February Minireviews – Part 1

So I find that I not-infrequently read books that I just don’t have a lot of things to say about.  Sometimes it’s because it was a super meh book (most of these are 3/5 reads), or sometimes it’s because it was just so happy that that’s about all I can say about it!  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.

Last Christmas in Paris by Elizabeth Gaynor and Heather Webb

//published 2017//

This book is a collection of letters written between several different individuals during World War I.  The majority of the correspondence is between Tom and Evie – Evie is the younger sister of Tom’s best friend, Will.  It’s pretty obvious that Tom and Evie are going to end up together, but that didn’t diminish my enjoyment of the story.

I really loved this book for about the first 3/4 of the way.  The letters were delightful, the characters engaging, and the voices different enough to make it really feel like I was reading letters from and to different people.  Epistolary tales can be rather narrow, but because we have letters between people besides the two main characters, the story felt fairly well-rounded.  It definitely had a Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society vibe about it.  I really liked the upbeat sense to this book.  It was serious, yes, but it wasn’t all doom and gloom and there were no plot twists were someone turned out to be gay.

But then Evie goes to France also, and the story just kind of fell apart.  The correspondence became disjointed, and the characters no longer felt like they were being true to themselves.  There were also a few instances where I was uncertain of the continuity because of weirdly long gaps between letters.  It was very strange to me that for the first three years, they write letters all the time, then suddenly in 1917 and 1918, there are only a handful of letters, which I think added to the feeling of disjointedness.

In the end, a 3/5 read for a book that started very strong and then just sort of petered out.

Something Fresh (AKA Something Newby P.G. Wodehouse

//published 1915//

In my quest to read all of Wodehouse’s books in published order, I have waded through over a decade’s worth of school stories and short story collections.  While all of them have been readable and even enjoyable for a one-time read, there have only been glimpses of what I consider to be genuine Wodehouse magic.

But the title of this book is definitely appropriate, as this is the first book that really begins to collect all the bits of what will later be the Wodehouse formula. Plus, it introduces one of my all-time favorite Wodehouse characters, Lord Emsworth of Blandings Castle.  While this book may still not be up to the standards of some of Wodehouse’s later works, it was still a delight from beginning to end.

After reading a collection of Wodehouse’s correspondence back in late 2016, I sometimes refer to A Life in Letters to see if Wodehouse himself had anything interesting to say about my current Wodehouse read.  I was intrigued to find that even he thought that Something Fresh was a new and better direction for his writing as well.  Was it because he found and married the love of his life a few months earlier?  I like to think so.

Brighty of the Grand Canyon by Marguerite Henry

//published 1953//

As I’ve mentioned before, Henry was one of my favorite authors growing up, and I devoured all of her books.  I collected a lot of them in cheap paperback editions published by Scholastic, and although I’ve upgraded a lot of them through the years, I still have a few of those paperbacks with my name scrawled in painful 2nd-grade cursive on the flyleaf.

I could look at his illustrations all day!

It had been a really long time since I had revisited this title, and while it was a decent story (and the illustrations by Wesley Dennis were magical as always), it really wasn’t one of my favorites.  In some ways, the story feels very choppy.  It’s about a little wild burro who lives in the Grand Canyon at the turn of the century (Theodore Roosevelt is president, and is even in the story!).  The problem is that Henry tries to tell both the story of Brighty’s everyday life + how he helped make the Grand Canyon the park that it is today AND the story of an old prospector who was murdered and how Brighty helped bring the killer to justice.  Except… the murder part feels very strange in a children’s book, and it also takes like ten years to solve the mystery, which makes no sense because why is Jake still around after all this time???  The murder mystery was definitely the weak part of the tale.  If it had been jettisoned and more focus had been made just on Brighty’s life in the Canyon, I think the book would have read better.

In fairness, Henry was basing Brighty on a real burro, who, in real life, did discover a clue that lead to the capture of a murderer – but still.  Brighty had plenty of other adventures.  Still, a very readable little book, and the illustrations really do make it a joy.  3.5/5.

From the Archive: ‘Something New’ by P.G. Wodehouse

Sidenote:  This review doesn’t actually review the book at all.  I didn’t mention a single thing about the plot or the characters.  Instead, it’s really just an excuse to talk about how amazing Wodehouse is, and to quote (at length) from the foreword of this tale!

Originally posted on tumblr February 7, 2012.

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AKA: Something Fresh

Published 1915

I love P.G. Wodehouse.  A British friend of Dad’s introduced us to Wodehouse several years ago, and I have been incredibly grateful ever since.  I have no idea how my life was complete before the advent of Wodehouse into it.

He is brilliantly funny, managing to contrive plots that seem plausible and yet ridiculous at the same time.  Everyone marries the right people at the end and, somehow, all of the ludicrous plot ends manage to come together perfectly.

While Wodehouse is most famous for his creation of the perfect duo, Bertie and Jeeves, my personal favorite gang is found at Blandings Castle.  Something New, which was Wodehouse’s first full-length novel, and he claims, in the foreword he wrote some fifty-odd years later, that it was accepted by Saturday Evening Postfor serial publication based solely on the fact that Wodehouse sent it with all three of his names written out: Pelham Grenville Wodehouse:

A writer in America at that time who went about without three names was practically going around naked.  Those were the days of Richard Harding Davis, of James Warner Bellah, of Margaret Culkin Banning, of Earl Derr Biggers, of CHarles Francis Coe, Norman Reilly Raine, Mary Roberts Rinehart, Clarence Budington Kelland and Orison Swett–yes, really, I’m not kidding–Marden.  Naturally, a level-headed editor like Lorimer was not going to let a Pelham Grenville Wodhouse get away from him.

If you ask me to tell you frankly if I like the names Pelham Grenville, I must confess that I do not.  I have my dark moods when they seem to me about as low as you can get.  At the font, I remember protesting vigorously when the clergyman uttered them, but he stuck to his point. ‘Be that as it may,’ he said firmly, having waited for a lull, ‘I name thee Pelham Grenville.’

Apparently, I was called that after a godfather, and not a thing to show for it except a small silver mug which I lost in 1897.  I little knew how the frightful label was going to pay off thirty-four years later.  (One could do a bit of moralizing about that if one wanted to, but better not for the moment.  Some other time, perhaps.)

I have perhaps over-quoted  him (especially from a foreword!) but I cannot get over and subdue my enthusiasm for Wodehouse.  If you have never read one of his books, grab the closet you can find, whether it be a tale of Psmith (the “p” is silent), Bertie and Jeeves, the Blandings Castle crew, or one of his many random tales of adventure.  Wodehouse weaves a world of Britain that does not really exist, a sort of made-up time combining the best of several decades into the world that we all wished not only existed in the past, but was still thriving today.

Wodehouse is nearly always a 5, if only  because he makes me laugh out loud when I am reading in public places.