Monday, July 20, 2015

Year of Wonders (Geraldine Brooks)

Geraldine Brooks’s Year of Wonders has an interesting premise that’s based on a true story.  The plague is sweeping through a tiny English village in the mid-17 th Century, carried from London by a visiting tailor.  While some of this novel is suspenseful, heartbreaking and downright scary, I found that much of the writing was dry and therefore, I had a difficult time getting through it.

The account is effectively told through the eyes of Anna, a villager who is seeing her family and neighbors die one by one.  The villagers themselves, led by their rector, decide to forego their first impulse of fleeing and thereby infecting other towns.  Instead, they isolate themselves to try to contain the terrible disease; panic, superstition, and suspicion of witchcraft follow, which one would think would lead to a can’t-put-it-down read.  However, that didn’t happen — at least for me.

Unfortunately, Year of Wonders suffers from being approximately thirty pages too long.  In addition, many of the events at the end are implausible and maybe even downright ridiculous.  I was hoping for much more from this novel, but I didn’t get it.


Saturday, July 11, 2015

Midnight's Furies: The Deadly Legacy of India's Partition (Nisid Hajari)

Midnight's Furies: The Deadly Legacy of India's Partition by Nisid Hajari recounts the division of India and Pakistan in 1947 as Britain ended its centuries-long control over Indian affairs. "The Partition" as it is known was driven by many factors, which Hajari recounts in chronological detail.

This historical account details the seeds of Partition on a number of fronts: first, the history of the relationship between Muslims and Hindus in Indian history and how, despite occasional religious-oriented violence, the two communities had co-existed and co-contributed to a developing regional power prior to the nationalism movement that developed within India in the early 20th century. Between religion, culture, and ego among leaders in both the Muslim-led League and the Hindu-dominated Congress, Hajari accounts how people of both faiths, plus the Sikhs of Northern India, rioted against the other and how the British Empire, financially decimated by World War II, was looking for a quick exit and not a lasting peaceable solution. The result was the Partition of India and Pakistan, hastily done along roughly religious lines, which led to further conflict in parts of Kashmir and in cities near both borders as Hindus in a Muslim-dominated Pakistan and Muslims in Hindu-dominated India were targeted and killed by the other side.  The result of Partition was the largest mass-migration of people in world history, with millions of Muslims and Hindus moving into safer territory in order to flee the prospect of religious violence.

Hajari takes the 1947 Partition and broadbrushes 70 years of following history, pointing out how Pakistan's history has been full of military rule combined with interference in Afghanistan for the better part of the past forty plus years. The India-Pakistan conflict has occasionally flared up since 1947, with three separate conflicts through their histories as countries. The author focuses on how tensions between the two nations remain strong despite occasional, gradual, attempts to resolve the two side's differences in recent years over disputed Kashmir. More attention could have been given to recent events and a future outlook to where things could head in this region; however, Hajari does a brilliant job of telling how the seeds of division in South Asia were originally sewn. Midnight's Furies is a fast, well-sourced read.


Sunday, July 5, 2015

Where They Found Her (Kimberly McCreight)

From the author of Reconstructing Amelia (which I adored), Where They Found Her is another gripping story that sucks you right in from the start. And while I didn't love it quite as much, it was still a ride very much worth taking.

A baby's body has been found deep in the woods next to elite Ridgedale's university.  No one knows who the parents are or how she ended up there, and the case rocks the town that rarely sees crime of this nature (although there was a case years ago of a teenage boy dying in that very same location).  Since the usual reporters are unavailable, freelance journalist Molly Sanderson is called to tackle the case for the local newspaper; however, Molly is still trying to come to terms with the loss of her own baby.  Putting her own needs aside, she goes in full throttle and discovers that behind the huge houses, the residents of Ridgedale are keeping many secrets of their own.

Told through multiple narrators, newspaper accounts (with comments), diary entries, and transcripts of Molly's therapy sessions, Where They Found Her is intricately plotted and expertly woven. Characters run seamlessly through each other's lives, and while it's pretty easy to guess where this is going, the journey to get there is extremely satisfying.


Saturday, July 4, 2015

The Real Doctor Will See You Shortly (Matt McCarthy)

At times gut-wrenching, at-times joyous but all the time beautiful, Matt McCarthy's The Real Doctor Will See You Shortly is one of the most unfailingly honest books I've read in a long time.  It's the rare (and some would say nonexistent) doctor that starts off confident, and McCarthy pulls no punches about his insecurities in his account of his first year as an intern.

McCarthy's memoir is one of utter exhaustion and debilitating doubt, and there is one horrible situation that shows just how dangerous the hospital can be. But along the way, he repeatedly learns that while knowledge of the practice of medicine is acquired almost completely on the job (a job that has thirty-hour plus shifts), the "art" of medicine is something else entirely -- something that really can't be taught.

The Real Doctor Will See You Shortly is so hard to put down; McCarthy's empathy for his patients comes through loud and clear on the pages, so much so that you come to care about them just as much.  This is definitely one of the best reads of 2015, so don't miss it!


The Night Sister (Jennifer McMahon)

Jennifer McMahon, along with Kate Morton and Jodi Picoult, is one of the authors I most look forward to reading new books from.  Her Island of Lost Girls was reviewed the very first month I began this blog six years ago, and I continue to love her novels to this day.  There are very few authors nowadays writing such suspenseful fiction that scares the you-know-what out of you, and McMahon is one of those; her latest, The Night Sister, is no different.

The Tower Motel stands in ruins, and it is here where a family (except for their little girl) is killed in a most brutal way.  We know that Amy, the mother of this family whose grandfather built the motel (along with the tongue-in-cheek Tower of London next door), saw something coming for them before they all were brutally murdered.  However, it's widely thought in the community and by the police that Amy was the one who slaughtered her family.  Depending on the time period, there have been many secrets at the motel: in the '50s, it housed sisters Rose (Amy's mother) and Sylvie (Rose's sister); Sylvie mysteriously disappeared and was never heard from again, thought to have run away to California to make it in movies.  When Amy is a teenager, she tries to uncover what really happened to her Aunt Sylvie, with the help of her friend Piper and Margot, Piper's little sister.  Now adults, Piper and Margot try to make sense of what happened to Amy and her family.

The thing I love most about Jennifer McMahon is that her books are so satisfying.  Nothing is left open ended, everything makes sense when you're finished, and you're scared to the nines while reading.