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Review – Quarantine – John Smolens

Quarantine
Author: John Smolens

Review Copy Provided via Netgalley by the Publisher
Expected Publication: September 15, 2012

Book Description
The year is 1796, and a trading ship arrives in the vibrant trading town of Newburyport, Massachusetts. But it’s a ghost ship–her entire crew has been decimated by a virulent fever which sweeps through the harbor town, and Newburyport’s residents start to fall ill and die with alarming haste. Something has to be done to stop the virus from spreading further. When physician Giles Wiggins places the port under quarantine, he earns the ire of his shipbuilder half-brother, the wealthy and powerful Enoch Sumner, and their eccentric mother, Miranda. Defiantly, Giles sets up a pest-house, where the afflicted might be cared for and separated from the rest of the populace in an attempt to contain the epidemic.

As the seaport descends into panic, religious fervor, and mob rule, bizarre occurrences ensue: the harbormaster ‘s family falls victim to the fever, except for his son, Leander Hatch, who is taken in at the Sumner mansion and a young woman, Marie Montpelier, is fished out of the Merrimac River barely clinging to life, causing Giles and Enoch who is convinced she ‘s the expatriate daughter of the French king to vie for her attentions–all while medical supplies are pillaged by a black marketer from Boston. As the epidemic grows, fear, greed, and unhinged obsession threaten the Sumner family and the future of Newburyport itself.

Review
I had previously listened to and reviewed Smolen’s book, The Schoolmaster’s Daughter, so when Quarantine showed up on Netgalley I jumped on the opportunity to read and review it. Having grown up outside of the US, I never really studied US history until college and then it was limited to very specific classes – so my knowledge of the fever that struck the east coast of the US in the late 1700′s is relatively little – most of what I know, I gained from reading Laurie Halsie Anderson’s Fever 1793

There were a variety of things that I enjoyed about the book – specifically the details about how the various medical practices from the time were incorporated into trying to save the town from the fever. I actually felt that if the focus had been solely on the struggle of the town and the quarantine, then the book would have been much better than it was. Unfortunately, it was the other story lines – the town surgeon and his fractured relationship with his family, the relationship between the women who could be construed as the town matriarch and her son and their scheming ways. I also have to admit, when I reached the last page of the book, I was confused with the outcome – yes, they managed to survive the fever and the town moved on, but all the other various plot lines, it was almost like the author had reached a page limit and decided to end it – I just felt like there wasn’t much resolution…

Overall, I don’t think I could give this book more than about 2.5 stars and while I don’t know of any fiction books similar to the subject, aside from the YA by Laurie Halsie Anderson, I would have a hard time recommending this book to many people, unless they were looking for this very specific event. That being said, I am more curious about the time period after reading this, so I am going to see about maybe picking up a non-fiction that discusses the period to read some more.

 
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Posted by on August 2, 2012 in Book Review

 

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Review – The Schoolmaster’s Daughter – John Smolens

The Schoolmaster’s Daughter
Author: John Smolens
Narrator: Elisabeth S. Rodgers
Length: 13 hours 5 minutes

Having not grown up in the US, I never really got the opportunity to study the American Revoluation like most high school students. In fact, until I took a class on it in college, I hardly knew anything about it. I mean, I recognized the name Paul Revere, and knew some of the major political players, but that was it. However, when my ship pulled into Boston for the 4th of July a few years ago, I got to do the geeky historical thing and go and see all the key sites of events that occurred during the initial stages of the American Revolution. So knowing all this, when I started The Schoolmaster’s Daughter, I had a good idea of the key events as they occurred.

I felt that the author did a good job of exploring the various dynamics that were occurring during this time period. The families that were split between being Tories and Whig’s (like Abigail/her brothers and her father/mother), the interaction of the British troops with the general population and the overall climate that one would expect in a country soon to be consumed by war. While I didn’t necessarily agree with all of Abigails actions, and felt that she def. had some TSTL moments, as a character she was engaging and I would like to see her maybe show up in another book that takes place after the revolution.

The audiobook version of this was narrated by Elisabeth S. Rodgers. This isn’t the first time that I had listened to something narrated by her and it won’t be the last. She does a great job of being able to provide voices to a wide variety of characters and at no time did I feel like the voices were starting to blend together. At times, I wanted to continue driving just so I could listen to a bit more before I got to work or at home at night.

 
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Posted by on June 12, 2012 in Book Review

 

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