Baum on Books

He didn’t at first appreciate the scare and chose to stay in the crowded city. And he hadn’t at the start stockpiled food or self-isolated or realized the extent of the contagion. But he did come to acknowledge the horror and the “brutal courage” of those who tried to help. “He” was Daniel Defoe. The time was 1722. The occasion, the publication of “A Journal of the Plague Year,” three years after Robinson Crusoe. In the “Journal” Defoe is looking back 57 years to when The Great Plague hit London, one year before The Great Fire would destroy just about anything that was left.

It’s a matter of fact that between 1840 and 1882 there were eight assassination attempts on the life of Queen Victoria, but in his suspenseful novel “The Darwin Affair,” Tim Mason adds a ninth, in 1860, and makes the target Prince Albert. The date is important: it’s just months after the publication of Charles Darwin’s “On the Origin of Species” and concomitant with the Oxford University Museum debate on evolution featuring those famous antagonists – biologist and anthropologist Thomas Huxley and Anglican Bishop Samuel Wilberforce. Prince Albert wants to give Darwin a knighthood.

Before there was the Algonquin Round Table in New York in the ‘20s, a lunch group of literary bon vivants whose often quotable put downs would become famous, there was – and STILL IS – The Club, a unique London tavern assembly of intellectuals, started in 1764, that included some of the most dazzling verbal sharpshooters of the day. 


Tory Bilski could have called her well-written and witty memoir of riding horses in northern Iceland “Wild Horses of the Midnight Sun,” but in naming it “Wild Horses of the Summer Sun,” shows her writing creds: the alliteration effectively plays on the popular image many people associate with this starkly beautiful land of lupine fields and black volcanic sand banks – not to mention Johnny Mercer’s lyrics in that old jazz standard, “Midnight Sun.” Like Mercer, Bilski evokes a nostalgic warmth for what is gone but indelibly remembered because it was so affecting. 

The title of Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen’s suspenseful new psychological thriller is comforting . . . and sinister: “You are Not Alone.” The first-person protagonist is Shay Miller. She feels herself to be alone. Then she meets strangers who invite her into their exclusive gathering of young women. The group includes the sophisticated Moore sisters, who not only show her how to dress and act, but begin to make her uneasy. There’s something odd going on with them, though neither Shay nor the reader knows yet what it is.