The Seneca Scourge by Carrie Rubin

The Seneca Scourge
by
Carrie Rubin

Rating:

It started with a cough and a sneeze on an airplane, but it became much more. One sick man brought more than luggage home from a long trip that began in Nairobi and ended in the coastal town of Seneca, Massachusetts.

“Did you ever think you’d be caught up in something so big?” That’s what Dr. Sydney McKnight overhears in the hallway of Boston General Hospital. They don’t know the half of it, she thinks. Sydney is an infectious disease fellow when a baffling flu pandemic strikes and threatens catastrophic losses, with no cure in sight. Doomed patients fill hospital beds while doctors and nurses scramble to treat a puzzling strain of Influenza C.

Leading the research team is the renowned Dr. Casper Jones, a new infectious disease attending physician. He may be there to help, but there’s something strange about Casper. His perfect features, impeccable attire and unusual way of speaking raise flags and the more Sydney gets to know him, the more questions she has. For one, she wants to know about the new orderly, Jackson Bryant. She has spotted Jackson talking secretively with Casper more than once. What is their relationship and why has she never seen Jackson on her shifts?

Sydney’s part-time boyfriend, Dr. Mitch Price doesn’t trust Casper either, but for different reasons.  Mitch is certain that their cooling romance is because of Casper. Maybe it is or maybe there’s just not enough spark to keep it going. They hardly have time to ponder the reason, as more and more people fall sick. But Sydney knows she can’t put Mitch off forever.

As doctors, nurses and staff rush from room to room, and more patients die, they wonder if this is just the beginning. Strange as he is, could Casper save the day?

The Seneca Scourge is a dramatic medical thriller with a quick-moving plot and an exciting science fiction twist. Author Carrie Rubin hooks the reader with the story of a deadly virus and takes it to new dimensions as she examines the ethics behind developing a cure. Sydney hits many roadblocks as she tries to understand hidden motives, strange dynamics and big secrets. And when she finally discovers the villain, it may be too late. Can the story’s sleeper heroes beat the bad guys?

Rubin tells a very good story. Her style is casual and fluid, filled with subtle humor, interesting characters and a nice dose of young professional angst. Just enough medical jargon and descriptions show how hospitals run and the politics within, an added reader interest. The story’s finish leaves some unknowns, giving the reader a bit to think about.  It’s a well-crafted debut novel.

I recommend The Seneca Scourge to thriller and science fiction readers who like to jump into exciting plots. And click here to check out Rubin’s second medical thriller, Eating Bull.

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The Impossible Lives of Greta Wells by Andrew Sean Greer

The Impossible Lives of Greta Wells pic
The Impossible Lives of Greta Wells
by
Andrew Sean Greer

Rating:

What would you do if you discovered yourself living different lives during different times? What if, in these other lives, you had the chance to fix things, to point others towards happiness, or to alter your own life? What if you found a chance at happiness in one of these alternate lives, a chance that has been lost in your present life? These are some of the central questions Greta Wells must contemplate in The Impossible Lives of Greta Wells.

I loved this very original story by Andrew Sean Greer, in which Greta discovers her 1985 self living in two other time periods, one in 1918 and one in 1941. In her modern world, Greta has just lost her adult twin brother to AIDS. Her long-time lover, Nathan, has left her and Greta is impossibly lost. Feeling hopeless, she agrees to electroconvulsive therapy and is surprised to find herself living both similar and different lives in these earlier times. During this twelve-week period, Greta receives twenty-five procedures and cycles between her three “impossible” lives. Early on, Greta wonders, “So maybe I can perfect their lives. And maybe, while I’m missing, they can perfect mine.”

These lives all take place in her Patchin Place apartment in Greenwich Village and Greta finds things that are both familiar and unknown about her circumstances. In her 1918 life, she has been unfaithful, in 1941 she has been betrayed and in both she watches as her brother Felix struggles to find a way to reconcile his homosexuality with what the times expect of him. Greta sees the relief and euphoria of one war ending and understands how only she can know that another war is coming.

Greta describes the 1918 soldiers returning from war and celebrating the future:

These same soldiers would come home, never speaking of what they’d seen, and marry those girls and raise children, and they would send those children off to war again. With Germany, again. We would be here again, in this parlor singing this same song. I stood there, in wonder, at the madness of it all.

While this is technically a story about time travel with well-placed historical references that really take you there, it’s mostly a story of love, understanding, forgiveness and second chances. I think the author does a great job showing Greta’s desire to get it right with Nathan, in at least one of her lives. She works hard, too, to create happiness for Felix by steering him towards the right people and encouraging him to acknowledge his homosexuality to her. In addition, Greer shows Felix’s personal pain of not fitting in, but desperately trying to do the right thing. These double-layered efforts fit just right with the twin relationship between Greta and Felix.

I’ve read some reviews complaining that the story is confusing. Its complexity did not bother me and, once you get the characters and their lives down, the story drives itself. I felt invested in all three time periods.

Here are some of the things I liked about the book:

  • Greta’s relationship with Nathan in 1941. Her capacity for forgiveness in this time period is very moving.
  • Learning about Patchin Place in New York. It’s fun to imagine what this part of Greenwich Village looked like then and Google Maps shows a great picture of the gated entrance.
Patchin Place in 1910
Patchin Place in 1910
Patchin Place now
Patchin Place now
  • The secret key and room in the Washington Square arch.
  • Greer’s use of three different clocks at the beginning of each chapter, with different times on each face. I can’t figure out what the different times mean, but I like thinking about them anyway.

Here are some of my favorite quotes from the book:

“There almost has to be a heaven, so there can be a place where all things meet.”

“We are so much more than we assume.”

“What is a perfect world except for the one that needs you?”

“Mark your hour on earth.”

“I understood nothing, Felix. But it was a great show.”

A little bit of fantasy, a little bit of history, a little bit of sadness, and a lot of hope and understanding – this is a great read!

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