Just the Plague by Ludmila Ulitskaya is set in 1930s Russia. Stalin is at the helm. And in a small town, Maier, a microbiologist, is slogging away developing a plague vaccine. Nothing particularly dramatic happens until he is summoned to Moscow to give a progress update to the powers that be. As Maier struggles with what to actually report, things take a darker turn.
A plague like disease suddenly begins to spread, leaked from a lab. Little by little, it transpires that more people are affected. The primary way to contain the disease is to quarantine anyone who catches it, which stops the virus from spreading to others. State machinery kicks in, aggressively tracing contacts of patients displaying symptoms, and taking them into quarantine. To guard against panic, State officials are only giving basic information to those being rounded up.
For the citizens’ greater good, the State puts controls in place. But do people really want their State officials to turn up at their door at any hour, demanding that they drop everything immediately and accompany them? What are the limits of personal freedom vs the boundary of the State? Where do we draw the line? These and other themes, in this novella, far ahead of its times and uniquely prescient, is Ulitskaya’s masterpiece written in the 1980s. Must read.
I chanced upon a wonderful book. A Dream in Polar Fog is written by Yuri Rytkheu, a Chukchi writer. It is translated from the original Russian by Ilona Yazhbin Chavasse. During the Covid-19 crisis, the wonderful people over at Archipelago Books are offering it for free, amongst many of their other books.
I have always like Russian literature – it is rich, poetic and most authors write of a world we know very little about. There was always a smattering of fantastic books by Maxim Gorky, Mikhael Sholokov, Pushkin and Boris Polevoi around in my childhood. And I still own so many books that were translated into English by Progress Publishers. One day, I would love to visit. But in the meantime, books!
What I loved about this book is that it is set in a remote area near the Kamchatka Peninsula, where a Canadian sailor is stuck. What starts off an as entrapment in John’s mind turns into life at the end of it. The stunning polar tundra is described in detail – the endless snow, the fauna of the bears, foxes and walruses, and the dance of the norther lights. An imaginative mind is welcomed to dance with the words. Shamans preach and hunters hunt in these far byond nowehere lands, and it is fascinating to learn how the Chukchi survive.
It is week 3 of isolation here in the UK and this book was great to put everything into perspective. So many communities like these are proponents of simple living and being one with nature. Eat what you can gather, save up for the harsh winters and share even if you have little – all of these things come through John’s life. But now, they are all starting to come through in all of ours too – as the world is struggling to adapt to the new normal.
The book is free, so I 100% recommend it. And stay safe, wherever your home is.
This book by Flynn Berry was a quick read. I picked it up because it was on a list with Gone Girl and The Girl on the Train. The novel is about a girl who is about to go visit her sister, but when she gets there, finds her sister and her dog both brutally murdered. I enjoyed how the author had described the crime scene very graphically, I do like that in crime novels, it sets a strong scene.
Turns out, the sister Rachel had also been brutally attacked in the past (and nearly died) but the perpetrator was never caught. The book is then the protagonist’s attempts to find her sister’s killer. And in true, crime fiction style, there are cops with personal issues of their own. Rachel’s past begins to surface, and we find that not a lot of people knew many things about her and many suspects with strong motives begin to emerge.
Overall, the book did not impress me. I found the revelations from the past rather predictable (perhaps I have been reading too much in the genre)! I also found the ending rather bland. The initial excitement of the plot did not carry through and the repeat crime sub-plot quickly lost steam. So I’d give this one a miss if I were you, but it isn’t a very long read either way, so it was okay.
I was at Lancaster University last week and spending some time walking around Pendle College and ended up at their very impressive student library. What do I do when that happens? Pick up a book and make a beeline for an empty couch! I picked up this book because I had been to Lancaster Castle the day before and only just found out about the area’s connection to witches!
The book is set in 1612, when James I, a Protestant King, is on the throne. He was James VI of Scotland, of course, the son of Mary Queen of Scots. Apparently, he was obsessed with ridding his realm of twin evils, witchcraft and Catholicism, at any price…
The narrative has an old fashioned writing style, it is not halting though, just different. The local sheriff at Pendle hill interrupts a strange meeting as he suspects it to be a witches’ Sabbat. I won’t tell you how, but even Shakespeare plays a cameo – how cool is that!?
It is a very short read although it looks deceptively thick. It took me a couple of hours and a bit to read, although I was totally engrossed in it. The library was fab and the weather outside was, well, underwhelming, so there.
Last year, I wrote about Americosis, and then again followed it up with vol 2 and vol 3. I nearly missed Vol 4, as I was away on holiday and although I knew it was going to come out around the time of the POTUS elections, it slipped my mind. Just as well, because I ended up reading it just as the new President got sworn in.
The characters in this book sort of pick up where they left off. As one would expect, this book goes heavier on the plot of Sanchez’s visions and the elections with him and Archer vying for votes. As this sub-plot takes centre stage, the mirroring of reality and fiction becomes clearer. The tension level is high, the drama is much more tightly knit. The Erica part of the plot is also getting less fluffy and more meaty, as she drifts between solving past mysteries only to come up against new ones. All in all, great writing.
What did jump put at me though, is that the language in this edition was a little too foul for my taste. Not that that is any different from reality and all the names that were thrown at Clinton and Trump, it made reading some of the chapter a little hard. Another very short read delivered by Wilks, and if you haven’t gotten into it yet, the four books back-to-back will take you only a couple of days to get through. I might do that, as I wait for vol 5!
Remember, a few years ago, the world was taken by storm by the debut novel of Swedish author Jonas Jonasson, called The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared? Well, since then, I haven’t read any comedy I don’t think. After all, the world has been rather busy with psychological thrillers like Gone Girl etc. Anyway, I digress. I missed Jonasson’s scond book about the girl and the King of Sweden, but this one, I picked up recently.
Now, this book, in similar fashion, is the totally random story of a receptionist at a hotel, a hitman who ends up at the hotel, and a priest who doesn’t believe in God. I know! It is a great book that follows a now familiar structure of loose threads, weaving and interweaving beautifully until they all tie up nicely. Jonasson is a great author because I feel that his stories are like life – you know how you sometimes look back and life makes no sense at all,like that!
However, I do have to say that this book didn’t make me laugh as much as the 100-year-old man. Maybe that book had just set the bar too high for me, as it might be the one humourous book I have actually enjoyed a lot! Having said that, this book is still a great read and an especially good length for a good travel read if you are looking for a change from the usual crime thriller.
Lat year, I wrote about Americosis, and then again followed it up with vol 2. Vol 3 took a wee while to turn up and it had been on my mind. So when author Haydn Wilkes got in touch, I said yes to reviewing the latest instalment of the series. I had to skim through the last few pages of the previous book to tune my head in again.
The characters in this book sort of pick up where they left off. Now what is crazy is that watching some of the snippets of the Presidential election drama in the US, it is almost easy to believe that this book is based on true events. I mean, are candidates not seeing visions and almost needing psychatrists? I think so! The story of the savior, the presidential candidate, and the human virus carrier are intertwined again, but this book was more election than the other two subplots, which I liked, because it meant that there was less ‘jumping about’ between chapters.
It does end on a cliffhanger, and unlike my prediction, we still don’t know who the people are going to vote for. Again, writing this up with the Season Finale of Amrica all over my newsfeed, it seems surreal. The human virus storyline does not progress very much at all, which is a wee bit disappointing because that was really hooking me in. But I guess that’ll keep me waiting eagerly for the next part/
A very short read, this is a good series to get into. If you wait until it finishes, the whole series read back-to-back on travel time will be a full length book sized read! Enjoy.
I read this book by Jane Smiley for three reasons. It came recommended by my friend Liz, who knows my style well. I also had to read something for the April Motif Challenge, which was ‘Read a book that has won recognition or a literary award’, which this book has. It won the 1992 Putlizer. And the final reason was that I hadn’t read anything set in America for a while. And I was thoroughly impressed!
This books spans the lives of three sisters of the Cook family. Their father, Larry Cook, is an ageing farmer who decides to incorporate his farm, handing complete and joint ownership to his three daughters, Ginny, Rose, and Caroline. When the youngest daughter objects, she is removed from the agreement. I loved this part of the novel, where this event sets off a chain of long lost dark truths and forgotten lies. As a family, their true dysfunctionality comes to light. There is some very dark bits to be unearthed as well, which I wont speak of here because that would spoil it for you if you wanted to read it. There is also a subplot around the eldest daughter Ginny and her troubled marriage and difficulties in bearing a child.
What I was interested to know was that this is a modern day retelling of Shakespeare’s King Lear. Now, to be honest, I think I read that play over ten years ago and I cannot remember anything. But this book has meant that I will have to go an reread that again, now. So while I go and do that, you be sure to pick this one up.
For the March bit of this challenge,
“MARCH- Take a Trip
Time Travel or read a book set in a country different than where you live”
I read Air, by Caroline Allen, a couple of months ago. This book is mainly set in Japan,although some parts of it cover the protagonist Pearl travelling to/from Missouri. But I have been to neither of those two countries. So I am just sharing the review,