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.

‘Pride & Prejudice’ Variations – Minireviews

I have confessed before that when my life gets  busy and stressed, my reading gets suuuuper fluffy, and, in most cases, takes on the form of terrible Pride & Prejudice variations.  I hate to admit it, but I find them endlessly entertaining, mostly because I love the concept of one thing being different, and suddenly the whole story changes.  While many of them are, admittedly, dreadful, some are still enjoyable.  I’m embarrassed to tell you all how many I’ve read lately, but here are a few, just as a sample…

The Houseguest by Elizabeth Adams

//published 2013//

This one was pretty low key, but still pleasant.  In this story, Darcy and Elizabeth meet at Netherfield per canon, but, after the assembly where Elizabeth becomes quite prejudiced against Darcy, Georgiana comes from London to stay at Netherfield as well, and she and Elizabeth become friends.  A few months later, when Darcy is away visiting a relative (and Jane is staying in London with the Gardiners), Georgiana invites Elizabeth to come and stay with her.  However, Darcy returns home early, so he and Elizabeth have an opportunity to know each other better.

Things I liked:  This was just a nice variation.  There weren’t all these crazy evil people trying to drive Darcy and Elizabeth apart, there weren’t loads of steamy sex scenes, and there was no violence or rape.  In short, it was a variation that I don’t think would have made Jane Austen twitch too much.  I liked the slowly developing friendship between Darcy and Elizabeth, and I liked how not all of Darcy’s relatives immediately disliked Elizabeth.  It was also nice to have Georgiana be nice, because some variations like to turn her into a selfish shrew.

Things I didn’t like:  There was this kind of random love triangle that was never a really serious love triangle, and I don’t even understand why authors bother with it in these stories because DUH the whole point is Darcy and Elizabeth end up together, so it doesn’t really seem fair to the other fellow, does it??  Also, this book had a ridiculously long epilogue that was so involved it felt like Adams should have just written a sequel.  Instead, we just got like a couple of paragraphs throwing everyone’s lives into disarray.

Conclusion:  3/5 for a pleasant story.  Nice for relaxing but not terribly thrilling.

Fate & Consequences by Linda Wells

//published 2009//

In this version, Darcy arrives at Ramsgate too late to stop Georgiana.  He pursues her (and Wickham, obviously), and manages to catch up with them at an inn in a small town called Meryton.  While Georgiana hasn’t actually stayed a night with Wickham, she is still ruined when word gets out of her attempted elopement.  While in Meryton, Darcy and his sister happened to run into Elizabeth, and a series of events leads to Elizabeth and Georgiana beginning a correspondence.  Darcy and Elizabeth also begin a clandestine correspondence, and fall in love through their letters.  Because Georgiana is ruined when Darcy and Elizabeth meet, Darcy has already been humbled in many ways, and is much more open to falling in love with Elizabeth in consequence.

Things I liked:  Again, I like stories where people are friends and then fall in love, and this version did that well.  Elizabeth and Darcy are just so good for each other in this story, always supporting and helping each other through difficult times.  There was a good secondary story about Elizabeth having an aunt that she never knew about because her aunt was also ruined as a young woman and sent off to Scotland in disgrace.  I also liked the way that Mr. Bennet and his wife began to work through their relationship and ended as a stronger couple in the end.

Things I didn’t like:  Mostly the ridiculous drama, like seriously Wickham is a bit over-the-top, and Lady Catherine definitely is.  Also, one of Elizabeth’s letters go missing and even though she and Darcy hardly know each other at this point, Darcy goes into this deep, dark depression and refuses to eat or sleep for days and it all just seemed a *tad* melodramatic for the situation.  Also, definitely too much sex.  Just please.  No.

Conclusion:  Still, 3/5 because there were a lot of good characterizations, and when Wells wasn’t going crazy with emotional turmoil, the story moved along well.

1932 by Karen M. Cox

//published 2010//

I really love versions where the actual setting is different.  In some ways, I think that illustrates how universal this love story really has become.  Here, Cox decided to set the story during the Great Depression.  Elizabeth’s family has lost most of their money and has to move to the small town where her mother grew up.  The Darcys of course were much better planners and have suffered minimal financial distress, and Darcy is one of the largest landowners around.

Things I liked:  I loved the concept and the setting, and I liked that Darcy and Elizabeth got married towards the middle of the story (in this version, it would be sort of the equivalent of Elizabeth accepting Darcy during the Hunsford proposal), and then grew towards love from there.  I also liked that Georgiana was likable and kind.

Things I didn’t like:  Overall, this story just felt rushed, like the author had this great idea and felt like she had to publish it before someone else beat her to the punch.  Consequently, the story felt choppy in bits.  The love story between Georgiana and the sheriff could have been much more interesting.  Darcy’s refusal to tell Elizabeth the truth of Georgiana’s past, even after Darcy and Elizabeth married, felt very unnatural, so I didn’t really buy their entire disagreement which was central the story – it seemed like Darcy would have told Elizabeth at least the basic gist.  Later, Darcy and Elizabeth have an argument and it felt like that dragged way too long – Elizabeth leaves her husband and returns home for weeks?!  

Conclusion:  3/5.  I wanted to like this story more than I did.  The author has written at least one more version with a unique setting, so I’ll probably give that one a try as well.

Three Men on the Bummel // by Jerome K. Jerome

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//published 1900// originally published as ‘Three Men on Wheels’ //

After enjoying Three Men in a Boat so thoroughly, I approached its sequel with anticipation.  And while Bummel wasn’t quite as funny as Boat, it was still a very worthwhile and engaging read.

Several years have passed since J., Harris, and George tooled about on the river.  Harris and J. are both now married with children, and our story opens with the three friends discussing how they could really do with a bit of a break from the wear and tear of domestic life.  I think that one of the things that I greatly enjoyed was that while J. and Harris are definitely eager for a holiday, there is never a feeling that they are tired of being married or that they wish that they could abandon their families forever.  Both wives are portrayed as intelligent and hardworking, and on the whole everyone seems to be quite happily married.  However, that doesn’t mean that a bit of a vacation wouldn’t be welcome.

And so, the three decide to bicycle around Germany (specifically through the Black Forest).  The first few chapters are them deciding where to go and what to do, and then persuading the wives to let them go off and do it – without tagging along.  My first genuine laugh came in chapter two, when J. begins to imagine how he will broach the subject to his wife, and how his wife will respond.

I opened the ball with Ethelbertha that same evening.  I commenced by being purposely a little irritable.  My idea was that Ethelbertha would remark upon this.  I should admit it, and account for it by over brain pressure. This would naturally lead to talk about my health in general, and the evident necessity there was for my taking prompt and vigorous measures.  I thought that with a little tact I might even manage so that the suggestion should come from Ethelbertha herself.

J. imagines a lovely discussion with his wife, in which she humbly pleads with him to take a break from domestic life and go off on a little jaunt with Harris and George.  The whole paragraph had me giggling, with sentences like, “Go away to some green corner of the earth, where all is new and strange to you, where your overwrought mind will gather peace and fresh ideas.”  Or, “Go away for a space and give me time to miss you, and to reflect upon your goodness and virtue, which, continually present with me, I  may, human-like, be apt to forget, as one, through use, grows indifferent to the blessing of the sun and the beauty of the moon.”  The whole thing is absolute balderdash, but one can still see a man thinking that this may be what his woman will say to him!

It is extra funny when contrasted with how the conversation actually goes – from Ethelbertha not actually noticing that J. is more irritable than usual, to her completely turning the tables and persuading J. that she should go on a holiday.  It is all just too perfectly written.

Eventually, the friends get away and begin their journey.  It is full of the usual adventures, although Jerome is less apt to go off onto his historical and natural meanderings – and I found myself rather missing them.  Still, he does give many observations about Germany and the people who live there.  On the whole, Jerome tends to admire their hardworking and law-abiding attitude.  His writing on the way that Germans obey rules that the English would flaunt was quite funny, and a reminder of how different cultures really can be.  However, I never felt that Jerome crossed the line to unpleasant mockery.  His teasing is always gentle and kind.

This book was published in 1900, with World War still over a decade away, yet Jerome already seems to sense the possible danger of a culture so tied up in automatic and unquestioning obedience to the government.

Their [the German schools] everlasting teaching is duty.  It is a fine ideal for any people; but before buckling to it, one would wish to have a clear understanding as to what his ‘duty’ is.  The German idea of it would appear to be: ‘blind obedience to everything in buttons.’  It is the antithesis of the Anglo-Saxon scheme; but as both the Anglo-Saxon and the Teuton are prospering, there must be good in both methods.  Hitherto, the German has had the blessed fortune to be exceptionally well governed; if this continues, it will go well with him.  When his troubles will begin will be when by any chance something goes wrong with the governing machine.

All in all, while Bummel wasn’t the rollicking, nonstop laughter of Three Men in a Boat, it was still an interesting and entertaining volume, reflective of its time, yet still full of the timeless observations of human nature that made Boat so enjoyable.  Not quite as highly recommended as the first book, but Bummel is still an easy 4/5 read and recommended as well.

Three Men in a Boat (to Say Nothing of the Dog!) by Jerome K. Jerome

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//published 1889//

This book was first brought to my attention by FictionFan, who has mentioned in a few posts, and reviewed it here.  After reading the first chapter, I couldn’t believe that I had somehow gone my entire life without this book.  Jerome has created a masterpiece of humor, a sort of travelogue with random reminiscences thrown in, and a little spice of thoughtfulness as well.

Published in 1889, the story follows our narrator, J., as he and two of his friends, Harris and George.  Feeling weary of their everyday life, they decide to take a holiday by boating up the Thames.  But the joy of this story is in the narration itself, as J. gives us plenty of asides.  While the book loosely follows their journey, much the book is meandering anecdotes, a style that feels like it ought to be annoying but is honestly just pure delight.  I could not stop laughing while I was reading this book, and probably read over half of it out loud to my ever-patient husband, because so much of this story was just too much fun to keep to myself.

I tried to mark pages to quote for this review, but realized that what I really wanted to do was quote the entire book, which means that you just simply need to sit down and read it for yourself as soon as you possibly can.

One of the things that I loved about this story was how while the setting was obviously dated, the story didn’t seem to be at all.  The adventures and thoughts of these three were completely relatable, right from the first page where J. tells us how he visited the the British Museum and started reading about various diseases and realized that he had them all!  While WebMD may have given us a more modern access to hypochondria, it is most certainly not an issue limited to our place in time!

The whole book is that way.  The classic story of Uncle Podger hanging a picture (who hasn’t known someone just like him?!), the comforting realization that a full stomach makes you feel just as happy and contented as a clear conscience (and so much cheaper and more easily obtained!), the foul and dirty nature of a tow line – Jerome captures our human nature perfectly, and, in the process, reveals that we really haven’t changed that much in the almost 130 years since he wrote this tale.

Besides humorous anecdotes, Jerome also gives us snippets of history and various travel tips that are thoroughly engaging, and also manages to touch on serious topics with a deft hand, somehow slipping it between funny bits without detracting from the story or trivializing the issue at hand.  His few pages on a young, unmarried mother who found that drowning herself in the river was easier than continuing to live under a cloud of shame and poverty genuinely choked me up, and added yet another layer to the fact that human nature – both of those who have been judged and those who judge – really hasn’t changed that much, either.

In short, this is a book that is very much worth reading.  As I said at the beginning, I cannot believe that I have never read it before – or even heard that much about it!  This book is a delight that I think everyone would – and should! – enjoy.  I will definitely be adding a copy to my personal shelves very soon, and the sequel, Three Men on the Bummel, is next in the queue to read.

The Brontë Plot //  by Katherine Reay

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//published 2015//

Okay, first off, I just learned how to produce the “ë” on WordPress like two days ago, so aren’t you proud of me??

A while back I read Dear Mr. KnightleyReay’s first novel.  It was an alright read, interesting enough to make me want to keep an eye on Reay’s future work.  She has published two more books – Lizzy and Jane (which I haven’t read yet), and this one.  And, once again, I was handed a very bland, 3/5 read.

Lucy works for a guy, Sid, who is an upscale interior decorated/owns an antique shop full of expensive stuff.  Lucy is sort of the odds-and-ends person, who helps Sid keep track of all the details.  She also minds the shop and does a lot of the purchasing to keep stuff in the shop.  Lucy’s favorite bit is finding and collecting rare and expensive books for the store.  However, Lucy has a bit of a problem – she loves to tell stories.  So if there is a situation where stretching the truth may get Lucy what she wants – she does it.  And one of the ways she does that is by inscribing on the flyleaves of books – things like, “To Betty, for her birthday, 1856,” and then below it putting, “To my namesake – may this book inspire you the way it did me – love, Grandma Betty.”  In Lucy’s mind, the story adds value to the book and – the story within the story is what people love.

Of course, this all comes back to bite Lucy, because her boyfriend is super honest and really upset when he finds out what she’s been doing.  Then she ends up on this weird trip with her (now) ex-boyfriend’s grandma as they trot off to London and…  I don’t know, this book just really, really bored me.  I never liked Lucy, who, even after she realized that her lying was an issue kept doing it for quite some time before really realizing that it was a problem and actually making an effort to stop.  For long periods of time, things didn’t really happen.  The whole story with the grandma was, quite honestly, weird, and it felt like all the conversations between her and Lucy were just pieces of a script they were reading instead of real conversation.

A 3/5 read for alright writing, but overall just completely uninteresting.

Also, I read a few comments on GoodReads complaining about the “Christian/religious message.”  Honestly, I didn’t even notice it.  If it was there, it was just because some people happened to be Christians, or were going to church or whatever.  There was no “conversion,” and there wasn’t lots of time spent praying or debating theology.  Reay’s book is being published by Zondervan – a Christian publishing company – so I’m not sure why people get annoyed when a Christian publishing company publishes a book with Christian undertones???  To me, it definitely wasn’t anything overt or aggressive.

Finally, I have to admit that I’ve never actually finished any book by the Brontë sisters.  So I am 100% confident that I missed a lot of connections and interesting tidbits because of that.  However, I don’t think that there would have been quite enough interesting tidbits and connections to make the book higher than a 3/5 read.

Birthday Book Loot!!!

So my birthday was last week.  Around here, there are birthdays, and then there are birthdays observed, so while my actual birthday was Thursday, my observed birthday was Saturday!  The husband and I went out for breakfast and then headed up to my favorite bookstore, The Book Loft in German Village.

The Book Loft is basically magical.  First off, you walk through a small garden to get to the door.  Then, the store itself covers multiple floors and dozens of rooms and passageways that wend their way about, allowing you to get pretty close to genuinely lost!  It’s just absolutely fantastic and we had a great time.

I had a generous birthday stipend and used it to purchase five new books.  I don’t like paying full price for books I haven’t read yet (what if I don’t actually like them?!), so instead I went with happy copies of some old friends.

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I read Fangirl last year and completely enjoyed it, so I found this hardcover edition on sale and was pretty stoked to add it to my permanent collection.

Somehow, despite the fact that it’s a classic and a book I really enjoy, I didn’t actually own a copy of The Giver.  This is a paperback, but one of those fun, really soft ones.

I really love Wodehouse’s Blandings Castle books.  Something Fresh (AKA Something New) is the first novel in which those delightful characters appear.  While I’m overall not a huge fan of these editions – the jacket covers are just too ugly for words – the binding is fantastic.

006There were several books printed in soft leather editions.  I wanted them ALL, but went with Persuasion.  I like it because it’s slim, and that somehow seemed to fit the binding the best.  Of course, this means parting with my old Dover Thrift Edition, which I actually love.  These editions used to sell for a dollar, and I would always stock up on them at the annual home educators’ convention (I would come home with stacks of books).  However, my sister really loves this copy, so it is going to a good home.

The only new-to-me book that I purchased is nonfiction – another gardening book published by Storey.  High-Yield Vegetable Gardening has a really nice format.  It’s sort of the next step up for gardening, with a lot of information on companion planting, succession planting, soil amendment, and season extensions.  I’m really trying to improve my vegetable gardening skills, so I think this will be a great addition to the nonfiction library!

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I still had some money left (!!!) so on Sunday I ordered a used copy of Russia Under the Bolshevik Regime by Richard Pipes – a book that I enjoyed so much that I actually wrote the (elderly, professor) author a fan letter!  I’m looking forward to having a copy of this book for my own collection.  The chapter on the rise of totalitarian governments may come in handy, what with the way elections are shaping up over here.

I also spontaneously spent money on eBay purchasing a lot of eight Wodehouse books, rather elderly editions, that are coming from the UK.

While I frequently save up my allowance money for books (don’t worry, feminists, the husband has an allowance, too – it’s all part of the team budgeting process!), it isn’t often that I get to blow a whole bundle in one go.  All in all a pretty awesome weekend!