by Alex Scarrow
Sci Fi & Fantasy , Teens & YA
Pub Date 01 Dec 2017
Plague Land is being released on December 1st. If you have a horror fan on your holiday list, I suggest you consider giving them Alex Scarrow’s unique version of the plague. It is unbelievably hard to write this review without spoilers but I will give it the old Navy try as my dad used to say.
Scarrow’s book takes place in modern times in our current global world. The book begins with a teen named Leon, his younger sister Grace and his mother. They recently moved from the United States to England. After divorcing Leon’s father, his mother decided to move them closer to her parents in England. Alex, with his Yank accent, does not fit in and has not made any new friends to replace the ones he was forced to leave behind. Grace, not yet a teen, is having an easier time fitting in. Their mom is totally consumed by working to support them and is missing all the angst in Alex’s life.
When news begins to emerge from Africa about a new contagious disease, Alex is worried. His mother isn’t. After all, they are in England, with its modern medicine and security. As we know now, the price of a global world, is global disease. Nothing is truly quarantined because by the time it is decided to isolate it, it has already spread. What is spreading from Africa, to literally the ends of the Earth, is not the Black Plague, not Ebola, not any previously seen disease. This one kills because this one thinks.
Note: While the book is listed as for age fourteen and up, I would approach that age with care. The book has some graphic descriptions of the plague activity that may unsettle a less mature readers.
A People’s History of the World
From the Stone Age to the New Millennium
Author Chris Harman
Narrated by Napoleon Ryan
Publication date Aug 29, 2017
Running time 27 hrs
Courtesy Tantor Media
I love history. I have loved it since childhood. I have favorite eras, like the Plantagenet and Tudor reigns of England. I lack an overall view of world history. How it all fits together. The non-European history and how it connects with the history I was taught. When I saw A People’s History of the World by Chris Harman offered for review from Tantor Media, I thought it would be a good opportunity to fill the gaps in my knowledge.
The Introduction begins stating that the book is meant as an outline, a stepping off point for deeper study into specific areas. Although it is an outline, not an indepth look at every moment of history, the book does have a thread that runs throughout all the eras studied. Part One is the Rise of Class Societies. It begins with prehistory. The author posits that at this point in history there were no classes. Every individual was important to the life or death of the tribe so all things were shared equally. There is no way to say for sure this is true or false (unless Doctor Who shows up with the Tardis and the right coordinates). As he lays out the development of civilization, he accompanies it with the development of a classed society. He shows a shift from matriarchal to patriarchal societies, not all but the majority, leading to the subjugation of women.
The sections following are The Ancient World, The Middle Ages, The Great Transformations (Reformation and Renaissance), The Spread of the New Order (Enlightenment), The World Turned Upside Down and finally The Century of Hope and Horror. Mr. Harman is a leading socialist in Britain. His writing style is fluid but not simple. This is not a book that can be devoured quickly. It is best to read a chapter at a time and let it percolate before moving one. Mr. Harman’s socialist background is evident in his interpretation of events. That does not mean it is invalid. Very few historians can write without an visible biases. It is not the history you learned in school and will open your mind to possibilities.
Napoleon Ryan is a British actor who has done quite a bit of voiceover and narration in addition to theater and screen. His voice is rich and he enunciates clearly. The problem I had with the book was that I tried to start it on a very long road trip. About an hour in I had to stop. I had no idea what I had heard. Mr. Ryan’s voice washed over me and was pleasant to listen to but I could not concentrate on driving and the complexity of the book at the same time.
I would suggest A People’s History of the World if you can give yourself the time to take it slow. It is rewarding when you take the time to truly concentrate. You may not agree with all of it but it will give you a new angle from which to explore history.
Creatures of Will and Temper
by Molly Tanzer
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
John Joseph Adams/Mariner Books
Pub Date 14 Nov 2017
Molly Tanzer’s book, Creatures of Will and Temper, is described as “A Victorian urban fantasy featuring duelists, demons, and the dark arts, inspired by The Picture of Dorian Gray.” It is all that and more. I picked it up because of the nod to Oscar Wilde’s classic. I read Wilde’s book in college, more than thirty-five years ago, and remember the broad strokes of the story but not the fine details. Tanzer’s story uses that basic level familiarity and builds a new story with great characters.
The main characters are sisters, Evadne and Dorina Gray. They are eighteen and seventeen years old respectively. They live in the country and are upper class. Evadne is dutiful, conservative and the bane of her younger sister. Dorina is a risk taker, rule breaker and fed up with her sister tattling to her parents. Dorina is a lesbian and enjoys a series of girlfriends, all under the radar because of the societal rules at the time.
Dorina is planning on spending time with her Uncle Basil in London, a renowned painter. Dorina is thinking of being an art critic so spending time with her uncle should be educational. After Evadne tattles on Dorina’s latest relationship, she finds herself being sent to London as her sister’s keeper. Neither sister is happy with the situation or each other.
Once they arrive in London, the story really takes off. Their uncle is mourning his friend and lover, Oliver. Oliver’s sister takes Dorina to see the museums of London and meet the people who appreciate the art Dorina will one day be writing about. Evadne finds herself becoming more confident when she finds a fencing master and pursues her passion for fencing. There are demons in London. They are not the horns and pitchfork variety. Like London itself, these demons are complex and all with their own agendas. Evadne and Dorina encounter the demons in very different ways with very different reactions to them.
There are several facets of this book I really enjoyed. One was the fencing. For over ten years, I was a fencing parent. The sections of the book detailing the salle, the weapons, the tactics, the smelly fencing whites after an afternoon of bouting, were a joy to read. The other facet I enjoyed was the relationship between Evadne and Dorina. It is a very realistic depiction of sisters close in age but far apart in temperament. Their relationship evolves over the course of the book. Like the two characters evolution, it is not straightforward or smooth. It has fits and starts as in real life.
I recommend Creatures of Will and Temper. It kept me engaged. Gave me characters I cared about. Alternated action sequences with character exploration. Molly Tanzer has created a fantastic book with strong female protagonists.
The Girl in the Tower
by Katherine Arden
Random House Publishing Group - Ballantine
Sci Fi & Fantasy
Pub Date 05 Dec 2017
I was fortunate to review Katherine Arden’s The Bear and the Nightingale. I really enjoyed it. Arden created characters whose voices were so clear that I could keep them straight regardless of the Russian naming conventions attached to them. That book look place in the mid 14th century, before it is truly Russian. If you have not read The Bear and the Nightingale, please do not read any further.
The tension between the old beliefs and the new religion were central to The Bear and the Nightingale. It was a book about a country, a people and a family in the process of change. The Girl in the Tower picks up shortly after the end of The Bear and the Nightingale. Vasilisa (Vasya) is still the central character. Vasya chooses to flee her family home after the death of her father and stepmother. Both deaths are blamed on her.
Vasya flees to the only ally she has, Morozko, who is more dangerous than her enemies. Vasya chooses to take any limited assistance and sets out to see what is beyond the forest of northern Russia. Morozko has an agenda in helping Vasya. All that Vasya learned as a child about the old ways can help her survive anything except the monsters that are men. Characters from the first book, like Sasha and Konstantin, return and new characters are introduced. The story is just as intriguing as the first book.
Arden continues her description, rich prose in this book.The language of the book is gorgeous. It flowed very easily. I did purchase the audiobook of The Bear and the Nightingale and preordered the audiobook of The Girl in the Tower. Reading Arden’s prose is enjoyable but hearing it read with correct pronunciations is a feast for your ears..
I would recommend The Girl in the Tower as soon as you finish The Bear and the Nightingale for a captivating journey to a lost world of magic. It really is an enchanted series.