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Jaylia3

Reflections

Eager reader of history, mystery, classics, biographies, steampunk, lit fic, science, scifi, and etc. My reviews are mostly positive--I rarely finish or write about books I don't enjoy. My TBR is too high for that.

Currently reading

Golden Age: A novel (Last Hundred Years: a Family Saga)
Jane Smiley
Indexing
Seanan McGuire
The Great Tours: Experiencing Medieval Europe
The Great Courses, The Great Courses, Kenneth R. Bartlett

The World in a book

War and Peace - Larissa Volokhonsky, Richard Pevear, Leo Tolstoy

Henry James, not himself known for brevity of written expression, considered War and Peace a “large loose baggy monster, ” but each time I’ve read through Tolstoy’s 1000++ page rendering of the Napoleonic Wars era in Russia I’ve fallen completely under its spell. The first time, when I was in college, I had only four days to get through the book, which turned out to be wonderful because I became so immersed in the story that when I heard steeple bells ringing on Sunday it was as if I had been transported to Moscow with its hundreds and hundreds of churches.

 

It’s an immense, sprawling literary adventure and I love it too much to write rationally about it. In defending War and Peace against its critics, Tolstoy claimed that it’s not a novel, not an epic poem, and not a historical chronicle, but is instead a convention straddling work of artistic prose whose form was dictated by its subject matter.

 

The book has lots (and lots) of main characters--many of my favorites in literature--and it involves readers deeply, even tenderly, in their lives, loves, hopes, struggles, and spiritual odysseys. There are battles, balls, evening soirees, and family estates ruined then resurrected, but the plot is only part of the story. Also included are philosophical digressions on the truths of life and death, discussions on the forces of history, rants about historians (people who subscribe to the “great man theory” will not find support from Tolstoy), and even a little battlefield algebra--but often these metaphysical excursions are made using capacious poetic metaphors and similes that make reading them a pure pleasure.

 

And did I mention that I love the characters? Though I have nothing against romance novels  I never seem to enjoy them, but I swoon over the romances in War and Peace. It’s not a book without flaws. For one thing, now that I’m older, I noticed that in the Epilogue Tolstoy seems to write off  people over sixty, and maybe Tolstoy spends too much time away from the plot while propounding his favorite theories. But having finished the book for the fourth time I’m sorry it’s over, and I know that after a few years go by I’ll be happily lost in its pages once more.

 

Just a note on translation--I think this rendition by husband and wife team Richard Pevear (American) and Larissa Volokhonsky (Russian) is particularly good at capturing the nuances and beauty of Tolstoy’s writing.

Source: http://jaylia3.wordpress.com/2015/08/26/the-world-in-a-book

“Things looked different after she had looked at them”

Hannah Arendt: A Life in Dark Times (Icons) - Anne C. Heller

Short but deeply fascinating, this book about Hannah Arendt  covers both her life and the evolution of her thinking in less than 140 pages. It opens with the controversy surrounding her coverage of  the 1961 trial of Nazi officer Adolf Eichmann in Israel, and her pithy but divisive “banality of evil” observation, then cycles back to her turn of the century childhood in Prussia, where her highly educated, politically liberal, religiously agnostic family had established itself several generations previously after leaving czarist Russia.

 

Even as a child it was obvious Arendt possessed a prodigious intellect, but unsurprisingly that did not make her life easy. Her father died when she was seven and she had to flee Nazi Germany as a young woman, resettling first in Paris and later in the United States. Before leaving Germany she studied and had an affair with the Nazi involved philosopher Martin Heidegger, a relationship she had trouble renouncing even as she embraced her Jewish roots more and more avidly.

 

I was drawn right into this book. It was refreshing to read about someone devoted to the life of the mind rather than the pursuit of fame, political power, or wealth. Even though the book is not long it doesn’t feel slight because it plunges right into the heart of Arendt’s life and intellectual development. I have never read a book so copiously footnoted, all the author’s sources are cited right there in the text, which I appreciate but it did take some initial effort to not be distracted by them.

 

“Things looked different after she had looked at them . . . Thinking was her passion, and thinking for her was a moral activity.” Philosopher Hans Jonas on Hannah Arendt

Source: http://jaylia3.wordpress.com/2015/08/25/things-looked-different-after-she-had-looked-at-them

Sharply humorous, insightful and stirring account of Lafayette and the American Revolution

Lafayette in the Somewhat United States - Sarah Vowell

Sarah Vowell’s acerbic, insightful wit comes through loud and clear in this fascinating account of French General Lafayette and his role in the American Revolution, but it took me a while to adjust to her irreverent banter in print--as well as being an author Vowell is also known for her radio pieces on This American Life. This book runs almost 270 pages without any chapter breaks, and reads like the long-winded but mesmerizing stand-up routine of a highly knowledgeable, history obsessed comedian who knows how to use humor to make a point.

 

Lafayette was still a teenager when he left his young bride behind and snuck out of France to join the American Revolution against the wishes of his family, but he ended up becoming such a key figure in the winning of the war that cities all over the country are named for him. Vowell has a special knack for revealing the personalities of the many historical figures she writes about, their foibles, revealing quirks, and strengths. Since Lafayette had a close relationship with George Washington he features prominently in the book and I really appreciated getting a clearer picture of the man behind the myth. Vowell even manages to make battles and military strategy interesting, in part by keeping her focus on the people involved, and in part  by not overlooking the missteps or ironies of the situations.

 

Vowell finds plenty of opportunities to relate the struggles of the Revolutionary period to American politics today, pointing out that many current ideological divisions and tendencies have an origin, or at least an analog, dating back to the founding of the country. The book also covers the aftereffects of the Revolutionary War in France and Britain, and the America of 1824, which was when John Quincy Adams and Andrew Jackson competed in a notorious presidential election and the then elderly Lafayette made a return trip to the country that was still so besotted with him that two thirds of the population of New York City welcomed him ashore. While researching the book Vowell visited historic sites in America and France and she takes readers along on those trips too, giving us her impressions of tourist destinations like Williamsburg and Valley Forge while relating what happened there in the past.

 

In this book Vowell manages the neat trick of being both funny and stirring. She clearly loves history, and she makes it very easy to join her in that passion.

 

I read an advanced review copy of this book supplied by the publisher. Review opinions are mine.

 

Source: http://jaylia3.wordpress.com/2015/08/20/sharply-humorous-insightful-and-stirring-account-of-lafayette-and-the-american-revolution

Ancient ocean tribes

Voices in the Ocean: A Journey Into the Wild and Haunting World of Dolphins - Susan Casey

Susan Casey’s Voices in the Ocean made me fall deeply in love with dolphins, those intelligent, highly social mammals of the sea, then tore my heart out by describing the appalling abuses they receive at the hands of our species. Deeply sad after her father died unexpectedly, Casey was in the middle of a perhaps ill advised solo swim across Honolua Bay when she encountered a large pod, forty or fifty animals, of gently chattering spinner dolphins swimming toward her. Instead of just passing by, they swam with her for a while, lifting her spirits almost like magic and setting her on a worldwide dolphin odyssey.

 

Casey traveled to some wonderfully quirky places, like the new-agey Dolphinville on Hawaii’s Big Island, where 200-some people live, work, meditate, and swim with wild dolphins together. But she also visited marine parks and tourist pleasing “swim with the dolphins” sites, where community-loving dolphins are isolated and kept in slave like conditions, and she connected with dolphin activists in several parts of the world where dolphins are slaughtered in mass numbers, often because it’s believed they eat fish that should be food for people and sometimes, even more horribly, just for spite. Sea pollution and the US Navy’s underwater sonar are other human activities that have had a devastating impact on dolphins.

 

Along the way Casey sought out researchers who’ve studied dolphins, so the book is a mixture of science, history, personal experience, and social commentary. It’s beautifully and movingly written, and I especially loved reading about the evolutionary background of dolphins, the special qualities their large brains endow them with, the eons long and mostly wonderful history of human-dolphin interactions, and the fascinating characteristics of dolphin societies--Casey compares them to an ancient tribe.

 

The abuses were painful to read about, but I’m glad to be better informed. And Casey ends the book on an up note by summarizing what is known about the intriguing, apparently dolphin-loving Minoan civilization and describing her visit to the art-rich Minoan archaeological sites and museums of Santorini and Crete--Minoan art is both colorful and beautiful, and definitely worth Google-imaging.

 

 

Source: http://jaylia3.wordpress.com/2015/08/18/ancient-ocean-tribes

Divided by a common language: Britishisms versus Americanisms and what it all means

That's Not English: Britishisms, Americanisms, and What Our English Says About Us - Lynne Truss, Erin Moore

Reading about words is always an irresistible meta-pleasure for me, but Erin Moore’s book about the differences between British and American English adds another layer of fascination by exploring the cultural reasons behind the word use variations--why it is that two nations who share so much, including a common language, still can’t completely understand each other. I considered myself fairly fluent in “British”, I read lots of British novels and love to watch BBC shows, but almost every chapter taught me something I didn’t realize about the variations between the way everyday words are used on either side of the pond, and what the cultural implications of those differences are.

 

For me the word “quite” has always made whatever word it modifies stronger--"quite pretty” means “very pretty” in my lexicon--but according to Moore adding “quite” to “pretty” in England qualifies “pretty” downward instead, so saying someone is “quite pretty” would be translated to something like the semi-insulting “fairly pretty” in Ameri-speak. Moore uses “quite” to go into amusing and enlightening detail about the well-noted difference between the way Americans tend to express themselves with a lot of enthusiasm, whereas the British are more inclined to understatement.

 

That’s Not English has thirty-some short, entertaining, and informative chapters, each focused on the varied uses or non-uses of one word (including some words I’d never heard of--mufti?), and what those differences of language indicate about the culture and mindset of the two nations. Moore is an American who married into a British family, so she’s learned the differences between the two versions of English firsthand.

 

I read a free advanced review copy of this book supplied to me by the publisher through the website LibaryThing. Review opinions are mine.

Source: http://jaylia3.wordpress.com/2015/08/16/divided-by-a-common-language-britishisms-versus-americanisms-and-what-it-all-means

Back before the beginning--a time travel prequel

The Feline Affair: An Incident Series Novelette - Neve Maslakovic

She’s back! After finishing the third and final novel in Neve Maslakovic’s  Incident trilogy--a brain-tickling, time-traveling, whodunit series--I despaired of ever reading any new stories about unflappable university administrator Julia Olsen again, but she’s back in a new novelette . .  . and back in time because it’s a prequel.

 

Someone in the university's  biology department is stealing lunches from the common fridge, a minor but awkward crime for a collegial community of learning, and everyone in the time travel department is placing bets on whether or not  physicist Erwin Schrödinger owned a pet cat when he came up with his quantum superposition thought experiment  about  a simultaneously alive and/or dead feline. A professor and two graduate students are heading back to 1935 to discreetly locate Schrödinger and settle the wagers, but Julia herself doesn’t actually leave the present day in this story since it predates her first trip into History, told in The Far Time Incident.

 

Even though Julia is only able to fantasize about time travel in The Feline Affair, this novelette will give new readers a good sense of the writing style and tone of the series. For those of us who’ve already enjoyed three full length books, it’s great to be back at St. Sunniva University, and entertaining  to see earlier versions of characters  we’ve gotten to know well. This series is for readers who like time travel stories peopled with eccentric  academic historian types--it has pervasive but subtle humor, space/time conundrums, adventures in interesting historic eras, and just a light, non-torrid background romance.

 

I read a complimentary ebook copy of this novelette provided by the author with no strings attached. Review opinions are mine.

Source: http://jaylia3.wordpress.com/2015/08/14/back-before-the-beginning-a-time-travel-prequel

A royal wedding at risk, and ghosts in the palace?

Malice at the Palace - Rhys Bowen

It’s always a pleasure spending a few days with Georgie, aka Lady Victoria Georgiana Charlotte Eugenie, one of Queen Victoria's many great-grandchildren and currently (that is in 1934)  thirty-somethingth in line to the throne. Georgie is expected to act Royal, but she doesn’t exactly have the funds to pay for such a lifestyle, which in itself leads her into all sorts of scrapes and awkward situations, but she also seems to be a favorite of Queen Mary, who’s always giving her assignments--like checking out what that Mrs. Simpson woman is up to for instance--which involves Georgie in all  kinds of investigations and adventures.

 

In this book Queen Mary has asked Georgie to act as a companion for Princess Marina of Greece and Denmark, who’s the bride-to-be of the Queen’s youngest son Prince George. George is something of a wild child whose escapades include intemperate partying, possible drug use,  and amorous exploits that make his brother, the future  Edward VIII, look like a parent-pleasing Puritan, so the Queen wants to ensure that nothing untoward happens to disrupt the scheduled wedding. But the first night Georgie and Marina spend at Kensington Palace, Georgie spots a body in the courtyard. As it’s someone who’s rumored to be an ex-lover of Prince George the whole thing has to be kept hushed up as much as possible--the princess must not know!--so Georgie and her discreet investigative skills are again put to use.

 

After the last episode in Hollywood it was wonderful to have Georgie back in England, since in this series I prefer class to crass. Georgie’s charming Irish fiancé--the elusive penniless Lord Darcy--is in the midst of a police operation that brings him into the story too (hooray!), but there may be changes in their relationship. Georgie’s savvy best friend Brenda has troubles of her own this time, Georgie’s Cockney, non-royal, ex-police officer grandfather is on hand to give advice, and Georgie’s incompetent but loyal maid Queenie is seeing ghosts. . .

 

There’s some interesting history in the story this time,  and an author’s note at the back of the book fills in more of the real life details. Georgie’s part of the story ends with an exciting cliffhanger--I can’t wait to see what she gets into next.  

Source: http://jaylia3.wordpress.com/2015/08/11/a-royal-wedding-at-risk-and-ghosts-in-the-palace
"They wept because they were friends; and because they were kind; and because they, who had been friends since childhood, were concerned with such a mean subject--money; and because their youth was gone ... But for both of them they were pleasant tears ..."
War and Peace - Larissa Volokhonsky, Richard Pevear, Leo Tolstoy

Impoverished widow Anna Mikhailovna accepts 700 roubles from her dear friend Countess Rostov so she can purchase her son's military uniform. 

 

War and Peace, Part One, Chapter XIV 

July books

Pride and Prejudice: An Annotated Edition - Jane Austen, Patricia Meyer Spacks The Annotated Pride and Prejudice: A Revised and Expanded Edition - Jane Austen, David M. Shapard The Science of Herself - Karen Joy Fowler The Philosopher Kings - Jo Walton The Star Side of Bird Hill: A Novel - Naomi Jackson Groves China to Me - Emily Hahn Ross Poldark - Winston Graham Crystal Kingdom (The Kanin Chronicles) - Amanda Hocking Imitation - Heather Hildenbrand

After receiving two annotated editions of Pride and Prejudice for my birthday in June, I started July by reading both at once, which took some figuring out. I soon settled on reading Austen's text on my Kindle so the flow of the story wouldn't be interrupted--those side notes were too tempting otherwise. Every chapter or two I'd go to the physical books to catch-up on the often fascinating annotations.

 

I loved reading Pride and Prejudice again, of course, but I'd forgotten how unsuited Elizabeth and Darcy seem at first. Even though I knew how the story goes it added some delightful tension to the story. 

 

The Patricia Meyer Spacks edition of P&P is a gorgeous hardback with color illustrations and more emphasis on discussing literary criticism critiques of Austen's work than David H. Shepherd's offering. Shepherd's book is a paperback with lovely black and white illustrations, and his book gave a little more attention to interesting bits of historical background than Spacks book did. 

 

While I was reading Austen I was also reading a pretty good Kindle freebie, Imitation by Heather Hildenbrand, that had piqued my interest by having a clone as a main character. It wasn't Orphan Black wonderful, but the story did hold me to the end. 

 

Below are links to the books I read and reviewed in July:

 

The Science of Herself

The Philosopher Kings

The Star Side of Bird Hill

China to Me 

Crystal Kingdom 

Ross Poldark

Source: http://jaylia3.wordpress.com/2015/08/01/july-books

Book and TV series complement each other

Ross Poldark - Winston Graham

I have a shameful confession. Other than a few notable exceptions (Tolstoy, Anthony Trollope, Jasper Fforde) I rarely enjoy fiction written by men. I can’t even discuss it without resorting to stereotypes I would resent if it was women being lumped together, but if I was forced to say something it would be that even when I’m intrigued by the stories male authors have to tell, their characterizations, particularly of women, tend to make my skin crawl.

 

So while I’ve been eagerly awaiting each TV episode of BBC’s Poldark, I remained hesitant to try the books by Winston Graham that the series is based on. Hesitant, that is, until I read the opening pages of this first book and got hooked.

 

The prose is beautiful, even graceful, without being ornate or fussy and Graham writes his characters, female and male, with clear-eyed but sympathetic insight that reminds me of George Eliot. There are touches of history (the doings of mad King George, the unrest in France, etc.) and humor, but the heart of the story centers on the families--noble and not--of Cornwall. We see their courtships, their marriages, and their home lives, and we travel to the mines, farm fields, and ocean waters where they earn their livings. It’s a credit to Graham’s skill as a writer that I was actually interested in the sections on copper mining.

 

In the first chapter of the book--and first episode of the TV series--Ross Poldark returns to Cornwall after fighting with the British in the American Revolution, only to find his father dead, his property in ruins, and his girlfriend engaged to his cousin. Ross is the son of a younger son, and not much interested in the niceties of class and society, making him an appealing character for modern sensibilities. His quick to learn but almost feral kitchen maid Demelza also plays a major role in the story, and so does Elizabeth, his former girlfriend, and his cousins Verity and Francis.

 

The book and the TV show complement each other wonderfully. The gorgeous scenery of the BBC production made my reading pleasure all the more vivid, and the book fills in details that the show has to skim over. The novel also gave me a chance to dwell in the story a little longer--an addictive pleasure. Immediately after finishing the first book I started the second volume in the series.

Source: http://jaylia3.wordpress.com/2015/07/31/book-and-tv-series-complement-each-other

My TBR shelf . . . make that shelves

I just got a new bookcase (hoorah!), which means I can spread my books out a little. My TBRs had been stacked in piles in front of my other books, but now they have their own shelf. I mean shelves. There are 4 shelves for fiction, and 2 other shelves for nonfiction. And then there's the ebooks . . .

 

Unless I get waylaid by something else, which isn't unlikely since I'm always being tempted by other posts, the next 2 books I'm planning to read are actually both re-reads (War & Peace and Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell) so they aren't even on these TBR shelves. 

 

Will I avoid buying any new books while I try to pare down the number of my to-be-reads? Not likely. 

 

My photo didn't work out right for this site--unless I just fixed it. You might be able to see it if you follow the source link at the bottom of the post.

 

Source: http://jaylia3.wordpress.com/2015/07/31/my-tbr-shelf-make-that-shelves-2

Best in the series

Crystal Kingdom (The Kanin Chronicles) - Amanda Hocking

This action filled conclusion to Amanda Hocking’s Frostfire trilogy opens with Bryn on the lam, falsely accused of treason and murder, and forced to partner with dangerous and puzzling Konstantin Black who she has good reason not to trust. I’m a big fan of Hocking’s richly imagined  troll-verse, a world exactly like our own but with the addition of human-resembling trolls based on Scandinavian mythology who love nature, covet gemstones, prefer being barefoot, and live in elaborate out of the way communities, and  I’ve enjoyed both earlier books in the series, but Crystal Kingdom is my favorite for several reasons.

 

First, while Bryn scrambles to stay one step ahead of the trackers sent to apprehend her, readers are taken on a road trip that stretches from the swamps of Louisiana to the snowy northern reaches of Canada as she visits the home settlements of all five of the troll tribes in her quest to save her own community. They’re all trolls, but each group has unique features, abilities, and customs. We’re even taken to an especially remote and icy dumping ground for outcast trolls, where we meet 14-year-old Ulla who has a mixed tribe background--she’s part Omte, the super strong tribe that sometimes includes ogres, and part Skojare, the semi-aquatic tribe. Ulla’s parents were unmarried royals who abandoned her as a baby so she’s working as a maid when Brynn finds her in Iskyla--I’m really hoping to meet Ulla again in a future troll series.

 

Another reason I loved this book is that several major characters from Hocking’s first troll books, the Trylle series, make major appearances in the story. We had already seen Finn, but now Wendy, plays an important role and it’s wonderful to catch up with her and see how she’s managed the transition from changeling to queen.

 

Crystal Kingdom is full of other delights, Bryn’s friend Tilda proving that being pregnant doesn’t mean she’s not a formidable fighter for instance, and Bryn’s own struggles to reconcile love and duty. Amanda Hocking doesn’t write lyrical prose, but I can’t resist her moving stories, her spirited but conflicted characters, and her inventive settings. There are plenty of books about vampires, fae, witches, and werewolves, but not many about trolls so I’m hoping that Hocking continues to write about this world.

 

 

I read a free ebook advanced review copy of Crystal Kingdom, supplied to me by the publisher through NetGalley. Review opinions are mine.

 

 

Source: http://jaylia3.wordpress.com/2015/07/30/best-in-the-series

Candid memoir of expatriate life in 1930’s-40’s China

China to Me - Emily Hahn

 

When I first started reading Emily Hahn’s candid memoir I felt like I’d walked into the middle of a witty and fascinating conversation that I didn’t quite have the context for. There’s a reason for that, when China to Me was first published in 1944 WWII was still going on and the public was already well aware of Emily Hahn and her unconventional somewhat scandalous life, so there were details she could assume people already knew. I was out of that loop, but I soon enough found my footing.

 

Hahn traveled to Shanghai with her sister in 1935, got a writing job for a British newspaper and decided to stay. She mixed with the rich and powerful, mainly British and other European expatriates, but she also had a romantic relationship and business partnership with an already married Chinese publisher and poet. Her apartment--which she describes in humorous detail--was in the red light district and she kept a pet gibbon name Mr. Mills who sometimes accompanied her to parties.

 

In 1940 Hahn traveled inland to the mountainous city of Chungking (now Chongqing) to interview one of the Soong sisters, who I’m ashamed to say I had never heard of, for a book she was writing about the family.  All three sisters were married to prominent Chinese men--political and military leader Chiang Kai-shek, revolutionary Sun Yat-sen, and uber wealthy finance minister Kung Hsiang-hsi--but the sisters also cultivated their own positions of power and influence. Hahn was in Chungking while the Japanese were conducting bombing raids on the city, so she had to type her book between frightening but tedious sessions in cave-like air raid shelters.

 

But Hahn’s experiences in Chungking were nothing compared to her life in Japanese occupied Hong Kong. She had about a year in the city before the invasion, which was long enough to have an affair with a married British military officer and give birth to their baby. Up until this point Hahn’s memoir had been highly interesting to me, but her harrowing descriptions of the chaos, scarcity, and menace of living under enemy rule while trying to care for and feed her infant daughter and make sure her hospital imprisoned lover had  food and medicine made the book almost impossible to put down.

 

Hahn was a follows-her-own-rules kind of person, and this is a lively, entertaining, and informative book, but it’s her astute and forthright observations about people, including herself, and their varied reactions to hardship, displacement, cultural difference, tests of love and loyalty, and the loss or gain of power that elevated this memoir above a simple recounting of events for me. The book closes in 1943 when Hahn finally returns to the US with her daughter, but the war is  raging on so her life and the fate of her lover are still up in the air, making me very relieved that I had a biography on hand to fill me in on what happened next--though you could just check her Wikipedia page.

 

This memoir is well over 400 pages, and I did find myself skimming at times, but like many of my favorite books, China to Me sent me into passionate internet research mode, and it’s added several titles to my TBR list--I for sure have to read Hahn’s book about the Soong sisters. There’s a lot more by Hahn to choose from because she authored a total of 52(!) books and wrote articles, poems, and short stories for New Yorker magazine almost up until her death  at the age of ninety-two in 1997.

 

In 2014 China to Me was republished by Open Road Media. I read an ebook review copy supplied to me at no cost by the publisher through NetGalley. Review opinions are mine.

 

Emily Hahn.jpg 

 

Emily Hahn with her pet gibbon, and the Soong sisters.

Source: http://jaylia3.wordpress.com/2015/07/25/candid-memoir-of-expatriate-life-in-1930s-40s-china

Beautifully written story with a 1980's setting in Barbados

The Star Side of Bird Hill: A Novel - Naomi Jackson Groves

This poignant coming of age story combines lyrical writing with a realistic earthiness, occasionally it’s slightly too earthy for my tastes, and it features two sisters, Phaedra age 10 and Dionne age 16, whose plans for the summer are upended when their barely functioning mother sends them a world away, from Brooklyn to Barbados, to live with their grandmother, a midwife and herbalist, skills that have been passed down in their family since the times of enslavement. Caribbean culture and the sisters’ new lives on Bird Hill are beautifully and believable evoked, the characters are almost achingly real, and the story held me more and more in thrall as I went on.

 

In reading reviews, one thing that surprised me is some of the reactions to the cover art. The author chose the image from a painting titled “Too Much Makeup”  because the wary girl it depicts reminds her of 16-year-old Dionne, who continued to wear makeup in Barbados as a kind of armor and a connection to the life she was forced away from in Brooklyn, but a number of reviewers on Amazon and other sites have made a point of saying they hate the it. I’m generally partial to all things colorful and I like the cover art, especially since the author’s description helped me see Dionne in it. What do you think?

Source: http://jaylia3.wordpress.com/2015/07/23/beautifully-written-story-with-a-1980s-setting-in-barbados

Time travel, robots, Greek gods, Atlantis, and Plato’s Republic, part II

The Philosopher Kings - Jo Walton

After the community riving debate at the end of the previous book, the goddess Athena has gone off in a huff, taking most of the futuristic robot workers with her, and the Just City--her philosophical experiment based on Plato’s Republic--is fragmenting into factions. Some groups want to follow Plato’s strictures differently or even more closely, others are allying themselves with Sokrates or blending Plato’s ideas with religious beliefs, and they all are skirmishing violently over the museum quality artwork that Athena had “rescued” from the dustbins of history and installed in her Just City project to enhance the souls of its citizens, a tragically ironic miscalculation. As The Philosopher Kings opens, my favorite character from the first book is dying, shot by an arrow in one of the battles over art.

 

The Philosopher Kings is the sequel to The Just City (my review here), and you would definitely want to start at the beginning of Jo Walton’s Thessaly trilogy before jumping into this continuation of the story. In the first book, when Athena decides to try creating the ideal city that Plato describes in his Republic dialogue, she time-travels interested people from throughout history (from far into our future to deep into our past) and sets them up on the isolated island of Atlantis sometime before the Trojan War, knowing the site will later be destroyed by a volcano so that nothing they do will interfere with any already determined chains of events. Apollo joins her, taking on mortal form to be part of her Just City experiment, because even being a god is limiting in its way and he knows he has things to learn. As a human Apollo is both incredibly talented and clumsily clueless.

 

Apollo is back as a narrator in the second book, and so is Maia, an earnest, hardworking intellectual sort, who had been deeply frustrated by the many restrictions placed on women in Victorian England before Athena brought her to the Just City when she was 19 years old, but deeply philosophical Simmea dies in the book’s first few pages after being wounded in the ongoing battles over artwork.  Simmea began life on a farm in ancient Egypt and was then sold into slavery before being brought to the Just City as a ten-year-old, and she has been grateful for the goddess-given opportunity to become her best self. Fortunately Simmea’s place as a narrator is taken by her teenage daughter Arete, a young woman coping with the mostly wonderful but unsettling secret of her parentage--her father Apollo is a god, which allows her the possibility of becoming a hero like Hercules, maybe the first female hero.

 

Because they aren’t supposed to interfere with history, most Just City citizens had stayed close to their settlement on Atlantis, but after Simmea’s death they decide to make a voyage of discovery, goodwill, and possible revenge, since there are those, Apollo among them, who believe the attack on Simmea must have come from outside. Much of the book is taken up with this epic trip around the islands of the Mediterranean. The voyagers aren’t sure exactly when in time they are, and the primitive, non-philosophical lives of the pre-Trojan War people they first encounter stun them. There is much debate about whether it would be better to help those people or leave them alone.

 

This sequel thrilled and gripped me as much as the first book did. It’s a novel full of ideas and action, but it’s the characters that bring the story to life. They each have sincere and strong, but often clashing ideas about how to create a Plato inspired community, and now their opinions are further challenged by what they find on the voyage. I could especially relate to their feelings of dislocation out in the “real world”. Coming of age in the late 1960’s, early 1970’s, an era when we questioned everything, I was eager to pick apart my hidden (and probably mistaken) axioms of belief. To that end I attended St. John’s College in Annapolis, Maryland where we sought Truth, or maybe just truth, by reading, discussing, and arguing over “the Great Books”, from Homer and Euclid to Tolstoy, Marx, and Einstein (yes, it was a European male dominated list, something the school has rectified somewhat since.) Over summer and winter breaks it was always a disconcerting shock to discover that there were people, even among our friends and family, who didn’t care enough about Plato to have his dialogues be a constant topic of even casual conversations.

 

The third book in this series won’t be out for a while, on her blog Jo Walton said Summer 2016 at the earliest, but I await it eagerly.  It looks like it may be set far into the future, and if so I’m sure Athena’s Just City experiment will have many new and interesting challenges.

I found it!

Themis-Athena's description got me interested in The Leopard, a novel by  Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa that was on the best seller list in 1960 the week To Kill a Mockingbird was released, and I found it at my library book store for 25 cents! 

 

Also, even though I don't read a lot in the genre, I couldn't resist 3 sci-fi fantasy novels by Sarah Zettel with (I think) great covers--I especially love the woman talking earnestly to the tall, blue and handsome alien--so I'll be giving Playing God, Kingdom of Cages, and A Sorcerer's Treason a try too.

 

I found it!