Home : Ex Libris : 1 February 1997

ex libris reviews

1 February 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

Silence of the Hams
By Jill Churchill

This came highly recommended; now I'm kind of sorry we read it aloud. This book is what I call a puzzle mystery, à la Agatha Christie. In a puzzle mystery, the plot is everything, and characters and description take a back seat. This is great if you read mysteries for the puzzles; I read mysteries for the characters and interesting situations, with just a bit of suspense to keep me interested. As a result, this one left me a little cold. On the other hand, Jane enjoyed it, and if it isn't fun to read aloud, it reads easily enough. Started 12/20/96; finished: 1/8/97

Will's Recent Reading

by Will Duquette

Jane and the Unpleasantness at Scargrave Manor
By Stephanie Barron

This was suggested to me by the same friend who suggested The Silence of the Hams. I confess I was a little bit skeptical: Jane Austen as a sleuth? However, it turned out to be quite pleasant. It is written as selections from Austen's personal journal and letters to her sister Cassandra. Barron is clearly quite familiar with Austen's life, letters, and fiction, and has done a nifty job of weaving them into the book. And, since Austen's fiction was based on the penetrating observation of those around her, the notion of Austen solving a mystery at a country house is perhaps not that farfetched. The ending was slightly disappointing: Barron solves the problem of how an amateur sleuth can bring the perpetrator to justice in a thoroughly overused way. Beyond that, though, the book was quite delightful. Started: 12/31/96; finished: 1/1/97

Mansfield Park
By Jane Austen

This is the only one of Austen's novels I'd not yet read. It had been sitting on the shelf for quite some time, when Stephanie Barron's book inspired me to read it next. I enjoyed it...but I felt that it was rather slow, and longer than it needed to be, and at the same time that she was rushing through parts of it, particularly toward the end. I'd rate it under Emma, and that below her other novels. Started: 1/2/97; finished 1/6/97.

The Golden Ocean
By Patrick O'Brian

This is O'Brian's first novel; he is better known as the author of the Aubrey/Maturin novels. It was thoroughly delightful from start to finish. An Irish lad joins the Royal Navy as a midshipman Commodore Anson's ship Centurion, and circumnavigates the globe hunting Spanish treasure galleons. Started: 1/5/97; finished 1/8/97.

The Unknown Shore
By Patrick O'Brian

This book is contemporary with The Golden Ocean, and takes place on board another ship in Commodore Anson's squadron. The main characters are Jack Byron, a midshipman, and Tobias Barrow, a surgeon's mate. The book is as delightful as The Golden Ocean.. The two characters in many ways seem to be precursors to Jack Aubrey and Stephen Maturin. Started: 1/9/97; finished 1/11/97.

By Iain M. Banks

This is Bank's latest novel about the "Culture", a spacefaring society of genetically engineered humans and super-intelligent robot Minds. It's inventive, as always--perhaps Banks' strongest talent is being wildly imaginative--and it's also as non-linear. You get the whole story, but not in the order you'd expect. One of my favorite characters in this one is an eccentric ship named "Shoot Them Later". Started: 1/11/97; finished 1/12/97.

M is for Malice
By Sue Grafton

Kinsey Millhone rides again (what's to come after "Z is for Z******", I wonder?). This one is much more relaxed than its predecessor, L is for Lawless; it made for a very pleasant read. Kinsey fans won't be disappointed. Started: 1/14/97; Finished: 1/16/97.

Twenty Years After
By Alexandre Dumas

Three Musketeer fans, take note! Typically all you can find in print is The Three Musketeers and The Man in the Iron Mask, which is usually abridged. The full Musketeer saga is as follows: The Three Musketeers, Twenty Years After, and The Vicomte de Bragelonne. That last one is quite a long novel, usually published in three volumes. The first, confusingly, is also titled The Vicomte de Bragelonne, the second is Louise de la Vallieres, and the third is The Man in the Iron Mask. All of these are currently in print, unabridged, from Oxford University Press, as part of its "The World's Classics" series. Of these, I've only read The Three Musketeers, so I recently acquired the rest, and am about to adventure into a world of adventure, politics, and swashbuckling. I also got an unabridged copy of The Count of Monte Cristo; it's readily available from a number of publishers, but it's almost always abridged. I comfortably expect that I'll be reading these for months, a little at a time.

Anyway, Twenty Years After was great fun. The first couple of chapters were heavy going--Dumas was setting up the political situation, and it was fairly opaque, honestly--but after that the story rolled right along. The highlight of the book is one really nasty character who wanted to avenge himself on D'Artagnan and his friends. He keeps trying to kill them, and failing--of course, because they are the heroes. They keep trying to kill him, and failing, because they can't just kill in cold blood; they need to kill him in an honorable battle, and he just won't cooperate. Started: 1/17/97. Finished: 1/23/97.

By Steven Gould

Gould seems to like picking a single science fictional gimmick, and a character or two, and see what happens. His first novel, Jumper, featured a teenager who discovers that he can teleport anywhere he's previously been. This one features a teenager who inherits a ranch. The ranch has a hill. A tunnel leads through the hill...and into another world, uninhabited by human beings. The book was enjoyable enough, if light, but I noticed something interesting as I read. The five main characters are all about 18, all uniformly intelligent and competent, good at working with their hands. Three guys, two gals. One of the gals is Vietnamese. One of the guys, it develops, is an alcoholic; they do an intervention, and he turns his life around. Another comes to terms with being gay, and comes out of the closet. His friends learn to deal with it. A couple of them have troubles with their parents, which are resolved one way or another. The good guys win; the bad guys go to jail. Plus, there's a sly little environmental message running throughout. While the book isn't preachy, it is so very, very politically correct that by the end it seems rather contrived. It's reasonably good mind candy, but Jumper is better. Started: 1/26/96; finished 1/27/96.

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.

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