Monday, April 18, 2011

A Fierce Radiance by Lauren Belfer

Title: A Fierce Radiance
Author: Lauren Belfer

Genre: Fiction (Historical / Medical / WWII)
Publisher/Publication Date: Harper Perennial (4/1/2011)
Source: TLC Book Tours

Rating: Okay-ish.
Did I finish?: Sadly, no.
One-sentence summary: The race to make penicillin, through the eyes of a magazine photographer and researcher.
Reading Challenges: Historical Fiction

Do I like the cover?: Yes -- very pretty -- although it's another missed opportunity cover, I think.  The image seems very much like the kind of photograph the heroine would take, but a medically-themed photograph would have been cool.

I'm reminded of...: Tracy Chevalier

First line: Claire Shipley was no doctor, but even she could see that the man on the stretcher was dying.

Why did I get this book?: First, the genre merging of historical novel, medical mystery, war thriller; plus, the setting, WWII New York City; and finally, the sound of the heroine.

Review: This solid historical novel (and I do mean solid, it's a very satisfying brick of a paperback!) has a yank-you-out-of-your-chair awesome first line, a fascinating premise, and enough historical details to educate as well as enthrall.   At times.

Sadly, I didn't love this novel as much as I wanted to.  This story suffers a bit from over research, in that it felt to me like the author tried to stuff in all the interesting details she'd discovered, unable to resist all the tempting tidbits.  As a result, though, every paragraph has the feel of 'name dropping' -- either literally, or metaphorically.  As the novel progresses, and once the back story for Claire and James Stanton, our hero, is dispensed with, it's not as bad, but I found myself describing my reading as 'slogging' as I worked through the first 100, then 200 pages.

I found the heroine, Claire Shipley, to be a little too pretty and a little too feisty to actually be interesting.  Men lusted after her; women instinctively liked her.  She's both a stunning beauty that no one can miss and yet somehow is perfect at melting into the background to become forgotten as she does her staggering photography work. She lives for her work; she lives for her family.  I think the author was trying to conjure up '30s glamor, say Lauren Bacall meets Martha Gellhorn, but rather than charm me or impress me, I found her off-putting.

The story beyond that of Claire and James, however, was fascinating, whether you're interested in medical history or not.  The size of the novel allows for some real exploration of the science, politics, and history of both penicillin development and American pharmaceutical companies, and it offers an angle on WWII that is fascinating and new.

*** *** ***

GIVEAWAY!  The publisher is offering one copy of A Fierce Radiance; just leave a comment and email address to be entered.  US/CA readers only, sorry! Closes May 6th.

Comment on my Q&A with Lauren Belfer for another chance to win!


  1. Sounds interesting, please enter me.

    pocokat AT gmail DOT com

  2. This sounds really good! Thanks for considering me!


  3. You know, it's always frustrating when a book overdoes it with the research. I like books where the research is unobtrusive but also propels the story, but I think it's difficult to create that kind of effect. I don't think that this book would be for me, but I do thank you earnestly for sharing your perceptive and honest thoughts on it with us.

  4. I'd love to win! (:


  5. It sounds interesting but Claire sounds like she's too perfect. Like she manages to be everything that's needs to be. I'll look if library gets this someday.

    No need to enter me :)

  6. Yes perhaps this could be a book for me, it does interesting, but at the same time those points you bring up just make me think no

  7. I'd love to give it a shot. Please count me in. Thank you!

    nfmgirl AT gmail DOT com

  8. Not an entry.

    Hey Audra, I really liked the book (my thoughts:, I thought the research was great but that the mystery was actually the weakest point of the book.

    By the way, started a Book Giveaways groups on Facebook!/home.php?sk=group_159284117466848&ap=1 I hope you''ll consider joining.

  9. Well, I have really enjoyed what I've read by Tracy Chevalier, so maybe I'd like this one.

    I'm sorry it wasn't the best fit for you, but thanks for being on the tour!

  10. The WWII angle interests me, so I'd love to be entered. Sorry you were disappointed with this one. I'm curious about it, though I wonder if the "name dropping" would grow tiring.

    diaryofaneccentric at hotmail dot com

  11. Thanks for the giveaway! I love historical fiction.

    susanna dot pyatt at student dot rcsnc dot org

  12. Thanks for this giveaway which sounds intriguing. saubleb(at)gmail(dot)com

  13. I loved this book, and was actually my favorite book of 2010 - but I absolutely appreciate your candid review. It's not for everyone. Sometimes, the right book comes along at the right time, and this was the perfect book for me. I savoured the pages, the detail, the drama, all of it. Thanks for the giveaway - I will be sure to post/tweet/FB it!

  14. Sounds like an interesting book.


  15. Looks like a great book.


  16. Sounds interesting :)


  17. thanks for the chance to read this novel :)

    kmkuka at yahoo dot com

  18. I had been thinking of reading this book - really it was the cover that caught my eye. But I might steer away from it since it sounds like the book is bogged down in the details. Thanks for this review!