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35 of 37 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Radiant Novel
'A Fierce Radiance' by Lauren Belfer is a compelling novel. Comprised of several genres, this is a book to pick up and savor. I was kept riveted by a combination of history, romance and mystery. This mix makes for athrilling ride that kept me enthralled throughout.

The era is 1941 through 1944. The book opens just after Japan has bombed Pearl Harbor. Our...
Published on June 15, 2010 by Bonnie Brody

versus
45 of 46 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars an epic story about a medical breakthrough
Most of us alive today can not remember a time when a small cut, a simple fall could be a death sentence, when a soar throat could turn septic, a case of pneumonia would leave a classmate's desk empty forever.
A time before penicillin.

It is just after the attack on Pearl Harbor. Claire Shipley, a staff photographer for Life magazine, is sent to New York's...
Published on June 15, 2010 by cait


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45 of 46 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars an epic story about a medical breakthrough, June 15, 2010
By 
cait (N.J., United States) - See all my reviews
(VINE VOICE)   
Most of us alive today can not remember a time when a small cut, a simple fall could be a death sentence, when a soar throat could turn septic, a case of pneumonia would leave a classmate's desk empty forever.
A time before penicillin.

It is just after the attack on Pearl Harbor. Claire Shipley, a staff photographer for Life magazine, is sent to New York's Rockefeller Institute to document the trials of a new experimental drug. But Claire's interest is more than professional, having lost her own 3 year old daughter to blood poisoning eight years before. Her own daughter is gone but Clair knows how many more might be saved if only a way can be found to produce this penicillin in sufficient quantities. Once the government realized the success of the trials, they also realize what the production of this drug to treat injured troops could mean to the war effort. Just as most of us do not remember a time before antibiotics, most of us also do not remember a time when many Americans though the Allies might lose the war and a time when the residents of NYC thought invasion was a real possibility. Penicillin could be a weapon that would change the outcome of the war, which at the moment was looking pretty grim.
The stakes are huge..power, money, the very outcome of the war. There is a suspicious death that strikes close to home, espionage and, on a more personal level, Claire's new romance with Dr. Stanton, to round out this epic story.

A Fierce Radiance is an historical novel, a thriller and a romance...and it succeeds in each to varying degrees.

I am not usually a fan of historical novels, but this book is an exception. I think Belfer is very successful in recreating the WWII era, the mood, the fears, the shortages, the life in new York in the midst of World war II. It is a city were raw sewage still flowed into the rivers, cattle were brought into stockyards to be slaughtered and the windows of the houses of Clair's Greenwich Village neighbors were increasing filled with the Gold Stars that showed it was the home of a now dead soldier. Having Claire, a Life magazine photographer with her various assignments, at the center of the book is a wonderful vehicle for exploring these happenings and she is a fascinating character. Surprising, the whole issue of the development of penicillin is by far the most interesting part of the book and without question the story is at it's strongest when that subject is at the center.

As a thriller, the book is fairly successful. I am a great fan of mysteries and this was a pretty good one, with an interesting police detective, enough red herrings, spies and corporate intrigue to keep me interested.

But for me, the weakest link of the book was the romance between Claire and the good Doctor Jamie. Part of the problem was that I just didn't like him, from the moment, in the earliest pages of the book, when he seems to be spending more time considering how he will get Claire into his bed than tending to the dying man in front of him. Add in a few moral lapses, a dose of amnesia and a number of unexplained stupid decisions and I was not very vested in this romance.

Overall, for me, A Fierce Radiance is good book than fell just short of being an excellent book by trying to keep just one too many plates in the air at the same time. It seems just a little confused about what kind of book it is and maybe, in trying to be too many things, falls just a little short. This book is at it's best when it zones in on the real history surrounding the development of penicillin and the changed world that discovery created. When that is at the heart of the story, it is a very entertaining book.
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35 of 37 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Radiant Novel, June 15, 2010
'A Fierce Radiance' by Lauren Belfer is a compelling novel. Comprised of several genres, this is a book to pick up and savor. I was kept riveted by a combination of history, romance and mystery. This mix makes for athrilling ride that kept me enthralled throughout.

The era is 1941 through 1944. The book opens just after Japan has bombed Pearl Harbor. Our country has declared war and young men are being drafted or
signing up for the military. Some of us can still picture this era. For those of you who are younger, let me give you a taste. Disease is rampant. There is no cure for polio, streptococcus infections, pneumonia, sepsis, cholera,tetanus or scarlet fever. There is a season for every illness and parents are frightened all the time that their children will die. Adults are frightened for their own lives. On top of that, our nation is at war and, other than sulfa drugs, which have limited curative ability, the United States has no medications to halt infection or disease for its own military.

Claire Shipley is a successful photographer for `Life Magazine', the most popular news magazine in the nation. She has already lost one child to sepsis eight years ago. One day Emily fell on the sidewalk and cut her knee. A few days later she was dead. Her younger son, Charlie, is still living but Claire fears for his life at every turn. Claire is assigned to do a photo essay on penicillin, a new drug that is supposedly being developed. This miracle drug, developed from a green mold, is an antibiotic that is said to have the power to stop gram positive infections in their tracks.

Dr. James Stanton is a physician who is at the forefront of penicillin's development so, in a sense, he holds the key to life and death. However, the supply of this drug is very limited and it is being produced in jars, bedpans and whatever other containers can be found. James meets Claire during the photo shoot and sparks fly. Theirs is a love at first sight but they don't have much time because James is immediately sent to the war front. His job is to utilize the short supplies of penicillin on the injured servicemen.

Meanwhile, government agencies are becoming directly involved in the production of penicillin. Money is being allocated to institutes and scientists involved in its development. The pharmaceutical companies are ordered to cooperate rather than compete. The government declares that there is to be no patent on penicillin. Rather, it is to be developed by all private companies and utilized for wartime efforts.

James' sister, Tia, is working on an alternative type of antibiotic, one that comes from the soil. The pharmaceutical companies get wind of this and start pouring their efforts into what they term `the cousins' to penicillin - alternative antibiotics that work on gram negative as well as gram positive infections. This is being done in secret. Claire gets wind of this and tries to get to the bottom of things. Now things get very interesting and the book becomes a real thriller.

I loved Lauren Belfer's first novel, and 'A Fierce Radiance' does not disappoint. She has done her research. I am usually not a great fan of historical novels, but this one is different than most others. It grabs you and may even rip your shirt in the process. I suggest that you buckle down for a satisfying read. You'll be so riveted you may not be able to come up for air or find the time to sew your shirt.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Review posted on The Literate Man [...] on August 16, 2010, August 17, 2010
I read Lauran Belfer's debut novel, City of Light, because it was recommended to me by nearly every relative and acquaintance from my days up north. Like Belfer, my family hails from Western New York, where the winters are long, the wings are hot, and the beer is Canadian. I myself inhabited the hills and forests south of the Queen City (that's Buffalo for the uninitiated) until I reached the age of maturity, at which point I promptly pointed my '78 Chrysler Newport south and didn't stop until I reached the warm sands of South Beach. But don't get me wrong, I still love Western New York--especially its people, whom Belfer captured perfectly--and I will always consider it home. City of Light, then, is the fictionalized account of the social life of a young schoolteacher set against the backdrop of the development of electric power at the turn of the century and the political power struggles that surrounded it. I consider it to be the best work of modern fiction that has been written about the region or its history.

All of that is a buildup to my review of Belfer's new novel, A Fierce Radiance, which treats the development and mass production of penicillin during the opening days of America's involvement in World War II. Belfer truly has a gift for writing period pieces. I can only imagine the amount of detailed research that went into this account of New York City in the days after Pearl Harbor--her detailed descriptions of the architecture of the period is matched by her eye for social nuance among the medical professionals, captains of industry, politicians, and journalists that comprise the story's main characters. And her prose has a sort of silky, gloved feel to it that lulls you into believing, if only just for a moment, that you have a clear feel of what it was to have lived in those frightening and heady days of America's ascendancy.

It's not all perfect, mind you. There were times that I found myself shaking my head at the inconsistencies of a particular character or the contrivances that wrap up what is a complex and twisted plot line. But at the turn of a page, I consistently found myself back among the stone skyscrapers and the soldiers preparing to head off to war, and any author that can transport me so completely can be forgiven a few faults. Overall, I found the book very enjoyable, and I continue to find Belfer an author worth reading.
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars a wonderful read, July 3, 2010
This is a wonderful read. The characters are rich, the setting fascinating, the times interesting, and the creative use of the development of the speedy production of pencillium a fascinating move.

The book transported me to the experiences of people in the early 1940s---one small cut could kill you if it got infected, the palpable fear of invasion right after the start of the war, the almost quaint New York street scenes.

Historial novels, in my experience, are challenging reads. Afterall, we can google anything about a novel to assess accuracy. Even though many of the "facts" in the novel don't match reality, the feelings that accompanied those times comes through. That is a real compliment to the author.

This is a book I have already recommended to friends.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars contemporary topic, August 25, 2010
By 
Kirsten G. Cutler (Santa Rosa, California) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
I really enjoyed reading this fascinating historical fiction about the development of penicillin and other antibiotics during the period of World War 2. Place and characters were very well developed; at times, the story moved a little slowly but that was okay because there was a lot to contemplate. Corporate greed vs. Community good, and the need for companies to put money into product development; and should they not receive some benefit for all their efforts. Should health cures be subject to competition for price and therefore use? This is certainly, a very contemporary topic even now 60 years later.
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9 of 11 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars avoid this like (dare I say it?) the plague!, February 3, 2012
This review is from: A Fierce Radiance: A Novel (Hardcover)
I was so sure I'd like this that I took it with me on a long plane flight.

Serious mistake. I kept slogging because it was all I had, but I've never been so happy to land. The idea was great but the execution felt horribly amateur. The characters were two-dimensional and unappealing. The "historical color" was little more than a bunch of randomly sprinkled facts that seemed designed more to impress (look at all my research!) than enlighten. The plot was essentially a series of random crises (he's sick! she's dead! he's dead! no, he's not! she's really sure someone else is dead! wait, nope!), half of which were hopelessly implausible and the other half utterly predictable. But the worst was the unendurably leaden prose stuffed with clunky exposition. Just one passage (p44) tells you all you need to know. The dreamy doctor, thrilled by his medical success, is sharing the good news with the hot female photographer. "Just in case you didn't know," he coos to her, "vaccines create immunity to disease by using infectious material to boost the body's own defenses."

And there are hundreds more pages like this.

Oof.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Amazing WWII novel, August 28, 2010
By 
jopmav (Troy, AL USA) - See all my reviews
My initial reaction after completing A Fierce Radiance by Lauren Belfer was: Wow.
A Fierce Radiance takes place during World War II, focusing on the development of penicillin. The book follows Claire Shipley who is a photographer/reporter for Life magazine as she lives during WWII. Claire is given the opportunity to follow what she feels is an important story about the beginnings of penicillin. As Claire (and readers) learn more about this new drug she also gets to know some of the scientists and physicians behind its creation. The Penicillin story is one that is very personal to Claire as years before she lost a child who might have been saved by this new drug. As Claire learns more about the drug she befriends one of the leading physicians, Dr James Staton, who in turn befriends Claire's son Charlie. Meanwhile, Claire's estranged father is attempting to work his way back into Claire and Charlie lives. A mysterious and suspicious death brings emotions and feelings of betrayal to the front.
Filled with a large amount of history, a small bit of romance and a bit of mystery A Fierce Radiance pulled me in from the beginning. I really enjoyed how the characters interacted with one another. The story flowed well and was filled with interesting bits of history that I had never really thought much about. I truly enjoyed the story a great deal, I would have liked to know more of what happened to the characters after wards.
I read this book as part of the CLSC and can't wait to read another one for CLSC!
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10 of 13 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars The Penicillin, New York City and The Photography Were Interesting, August 22, 2010
I was very disappointed by this novel. I rate Lauren Belfer's first novel 'City of Light' among my all time favorites and often recommend it. Never in a million years would I have guessed that this novel was written by the same author.

Mrs. Claire Shipley is a photographer for 'Life' magazine in the 1940s. She's given an assignment to cover the experimental use of penicillin by medical researchers at the Rockefeller Institute in New York City. Through this assignment she meets the handsome Dr. James Stanton and his brilliant sister Dr. Lucretia Mott Stanton who are on the forefront of medical research in the field of developing antibiotic medication.

I did enjoy the story line regarding the development of penicillin and other antibiotics. I liked the details about the setting, New York City in the 1940s with the world in the middle of the second World War. I thought enumerating various deaths and a variety of health consequences as a result of childhood diseases was a powerful way to show the reader the context and the importance of the potential for developing antibiotic medication. I also enjoyed the photography thread woven into the story and the Life magazine perspective.

There are interesting threads woven into this story but overall it doesn't have a very polished or finished feel to it. The characters are not well developed, they all feel very stereotypical, with little depth of emotion.

Belfer in my opinion failed to show the disintegration of the main character's first marriage in a realistic or believable way. She also failed to include the difficulties the main character would have encountered as a professional woman in the 1940s. While other women were working on the home front as a result of the war. Claire Shipley had been on staff as a professional photographer for years before the United States entered the war. She also had no friends that ever make it into the story which was unusual.

The writing style itself is simplistic and unsophisticated and the dialog often awkward. A lot of details were included that never moved the story forward, helped develop the characters or added any emotional depth to the story. The way the author reveals the characters and their background also feels clumsy and the mystery and intrigue portion of the story just wasn't well developed.

Overall the right ingredients were included and the story had the potential to be a great one. Unfortunately the execution was less than it could have been and as a result the story falls short of being a great one.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Quite Bland, October 22, 2011
By 
Jeffrey Swystun (Toronto & Mont Tremblant) - See all my reviews
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This is a few different genres in one that unfortunately results in a fairly limp outing. It is parts mystery, history, romance, business, and morality tale. The interesting aspect was the development of penicillin during World War Two which forms the crux of the book. It was amazing to learn how susceptible people were to infection prior to the drug's arrival. Told largely through fictional Time photographer Claire Shiply's eyes, who lost her daughter from septicemia, she interacts with other fictional characters along with real figures from the period. It does a fine job describing New York and wartime realities but is too ambitious pursuing many angles, subplots, and characters including a murder which does not spice things up. For all the subject matter, the book is quite bland.
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9 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars One of the best of 2010, June 18, 2010
By 
A front-runner for my #1 book of 2010!!

A Fierce Radiance is an extraordinary novel which comes along once every few years. I absolutely fell in love with this book and can't stop talking about it!!

A Fierce Radiance is set in the early 1940s during the first days following the attack on Pearl Harbor. The story follows the life of Claire Shipley, a beautiful and talented photojournalist for Life magazine, whose boss sends her to cover the testing of a potentially revolutionary new medicine made from green mold - penicillin. She is responsible for capturing the iconic images Americans look forward to seeing in Life Magazine. Living in New York City, Claire is a single mother to an 8 year old boy, Charlie. She lost her daughter, Emily, when she was only seven, from a scrape on the knee resulting in a blood infection. Emily's life would have been saved by penicillin. In 1941, the United States had just entered WWII, and "our boys" are dying on and off the battlefield from infection. The government pleads with the seven largest pharmaceutical companies to make penicillin their top priority. In the midst of this war-time drama, two people are brought together, fall in love, and are thrust into blackmail, espionage and murder, all of which revolve around the potential for mass production of a new blockbuster drug.

Penicillin - the weapon of war.

The words leaped off the page and came to life for me. Belfer's engaging writing transported me to war-time New York, the 1940s, an era that I'm already a bit obsessed with, and she got everything right. I feel like I'm describing a movie when I tell you the dialogue is engaging and fast-paced, the costumes are stunning, and the scenery is perfection. It may sound silly, but I loved that Belfer described all the women's clothes, hair and make-up. She was descriptive without taking away from the action and helped me to become even more absorbed into this important time in the world's history.

I have read an abundance of books that have World War II as their back-drop, but this was my first perspective of the war from this angle. I also live in New Jersey, the home of several of the actual pharmaceutical companies mentioned in the novel, which gave me a whole new look at an industry of which I am already very familiar. There is so much on-the-edge-of-your-seat drama in this race to the finish. Which company will be first in discovering how to mass produce penicillin? Will they share their discovery for the good of the country? Will they be able to do it in time to save our soldiers? Will they be able to do it in time to save our children? How far are people willing to go to keep or steal secrets?

This compelling novel was about loss, fear, hope, tragedy, war, suffering, government, corruption, fortune, greed and victory. For me, it was a love story. Claire Shipley meets Dr. James Stanton, a handsome doctor at The Rockefeller Institute for Medical Research, and what follows is the kind of love story they make movies about. Will they survive this race to save lives?

When I finish a book like this, I need more, so I spent a lot of time online researching penicillin, the pharmaceutical companies mentioned in the book, as well as some of the people and places. I don't need to share my discoveries with you, because in the Historical Note after the end of her novel, Belfer explains to readers which parts of her story were true to history and which were fiction. It's extremely scary the role that some of the pharmaceutical companies, which still exist today, played in WWII - and I'm not talking about the drugs that saved lives.

When people talk about the Great American Novel...this is it! It has everything a reader could possibly ask for - intriguing characters, intense drama, interesting plot, a heavy dose of reality, an epic love story and it's all bound together with Lauren Belfer's brilliant writing.
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A Fierce Radiance: A Novel
A Fierce Radiance: A Novel by Lauren Belfer (Hardcover - June 15, 2010)
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