Between the Bookends, Image by Ylanite Koppens from Pixabay

Between the Bookends: 4 Books We Read in July 2022

Between the Bookends Books Featured Columns

In this month’s Between the Bookends, Sophie reviews four books covering both fiction and non-fiction, from a YA dystopian thriller to the memoir of one of her favorite singers.

Please note: This post contains affiliate links. Author/illustrator images are credited to themselves.

The Woman in the Library, Image Poisoned Pen Press
The Woman in the Library, Image Poisoned Pen Press

The Woman in the Library by Sulari Gentill

If you made the movie Inception into a book about writing books, you might end up with something close to The Woman in the Library by Sulari Gentill, a book with more layers than Shrek’s infamous onion metaphor.

Four people are using the Boston Public Library’s reading room one morning when the peace and quiet are interrupted by the sound of a woman’s scream. As they wait for security to investigate, the group begins to talk: Winifred/Freddie is an Australian author living in Boston on a scholarship, Marigold is a psychology student at the university, Whit is a bored law student, and Cain is a published author. When a woman’s body is eventually discovered, the group finds themselves becoming more and more involved in the investigation because one of the people who were sitting at the table is a murderer and Freddie is now using their lives to write her very own masterpiece.

However, that’s not the only story, because the story of the four friends is itself being told to us by its author Hannah Tigone as we learn through a series of letters sent to her, one after each chapter, by her increasingly invested beta reader Leo. Leo is helping Hannah out with some research in Boston while he writes his own novel but soon a new mystery is formed outside of the story Hannah is writing too.

The Woman in the Library is a brilliantly written and cleverly crafted book that deserves far more popularity than it seems to be getting but might just be too smart to ever receive it. It can be tricky to follow at times because of the multiple layers where characters are themselves characters in books written by other characters (I think I counted four separate levels of storytelling) but I found that I quickly wrapped my head around things once I was a few chapters in. There were some clever plot twists scattered throughout that will have you casting doubt on pretty much everyone, and I loved how the writing had you second guessing (or maybe even triple or quadruple guessing) about who could and could not be trusted after all. The secondary plot happening in the beta reader notes/letters ended up being my favorite part of the whole book as it slowly unfolded with occasional sudden reveals. This was a story mechanic I don’t think I’ve ever seen used before and I loved how it played with the core story and made you see those events in a different light.

The Woman in the Library ended up being one of those can’t-put-it-down books that kept me up late getting to the end, even though it was miles away from what the synopsis made me think it was about. This is a mystery/thriller that is absolutely worth your time.

The Stranded, Image Penguin Random House
The Stranded, Image Penguin Random House

The Stranded by Sarah Daniels

Given that I receive dozens of emails every day promoting new books, it takes a lot for something to really leap out and catch my attention. The Stranded by Sarah Daniels did just that with the following blurb:

Good evening.
It is 17:00 hours on Sunday 24th October 2094.

This is the captain of the cruise ship Arcadia.

We are currently experiencing strong north-westerly winds. All passengers please be prepared for high seas.

At midnight tonight, new regulations come into effect:
rations are reduced, reading is outlawed and offenders will be punished.

DAYS AT SEA: 15,938.

The Stranded is set on the former luxury cruise ship Arcadia which has been slowly rotting off the Eastern coast of what was the United States of America for over 40 years. The ship is filled with refugees and their descendants who escaped from Europe when a devastating war broke out resulting in the effective annihilation of the continent with biological weapons. Although not a single case of the deadly virus that wiped out Europe has ever been found aboard the Arcadia, or any of the other cruise ships now permanently moored along the Eastern seaboard, the government of what is now the Federated States uses fear of infection to prevent the refugees from entering the country, leaving them permanently stranded on ships no longer capable of moving on. Rumors have begun circulating aboard the Arcadia that their ship is next in line to be “cleared,” permanently destroyed and its inhabitants forced into labor camps to work as slave labor for prison corporations.

The book follows three people aboard the Arcadia: Esther, a young medical student determined to be among the handful of young ship people allowed to enter the Federated States each year by coming top of her class; Nik, a rebel determined to free the citizens of the Arcadia once and for all; and Commander Hadley – a sadistic and corrupt Federated States citizen in charge of the Arcadia who despises all the ships and their occupants and rules over his own domain with an iron fist. As tensions build, these three are thrown together into a play for the future of the Arcadia and all those who call her home.

I really loved The Stranded and found the whole concept behind it fascinating as we got to see how a new society had built up within the confines of the ship with a new middle class existing in the larger cabins of the upper decks and the area below the waterline now the domain of “Neaths” who rarely ever see sunlight. Although barbaric, I found Commander Hadley to be a fascinating character who became more twisted and layered with every chapter. I have to admit to finding Esther slightly annoying, more through her naivety than anything else, but she was a great counterpart to the more worldly Nik.

The Stranded is book one of a duology and I’m excited to read the sequel whenever it is released.

How to Prevent the Next Pandemic, Image Penguin
How to Prevent the Next Pandemic, Image Penguin

How to Prevent the Next Pandemic by Bill Gates

I doubt there’s a single person on the planet who hasn’t been personally impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic, and I also can’t imagine there’s anyone out there who would ever want to go through something like it again. However, Covid-19 was not the first global pandemic to strike humanity and we know it won’t be the last. So what can we do to make sure that the next pandemic doesn’t have the chance to cause suffering equal to or even worse than what the planet has recently gone through? That’s the subject tackled in How to Stop the Next Pandemic by Bill Gates. I listened to this book via audiobook read by Wil Wheaton who, as always, did a phenomenal job and infused a fact-heavy topic with vast amounts of personality.

For those not in the know, Bill Gates has spent the last few decades in the field of global health. Through the Gates foundation which he set up with his ex-wife Melinda and which they still run together, he has used his wealth to fund research into immunizations, support community efforts into disease preparedness, and work toward global health equality – making sure that poor nations aren’t at the back of the queue when it comes to receiving life-saving drugs. Through what he has learned and his considerable connections in the field, Gates has put together a series of steps he believes we should be taking today in order to prepare for the next pandemic and that’s what this book is, a look at an ideal-world plan.

The book begins by outlining the creation of a pandemic prevention team, the kind of international team staffed by doctors, researchers, and logistics experts that is frequently seen in movies about deadly contagions but something that doesn’t yet exist. It goes on to discuss better methods of detecting outbreaks quickly, getting medicines into people’s hands quickly no matter where they live, and making it even easier and faster to develop vaccines. In later chapters, he discusses the need for practice scenarios to be run (and their findings acted upon) and the urgent need to close the health gap between rich and poor nations. Everything discussed is logical and much of it will have you shaking your head and wondering how it’s possible that such systems are not already in place.

One section that really stood out to me was an analogy between a pandemic prevention team and fire departments. On any given day it is unlikely that any single specific building in the United States (or any country), will catch fire, yet every day a building somewhere in the country will do. To prepare for this, we have set up an infrastructure where a well-trained fire department exists in every community, often supported by volunteers in more remote areas, ready to leap into action on the day that the building that catches fire is in their area. We have nothing similar in place for pandemics, despite the fact that the consequences of a new disease outbreak will be more far-reaching and devastating than any fire.

As with Gates’ book on Climate Change, this is a big-picture book looking at solutions on the global level and is intended less as a guide for individuals. However, it makes for fascinating reading and encourages readers to vote for policymakers who will take pandemic (and climate) preparedness seriously and make the investments needed today in order to secure a better future tomorrow. It also calls for individuals to contribute where they can at a community level, supporting local universities and researchers, and volunteering where possible when studies are being carried out.

It’s easy to feel despondent after watching years of governments and institutions failing to deal with Covid-19 effectively. How to Prevent the Next Pandemic shows that there is an alternative and that, with effort and investment, the next time things could go much better. It only remains to be seen whether or not we’ll act fast enough.

Good Pop Bad Pop, Image Penguin
Good Pop Bad Pop, Image Penguin

Good Pop, Bad Pop: An Inventory by Jarvis Cocker

Growing up in the UK in the mid-’90s, there was one debate you had to pick a side in: Blur or Oasis. My answer was always, “Pulp.” One of the leaders of the Britpop scene, although not by choice, Pulp has been one of my favorite bands ever since my older sister introduced me to them through numerous mix tapes and I was always particularly taken by lead singer Jarvis Cocker who I consider to be one of the most original front men in British music. Good Pop, Bad Pop by Jarvis Cocker is a sort-of memoir written in an unusual style as we, the readers, help Jarvis clear out his attic and look through the decades-worth of items he has accumulated, leading him to recall various stories associated with the items.

The items in Jarvis’ attic run the gamut from old packs of chewing gum and soap bars to notebooks filled with scribbled ideas for the band, clothing once worn on stage, and hand-drawn flyers for early concerts. Interspersed among them, Jarvis also shares dozens of old photographs. Pulp first formed in 1978 but didn’t break through into the mainstream until 1995 and the book charts this period in roughly chronological order with plenty of allowances for meandering stories that can cover many years before returning to their original points. Good Pop, Bad Pop ends before Pulp’s first mainstream success so I’m hoping for a second volume covering the band’s later years.

I listened to Good Pop, Bad Pop as an audiobook narrated by the author and I felt that this really added a huge amount to the story (the audiobook edition of the book comes with a free PDF that contains all the photos from the book so you can still take a look at the items and photographs being discussed.) Jarvis adds a huge amount of emotion to his stories simply by way of how he tells them, occasionally whispering into your ear or enthusing about some special memory, although he usually sticks to his iconic dry, northern manner of speaking. There are also numerous sound effects scattered throughout the audiobook as we hear items unfolding or being removed from bags and the distinct clang of others being thrown into the bin as Cocker decides to “cobb” (throw away) something he has discovered and no longer wants to keep. There are even sections related to old interviews where it sounds like he is speaking on an old-timey radio set.

Naturally, Good Pop, Bad Pop is a book that will primarily appeal to fans of Pulp; however, I would recommend it to a broader audience than this. The book explores what it was like to grow up in a northern industrial town throughout the Thatcher years and the experiences shared by many young people at the time, especially those trying to break through in creative industries. There’s a lot of humor here such as the time the band attempted to stick posters all over Sheffield for an upcoming show, a few gross moments such as the inspiration behind the song “I Scrubbed the Crabs That Killed Sheffield,” and some genuinely heartfelt ones too making it a fantastic memoir overall. Now, where’s that second book?

GeekMom received copies of these titles for review purposes.

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