Home : Ex Libris : 1 January 1997

ex libris reviews

1 January 1997

The reviews contained in this page originally appeared in a precursor of ex libris reviews called Will & Jane's Book Page. It did not have a monthly format, being just a set of steadily lengthening pages on what we'd been reading. It was split into monthly sections for convenience when ex libris was launched in August of 1997.


Books to Read Aloud

by Will Duquette

Feet of Clay
By Terry Pratchett

This is the latest of Terry Pratchett's Discworld novels, and the third about Sam Vimes and Corporal (now Captain) Carrot of the Ankh-Morkpork City Watch. The earlier two are Guards, Guards and Men At Arms. Terry Pratchett is always good.

How to Murder the Man of Your Dreams
By Dorothy Cannell

Actually, we didn't get through this one, though I finished it later by myself. Cannell's Ellie Haskell mysteries are fun and enjoyable, but are the literary equivalent of souffles: if you don't read fast enough, they fall flat. Much of her humor depends on embarrassing situations and foolish people, and it's just a little too painful when read slowly.

Lake Wobegon Days
By Garrison Keillor

Garrison Keillor understands oral storytelling, and is simply a delight to read aloud. This was our second trip through Lake Wobegon.

By Lois McMaster Bujold

This is the latest in Bujold's series of Miles Vorkosigan space operas. Bujold works fairly well aloud; we've read Barrayar and Cetaganda this way as well.

The First Rumpole Omnibus
By John Mortimer

Rumpole of the Bailey is a wonderful character, and a joy to read about. Alas, though, he doesn't work as well out loud. We got through a couple of the stories and stalled.

Will's Recent Reading

by Will Duquette

How to Murder the Man of Your Dreams
By Dorothy Cannell

In the latest of the Ellie Haskell mysteries, Cannell spoofs romantic fiction. Not bad; on a par with the earlier books in the series. Started 12/??/1996; finished 12/??/96.

Of Tangible Ghosts
By L.E. Modesitt, Jr

This is a somewhat interesting adventure in alternate history, which I found far more reminiscent of Harry Turtledove's books than of Modesitt's other books. The notion is that ghosts really exist, not in a fantasy sense, but as a physical phenomenon, which can quantified and manipulated. The story takes place in an alternate U.S.A. called Columbia, which is something of a police state and in which the Speaker of the House is the most important figure in government, the President a mere figurehead, and the Senate of no more use than the House of Lords. One notable effect of ghosts is that total war is quite unthinkable: the presence of ghosts on a battlefield in sufficient quantities can quite literally drive the soldiers mad. The essential change from our reality seems to be that larger wars simply have not happened. It's not clear to me just how the world he describe follows from this premise. Not bad; but not a must-read either. Started 11/??/96; finished 12/??/96.

The Accidental Tourist
By Anne Tyler

This is the first book of Anne Tyler's that I've read. It was enjoyable, quirky, and made me laugh occasionally; on the other hand, I kept saying to Jane, "These are not well people." Does mainstream fiction make up for its predictability of background by inventing weird characters? Perhaps the weird characters in genre fiction are simply better suited to their environment. Started 12/??/96; finished 12/??/96.

The Fatal Shore
By Robert Hughes

This is a history of the colonization of Australia, written by an Australian. It's been fashionable in Australia to either downplay the convict's contributions to Australia or to canonize them as good stalwart English yeomen (and yeowomen?) transported by the evil establishment. Hughes does neither, but takes a hard look at what really happened. He doesn't pull any punches, but he doesn't sensationalize it either. The result is quite readable, and, so far as I can tell, even-handed. Though, my respect for Georgian and Victorian England has slipped considerably. Started: 12/??/96; finished: 12/26/1996.

Rats and Gargoyles
By Mary Gentle

This is a book about what the world might be like if the medieval alchemists were right. Sadly, it seems like it should be better than it is. The characters are interesting, but the book itself is choppy. Whenever I was about to be drawn into the action, she changed the scene abruptly. Perhaps it would be less jarring if it were a movie. I dunno. She spent a lot of time trying to create a rich, evocative setting, and most of the words were wasted on me. Started: 12/??/96, finished: 12/27/96.

The West: An Illustrated History
By Geoffrey C. Ward

This is the companion to the PBS special of the same name. I'm interested in it primarily for the photographs. It's rare in history to be able to see what anything actually looked like; the camera was just coming into use during this period, and the book does an excellent job of drawing the available shots into one place, and putting them in context. I've not read much of the text, so far, so I'll refrain from commenting on it. Started: 12/26/96; Shelved. Maybe I'll get back to it eventually.

The Memory Palace of Matteo Ricci
By Jonathan Spence

Matteo Ricci was one of the first Christian missionaries to live in China in the late sixteenth century. Spence describes his life in China along a number of axes, relating it with developments in Ricci's childhood home of counter-reformation Italy. An interesting picture of what life was like for foreigners in China during the Ming dynasty. It also described the methods of evangelism used by the Roman Catholic missionaries of the time. Apparently, they thought that the complete Gospel message would be too difficult for the Chinese to understand, so they tried to introduce it little by little. By Ricci's death, they still hadn't explained the incarnation, crucifixion, and resurrection of Jesus Christ to the Chinese, which leaves me wondering just what it was that their converts believed in. Started: 12/??/96, finished: 12/28/96.

Breathing Lessons
By Anne Tyler

This one's not as fun as The Accidental Tourist, though the characters are still somewhat whacko. The characters are well-drawn (almost too well drawn, since most of them aren't pleasant), the book is well-written, but it just wasn't much fun. Ah, well. Started: 12/27/96, finished: 12/31/96.

Have any comments? Want to recommend a book or two? Think Will's seriously missed the point and needs to be corrected? Like to correspond with one of the reviewers? Write to us and let us know what you think! You can find the e-mail addresses of most of our reviewers on our Ex Libris Staff page.

Home : Ex Libris : 1 January 1997
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