Mini-Reviews from the Southwest, Part II: Pandemic; An Ember in the Ashes; In a Dark, Dark Wood; The Company

Read Part I here!

I took a fiction break with Sonia Shah’s Pandemic: Tracking Contagions, from Cholera to Ebola 23847947and Beyond. I listened to the audio version, which Shah narrates herself. She does a fine job, and
the book is decent. I felt like she didn’t bring anything “new” to the non-fiction epidemiology world, and that a lot of the same themes and insights could be delivered in long-form journalism pieces (this one about Ebola is a personal favorite). I kind of wish that I had chosen her other books instead, but heard the malaria one was a difficult listen and didn’t even see this one about pharmaceuticals and ethics on Audible! Personally, I’m not ready to write off Shah — I appreciate her writing style, how she incorporates herself into the story, and the engaging honesty she offers the reader. Pandemic just wasn’t for me. For a longer review and a look at the complexes you’ll develop after reading this book, please check out  Gin Jenny’s post here!

Next up is a book I heard about through the blogger grapevine and read about on Book Riot! 20560137Seriously, when I see a lot of consistently positive reviews about a genre book, I have to give it a try. Sabaa Tahir’s An Ember in the Ashes is a phenomenal first entry in the series. It’s a great YA exploration of personal/social expectations and pressures, identity, and narratives. The chapters alternate narrators, focusing either on Laia or Elias. Laia comes from a family of spies, but she hasn’t been involved — until her brother is arrested, and she’s forced to take steps to get him back safely. Elias, meanwhile, is a soldier on the eve of graduation — and desertion. His plans are interrupted when he is chosen to partake in the trials to determine the new Emperor. The way the characters come from such different backgrounds and narratives was fascinating, and I was intrigued at the way Tahir presented truth and deception in the book. She also neglects to, well, neglect her secondary characters. There are no flat characters here. This is a book about relationships: to yourself, your family, your country, and your destiny. There will be a second book; I’m not linking to it because it contains major spoilers, but I will say that the synopsis implies at least one additional narrator that should lend a compelling, fascinating voice.

Ruth Ware’s In a Dark, Dark Wood is a taut British mystery and yet another audiobook in my 23783496collection. I saw the hardback cover at my local indie, read a few pages, and knew I had to read the rest. I snapped a pic to remember (does anyone else do this?) and scooped this up with Audible credits a few months later. Ware’s take on the “unreliable female narrator” is an interesting one, as the protagonist has landed herself in the hospital after a car crash and can’t remember how (or where) the bachelorette/hen party she attended went wrong. Think a tamer version of Girl on the Train, with just as much suspense and a dash of early Tana French. This is Ware’s debut novel, but she has a second one coming out this year. I know I will get it, as Ware has already earned herself a spot on my “authors to follow” list. I recommend this one to fans of atmospheric British novels and mysteries.

The last book on my list has been on my shelf forever! My dad recommended Robert Littell’s The Company to me in high school. I read Part One, and for whatever reason, I abandoned it. I’m kind 25535845of glad I did, because I’m not sure I would have appreciated it as much at a young age. As an adult, I have a much better understanding of scope and how events connected. And let me tell you, there are some events in this book. At almost 900 pages, it’s a doorstopper of a book. I’m a fast reader, but this was the only book I read (outside of class reading assignments) on our vacation to Grand Cayman. The book is set in the Cold War, starting with spy recruitment post-World War II and ending after the August 1991 Soviet coup d’etat attempt. It also focuses on a lot of American failures in the Cold War – Kim Philby, Hungary, and the Bay of Pigs make for interesting, interconnected plot points. There’s a much larger spy versus spy story here, as espionage focuses not just on global events, but playing agents and agencies against each other. I grew up with a very big picture of the Cold War, but this book imagines it at a much more human, intimate level. Read this if you’re interesting in twentieth century history or love The Americans.

What books would you recommend to an English grad student? Leave a comment!

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