Tuesday, February 2, 2016

What I Read in November 2015 Part II

What I Read in November 2015 Part II ...

AmberwellAmberwell by D.E. Stevenson-- Historical Fiction

Amberwell, an estate on the west coast of Scotland, has been in the Ayerton family for several generations passing from father to son in an unbroken line. Each generation follows the last in the tradition of updating the estate so that it has become larger and more beautiful over the years. In the late 1920s five young Ayertons inhabit the nursery at Amberwell raised by Nannie. The first Mrs. Ayerton having died after giving birth to two boys and the second have no interest in her three daughters. There's Roger, the heir, who loves Amberwell with all his heart; Tom, who wants to join the navy; Cynthia, beautiful and shallow who knows how to please; Nell, sensitive and shy and Anne, the free spirited baby of the family. As they grow they are influenced to make decisions based on their feelings about the estate. One by one they leave the nest until one is left behind to care lovingly for the home they all love. When the world is plunged into the darkness of war, Amberwell becomes a beacon for the Ayerton children.

I liked this book well enough. It took a very long time to get into. I put it down for a month and didn't miss it. When I got back to it, I couldn't put it down until I found out what happened to the missing sibling. It seemed kind of strange that the reader isn't clued in on what happened. The story ends up being told from Nell's limited point of view. You have to read the entire book and remember characters from the beginning to discover what happened to that sibling. I also wanted to know how the boys fared during the war. I was a little surprised by what happened. The writing is decent and the story is very light. There's a racist phrase that pops up now and again and a very minor amount of wartime violence mentioned.

The characters are largely unmemorable and I don't love them or really care about them too much now I finished the story. There are some loose threads that will pick up in Summerhills but my library doesn't have that one and I don't really care. I did sympathize with Nell about her love for her home and I liked her for her goodness but she was rather a Mary Sue sort of character. Roger seemed a decent chap until tragedy got in the way, Tom is a good man and good brother and though his character development is told rather than shown, I liked it. Cynthia doesn't get much page time as an adult and remains as shallow as her personality. Amberwell is the real star of the book.

Angel Cake by P.G. Wodehouse-- Historical Fiction/romance

Angel Cake Cyril Fotheringay-Phipps, aka "Barmy," is not known for his brains. He's toiling away as a clerk in a hotel in Maine when he inherits a fortune from his late grandfather. Barmy's boss wants him to buy a hotel in Ohio but when Barmy reveals the modest amount of his inheritance, he's tossed out on his ear. He meets up with Mervyn Potter, a Hollywood star turned Broadway actor and habitual drunk, and follows Mervyn to New York. Mervyn convinces Cyril that Broadway is where it's at and soon Cyril is being talked into funding a Broadway show by the show's producers. He's about to run away when he spies the beautiful secretary, "Dinty" Moore, the woman a fortune teller told him he'd marry. He fell in love at first sight during an earlier encounter in which he nearly burned her head off and doesn't want to lose her again. Poor Cyril finds himself in over his head with the temperamental Broadway types. When Mervyn goes on the wagon, the show is doomed. How Cyril gets out of this fix is filled with Wodehouse characteristic hijinks and hilarity.

As usual, the story takes a little while to get going. By the last third, I had a hard time putting it down. I had to know how poor Cyril got himself out of the fix he was in. The plot doesn't have a completely grand over-the-top screwball moment but there are two hilarious scenes of the type Wodehouse was known for. The romance is a little silly and didn't appeal to me much. It was mostly one-sided and was mostly secondary to the Broadway plot.

I didn't find the characters engaging or engaging. The men are either idiots (Barmy and Mervyn) or unscrupulous and rude. Barmy is sweet. He's a member of the Drones Club and it seems to be a requirement not to have any brains. He's aware that he's not bright, hence his nickname, but he's sweet and caring. He finally finds his voice towards the end. Mervyn is a horrible person. When he's drunk he goes on the most wild escapades, dragging poor Barmy along with him. He's so egotistical and stupid that he pins the blame on poor Barmy. I cringed at just about every scene Mervyn was in. The Broadway producers are portrayed as tough talking, money grubbing, egotistical, rude and stupid. None of them are appealing in any way. It's the women who shine in this book. Dinty seems like a sweet girl but she can be tough when she wants to be. I liked her a lot. Fanny is tough but not very likable. She seems to enjoy getting one up on her husband more than the idea of helping people.

This isn't Wodehouse's best but it's a pleasant, light story to pass the time. It's just what I needed.

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