Pope, Dudley. Ramage’s Signal.

NY: Walker, 1980.

This is the 11th episode in the adventures of Lord Nicholas Ramage, one of the youngest post captains on the Royal Navy list and possessed of an increasingly fearful reputation among French seamen, and it’s a considerable improvement over the past couple of yarns. There’s a tendency for an author to become bored or simply to lose his grip a bit as a series goes on, but perhaps Pope has snapped out of his growing malaise.

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Ames, Kenneth L. Death in the Dining Room, and Other Tales of Victorian Culture.

Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1992.

As I’ve noted in other reviews, I have a long and deep interest in material culture — the physical artifacts produced by the way we live, which often are the only surviving evidence of our everyday history. In college nearly fifty years ago, as a trainee historian but also for its cheap entertainment value, I got in the habit of attending estate sales (even though I couldn’t afford to buy anything), just to prowl around the leftovers of some family’s earlier generations: Pocket watches and fobs, oddball kitchen implements and mysterious silverware, uncomfortable parlor furniture.

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Published in: on 28 December 2010 at 6:48 am  Leave a Comment  
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Graves, Charles. Leather Armchairs: The Book of London Clubs.

NY: Coward-McCann, 1963.

If you read much English fiction, especially that produced in the Victorian and Edwardian eras, or in which the setting is self-consciously “aristocratic,” there are certain background topics that most Brits take for granted but which remain rather a mystery to middle-class Americans — mostly because of the fundamental differences in the American class system. One of these is the culture of the London club, which goes back to the turn of the 18th century, when taverns hadn’t yet been replaced by hotels.

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Published in: on 25 December 2010 at 8:25 am  Leave a Comment  
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Pope, Dudley. The Ramage Touch.

NY: Simon & Schuster, 1979.

As any reader of this series knows by now, Capt. Lord Nicholas Ramage makes a point, whenever possible, of using the opportunities and tools that come to hand in his continuing struggle against the French navy under Bonaparte. He does it in innovative ways, usually catching the enemy (and often his own people) by surprise. He also hates to lose men unnecessarily, so any inventive scheme that works to that end is also welcome. And his success is shown by his position as one of the youngest post captains on the Navy List.

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Published in: on 22 December 2010 at 8:58 pm  Leave a Comment  
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King, Stephen. The Stand. (Complete & uncut edition)

NY: Doubleday, 1990.

Despite his own protestations that what he purveys is bologna, not literature — high-quality, but still bologna — Stephen King has long been one of the most skillful storytellers the U.S. has produced in at least the past half-century. I’ve read most of his novels and some of them just aren’t to my taste — but that’s okay. Others, especially Fire Starter and The Dead Zone and Needful Things and The Talisman (with Peter Straub), I enjoyed a great deal. But this enormous book (1,100+ pages), a true epic, is, in my own mind, his masterpiece. It’s an expanded version of the book that first appeared a dozen years earlier and includes some four hundred pages that King had been forced to excise at the behest of the publisher’s bean-counters. In other words, this is the whole story that the author originally wrote, not just a pumped-up version of what was really meant to be a shorter book.

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Published in: on 19 December 2010 at 2:25 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Jacobson, Julius H. The Classical Music Experience.

Napierville, IL: Sourcebooks, 2005.

I have a friend who is determined to educate himself on the subject of classical music and wants the “best” book on the subject to serve as a guide — the musical equivalent of Clifton Fadiman’s Lifetime Reading Plan — and to that end I have been exploring the field and suggesting titles. This one was very well reviewed, but I don’t know why.

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Published in: on 17 December 2010 at 7:38 am  Leave a Comment  
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Lehane, Dennis. Shutter Island.

NY: Morrow, 2003.

This is a very strange book. Two U.S. Marshals arrive on a ferry from the mainland at an island given over to an institution for the criminally insane. They specialize in the most dangerous of the dangerous, and one of their prisoners has escaped. U.S. Marshal Teddy Daniels (with his new partner, Chuck, in tow) figures it can’t be that hard to find her again. It’s an island: Where can she go?

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Published in: on 15 December 2010 at 7:53 am  Leave a Comment  
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Connelly, Michael. The Reversal.

NY: Little, Brown, 2010.

The idea here is an interesting one — Mickey Haller, hardcore defense attorney and protagonist of The Lincoln Lawyer, is invited by the DA to sign on as a special prosecutor in the re-trial of a convicted murderer sprung from San Quentin after twenty-four years by genetic evidence that didn’t match. Haller has misgivings but it’s a challenge he finds he can’t resist —

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Published in: on 13 December 2010 at 8:20 am  Leave a Comment  
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Brown, Alton. Good Eats: The Early Years.

NY: Stewart, Tabori & Chang, 2009.

I’m a foodie. Not a gourmet, you understand — just a serious eater. And for that reason, I’m also something of a serious cook (again, non-gourmet). For these reasons (and also just because he’s the sort of person he is), I’m also a great Alton Brown fan. And I’m sure, the world being the sort of place it is, that there are people who actually don’t like Alton, but those undoubtedly are dreary, unpleasant people who take themselves way too seriously.

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Published in: on 9 December 2010 at 9:16 am  Leave a Comment  
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Holland, Cecelia. The Belt of Gold.

NY: Knopf, 1984.

In my considered opinion, Holland (who is almost exactly the same age as me) is one of the two or three overall best historical novelists of my generation. Her work has spanned an immense range of geography over a considerable number of centuries, from the builders of Stonehenge and Attila’s Hunnish hordes to medieval Ireland and the California Gold Rush. Some of them are better than others, of course, but all of them are at least quite good.

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Published in: on 5 December 2010 at 6:17 pm  Leave a Comment  
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