Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Book Review: 'The Ghost Map' by Steven Johnson

✰✰✰½ During the summer of 1854, a cholera epidemic broke out in Victorian London. It began with a single case, but the outbreak spread like wildfire. With over two million people in the city and without the proper infrastructure to handle all the waste, it became a race against time to stop the spread of the disease. While families left the city in fear, two men with vastly different viewpoints set out to find answers. At the time theorists believed disease spread via noxious or bad smelling air. The Reverend Henry Whitehead, who believed in the miasma theory, visited his flock both to bring comfort and gather valuable information. But something was amiss with the miasma theory. Dr. John Snow, a respected physician, decided to pursue another course to identify the source of disease. Dr. Snow was on the search for microscopic waterborne pathogens, but he needed evidence to make his case. With the help of a skeptical Reverend Whitehead, Snow was able to create a groundbreaking map. Snow’s map visually showed that most of those who died from the cholera outbreak were clustered around a single source of water. The map helped debunk the theory of miasma and shut down the pump. The tireless efforts of these two men would impact the way scientists looked at disease for years to come. The Ghost Map is a thrilling chase through Victorian London to find the cause of a deadly outbreak before more people died.

The Bottom Line: This was an era when drinking water could be hazardous to one’s health. Dr. Snow’s forward thinking about germs and how they are passed on was at odds with the scientific community at the time. While it is obvious today, the poor disposal of human waste contributed to the unsanitary condition that caused the epidemic. Although this book was somewhat repetitive and slow in places, I found it to be informative. In fact, the information in this book has come up time and time again in other books, films, and conversations. The brief biographies about Snow and Whitehead were fascinating as was the shift away from miasma theory. Cholera is still a problem in some parts of the world today making this is a very timely topic. Recommended for those who enjoy medical mysteries and history. Also, recommended for students of public health or medicine. The book could benefit from better illustrations, especially of the famous map.

Book Club Notes: While the group agreed that this was an informative book, many took a pass on this one. Talking about human waste isn’t for everyone. Overall, this was an interesting discussion, and we agreed that we all learned something by reading this book. For book clubs wishing to discuss this book, there are discussion questions provided at Penguin. Also, be sure to check out the “Notes” section at the back of the book as well for more information. Finally, I ended up searching online for a better map for discussion purposes as the one in the book wasn’t adequate. Two sites that contain useful information are Cholera and the Thames and Professor John Mackenzie's GIS Analyses of Snow's Map.

Details: The Ghost Map: The Story of London's Most Terrifying Epidemic--and How It Changed Science, Cities, and the Modern World by Steven Johnson. Hardcover published by Riverhead Books in 2006. 320 p. ISBN: 978-1594482694

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

5 Tips for Attending a Writers' Conference

Maybe you've thought about attending a writers' conference for years. Perhaps you've worked on a manuscript and are looking for an agent. Then again, maybe you just enjoy reading books and would like to learn more about the craft of writing. These are all great reasons to attend a conference. However, for the first time participant, the prospect of attending a conference can be daunting.

Here are 5 tips to help you make a good first impression:

  1. Dress comfortably, but professionally. Keep in mind that these conferences are packed with lots to do. You'll be on your feet a lot, so wear comfortable shoes if possible.
  2. Take a notebook and pen. The sessions are chock full of information, so it's best to come prepared to take notes.
  3. Take business cards, but leave your manuscript at home. You'll be meeting lots of people at the conference. Business cards are handy for exchanging contact information quickly.
  4. Attend all meals. This is an excellent way to meet new people. Take some risks and try sitting next to a different person at each meal.
  5. Be polite. It's great to be friendly, but don't approach your favorite author in the restroom, for example. Also, please silence the cell phones.
Writers' conferences are a great opportunity to meet authors, agents, editors, and publishers. Whether you are an unpublished writer, a reader, a librarian, or a seasoned author, writers' conferences have something to offer for everyone. Best of all, these conferences are so much fun. So smile and have a great time!

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Book Review: 'Shannon and the World's Tallest Leprechaun' by Sean Callahan

✰✰✰✰✰ Shannon loves stepdancing, but she doesn't have the fancy wigs, new shoes, or expensive costumes like the other girls. All the same, she keeps practicing for the Saint Patrick's Day stepdance contest. Unfortunately, when the heel of her shoe snaps off, her chances of winning are ruined...or are they? Even though things look hopeless, Shannon closes her eyes and remembers what her dad once told her about how to get a leprechaun to appear and grant a wish. When she opens her eyes again, Liam, the world's tallest leprechaun, is standing there.

Shannon is skeptical. After all Liam doesn't look like what she expected. However, she makes a wish, and he grants it...sort of. The same thing happens the next day and the day after that. With all three wishes used up, Shannon shows up at the contest ready to dance her best. After all the practice, will Shannon win the leprechaun's pot of gold at the end of the rainbow? Liam knows the answer, but Shannon must find out for herself in this charming Saint Patrick's Day tale.

The Bottom Line: Sean Callahan's tale of a little girl and her three wishes is perfect for Saint Patrick's Day. The main character learns that things may not always be what they seem, but hard work, tradition, and lots of practice can make a lot of difference. Kathleen Kemly's pastels perfectly compliment this heartwarming tale. Highly recommended for kids interested in Irish-American traditions, stepdancing, and Saint Patrick's Day lore.

Details: Shannon and the World's Tallest Leprechaun written by Sean Callahan & illustrated by Kathleen Kemly. Hardcover picture book published by Albert Whitman & Company in 2008. 32 p. ISBN: 978-0-8075-7326-6

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Book Review: 'Cy in Chains' by David L. Dudley

✰✰✰✰✰ The 1890s were a difficult time in American history. After slavery had ended, African Americans were free; however, they were still expected to obey the white men. Punishments for disobedience in rural Georgia at the time included being whipped, abused, and killed. Thirteen-year-old Cy Williams has grown up with this unsavory fact of life. He lives with his father on the Strong plantation. He, also, knows how to stay out of trouble and mind his own business. However, when the plantation owner's son, Travis, runs away, Cy goes after his young friend. The result is a tragedy that is unfairly blamed on Cy.

Cy is promptly sent to a chain gang, where the challenges he faced before pale in comparison to life in the labor camp. Conditions at the camp are horrific and leave little hope for freedom or joy. Faced with brutal beatings and sexual abuse over four years, Cy changes from an innocent young boy into an angry young man and finally into a leader the others look up to. Before the story is finished, Cy will risk everything for his friends, himself, and freedom.

The Bottom Line: I received an advance reading copy from the publisher while I was attending the 2013 ALA conference. When I finally got around to reading it, I was hesitant at first. To be honest, I don't read a lot of historical fiction. That being said, Cy in Chains drew me in from the very first page. In fact, I couldn't put it down. Author David L. Dudley has a talent for making the reader feel as if she is right there witnessing the atrocities of the era. The images were so vivid, and the characters were so believable. With each chapter, I just had to know what would happen next. Although the bittersweet ending brought me to tears, I will remember this book for a long time to come.

Highly recommended for mature young adult readers and adults interested in historical fiction. This fast-paced and compelling book explores justice, race relations, and what it means to be free. This would be an excellent pick for a book club as well. NOTE: This book includes graphic depictions of abuse which may not be appropriate for younger readers.

Details: Cy in Chains by David L. Dudley. Advance reading copy published by Clarion Books in 2013. 336 p. ISBN: 978-0-547-91068-0 NOTE: I received a free ARC from the publisher in exchange for nothing.