As summer turns to fall, even those of us long out of school seem to feel a familiar urge to hit the books. The promise of cooler days makes us want to curl up with a good read, and Vanderbilt alumni and faculty offer up several possibilities for perusal. Whether your taste runs to mystery or chick lit or biography, there’s a book with a Vanderbilt connection.
An old colleague, a new scandal, 16th-century medical dissection methods and serial murders—what more could readers ask for in a mystery? A. Scott Pearson, associate professor of surgery, is serving up all four in his second medical thriller, Public Anatomy (2011, Oceanview Publishing). Surgeon Eli Branch, introduced in Pearson’s first novel, Rupture (2009, Oceanview), once again combines forces with forensic pathologist Meg Daily, this time to puzzle out evidence that may lead to a serial killer called The Organist, who uses on his victims medical dissection methods that are 400 years old.
Some people have the gift to be a rock for other searching souls, even while feeling adrift themselves. Marina Lucero, the protagonist of The Realm of Hungry Spirits (2011, Grand Central Publishing) by Lorraine López, associate professor of English, finds that her home in the San Fernando Valley has become a way station where those who are adrift gather. One by one, she opens up her home and her heart to her abused next-door neighbor and her alcoholic sister, her wayfaring nephew and his best friend. Not unlike them in many ways, Marina looks to a number of spiritual paths to find fulfillment, but finds that embracing life among the chaos possibly might be her route to inner peace.
Kelly Mills Johnson seems to have it all: marriage to a successful attorney, two adorable sons, and a life so blessed that she has fallen into an all-too-comfortable routine. At 39 years old she wants more. In Here, Home, Hope (2011, Greenleaf Book Group) by Kaira Sturdivant Rouda, BA’85, Kelly devises a midlife makeover plan to explore her passions in life. The tale of her realization of that plan, along with its bumps and revelations, swings from laughter to tears as Kelly realizes that her own blend of home and career works far better for her than anything she may have envied in the lives of her friends.
The debut novel from Pushcart Prize-nominee Susan Adams Henderson, MEd’92, Up from the Blue (2010, HarperCollins) is the story of an imaginative young girl struggling to make sense of her mother’s disappearance against the backdrop of 1970s America—a tumultuous era of desegregation, school busing, and the early rise of modern-day feminism. By framing the story in 1991 as protagonist Tillie Harris suddenly goes into labor and must reach out to her estranged father, the book delves into the complexity of family relationships when Tillie is forced to face painful memories from which she has run since childhood.
The Survivors (2011, Chafie Press) is the first in a series of young adult novels by Amanda Havard, BS’08, MEd’10. The backstory begins in 1692, when 26 children are accused as witches in Salem, Mass., ultimately exiled and left for dead. However, 14 of them survive. This first installment chronicles Sadie, whose family has been content to be in hiding for more than three centuries. When Sadie abandons the family’s sacred hiding place in Montana, she witnesses a shocking scene that will drag her from the human world to which she’s sought to belong for more than a century. She returns to her Puritanical family and an uncertain future filled with witches, mysterious shape-shifters, millennia-old mythology, and the search for her own mortality.
Stormy Weather: Middle-Class African American Marriages Between the Two World Wars (2010, The University of North Carolina Press), written by Anastasia C. Curwood, assistant professor of African American and diaspora studies, looks at love letters between a domestic-servant husband and his teacher wife—James and Sarah Curwood, the author’s paternal grandparents—and provides an important look into how middle-class African American marriages evolved during the early and mid-20th century. The book documents the strains that developed as the early civil rights and sexual revolutions played out, although it also documents other couples who better coped with these societal changes.
World War II military history is vividly portrayed in Brothers, Rivals, Victors (2011, NAL Caliber) by Jonathan W. Jordan, JD’92. Based on meticulous research, the book recounts the battle for Europe through the eyes of three legendary generals who fought to liberate two continents: Supreme Cmdr. Dwight D. Eisenhower, Gen. Omar N. Bradley and Gen. George S. Patton. By looking back at the bonds shared through decades by these three friends, readers will gain new perspective on how those bonds were tested in the cauldron of World War II. Michael Korda, writing about the book in the New York Times Book Review, said, “What Jordan gives us is the war as Eisenhower, Bradley and Patton saw it … . Anybody who believes that generals are just, rational men, imbued with a soldierly feeling of comradeship toward one another and an ingrained respect for their political superiors, will be shocked by this book.”
Ethical dilemmas involving scientific research are nothing new. These days it’s stem cells; back in the 1600s, it was blood transfusions. Blood Work: A Tale of Medicine and Murder in the Scientific Revolution (2011, W.W. Norton) by Holly Tucker, associate professor of French, fashions a medical thriller out of the true tale of a sensational trial and conspiracy that helped delay experimentation with blood transfusions for 150 years. Tucker traces the tale of Jean-Baptiste Denis who, buoyed by success with the new process and newfound notoriety, finds a sponsor to stage a transfusion on a street person in an attempt to cure mental illness. That person, Antoine Mauroy, a former valet who’d become infamous in Paris for frightening people with his antics, was forced to participate. He died the next day. Denis was charged, tried for murder and eventually acquitted. Tucker’s research shows that the murder was really a conspiracy to discredit Denis and resulted in blood transfusions being banned in Europe for more than a century.
© 2014 Vanderbilt University
Conversation guidelines: Vanderbilt Magazine welcomes your thoughts, stories and information related to this article. Please stay on topic and be respectful of others. Keep the conversation appropriate for interested readers across the map.