Apr 302010

The plot is contrived and straight as ruler and the characters are one dimensional, but the book is still a great read. Like Brooks’ People of the Book Year of Wonders covers a piece of history I knew nothing about. She presents her exceptional powers as a researcher in a totally palatable manner. Year of Wonders gives us the lives of a small English town in 1166 just as bubonic plague arrives. We squirm not so much because half the towns people die, but because the impact on the survivors — the elderly, orphans, widows without means of support — is so psychologically devastating. I read the whole book thinking about how Native Americans must have suffered as whole villages succumbed to European diseases. February 2009.

Apr 232010

A Jewish escapee from the Spanish Inquisition makes his living on the Amsterdam stock market, where shrewd trading skills run up to the border of legality, morality, and safety. The book’s strength is its insight into the lives of Jews trying to maintain their religious and economic identity with the memory of Spanish persecution fresh in their minds. Moreover, the description of how stocks, in this case coffee is making its very first appearance in Europe, are bought and sold is fascinating. The plot is rather ordinary, however. It is a quick read. April 2007.