One Crow Alone

I don’t know how I didn’t make the connection when I picked this book up. One Crow Alone by S.D. Crockett is a prequel to a book I previously reviewed, After the Snow. First, prequels are rare in the book world compared to the amount of sequels. The concept of prequels has been tarnished by movie prequels. For example, the original Star Wars movies were great, then I watched the first prequel, The Phantom Menace…well actually that’s not 100% true, I skimmed it as it was too horrible. Then Hollywood took a book that was NOT a prequel, The Hobbit, and tried to make it a prequel after the success of The Lord of the Rings films, turning one book into three movies to try to squeeze out every last dime. So I would likely not have picked up this book if I had realized what it was, but I am glad I did.

Although the main focus of After the Snow was how Willo and his family lived in the aftermath of the new ‘ice age’, One Crow Alone takes place at the tipping point where the world was getting colder, but it hadn’t gone apocalyptic and civilized society hadn’t completely broken down. In fact, this story was less about the weather and more of a story of immigration issues and first love vs. more mature relationships.

The main character, Magda, is a Polish teen who has been living with her grandmother in a small village since her mother lives and works in London to make enough money for a better future for herself and her daughter. However, as the story begins Magda’s grandmother has just died, and while Magda is a strong country girl who can look after herself, this loss happens right on the cusp of disaster. Power lines are increasingly going down; including phone lines and the weather is getting colder. She is already wondering how to reach her mother when strangers enter her little village. Magda hides believing them to be thieves or worse. Only later does she find out that they were military/government types who have now evacuated all the people in her village.

On a quest to find her mother in the UK, Magda learns how bad things really are, though she finds a sort of ally in Ivan, a Russian boy who has had a hard upbringing. However, between his survival tricks and Magda’s practical country ways, they are able to survive the increasing chaos around them as they journey to London and through England trying to adjust to events as they happen.

There are two things I did not like about the book though; first throughout the book is a reference to some folk tale about a crow and a girl. The crow segments didn’t really match up with the storyline and therefore were a distraction, not something that enhanced the story. Also, it bothered me that this level-headed strong village girl would be so dense about Ivan; I failed to see why someone like his character would be attractive to her in anyway, other than possibly loneliness after losing her Grandma. I did like that the book stands on its own and people don’t have to read After the Snow to follow it.

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A Matter of Days

The expression ‘Old School’ was originally used as a derogatory description, though the term has evolved as retro became cool. I would describe A Matter of Days by Amber Kizer as Old School, Old School meant with a positive connotation. There aren’t a lot of bells and whistles to this story; it’s just a simple tale of family love amidst the dark days following an apocalyptic event. It’s not a book that’s likely to be optioned for a movie….there’s not much of a hot romance, nor are there a lot of scenes that lend themselves to special effects, stuntwork, etc. and in my book there’s nothing wrong with that.

Even the apocalyptic event was not triggered by some malevolent superpower, instead it’s a result of an accident, an accident that nevertheless has a devastating impact. Nadia, the daughter of a military man has an advantage when it comes to surviving this changed world, her father taught her to, “be the cockroach” in other words – adapt and survive. Her Dad didn’t just try to teach his daughter practical skills, he would take her little brother Rabbit out on camping trips to give hands on practice. She didn’t learn as much from her Mom, despite the fact that her mother is a nurse because Nadia’s mother hated her husband’s military career which took him too often away from the family and put him in dangerous places, until eventually he is killed in one.

Her father’s death forced Nadia to grow up quickly as her mom was frozen in grief after her father’s death, though there is another father figure in her life, her mysterious Uncle Bean. However, Bean isn’t around when the apocalyptic event happens leaving Nadia in charge of keeping her promise to her Dad and Bean to get her brother to their grandfather’s home, a long trek from Seattle to West Virginia. On a daily basis she has to employ everything she ever learned from her Dad to keep herself and her brother from starving, from being robbed and worse from survivors who didn’t become better people as a result of the situation. That’s what I enjoyed most about this book was that there were some educational aspects wrapped inside entertainment. Things like what kind of supplies should be packed if you need to travel across a now dangerous world, how to siphon gas from abandoned cars to keep moving, basic first aid techniques, etc. Maybe I particularly appreciate it as I consider myself a city girl. I have never been the outdoorsy type who likes to camp or hunt. I also am completely lacking in mechanical ability, in a world where you can’t take something to be repaired, you better figure it out. I have had discussions with friends about how useless our modern ‘skills’ would be in an apocalyptic world….so much for tech skills if there’s no power for computers, social media and marketing – useless, really how many of us would be as well-equipped as 16-year old Nadia?

Anomaly

This book review is not about religion, though it is about an apocalyptic/dystopian novel in which religion is a central theme in telling its story. The book, Anomaly, by Krista McGee is about a dystopian society that forms after an apocalyptic event. A group of scientists predicted a future in which chemical and nucclear warfare would be used and logically created the infrastructure and means to survive it. As they were the only survivors in a Norad type of locale, the society’s structure was informed by the fact that the new order was formed by people with scientific and analytic minds. The scientists felt that the cause of the warfare were the people who live via emotions over logic and used the destruction was an opportunity to start over. It’s this plotline that makes it strange that the central character of the story would be a teen named Thalli.

You see Thalli is a musician. Everyone in her pod was genetically modified and born as a test tube baby for a certain skill they could contribute to the new society. You would think music, and the arts, would not be seen as necessary by the scientists, but the author does try to tie it in a little with some information about how math relates to music. Still, the choice of this character, is in itself an anomaly was her only role in the pod is to play music to entertain at certain events.

Thalli is at heart an emotional person with the soul of an artist, so how could these genius scientists not predict the impact that having such a person would have on their society’s rules? It’s not that Thalli is overt, she tries hard to follow the norms of not showing emotion outwardly, not even when her friend and podmate is taken away for displaying systems of a cold. After all, in this perfect society there isn’t room for genetic weakness such as health issues. As much of a blow as that was, Thalli takes it even harder when her childhood friend Berk, destined to join the Scientists himself after his training, moved from the pod.

When Thalli is told to learn the music of a Bach piece to play at the next event, the music causes her to react so strongly that she is scheduled for annihilation. While waiting for her doom she is reunited with Berk, but also meets the father of one of the Scientists. This man tells Thalli about the world before the war, before the pod system and he tells her about Jesus, someone she has never heard of before.   This was a new twist for me in this genre as usually religion in post-apocalyptic books is given a bad rap. In other apocalyptic books religion is twisted into something evil, violent and cult like and preys on traumatized survivors and involves either a scarily charismatic leader using women as sister wives or killing other non-believers blaming them for the destructive event, etc. This is the first time in the many books I have read in this genre that the idea of religion benign. Therefore, although the writing was a little obvious in the message it was trying to impart, it wasn’t so heavy handed that I didn’t finish reading. I was interested for two reasons, how someone like John keeps his faith in a world where man has inflicted such evil and continues to, and by what is must be like for someone to encounter the concept of religion as a fully formed young adult who has never been exposed to the idea in any form. Also, this book is an intersection between ‘art and science’ with the characters of the Scientists standing in direct opposition to John and Thalli’s own growing belief. Even Berk, who as a scientist has been trained all this life to believe in what can be scientifically proven and quantified, is exposed to having to think about his world differently. So although the writing is far from sophisticated and the characters a little one-dimensional, I do give this props for a creative angle I have not witnessed before in this kind of book, enough that I might read the sequel.