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ex libris reviews

1 April 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.


What's New

3/29/97 David was baptized today at the Easter Vigil service.

3/10/97 Updated the Suggested Books page. Also, Jane and I took David out for dinner yesterday, for the very first time. It was a success, I suppose, though we were both too tired to say much.

Books to Read Aloud

by Will Duquette

The General Danced at Dawn
By George MacDonald Fraser

Fraser has written three books of short stories concerning Lieutenant Dand MacNeill of the Royal Army, and Private MacAuslan, the dirtiest soldier in the world. This is the first, and a delightful collection it is. The stories are light and humorous, read quite well aloud, and are not nearly as scurrilous as Fraser's Flashman novels. I bought this at Powells' Books in Portland, Oregon last fall, read it, said to myself, "I should read this to Jane", and then forgot about it until I found the second and third collections last week. Jane loved it. Started: 3/13/97; Finished: 3/22/97.

Will's Recent Reading

by Will Duquette

The World of Jeeves
By P.G. Wodehouse

At a time when everything is chaotic, it is comforting to read something light, humorous, and familiar. The World of Jeeves is a collection of all of P.G. Wodehouse's short stories about Bertie Wooster and his ever inventive gentleman's gentleman, Jeeves. I picked it up, intending to re-read a story or two at the end of a long, tiring day, and found myself reading the whole book over again. It is a joy and a delight, and wonderful when read aloud. Jane and I can't recommend P.G. Wodehouse enough. A good starting place, by the way, is the book The Most of P.G. Wodehouse, which contains a variety of his short stories, and a complete novel. Anyway, now maybe I can get back to Alexandre Dumas. Started: 2/28/97; Finished: 3/9/97.

The Search for Modern China
By Jonathan Spence

This, evidently, is the standard text on the last couple of hundred years of Chinese history, which I can well believe. It is also large, analytical, and dry. I've been working my way through it during scattered lunchtimes for the last couple of years, and I finally finished it. It's a good book...but I don't think I'd recommend it as anyone's first book about China. Started: ??; finished: 3/9/97.

The Most of P.G. Wodehouse
By P.G. Wodehouse

This book is an excellent introduction to Wodehouse's work. He had a number of somewhat-related sets of short stories; most of the sets are represented in this book. In addition, it includes one complete novel, Quick Service, which isn't related to any of his series of novels, but which is quite good fun nevertheless. I've got many of the stories in other anthologies as well, so I opened it to read just the five or six that aren't. Started: 3/10/97; finished 3/12/97.

Freedom and Necessity
By Steven Brust and Emma Bull

Steven Brust is one of our favorite authors, and Emma Bull is usually quite good as well. A new book by either is a sure buy, and a new book by Brust is usually cause for celebration. This one is quite a departure for both of them. It takes place in England in 1849 and 1850, a time when Europe was racked by rumors and fears of revolution, peasants were starving in Ireland, and gold was being discovered in California (though that latter point doesn't come into the story). It is written as a collection of letters and personal journal entries, mostly those of four cousins. One of the cousins James, finds himself at a country inn, in terrible physical shape, with a two month gap in his memory. Further, he discovers that he is presumed dead, and isn't sure what to do about it. Does he have enemies? Do they realize that he's alive? The book is reminiscent of Tim Powers' The Anubis Gates, in that it weaves fiction skillfully with history in England, and is chock full of conspiracies, secret societies, and so forth (and indeed, Powers gets a nod about halfway through). Where Powers starts with English society as it was, and then gives his imagination free rein to describe the fantastic things going on all around the oblivious passersby, Brust and Bull keep the story under tight control. The fantastic element is there, barely...but do the arcane powers sought by the Trotter's Club exist in reality, or only the mind of cult members? As a result, the plot seems much more realistic, and much more chilling. In addition, their evocation of 19th-century Britain tallied very well with my historical reading. I was absolutely riveted from the first page to the last. Started: 3/12/97; finished 3/15/97.

The Vicomte de Bragelonne
By Alexandre Dumas

The next book in the Musketeer saga. This one took me a while, but it was worth it. Since this is really only the first third of a larger novel, I'll refrain from saying more. Next stop: Louise de la Valliere. Started: 1/25/96; finished: 3/19/97.

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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