A Gentleman of Leisure // by P.G. Wodehouse

AKA The Intrusion of Jimmy

//published 1910//

As I am reading through all of Wodehouse’s books in published order, it is rather fun to watch his novels shape into what I would consider ‘traditional’ Wodehouse.  A Gentleman of Leisure has many of those components, with lively dialogue, engaging characters, love at first sight, overbearing fathers, and overwhelming aunts.

The story starts well, with a group of actors gathered together at their club after a successful night of a new play.  They are all happy to see their old friend Jimmy show up.  He inherited a bunch of money a while back, so he’s been off traveling the world and they never know when they will see him around again.  He chats it up with his friends, complimenting them on an excellent play, one which revolves around the story of a thief.  As their conversation continues, Jimmy supposes that breaking into a house would be no difficult feat, and, long story short, he and a friend make a bet as to whether or not he can successfully break into a house that very night.

As luck would have it, after Jimmy gets home and settles into his chair, what should happen but that a thief should attempt to rob him!  Rather than turn in the would-be criminal, Jimmy convinces him to show Jimmy how to break into a house.

The story continues as we follow the would-be love life of Jimmy, and there were plenty of laugh-aloud moments.  This plot is, by Wodehouse standards, fairly straight-forward, but one can already see some of his favorite tropes coming into play.

One interesting thing is that I originally started reading this on my Kindle – all of Wodehouse’s earliest works are available as free Kindle books because they are out of copyright.  I found I was enjoying this one enough that I decided to go ahead and order a hard copy from eBay.  While the Kindle edition was a straight copy of the original 1910 print, my hard copy is a later edition that was published in the 1960’s.  I had initially read maybe a third of the story on my Kindle, and I was intrigued to find that there were several differences in the newer copy.  The biggest one was that in the original book Jimmy had just arrived in America via the Lusitania, but in the later edition the name of the ship has been changed to the Mauretania, presumably due to the tragic sinking of the former, which would have occurred several years after the book was first printed.  The newer book also included some random background story on one of the characters (which seemed weirdly unnecessary as it never came into play later in the story), and probably other changes that I don’t remember/didn’t notice.  It was just a funny thing to remember how much many of his books changed over the years as Wodehouse himself edited them before they were reprinted.

Anyway, all in all A Gentleman of Leisure wasn’t my favorite Wodehouse ever, but was still a fun and lively little read, and one that I’m glad to add to my ever-growing collection.

March Minireviews – Part 2

I realize that we are now several days into April, but I am trying to wrap up the backlog of March reads.  It always makes me sad when I have to reduce the pile this way, but life is just too busy to keep up on the blog, I’m afraid!

Psmith in the City by P.G. Wodehouse

//published 1910//

I actually love the Psmith books, although many people find him rather obnoxious (he is).  This book had a whole new level of interesting since I read Mike at Wrykyn and Mike and Psmith.  In those books, we discover the foundation of the friendship that is at the heart of Psmith in the City, so that added much more depth to the overall story.  In many ways, Mike is actually the central character, with Psmith playing a bold supporting role.  Mike is such a steady, stolid character, which contrasts all the better with the rather pompous Psmith.  I also love how whenever Wodehouse has Mike refer to Psmith in conversation, Mike always says “Smith.”  Wodehouse’s subtle decisions to keep or drop the P are cleverly done.

Another favorite thing of mine is discovering connections between different books and events, so it was great fun to find a reference to Three Men in a Boatwhich I read last fall.  All in all, Psmith in the City is a delightful 4/5 (on the Wodehouse scale, where a 1/5 is the same as a 4/5 for normal books) and definitely recommended – although you’ll enjoy it even more if you read the Mike books first.

From Italy With Love by Jules Wake

//published 2015//

This books is actually a DNF, so I’m not sure why I’m bothering to mention it, other than to see if someone else has actually finished it and thinks that I should totally keep reading because it gets better later on.

I really liked the premise, where an eccentric uncle leaves his niece a rare antique car, but in order to inherit it she has to drive across Italy, following a specific route which he has laid out for her.  As part of an inheritance for this other guy, the uncle says that the guy has to go, too.  I always kind of enjoy crazy old meddling old people who set up the young’uns, especially from beyond the grave, so I was all for it.  However, so much of this book just didn’t make any kind of sense.  The uncle promised the dude, Cam, that he could have this special car, so Cam has already told his brother that they can use this car for some fancy car show where they’re going to make tons of money except they had to spend tons of money to get ready for it.  Except how did Cam know that the uncle was going to die???  (Maybe he actually knocked him off and the book turns into a mystery later?!)  So Cam is obnoxious the whole time, which also makes no sense because what he is actually going to inherit from this drive across Italy is the first chance to buy the car from the niece (Laurie).  So wouldn’t it make more sense for him to be buttering her up and trying to get on her good side?

Meanwhile, Laurie is actually engaged to this other guy, and it’s obvious from literally the first page that this guy is a total tool, and as the first couple of chapters progress, it’s painfully obvious that the dude is trying to get in on all the cash he thinks Laurie is going to inherit, but Laurie seems basically oblivious to the whole thing, and it really bothered me that she went off on this trip (and is presumably going to fall in love with) some other guy while still being engaged to the first guy, even if the first guy is a jerk.  I found it 100% impossible to believe that Laurie would inherit this car and not do any kind of research on it, even something as basic as finding out how much it’s worth.  I mean, seriously?

And honestly, I could have overlooked a lot of this if the story had been remotely interesting, but it wasn’t!  To top everything off, it was boring me out of my mind.  Plus, while as of around 30% through the book Wake hadn’t dragged me through any sexy times, she still kept hinting around at stuff, so I had to keep listening to Laurie get “flushed” and “flustered” a whole lot, and, even worse, be repeatedly exposed to the word “nipples.”  Please.  “Nipples” is not a word that engenders romance, so I don’t want to hear about them, or hear what some guy thinks about them, or even to really think about them within the context of a romantic encounter.  Ugh.

So yeah, a rambling DNF on this book, but at least it’s one off the list!

Nettle King by Katherine Harbour

//published 2016//

This is the third and final book in the Night & Nothing series.  Thorn Jack was engaging, Briar Queen was engrossing, and Nettle King was a solid finish.  Part of the problem was that there was just too much of a gap for me between Queen and King, so I had trouble getting into the groove of this story.  But overall – I really liked this trilogy, and definitely see myself reading it again.  In many ways it reminded me of the Lynburn Legacy books by Sarah Rees Brennan.  These weren’t as funny as those, but it had a similar world-building in the sense that it all took place in a small, isolated community.

I also found myself comparing it a lot to The Fourth Wishwhich I had just finished.  In both stories, girls find themselves in love with guys who, due to magic, are basically eternal beings who have been around for centuries.  But where Wish felt ridiculous and contrived, I 100% shipped Jack and Finn.  Both characters are constantly seeking to put the other person’s safety and needs above their own.  Plus, they are a bit older (in college), and had a strong support system of other characters around them.  There was so much more depth to relationship between Jack and Finn than there was between Margo and Oliver.  I felt like Jack and Finn would be friends and lovers forever, but that Oliver and Margo would get completely bored of each other within months.

Anyway, the overall conclusion to the Night & Nothing series was quite satisfying.  I definitely want to read these books again within a tighter time frame, because I felt like I lost a lot of the intrigue by waiting so long between the second and third books.  A solid 4/5 for Nettle King and for the series as a whole.  Recommended.

Mike at Wrykyn // Mike and Psmith // by P.G. Wodehouse

These books have also been published together as Mike, but I read them in two separate volumes.


//published 1909//

Wrykyn, one of Wodehouse’s fictional schools, has appeared in other stories, so it was a somewhat familiar setting for Mike at Wrykyn.  Unlike many of Wodehouse’s other school stories, this one has a fairly linear plot, and while cricket is an important aspect of the story, it isn’t the story.

Mike is the youngest son (although not the youngest child) of a large and rollicking family.  The story opens in the Jackson home, at breakfast, where Mr. Jackson announces that Mike, aged 15, will be heading off to Wrykyn this term.  Mike is quite amenable to idea, as all of his older brothers have gone there (in fact, the next son, Bob, is still there), and he knows that he should be able to be involved in cricket.  The three brothers older than Bob (Joe, Reggie, and Frank, of whom only Joe really plays a part in the story) all play cricket at a somewhat professional level, and while no one wants Mike to get a big head, the general consensus is that he may be the best of the lot.

Wodehouse does a really wonderful job of telling the story of Mike’s first term at Wrykyn.  While cricket is a crucial part of the story, it’s really much more about Mike’s character, and it was quite nice to see him learn to become a lot less self-centered.  The story is in no way preachy, though, as it is full of Wodehouse humor and really entertaining characters.

Mike at Wrykyn is an easy 3/5, with Mike himself a sturdy and interesting protagonist.

Even though Wrykyn was later combined with Mike and Psmith to make one story, I definitely think they make more sense as two volumes.  While both stories center around Mike, they take place at different schools and are set a couple of years apart.


//published 1909//

In this tale, we meet Rupert Psmith for the first time.  While I have heard some people (namely my mother) claim that Psmith at times irritates them, he is actually one of my favorite Wodehouse characters.  (Although I will admit that if he was someone I had to deal with regularly in real life, I would probably throttle him.)

At the beginning of the story, Mike’s father has decided to remove Mike from Wrykyn for Mike’s last term of school.  Mike has been warned about his poor grades before, and was told that this would be the result, and now, with the arrival of Mike’s most recent report, the threat is being made good.  Instead, Mike is shipped to a much smaller school, Sedleigh.  Mike is in a very bad mood over this decision, as he loves Wrykyn and was going to be the captain of the school’s cricket team this term.  Thus, he enters Sedleigh with a chip on his shoulder against the school.

The first fellow-student he meets is also a new arrival.

“I’m the latest import.” [said the new student] “Sit down on yonder settee, and I will tell you the painful story of my life.  By the way, before I start, there’s just one thing.  If you ever have occasion to write to me, would you mind sticking a P at the beginning of my name? P-s-m-i-t-h.  See?  There are too many Smiths, and I don’t care for Smythe.  My father’s content to worry along in the old-fashioned way, but I’ve decided to strike out a fresh line.  I shall found a new dynasty.  The resolve came to me unexpectedly this morning.  I jotted it down on the back of an envelope.  In conversation you may address me as Rupert (though I hope you won’t) or simply Smith, the not being sounded.  Compare the name Zbysco, in which the is given a similar miss-in-balk.”

To me, one of the best parts of this story is when Wodehouse does or does not insert the P at the beginning of Psmith.  For instance, whenever Psmith is being addressed by one of the teachers – “Smith.”  Sometimes the P appears from a fellow student and sometimes not.  It’s a funny and subtle way of indicating just what the situation at hand entails.

Psmith and Mike form a bond and, as one of the first arrivals at the school, secure a very nice study for themselves, even though it was unofficially claimed by a previous student the previous term.  Thus, the first few chapters involve a great deal of mild warfare as Mike and Psmith settle into their new home.

“I am with you, Comrade Jackson.  You won’t mind my calling you Comrade, will you?  I’ve just become a socialist.  It’s a great scheme.  You ought to be one.  You work for the equal distribution of property, and start by collaring all you can and sitting on it.”

All in all, I thoroughly enjoyed Mike and Psmith.  Wodehouse does a great job of creating two characters who are dissimilar and yet who fit together as friends very well.  Because I’ve read some of the later Psmith books, I know that they remain friends as they grow into adulthood, and I’m intrigued to read those book again now that I’ve finally gotten this early background of the pair.

Another solid 3/5 for this book, and I definitely recommend both Mike at Wrykyn and Mike and Psmith.  While not as full-developed as Wodehouse’s later novels, these are short, snappy, full of humor, and all-around great fun.

The Swoop! Or How Clarence Saved England: A Tale of the Great Invasion // by P.G. Wodehouse


//published 1909//

In the early 1900’s there was a fear amongst some that Britain’s military was vastly unprepared for any kind of potential invasion.  In the first decade of the century, there was a burst of novels dealing with the subject, in which Britain would be invaded and much suffering would ensue because the country had been so lax in its preparations.  The Swoop of the Vulture by J. Blyth was one such book.  Also published in 1909 (before Wodehouse’s book), the story told of a German invasion with, from what I can understand, a great deal of drama.

Wodehouse being Wodehouse, his version of an Invasion Novel was written completely tongue-in-cheek and, while lacking the tight plotting of some of his later novels, still caused me laugh out loud on multiple occasions.  It’s a fairly short book, and I believe it only lacks popularity today because several passages definitely are set firmly in their time, providing gentle mockery of several people who would have been well-known at the time but have since faded into obscurity.

Wodehouse’s preface sets the tone for the book:

It may be thought by some that in the pages which follow I have painted in too lurid colours the horrors of a foreign invasion of England.  Realism in art, it may be argued, can be carried too far.  I prefer to think that the majority of my readers will acquit me of a desire to be unduly sensational.  It is necessary that England should be roused to a sense of her peril, and only be setting down without flinching the probable results of an invasion can this be done.  This story, I may mention, has been written and published purely from a feeling of patriotism and duty. ….

The story itself begins in the home of one young Clarence Chugwater.  Clarence is a Boy Scout, a skilled Boy Scout, who could “low like a bull.  He could gurgle like a wood-pigeon.  He could imitate the cry of the turnip in order to deceive rabbits,” and so much more.  One warm day in August, Clarence’s family is gathered in their home engaged in various domestic pursuits, most of which center around catching up on the national cricket news.  As a matter of fact, the headlines of the newspaper read:  “SURREY DOING BADLY.  GERMAN ARMY LANDS IN ENGLAND”.  Upon reading further – “Fry not out, 104.  Surrey 147 for 8.  A German army landed in Essex this afternoon.  Loamshire Handicap: Spring Chicken, 1; Salome, 2; Yip-i-addy, 3.  Seven ran.”

As the story progresses, England is overrun by not just the Germans, but eight other countries.  They are not met with rage or terror, but with complete indifference – except when one of the invading armies tromps across a cricket pitch!  In chapter six, London is bombed:

Thus was London bombarded.  Fortunately it was August, and there was nobody in town.

Otherwise there might have been loss of life.

Eventually, the invaders all gather in London –

And the question now was, What was going to happen?  England displayed a polite indifference to the problem.  We are essentially a nation of sight-seers.  To us the excitement of staring at the invaders was enough.  Into the complex international problems to which the situation gave rise it did not occur to us to examine.  When you consider that a crowd of five hundred Londoners will assemble in the space of two minutes, abandoning entirely all its other business, to watch a cab-horse that has fallen in the street, it is not surprising that the spectacle of nine separate and distinct armies in the metropolis left no room in the British mind for other reflections.

Eventually, the Germans and the Russians manage to run off their competition, leaving only the two armies left to divide up the country.  This led to one of my favorite passages of the book – a diplomatic dinner (please excuse me while I quote at length):

Anyone who has had anything to do with the higher diplomacy is aware that diplomatic language stands in a class by itself.  It is a language specially designed to deceive the chance listener.

Thus when Prince Otto, turning to Grand Duke Vodkakoff, said quietly, “I hear the crops are coming on nicely down Kent way,” the habitual frequenter of diplomatic circles would have understood, as did the Grand Duke, that what he really meant was, “Now about this business.  What do you propose to do?”

The company … bent forward, deeply interested to catch the Russian’s reply.  Much would depend on this.

Vodkakoff carelessly flicked the ash off his cigarette.  “So I hear,” he said slowly.  “But in Shropshire, they tell me, they are having trouble with the mangelwurzels.”

The prince frowned at this typical piece of shifty Russian diplomacy.

“How is your Highness getting on with your Highness’s roller-skating?” he enquired guardedly.

The Russian smiled a subtle smile.  “Poorly,” he said, “poorly.  The last time I tried the outside edge I thought somebody had thrown the building at me.”

Prince Otto flushed.  He was a plain, blunt man, and he hated this beating about the bush.  “Why does the chicken cross the road?” he demanded, almost angrily.

The Russian raised his eyebrows, and smiled, but made no reply.  The prince, resolved to give him no chance of wriggling away from the point, pressed him hotly.  “Think of a number,” he cried.  “Double it.  Add ten.  Take away the number you first thought of.  Divide it by three, and what is the result?”

There was an awed silence.  Surely the Russian, expert at evasion as he was, could not parry so direct a challenge as this!

He threw away his cigarette and lit a cigar.  “I understand,” he said, with a tinkle of defiance in his voice, “that the Suffragettes, as a last resource, propose to capture Mr. Asquith and sing the Suffragette Anthem to him.”

A startled gasp ran round the table.

“Because the higher he flies, the fewer?” asked Prince Otto, with sinister calm.

“Because the higher he flies, the fewer,” said the Russian smoothly, but with the smoothness of a treacherous sea.

There was another gasp.  The situation was becomingly alarmingly intense.

“You are plain-spoken, your Highness,” said Prince Otto slowly.

Of course our young hero is not idle during this time.  Clarence works to rally the Boy Scouts and comes up with a truly ingenious method of ridding the country of her invaders.  While the majority of the population is more or less indifferent to the enemy, they do become rather mildly irritated with the foreigners as time passes:

The attitude of the British public, too, was getting on [the invaders’] nerves.  They had been prepared for fierce resistance.  They had pictured the invasion as a series of brisk battles – painful perhaps, but exciting.  They had anticipated that when they had conquered the country they might meet with the Glare of Hatred as they patrolled the streets.  The Supercilious Stare unnerved them.  There is nothing so terrible to the highly-strung foreigner as the cold, contemptuous, patronising gaze of the Englishman.  It gave the invaders a perpetual feeling of doing the wrong thing.  They felt like men who had been found traveling in a first-class carriage with a third-class ticket.  They became conscious of the size of their hands and feet.  As they marched through the Metropolis they felt their ears growing hot and red.  Beneath the chilly stare of the populace they experienced all the sensations of a man who has come to a strange dinner-party in a tweed suit when everybody else has dressed.  They felt warm and prickly.

All in all, The Swoop was a surprisingly delightful and humorous tale that I highly recommend.  It’s quite short and perhaps lacks in depth and at times has plot turns that feel rather abrupt, but it is so funny and written with such delicate snark that it kept me snorting with laughter throughout.  4/5 for a funny, snappy little tale that I am sure, at the time, brought many a British citizen to his sense concerning the perilous state of his country’s military.

January Minireviews

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 I’ve started a monthly post with minireviews of all those books that just didn’t get more than a few paragraphs of feelings from me.

Crazy Kill Range by Rutherford Montgomery


//published 1963//

When I reviewed an earlier book of Montgomery’s, Midnight: Wild Stallion of the WestI talked about Grosset & Dunlap’s “Famous Horse Stories.”  Crazy Kill Range is another of these books, set in the same region as Midnight, and tells the story of one of Midnight’s sons.  Actually, Crazy Kill Range is a story that is almost exactly like Midnight.  A mare escapes captivity and is added to a wild stallion’s band; her son grows into a strong and mighty stallion.  In the meantime, there are little stories of wilderness life in the west.

All in all, Crazy Kill Range wasn’t a bad book, but it also didn’t really feel different enough from Midnight to justify its own story.  Interestingly enough, this book is not on GoodReads at all, so I must not be the only person to feel rather ambivalent towards it.

Not George Washington by P.G. Wodehouse and Herbert Westbrook


//published 1907//

This was a strange sort of book, billed as “semi-autobiographical,” I think it’s mostly because it’s about a young man struggling to make it as a writer in the same time period as Wodehouse and Westbrook were doing so.  So while I’m sure some of those aspects were drawn from life, the actual story of James doesn’t seem to particularly parallel Wodehouse’s all that much (although I don’t know anything about Westbrook).

It’s funny because Wodehouse was quite insistent that Westbrook have equal or greater credit for writing this book, but my Kindle edition only shows Wodehouse as the author (as does the picture of the cover I found)!

All in all, this is a book that I wanted to like better than I did.  I realized at the end that the problem was that I didn’t really care for the main character.  James is a bit of a self-centered jerk, so I didn’t really care all that much about his problems.  It’s interesting because the reason that Wodehouse’s books are such a delight is because basically no one is a jerk – even the “bad guys” are sincere.  So it was intriguing to see an earlier stage of this, or maybe it’s due to Westbrook’s influence, where several of the characters weren’t particularly likable.

While it was good to get away from the school stories, Not George Washington didn’t particularly capture me.  It had its moments of interest and humor, but overall James was just too obnoxious for me to really enjoy the story.


The White Feather // by P.G. Wodehouse


//published 1907//

The White Feather is probably my favorite of Wodehouse’s school stories so far.  Set at Wrykyn, one of Wodehouse’s favorite fictional schools, the introduction (from the author) states that it is set a little over a year after the events in The Gold Bat.  I didn’t notice much of an overlap of characters, but the setting is the same.  In that same introduction Wodehouse states that other Wrykyn adventures have been recorded in various short stories published in various magazines.  I’m pretty sure that Mike – which leads into the Psmith stories – is also set at Wrykyn.

At any rate, in typical school story fashion, this story has plenty of sports and slang.  But there is also a decent little story, wherein one boy, Sheen, is a quiet, studious boy towards whom his classmates are rather ambivalent.  There is a feud of sorts between the school boys and the town boys, and one day there is a big kerfluffle between them.  Sheen, instead of jumping in to the aid of his fellow students, quietly disappears.  This leads to him being ostracized by his entire house, and many of the rest of the students as well.  Sheen ends up taking up boxing lessons and, in the end, pulls out a wonderful victory at an inter-school sporting event and is accepted back into the arms of his house, especially when it comes about that much of the negative information surrounding Sheen was actually based on false stories circulated by a boy who didn’t like him.

The fun in this book isn’t necessarily in the story, which is fine but not thrilling, but in the very fact that I actually was able to keep most of these characters straight – which means that they were different enough from one another in order for me to do so, something that isn’t always true in these early school stories.  There were more little quirks and pieces of individuality, like the boxing coach who loves (and quotes) Shakespeare.

On the whole, I didn’t find myself racing through The White Feather or laughing out loud while reading it, but it did have its moments of humor, and there was a definite plot above and beyond sports to carry the story through.  While I don’t see myself returning to this one time and again, it was a pleasant read, although not heartily recommended.  3/5.

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.