Bertie’s Guide to Life and Mothers by Alexander McCall Smith. ★★★
Bertie’s Guide to Life and Mothers is the ninth book in Alexander McCall Smith’s 44 Scotland Street series. I don’t think you need to have read all the preceding novels (I haven’t), but I think a large part of the appeal of these books stems from familiarity with the characters.
The problems the characters of Bertie’s Guide face are those of everyday existence. Bertie’s worrying about his mother’s plans for his seventh birthday. Pat’s met a young man she fancies. Matthew and Elspeth are dealing with being the parents of young triplets. Angus and Dominica have agreed to host their former neighbor for three weeks. Bruce appears for only one or two chapters (thank goodness!).
Bertie has long been my favorite character in the series, a beleaguered six year old who just wants to have fun and be a kid but who’s forced into a variety of things by his mother, Irene. Thus, Bertie finds himself enrolled in saxophone class, Italian lessons, yoga, and mandatory psychotherapy. Irene calls him “The Bertie Project,” as she’s into the sort of pseudoscience psychology that my professor loves to rant about. While for the most part she does have good intentions, the end resulting is nonetheless terrifying and hysterically funny. In some ways she reminds me Portlandia’s Women’s First Bookstore skits.
On the whole, Bertie’s Guide to Life and Mothers is a cozy book about a returning cast of Edinburgh characters, filled with philosophic musings on life.