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Late again, but you would be too if you flew 17 hours to pull off a five-city road trip in America. Which I am doing. The jet lag just wore off, so:

Very Good, Jeeves (Jeeves, #4)Very Good, Jeeves by P.G. Wodehouse

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is my second time reading Wodehouse’s Jeeves stories, and the experience this time was pretty similar to the last one – it’s lightweight but fun. The stories are pretty formulaic – upper-class twit Bertie Wooster and his friends or relatives are presented with some sort of social dilemma (“social” as in high society), sometimes of their own making, to which Bertie’s valet Jeeves usually provides a clever solution that no one else thought of. But as the saying goes, what a formula! And really, it’s not about the formula so much as the presentation – in this case, vivid dialogue-driven characterization and fast-paced wit generously spiked with not-so-subtle social satire. I really should read more Wodehouse than I do, and this may inspire me to do so, although I’d like to try some of his other books besides the Jeeves stories next time out.

Why Is This Night Different from All Other Nights? (All the Wrong Questions, #4)Why Is This Night Different from All Other Nights? by Lemony Snicket

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is the fourth and final installment of Lemony Snicket’s All The Wrong Questions series, in which 13-year-old Snicket wraps up his mission in Stain’d-by-the-Sea to stop the mysterious villain Hangfire and his equally mysterious plot – although as usual, things don’t go as planned. In fact, they take a pretty dark turn here – partly because it’s a locked-room murder mystery (on a train!) and partly because Snicket typically laces his stories with darkness. In this case, he’s been hinting throughout the series that he’s been asking the wrong questions – and here we find out just how wrong he was, and how much a wrong decision can cost, no matter how good yr intentions. Despite leaving a couple of loose ends, overall it’s a consistent conclusion to a consistent series – a dark yet entertaining adventure.

For Your Eyes Only: James Bond 007For Your Eyes Only: James Bond 007 by Ian Fleming

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is the eighth Bond book and the first to be an anthology of short stories rather than a full-length novel. I tried revisiting the Bond books with Casino Royale and I found it didn’t quite work for me, but I came across a clearance-sale copy of this and thought I’d try Bond in a short-story format to see if it worked better. Result: yeah, kind of. Fleming still manages to spend too much time on detailed descriptions of people, places and stuff, and the frankly imperialist/misogynist mindset of Bondworld doesn’t play well in 2017 (not with me, anyway – others may find it refreshingly non-PC). On the other hand, Bond is more thoughtful in these stories as he ponders the nature of his job. Still, it says a lot that the two stories that work best are the ones that actually mess with the formula, particularly “Quantum Of Solace”, a Somerset Maugham tribute in which Bond listens to his host tell the story of a doomed marriage. Fleming knew how to tell a tale, but I can’t say I was inspired enough to revisit Bondworld again.

The SundialThe Sundial by Shirley Jackson

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is my third time reading Ms Jackson, and at this rate I’d be forgiven for assuming that all of her books take place in elaborately large houses. However, there the similarity ends. This one is owned by the eccentric Halloran family, whose even more eccentric Aunt Fanny gets lost on the grounds one day and receives a prophetic vision from her late father: the world is going to end soon, and only those who stay inside the Halloran mansion will be spared. Once her sister, the matriarch Orianna Halloran, decides to take Fanny seriously (albeit for self-serving reasons), the novel essentially builds up the suspense around the central question (is the prophecy real, or is Aunt Fanny crazy?), but the real focus is on how the Hallorans, their two main servants – Essex and Miss Ogilvie – and a small number of houseguests make plans for the end, and how they relate to each other, as well as to the people in the nearby village. This being a Jackson novel, they don’t relate well. At all. It’s slightly confounding yet very compelling. It’s also unexpectedly funny, which helps to lighten what might otherwise be a grim family drama. Good characterization, good set-up, good suspense hook to keep you reading – I enjoyed it, yes.

The DoubleThe Double by Fyodor Dostoyevsky

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

It’s been a long time since I last read Dostoyevsky, and I’ve seen some quotes of his floating around enough that I decided it was time to read some more of him. The Double may not have been the best place to revisit him – it’s a short but surreal tale about a government clerk named Goldyakin who is going mad (which here also seems to mean he’s a complete social maladroit whose tendency to commit faux pas is getting worse). As the title suggests, he encounters his doppelganger (also named Goldyakin) who is everything he’s not – confident, extroverted, etc – and ends up working in his department, and steadily taking over his life. That’s a simple synopsis of a scattered, jumbled narrative from the scattered, jumbled point of view of Goldyakin, which makes it a real challenge to read and understand – indeed, plenty of essays have been written about the book discussing what actually happens, what it all means, and whether the double is even real. Yet at the center of it all is a very strong character in Goldyakin – he may be crazy, but I ended up feeling sympathetic to him by the end. So while this was hard work, I didn’t come away empty-handed.

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