Welcome to this week’s Mirror Book Club reviews, where we focus on The Power Of Geography by Tim Marshall.
Our reviewer found it hard to imagine reading a better book this year after finishing the wonderfully entertaining and lucid account of how 10 key world regions are likely to shape our futures.
Also this week, The Final Revival Of Opal & Nev, by Dawnie Walton is a provocative debut tackling racism but ultimately celebrating music’s power to transform lives.
The Absolute Book, by Elizabeth Knox is a feat of fantastical world-building.
We also look at The Never Ending Summer, by Emma Kennedy, andDreamland, by Rosa Rankin-Gee.
And don’t forget to join the Mirror Book Club – see below.
The world is undergoing rapid change as we enter a new era of complex power rivalry. And, in The Power Of Geography, a sequel to the word-of-mouth bestseller Prisoners Of Geography, Tim Marshall looks at 10 key world regions and considers how they are likely to shape our futures. In his expert hands, it makes for fascinating reading.
The journey begins in Australia, increasingly taking centre stage because it sits below the world’s most economically and militarily powerful dictatorship – China.
So Australia finds itself adjacent to the economic powerhouse of the 21st century and keen to play a bigger role on the global stage. The big question is who they will choose to play with.
The Australians also face the challenge of climate change and the risk of large-scale population shifts. Marshall explores the fascinating possibility of governments being forced to build new major cities on more hospitable territory.
He goes on to consider The Sahel, a region below the Sahara, which has seen an estimated 3.8million people displaced in recent years, many seeking to reach Europe, and that number is only set to climb.
On to Ethiopia which, with 12 large lakes and nine major rivers, is empowered by water. Its neighbours are reliant
on its supplies, creating a region where future ‘water wars’ are likely.
Then there is Saudi Arabia, where oil is running out, and post-Brexit United Kingdom, which remains a powerful and influential nation.
London is still a dominant global financial powerhouse and the UK also has an astonishing output of culture, both of which earn immense sums for UK plc. It is also seeking new alliances but fears the economic and military consequences of an independent Scotland.
As well as assessing other key battlegrounds in Greece, Turkey, Iran and Spain, perhaps the most intriguing chapter considers the possibilities beyond our world.
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As the space race gathers pace, and great powers including the US, Russia and China integrate space warfare into their military budgets, it is increasingly likely to become another source of geopolitical tension.
And throughout this accomplished book, the reader is frequently reminded that a new empire is relentlessly extending its sinister reach – the superpower that is China, exploiting every opportunity to gain power and undermine its rival, the US.
This subplot underpins a wonderfully entertaining and lucid account, written with wit, pace and clarity.
I can’t imagine reading a better book this year.
By EDWARD ARGYLE
The Final Revival Of Opal & Nev, by Dawnie Walton
In this brilliant, crackling firework of a debut, Afro-punk duo Opal & Nev were about to hit the big time when they imploded following a race riot at a music showcase in 1971.
Singer Opal had left small-minded Birmingham, Alabama, for New York where future best friend Virgil LaFleur transforms her into someone who looks like a star. The magnetic Opal commands the stage with flamboyant outfits and a fierce attitude.
Neville Charles, from Birmingham, England, couldn’t look less like a star.
A “goofy white boy” with song-writing chops, he heads to America, sees Opal perform in a nightclub, and persuades her to work with him. The duo make a record which achieves cult status.
But the record company want a bigger fan base and the ill-fated musical showcase seems the ideal solution. No one reckoned on the nastiness of another act on the bill.
The band’s compelling story is told by a multitude of voices interviewed by journalist S Sunny Shelton. Her father Jimmy was a drummer for the band and murdered at the showcase – and she is determined to find out exactly happened.
Fizzing with energy and lyricism, this provocative debut tackles racism, the pleasures and pitfalls of creativity, and ultimately celebrates music and its power to transform lives.
By EITHNE FARRY
The Absolute Book, by Elizabeth Knox
Michael Joseph, £14.99
Taryn Cornick’s past is catching up with her. She was complicit in the death of the man whom she believes murdered her sister, so Detective Jacob Berger is determined to bring her to justice. But he’s not the only one hot on her trail.
Taryn and Jacob are plunged into a strange landscape while fleeing gun-toting assassins in Paris.
This parallel universe is peopled by demons, old gods, talking ravens and a shapeshifter, all searching for a scroll box called The Firestarter.
It is the repository of untold secrets and last seen on Taryn’s grandfather’s bookshelves – so the searchers are convinced Taryn knows its whereabouts.
Epic, imaginative and exquisitely written, this is a feat of fantastical world-building.
By EITHNE FARRY
The Never Ending Summer, by Emma Kennedy
Best friends Agnes and Bea have just finished secretarial college and, longing for excitement, they tell their parents they’re going travelling round Europe but move into a chaotic house-share in Hampstead and try to lose their virginity.
The 20-year-olds aren’t the only ones desperate for adventure. Agnes’s mother Florence is stuck in a boring marriage and, after Agnes moves out, Florence suggests a holiday in Italy.
When her emotionally distant husband refuses point blank, Florence sets off on a solo road trip instead.
Set in 1971, this story of self-discovery, friendship and family is a life-affirming and upbeat read, with Emma Kennedy’s trademark warmth and humour shining through every chapter.
By EMMA LEE-POTTER
Dreamland, by Rosa Rankin-Gee
Set in a near-future Margate, this brilliantly bleak dystopian novel is seen through the eyes of Chance, a teenage girl who moved to the rundown seaside town with her mother and brother, thanks to a £500 government relocation grant.
Climate change and the divide between rich and poor has pushed inequality in the UK to extremes.
Chance’s life is filled with poverty, crime, drugs and fear – until she meets Franky, a girl unlike anyone else she knows.
Their relationship brings light and love into Chance’s life – but all is not what it seems.
This compelling novel is horribly plausible, chilling and feels eerily like a warning that’s come too late.
By MERNIE GILMORE
Join the Mirror Book Club
Mirror Book Club members have chosen a brand-new book of the month – Happy All The Time by Laurie Colwin.
Join us at facebook.com/groups/mirrorbookclub where we are giving away 20 copies to members!
A newly reissued romantic comedy first published in 1978, we follow two couples – Guido, “serious in matters of the heart”, and “precise” Holly, Guido’s cheerful cousin Vincent and his spiky colleague Misty – as they meet, fall in love, then endeavour to remain “happy all the time” amid the challenges of life.