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The Uncommon Appeal of Clouds

(Isabel Dalhousie #9)

3.71  ·  Rating details ·  3,855 Ratings  ·  531 Reviews
As a philosopher, mother, employer and resident of Edinburgh - the birthplace of moral philosophy - Isabel Dalhousie is aware that to be human is to be responsible. But morals, it turns out, are rather like clouds: complex, changeable and tricky to get a grip on. As she enters into ransom negotiations over a stolen painting on behalf of wealthy philanthropist Duncan Munrow ...more
Paperback, 246 pages
Published 2012 by Abacus
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Nov 20, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Although I find this series quite charming there is something about Isabel Dalhousie that unsettles me a little. Perhaps it's because she is too perfect, hardly ever seems ruffled and always seems to think the right thoughts. It may also be because I thought she was much older than she is, now in her early 40s she would have been in her 30s when the series started but to my mind has always thought and behaved and thought as a much older woman, a little set in her ways and not displaying the ener ...more
Aug 12, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Just what the doctor ordered - a light, easy-to-read novel that is at once 'feel good' but not meaningless fluff.

I sometimes find the Isabel Dalhousie books not completely satisfactory - there is something about the way the relationship between Isabelle and Jamie, and their relationship with their young son, is portrayed that doesn't always ring true to me or that irritates me for reasons I haven't quite figured out. Part of the latter might be the way Isabel is never really immersed in the mot
Wow - this has been once of my favorite series for quite a while. What a shock to find I'm a bit disappointed by this book. I have liked and admired Isabelle Dalhousie for a while. But in this book, I was starting to find her irritating. Her perfect life - her wonderful young, handsome husband, her beautiful son, her independent wealth, her constant moral dilemma's and philosophical conversations in her head; which isn't really usual since she is a philosopher. It just seemed too much for some r ...more
Mar 25, 2013 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2013
SIGH. I have to agree with the other reviewers on this latest installment in the series. Not only was it a very unsatisfactory ending (which Isobel's comment about not living in a "cut and dry" world barely excuses), but the rest of the book and the story felt wholly undeveloped. Many threads called for much more in-depth dialogue from the characters -- the fight with Grace, Eddie's relationship, Duncan's family members. They scarcely exchange four sentences in any scene! Moreover, Isobel is gro ...more
Jan Rice
Back when I was driving to work every day I got through so much fiction on audiobooks. There were three of McCall Smith's series I used to follow regularly. I do love them but it's been a while. He writes about morality. But you would never know that; what I mean is that he never preaches or moralizes. Instead he embeds his dilemmas in his people. His characters, that is. They are people. The plot is slight but the people are real.

That's what I like: the people. I rarely can remember 'what happe
Nov 21, 2012 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
What is happening to Isabel? Her typical adeptness with interactions was totally AWOL in this book, putting her foot in it several times, not just her over-reaction about Grace teaching Charlie math which, instead of looking into the book Grace was using, seemed out of character to her typical balanced approach. And how she ended up deciding who had stolen the painting... I have been through the interactions that are supposed to show that and it doesn't seem so certain to me, not that there were ...more
3.5 stars. Alexander McCall Smith makes me happy. I can always depend on him to make me feel better about the world in general, and Scotland in particular. I think my favorite characters in this series may be Brother Fox and Grace, because they seem more 'real' to me than the main characters, but it's all good.

I've been listening to this series while writing Postcards to Voters. If you feel, as I do, that we need to flip the Congress in order to extract the current Oval Office occupant, or at l
Oct 28, 2012 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: mystery-cozy
Alexander McCall Smith once again uses his character Isabel Dalhousie to ponder various philosophical issues surrounding the human condition, leaving series fans with further things to ponder & a little more character development along the way. I have to say, I get a kick out of Isabel's frequent mental meanderings, & how they have a habit of causing her to drift from conversations she's engaged in. It's a thing I think we've all done at least here & there, & I find it very endea ...more
Dec 19, 2012 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I adore Alex McCall Smith; particularly Ladies No 1 Detective Agency & Corduroy Mansions. It is a testament to his skill that even this series, peopled by utterly annoying and unrealistic characters, is one that I continue to read and ALMOST enjoy. I hate hate hate Isobel Dalhousie, I find her never ending moral pontification, philosophizing, and flat out holier than not just thou but everyone too attitude so aggravating. Frankly, I dont blame her housekeeper for telling her almost every ins ...more
Jan 24, 2013 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Much Philosophical Musing, Not Much Mystery

A valuable painting has been stolen from Munrowe House. Duncan Munrowe, the owner, asks for Isabels help, not to solve the mystery, but to be supportive and give him someone to talk to. In this book, Isabel goes about her daily life; taking care of Charlie, her son; listening to concerts by her musician husband, Jaime; worrying about what Grace, Charlie's sitter is teaching him; and helping Cal, her cousin, in the deli. During each of these activities s
Susan Johnson
In this 9th installment of the Isabel Dalhousie series, she is asked to help in the search of a stolen Poussin painting. Although she is the editor of a small journal devoted to philosophical matters, she has participated in other sleuth like activities. As in other Alexander McCall Smith books, the plot is very thin and not quite the point. It deals with characters and human interactions.
As a philosopher, Isabel is always looking at events from different angles and finding ethical answers. This
Nov 06, 2012 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
What is there about some series that you have to read even when you know you will not be completely captivated. I have followed this protagonist through all her musings and her antics even when they are similar and repetitive. I admit, I like her. I like the characters. I like the comfort of dipping into their life now and then. But, I also admit to thinking, "and why am I reading this?" This particular book was not the best in the series. Nothing really moved the characters or the drama forward ...more
Nov 13, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Reading the Isabel Dalhousie series is like treating your brain to a spa session -- stimulating yet soothing, and always a pleasure. This book, like the others, is a reflection on love (for her husband jamie, for her wee son Charlie, and in a broader human sense). It is also a story of detection, as Isabel helps a man to deal with art thieves who have stolen his valuable painting. I hope the series continues for a long while -- I enjoy it so much.
Holly Troup
Dec 03, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Isabel Dalhousie is, in my estimation, one of Alexander McCall Smith's most sympathetic characters. This philosopher and amateur detective approaches all of life's mysteries, whether they be the theft of a priceless painting or how to deal with irritating people, with integrity, compassion and grace. Devoid of mawkish sentimentality, her random observations, of even the most mundane, take on a lyrical quality that expresses joy and gratitude in being alive.
Mar 15, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
These Alexander McCall Smith books are not thrillers or even traditional mysteries. They are charming, thoughtful and as uncommonly appealing as the clouds. Much of the focus of the book is the every day life of Isabel Dalhousie and her husband, Jamie, as they raise their son, Charlie. Somehow the mundane becomes strangely engrossing. There is a mystery, a stolen painting and family members at odds. As usual, Isabel does solve the mystery leaving all concerned the better for it.
Jan 10, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I select Smith's books to read when I want to relax and calm my mind as they are so soothingly written, yet intriguing enough to hold my attention. I always want to hop on a plane to visit Edinburgh when I finish one of his books, as he so lovingly describes this unique city and its culture.
Lis Carey
Isabel and Jamie's son Charlie is now walking, talking, and attending nursery school. Grace the housekeeper is as devoted and as pig-headedly difficult as ever. Isabel's niece, Cat, is for once not involved in a disastrously inappropriate relationship.

And the mystery Isabel has been asked to apply her philosophical skills to is a real and genuine mystery, the theft of a valuable work of art, a smaller work by Nicholas Poussin, a leading French Baroque painter.

Duncan Munrowe is a wealthy art coll
Nov 22, 2012 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I'd give this 3.5 stars. It's the ninth installment of McCall Smith's Isabel Dalhousie series, set in Edinburgh, Scotland. Isabel is the owner and editor of a journal on moral philosophy and in her spare time, she manages to get involved in various adventures as she tries to help her acquaintances with a host of problems in their lives. Her much younger husband, a classical musician, has mixed feelings about her escapades. He is bothered by what he considers to be her inability to mind her own b ...more
Apr 04, 2014 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I need to get over it and just drop this series - Isabel has become just so, so boring since the first book. There are multiple pages of her 'daydreaming' while in the midst of a conversation that even the other character she's talking to says "Hello????" She's also a bit of a snooty, judgemental person who constantly tries to rationalize her views. Any character with any kind of interest is just background material (Grace, Eddie and Cat, for instance) or, as with Jaime, it's all about his looks ...more
Jul 05, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I usually love Alexander McCall Smith's books and the digressions that are part of his style, but this book contained too many. I wanted to proceed with the solving of the mystery of who stole the painting and I began to get a little impatient with Isabel's continual musings. The end of the story was also somewhat disappointing in its lack of clarity.
May 26, 2017 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I'm a great fan of Alexander McCall Smith, especially the #1 Ladies Detective Agency, Scotland Street and Portuguese Irregular Verbs series. However, every time I finish an Isabel Dalhousie novel, I don't feel that same sense of satisfaction I get from those books. In some ways, I feel as though I'm reading them because I "should" and in doing so I might find that magic spark of character, charm and observation of the other series. But I never do and still I read on.
There is nothing charming abo
Every time I read an Isabel Dalhousie novel, I want to move to Edinburgh, meet her and listen to her meandering philosophizing, have a coffee at Cat’s delicatessen, and listen to Jamie play his bassoon. These are mysteries, of a sort, but more of the appeal to me are the characters and Edinburgh. This one was a wispier mystery—about a stolen painting from a “country gentleman’s” home. Pure summertime reading pleasure.
Jun 19, 2013 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read-2013
At its best, this reminded me of Woolf's Mrs Dalloway... but there was quite a lot of worst.

I should (but can't, quite) forgive McCall Smith getting so much wrong about a young child. The way he has Charlie talking at nearly four years old, the concern isn't that he might be a mathematical genius but how quickly they can get him to a speech and language therapist. I don't know why he finds it remarkable that young children like Marmite and so on and so on. I suppose when it comes to the way Iso
James Korsmo
Mar 18, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
In this ninth installment of the Isabel Dalhousie series, McCall Smith has written another wonderful mystery. The star of the mystery, as always, is the ever-thoughtful and always-engaging Isabel Dalhousie, a philosophical ethicist who seems constantly drawn into other peoples problems and little mysteries. And here again, she is called upon to help a friend of a friend whose valuable and prized painting that is intended for eventual donation to the Scottish National Gallery has been stolen. The ...more
I'm not sure what genre this book is under, but if you like crime, you'll be disappointed. It took me a few CDs to realise there was a storyline of a painting being stolen, but most of the book consists of Isabel philosophizing over things in life, and this is her job. it was interesting although mostly things I had pondered over before, such as is suffering more important if its close to you or in another country (an argument which continues in universities to this day) and a few bits I hadn't ...more
Alessandra Trindle
It's painful to give anything by Alexander McCall Smith just one star. His No.1 Ladies' Detective Agency series is vibrant and evocative, plus the mysteries are always interesting. He manages to make Botswana come alive.

The Isabel Dalhousie stories, by contrast, have always been more studied and mannered, but no less interesting. As a moral philosopher, much of the stories are conducted entirely within Isabel's head. If her voice lacks a certain dynamic element, she still approaches life gently
Nov 03, 2012 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Isabel Dalhousie, philospher and amateur sleuth, is once again drawn into a mystery. A wealthy art collector, Duncan Munrowe, has been robbed of only one of his paintings - his favorite - a Poussin that he had bequeathed to the Scottish National Gallery.

Munrowe has been contacted by a lawyer about paying a ransom for the painting. All sorts of moral questions arise about ransom for art, how the art and all wealth was acquired, and one's moral duty. Isabel also gets to know Duncan's son and daugh
This is another case where the new reader should begin with the first book in the Isabel Dalhous series rather than this one. This series has some of the gentle mysteries and wisdom of the #1 Ladies Detective series, but it is set in Scotland and the people may be a little more formal. I read these books as much for the story of Isabel's personal life as for the mysteries. As usual, Isabel gets into others' problems against some advice because she feels it an obligation to help people if they as ...more
Marc Mason
I had not read McCall Smith's work before, so I had no idea what to expect. This is the ninth book to feature the Isabel Dalhousie character, so I thought I might be lost, but he does a wonderful job of opening up the character and making her easy to follow and understand.

The writing here is quite lovely, and the character is certainly interesting; my simple qualm would be with the plotting. Ostensibly, the main storyline here is about Isabel helping to recover a stolen painting, but that's fair
Trudy Pomerantz
Jan 08, 2014 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Maybe I am being a little harsh giving this book only 1 star, but I simply couldn't like the main character. She seemed arrogant, boring, and judgmental. Her son's was the most perfect 3, almost 4, year old I have ever met. It appeared that Isabel always had the perfect quote from Charlie, yet she was able to take him for walks and be allowed to think at the same time. My recollections of my own children at this age was a constant barrage of questions. I also found that my kids did not refer to ...more
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Alexander McCall Smith is the author of the international phenomenon The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency series, the Isabel Dalhousie Series, the Portuguese Irregular Verbs series, and the 44 Scotland Street series. He is professor emeritus of medical law at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland and has served on many national and international bodies concerned with bioethics. He was born in what ...more

Other books in the series

Isabel Dalhousie (1 - 10 of 12 books)
  • The Sunday Philosophy Club (Isabel Dalhousie, #1)
  • Friends, Lovers, Chocolate (Isabel Dalhousie, #2)
  • The Right Attitude to Rain (Isabel Dalhousie, #3)
  • The Careful Use of Compliments (Isabel Dalhousie, #4)
  • The Comforts of a Muddy Saturday (Isabel Dalhousie, #5)
  • The Lost Art of Gratitude (Isabel Dalhousie, #6)
  • The Charming Quirks of Others (Isabel Dalhousie, #7)
  • The Forgotten Affairs of Youth (Isabel Dalhousie, #8)
  • The Novel Habits of Happiness (Isabel Dalhousie, #10)
  • A Distant View of Everything (Isabel Dalhousie #11)
“Look at those clouds," said Jamie, gazing up at the sky. "Look at them."
"Yes," said Isabel. "They're very beautiful, aren't they? Clouds are very beautiful and yet so often we fail to appreciate them properly. We should do that. We should look at them and think about how lucky we are to have them."
"Look at the shape of the clouds," she said. "What do you see in those beautiful clouds, Jamie?"
"I see you," he said.”
“Those important brain circuits, the ones that enabled most of us to avoid saying the wrong thing, were simply not there in Martha's case; or fired in the wrong order; or were short-circuiting. In other words, Martha Drummond was an electrical problem. And understanding people as electrical problems undoubtedly helped one to tolerate them.” 1 likes
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