Home : Ex Libris : 1 May 1997

ex libris reviews

1 May 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

4/28/97 Added another recommended author, Iain M. Banks.

4/25/97 I've updated the website considerably; among other things, each recommended author now has his or her own page. This allowed some of the other references to be combined, and also allows the authors to be listed in several different ways. Plus, I updated the information on each author and added three more: Alexandre Dumas, Jonathan Spence, and Barbara Tuchman.

Also, I've got a confession to make: although this is called Will & Jane's Book Page, Jane actually has precious little to do with it. Her contributions are twofold: she listens when I read to her, and she gives me time to update the page.

4/12/97 David is two months old!

Books to Read Aloud

by Will Duquette

Interesting Times
By Terry Pratchett

In this, the latest Discworld novel (to be published in the U.S, anyway), Rincewind the wizard returns to Ankh-Morpork after his sojourn in the Dungeon Dimensions, only to be sent off to the Agatean Empire by the wizards of Unseen University. Followed, of course, by The Luggage. Those of you who have read Terry Pratchett will understand; those who haven't, go read our page about him. This particular adventure had some good bits, but didn't have quite the foot-stomping hilarity I've come to expect. Started: 4/24/97; finished 4/28/97

MacAuslan in the Rough
By George MacDonald Fraser

This is the second of Fraser's three books concerning Lieutenant Dand MacNeill and Private MacAuslan, and it's every bit as good as the first (though the last story in the book gets a tad maudlin). Started: 3/23/97; Finished 4/2/97.

The Sheikh and the Dustbin
By George MacDonald Fraser

The third of Fraser's books concering Lieutenant Dand MacNeill and Private MacAuslan. A blurb on the cover claims that Fraser does for life in a highland regiment what P.G. Wodehouse did for life among the upper crust; I wouldn't go quite that far. Nevertheless, very, very good. Started: 4/4/97, finished: 4/21/97.

Will's Recent Reading

by Will Duquette

Bible and Sword
By Barbara Tuchman

This book, Tuchman's first, was remarkably enjoyable. Tuchman is (or, rather, was) a writer of narrative history, which essentially means that she sticks to what really happened, and tells the story fairly linearly, rather than analyzing trends and forces of history. I'm usually reading two books at once these days, one fiction and one history, but this book was good enough to tear me away from Alexandre Dumas until I'd finished it.

Subtitled "A history of England and Palestine from the Bronze Age to Balfour", it explains the events leading up to England's declaration in favor of a Jewish National Home in Palestine and assumption of the Mandate over Palestine following the first world war. The events of that time explain quite a lot of the violence which as followed. Started: 3/25/97; Finished 4/5/97.

The Question of Hu
By Jonathan Spence

John Hu was a Chinese convert to Christianity who was brought to France as a secretary by a Jesuit priest named Foucquet. This small book, based primarily on Foucquet's letters, tells the story of Hu's journey to Europe, his inability or unwillingness to understand French mores, and his commitment to the insane asylum of Charenton before his eventual release and return to China. The book reads very much like a story, though it isn't fictionalized in the slightest. I found it to be a fascinating study of two cultures in conflict. Started: 4/??/97, finished: 4/??/97. (I've got to be quicker about keeping this up to date. :-)

Louise de la Valliere
By Alexandre Dumas

The next book in the Musketeer saga. Started: 3/20/97; finished: 4/16/97.

The Man in the Iron Mask
By Alexandre Dumas

This the final volume of Dumas' Musketeer saga, and also the third volume of the long novel, Le Vicomte de Bragelonne; the first two volumes are (somewhat confusingly) The Vicomte de Bragelonne, and Louise de la Valliere. I promised I'd give my impressions when I had finished all three. Interestingly, the three volumes follow the typical trilogy pattern. The first book has a lot of action, with something of a climax; the second book is slower paced, and spends most of its time setting up for the third book; the third book is fast-paced, action-packed, ties off all of the loose threads, and probably several other cliches as well. That said, I enjoyed The Man in the Iron Mask quite a lot, and though Louise de la Valliere was quite a slog, it was worth it when everything finally came together. I must say, Mask would not have been nearly as good if I'd read it on its own, especially in the abridged editions that are all you typically find. I have two copies, and I compared them out of curiousity; the abridged edition skipped the first 30 chapters or so. Started 4/16/97; finished 4/22/97.

Space Viking
By H. Beam Piper

I was home sick, and dusted off an old favorite. Piper was one of the great SF authors of his day, and is probably best known for his book Little Fuzzy. Space Viking is less well known, but I'd enjoyed it immensely in the past, and as I had a fuzzy head I was in the mood for something familiar. Alas, something had happened to it since I last read it, because it seemed more like the outline for a novel than a real novel. The characters were painted with a very few, very broad strokes; the action was condensed, and rarely described in detail; I enjoyed it, but the enjoyment was based as much on my memories of enjoying it before as it was on reading it this time. It certainly seemed very light compared to Alexandre Dumas, who seldom used one word if three or four would do. I dunno. I don't know whether it's because my tastes have changed, or whether my imagination just isn't as good at filling in the corners. Sigh. Started 4/23/97; finished 4/23/97.

The Parafaith War
By L.E. Modesitt, Jr

This is a rather gritty space opera, with one of Modesitt's typical heroes: the competent young fellow who rises from obscurity to win the war/save the world/defeat the evil hero/whatever it might be by dint of becoming a quite unusually competent and powerful young fellow who can't be ignored. Trystin starts out as a perimeter guard on a planet undergoing terraforming by the EcoTech Coalition, is given pilot training and becomes the EcoTech's best pilot, and then is given spy training and goes undercover to the enemy's capital planet where he single-handedly wins the war....which is no more than any long-time reader of Modesitt's would expect. This one was better than most of Modesitt's books, in that Trystin doesn't become quite so superhuman as some of Modesitt's heroes; on the other hand, the ending was rather too absurd to be taken seriously. Of course, that's also typical of Modesitt's books--they make sense while you're reading them, and then afterwards they seem kind of silly. I've enjoyed Modesitt quite a lot so far, but I'm not sure if it will last; I used to like Piers Anthony and Jack Chalker quite a lot, and now I can't abide them. Started: 4/23/97; finished: 4/23/97.

The Count of Monte Cristo
By Alexandre Dumas

This is the story of Edmond Dantes, a French sailor who is wrongly imprisoned; escaping, he makes his fortune and then takes vengeance against those who denounced him. I'd read an abridged version of this several years ago, and picked up the unabridged version I'm currently reading at the same time I bought the complete Musketeer saga. I enjoyed it the first time, and enjoyed it even more now. Started: 4/23/97; Finished: 4/28/97.

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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