Category: Plague

Mar 08

The Dreamers by Karen Thompson Walker

Contemporary Fiction, Plague 7

Greetings Bookworms!

I’m in a weird head space right now, y’all. I’ve had “Copacabana” playing in my head all day and decided that “Oubliette Gazette” would be a great newsletter name for people trapped in secret sunken trap door prisons. Until, that is, I was reminded that people in oubliettes don’t really get the luxury of newsletters, so it’s just a wasted rhyme. I lay the blame in part on the fact that I wasn’t able to read before bed last night. My Kindle’s battery was kaput and the cord isn’t long enough to stretch from the wall to my bed. And YES, I know I could have read a PAPER book instead, but then I’d need a book light (which also necessitates batteries) and I’d be reading an extra book which would throw off my whole mojo. I normally have one eyeball book and one audio book going at any given time, so throwing an additional title in there would just be chaos. Let’s just talk about one of my recent reads, shall we?

The Dreamers by Karen Thompson Walker was a near perfect read for me. I was expecting to enjoy this book, because I really liked her first novel, The Age of Miracles (review), but this book was another level. The Dreamers is set in a remote California town. A girl at the local college falls asleep and is unable to be woken by her roommate, the paramedics, or the doctors at the hospital. When other students begin falling into this strange sleep, it sets off a panic in the town. Plague books are VERY much in my wheelhouse, so it’s no surprise that the plot of this book appealed to me. Remember in the 90s when that movie Outbreak came out with the monkey and the yellow suits and Renee Russo being smarter than everyone else? This book had a similar feel, but the writing was so lovely and melodic that while I felt all the dread, it also had a dreamy quality. Which, hello, GENIUS, because the book is literally about a sleep plague.

Here are some things this book did particularly well:

Illustrate dorm life: I think Karen Thompson Walker must have lived in a dorm very much like the ones I lived in, because the vibe was pitch perfect. The descriptions of the communal bathrooms alone- my word- I had the most vivid recollections of the University Hall 4B bathrooms circa 2001. Granted, this book wasn’t set in 2001, but there have got to be dorms somewhere that haven’t upgraded to those swanky suites. That somewhere is apparently the fictional Santa Lora College. And probably lots of other places. I don’t know. I’m, like, medium old. I didn’t get a cell phone until I was a sophomore in college and when I did it only worked outside the dorm because reception was bad . If I wanted to talk indoors I had to use a landline and a calling card. GET OFF MY LAWN.

Illustrate new parenthood: One of the families living in Santa Lora during this plague are the parents of a newborn baby. Walker mentioned in the forward of the book that she’d written the novel during the time her two children were born and I felt every smidgen of that reality. Being a new-ish parent myself, the intensity of those sleepless nights and constant self doubt hit home. There’s a scene where the family tries to leave town only to be met by a quarantine border that just about broke me. The second guessing and the terror of what would become of the baby? I was paranoid as heck about Sammers getting exposed to whooping cough or the flu during the period when he was too young to be vaccinated. A friggin mystery plague with a new baby? INTENSE.

Realistic depiction of disease spread and containment. As much as I dig a zombie apocalypse story, I think it’s pretty unrealistic that the contagion would be able to spread universally unchecked, you know? Especially since the majority of zombie stories involve slow, shuffling zombies. Quarantines would certainly be put in place, and those slowpokes would be rounded up quickly. Plus, it’s a contagion spread primarily by biting, so I have a hard time believing in the plausibility of such rapid spread. It’s probably one of the reasons I can stomach zombie novels and other monster fare whereas I have a hard time with horror stories about, like, evil humans. But I digress. The point I’m trying to make is that I found the description of the way this disease spread very believable. Walker wisely chose to liken the spread pattern to that of the measels, which, frankly, has made me extra grateful for SCIENCE because measels is WAY more contagious than I ever realized. YAY VACCINES! Anyway. Quarantines were put into place early. Even when there were gaps in the quarantine (because there’s always going to be someone who sneaks out) exposure was contained. Like, seriously, good job, fictional government. I’m proud of you. There was plenty of chaos WITHIN the cordoned-off town to keep the drama going- no need to devastate the entire planet (which is good, because Walker did THAT in The Age of Miracles and it gave me actual nightmares.) The threat is still kind of there, though, because viruses are tricky bastards. No IMMINENT DOOM, at least.

Have I convinced you to read this book yet? I’m running out of exclamation points! GO FORTH AND READ!

*If you make a purchase through a link on this site, I will receive a small commission.*

 

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Aug 08

The Fireman by Joe Hill

Plague, Post-Apocalyptic Fiction 12

Hidey Ho Bookworms!

Have you ever thought to yourself, “there really should be more books centered on spontaneous human combustion”? I’m assuming you answered with a resounding “OBVIOUSLY” because why wouldn’t you? Well, you, me, and Joe Hill are totally on the same wavelength. If it weren’t for peer pressure, I probably never would have read The Fireman. Many thanks to Care for organizing the #FiremanAlong AND for sending out fun snail mail along the way. It’s always more fun to read a book with a Twitter squad, you know? And then to get mail that’s not a bill? That Care, I tell you what.

You're MY favorite person, Care!

You’re MY favorite person, Care!

As I mentioned, The Fireman is about a plague wherein those who fall ill also eventually burst into raging infernos with little to no warning. Colloquially known as “Dragonscale” the spore to blame for this ailment is mysterious and super deadly. It’s troubling, to say the least, what with people dying left and right and taking out large swathes of town and country with them. Our protagonist, Harper, is a nurse with a bit of a Mary Poppins obsession. (And believe you me, I understand where Harper is coming from. I’m really excited that discussing this book is giving me an excuse to use Mary Poppins gifs.) After the outbreak, Harper volunteers in a hospital among the infected… Until it burns down. Because SPONTANEOUS HUMAN COMBUSTION.

areyouill

As you might expect, it’s not too long before our do-gooding nurse notices tell-tale signs of Dragonscale on her own skin, shortly after discovering she’s pregnant. Soooo. That makes things a bit complicated. PLUS, her husband goes off the deep end in a BIG WAY and their little New England town devolves into a terror filled hellscape. Your typical plague apocalypse nightmare scenario. Plus fire. The book reaffirmed my general fear of mob mentality. People in groups just get so DUMB sometimes. Quoting “Sister Suffragette” is perfect in such cases, seeing as people are typically lovely on an individual level, but when they congregate in large groups? Watch out.

sistersufragette

This miiiight be my favorite song ever.

If you’re thinking this book sounds a lot like The Stand (review), you’d be right. As it turns out, the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. Joe Hill is totally Stephen King’s son. BUT! Hill tempered his horror with a good dose of humor and the most delicious pop culture references. For a brick of a book, The Fireman is a quick read. If you’re in the mood for something plague-y and frightening but ALSO happen to love Mary Poppins? THIS IS YOUR BOOK!

Talk to me, Bookworms! What’s your favorite plague-apocalypse scenario? My plague book list is looking a little light these days. 

*If you make a purchase through a link on this site, I will receive a small commission.*

 

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May 05

Magruder’s Curiosity Cabinet by HP Wood

Historical Fiction, Plague 5

Greetings Bookworms!

I’m about to tell you a story about what happens when one doesn’t read titles carefully. I was browsing NetGalley one day looking for something to read (it’s a rare occasion that I go hunting for books in this manner, as they usually find me, but I was in a reading lull.) Anywho. I ran across a book called Magruder’s Curiosity Cabinet by HP Wood. However, seeing as I had Harry Potter on the brain at the time, I read “Magruder’s” as “Marauder’s.” It sounded a bit circus-y, so I was down for it, even once I realized I’d misread the title.

magrudersMagruder’s Curiosity Cabinet is set in 1904 Coney Island. Kitty Hayward is a British girl visiting the attractions in Coney Island with her mother when her mother comes down with a mysterious illness. The hotel staff send her off on a fool’s errand for some medicine, and upon her return she’s treated as though she and her mother were never at the hotel. She’s left marooned on a strange island in a strange country. She’s penniless and frightened, not to mention terrified for her mother’s well-being. The residents of Coney Island are largely “Unusuals,” or the sideshow entertainers. It’s an eclectic bunch of strongmen, flea wranglers, lion tamers, and con men that Kitty encounters, but the Unusuals quickly embrace their suddenly impoverished foreign guest. Plagues make for strange bedfellows, after all, because that mysterious illness Kitty’s mother contracted? It’s spreading.

I must admit I was rather disappointed to discover that there was no actual reported outbreak of plague in Coney Island during this time period. I like my historical fiction best when the overarching situations are rooted in fact. I also adore a motley crew of misfits, so I was on board with the Unusuals and their fascinating little society. Unfortunately, I found the execution just a bit clunky. It got to a point where it seemed like every cool or quirky concept the author brainstormed while writing was thrown in for the sake of not wasting an idea rather than making sure it worked well in the narrative. In the end, I was left wanting more backstory for certain characters and fewer extraneous asides. Still, I think it’s a book worth reading- it’s certainly a fun and bizarre ride. If you’re in the mood for something different and dig the whole circus/sideshow thing, you should totally check out Magruder’s Curiosity Cabinet

Talk to me, Bookworms! Have any of y’all been to Coney Island? What’s it like? Is it one of those places that just seems to breathe with old timey creeptasticness?

*If you make a purchase through a link on this site, I will receive a small commission.*

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Dec 11

Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

Dystopian, Plague, Post-Apocalyptic Fiction 16

Good Morrow, Bookworms!

I’m feeling rather Shakespearean today, and it’s the fault of Emily St. John Mandel’s new (and awesome) novel, Station ElevenThere’s been a lot of buzz floating around about this book, but don’t believe the hype. Well, no. DO believe the hype. But believe it because I said so. (Shhhh, it makes me feel important.)

stationeleven Station Eleven explores a world twenty years after a flu pandemic knocks out 99% of the population of earth. It’s a little bit like The Stand (review), minus any supernatural elements or government conspiracies. It’s just good old fashioned viral mutation that wreaks havoc. It should freak you out a little, because it’s a totally plausible thing that could happen. (Shivers.)

When the proverbial shiznit hits the fan, it’s fascinating to see how the survivors react. Dude, 99% of the population is GONE. That’s EVERYONE you know, except maybe that weird cashier from the grocery store. So you go wandering. You’re searching for meaning, and probably company other than that weird cashier.

In Station Elevenone of the primary groups that forms is the Traveling Symphony. They wander through towns performing Shakespeare and classical music, because “survival is not enough.” Cool, right? An attempt to preserve art in the face of mass extinction? Heck yes.

Of course, not everybody goes around getting their Bard on. And some of the groups that have survived post apocalypse are less than savory. I don’t want to reveal too much because spoilers! But I will say that this book is an excellent, thought provoking read that will leave you pondering civilization, spirituality, and hand sanitizer. Go check it out!

I’m feeling deep, Bookworms. Do you feel that art helps keep civilization from self-destructing? 

*If you make a purchase through a link on this site, I will receive a small commission.*

 

 

 

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Nov 13

Year of Wonders by Geraldine Brooks

Historical Fiction, Plague 16

Bring Out Your Dead, Bookworms!

Monty Python jokes never, ever, ever get old, I tell you! Seriously though, the bubonic plague was NO JOKE. I just finished reading Year of Wonders by Geraldine Brooks and it was plague-tastic. Y’all know how much I love me some plague, right? That sounds almost as bad as my love affair with “hooker books.” I’m beginning to worry about myself…

yearofwondersIt’s 1666 in a small English mining village. When the plague descends upon the town, the villagers seal themselves off from the outside world in order to prevent the spread of infection. A quarantined village with bubonic plague? Oh you know shiznit got real in a hurry!

We see the events of the plague through the eyes of a young housemaid named Anna Frith. The town’s minister makes valiant attempts to keep the villagers from self destructing, along with the assistance of his wife Elinor and Anna, their servant. With losses felt in every croft and cottage, it’s a herculean task to be sure. As the contagion spreads through the village, Anna witnesses frantic prayers, murderous witch hunts, corruption, and desperation. The best and worst of humanity are on display in stark relief.

I didn’t realize until I’d finished the book that Year of Wonders was based on a true story. The plague did indeed strike a rural town in 17th Century England called Eyam, and the folks of Eyam sacrificed themselves in order to prevent the spread of disease. Two thirds of the village perished. TWO THIRDS. I feel like I should write a thank-you note to antibiotics right about now.

One of my favorite things about Geraldine Brooks is that she never shies away from the super icky gross bits. Imagining people being sick is one thing, but reading about giant lymph node pustules? That rupture? It really brings the icky home. Fans of historical fiction, plague stories, and things that are awesome should definitely check out Year of Wonders

Alright Bookworms. Let’s talk. If your town looked like it was going to be plagued out would you try to run, or would you stay put in the interest of the greater good? (Look at us today with the ethical dilemmas! We’re growing here, I can tell.)

*If you make a purchase through a link on this site, I will receive a small commission. I’ll use it to invest in a flu shot or something. Ain’t nobody got time for that.*

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May 05

Killing Williamsburg by Bradley Spinelli

Contemporary Fiction, Plague 12

G’Day Bookworms,

It’s been well established that I love a good plague story. I saw a review of Killing Williamsburg by Bradley Spinelli a while ago on Life Between Books. I commented that it sounded right up my alley, when lo and behold, I was contacted by the people behind Killing Williamsburg with an offer to read and review the book. It’s about a suicide plague that take takes hold in Brooklyn. That said, I should issue a trigger warning: if suicide is a sensitive issue for you, it would probably be a good idea to avoid this book. *I received a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.*

killing williamsburgKilling Williamsburg takes place in Brooklyn in 1999. Benson and his girlfriend Olive are a young couple living in the Williamsburg neighborhood. They put in time at their day jobs to fund their recreational partying, drug use, and scandalous sexual escapades. (To be completely honest, my inner prude was a bit uncomfortable with a few of these scenes. It wasn’t a huge deal, certainly not enough to keep me from enjoying the book, but it’s worth mentioning.) In the midst of this glorious summer of debauchery, a wave of weird, unexplained suicides begins plaguing the neighborhood.

Sirens become constant background noise as death after death is reported. People begin throwing themselves in front of trains and offing themselves in the middle of crowded bars. (I’ve got to say, Spinelli came up with a plethora of creative ways to off oneself.) The news isn’t reporting on what’s been happening, but people are starting to flee.

Those who stick around are subjected to watching their friends and neighbors drop like flies. The “bug” is catching, and those infected absolutely cannot be stopped in their quest toward self destruction. Anybody who attempts to get in the way gets taken down as well. Trippy, right?

They cause of the epidemic is never explained, but THANK GOODNESS it wasn’t the plants rebelling. (Cough cough, The Happening, cough cough, terrible movie. Cough.) If you like darkly comedic books (dare I say comedic? Yes. I think I dare) in the vein of Jean Teulé’s The Suicide Shop, you should definitely give Killing Williamsburg a whirl!

Tell me, Bookworms, do you enjoy dark comedy? How dark is too dark for you?

*If you make a purchase through a link on this site, I will receive a small commission.*

 

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