Montmorency's Revenge, Eleanor Updale
...I suppose they're not so much Victorian mantears from here on out, since Queen Victoria dies partway through. Edwardian mantears? Er... anyway. This is book four in a delightfully melodramatic bit of YA historical fiction. It remains delightfully melodramatic. It's about as subtle as a cinderblock, but there's something charming about its earnestness, or I'd hardly have continued all the way through book four. If you couldn't guess, this one is about revenge! But also, one of the principal characters goes completely bonkers and spends most of the book in a weird Scottish insane asylum making friends with a pig and pretending to be somebody else. There are also a bunch of elaborate codes that nobody can remember properly, and some ironic deaths. Really it was about what I expected, only more so. I suppose the series as a whole is good light entertainment for those who want Victorian/Edwardian Gentleman Thievery Soap Opera Wherein the Universe is Out to Ruin All Protagonists and it Really Seems Like One Character is Three Inches from Becoming a Serial Killer. Oddly specific genre, innit?
Piccadilly Jim, P.G. Wodehouse
Zany schemes on top of zany schemes, butlers, one-liners, Americans and English being hopelessly confused by each other. Good. The A-plot is to do with Jim (who doesn't do much but go to parties and accidentally punch out members of the aristocracy) trying to get his life together and Get The Girl, and it works because, despite being kind of a useless fuck-up, he's a charming PoV character and pretty clearly a good guy at heart. Then there are other plots involving epic sisterly rivalries, kidnapping a kid for his own good, Jim's dad's desperate attempts to watch some FREAKING BASEBALL WHY DON'T YOU HAVE BASEBALL IN ENGLAND, spies, and experimental explosives, culminating in a huge elaborate-scheme pileup and all kinds of ridiculousness. There's a bit of weirdness on the gender front, as one more or less has to expect from books of that time, but generally, it's funny and delightful and really expertly constructed.
The Manual of Detection, Jedediah Berry
WHAT A COOL BOOK. Mystery! Atmosphere! Dames! SO MUCH ATMOSPHERE.
...I've sat here for some minutes trying to come up with better things to say about this book. Um, it is splendidly mysterious. It is rainy and filled with arbitrary bureaucracy and nobody willing to clue the protagonist in on what's happening, there are cool dames, and I read it on a dark night with the light of a single lamp and the sound of dismal weather outside, so "atmosphere" remains my strongest impression. Er, it is also well-paced and well-plotted. And generally ... super cool.
The Man who was Thursday, G.K. Chesterton
This book was completely awesome until suddenly it wasn't. The early bits swung expertly between a paranoid tension and some rather good humor, and sometimes managed to pull off both at once. And then... after a huge dramatic chase scene, when the main characters are determined to finally figure out what's going on... the answer is pretty much "IT'S AN ALLEGORY AND NONE OF THAT MATTERED." I did not find it a satisfying resolution at all - partly because the allegory was religious in nature and I do not appreciate having that sprung on me and being expected to simply swallow it as a natural and inevitable development. I suspect it is a stupid ending even without that consideration - "YOU HAVE ALL BEEN VERY SILLY, THE TENSION WAS FOR NOTHING, ALL PROBLEMS ARE SOLVED OR NONEXISTENT, NOW GO ON YOUR WAY." Chesterton is a deft writer, and I suppose that's why this was available in the Classics section of the Kindle store, but in the end I don't particularly care for what he has to say.
The Man with Two Left Feet, P.G. Wodehouse
I think this was one of Wodehouse's earlier short story collections - I know for certain it's the first one Jeeves and Wooster show up in. Some of the clever lines that so charmed me in Piccadilly Jim ... also showed up here, and it becomes evident to me that Wodehouse worked from a fairly fixed and narrow set of themes. Still, the stories are all pretty fun if not hugely novel. I think by this point I've got the guy's number and don't have a particular need to read more of his work.
H.P. Lovecraft's Favorite Weird Tales: The Roots of Modern Horror, ed. Douglas A. Anderson
A real mixed bag, this one. Not in terms of content - OOOOH SOMETHING WEIRD HAPPENS AND SOMEONE DIES. IT'S SCARY. - but in terms of... the degree to which they succeed at actually being scary. I have been forced to conclude that weird tales/cosmic horror/whatchacallit is not really up my alley in general. Oooo, we're all alone in a cold and unforgiving universe we will never fully understand, tell me something I didn't know. A few stories did manage to give me a pleasant creepy sensation. The book's split into sections for "literary" and "popular" weird tales, and the popular ones struck me as more effective, by and large. I think that's the opposite of the impression the editor wanted me to have. Too bad.
Mr. Fox, Helen Oyeyemi
This book has a strange structure and a stranger plot, and doesn't bother explaining itself to you. Kudos for that - though I did have a distinct impression in some places that I was missing something huge, because I had no idea what this or that story was meant to accomplish.
Basically, a misogynistic douchebag of a popular novelist has his muse suddenly come to life and start arguing with him. In the form of short stories, which... somehow the two of them are forced to live out? I'M VAGUE ON THIS POINT. His wife doesn't know what's going on, but she's pretty sure there's another woman, and she is going to Do Something About This. In essence, there's a bunch of thematically similar, fairy-tale-influenced short stories starring altered versions of the same couple of characters, plus an increasingly weird framing narrative. It is beautifully written, the short stories are all immediately engaging, and there's an interesting discussion of our responsibility for our creations and the stories we tell... ...and there is a lot going on I am sure I didn't get at all. (Either that or I've been trained to attribute significance to trivial things and I'm getting false positives on the Symbolism Meter. Also possible.)
The Amulet of Samarkand,
The Golem's Eye, and
Ptolemy's Gate, Jonathan Stroud
Each book is a good book, and the trilogy as a whole is killer. The characters are fantastic. The plots, both individually and overall, are well-crafted (the second one takes a while to get its feet underneath it but it's fantastic when it does). Footnotes. Snark. A really cool and thoughtfully-constructed world and magic system, leading to giant badass magical fights at the climax of each book. I truly don't know if I'm capable of saying as much in this trilogy's favor as it deserves, so I'm going to stop trying. Wow. Damn.
OKAY, I'M NOMINALLY CAUGHT UP NOW. Another book post to follow at the end of this month or something.