An American Plague: The True and Terrifying Story of the Yellow Fever Epidemic of 1793 by Jim Murphy

I took a class earlier this summer where I had to read a lot of literature for youth and thought I’d share some of the more interesting books I read for the class. I have to say I read more non-fiction and realistic fiction then I usually would, but I have an appreciation for them now…and hey, at least I wasn’t reading dusty tomes. Oddly enough it was a bit scary reading this considering there’s been an outbreak of West Nile virus where I live, and everyone’s been talking about mosquitoes, mosquitoes, mosquitoes! Aaahh!!!

Details, Please
Jim Murphy in eleven chapters tells about the city of Philadelphia during the 1793 Yellow Fever Epidemic. He starts from its beginnings in the small forgotten alley houses and writes of the class differences during the time, and how the Yellow Fever had no preferences really. He tells about the people who deserted the city and those who decided to stay. It is an overall picture of the time, and it is thorough enough to keep anyone interested.

So what?
I definitely would not have picked up a book on any kind of epidemic willingly, which is weird when you think about it because I love reading dystopian books when it’s fiction. Having said that however, I was impressed with this book. It takes you through the Yellow Fever Epidemic of 1793 in a very interesting way. Murphy takes a narrative stance but it’s also in chronological order as the outbreak takes over the city. Each chapter begins with a date like a journal entry and describes what happened at that time. It was also interesting to read about some of the “preventative” measures people went through to avoid the Yellow Fever like walking around with cigars and shooting muskets in their home because it was believed that the smoke powder would keep the fever away.

It was also neat to learn about the heroes at the time, like the Free African Society members who despite their mistreatment at the time decided to stay and nurse sick families. Even Matthew Clarkson the Mayor, and the doctors who stayed behind to help were among the bravest. It was like reading a little bit of trivia on every page (some bizarre), and for such a deadly subject, it was a captivating read. No wonder Murphy is sometimes referred to as the Master of Disaster. Actually I would say he made history interesting and was a master in making it come alive. I would actually like to read the rest of Jim Murphy’s books, and although intended for younger readers I learned quite a lot. An American Plague received a lot of awards including the Sibert Medal, a Newbery Honor and was even selected as a National Book Award finalist. This book could be used for both research purposes and for pleasure reading. It feels odd saying that, but it’s true. Have you guys read any good nonfiction lately?

Review Excerpt

“Quoting diverse voices, from private diaries to published accounts…Everywhere, Murphy is attentive to telling detail; he offers representative images in the illustrations, from black-and-white portraits of figures in the narrative to plague scenes themselves, often taken from (clearly labeled) European settings when the visual record didn’t exist for Philadelphia. The chapters open with facsimiles of newspaper pages and lists of the dead, actual notices and announcements made during the plague. Thoroughly documented, with an annotated source list, the work is both rigorous and inviting. A final chapter answers questions readers may have about “what happened next”–including how science subdued the threat and how the genie might yet get back out of the bottle.”

-Burkam, A. L. (2003). An American Plague: The True and Terrifying Story of the Yellow Fever Epidemic of 1793. Horn Book Magazine, 79(4), 483-484.

Seraphina by Rachel Hartman

Details, Please (Publisher’s description)

Four decades of peace have done little to ease the mistrust between humans and dragons in the kingdom of Goredd. Folding themselves into human shape, dragons attend court as ambassadors, and lend their rational, mathematical minds to universities as scholars and teachers. As the treaty’s anniversary draws near, however, tensions are high.

Seraphina Dombegh has reason to fear both sides. An unusually gifted musician, she joins the court just as a member of the royal family is murdered—in suspiciously draconian fashion. Seraphina is drawn into the investigation, partnering with the captain of the Queen’s Guard, the dangerously perceptive Prince Lucian Kiggs. While they begin to uncover hints of a sinister plot to destroy the peace, Seraphina struggles to protect her own secret, the secret behind her musical gift, one so terrible that its discovery could mean her very life.

So what?

High Fantasy! I went on this kick last year trying to find recent YA, high fantasy books, and it was much harder than I thought. Sometimes with that genre I feel the book can drag on and on, but I didn’t feel that way with this book. Also as a plus there wasn’t an abundance of fight scenes or dream sequences that I usually associate with them. It is also neat that Seraphina is a musician and assistant to the court composer.

As for the world building there are a lot of customs and philosophers that are mentioned that just add to the book. It’s pretty cool when people ask who your psalter saint is, but what would you do if your psalter saint was a heretic? Another thing about this book is that it would be best if you kept a dictionary near you while reading. Can you tell me what ‘perspicacity’ means? I didn’t know and had to look it up, among other words…but that’s good, right?

If you are a fan of the Dragonriders of Pern series by Anne McCaffrey you might like Seraphina. It mostly reminded me of the same spirit as Dragonsong and Dragonsinger though. So check it out on July 10th.

Note: I received an advanced copy of this book from the publisher through NetGalley.

Warm Bodies by Isaac Marion

I heard great things about Warm Bodies, but was very skeptical about a zombie romance book. Let me tell you right off, this isn’t a yucky kind of romance, something you would see on an episode of Taboo. It’s really just a quiet kind of love, a slow understanding of sorts between a zombie and the girlfriend of one of his victims.

Details, Please
Basically R is living his life in the way he’s accustomed, shuffling here and there, taking the occasional ride up and down the escalator, eating people, eating brains and experiencing other people’s memories…but on a certain night, he decides to keep a living girl safe, and not for a leftover snack. He honestly wants to protect her and I’m not sure he even fully understands why at first.

So what?
I listened to this on audiobook.I turned it on as background noise while doing homework and immediately got sucked in. I wasn’t expecting to be surprised. Needles to say I had to turn it off because then I couldn’t concentrate on my homework. I have to say that Kevin Kenerly does an amazing job narrating. I think listening to it really made me enjoy it so much more than if I had read it myself. I really encourage you to listen to it on your daily commute.

Basically a lot of what is narrated is in R’s head since he is unable to express it outwardly being a zombie and all, but for a dead guy R’s more alive than some living. I really loved R so much that sometimes the memories of other people made me want to rush past it, but I could tell that even those parts were needed in R’s story, because it wasn’t just about his journey. Also I can’t really say what happened at the end, because I’m not sure myself but it was an enjoyable experience getting to that point.This book could have been really corny, but it wasn’t. It was lyrical and poetic. It’s about what makes us human, about hope and tenacity.While writing this all I can think of are Albert Schweitzer quotes like:

“In everyone’s life, at some time, our inner fire goes out. It is then burst into flame by an encounter with another human being. We should all be thankful for those people who rekindle the inner spirit.”

 “A man does not have to be an angel in order to be saint.”

“The tragedy of life is what dies inside a man while he lives.”

Seriously, I probably have no idea what I’m talking about but quotes like that came to me when thinking about this book. I wouldn’t usually use the word “beautiful” in the same sentence as “zombie,” but you know, for a zombie book, it really is beautiful.

Chalice by Robin McKinley

I’ve read her Damar books, Beauty, Sunshine and now finally Chalice. I realize now I’m a Robin McKinley fan. Her writing is so beautiful I just want to read her books out loud and pretend I have an audiobook voice.

Details, Please (Publisher’s description)
As the newly appointed Chalice, Mirasol is the most important member of the Master’s Circle. It is her duty to bind the Circle, the land and its people together with their new Master. But the new Master of Willowlands is a Priest of Fire, only drawn back into the human world by the sudden death of his brother. No one knows if it is even possible for him to live amongst his people. Mirasol wants the Master to have his chance, but her only training is as a beekeeper. How can she help settle their demesne during these troubled times and bind it to a Priest of Fire, the touch of whose hand can burn human flesh to the bone?

So what?
It’s almost like a fairy tale and so warm and sweet. It made me crave honey and I don’t even like honey. The characters in this book seem real, and it is easy to identify with their problems. Mirasol as a heroine is now in my top five. I admired her a lot. She feels inadequate as the new Chalice, and reading what previous Chalices have done only helps so much in her case, as there has never been a honey Chalice and a Fire Master before. So she is adding to the rule books really. She has so much courage and even though she feels like a failure at times, she never lets it show. Basically she went from being a beekeeper to the second most important person in the land.

The Master is an interesting character trying to remember what it’s like to be human again, and trying not to burn what he should help cultivate, and exhausted by the effort. He is isolated during festive events because everyone is afraid of getting burned. It sucks to be a nice guy in a fire body. The Master and Marisol are both duty bound and love the land, and it’s sweet how much they are willing to do to protect it, and how they learn to work together.

There were some parts that jumped backward in narrative and then forward again and I was a bit confused, but it was all written so beautifully I didn’t mind too much. I wish there was a sequel, but I doubt there will be. Also, anyone heard “Latika’s Theme” from the Slumdog Millionaire soundtrack? It reminds me a lot of Marisol. If you’re a fan of Diana Wynne Jones, or Juliet Marillier then I think you’d really like this book. Even if you’re not, it’s a great read.


There were several ritual ways a Chalice could hold her cup; she chose the one—only practical on the slender, stemmed Chalice vessels—that allowed her to weave the fingers of her two hands together around it while her crossed thumbs held the other side:connection, joining, linkage. She tried several phrases from the incantation book she had left behind, but none of them suited her; none of them felt right, none of them settled to the work before her. She felt the earthlines listening—listening but waiting. Waiting to hear the thing that would reassure them, that would knit them together, that would call them home.She reached the end of the crack and paused. It had, she noticed with some small relief, stopped growing. But when she turned and looked back along the length of it, it seemed leagues long; the two big work-horses as small as mice in the distance; the heavy ropes hanging off their harness and disappearing into the crack were barely visible threads.

“Please,” she said clearly, aloud, as if she spoke to a person. “Please be as you were. I will try to help you.” She hesitated, and pulled out the handflower honey and added a little more to the mixture in her cup. The water was faintly gold against the silver cup; the small stones in the bottom shone like gems. She did not want gold and silver and gems; she wanted ordinary things, commonplace things. Trees and birdsong and sunlight, and unfractured earth. “Let the earth knit together again, like—like darning a sock. Here are the threads to mend you with.” And she threw a few drops from her cup into the trench. She saw them twinkle in the air as if they were tiny filaments; the pit was quite shallow here, and she could see tiny spots of darkness where they landed. Her fingers were sticky with honey. Absentmindedly she put one in her mouth; the taste of the herbs was clear and sharp, but the honey’s complex sweetness seemed to carry mysteries.

There was a sudden sharp new tremor under her feet. Her heart leaped into her throat and she froze.

The jolt loosened the dirt on the sides of the trench, and it pattered down. Quite a lot of it pattered down, till the trench was barely a trench at all, little more than a slight hollow.

“Here are the threads to mend you with,” she said again, having no better spell or command to offer, and she tossed more drops from her cup into the wound in the earth.

The trench began to fill up.

She walked slowly back toward the deep end, murmuring to the earth and the earthlines, tossing sweet mysterious drops into the shadows of the ravine. The earth under her feet still shook, but the shaking now seemed more like that of something shaking itself back together again after a shock or an unbalancing blow: like the turning sock in the hands of the darner.

The crevasse was disappearing.

Cinder Audiobook Giveaway

I’m excited to host a giveaway of Cinder by Marissa Meyer. Woot Woot! This book is all kinds of awesome, being a cyberpunk retelling of Cinderella and so Macmillan Audio is acting as your fairy godmother and offering a free audiobook copy to one of you.

In the spirit of Marissa Meyer’s recent guest post over at Bibliophilic Monologues, all you have to do to enter is name a song that fits in with one of your favorite books. An example from me would be “Give Me Strength” by Snow Patrol really fit in with The Iron Knight by Julie Kagawa. That simple!

This giveaway is open to everyone. If someone outside the U.S. wins they will get a Cinder digital download instead. The giveaway will end when the clock strikes twelve on the 25th of January. I hope all of you participate!

Here’s an audio clip courtesy of Macmillan Audio and Novel Novice‘s YouTube page 🙂

Cinder by Marissa Meyer

Details, Please (Publisher Description)

Humans and androids crowd the raucous streets of New Beijing. A deadly plague ravages the population. From space, a ruthless lunar people watch, waiting to make their move. No one knows that Earth’s fate hinges on one girl. . . .

Cinder, a gifted mechanic, is a cyborg. She’s a second-class citizen with a mysterious past, reviled by her stepmother and blamed for her stepsister’s illness. But when her life becomes intertwined with the handsome Prince Kai’s, she suddenly finds herself at the center of an intergalactic struggle, and a forbidden attraction. Caught between duty and freedom, loyalty and betrayal, she must uncover secrets about her past in order to protect her world’s future.

So What?
This is a fast read, and completely entertaining. It’s not so exhaustively high-tech to the point that you don’t understand what the heck is going on either.  I think this qualifies as a dystopian book, because although the world is high-tech, the world is bleak with disease threatening to kill and no antidote to be found. Plus society is against our protagonist and poor Cinder goes through more than one identity crisis.

As a character, Cinder isn’t all prim and proper or annoying; she’s realistic and not pining away for the prince. The prince knows that his duty is to his people and not about whom he loves…you just get the sense in this first installment that there are bigger issues than just Cinder and Kai. Cinder is the first of a four-book series and Scarlet comes out in 2013. Don’t worry there isn’t a horrible cliffhanger. As a side note Marissa Meyer seems pretty cool she started by writing Sailor Moon FanFiction. What’s not to like?

Oh! For those of you who joined any Sci-Fi challenges or are planning on participating in the Once Upon a Time challenge this would be a good book for both. I’m using it towards my dystopia challenge.

And just because this came to mind while reading here is a Futuristic Paso Doble from Dancing with the Stars 🙂 (nothing like this happened in the book that we saw anyway…it’s just the spirit of it I guess)