Friday, February 24, 2012


PikePike by Benjamin Whitmer

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Reformed criminal Pike's life is turned upside down when his estranged daughter dies and a twelve year old granddaughter he never knew existed is tossed in his lap. Pike and partner Rory head to Cincinnati to find out what happened to his daughter. Meanwhile, a dirty Cincinatti cop named Kreiger has interests in Pike's daughter and granddaughter...

Benjamin Whitmer's debut novel is a bleak noir tale that explores the Kentucky backwoods and seedy underbelly of Cincinatti in the old days of 1985. He does equally well depicting the redneck way of life as well as the ghetto life of pimps, junkies, and whores.

Pike reminds me of an older version of Richard Stark's Parker. He'll do whatever it takes to get the job done, dragging Rory along with him. It's essentially a detective story, Pike digging into his dead daughter's past as a junkie and prostitute, but it also feels like a western at times. The violence is frequent and brutal.

As I said before, Pike reminds me of Richard Stark's Parker and I can see Stark's influence in the writing at times, but the primary authors Pike brings to mind are Jim Thompson and Chester Himes. Pike's struggles with his past remind me of Thompson quite a bit and I couldn't help thinking of Chester Himes when Pike and Rory went to Cincinatti. They reminded me of redneck outlaw versions of Coffin Ed and Gravedigger Jones. Normally I don't go for stories written in the present tense but I feel Whitmer used it well here.

Any complaints? Not really. I wouldn't have minded more of Pike's granddaughter Wendy and a little more of Kreiger but those are pretty nitpicky complaints.

That's about all I can say without blowing any of the plot. The book is short but really powerful. Much like a good punk rock song, it was perfect at the length it was and any more would probably have been too much. It's an easy four star book.

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Thursday, February 23, 2012

The Wolf Gift

The Wolf GiftThe Wolf Gift by Anne Rice

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

A young reporter narrowly escapes being mauled by a man wolf and soon finds himself changing into a man wolf by the light of the moon. He begins taking the law into his own hands and soon has a horde of police and scientists looking for him, as well as others of his kind...

Ever run into an old flame and try to rekindle the spark? For years, I was a devout Anne Rice fan, wolfing down the Vampire Chronicles and the Mayfair Witches books with reckless abandon. After a few years of that, I started seeing changes in our relationship. After a few disappointing books like Blackwood Farm, Anne and I parted ways. Late last year, Anne's path crossed with mine once again when I learned of the Wolf Gift. Could we recapture the old magic?

NO! And here's what went down.

I really wanted to like this book but there are many reasons why I didn't. First off, I didn't care about the main character at all. His name is Reuben, he's 23, and he drives a Porsche. While I'm sure there are likeable 23 year old Porsche drivers, Reuben is not one of them. He's a really bland character with no real traits other than inexplicably having sex with women who aren't his girlfriend and talking like a 45 year old philosophy major.

The rest of the characters are similarly thin. I know I'm supposed to think it's interesting that Reuben's brother is a priest or his mother is a doctor but they are pretty much definied by their jobs. The other man wolves are pretty interchangeable as characters.

The writing isn't very good either. It's clunky and chock full of infodumps. Maybe I'm looking back at Anne Rice's previous work through the rose colored glasses of nostalgia but I can't remember her earlier work being this badly written.

All that being said, I did find some things of value in The Wolf's Gift. I actually like the mythology she's created for her werewolves, the Chrism and so forth, as well as the origin of the species. I also like that Reuben was accepting of the change and started acting like a werewolf version of Batman. The rest of the book just didn't do it for me. It was obviously meant to the be the first book in a series and the climax of the story occurs way before the end.

Sorry Anne, maybe we'll try again in another ten years. 2 stars.

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Tuesday, February 21, 2012

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

The Girl With the Dragon TattooThe Girl With the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Disgraced journalist Mikael Blomkvist is hired to solve the decades-old murder of Harriet Vanger, member of one of the wealthiest families in Sweden. Aided by a tattooed, antisocial hacker named Lisabeth Salander, Blomkvist unearths horrible skeletons lurking in the Vanger family closet...

For a few years now, I've been avoiding The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. Since so many people told me I just had to read it, many of them non-readers, I assumed it was a lot of over-hyped, dumbed-down crap. Well, I may have been wrong. All hype, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is a damn good book and I feel it goes beyond just being a mystery.

Larsson creates some memorable characters. We've got Mikael Blomkvist, the tarnished journalist, Lisabeth Salander, bad ass hacker, for the leads, both multi-dimensional characters. Neither are by any means perfect but I liked them just the same. The Vanger family and the staff of the Millennium aren't as well drawn as the leads but Ericka Berger and some of the Vangers are good characters in their own right.

I'll be honest. It took a little while for me to get moving but I was enthralled pretty early on. You wouldn't have thought I'd be that interesting in what could have been a tedious subject to read about, namely researching family archives for hints. Someone Larsson managed to grab me, though.

There isn't a lot of violence but what there is is pretty brutal. The hacking was pretty well done nad not completely unbelievable. I guess what really sold the book for me was that I really believed in the characters. Both of them are pretty flawed but completely believable.

I'd be lying if I said I didn't have a few minor complaints. Aside from the pace, I felt like Larsson threw in some needless details. I didn't need to know the brands of a lot of products or what the characters were eating. I also thought that Mikael Blomkvist being a sort of James Bond in regard to the ladies was a tad unbelievable. Honestly, those are my only two complaints.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo deserves a lot of the hype it gets. Now go out and read it if you haven't already!

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Thursday, February 16, 2012

Empire State

Empire StateEmpire State by Adam Christopher

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Two battling superheroes open a rift into a parallel dimension. On the other side of the rift is The Empire State, an imperfect copy of New York. Empire State detective Rad Bradley's search for a missing woman brings him into conflict with forces from New York. But do they mean to save the Empire State or destroy it?

Why I liked this book:
Parallel universes are awesome, aren't they? One out of ever five Star Trek episodes uses them in some way. The Empire State is a copy of New York that reminds me of The Dark City. Many New Yorkers have analogues in the Empire State. In the course of this story, many of them meet their doppelgangers. Some people's doppelgangers were not very dissimilar from the originals.

The setting is a pseudo-New York of the 1930's, with robots, detectives, prohibition, and a war against an Unseen enemy. Ray Bradley is just a gumshoe that isn't all that bright and keeps finding himself in the thick of trouble. The two superheroes, Skyguard and Science Pirate, after pretty interesting. Nimrod and Carson were both characters I'd like to see more from. I had no idea where the central mystery was going.

Why I did not think this book was amazing:
Let me take a deep breath and... for a book that's promoted as a superhero book, there isn't nearly enough super hero action. The logic of how New York and the Empire State are connected was inconsistent from chapter to chapter. None of the characters were particularly well developed. I know I was supposed to care when the Skyguard's identity was revealed but I didn't. I felt like a lot was going on and it never really came together into one cohesive story. In that way, it kind of reminded me of Stephen Hunt's Court of the Air.

I think if the book had been more focused and about a hundred pages shorter, I would have liked it a whole lot more. It had it's moments but felt plodding and bloated in places. It's not a bad book, though. It's pretty entertaining if you can stomach the slow parts. I've giving this one a 3-.

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Wednesday, February 15, 2012


Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human CadaversStiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers by Mary Roach

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Mary Roach writes about what happens when you donate your body to science. Hilarity ensues. Well, maybe not hilarity but it is a good dose of edutainment.

Way back around the time the earth's crust cooled and life spread across the planet, late 1994 or early 1995, I should think, I visited a chiropractic college with the rest of my Advanced Biology class. This trip was memorable to me for three reasons:

1) It was the first time I experienced an excruciating caffeine withdrawal headache
2) It was the first time I saw a human cadaver
3) I smoked five of my classmates playing pool in the student lounge at lunch.

Obviously, #2 is the one pertinent to this review, although I am still quite proud of #3. The cadaver I saw had its face covered and its skin looked shriveled, somewhat like beef jerky. My 17 year old mind briefly wondered where the man had come from before my hormone-fueled brain returned my attention to the nubile young ladies in the room. Anyway, let's get down to review business.

Mary Roach manages to take a subject that give many people the heebie-jeebies, donating one's remains to science, and makes it humorous at times. She covers such topics as learning surgical techniques via practicing on cadavers, human decomposition, ingesting human remains for medicinal purpose, using corpses in car crash tests, using cadavers for ballistics tests, crucifixion experiments, and even head transplants.

While it's not ideal meal-time reading, I didn't find it as stomach churning as some reviewers did. The talk of decomposition and quack remedies of the Middle ages were fascinating and I was really interested in the head and brain transplant experiments. Frankenstein's monster doesn't seem as unrealistic as it did yesterday.

Apparently, necrophilia is only illegal in 16 states. Imagine if that was one of your criteria when choosing a place to live. "Honey, I'd love to live in Florida but then we couldn't have our sexy parties..."

Actually, the funeral bits were also pretty enlightening. Did you know they have to suture the anus shut to keep nastiness from leaking out during a funeral? Or that dead people can fart from gas trapped in their intestines? Or that they insert special caps underneath the eyelids to keep them from suddenly opening? Fascinating stuff.

Stiff is a very interesting read for those interested in what happens when you donate your body to science, softened somewhat by Roach's sense of humor. Three easy stars.

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Sabbath's Theater

Sabbath's TheaterSabbath's Theater by Philip Roth

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

After the death of his longtime mistress, disgraced former puppeteer Mickey Sabbath sinks deeper and deeper into a prison of depression...

First off, Sabbath's Theater won the National Book award in 1995. It's not surprising since it was superbly written. On the other hand, it's also dirtier than a stack of used Longarm's. Seriously. Every time I thought it couldn't get any dirtier, Sabbath did something like masturbate on his mistress's grave.

There really isn't much of a plot. Sabbath's mistress dies and his life comes apart, forcing him to explore his past. Good thing he has the memories of unbelievably numerous conquests to dwell on. Sabbath's such a pervert that I couldn't seem to read more than fifty pages of this at a time. I cringed when a friend took pity on him only to catch him in the process of masturbating to a picture of his college age daughter.

There are themes and other novely things in Sabbath's Theater but it's hard to see past the river of semen to get to them. It seems to be about how people are unable to escape the prisons they create for themselves. And fornication.

It's a testament to Philip Roth's skill as a writer that he made me feel sorry for a dirty old man like Mickey Sabbath. Actually, I don't think there's a character in this book I liked.

I wonder if the next National Book award winner I read will have this much smut in it...

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They Shoot Horses, Don't They?

They Shoot Horses, Don’t They? (Serpent's Tail Classics)They Shoot Horses, Don’t They? by Horace McCoy

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Robert and Gloria enter a marathon dance contest with $1000 as the top prize. Too bad Gloria thinks about death more than winning...

Horace McCoy is bleak enough to be one of Jim Thompson's drinking buddies. This tale is really slim but also kind of exhausting. McCoy's depiction of a dance contest that lasts over a month is hellish and he paints a depressing picture of life during the Great Depression. See what I did there?

It's a pretty powerful story. You know how it ends in the first few pages but getting there is still an ordeal. I felt for Gloria at times but others times I was waiting for her to get to it. She wasn't a likeable character but I did feel sorry for her when she wasn't being a bitch.

That's pretty much all I have to say. If Jim Thompson wrote a book about a marathon dance contest with a suicidal contestant, it would look a lot like this.

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Sunday, February 12, 2012

Holy Sh*t! The World's Weirdest Comic books

Holy Sh*t!: The World's Weirdest Comic BooksHoly Sh*t!: The World's Weirdest Comic Books by Paul Gravett

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Holy Sh*t! The World's Weirdest Comic Books is a collection of 60-ish cover shots and accompanying explanations of some really weird comic books.

Actually, I thought the weirdness level in this was lacking, probably because I've already read Comix: A History of Comic Books in America. Still, it was an entertaining read never the less.

Most of the comics depicted in this book were shocking for the time period in which they were released but a little tame by today's standards. Some are still pretty offensive, though. The subject matter ranges from foreign versions of familiar superheroes to highly controversial topics like race and sex issues.

This is one of those books that you pretty much have to experience for yourself. I will, however, list some of the books I found to be the most memorable:
Reagan's Raiders
Godzilla vs. Barkley (yes, Charles Barkley)
My Friend Dahmer
Genus (lesbian anthropomorphic unicorns)
Trucker Fags in Denial
Amputee Love
The Barn of Fear (EC style stories featuring farm animals)
La Donna Ragna (a female porno version of Spiderman)
All-Negro Comics
Fast Willie Jackson (a black version of Archie drawn by an Archie artist)
Leather Nun
Mr. A (drawn by Spiderman's Steve Ditko)
Hansi: The Girl Who Loved the Swastika

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American vampire volume 3

American Vampire Vol. 3American Vampire Vol. 3 by Scott Snyder

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

In the third American Vampire volume, the vampires enter World War II as Henry goes to Taipan and encounters a Japanese breed of vampire and Cash and Book go to Germany to find a cure for vampirism and instead encounter a brigade of Nazi vampires.

American Vampire 3 is more of the same greatness that I've come to expect from the American Vampire series. In the first story, Henry and company go to a Japanese island and go up against a breed of Japanese vampire with Skinner Sweet in their midst and it's up to Pearl to save her man. It's a great story and Snyder fleshes out his vampire mythology even more. Not only that, it plants the seeds for later stories. Snyder seems to be committed to American Vampire for the long haul, judging by the seeds sown.

The second story brings back the characters of Book and Cash from Volume 2 and sends them off to Germany. The brigade of vampire nazis reminded me of Robert McCammon's Wolf's Hour for some reason, probably the combination of World War II and supernatural creatures. I love that Snyder introduced yet another breed of vampire in this tale, possibly the progenitors of the species. It tied up some loose ends and also planted seeds for future tales, something that Snyder is proving adept at. He never closes a door without first opening a window.

American Vampire has proven itself to be one of the best comics going today and this volume is no exception. If you like your vampires brutal and bloody and not sparkly whiners, this is the series for you!

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American Vampire volume 2

American Vampire, Vol. 2American Vampire, Vol. 2 by Scott Snyder

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Las Vegas police chief Cash McCogan has a murderer to find and all signs point to Jim Smoke, the man who likely was responsible for the death of McCogan's father. Meanwhile, some mystery men approach Pearl with a deal...

After the thrill ride that was the first American Vampire volume, I was jonesing for more. While this one wasn't quite what I expected, it more than delivered the goods. I like that Pearl wasn't swept under the rug after the first volume and that the series isn't all about Skinner Sweet.

Snyder's pacing is perfect for the story and it tempts me to give his Batman run a try. I love the art style in this. When I saw Rafal Aluquerque's name on the first volume, I was skeptical, but his art has improved in leaps and bounds since his run on Blue Beetle.

The main story, that of Cashel McCogan, felt like it was written for me. The hard-boiled Las Vegas police chief teams up with some federal agents and stumbled upon a plot involving secret financiers of the Boulder Dam and vampires galore. I like that Snyder continues to develop his vampire mythology with different varieties of vampire with different weaknesses.

While Pearl is in the background for a part of the book, she takes center stage at the end and delivers an orgy of violence ending for the volume. I wasn't completely sold on Pearl until then. Now, I'm dying to forgo housework in order to read American Vampire 3.

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Saturday, February 11, 2012

Dames, Dolls, and Delinquents

Dames, Dolls & Delinquents: A Collector's Guide to Sexy Pulp Fiction PaperbacksDames, Dolls & Delinquents: A Collector's Guide to Sexy Pulp Fiction Paperbacks by Gary Lovisi

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Dames, Dolls, & Delinquents is a collection of sexy pulp covers from the 50's and 60's. That's all the description you need.

DD&D is 223 pictures of pulp fiction covers featuring women in various states of undress, much like Gary Lovisi's other book that I've read, Bad Girls Need Love too. While the books have similar subject matter, I only noticed a few covers overlapping between editions.

This book has quite a variety of covers, from lesbian pulp to fetish pulp to the Hard Case Crime series. It's fascinating to see what got published back in the day.

All in all, I preferred Bad Girls Need Love Too to this volume. For the most part, the art wasn't as good. While the prices of the vintage paperbacks in the collector's market was interesting, it didn't make up for some of the lackluster covers.

That being said, some of the covers were quite good. If you like lurid pulp art, this is definitely worth an hour or so of your time.

I'd like to read the following books based on title and/or cover:
Satan Was a Lesbian
Forbidden Fruit
In and Out
Sorority Snob
Adam and Two Eves
Dance-Hall Dyke
12 Chinks and a Woman
Satan is a Woman
Passion's Greatest Trap
Warped Desires
Never Trust a Rich Bitch
Dangerous Dolls Must Die
Corpses Ain't Smart
Angels Bruise Easy
The Girl Who Killed Things

and many more.

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Friday, February 10, 2012

Nothing More than Murder

Nothing More Than MurderNothing More Than Murder by Jim Thompson

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

John Wilmot, part-owner of a troubled theater, and his estranged wife hatch a scheme to fake her death for the insurance money. The plan seems to go off without a hitch, but pressure mounts as the wolves come after John from every angle...

This sojourny into Jim Thompson's cheerful word is much the same as some of the others. A man hatches a plan and then comes apart as the pressure builds. John, his wife Elizabeth, and his pseudo-mistress Carol fake Elizabeth's death, John and Carol having rock solid alibis. Or so it seemed at the time.

Thompson mines the seedy underbelly of the movie theater industry for a rich vein of noir gold in this one. As the wheels come off the plan, you feel for Wilmot as he makes misstep after misstep and can't do anything to stop it. The final twist at the end is what bumped this up to four star territory for me.

The writing is stark and powerful, just what you expect from Jim Thompson. I liked that Thompson himself makes a cameo appearance in this story. As usual, Thompson has some great lines, like What smells good in the store may stink in the stewpot.

I'd rate this one slightly lower than Hell of a Woman but higher than a lot of Jim Thompson's other books. I'd call it a low 4 or a 3+.

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Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Suicide Squeeze

Suicide SqueezeSuicide Squeeze by Victor Gischler

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

In 1954, Teddy Folger had a Joe DiMaggio baseball card autographed by Joe DiMaggio, Marilyn Monroe, and Billy Wilder. It was supposedly destroyed in a fire but it seems that it survived. Loser Conner Samson is hired to repossess Folger's boat and gets caught in a web of deceit and murder. Will Conner survive long enough to collect his fee?

First off, this wasn't the type of book I was expecting. My first exposure to Victor Gishler, or The Gisch as I am now referring to him, was The Deputy. This book has little in common with The Deputy. It feels more like a comedic Donald Westlake caper or something by Carl Hiassen.

The story is pretty good. A Japanese businessman gets wind that Folger's card may not have perished in flames and sends his people to America to find it. Complicating matters are Conner Samson trying to repo Teddy's boat, Teddy's ex-wife, former NSA agent, and gamblers Teddy owes money to. Throw in Conner's nympho pseudo-girlfriend named Tyranny and there you go.

Twists and turns abound. Every time I thought I knew who would end up with the card, they'd wind up dead. For a story with a lot of laughs, there was also a lot of bloodshed, especially in the last fifty or sixty pages.

There's not a lot else to say. It's a funny story with plenty of action but not what I was expecting from The Gisch. If you've never read Victor Gischler before, I'd go with The Deputy before this one. Still, Suicide Squeeze will probably go over well with fans of Westlake or Hiassen.

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Saturday, February 4, 2012


RaylanRaylan by Elmore Leonard

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

US Marshal Raylan Givens investigates a kidney stealing ring, acts as a bodyguard to a beautiful coal mining executive, and tracks down a missing college girl named Jackie Nevada whose a poker player and possibly a bank robber.

Bad Pun Alert: I've only seen the first season of the show starring Timothy Olyphant but I felt reading this book was Justified since I was already aware of Raylan from having read Pronto years ago.

Raylan purports to be a novel but it feels more like three linked novellas. The three cases aren't directly connected but do reference each other and feature some of the same characters. As near as I can tell, only a few characters from Justified are prominently featured: Boyd Crowder, Dewey Crowe, and Art. Ava and Winona have cameo appearances but don't do a whole lot.

Of the three cases, I'd say the first was my favorite. Kidneys being stolen seemed kind of hokey until I got into the story and Raylan did his thing. Layla was a pretty interesting foil to our lawman. The second case, Raylan acting as a bodyguard to Carol Conlan, was pretty good but did more to flesh out Harlan than it did anything else. Boyd Crowder was good in it, of course. The third case was almost as good as the first and it did manage to tie together a couple plot threads from the other two. Funny how everyone but Delroy Lewis knew how that was going to turn out.

From what I've read, Elmore Leonard gave an ARC of Raylan to the writers of Justified and told them to mine it for parts. If they use the parts I think they will, the next couple seasons of Justified are going to be pretty spectacular.

So, how do I justify giving this a four? It felt a little stiff in places compared to the earlier Elmore Leonards I've recently read, Swag and 52 Pickup. It's also a little short at less than 270 pages. I also caught a couple editing mistakes, like maybe this was rushed out to coincide with the third season of Justified. All in all, I've got no big complaints. Raylan should appeal to fans of Justified and Elmore Leonard alike.

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Friday, February 3, 2012

Right ho, Jeeves!

Right Ho, JeevesRight Ho, Jeeves by P.G. Wodehouse

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The 2012 re-read

Gussie Fink-Nottle is in love with Madeline Bassett but can't seem to talk to her. Madeline Bassett is in love with Gussie Fink-Nottle but thinks Bertie Wooster wants to marry her. Bertie's cousin Angela was engaged to Tuppy Glossop but they had a bust-up over whether or not Angela saw a shark. Can Jeeves put them all back together? He might have been able to, had he and Bertie not had a falling out over Bertie's white mess jacket...

First off, this review will hardly be unbiased. My love for P.G. Wodehouse is such that if the zombie apocalypse occured and Wodehouse came staggering toward me with a lust for brains, I would be completely unwilling to shoot him.

The second full-length Jeeves and Wooster novel is a big improvement over the first. The writing is crisper, the similes even more hilarious, and Jeeves and Wooster function like a well-oiled machine. Once again, the rift between Jeeves and Wooster was used as a plot device, more effectively than in Thank You, Jeeves.

As usual, quotable lines are in abundance. As usual, I did not write any of them down while I was reading.

"Lack of appetite? I'm as hollow as the Grand Canyon!"

"The exquisite code of politeness of the Woosters prevented me clipping her one on the ear-hole."

The strength of the Jeeves and Wooster books is that Bertie is a bit of a fathead, and he performs the role admirably in Right ho, Jeeves. Bertie thinking he could be as good as Jeeves at solving problems? Pshaw, I say! Once things are suitably muddled, Jeeves saves the day, as he always does. I do not consider the previous sentence a spoiler since it happens in every Jeeves book.

Funny moments abount, many of them centering on a drunken Gussie Fink-Nottle. Aunt Dahlia is in fine form. Tuppy, Angela, and Madeline Bassett were neglible but still had their moments.

Right Ho, Jeeves, the second Jeeves and Wooster novel, is a much better read than the first. Wodehouse is the master of the bumbling romantic comedy. Four easy stars.

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