and it helps to make him a credible partner to Isabel the non pareil philosopher. So bravo Jamie. Much of the marital interchange is about the maturing of son Charlie, now three plus years old, and very much a communicating human being. Like most parents, Isabel and Jamie are wondering about their kid's intellectual skills and what do about them.

In Isabel's role as philosopher (and the author's alter ego), there are some interesting questions pondered, as always. "How do you calibrate pain?" (Answer--by screening out all the "background" pain of the world except that which we can do something about"); "Why are we fascinated by the lives of large-scale wrong doers?" "Is reticence a virtue?"

In all of this, it's the unwavering humanity of the protagonist and her circle that keeps the saga fresh and appealing. Even when the storyline slows down a bit (less so in "The Uncommon...), Isabel's decency and determination to do the right thing, keep the book alive and entertaining.
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"You shall not steal, nor deal falsely, nor lie to one another." -- Leviticus 19:11 (NKJV)

Reading about Isabel Dalhousie is a lot like paying attention to the mental chatter in your own mind, as you waver over what to do in trying and morally difficult circumstances. The main difference is that Isabel's life is filled with love and loving thoughts, rather than just annoyances.

In this outing, Isabel is presented with the challenge of a painting that's been stolen and is being offered back in exchange for a reward from the insurance company. What's the right thing to do? Isabel's answer may interest you. I certainly enjoyed it.

Another challenge arises when Charlie begins to show arithmetic skills ahead of his years. As more is learned, the questions to be answered increase. I think you'll enjoy this set of moral questions as well.

I thought that the more interesting questions in the book revolved directly and indirectly about what it means to be a good parent. The stolen art seemed more like a hypothetical that professors like to use in ethics classes than a credible event for such a novel.

There are also some seemingly hair-splitting decisions involving making representations that may or may not be the whole truth. I wasn't convinced by the author's arguments.

This ninth novel in the series won't rock your boat, but it will certainly go down smoothly ... like some fine scones and clotted cream at tea time.
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on 3 October 2012
Marvellous! Another spiffing novel from the master himself, although this one was rather dark, in contrast to the earlier stories. I was quite worried about Isobel here, placed in a somewhat dicier situation than usual. I worry about her marriage also. Is it still as strong as it was? Jamie seems to be tiring of her adventures, possibly. I hope not; theirs seems to be a perfect partnership, especially in view of the wonderful job they are doing with their little one. Having said that, they were quite brave to tackle Grace on the question of maths for the baby. I quite thought that she would leave them flat. Is this a preparation for her farewell? You can see that the characters in this book, and indeed in all Alexander Mc Call Smith's books, come alive in the reading, and have what feels like a real existence.
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After a break of two or three years from reading McCall Smith, I was tempted by this, the latest instalment of the Isabel Dalhousie series on Edinburgh, philosophy and careful living. Isabel continues to find philosophical inspiration and moral dilemmas in the most mundane aspects of life, and, as it drifted slowly onwards, similar in so many ways to the last one I read, I began to think that this McCall Smith might be my last. Then, imperceptibly, the book began to grow on me, and as it turned into one of those gentle whodunits so similar to Mma Ramotswe's in the No.1 Ladies Detective Agency series, it finally seized my interest in where it was going. It was most satisfying to guess who did in fact do it, although, with the way of these books, nothing is ever quite certain.

Entertaining and a great reminder of Edinburgh though it is, I do wonder whether I'm supposed to be more gripped by Ms Dalhousie's moral dilemmas and philosophical musings. I mull over buying a copy for my daughter, who has just gone to university to study philosophy, and see what she makes if it. For all I know there's enough philosophy on here for a good degree! Sometimes I feel like shouting "just get on with it" at the lead character, and wonder whether her approach would work in the "real world". Professor McCall Smith, I imagine, believes that the real world would be a better place if everyone treated each other, and each decision he or she makes, with the same care and attention as Isabel Dalhousie.
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