This collection of ten short stories, also published under the title He Rather Enjoyed It, is devoted to the escapades of one Stanley Featherstonehaugh Ukridge, who also features in 13 other shorts (collected elsewhere) and the novel Love Among the Chickens. Because the stories in this book share a number of characters in common—besides the S.F.U. himself and his oft-exasperated biographer James “Corky” Corcoran—and thanks to other interrelated details, it almost holds together as a novel. That it doesn’t quite manage to do so is due mostly to the chaotic nature of its central character and the side-splittingly funny episodes into which his life seems fated to divide itself.
In Book 2 of the Leviathan trilogy, an alternate-history version of World War I continues to play out between two great powers of Europe: the Clankers, whose war machines have advanced at an accelerated rate to include walking tanks and helicopter drones, as well as planes, submarines, and battleships; and the Darwinists, who have replaced mechanical technology with bio-engineered monstrosities such as the whale-sized, hydrogen-breathing airbeast Leviathan, known to our protagonists as home.
This novel-length installment in the Jeeves-Wooster adventures is an odd duck in several ways. The first thing you notice is that it is narrated in the third person, rather than in the voice of playboy Bertie or his manservant Jeeves. Second, while Bertie is frequently mentioned, he doesn’t appear in this story. Jeeves has been loaned to the former Bill Belfry, now styled the 9th Earl of Rowcester (pronounced just like “Roaster”). Third, World War II has happened; the 1950s have arrived; and, in case 1950s U.K. history is a mystery to you, British society has undergone a bloodless revolution of the socialist type. The time of the idle rich is over. Chinless wonders with inherited titles, mansions, and real estate no longer have the resources to live high on the hog without working for a living. The good Lord giveth, but the tax man taketh away.
One of my fellow audio-book enthusiasts put me on the scent of the hilarious series collectively known as “Jeeves and Wooster.” These are a series of novels and short stories poking satirical fun at an idle rich young Englishman named Bertie Wooster, whose valet Jeeves leads him around by the nose but makes it worthwhile by always knowing what to do in any awkward situation. These stories were published in book form starting in 1917, though some of them had appeared in magazines as far back as 1911. The series continued all the way to 1974, a year before the author’s death. And so Jeeves and Wooster lived a full life in real time! That’s a long time for one author to be writing stories about the same characters, what?
Book Four in the awesome Fablehaven series is — do I need to say it? — awesome. It begins with Kendra Sorenson being kidnapped by a magical creature whose nature is so fiendish, the thought of it could keep you awake all night. How can you trust anybody in a world with stingbulbs in it? A stingbulb is a rare fruit covered in venomous spines. Once it pricks you, it turns into an exact clone of you, including most of your memories, and then it follows the first instructions given it until the bitter end.
Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series is part of the bedrock of the Book Trolley’s growing list of books to read after Harry Potter. Stephen Baxter is a science-fiction novelist, active since the early 1990s, whose forty-odd books I had never read or heard of until I found this book on CD, narrated by the talented Michael Fenton Stevens. Pratchett specializes in examining the nature of our civilization through the lens of a silly, off-bubble fantasy world. Baxter, I take it, likes to play with ideas related to time travel, alternate history, and parallel worlds. Put these two creative minds together, and you get a fascinating world-building experiment that shows what might happen to mankind if (or maybe when) we suddenly figure out how to “step” from one possible Earth to another.
The author of The Various, Celandine and Winter Wood was kind enough to send me a copy of his latest book after it was released in the U.K. In the U.S., the book won’t be released until July 13, 2010. Mark that date on your calendar, kiddos. Or better yet, pre-order it. If you’re a boy who likes fantasy featuring guys like you, or a girl (like one I know) who prefers stories where the main characters are boys, get this book. If the climax of the Harry Potter series fulfilled all your hopes for a desperate battle of survival in a ruined school, get this book. If you’re concerned about what might happen to mankind if the polar ice-caps melt and the oceans rise, get this book. If you like to squirm like a hooked worm while villains menace and suspense builds, get this book. If you’ve ever wondered whether your farts could be used as a weapon, get this book. Have I missed anybody? That’s all right. Get this book anyway and give it to someone who fits one of these descriptions. Then look for them a day or two later with their nails bitten to the quick and a gleam of haunted triumph in their eyes.
These three books are now available in a single-volume edition titled Nanny McPhee, in honor of the 2006 motion picture that is more or less based on them. I am stubbornly refusing to put that title above this review, however, because the name Nanny McPhee never once appears in these books, and the poor author is no longer around to say anything about it.
Richard Adams, the author of Watership Down, has called this book an anthropomorphic fantasy. His own book is another example of the type: fantasies that get inside the minds of animals, that explore their relationships and experiences as if they were people–yet in a grown-up, semi-realistic way. I mean, the animals act mostly like animals. They dont walk on their hind legs, wear clothes, drive cars, and so forth. But they talk to each other, have feelings and beliefs and conflicts, and draw you into their world of mystery, danger, and adventure.
This book includes an original story from the Enchanted Forest as well as 9 other short stories from every stage of Wredes writing career, most of them previously published. The stories represent an entertaining mixture of styles, and the authors note gives an intriguing explanation about how each was written. Lovers of fantasy and fairy tale, as well as aspiring young writers, really must read this book.