WWW Wednesday – 2-4-2015

It’s WWW Wednesday. This meme is from shouldbereading.

• What did you recently finish reading?

I just finished two books (one on my Nook, one paper): Retribution, the seventh in Val McDermid’s Tony Hill-Carol Jordan mysteries; and The Just City by Jo Walton.

The Just City is, as you might expect from Walton, who never wades in exactly the same river twice, totally different from anything she’s done before, except in the quality of the writing. Walton’s a deceptively simple writer, and her powers of observation, and her ability to convey what she observes without frills, is wonderful. And the premises of the book are just astonishing. What if the goddess Athene decided to try an experiment, creating Plato’s “Just City” with The Republic as its template (who thinks of this sort of idea? Holy cow).  Athene goes to great lengths to populate the city with teachers from across time who will help the children brought there grow into citizens and “philosopher kings,” according to Platonic outline. And of course all this goes pear-shaped in ways that demonstrate that, whatever Plato was thinking, his grasp of human nature was a little wobbly. The book asks questions about free will, and art, and eros vs. agape. It’s kind of stunning. Meanwhile, Apollo has incarnated as a child in the city, seeking to learn not just the things that the Just City can teach him, but very personal lessons about choice–his own and others.  Also: Sokrates shows up. And there are robots. And…

It’s just an astonishing book.

Meanwhile, Retribution. I really enjoyed the first few books in this series, which follows Tony Hill, a deeply damaged profiler with no social skills, and Carol Jordan, a detective inspector (yes, British series) with a fondness for Tony, and for the bottle. Hill and Jordan have a tortured, weird relationship (they seem to be in love, but not in a way that will ever lead to anything other than one of them stomping off being tortured), and they’re both brilliant at what they do. In Retribution one of their former nemeses (?) escapes from prison and starts to wreak a terrible punishment on everyone who he sees as the instrument of his incarceration (which means Hill and Jordan are top of the list). Unfortunately, I felt like this was a book in which McDermid has fallen a little in love with her bad guy, and has run out of things to do to keep Hill and Jordan apart. I read this book because I keep hoping McDermid will get back the spark of the first couple of books. Sadly, no.

• What are you reading now?

I just started The Lady of the Islands, a fantasy collaboration between BVC’s Shannon Page and the late Jay Lake. I mean, just started it, as in last night. It’s set in the world of Lake’s Green books, and hurrah, the heroine is a woman of a certain age, smart and accomplished.  So far I’m enjoying it a lot.

• What do you think you’ll read next?

Jo Baker’s Longbourn just came in at the library and has moved to the top of the list; I’ve heard very good things about it.  Meanwhile, I’m feeling that prickly “I need to read some non-fiction” feeling I get sometimes. I’m thinking of reading Bad Blood, a work about the Tuskeegee syphilis experiment (it’s research, really. But also, I’m kind of a sucker for medical history).  Or maybe Inconvenient People: Lunacy, Liberty, and the Mad-Doctors of Victorian England. Cause really, with a title like that, how could I resist?

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WWW Wednesday – 2-4-2015 — 11 Comments

  1. I must get my hands on the Walton. You have read her TOOTH & CLAW? OMG, a tour-de-force.
    I read LONGBOURNE and was disappointed — will be interested in what you make of it. And I derived great benefit from INCONVENIENT PEOPLE — let me know your opinion.

    • Longbourne’s Big Reveal was so obviously and early telegraphed there was no reveal at all, in my opinion, of course! But I’m so sick of every teeny detail of Austen and her works being mined by contemporary writers that this may have affected my response.

      Loved Tooth and Claw!

      My latest non-fiction (as opposed to all the research reading) is The Extraordinary Education of John Quincy Adams. It’s deeply researched, the title plays on JQA’s grandson’s odd memoir-autobiography. It features properly the place of his wife, also an extraordinary person in her own right, Louisa Catherine Adams. Its contents are mined from that most extraordinary of primary sources in American history, JQA’s own diaries, written every day from the time he was eleven until his death. The author is Phyliss Lee Levin, an elderly woman, retired from her years as a NY Times columinist, reporter and editor, whose text is both graceful and dexterous, showing that one’s powers do not necessarily wane with age, though perhaps daily stamina may.

      Love, C.

      • So far, I’m less interested in the plot of Longbourn (there’s a lot of stuff that seems to be telegraphed to me) than I am in the depiction of Regency life below-stairs. And it moves at what one might call a stately pace, and for all the narrator’s appreciation of Elizabeth, the rest of the girls are cyphers.

  2. I loved Tooth and Claw. Jo is one of those writers who just keeps coming up with ideas that boggle me.

    Longbourn is moving a little slowly, but it’s still holding my interest. (It had to jump the queue because it’s got to be back to the library, whereas I own The Lady of the Islands).

  3. Read:
    The Wizard’s Castle and The High King’s Daughter by Debra Doyle and James D. Macdonald
    Folk-Tales of Bengal by Lal Behari Day
    Indian Fairy Tales by Joseph Jacobs
    The Seeing Eye and Other Selected Essays from Christian Reflections by C.S. Lewis
    Reading:
    Monster Hunter Alpha by Larry Correia
    To Read:
    Skin Game by Jim Butcher

  4. I liked everything in Longhorn except the Bennet family–I think she would have done better with her own characters (though probably wouldn’t have made as much cash). Her Elizabeth was utterly out of focus, and I totally didn’t buy that the Bennetts had so few servants, back in the days when domestic labor was so cheap. Nor did I buy her Mr. Collins–though I liked the character.

  5. I really enjoyed “The Just City”, and it keeps coming to mind — so many ideas to chew on.