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The Small Bachelor

smallbachelor

While P.G. Wodehouse’s The Small Bachelor doesn’t feature Jeeves or Bertie Wooster, it contains the main features readers enjoy in his writing — charming wit and wordplay, a supercilious butler, a bumbling young man, a bit of romance and a bothersome aunt-like character.

The story starts:

On the roof of the Sheridan Apartment House, near Washington Square, New York, is a “small bachelor apartment, penthouse style”, and the small bachelor who owns it is amateur artist George Finch, who is rich due to an inheritance. He falls in love with Molly Waddington at first sight, but is too shy to approach her until he retrieves her dog. George’s authoritative friend J. Hamilton Beamish, author of self-help books, is helping mild-mannered policeman Garroway become a poet. Garroway recognizes George’s valet, Frederick Mullett, an ex-convict who served time for burglary, though Mullett is now reformed. Mullett is engaged to former pickpocket Fanny Welch, who is somewhat less reformed.

George is invited into Molly’s home by her father, Sigsbee H. Waddington; Mr. Waddington, who has been influenced by Western films and novels, longs to go out West and takes a liking to George, since George is from East Gilead, Idaho. Though once wealthy, Mr. Waddington cannot afford to go out West because he is now financially dependent on his rich wife, Molly’s step-mother, socially ambitious Mrs. Waddington. She dislikes George, believing his morals are suspect because he lives in an unconventional artist neighborhood, and wants Molly to marry the tall and handsome Lord Hunstanton. However, Molly finds Lord Hunstanton stiff and loves George. Hamilton Beamish gets help for George from Madame Eulalie, Mrs. Waddington’s palmist and fortune teller, who tells Mrs. Waddington that disaster will strike if Molly marries Hunstanton. Beamish also falls in love with Madame Eulalie. Molly gets engaged to George, though Mrs. Waddington still dislikes him.

The Small Bachelor Plot. Wikipedia.org Retrieved on February 23, 2020.

Of course, more hijinks ensue in this fast-paced story.

I thoroughly enjoyed the audio version narrated by my favorite Jonathon Cecil, who crafts the best characters with his voices.

The story was a joy to listen to and made me laugh out loud. Wodehouse delivers everything I’ve come to expect in terms of a fun story.

 
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Posted by on February 23, 2020 in book review, British Lit, fiction, humor

 

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The Adventures of Sally

The-Adventures-of-Sally-2789701

When Sally Nichols inherits a fortune and leaves New York for a much dreamed of trip to France. She’s finally come of age and can use her inheritance. She’s the sort of girl every man falls for, through no fault of her own.

Soon she winds up in in London and gets roped into helping her hapless brother Philmore, who’s constantly bungling into financial difficulty whether it’s through a disastrous theatrical production or some hare-brained business venture. She meets red-haired Ginger, who falls for her, but whom she keeps at a distance prior to discovering that her fiancé has married. Shortly after unconsciously winning Ginger’s love, she meets his grouchy uncle on a train and he’s soon smitten. The story goes on to follow the ups and downs of Sally’s financial and romantic life. It’s a pleasant, witty story that had me laughing out loud.

I was a worried that I wouldn’t enjoy a P.G. Wodehouse book without Jeeves, but while I think the Jeeves stories are of a higher order, I did enjoy The Adventures of Sally.

I listened to the Jonathan Cecil’s narration and highly recommend that audiobook.

Quotable Quotes:

“And she’s got brains enough for two, which is the exact quantity the girl who marries you will need.”

“Boyhood, like measles, is one of those complaints which a man should catch young and have done with, for when it comes in middle life it is apt to be serious.”

“It seems to be one of Nature’s laws that the most attractive girls should have the least attractive brothers. Fillmore Nicholas had not worn well. At the age of seven he had been an extraordinarily beautiful child, but after that he had gone all to pieces; and now, at the age of twenty-five, it would be idle to deny that he was something of a mess.”

 

 
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Posted by on August 19, 2018 in book review, British Lit, British literature, fiction, humor, postaweek

 

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The Wings of the Dove

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It seems like I’ve been grudging through The Wings of the Dove by Henry James forever. Every summer and winter my friend Bill and I read a classic novel and discuss it online. Our last book was Zola’s Germinal, which was full of blood, sweat and tears. James’ writing is the opposite in every way imaginable. Zola was earthy and real. James is ethereal and intellectual. Zola crafted characters with whom I sympathized, even his villains had their reasons and adversity. I don’t like a single character in The Wings of the Dove.

I haven’t finished and though I’m just 30 pages from the finish line and have now given myself permission to skim, I dread my daily reading. The situation in Wings of the Dove is that Kate Croy can’t marry her love Merton Densher because he’s too poor. She lives with a rich aunt who’s going to marry her off well. When Milly, an orphaned American heiress with a terminal mystery disease arrives, Kate plots to get her lover to cozy up to Milly. She figures if Milly leaves Densher her fortune, then after Milly dies, which hopefully will be soon, Kate and Densher can marry. How charming.

It bugged me that we never know what Milly has. If it’s in the book it’s hidden amongst the long-winded writing that includes few concrete description. James wanted to convey the psychology of his vapid characters. I could not care less about what they thought. Also, I don’t think he succeeded in conveying true consciousness since most the time when I’m thinking, my mind is wandering. I may think about a work situation when I’m bored in a conversation or unable to listen at church. Whenever we’re privy to Kate or Milly or some other characters’ thoughts, they’re in the situation.

I thought Densher was weak, and hence unattractive, for buying into this insipid plot. I’d say the same for Kate, who didn’t realize her plan might not go as she figured. Had she never heard the cliché, “The best laid plans of mice and men often go awry”? Evidently not. Milly seemed like a will o’the wisp who floats through the story allowing herself to naively be taken advantage of.

I thought watching the movie would make reading easier or the characters more sympathetic, but it didn’t. I didn’t like the movie much either. While I read, I often just plowed through content to miss a lot. Sometimes I’d consult a reference on the story to see if I was missing something, but my take on the chapters captured all the key events.

I can’t wait to read something else. I know some people must love James or his work  wouldn’t be considered classic, but I don’t care for him at all.

Zzzzzzzz.

 
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Posted by on August 10, 2018 in American Lit, book review, classic, novel

 

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Parisian Charm School

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In Parisian Charm School Jamie Cat Callan provides an orientation to the uninitiated to the to élan of Paris. Her lessons on fashion, color, use of voice, flirtation and such explain why the French have such elegance and poise. In addition, she gives the names of tour guides and teachers with businesses that give unique experiences to English speakers.

The book is a fun read, that gives a romantic look at all things French. It’s far from a complete or sociological look at the City of Lights. I thoroughly enjoyed Callan’s writing, but realize that like any country France has its pros and cons and that a lot of the tours or experiences would be pricey. So remove your rose-colored glasses before you sell your house and move to Paris in search of amour.

 
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Posted by on May 16, 2018 in book review, non-fiction, Travel Writing

 

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The Ladies’ Paradise

Ladies Paradise

In November my book club read Émile Zola’s Au Bonheur des Dames which Bill Gallagher’s BBC TV series The Paradise was based on. I loved this book!

It’s quite a bit different, and darker than the BBC program. Denise, the heroine, comes to Paris after her father dies with her two brothers. They’d tried to make ends meet for a year after their father died, but finally had to see they’d never stay afloat in the countryside. Besides Jean, Denise’s teenage brother was dabbling in some dangerous liaisons that were getting him into trouble. Throughout the novel Denise faces greater hardships with higher stakes since her brothers depend on her financially than Denise Lovett on TV.

When they arrive at their uncle’s home cum shop, they find out he’s been having tough times like all the little shops due to the emergence of a white marble monster that’s revolutionizing and ravaging commerce. The Paradise keeps growing and Zola depicts it as a machine that almost has a life. It’s a machine that consumes — its employees, its rivals and in some cases its customers who spend more than they can afford. The machine creates strife and desire and seems unstoppable.

Denise is intrigued by the store and there is no where else for her to work. The uncle has a wife, daughter, shop assistant, who’s engaged to his daughter, and some servants. Zola shows a lot about the toll that the price wars with The Ladies’ Paradise, much more than in the TV program. Here lives are a t stake as I’m sure they really were.

In the store, the rivalry and back stabbing is high pitched. Most of the staff sleeps around and plot to get promotions by betraying colleagues. There’s little friendship in the store. The shoppers also seem to jockey for social position, which is all the more noted and crucial based on what you buy and where you shop. Those at the top of the social stratum have their own dressmakers and feel a sting when they learn that these dressmakers now get their silk from The Paradise.

Stealing is a huge problem and even wealthier women can’t resist and get caught. Pregnant women were drawn to stealing the most. Yet there is an attraction to the lush fabrics and fashions. Zola masterfully sets up a tension between the enticing beauty of the goods and the disastrous consequences the emporium has on the other shops. The Paradise gobbles up the neighborhood as it expands. We also see how wonderful the handmade goods were, how you could buy an umbrella with a hand-carved handle that looked like a parrot or some whimsical creature.

While I’ve enjoyed the BBC series, I found Zola’s writing, which I’ve been told isn’t his best, to be absorbing and exciting. I now want to read all 20 of his novels in his series Les Rougon-Macquart which chronicles the history of the legitimate and illegitimate sides of a French family.

According to my sources (i.e. Wikipedia) Octave Mouret’s family figures into the earlier books. Yet you can pick this novel up and not feel you missed anything.

 
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Posted by on December 3, 2014 in classic, French Lit

 

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Peony in Love

Peony-in-love

Lisa See’s novel Peony in Love is rather odd because about a quarter of the way into the story the protagonist dies. I wondered what was going on and how the story would continue and then I learned that most of the story is the story of a ghost, a hungry ghost.

Young Peony is the daughter of a well to do nobleman, who apparently loves his daughter and encourages her to become literate. Like all females, Peony’s forbidden to interact or even seen males outside her family. She’s eagerly preparing for her arranged marriage when her father hosts a multi-night performance of a Chinese Opera The Peony Pavilion. The women can watch from behind a screen separated from the men in the audience. The first night Peony slips out of the women’s area and encounters Ren, a dashing young man. They talk. They gaze lovingly into each others eyes. They pledge to see each other the next night.

Now Peony’s done for. She can only dream of Ren and after her second rendezvous becomes love sick. She won’t eat or sleep fearing that she’ll never be able to be with her true love. The doctor can do nothing and she wastes away, not knowing till after her family dresses her emaciated body in her wedding clothes and abandons her outside the family compound to waste a way and die outside, that her arranged husband was Ren. Custom demanded that the young girl die outside the family home to avoid bringing bad luck to the family. Sorrow and confusion result in Peony’s funeral tablet not getting properly dotted with ink so she’s left as a hungry ghost, doomed to wander the earth without peace.

Thus begins Peony’s haunting of Ren and his subsequent wives. Readers learn of the imaginative and rich beliefs the Chinese held about ghosts, how they must be fed and treated, how they can insinuate themselves into the lives of the living despite the clever crooked bridges that keep them out.

Readers also learn about the history of women writers during the thirty years when the Manchus defeated the Ming dynasty. It was a time of chaos and one good thing, perhaps the only one, was that during this upheaval men were so distracted by the political and social upheaval, women were allowed to venture outside, explore their surroundings, gather, discuss and write. Many women, whose ghosts Peony meets, were successful, published authors.

While there were times when I found it hard to care about the “life” of a ghost or what would happen to her ancestral tablet, I do applaud See’s creativity. I was able to keep reading, though I wasn’t as concerned with the ghost heroine as I had been with See’s flesh and blood ones. Still I recommend this novel, which makes the history of China come alive, to any lovers of the genre.

 
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Posted by on April 18, 2014 in historical fiction

 

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Chopsticks

chopsticks_01I saw a positive mention  of Chopsticks: a Novel on a list of notable Young Adult books. I sincerely wonder if I got the wrong Chopsticks. Perhaps there’s another book by the same name?

The Chopsticks I read, is an unusual novel as it’s told mostly through photos, IM messages, and improbable letters and brochures for performances. It’s the story of a teenage romance between a piano prodigy and an Argentinian exchange student who moves next door. Gloria, the prodigy, loses her ability to perform after her romance starts. She seems to have some sort of break down and she can only play “Chopsticks.”

The novel suffers for lack of prose, we never know more than the superficial. Frank, the love interest gets kicked out of school. Somehow he got into an elite private school that suffered a lot of bullying. His grades in most classes except art and ESL were low, which is hardly surprising given that he needed ESL. I know that’s a minor point, but why would anyone think someone from another country, who needs to take English as a Second Language would do well in American history in a class of elite native speakers. It was frustrating that so little of these conflicts was fully described. None of the characters seemed anything but cardboard. The only saving grace is that it reads fast as there’s so little to read.

The photos are okay, but nothing spectacular. Most graphic novels offer much more with their drawings.

The book may interest teens, but it’s not the sort of Young Adult work that appeals to older readers as well.

 
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Posted by on January 4, 2014 in YA

 

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Brideshead Revisited Background

I just love this book. I’m reading it for the third time and now want to know more about the references to history, wines, paintings, places and all. Imagine my delight to discover Book Drum’s collection of references of everything anyone would ever want to know about this masterpiece.

Thank God for the internet.

 
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Posted by on June 13, 2011 in British Lit

 

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Flipped

Wendelin Van Draanen’s novel for teens shows two takes on the same events, which neighbors Juli and Bryce experience. As soon as Bryce moves to the neighborhood, Juli is smitten. Bryce is definitely not. At all. Instead he’s annoyed. As they move from second to eighth grade the tables are turned.

Each chapter describes one main character’s view of the same events and people carefully showing how each person has a different take on life and how incomplete views warp our responses and opinions.

The story shows the ups and downs of being a child coping with school, peers, parents and grandparents. Although I sometimes found myself doubting that the dialog was realistic, I did enjoy this perceptive novel.

 
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Posted by on March 24, 2011 in fiction, teen lit

 

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