December Minireviews – Part II

So I find that I not-infrequently read books that I just feel rather “meh” about and they don’t seem worth writing an entire post about.  However, since I also use this blog as a sort of book-review diary, I like to at least say something.  So, inspired by the way that Stephanie reviews the unreviewed every month, I think that some months (or maybe all of them!) will get a post with minireviews of all those books that just didn’t get more than a few paragraphs of feelings from me.

This month I had quite a few, so Part I has already been published.

The Head of Kay’s by P.G. Wodehouse


//published 1905//

Yet another school story from Wodehouse’s early days.  This one definitely had more plot than some of the others – it’s basically the story of how a couple of prefects work together to bring solidarity to their house, despite the interference and incompetency of their house head, Kay.  There is still quite a lot of cricket and footer, especially at the end (it really felt like the story ought to have ended with Kay’s resignation, rather than having it be 3/4 of the way through), but it was overall a breezy and engaging little story.

The Dead Sea Cipher by Elizabeth Peters


//published 1970//

In this story, by the author of the Amelia Peabody books, our heroine (Dinah) is taking a little tour through the Holy Lands.  She overhears an argument in the next room one night, and the next morning a man in that room is found dead.  Suddenly, a lot of different strangers seem very interested in Dinah, despite her protestations that, because the argument was in Arabic, she understood nothing.

This book reminded me a lot of one of Agatha Christie’s spy novels.  It has that same we’re-all-just-here-for-the-ride attitude towards realism, and it was a fun little frolic if you were willing to forego any need to have the book make logical sense.  Dinah was a moderately interesting protagonist, although things did fall into place just a little too neatly.  And while I’ve loosely compared this story to one of Christie’s, this one definitely lacked Christie’s knack of making characters feel warm and natural.  This was a fairly enjoyable 3/5 read, but not a particularly noteworthy one.

The Tottering TBR // Episode IX

A weekly post wherein I pretend to lament the fact that I have so many books on my TBR… but in fact am secretly rubbing my hands together with delight that there are so many amazing books left to be discovered…

Happy New Year!!!  It’s hard to believe that we are already into 2017!  Where has the time gone??

Hopefully I will be posting a Rearview Mirror post for both December and 2016 as a whole this week.  In the meantime… surely all the spare time for reading that I had between the holidays means that I’ve made a dent in the TBR, right??

Added to the General TBR:

So it seems like it should be a great thing when I read a book and really like it, and it is… except then it means that I usually end up adding the rest of that author’s bibliography to the TBR!  This week I found myself adding books by Sharon Bolton, Kasie West, and Lauren Miller, for a total of nine more titles to the TBR!

Off the General TBR:

512jwvtpll-_sy344_bo1204203200_Three books down this week.  Dead Sea Cipher by Elizabeth Peters will show up on the December Minireviews.  I also read and reviewed Daisy in Chains by Sharon Bolton (brilliant) and Parallel by Lauren Miller (quite good).

Total for the General TBR:  866 – up six!


Added to the Personal TBR:

Four Kindle books this week, plus a Christmas book – the Slightly Foxed edition of Terms and Conditions by Ysenda Maxtone Graham.  I’m about two-thirds of the way through this gem – absolutely delightful!

Off the Personal TBR:

Well, I get a bonus four titles off due to earlier miscounting, plus I read and reviewed Midnight: Wild Stallion of the Westso down five!

Total for the Personal TBR:  589 (steady!)


Added to/Off the Series TBR:

Nothing on or off for this tab this week.  I’m waiting for the first book of my new series to come in from the library, so not really any progress here.

Total for the Series TBR:  Holding stead at 148


Added to/Off the Mystery Series TBR:

18453116Nothing on or off for this category, either.  I did read the next of the Joseph O’Laughlin books, though – Lost was a pretty solid read, and I’m looking forward to continuing the series.

Total for the Mystery Series TBR:  Holding steady at 71


Added to/Off the Nonfiction TBR:

Another null category!

Total for the Nonfiction TBR:  Holding steady at 58


Grand Totals for the Week:  Up thirteen and down eight gives me a grand total of only going up five overall for this week!  Such self-restraint!

Parallel // by Lauren Miller


//published 2013//

Abby is a girl with a Plan.  She knows where she wants to go to college and what she wants to study, and her entire high school career has been devoted to making those goals reality.  But on the first day of her senior year in high school, she finds out that one of her classes has been cancelled and she has to choose between two options.  She picks Drama on a whim – and ends up landing the lead part in thatfor  year’s play, which, through a couple more flukes leads to her being cast in a real Hollywood movie.  Except despite the director’s promises, the movie isn’t done filming in time for Abby to start college.  And so, on the eve of her 18th birthday, when she ought to be on campus at Northwestern studying journalism, she’s stuck in California pondering her life choices.

The next morning, Abby wakes up in an entirely strange situation – she’s in a dorm room on campus at Yale.  Stranger still, she now has two memories for how her high school senior year began.  It turns out that our world has collided with a parallel world that is a year behind – and every choice that her parallel makes changes Abby’s current life…

So there were a lot of things about this book to enjoy.  For the most part, I liked Abby herself, and I loved her best friend, Caitlin.  The whole concept was a lot of fun, and the book did a great job exploring some different philosophical aspects of life (like predestination, free choice, and soulmates) without being at all preachy or bogging down the story.  I was really invested in Abby and how things were going to work out for her, and I found the ending to be overall fairly satisfying.

However, there were definitely some aspects of this story that made basically no sense to me.  The biggest one is that if Abby’s parallel is making these choices that are changing Abby’s life every day…is that just going to last forever??  Abby only ever seems worried about the short-term impact, but I found myself confused thinking about her whole life – like is she just going to keep waking up and finding everything totally different??  I was also a bit confused as to why she is living with the parallel’s choices, but because the parallel is a year behind, Abby only gets one new day’s memories at a time… but is somehow living with the whole year’s choices, but they also keep changing??  I’m not explaining this very well, maybe because it didn’t completely make sense to me.

There was also a big ???? to me concerning the ending, which I’ll put below the cut because it’s a definite spoiler regarding how the whole parallel situation is resolved.

All in all, though, I actually really enjoyed this book.  I liked the characters and the friendships, and I felt like Abby did somewhat grow as a person.  I also liked that Abby had parents who actually liked each other!  Score!  While I’m giving Parallel 3/5, I enjoyed it enough that I’m going to see if Lauren Miller has written anything else.  And a special shout-out to TalesoftheMarvelous, whose review of this book inspired me to add to the TBR.

Spoilery questions concerning the ending below the cut –

Continue reading

Lost // by Michael Robotham


//published 2006//

This is the second book in the Joseph O’Laughlin series, but in this book, Joe is more of a secondary character.  The primary protagonist, and narrator, if this story is Vincent Ruiz, a homicide detective that we met in the last book.  I really liked Ruiz in Suspect – for some reason he reminded me a great deal of Agatha Christie’s Superintendent Battle, that sort of stolid, steady character whose intelligence tends to be underestimated because he isn’t a chatterbox.

Ruiz’s story starts one night when he is pulled out of the Thames – almost dead, a bullet wound in his leg, and absolutely no recollection of how he got there.  Ruiz’s only clue to his own activities is a picture of Mickey Carlyle that was in his pocket.  Mickey is one of Ruiz’s great failures – a young girl who disappeared out of her apartment building one day and was never seen again.  While a man was convicted of Mickey’s murder, her body has never been found, and Ruiz  has never been completely convinced that she actually died.  With Ruiz’s superiors dead set against reopening any kind of case around Mickey, Ruiz is on his own trying to piece together the events that led up to his near-death experience in the river.

Lost is a twisty kind of book.  Ruiz is a likable character, although I didn’t always agree with his decisions.  Once again, the first-person present tense narrative made me roll my eyes a lot as it genuinely makes no sense, but on the whole I was able to look past it to enjoy the story.  For me, the biggest hang up on the logical end was the fact that Ruiz still has a bullet wound in his leg and is hobbling about on crutches, but suddenly starts dashing all over London, including down into the sewers.  I found myself writing a note with lots of question marks when I read this bit –

“Any cuts?  Cover them up with waterproof Band-Aids,” says Barry, tossing a box toward me.  “Weil’s disease – you get that from rat urine.  It gets into a cut and ends up in your brain.”

So did he manage to cover the bullet wound with lots of waterproof Band-Aids or…????

But setting that aside, Lost was pretty engaging.  It was fun to see Joe again, and I rather like the relationship between Joe and Ruiz.  I’m interested to see where Robotham takes the next book – it looks like Joe will be back in the narrator’s seat again.  All in all, a solid 3.5/5 for Lost – and if it wasn’t for the clumsy choice of narration tense, it probably would have been a 4/5.

Daisy in Chains // by Sharon Bolton


//published 2016//

This is one of those books that cropped up on my radar not once, but multiple times.  You should definitely check out the reviews by CleopatraLovesBooks, FictionFan, and Fictionophile.  All three of them raved about this book, and I have to say that it lived up to the hype!

Hamish Wolfe is in prison, convicted of murdering several young women.  Hamish has never admitted his guilt, and his mother has started a support group to try and help him be released.  They want his appeal to be taken on by Maggie Rose, a defense attorney who also writes true-crime novels about the cases she takes on.

I don’t really know what I was expecting when I started this book, but it wasn’t what I got.  I think I had in mind a regular crime novel, like the Amanda Jaffe books I just read by Phillip Margolin – a fairly straightforward tale in which there is a crime, a criminal, and an attorney seeking justice.  Instead I ended up with an incredibly intriguing and twisty tale and no clear indication as to who the good guys and bad guys really were.

The format of the book is also excellent.  There are chapters of straightforward third-person narrative, but also letters, newspaper clippings, and rough drafts from Maggie’s latest book.  The chapters are all short and snappy, so easy to tell myself that I would read just one more… and then maybe one more!

I really don’t want to say too much about this book.  All the characters are so well drawn – not just Hamish and Maggie, but also Pete, the detective whose career was made by convicting Hamish, and a whole host of secondary characters.  At no point was I ever convinced that I knew exactly who any of those characters really were – it was obvious that everyone had something to hide.  And while I did guess a couple of the twists, I was still blown away by the incredibly crafty and satisfying ending.

This is my first Sharon Bolton book, but it definitely won’t be my last.  5/5 and highly recommended.

Midnight: Wild Stallion of the West // by Rutherford Montgomery


//published 1940//

In the 1950’s and 60’s, Grosset & Dunlap published about 40 books, written by various authors, under the label of “Famous Horse Stories.”  My understanding is that most of these books were already in print at some point (most were from the 1940’s and 50’s originally), but G&D brought them together in a sort of collection.  Several of the authors were quite well known at the time, like Thomas Hinkle, Glenn Balch, and Henry Larom.  Most of the books have a western/ranch setting, although I have come across some set in other “horsey” surrounds, like Dorothy Lyons’s horse show books.

Because I loved horses and horse stories so much when I was a kid, I collected these whenever I came across them.  Back in the day, before the internet was the thing that it is now, finding an out-of-print book that fit into a collection was really a bonanza.  Nowadays I just get onto eBay and type in what I’m looking for and can nearly always find it, even if I’m not willing to pay the price.  But in my teen years, most of my book collecting was done by sifting through piles of books in musty antique shops.  Oh the joy when I found a Famous Horse Story, or a book by Albert Payson Terhune, or a Judy Bolton mystery!  And then the agony – was it really worth $5 or $8 or $13??  (Here is a tip for used-book shopping: you see the book you want on the shelf.  Place your hand on the book.  And then, before you open it or check the price, tell yourself what the maximum amount is that you would be willing to pay to add this book to your permanent collection.  Then check the price!)

At any rate, as part of my (very slow-moving) goal to read/reread all of the books in my personal collection, several of these Famous Horse Stories have come up in my lottery drawing recently, so you can expect to see them on the blog over the next few months.  I own maybe half the titles published under this label, and I’m honestly not sure if I ever read all the ones I own.  And it’s been a very long time since I have read the ones I did read, so if I end up particularly liking an author, it may be a chance to invest in some more of his works (via the easy, eBay way).

And so, on to the actual book for which this review is being written!  Midnight: Wild Stallion of the West.  And already I’m going to start rambling again, because I’ve been struck by how many of the titles from this era employ the [Name]:[Description] style.  Plain old Midnight just isn’t good enough!

Rutherford Montgomery is best known (in 1950’s horse-story circles) for his Golden Stallion series, seven titles revolving around the same horse/characters.  I own several of those, so I’m sure we’ll get to them eventually.  Midnight, however, appears to be a stand-alone, although I have another book by Montgomery, Crazy Kill Range, that I believe may be a loose sequel (as Midnight takes place in Crazy Kill Range), so I’ll be reading that soon.

Montgomery’s books definitely fall into the western/ranch category, and Midnight in many ways is not so much a story as it is several vignettes of western mustang life.  The book opens with Sam, an old prospector, quietly enjoying life on the porch of his cabin.  He lives alone and, we later find out, built his cabin back in the day when all the land was open and public.  Since then, the property has been purchased by a rich rancher named Major Howard, an “Easterner” who doesn’t really understand the culture of his new home.  However, he allows Sam to continue living in the cabin because Sam isn’t really hurting anything.

Major Howard raises cattle and finely-bred horses.  One of his mares, Lady Ebony, likes to graze near Sam’s cabin.  Sam has become very attached to the horse and offers to buy her from the Major.  Major Howard doesn’t want to sell Lady Ebony as he intends to race her.  Sarcastically, he tells Sam that he can buy Lady Ebony for $500, confident that Sam doesn’t have a twentieth of that to his name.  But little does Major Howard know!  Sam actually has a secret little vein of gold up in the hills that he mines from time to time.  He’s kept it quiet so that other people don’t horn in on the region, but he knows that if he spends a couple of weeks up there he can get the $500.  So he packs up his bags and heads for the hills.

While he’s gone, Lady Ebony gets swept up into a band of wild horses.  Their leader, a vicious chestnut stallion, is heading over the mountains for the winter, and takes Lady Ebony with him.  So, when Sam gets back with his money, Major Howard accuses him of stealing the mare and Sam ends up getting arrested.  The rest of the story isn’t really about Sam all that much – instead, we follow Lady Ebony as she is part of the chestnut’s band.  Eventually she breaks free of the herd and returns to the pasture near Sam’s (now abandoned) cabin.  She has a foal from the chestnut, a black colt named (you guessed it) Midnight.  Throughout the book, while we mostly focus on Midnight and his adventures, we also get little snippets of updates of the falsely-accused Sam, pining away in prison, yearning for his freedom.  (I’ll leave you to guess whether or not he is eventually freed, but here’s a hint: it’s a children’s book.)

In a lot of ways, this book reminded me of Jim Kjelgaard’s works.   It was really a story about wilderness life and survival.  And despite the fact that this is a children’s book, so we end up with happy endings for Midnight (and Sam), the story doesn’t shy away from the fact that, in the wild, only the strong survive.  There is a lot of death in this story, but it isn’t really portrayed gruesomely or for dramatic effect: it just is.

One of the animals that is involved in Midnight’s story is an old buck deer.  He is described as being crafty and intelligent.  But eventually, he is overtaken and killed by a pack of wolves.

The end of the monarch was the destined end of all wild dwellers.  The end of a life of struggle and constant alertness.  The law of the wild was fulfilled.  While youth and vigor gave him power and speed the buck lived and went his way, but when that strength slipped from him he went down before the gray killers.

While I didn’t love Midnight the way that I love a lot of Kjelgaard’s books – it somehow lacked the warmth and personal touch of his works – Montgomery’s story was a good one nonetheless.  I feel like so much of children’s literature these days focuses on feelings, and making sure you understand your feelings, and don’t hurt anyone else’s feelings, and remember – your feelings are what define you, and how you feel is what decides what you are, and it’s honestly just plain ridiculous.  I’d much rather have kids read books like Midnight – because somehow his story about how the strong survive also comes across as a reminder that the strong must care for the weak, or the weak will not make it.  He writes a story about balance – the circle of life, if you will – how every living thing has its place, not in a touchy-feely now-we-should-all-be-vegans kind of way, but realistically.  Every living thing has its part to play.  This is a story with a lot of grit and a lot of death, but also a book that is positive and hopeful, because death is also a natural part of life.

And despite all the death, Montgomery’s book still comes across as one written by someone who loves the wilderness about which he’s writing.  His dedication is to “Earl Hammock, who knows the value of the lonesome places” and I feel like that really summarizes a lot of what this book is about.

Anyway, I’ve rambled on long enough.  A decent and interesting read, especially if you like horses or western wildlife, and I’m looking forward to delving into some more of my long-forgotten Famous Horse Stories soon.

The Tottering TBR // Episode VIII

A weekly post wherein I pretend to lament the fact that I have so many books on my TBR… but in fact am secretly rubbing my hands together with delight that there are so many amazing books left to be discovered…

Merry Christmas!!!  As usual, I am writing this post on Saturday to be published on Sunday, by the time you read this I will probably be enjoy a peaceful morning with the husband and the dog, and hopefully you have had a similarly quietly enjoyable holiday weekend.

Added to the General TBR:

I’ve caught up on most of the backlog of reviews I had to read, which is a mixed blessing as you all managed to add six more titles to the list…

  • the-facts-of-life-and-deathFictionophile’s review of Yuletide Treasure by Andrea Kane from a couple of weeks ago appealed to me as it involves one of my favorite tropes – marriage first, then romance.
  • Cleopatra said that The Stepmother by Claire Seeber was a sort of modern-day retelling of Snow White.  Despite the fact that she warns that this isn’t a book to read if you want characters to love, this thriller sounds quite exciting.
  • Carol’s review of Scared to Death by Rachel Amphlett over at Reading, Writing & Riesling made that read sound intriguing.  Carol says the book has a realistic protagonist who has problems, but isn’t ruled by them.
  • I do love some relaxing chicklit that still has engaging characters and a nice story, so Janet’s review of Wildflower Bay by Rachel Lucas made it sound like that may fit the bill!!
  • Kristy’s review of The Robber Bridegroom by Eudora Welty over at The Literary Sisters was quite interesting – a Southern Gothic fairytale retelling??  Sounds perfect.
  • Finally, Cleo got in a double-whammy by also adding The Facts of Life & Death by Belinda Bauer.  While it doesn’t 100% sound like a normal read for me, the fact that Cleo says that this is one of her favorite crime novels of all time makes me think that it is worth the read!

Off the General TBR:

51fzcsz93tl-_sy344_bo1204203200_Despite the fact that I reviewed three books this week from this category, only two of them were officially on the list.  Love Among the Chickens  was not, in fact, on my list.  So, only Crimson Bound and Entreat Me – both fairy tale retellings, actually – got checked off this week.

Total for the General TBR:  860 (up four!)


Added to the Personal TBR:

Only two freebies this week, so I am showing some restraint!

Off the Personal TBR:

I did read one personal book this week, but I haven’t reviewed it yet.  So – nothing!

Total for the Personal TBR:  589 (up two!)


Added to the Series TBR:

Three chicklit series inspired by random publisher emails, I’m afraid.

Off the Series TBR:

639197Well, I had another DNF – I got about a third of the way through the second book in the Hound Saga, The Princess and the Bear.  And it was just painfully boring.  I really tried to get into it and just couldn’t.  I may try picking it up again at some point, but I really doubt it, so at this point, I’m just counting the series as a DNF and taking it off the list.

Total for the Series TBR:  148 (up two!)


Added to the Mystery Series TBR:

Nothing this week!  So much restraint!

Off the Mystery Series TBR:

Nothing here, either, but I have started the Joseph O’Laughlin books by Michael Robotham.  I really enjoyed the first book, Suspectand am about 15 pages into the second book, Lost, which has also started quite well with gunshot wounds, amnesia, and suspicion.

Total for the Mystery Series TBR:  71 (holding steady!)


Added to the Nonfiction TBR:

Nothing added here, either.  Whew.

Off the Nonfiction TBR:

13022713No progress, either, of course.  However, I did finally finish P.G. Wodehouse: A Life in Letterswhich was absolutely brilliant and completely fascinating.  But since it wasn’t officially on the list, it doesn’t really knock down the numbers, I fear…

Total for the Nonfiction TBR:  58 (holding steady!)


Grand Totals for the Week:  Eleven added and three off, so a total of eight up for the week!

Entreat Me // by Grace Draven


//published 2013//

A while back I found a list on GoodReads or somewhere that had a bunch of retellings of Beauty & the Beast.  I love fairy tale retellings in general, and B&B is a fave.  Entreat Me was one of the titles on the list.

It started with an interesting twist – two Beasts!  Father and son, both cursed by their wife/mother.  Of course, two Beasts means two Beauties.  The half-sisters are very close, but the elder of the two, Louvaen, is several years older than her sister, and has grown up as the mother figure in Cinnia’s life.  Cinnia, the younger sister, is stunningly beautiful, so a lot of Louvaen’s mothering has involved warding off unsuitable suitors.  Their father is a kind but weak man who isn’t very good at business, and when our story starts, has lost all of their money in the latest scam of their unscrupulous neighbor, Jimenin.  Jimenin is a total creep who is more than willing to write off the girls’ father’s debt… if he gives Cinnia to Jimenin for his wife.  Of course Louvaen is 100% against these shenanigans (in fairness, so is her father), but they aren’t really sure what they are going to do instead.

Cinnia insists that she is old enough and strong enough to make her own decisions, and also that her suitor, Gavin, can help them.  Louvaen blows her off, so Cinnia runs off with Gavin back to his home castle.  Turns out that Gavin is one of the Beasts, so when Louvaen shows up at the castle to rescue/check on her sister, she gets a whole lot more than she bargains for.


I did find a picture of Jenna Coleman as Louvaen, which I totally buy.

All in all, the story started really strong.  Louvaen was a little too abrasive at first, but after Draven convinced us that Louvaen was a strong, independent woman, she toned it down to normal-person levels.  I liked the four main characters – Louvaen, Cinnia, Gavin, and Gavin’s father/Louvaen’s love interest, Ballard.  The other people in Ballard’s castle are also a decent and interesting cast.  Two of the servants are basically background, but the main housekeeper and her lover/Ballard’s personal sorcerer are intriguing.

Just when I was really starting to get into the story and the curse and everything that was going on, though, all of a sudden there was sex.  A LOT of sex.  Louvaen and Ballard went from a little bit of tension to shagging at every opportunity, and the story went out the window.  Instead, all we got were the two of them either shagging or wishing they were shagging, and it was kind of awkward and weird, and didn’t really feel like it went with the beginning of the story.

After that, the story faltered in credibility.  Instead of leaving the curse/breaking the curse as the main focus of the story, the author dragged the original bad guy who wanted to marry Cinnia back into the mix, which was weird and made the story jump around a lot.  Then, in the end, the curse (of course) gets broken, but it makes absolutely no sense when it does.


Cinnia loves Gavin and Gavin loves Cinnia – not enough to break the spell.  Louvaen loves Ballard and Ballard loves Louvaen – not enough to break the spell.  Gavin refuses to kill his father, even whilst under the thrall of the curse – not enough to break the spell.  So we’re at the end of the big finale and Ballard is still a beast and threatening to kill people and not responding to anyone and the sorcerer promised Ballard that he would kill Ballard if Ballard didn’t get healed up, but Louvaen has the gun, so the sorcerer tells her to shoot Ballard and she does because he’s getting ready to kill Cinnia – and then all of a sudden he turns back into a human?!!??!?!  And we legit never get an explanation for that.  Like, he lives because she only nicked him in the leg (although then we get this entire chapter of him being feverish and almost dying and it’s suuuper boring) but…  why did he change back!?!??!  I was so annoyed that after this whole long thing we never got a freaking reasonable explanation as to why the curse was broken!


In the end, this was a low 3/5.  It started really interesting and the characters were good, but then the middle really dragged and seriously, what was with all the sex?!  A very poorly executed finish left me feeling pretty ambivalent towards the whole book, and I don’t see myself looking for any of Draven’s other works in the future.

P.G. Wodehouse – A Life in Letters // edited by Sophie Ratcliffe


//published 2011//

As soon as I heard about this book, I knew that I wanted to not just read it, but to own it, so that I could savor it whenever I wished.  I haven’t regretted investing in this hefty tome (especially since I got it used, hardcover, for only $5!), even though it has taken me months to wade through it.


While, on the whole, I’m not someone who enjoys delving into the personal lives of individuals whose art I enjoy, there are some exceptions to the rule.  Agatha Christie’s autobiography was an absolute delight, with a fascinating glimpse into the age in which she lived.  More recently, John Cleese’s rambling about his early years and the various events that led up to the formation of the Pythons was fun and engaging.  A Life in Letters was a different sort of autobiography, because it isn’t exactly an autobiography as such.  Instead, it was a biography with large batches of letters in between.

In her introduction, Ratcliffe explains that while Wodehouse’s writing often seems conventional and frivolous,

beneath the mostly male upper-crust there is some radical table-turning.  Butlers bail their masters out, passion wins over reason, and girls, invariably, know more than boys.  The letters reveal the roots of this reversal.  Wodehouse was a self-made man who married a chorus-girl, spent time with Hollywood music stars, and endured Nazi imprisonment and journalistic accusations of treason.

Ratcliffe’s admiration for Wodehouse is obvious throughout her introduction and the biographical sections she writes.  She explains that she has attempted to find balance throughout her choices in which correspondence to include.  With the cooperation from the Wodehouse estate to include “freedom to publish any and every part of any Wodehouse letter,” she must have had a very hefty task in editing for this volume.  At 542 pages (plus endnotes), she has definitely included many, many letters.  She says,

Letters have been chosen for inclusion on the basis of their individual merit – either in terms of the information that they offer about Wodehouse’s life, the evolution of his style, or times in which he lived.  Cuts within individual letters have also been essential, but passages have only been removed if they are irrelevant to the main thrust of the letter, or to Wodehouse’s biographical or artistic narrative.  I have made a particular point of leaving the letters that Wodehouse sent during the war years as complete as space will allow.

As regards those “war years” letters, I admit that I had only a vague notion of some trouble Wodehouse had during that time.  I am not sure if it is my position as an American reader, or as a somewhat younger fan of his, but before I read this book I really had no notion of the extent of persecution Wodehouse suffered because of the infamous German broadcasts.  Ratcliffe makes no secret of the fact that she believes Wodehouse to be completely innocent of anything so dire as treason, and believes that Wodehouse’s letters, circumstances, and letters speak for themselves.  In some ways, I think that one of the purposes of this volume was to place that situation in the perspective of Wodehouse’s entire life.

The book is divided into sections by date.  Each chapter  begins with Ratcliffe’s biographical notes as to what was going on with Wodehouse’s life at the time.  These sections were just as interesting to me as the letters, as I really didn’t know much about his life going into this book.  After that, there is a collection of letters from the dates indicated.  Some of the letters also have editorial introductions, which actually brings me to my only complain about this book – the formatting of those introductions.  Throughout the letter section, there would be letter, letter footnotes, heavy dark line to indicate letter break, next letter.  But if a letter warranted an introduction, that introduction was placed between the footnotes and the dark line – so it always felt to me that the introduction actually belonged to the letter before it… funny how the brain works at times, and I can’t really explain why this aggravated me throughout all 500-odd pages, but it did!

The letters themselves are delightful.  There is something quite personal about correspondence, and it is obvious that Wodehouse cares a great deal of his circle of friends.

The war letters were quite interesting.  Wodehouse’s genuine distress over the broadcasts, and the world’s reception of them, is so very sad to read.  It is hard enough to feel judged by the relatively small circle of people normal people know – I cannot imagine the pressure of an entire world full of people treating you with such negatively and, frequently, outright hatred.  And to feel that there is no real defense that you can make – that every word you say only makes it worse…!  And saddest of all, that he never was able to go back to England!  Outcast from his home…

He wanted to write a book about his time in the internment camp, an attempt to help the public see his perspective and to understand how the broadcasts came to be made, but it was a difficult book to write.  In a letter to one of his best friends, William Townend, he writes,

My trouble has been to get the right tone …  comedy will keep creeping in at the most solemn moments.  I wrote this yesterday – ‘The global howl which went up as a result of my indiscretion exceeded in volume and intensity anything I had experienced since the time of my boyhood when I broke the curate’s umbrella and my aunts started writing letters to one another about it. ‘

But despite all the pressure, Wodehouse still stayed strong to his own personal beliefs.  I loved when he was being pressed to declare his hatred for the Nazis and the Germans, and his response was, “I do not hate in the plural.”  Such strong words; I love them.

Throughout the letters, Wodehouse’s strong sense of humor is evident.  He is a master of taking his frustrations and difficulties and turning them into opportunities for self-depreciating humor:

A few days ago I received a formal notification from the French Government that I was no longer considered ‘dangereux’ to the safety of the Republic.  Up till now the Republic has been ducking down side streets when it saw me coming and shouting, ‘Save yourself, boys!  Here comes Wodehouse!’, but now all is well and me and them are just like that.  I am glad of this, because I have always considered them one of the nicest Republics I have ever met, my great trouble being that I simply can’t master the language.  My instructor at the Berlitz was strong on pencils.  She would keep saying, ‘Un crayon.  Le crayon est jaune.  Le crayon est bleu’ and so on till I really got good on pencils.  But in actual conversation I found that it didn’t carry me very far.  I was sunk unless I could work the talk round to pencils, and nobody seemed really interested in them.

One of the best parts of reading books like this is to find out little snippets of commonality.  For instance, if I had to choose one character from all Wodehouse’s writing who is my favorite, it would be Lord Emsworth of Blandings Castle.  I can’t really explain my fondness for him, but I really do love that fellow very much – I have a great deal of empathy for his love of quiet, country life (and pigs) and fear of formal gatherings and crowds.  So it was rather a delight to find

I love [Jeeves] and all I ask is for a constant supply of ‘Jeeves’ ideas.  Actually, I prefer my Blandings Castle stories to the Jeeves stories, but I have a very good time writing the latter.  I think Lord Emsworth is my favourite character.  But Jeeves runs him very close.

Another personal opinion of mine was bolstered as well – my least-favorite Jeeves book is most definitely The Return of Jeevespublished also as Ring for Jeeves.  This because it is Jeeves – but no Bertie!  Wodehouse says,

I was very relieved that you liked Ring for Jeeves.  But I think I made a bloomer in using Jeeves without Bertie.  It’s really Bertie whom people like.

Much of Wodehouse’s correspondence is fun because it deals with his own opinions on other people’s literature.  In one letter he is writing about various poetry he has been reading.

Why will people collect ALL a poet’s work into a volume instead of burying the bad stuff?  It’s a nasty jar, after reading ‘The Nightingale’, to come on the following little effort of Keats: –

There was a naughty boy,
And a naughty boy was he,
He kept little fishes
In washing tubs three
In spite
Of the might
Of the maid
Nor afraid
Of his Granny-good –
He often would
Hurly burly
Get up early…

I can see Keats shoving that one away in a drawer and saying to himself ‘Thank God no one will ever see that baby!’.  And then along comes some damned fool and publishes it.

Another thing about Wodehouse’s life that was a delight to read was his genuine love and affection for his wife.  They married after only knowing each other a few weeks, and remained married for sixty years.  Throughout his letters, Wodehouse never has a negative word about his wife, and his letters to her are warm and touching.  His letters to her always begin with something like, “My darling angel Bunny whom I love so dear,” and frequently mention how lonely and empty the house is without her.  The letter he wrote to her on their 59th anniversary says,

Another anniversary!  Isn’t it wonderful to think that we have been married for 59 years and still love each other as much as ever except when I spill my tobacco on the floor, which I’ll never do again!

At the end of the day, this was a fantastic book.  There is so much information about Wodehouse as an individual, about his writing, about the history through which he lived, and more.  Ratcliffe’s biographical sections are very well done, providing the reader with plenty of background information and context.  I most definitely recommend this volume to those who love Wodehouse’s writings.  Despite the length of time it took me to read it, this book was genuinely engaging, and is one that I anticipate referencing whenever I read any Wodehouse books going forward.


Love Among the Chickens // by P.G. Wodehouse


//published 1906//

As I’ve been working my way through Wodehouse’s works in published order, it’s mostly been a slog of school stories, which involve a great deal of cricket and footer and slang.  But in 1906 Wodehouse published his first not-school-story.  Love Among the Chickens instead has many of the hallmarks of his later works – a character who does rather outrageous things but always seems to come out right, secondary characters who are quite hilarious, and, of course, true love that must go through many trials before being realized.

I’ve also been working my way through a collection of Wodehouse’s letters (A Life in Letters compiled/edited by Sophie Ratcliffe – I actually finally finished this book yesterday, so review coming soon), and now I find myself wondering how interesting it would be to go back and read each section as I finish the books for that time period.  In his letters, Wodehouse says that the whole bit of this book about the chicken farm is true to life, as told to him by one of his closest friends, William Townsend.  The character of Ukridge was further fleshed out by another man Wodehouse had roomed with in the past.

In a letter to his stepdaughter, written about fifteen years after the initial publication, Wodehouse writes about the reissuing of Love Among the Chickens in paperback:

Love Among the Chickens is out in the cheap edition.  I’ll send you a copy.  Townend told me it was on sale at the Charing Cross bookstall, so I rolled round and found they had sold out.  Thence to Piccadilly Circus bookstall.  Sold out again.  Pretty good in the first two days.  Both men offered to sell me ‘other Wodehouse books’, but I smiled gently on them and legged it.

As an aside, reading Wodehouse’s letters has only increased my love for this fellow!

The humor in Chickens is much more pronounced than it is in some of his earlier works, although it didn’t have me laughing out loud as I do with his later stories.  Still, lines like –

Coming towards me at her best pace was a small hen.  I recognised her immediately.  It was the disagreeable, sardonic-looking bird which Ukridge, on the strength of an allegedly similar profile to his wife’s nearest relation, had christened Aunt Elizabeth.  A Bolshevist hen, always at the bottom of any disturbance in the fowl-run, a  bird which ate its head off daily at our expense and bit the hands which fed it by resolutely declining to lay a single egg.

The phrase “a Bolshevist hen” has really stuck with me, especially as my own personal hens have been quite the slackers lately.  (Is there a Bolshevist among them, stirring up a revolution?!)

Wodehouse’s ability to avoid swearing yet still imply it is at its artistic best as well –

He poured scorn upon his hearers, and they quailed.  He flung invective at them, and they wilted.  Strange oaths, learned among strange men on cattle-ships or gleaned on the waterfronts of Buenos Ayres and San Francisco, slid into the stream of his speech. It was hard, he said in part … that a gentleman … could not run up to London for five minutes on business without having his private grounds turned upside down by a gang of cattle-ship adjectived San Francisco substantives who behaved as if the whole of the Buenos Ayres phrased place belonged to them.

On the whole, I thoroughly enjoyed Chickens.  Somehow, I had never read an Ukridge book before, and his character, with his habit of coming up with ridiculous schemes and then railroading everyone into following them – was really an entertaining one to read.  While I would still put Chickens as a 3/5 (on the Wodehouse scale, of course, which is really its own thing, as a 3/5 Wodehouse is still superior to many 4/5 for other authors), I do recommend it and intend to add this one to my permanent Wodehouse collection.