Thursday, July 30, 2015

Philosophy in Action

The Just City
By Jo Walton

In Plato's Republic you'll find a template for a city intended to maximize justice among its inhabitants. If you're already falling asleep, don't worry. You don't have to be a philosophy major to enjoy this book. But author Jo Walton takes Plato's thought experiment and uses it to tell a story. What if the gods of Olympus were real and two of them decided to create a city and fill it with people who desire to follow Plato's guidelines? Would such a city succeed?

After setting the gears into action the goddess Athena and the god Apollo both take the form of children in the city so that they can see the experiment unfold. Their friends and teachers are taken from throughout history, some of them famous and some of them unknown, but all of them striving to do their best. Of course, the definition of what's best is different for mathematicians from the Renaissance and philosophers from the Information Age, so there are some bumps in the road. Then Athena brings Socrates into the city to to see what has been created from Plato's ideas and his own words. He begins asking questions and some cracks begin to appear in the idea-driven foundations of the city. How far are the gods willing to go with their human experiment? And how long will the humans agree to stay within the rules Plato gave?

As I said, this book doesn't require a philosophy degree, but it will definitely get you thinking. Check it out if you've pondered anything recently. Or if you think time-travelling gods might be fun to hang out with.

Review by Danny Hanbery

Monday, July 27, 2015

Book Review:  Her by Harriet Lane

One day Nina instantly recognizes Her, Emma, a woman who unknowingly has a profound influence on her life.  On a street on an ordinary day Nina fastens her attention and intention on finding a way into Emma’s world entering her life as unobtrusively as Emma did her decades ago.  On the surface this story unfolds as two very different women find connection despite the differences in the arcs of their lives. Beneath the surface of the bright promise of a budding friendship the psychopathic menace of Nina’s obsession with Emma grows slowly as poisonous memories of unspoken loss and withering contempt become laced with a desire for revenge.  The chapters alternate with Nina and Emma sharing their life experiences and record of their encounters most of which are descriptions of the same events.  Slowly the tension builds as barely remembered nuances are remembered by Emma and Nina’s inner fury builds to a shocking and unresolved conclusion. All I could murmur after reading this was….Oh my God…Oh my God…what a story.  This one is slow in spots, but subtle tension kept me reading,   wondering and hoping for a happy ending that I knew would not happen.  Harriet Lane’s prose is luminous and involving; delicious as it builds characters neither of which is truly likeable but who one longs to know more about.  Well worth your time if you enjoy slow and easy suspense.

Review by Karen 

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Beyond The Spellman Files

If you haven't read the delightful mystery series The Spellman Files, put them on request now!

Lutz's new offering How To Start a Fire is a departure from the Spellman mystery series which concluded last year. Lutz began working on this book in 2006, right before she sold the first Spellman files book.

The story follows three friends (Anna, Kate, and George) who meet in college and keep in touch beyond their college years. The friends come from differing backgrounds and they each bring something unique to the friendship. They form a strong bond that is tested by jealousy, substance abuse, stubbornness and the passage of time. The description may appear to be chick lit, but the story goes deeper than most chick lit and is presented in a fresh way.

The narrative jumps back and forth through time which can be confusing but if you ignore the years on the chapter page the story is easily navigated.

Review by Cara

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Book Review:  My Grandfather Would Have Shot Me: A Black Woman Discovers Her Family’s Nazi Past by Jennifer Teege
One day Jennifer Teege picked up a book in a library in Hamburg Germany.  The title was I Have to Love My Father Don’t It? written by Monika Goeth.  This was her mother’s name! Looking inside the book she found pictures of her Grandmother Ruth Irene Kalder Goeth and of her Grandfather, the master of the Plaszow Concentration Camp…Amon Goeth!    This event in a library was the beginning of the author’s research of her family’s Nazi past.  The author relates her horror which propels her into depression. Slowly and inexorably she pulls together all the loose tendrils of her existence;  her mother’s abandonment as a child, finding her Nigerian father, gradually reconciling the loving grandmother who cared for her with the woman besotted with love for a man who shot Jewish people for sport in the concentration camp near the grounds of their home.  Jennifer Teege’s journey takes her to the sites of the Plaszow and Auschwitz concentration camps, to her friends in Tele vi and other parts of the Middle East who had family members impacted and  finally to the families of survivors of the Holocaust. 
This was a difficult read but so worth the effort.  It brings a personal resonance to the horrors of a time past and helps the reader to understand that the effects of that time live on generations after the events.  One weeps with and cheers Jennifer Teege’s courage, humility and willingness to open wounds to build understanding of a time we must never revisit.

Review by Karen  

Monday, June 22, 2015

Summer Reads Suggestions?

It's hot and the best way to beat the heat is to grab a book and find some shade. Here are some suggested titles from various sources to keep your mind off the heat! 

Publisher's Weekly 2015 Best Summer Reads

The Independent's Best Summer Reads Chosen By Literary Luminaries

Amazon's Summer Blockbusters

NPR's Beyond the Best Sellers Selected by Nancy Pearl

New York Times Cool Books for Hot Summer Days

Huffington Post 18 Brilliant Books

Read anything great that you would like to share? Post a comment!

List compiled by Cara

Monday, June 15, 2015

A year abroad, among the beautiful people

The Last Enchantments
by Charles Finch

Did Donna Tartt's Secret History fill you with a secret yearning to study Classics with the trust-fund crowd at some leafy liberal arts college? Did you find Whit Stillman's callow Manhattanites inexplicably appealing as they partied languorously through Christmas break in Metropolitan? If so, The Last Enchantments will leave you positively homesick for Oxford.

Finch's latest novel, his first not starring Victorian detective Charles Lenox, follows 25-year-old Will Baker to Oxford. It is 2005, with the US firmly mired in Iraq and Bush still president. Baker, scion of an old-money New England family quits his job as a Democratic operative, abandons his wealthy and well-connected longtime girlfriend, and heads to England to pursue a Master's in English literature.

The story is slight: Baker falls in and out love, studies, parties, graduates, and agonizes ad nauseam over whether to stay at Oxford, work in international finance or return to politics in time for the 2006 midterms. The characters are well-drawn, memorable and eminently believable: Tom, t; Anil, the sweet gangsta rapper from India;  Oxford, the city and its colleges, is a character in itself. Finch studied there, and his lush, loving descriptions of the place, its people and peculiar customs will leave you half-convinced you actually lived there.

The characters are loathsome and charming in that way unique to the hereditary rich.

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Review by Don Beistle

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

History for fans of historical fiction

by Amanda Vaill

During the Spanish Civil War, Madrid’s posh Hotel Florida hosted a motley collection of mostly foreign artists, intellectuals, journalists, war tourists and spies. The fighting was never more than a few miles away, and every so often a Fascist shell would blow out some windows or kill a pedestrian in the street below. For a taste of real action, you could drive out to the front after breakfast and still make it back in time for dinner and drinks.

Ernest Hemingway stayed at the Florida, of course, and came away with a play (The Fifth Column), a novel (For Whom the Bell Tolls), a bundle of short pieces, and a third Mrs. Hemingway. Amanda Vaill has written about Hemingway before and clearly has little love for him; here he is a boor and a dupe who never realized Soviet agents were playing him like a fiddle. He and Martha Gellhorn are the famous pair among the three couples featured in Vaill’s excellent Hotel Florida, but what the others might lack in name recognition is more than made up for in drama.

Photography or history buffs may be vaguely familiar with the doomed romance of photographers Robert Capa and Gerda Taro, but Vaill brings them vividly to life with fresh details from friends and family. Though Capa and Taro’s story is pure big-screen material, Vaill manages to keep a lid on the melodrama without muting either the beauty or the horror of their days together.

Loyalist press officers Arturo Barea and Ilsa
Kulcsar round out Vaill’s sextet, and in some ways their story is the most gripping. Neither consumed by Capa and Taro’s youthful audacity nor insulated by the wealth, fame and American passports that shielded Hemingway and Gellhorn, Barea and Kulcsar demonstrate that civil war can kindle revolutionary passions (both political and personal) in the most ordinary hearts. Barea and Kulcsar’s story enthralls because they are unexceptional individuals caught up in exceptional times and—unlike their famous counterparts—the outcome is always in doubt.

Hotel Florida is well-researched, and Vaill’s deft exploitation of new or little-known sources gives it an unexpected richness. The brisk narration, eye for detail and abundant use of dialogue had me checking the spine label to see whether it is historical fiction or remarkably well-written history. Hotel Florida is history, but history with living flesh newly hung upon its dry and dusty bones.

Review by Don Beistle