Tuesday, February 5, 2013

A Silver Lining to the Cyber-Cloud

There's been some angst lately over the newest feature of Facebook (the Graph Search), which some people say is a major invasion of privacy. Regardless of how you feel about the whole issue of data mining, there's no doubt that much of what we do online is being followed, sometimes under the guise of "helping to improve your experience."

One thing that always seemed a little creepy to me are the recommendations from Amazon, based on my search history and purchases. Sometimes the things I search for on Amazon are not necessarily things I personally want to know about but are things I need to look up for classes, and it is kind of creepy to think all that is being blended into a profile of my interests and likes. Really, I am not THAT into books about marketing, haha!

Every now and then, though, Amazon's industrious little spider (is that the right term?) hits the jackpot. Recently the "suggestions" section has included a number of books that I've found interesting--with several of them at a price I can't refuse. One of those is the book I finished this morning, In the Shadow of the Lamp by Susanne Dunlap.

In the Shadow of the Lamp is the story of a young girl in London who joins the contingent of nurses going with Florence Nightingale to the Crimea. Molly is really too young and too attractive to be the kind of woman Miss Nightingale wanted as a nurse, but she promises to follow Miss Nightingale's strict rules and so is kept on. Of course, through no fault of her own, she breaks a few of the rules, putting her nursing career in jeopardy several times. The rule that seems hardest for Molly to keep is the one about having no friendly contact whatsoever with men - the nurses were to be strictly professional at all times (I can understand why, since this was a pioneering period for women as nurses). Molly's friend Emma, who is also young and attractive, likes to flirt, and Molly herself is the object of the romantic attention of a young doctor. Add to the mix Molly's love interest from London who has joined the British Army in hopes of seeing her again. His wish is granted, of course, when he's shipped to the Crimean front.

That sounds like a lot of romance. But the most important relationship in this story is the one between Molly and Miss Nightingale. Although Miss Nightingale is strict and sometimes even harsh, she recognizes Molly's gift for nursing and serves as a mentor to help Molly learn and stretch. (Spoiler Alert!!) Ultimately, Molly goes too far against the rules, leaving Miss Nightingale no option but to dismiss her from the nursing service. But even then, their parting is not as hostile as one might expect.

I enjoyed the book. I knew only the outline of Florence Nightingale's story. I probably read a juvenile biography of her when I was a kid (I went through a phase of reading every biography I could get my hands on). But I didn't know enough about the Crimean War to even be able to date the story; I had to do a quick check on Wikipedia (the date was 1854, by the way, which surprised me - I thought it would be the 1880s or so). So I learned something, which always raises a book's value in my eyes. And it was fun to read in a light-hearted, innocent way, which I definitely needed after my speech class yesterday (Grrrr......still mad at them). And I have to admit, the plot events at the end really caught me off guard.

Actually, the ending was the only thing I would complain about. (More spoilers!!!) I felt the story wrapped up too quickly and that it would have been better to have at least one more chapter. For example, I don't even know what was wrong with Will - had his leg been amputated, or was it simply a temporary lameness? If his injury wasn't pretty serious, why did he get to come home from the battle when other men were patched up and sent back to fight? When did Will get his injury, anyway, in the big scheme of the ending events of the story? Would he really have had time to get to London before Molly? Then there is the whole issue of their feelings about each other. Their last meeting hadn't really gone so well; I think even if he loved Molly, Will would have needed a little time and a little more reassurance to get over what sure seemed like a jilting.

In light of my last post, I was also divided in my reaction to the ending. On the one hand, there is the "feminist" side that thinks Dunlap copped out by having a traditional happy-ever-after ending, in which the girl gets the guy, when there was a great opportunity to have her be an independent woman making her own way in the world. But the other side, the "romantic" side, simply says, "Ah.....how nice." And smiles.

So, I'll forgive that creepy little Amazon spy-der, because it pointed me toward a good story I wouldn't have found on my own. And now I suppose I should go leave a review on Amazon, in hopes of feeding the spy-der so it will know I like historical fiction more than marketing texts, and it can give even better choices in the future!

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