*I Am Mary Sutter by Robin Oliveira is the story of a 20-year-old midwife who dreams of becoming a surgeon and finds in the Civil War, an opportunity to gain the medical experience that is denied her by the establishment. From a variety of perspectives—Mary, Dr. Stipp (her reluctant mentor), the soldiers, their families, and social, political, and military leaders—“the novel offers readers a picture of a time of medical hardship, crisis, and opportunity.” Oliveira graphically depicts the amputation of a leg, the delivery of a baby, and soldierly life in gripping, historical detail and presents a far more accurate picture of the War than Gone with the Wind.
61 Hours by Lee Child is, according to the NYT, “the craftiest and most highly evolved of Lee Child’s electrifying Jack Reacher books.” There’s always a ticking clock in the background as Reacher, finds a wrong that needs righting. Reacher lands in Boulton, South Dakota, and finds himself helping out the local police as they attempt to protect a key witness in an upcoming drug trial. Then there’s the underground installation outside of town, formerly a military outpost, but now apparently housing a meth lab. As the hours pass, tension builds, and we learn more about the installation, the local cops, the witness, and a Mexican drug lord whose own clock is also ticking. A good formulaic treatment with excellent character development.
**The Last Days of Ptolemy Gray by Walter Mosley was a surprising contender for my favorite 2010 book. Ptolemy Grey is 91 year old, suffering from dementia and regrets while living as a recluse in his Los Angeles apartment. Ptolemy begins to change when Robyn Small, a 17-year-old family friend helps clean up his apartment and straighten out his life. He volunteers for an experimental drug regime that may restore his mind, but shorten his life. Ptolemy uses his rejuvenation to solve the mystery of the recent drive-by shooting of his great-nephew, and to render justice, guided by the memory of his murdered childhood mentor, Coydog McCann. Though the medical details of his ‘recovery’ aren’t convincing, it is a creative literary technique that provides Mosley with a chance to show how talented a writer he is.
Outwitting Trolls by William Tapply was favorably reviewed in the NYT. “Brady Coyne is a Boston attorney who focuses on a few private clients and the legal drudgery of their everyday life, which leads to a generally unexciting life”—and book. An old friend and former neighbor, in Boston for a conference, Ken contacts Brady for an uneventful get-together. The next day, Brady gets a call from Nichols’ ex-wife. She’s standing in her ex’s hotel room, Nichols is lying dead on the floor of his room, and she needs Brady’s help. But this murder is only the first, and Brady is soon trying to find the connection between these long ago friends and the violence dogging their family. A pleasant, but ‘unexciting’ read.
**Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand is a witty and wise debut novel by Helen Simonson introduces the unforgettable character of Major Ernest Pettigrew. The widowed Major epitomizes the Englishman with the "stiff upper lip," who clings to traditional values and tries unsuccessful to pass these along to his yuppie son, Roger. The story centers on Pettigrew's fight to keep his greedy relatives (including his son) from selling a valuable family heirloom--a pair of Churchill hunting guns. The embattled hero discovers unexpected comfort and consolation from his neighbor, the Pakistani shopkeeper, Jasmina Ali. Pettigrew and Ali's backgrounds and life experiences couldn't be more different, but they discover that they have important things in common. This wry, yet optimistic comedy of manners with a romantic twist has great humor and insights on almost every page and is my favorite book of 2010.