Lauren Belfer’s first novel came out in 1999, the well-received historical novel, City of Light, which dealt with the developing electrical industry in Buffalo at the turn of the last century. It was more than 10 years before her second novel came out, A Fierce Radiance. This time the setting is mostly in the Eastern United States shortly after Pearl Harbor, and the subject is the discovery of penicillin. Told through the story of a 36-year-old photojournalist for Life Magazine, the race to develop this life-saving drug is a suspenseful story of blackmail, espionage and murder, as well as some romance. Overall, this is well-researched with an eye for historical detail.
There was a lot of early hype about Paulette Jiles’ recently published book News of the World, and it did not disappoint. This historical fiction, set in Texas in the years after the Civil War, is a quick but compelling read with strong characters. While traveling through northern Texas, reading the world’s news from a variety of publications to a paying audience, Captain Kidd is asked to return a 10-year-old girl to relatives. Johanna had been taken captive by the Kiowa tribe when she was six and raised as their own, where she was loved and assimilated into their culture. Now these two loners find themselves traveling over 400 miles for weeks, during which time they must find a way to trust and respect each other. In the end, the Captain finds himself with a difficult decision to make. With moral decisions to be made on many levels, this would make a great book discussion title.
Another most compelling read is Gregory David Roberts’ Shantaram. However, at over 900 pages, it is not a quick read but rather a complex saga to lose yourself in. And yet the pages turn quickly in this fast-paced, descriptive setting with a very strong sense of place. From the first page, the narrator Lin immerses you into the fascinating place that is Bombay, India. The story is autobiographical, with the main character arriving in Bombay after escaping from prison. The author himself took over a decade to write the book, starting while he was in prison in Australia for robbery to support his heroin addiction.Through Lin, we experience many different levels of Indian society, from village life to the gritty life in a slum, from the violent life in prison to the criminal life of the underground. Overall, I found myself richly rewarded for the time spent.