Set in early-twentieth-century New York, this novel is about the first person in America identified as a healthy carrier of Typhoid Fever. We know her as “Typhoid Mary.” Her real name is Mary Mallon. Mary emigrated from Ireland as a teenager and worked her way up the domestic ladder, through toil and talent, to cook for many wealthy New York families. Mary was initially unaware that she caused her employers and their children to become ill and die. However, when she is told that she is a carrier and sent to North Brother Island to be kept in isolation, she can no longer deny this fact. Or can she? This novel reads like a medical mystery, and it is fascinating both in terms of medical advances as well as medical ethics. It is also a psychological study of one woman who was unwilling to change her life, even if it meant saving others. I highly recommend this story.
After returning from the frontlines of World War I, Tom Sherbourne looks forward to his new career as a lighthouse keeper on the isolated western shores of Australia: isolated, regimented and alone. But when he meets the beautiful Isabel and is surprised how she is able to draw him out of his hard shell, Tom begins to imagine a fuller life for himself. While at first the couple enjoys having their own personal piece of paradise out on Janus Rock, Isabel becomes more and more depressed after she is unable to have children. Hours after burying her latest stillborn baby, a boat washes ashore carrying a dead man and a crying baby girl, perfectly healthy. Isabel quickly latches on to the idea of raising her as their own, as a replacement for the son they had just lost. In order to satisfy his wife’s wild need, Tom agrees, despite his strong doubts and occupational duty.
Three years pass and as Lucy grows, Tom begins to allow the little girl into his heart and his family is content living their simple life at the lighthouse. However, on a visit to the mainland, the couple learns a disturbing story, one of a sad young widow who lost her husband and baby girl at sea over three years ago. Both Tom and Isabel instantly know that the baby is their own Lucy. What follows is an engrossing and gripping tale of a couple torn between doing the right thing and holding on to their desperate dream of a family. Stedman explores the delicate emotions of his characters against the backdrop of a harsh physical environment, creating a truly beautiful novel. A unique story not to be missed.
Science and travel writer Holmes turns her attention to her own backyard in this exploration of the ecosystems all around us everyday. She spends a year investigating every aspect of her own personal suburban ecosystem, from turning over stones to spot the ants all the way to naming and half-way taming a chipmunk. Along the way, she brings in soil scientists, entomologists, and other experts to join her in examining the life under her feet. Her scientific musings often shade into more philosophical ones as she examines humanity’s place in the ecosystem and the many ways our presence changes—or does not change—the existence of the species living among us. She also examines the historical and cultural history of the lawn as a feature of the modern landscape and launches some well-aimed environmental-activism volleys. In the end, readers will be left with a whole new appreciation of the great depth and richness of the life that surrounds us every day, but of which most people are barely aware.
Everyone remembers where they were on Step Day—the day the plans for Stepper devices leaked onto the internet and every child who built one discovered that the Steppers allowed them to travel “sideways” to the next parallel Earth next door. The world changed forever on Step Day, as endless new frontiers opened with the flip of a switch. Joshua Valiente was only 13 on Step Day, but he took to Stepping like a fish to water, experiencing none of the disorientation and nausea that struck almost everyone else. Since then, he has traveled further than anyone else he knows of, and has even discovered that he doesn’t need the Stepper device but can Step on his own. A loner by nature, Joshua is skeptical at first when he is approached by the artificial intelligence named Lobsang who wishes Joshua to travel with him to the farthest reaches of what’s now known as the Long Earth, but in the end the lure of the unknown is too great to resist. As they two travel further and further into the parallel worlds, things become stranger and stranger, and they begin to realize that something out there is threatening the stability of the entire system and only they have the wherewithal to stop it. Meanwhile, back on the “original” Earth, the political and economic system, already destabilized by Stepping, quickly approaches a cataclysmic collapse.
Readers expecting another Discworld will not find that here. While The Long Earth shows flashes of Pratchett’s wit and inventiveness, it is a very different beast altogether, with a much more serious, sci-fi tone. One hopes that future sequels will delve further into the unusual ecosystems of the Long Earth and continue to flesh out the characters of Lobsang and Joshua.
Galilee Garner—Gal for short—is a prickly person at best, and something of a loner. A biology teacher at a private high school, she is known to students and faculty alike as a hard taskmaster, but one who prides herself on turning out more AP exam high-scorers than anyone else. She lives alone, with only one close friend—her polar opposite, the school’s sensitive and outgoing art teacher. She’s also in the end stages of kidney failure and must keep to a strict dialysis schedule to survive. Her one main ambition in life is to breed the next unique, stand-out breed of rose in the greenhouse out back. Gal’s carefully structured existence is thrown into disarray when her unreliable sister’s teenage daughter Riley arrives unannounced on Gal’s front stoop. At first resistant, Gal begins to soften to her niece and the two—one damaged by years of chronic illness, the other by years of neglect and sporadic affection dished out by a drug-addicted mother—form a tentative bond. Riley begins to find herself among her fellow students and Gal finds herself reaching out and making new friends herself, something she never expected.
While the rose-related metaphor is the tiniest bit heavy-handed, the story is a touching one as an at first thoroughly unlikeable character begins to develop into a better version of herself and a dysfunctional family comes together with a new understanding of each other’s struggles.