The Just City by Jo Walton

just cityBook – What do Sokrates, the god Apollo, a nineteenth-century spinster, Marcus Tullius Cicero, a ninth-century Libyan slave, Giovanni Mirandola, and an array of twenty-first century robots have in common? They’re all inhabitants of The Just City, Plato’s thought experiment made manifest. Oh, and less than half of them are there of their own free will.

After being spurned by Daphne, Apollo decides to spend some time as a human in an attempt to understand “volition and equal significance,” and his sister Athene suggests that the best place to do so would be in her city. She’s creating Plato’s Republic and filling it with people who prayed to her and wished to live there. Like any utopia, the problems start piling up quickly. Plato thought you could build a civilization starting with ten-year-old children, so they buy more than ten thousand of them out of slavery, even though some of the Masters of the City worry that buying from slavers will make their city unjust before it even begins. Their hard labor is done by robots brought by Athene out of the future, but when Sokrates strikes up a conversation with one it begins to look as though the City has been relying on slavery after all. And of course everyone comes with the flaws of their own histories as well, because Plato was wrong, and a ten-year-old child is not a blank slate.

Fair warning: this book is in large part about consent, and there are several scenes depicting consent and its absence in sexual contexts. But it’s a careful, detailed exploration, tying together many different ideas about free will, virtue, and good intentions. Anyone who’s ever wished for a life dedicated to the pursuit of excellence should find this book fascinating.

 

Girl Genius by Phil & Kaja Foglio

girl geniusGraphic Novel – Agatha Clay is a favorite student of Professor Beetle, the Spark (or Mad Scientist) who runs Beetleburg on behalf of the Baron Klaus Wolfenbach. Agatha is pretty sure she’s no Spark herself – until the day Professor Beetle is accidentally killed when he throws a bomb at the Baron’s son Gilgamesh. Agatha’s life is thrown into chaos when she’s held captive on the Baron’s airship Castle Wolfenbach, a hostage against the good behavior of Moloch von Zinzer, who everyone but Gil believes is the Spark behind the devices Agatha has been building in her sleep. And then there’s the infectious Slaver Wasps, the odd behavior of the Jägermonsters, Gilgamesh’s inconvenient crush, and the bossy and imperious Emperor of All Cats…

Girl Genius is a long-running webcomic, also available in print volumes, whose tagline is “Adventure, Romance, MAD SCIENCE!” And there’s certainly plenty of all three. Agatha is the best kind of adventure hero – she always runs toward the sound of gunfire. She’s smarter and more capable than she thinks she is, but she gains confidence as the series goes on. My favorite characters, though, are the Jägermonsters, half-human monsters with ridiculous German accents who like fighting, pretty girls, and hats. (“You know how dose plans alvays end. The dirigible is in flames, everybody’s dead, an’ you’ve lost your hat.”) It’s a never-ending series of wacky fun, not to be taken too seriously at all. The Library owns the first ten volumes in print – start with Agatha Heterodyne and the Beetleburg Clank.

Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor

daughterBook – To her friends and classmates Karou appears to be an ordinary foreign exchange student studying art in the timeless city of Prague. She has typical relationship troubles and is dealing with the disappointment of a cheating ex-boyfriend. However, it becomes apparent how extraordinary she is when she fends off the continued advances of her ‘ex’ armed only with wishes.Then she is summoned on a clandestine mission of….tooth collecting? Karou’s true identity is a mystery hidden even from herself, until she meets a winged echo from her past.

This book was listed among the YALSA top ten best fiction titles for young adults in 2012. The audiobook was nominated for several Audie Awards, and the movie rights have been sold to Universal Pictures. Daughter of Smoke and Bone is the first in a fast paced trilogy that takes on a much darker tone with the second book Days of Blood and Starlight. Taylor is thoughtful about the impacts of war on her characters and the worlds she has created. This world-building trilogy might appeal to fans of Greek mythology and stories about angels such as Cassandra Clare’s Mortal Instruments Series.

The Orchardist by Amanda Coplin

orchardistBook – William Talmadge is a lonely orchardist tending acreages of apricots and apples at the foot of the Cascade Mountains in the Pacific Northwest.  His life is forever changed when two pregnant girls decide to take refuge on his property.  He feels protective of these young women, since he is still haunted by his sister’s disappearance 50 years ago when she was a teenager. He slowly builds trust and a relationship with sisters Della and Jane, but tragic consequences  leave him unexpectedly caring for Jane’s baby as she flees  and tries to confront and take revenge on the ghost of her past. Talmadge is heartsick at her leaving and works at her redemption as he strives to protect her from her from the psychological traumas she had suffered.    Set in the early 20th century this story gives a great insight into the hardships and lawlessness of the old West. Beautifully written, The Orchardist by Amanda Coplin explores the complexity of human nature.  This book has received starred reviews from Publisher’s Weekly, Library Journal and Kirkus and is a great choice for book groups.

The Lost City of Z: A Tale of Deadly Obsession in the Amazon by David Grann

lost cityBook – Touted as a real-life Indiana Jones story, The Lost City of Z tells the adventures of Percy Fawcett. The last of the ‘amateur’ adventurers, Colonel Fawcett helped explore the Amazon and was instrumental in mapping the borders of Brazil and Argentina at the request of the Royal Geographic Society. He is most well-known for his exhaustive search for the ‘Lost City of Z,’ a city that he was convinced existed in the depths of the Amazon jungle. His expedition disappeared in 1925 and no verified account of what actually did happen exists. At least one hundred people have died in search of both the city and the fate of Fawcett’s party.

In addition to the story of what happened in Fawcett’s life, The Lost City of Z also tells the story of a writer in search of a story and how easily you can get caught up in a legend. David Grann undertook a trek of his own into the false paradise that is the Amazonian jungle and came out with a new understanding of what it meant to be an explorer in the golden era.

This book was a fascinating look at the Amazon through the eyes of anthropologists, archaeologists, and adventurers. The mystery still lingers and this book made me research so many things. I still want to know more about the events that led to the disappearance of Fawcett’s party and the subsequent discoveries made. This will be hours and hours of interesting reads.

I listened to this book and while the narrator had a dry almost monotone style, it worked for the topic.

Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein

codeBook - Code Name Verity follows the World War II adventures of two young Scottish women.  Sensible Maddie, who grew up in her grandfather’s bike shop, has a skill with machines matched only by her love of aeronautics.  As a member of the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force she mostly flies supply planes, but her missions become a lot more interesting once she meets Queenie, the girl with many names.  Queenie is fearless and funny, brilliant and aristocratic—and a spy.  Thrown together under extraordinary circumstances, it isn’t long before the girls form a fierce friendship.  When Maddie’s plane is shot down over occupied France and Queenie is captured on a mission, however, both girls will find their strength, and their bond, tested to the limit.

Told through letters and documents written by both young women, Code Name Verity introduces two equally vivid lead characters whose affection for each other makes them jump off the page.  Elizabeth Wein does an extraordinary job of building tension and maintaining the novel’s pace, making it hard to put down.  Code Name Verity functions equally well as an action-packed war story and as a coming-of-age novel, but for me the absolute highlight is the friendship between the girls—perhaps the single best female friendship I have ever read.  There are mentions of off-screen torture that may be uncomfortable for some, and readers are definitely advised to keep their tissues handy, but the depth of emotion and exquisite writing in this top-notch story make it well worth the ride.

 

 

 

The Brilliant Light of Amber Sunrise by Matthew Crow

brilliantBook – In The Brilliant Light of Amber Sunrise, Francis Wootten lives in Northern England and comes from a loving if dysfunctional family. His mother is tough as nails and his grandmother is the same. His father is absent, caught up in his new life elsewhere. His brother works on a magazine no one reads and raids their pantry on a regular basis along with his flatmate, Fiona. Quiet, reserved and a bit of a loner, it isn’t until his leukemia lands him in a hospital unit, that Francis makes a friend and finally falls in love.

I found myself far more interested and invested in Francis and his family than Amber. The Woottens were easier to care about and connect to while Amber was explained too often and shown too little. That said, Francis’ voice is a compelling one and the book was quite enjoyable. This would be a good read for fans of John Green, unique narrators, and strange family dynamics.

A Seamless Murder by Melissa Bourbon

seamlessBookA Seamless Murder is the 6th book in the Magical Dressmaking Mystery series by Melissa Bourbon. While you don’t have to read them in order I highly suggest you do so.

From the glitz and glamour of New York’s fashion scene to the down-home styles of her hometown Bliss, Texas, Harlow Cassidy has come a long ways. When the local chapter of the Red Hat Ladies Club asks for her help making aprons for their upcoming progressive dinner, Harlow knows that no job is too small. Her dressmaking charm helps her to ‘see’ people in an outfit that will help them realize their heart’s wish, but will it help her to find out who wished Delta harm when she turns up dead. It has helped her before and she’s drawn into an investigation with more twists and turns than expected.

I adore Harlow and her magical family. They are such fun to read about. Her skills at sleuthing have developed over the series and so has her relationship with Will. This was a great addition to a sweet series.

Annihilation by Jeff VanderMeer

annihilationBook – No one quite knows what happens in Area X. Cameras don’t work, modern technology breaks down, and all remnants of human civilization are slowly disappearing into the local biosphere. The first expedition reported a pristine Eden; the members of the second expedition all killed themselves; the members of the third expedition all killed each other. The members of the eleventh expedition all died of cancer. One of those was the biologist’s husband, and she’s going to go into Area X as part of the twelfth expedition. Maybe they’ll find some answers.

If you ever watched Lost and thought that the island just wasn’t creepy and weird enough, Annihilation, book one of VanderMeer’s award-winning Southern Reach Trilogy, is for you. The narrator never gives her name, only a biologist’s fascination with the flora and fauna of Area X and a scientist’s dispassionate narration of some extremely weird events. Later books in the trilogy offer some answers, but rest assured – there’s no disappointing explanation lurking in the back of this series.

Gates of Thread and Stone by Lori M. Lee

gates of threadBook – Gates of Thread and Stone is the first book in a series by Lori M. Lee.

Kai is different, she lives with Reev, her ‘brother’ that has kept her safe and alive in a world that is littered with dangerous people and ideas. In this world only one person is allowed magic. So Kai has to hide her ability to twist the threads of time. With Reev’s help, this hasn’t been a problem, until people start going missing and Reev is one of them. Now desperate to find him she has to trust the shopkeeper’s son, Avan, and a slew of people that do not have her best interests at heart.

I don’t often do this, but I gave this book a 5-star rating on Amazon and Goodreads. This was a fantastic balance of dystopia, magic, brutality, romance, and familial strife. I loved this book and am even more excited that I can share it with my teen daughter. There is romance in the book, but it doesn’t tip into what I feel is inappropriate for my young daughter to be reading about. The first in a planned trilogy, Gates of Thread and Stone is a must read.