The Tide, by Anthony J. Melchiorri

The Tide, by Anthony J Melchiorri, narrated by Ryan Kennard Burke
Captain Dominic Holland (Dom) is head of a covert operations team which investigates bioterrorism. As he and his team check out some suspicious activity on what was believed to be an abandoned oil rig, bone-armored mutant men begin to wash up on shores of countries around the world. Soon, citizens become crazed – brutally attacking and devouring people. Dom’s team rushes to find a cure to the bioweapon, as civilization crashes around them. 


I found this book in the new releases in Audible and thought I’d try it out. The genre is basically bioweapon zombie apocalypse, but the “zombies” aren’t actually zombies. They are living humans who develop bony armor around their bodies and get brain activation of unthinking violence. It was a fast-paced, high-action book. The science was very reasonable – clearly Melchiorri did his research – which I like to see in biotech books (otherwise I tend to roll my eyes and criticize every little mistake). Yes, the race for a cure moved along much too fast to be realistic, but that’s the nature of the genre, not a problem with Melchiorri’s writing. Nobody wants to read a book with the pacing of real life, after all. 🙂 

I think this book will be quite enjoyable to anyone who likes biotech apocalypse thrillers, especially those who enjoyed Jonathan Maberry’s Patient Zero. But beware, it is the first in a series, and the story just cuts off at the end – there’s not a satisfying conclusion. Luckily, Melchiorri is releasing the second one hot on the heels of the first, so this may not be an issue for many readers. 

I decided to give this book four stars despite the fact that there wasn’t a satisfying ending. The science was excellent and it was just what a biotech thriller should be. 

Severed, by Frances Larson

Severed: A History of Heads Lost and Heads Found, by Frances Larson, Narrated by Reay Kaplan
As soon as I heard about this book I just had to read it. I tried to convince my book club to read it for next month, but alas, the subject was too upsetting for them. So I chose to read it anyway. And I most certainly am glad that I did so. 

Severed is about Western culture’s fascination with severed heads throughout history. The book begins with Larson’s own fascination with the shrunken heads in Pitt Rivers Museum at Oxford, where she worked. Apparently, they are quite an attractive exhibit there, drawing lots of fascinated people – adults and children alike. 

The shrunken heads were made by Shuar and Achuar peoples from South America, ranging from Peru to Ecuador. The heads were considered to have the power of the souls of the former owners, and when the heads were shrunk, the Shuar and Achuar people were able to harvest that power. The shrunken heads were made by removing the brain and skull. The skin of the head was then put in hot water and filled with scalding sand. The sand treatment was repeated several times until the head shrunk down to the size of a fist. 
Interestingly, after the heads were shrunk, they no longer had any power. Therefore when Westerners became interested in the heads as novelty items, the Shuar and Achuar people were happy to sell them. Even Westerners wanted a piece of the shrunken head profit: they would fake the heads using heads of monkeys. 

Apparently, these shrunken heads are found quite fascinating by the Westerners even today. Many are in display in museums. I used to go to a museum when I was a child – it was called Woolaroc Ranch in Bartlesville, OK – and I was frightened and quite the opposite of fascinated by the shrunken heads. And even today, I searched “shrunken heads” in my stock photo source, and felt a little queasy at the results. Funny, I can read this book with fascination, but I can’t look at a picture of a fake shrunken head without feeling a little off. 🙂
Anyway, Larson’s story of severed heads did not stop there. She discussed trophy hunting during Pacific, Vietnam, and Korean Wars. It’s surprising what a soldier might do when he is in the foreign world of kill-or-be-killed. Again, the idea made me feel sad. 

She discussed the sloppy ax beheadings of convicted criminals in the days before the guillotine. How an executioner would be praised by his ability to cut a head clean off, and would be shouted down, beaten, and possibly killed because of a sloppy execution. Because higher society became more “refined,” they decided that the rowdy crowds that executions attracted were disturbing – so they invented the guillotine. The crowds were disappointed by how quick and effortless the executions were, but the executions certainly became more humane.

Larson finally discussed phrenology, plastination, and dissection of heads by medical students (modern and in the old days of stolen corpses). Until she got to the plastination part, I was feeling rather fascinated but disgusted – actually a little high-and-mighty that I certainly did not find dead heads fascinating. (Yes, I recognize the internal contradiction in that sentence.) But then I realized she had a point. I was fascinated. I was fascinated by her book. And when the Bodyworlds exhibit came to the Science Museum of Minnesota, I sure did rush out there to see it. And I didn’t find it disgusting. Of course, there’s a difference between Bodyworlds versus collecting the heads of unwilling donors – the people of Bodyworlds all donated their bodies to this “art” project. In fact, I find mummy exhibits to be a little wrong. 

Larson claims that our disgust at the collection of heads is rather a new concept – it isn’t inherent in humans. I find that a little hard to believe, but I recognize that some things that seem naturally right to me were not always “right.” For instance, homosexuality. Not more than a couple decades ago homosexuality was listed in the DSM as a psychological disorder. Now it’s mostly accepted as normal behavior for some people – and the idea that it was considered a mental illness is laughable (or insulting, depending on what personality type you have). So why can’t the same thing be said of my own uncomfortableness about severed human heads? But I’d like to point out my own argument against Larson’s point: if people of the past didn’t find the idea of severed human heads a bit off-putting, then why were they so fascinated by the idea? 

Larson’s book was a fantastic read for the Halloween season. It was creepy, fascinating, and creative. The research seemed quite diverse and the narrative was engaging. I really think there’s a lot to learn from this book – at the very least it will make you rethink your own views on the subject of dead heads. 



4.5 stars for creative subject, research, and engaging narrative.

The Ghost Map, by Steven Johnson

The Ghost Map

Written by Steven Johnson, Narrated by Alan Sklar

Reason for Reading: Science, Religion, and History group read

Genre: Non-fiction – Medicine and History


Review
The Ghost Map follows Dr. John Snow on his quest to discover the cause of a terrible cholera outbreak in Victorian England. Johnson makes investigative epidemiology so interesting that I could almost see it dramatized (and fictionalized) into a TV show – people DO love their investigative TV! 🙂 But that’s beside the point, I guess. At the time of this outbreak in 1854, the popular theory for the spread of cholera was miasma – deathly air that carried disease. After a LOT of investigative footwork, Snow drew a map of the cholera outbreak, demonstrating that the pattern followed streets that led to a particular well (the Broad Street pump) rather than following a circular pattern you’d expect with the spread of bad air. This map, and the investigation leading up to its creation, revolutionized epidemiology. In fact, many consider Snow the “first epidemiologist.” 

I really enjoyed this book. The writing was engaging (it had a few boring parts in the end when Johnson was describing the map in great detail – I think that may be a problem with listening to the audio book rather than actually reading it, though). The subject was fascinating. Sklar did a good job of narrating the book, and except for the very end with the description of the map, I was quite pleased with the book’s audio version. If you have any interest in epidemiology, or the history of medicine, I highly recommend this book.

Mountains Beyond Mountains, by Tracy Kidder

Mountains Beyond Mountains

Written by Tracy Kidder, Narrated by Paul Michael

Reason for Reading: This was meant to be read for my Social Justice Theme in February, but things didn’t work out quite as I’d planned. I finished the book in January, and haven’t had the time to review it until now. 🙂 Better late than never!

Review

In this moving biography of Paul Farmer, Tracy Kidder takes us on a world tour of medical missionary work. Farmer started his mission to save the world from tuberculosis one patient at a time in the slums of Haiti. Practically from scratch, he developed a clinic that would treat the poor. But Farmer not only treated his patients, he listened to them, he cared about each one with individual interest, and he provided food and supplies so that his patients wouldn’t be saved from tuberculosis only to die of starvation.

As his mission in Haiti gained more and more momentum, Farmer’s expertise on tuberculosis (especially antibiotic-resistant strains) became world-renowned. He was asked to help set up clinics in Peru. He worked with the health systems of prisons in Russia, where antibiotic-resistant tuberculosis was rampant. And he loved each and every patient, regardless of who they were. 

While describing the incredible non-stop work of Farmer, Kidder managed to make the doctor more human. I could imagine Farmer, cheerful despite sleep-deprivation shadows under his eyes, flying from one country to another in a worn-down suit that he would never have time to replace. From the book, it seemed that Farmer might pause for hours to have a heart-felt conversation with a patient, even while a room-full of self-important Harvard doctors awaited his arrival. I could empathize with Olivia, Farmer’s old flame, who once felt a twinge of satisfaction to realize that Farmer was only human – she could annoy him. Being around someone like that must be exhausting. Kidder painted a brilliant man with limitless energy, unimpeachable morals, and the charisma to make his dreams a reality. I felt overwhelmed just listening to the book. 🙂 I can’t imagine what it must be like to work for him (or date/marry him). And yet, it’s impossible for me to not admire him. 

I found this book fascinating not only because it was a description of an amazing man with a daring love for humanity, but also because I enjoyed learning more about the social/economic conditions of Haiti. The narrative flowed smoothly between Kidder’s personal impressions of Farmer and Haiti to well-researched narratives of Farmer’s life outside his work. 

I enjoyed Paul Micheal’s narration of the book – though I have little to comment on his style of reading. It was one of those audiobooks that I was so absorbed in the story that I forget to be distracted by the narrator – which means Micheal must have done a good job. 🙂

Congo Dawn, by Jeanette Windle



Congo Dawn, by Jeanette Windle

Reason for Reading: This is my first (and feature) book for the 2013 Social Justice Theme Read. An ARC was provided by the publisher/author in exchange for an honest review. 

Review

When Robin Duncan takes on a security/translator contract in Democratic Republic of Congo, she doesn’t expect all of her old wounds to open. Then she meets a man that she hoped to never see again, and she is reminded not only of her disappointment in humanity but also of the senseless death of her brother. Duncan must struggle inwardly with these issues while she maintains military efficiency in her team’s efforts to capture a deadly insurgent leader. Soon, she learns that not all is as it seems – sometimes, good seems evil and evil seems good. Sometimes well-intentioned people can become monsters while fighting monsters. 

Most Christian Suspense I’ve read is fairly fluffy, so I was surprised (and impressed) with the meatiness of this plot. I found the intensity of the mercenary action against the insurgency convincing. Often, I found myself unable to put the book down for suspense. The romantic tension was delicious, and added emotional depth to the characters without distracting from the suspense plot. And, of course, I always find stories about social justice medical personnel heartwarming. I also learned a lot about the Democratic Republic of Congo while reading this book. Windle has done a lot of research to back up all aspects of her plot – and it really shines through.

The only con would be a con ONLY to people who specifically avoid Christian Fiction. At one point, the suspense is, well, suspended by a philosophical discussion about why God allows bad things to happen to good people. This discussion would be interesting to any reader of Christian Fiction (i.e. the target audience), and the philosophy is demonstrated in the story by action. For those of you who generally avoid Christian Fiction because you feel it is “preachy,” I recommend that you give this book a try anyway. Yes, there is that short section, but the rest of the book is all philosophy-demonstrated-by-action. 

Overall, I really enjoyed this book. I am eager to read more of Windle’s works now that I’ve had this taste. 🙂 

Our Lady of Alice Bhatti, by Mohammed Hanif

2012 Book 162: Our Lady of Alice Bhatti 

Written by Mohammed Hanif, Narrated by Nimra Bucha 

Reason for Reading: Shortlisted for the Wellcome Trust Book Prize 




Review 

After spending over a year in a women’s prison on some jacked up manslaughter charges, Alice Bhatti secures a job as a junior nurse in a Catholic hospital in the predominantly Muslim city of Karachi. There, she fights to salvage some amount of pride as she fends off roaming hands and gun-toting suitors. In the midst of this chaos, she manages to save a few lives. But is she performing miracles? Hanif’s narrative has some truly beautiful moments, but I was left wondering: What’s the point? There wasn’t really a story-line…it was just a series of events. The scenery and characters supported the novel, but they lacked plot. This book was shortlisted for the Wellcome Trust book prize, and I understand why – it displays the woes of practicing medicine in a religiously-charged, seedy environment. I certainly have a better appreciation, now, for medical practitioners in neighborhoods like this. I was moved by the characters, but not enthralled by the story. 

The Poisoner’s Handbook, by Deborah Blum

2012 Book 149: The Poisoner’s Handbook 

written by Deborah Blum, narrated by Coleen Marlo

Reason for Reading: October Halloween theme

My Review

This fascinating book outlines the development of forensic science in the 1920’s. It begins by describing the poor state of forensics the late nineteen-teens, and pointing out WHY it was so necessary to develop a proper procedure for determining cause of death. I’ve always taken such things for granted and never even thought about the effort it would take to develop the science–not only scientifically, but also as a social movement. Although the Prohibition theme resonates throughout the book, each chapter focuses on a different poison–including the background/development of the poison, the effects it has on the victim, and the measures taken by forensic scientists to discover cause of death. This book was fascinating on so many different levels. It’s interesting as a Prohibition-era history, but it would also be interesting to lovers of popular science. Highly recommended for a little light reading.