Books I read this week: February week 1 and 2

Lots of good books over the last two weeks, and I’ve succeeded in not buying any new books for another two weeks. Go me! Go the library! Go the Haunted Kindle!

The Just City by Jo Walton has an intriguing premise- Athena decides to create the city that Plato wrote about in The Republic, set up and run by adults from throughout time who have prayed (even in a moment of whimsy) to Athena with a desire to live there, and peopled by 10 year old enslaved children taken from throughout time. The children are bought from their enslavers and brought to the city to grow up and learn and live (and not be slaves, though at least a couple of them don’t see the distinction). The city is run on the principles Plato laid out, and what he always intended as a thought experiment becomes a real experiment. Add into the mix a child who is Apollo in human form, the arrival of Socrates, and possibly sentient robots, and things get very interesting. The story is told from a few different perspectives, and it’s very thought provoking. There’s not ever really a feeling of urgency or conflict, even when there is conflict, which results in a bit of an emotional remove. But I really liked it, and I’m excited to discover that there is a sequel.

I made a list of the Agatha Christie books that I haven’t read, and have been working my way through them. Cat Among the Pigeons  might be the first of her books that has ever disappointed me. It’s the story of murders that occur at a prestigious girls school, and it just doesn’t have the same flow or sense of character as her other books. One of the major plot points is telegraphed really loudly really early, and other clues are completely missing- overall the book read as though someone was trying really hard to write like Agatha Christie and didn’t quite make it.

At Bertram’s Hotel  by Agatha Christie was definitely a step up from Cat Among the Pigeons, but not quite top drawer Christie. Strange things are afoot at Bertram’s Hotel; a man goes missing, a man is murdered, a girl is threatened. Miss Marple is there to observe and ultimately figure out what’s going on. There’s a decently sized conspiracy going on, which isn’t my favorite thing in Christie books, I prefer her closed room/one house mysteries. But the clues are all in this one, and the characters are interesting.

Sad Cypress by Agatha Christie is the best of the three I read in this binge; it’s based completely in relationships and motivation. Elinore loves Roderick, and they both stand to benefit from their aunt’s death, especially since they are going to be married. (Elinore is the aunt’s sister’s daughter, Roderick is the aunt’s husband’s nephew, so there’s no biological relation between the two.) Mary is their childhood friend and the aunt’s caregiver. When the aunt dies, Roderick sees Mary for the first time in a long while, and falls in love. Then Mary dies of morphine poisoning, and it is discovered that the aunt died of the same. Elinore is the only one with the means and opportunity to have done it, and acts guilty, yet Hercule Poirot does not believe that she is the culprit.  This book is such a marked difference from Cat Among the Pigeons, and I’d actually put it really high in my rankings of Christie’s books. The characters are complex but distinct, and their actions are consistent and reasonable. The solution is tricky but there’s no cheating- all the clues are there.

The Guest Cat by Takashi Hiraide is a lovely little book. It’s the story of a couple who befriend a cat. The cat belongs to someone else, but comes to visit them on a regular basis, and the book is about how the humans are changed by interacting with the cat. It’s very Japanese; not much happens but so much happens. It would be a gentle introduction to Japanese fiction.

Still Alice by Lisa Genova is really a stunning book. It’s about Alice, a brilliant psycho-linguistics professor who develops early onset Alzheimer’s. As she begins to lose her memory she hides her condition from her family and colleagues, until she (and they) have to come to terms with the reality of her situation. I thought the book was going to be overpoweringly sad, but it really wasn’t. Alice is a strong person, and as she begins to lose the things that she thinks define her, she realizes what truly does make her who she is. It’s a very thought provoking book that brings up questions of end of life decisions (and when those can and should be made), and of identity and the meaning of a worthwhile life. I think it would make a great book club read; there’s tons to discuss. It’s also very possible that it will give you hypochondria about any little memory slips, but that’s to be expected, I guess.

The Price You Pay Is Red  and The Long And Silent Ever After  by Carlie St. George are the second and third novellas in the Spindle City Mystery Trilogy.  I hope that St. George continues writing in this world, because it’s a gorgeous world that she’s created. The Price You Pay is Red is loosely based on the story of Snow White, while The Long and Silent Ever After is based on Sleeping Beauty and The Frog Prince. The stories are excellent; twisty and dark. The characters continue to develop nicely, and in interesting ways.

Greenglass House by Kate Milford is a pretty great middle grade book. Milo lives in a hotel at the top of a mountain with his parents. He’s looking forward to Christmas vacation alone with them (since the hotel usually doesn’t have guests during the winter), but guest after guest arrive, all with an interest in the hotel, its past as a haven for smugglers, and its former owners. When something is stolen from Milo’s room, he teams up with Meddy, the only other kid in the hotel, to investigate. Meddy plays role playing games, and brings an element of her game playing into their interactions, which allow Milo to break out of his shell as well as analyze his feelings about being adopted as he “becomes” someone else. There’s a pretty decent mystery at the center of the book, and a twist toward the end that literally made me catch my breath because I didn’t see it coming at all. Milo is a great character- sensitive and bothered by change, but courageous and loving. The sub story about adoption is well done; Milo’s family is loving and portrayed very positively, and their conversations about his feelings and thoughts about his identity and adoption are sensitively done.  Some of the RPG sections are a bit overwritten, but overall it’s a highly enjoyable book.

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