The Ghost Map (bk rvw)

The Ghost Map: The Story of London’s Most Terrifying Epidemic – and How it Changed Science, Cities, and the Modern World by Steven Johnson

The Ghost Map: The Story of London’s Most Terrifying Epidemic – and How it Changed Science, Cities, and the Modern World by Steven Johnson was more interesting than I ghostmapcovercould have imagined. Honestly, I picked up the book because it had “London” in the title and since London is one of my favorite cities – I figured I’d read about its history. The Ghost Map is non-fiction, but it reads like a narrative fiction book.

Johnson explores the story behind a deadly cholera outbreak in London during the summer of 1854 in the Broad Street neighborhood. The author explores how the cholera outbreak started and how the citizens of the neighborhood & greater London reacted.

The Ghost Map chronicles follows the steps of two men in the Broad Street neighborhood – Dr. John Snow and clergyman Henry Whitehead. Both men worked in the area hit hardest by the cholera outbreak to figure out how the disease was spreading and were instrumental in stopping the 1854 outbreak.  Johnson also details how the work of Snow and Whitehead helped the leaders of London understand the importance of creating a sewer system that doesn’t cross human waste with drinking water.

Mixed in with the narrative of the outbreak, Johnson provides information on cholera, including details about the bacteria (Vibrio cholerae) that someone with no medical background (e.g. – me) can understand.

The Ghost Map is a truly fascinating book. I learned more about cholera, modern sewer systems, and tracking disease outbreaks than I thought I would. I will definitely be recommending this book to library patrons.

Review written by Amanda B.

The Wild Truth (bk rvw)

The Wild Truth by Carine McCandless

If you read Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer, you definitely need to read The Wild Truth by Carine McCandless. The Wild Truth will answer a lot of questions raised by 9780062325143Krakauer’s book. And well, if you haven’t read either of these books, you really need to do so.

Carine is the younger sister of Chris McCandless, whose story was made famous in the book (and movie) Into the Wild.

The book Into the Wild chronicles Chris’ life after college when he gave away all of his possessions, donated his money to charity, and headed west. Eventually, Chris moved to Alaska and his life came to a tragic end.

While Krakauer was writing Into the Wild, he spent time with Chris’ parents and Carine to try and understand why Chris did what he did. In an effort to protect family secrets, Carine didn’t allow Krakauer to publish the entire truth of Chris and Carine’s childhood – she only let him allude to it – and in doing so, many people misunderstood Chris’ motives for leaving his family.

In The Wild Truth, Carine tells the story about her childhood. She discusses the fact her mom became pregnant with Chris even though her father had another family. Carine talks about the physical and verbal abuse her mother, Chris and she lived with because of her father’s temper. She talks about her parents inability to accept blame for anything bad in life. And Carine admits why she didn’t want Krakauer to write about this in Into the Wild but why she finally saw a need for the truth to come out.

As Carine describes the childhood she and her brother shared, she talks about Chris’ personality and his desire for adventure. She relays her understanding of Chris’ motives to get rid of his possessions and move west without a plan.

Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer and The Wild Truth by Carine McCandless are available for checkout at the VC/UHV Library.

Review written by Amanda B.

Those Who Save Us (bk rvw)

Those Who Save Us by Jenna Blum

Those Who Save Us is a fantastic historical fiction book. The author, Jenna Blum does an incredible job of simultaneously telling the stories of two women: Anna, a woman who grew up in 51FN3VKM34LGermany during World War II and Trudy, Anna’s daughter and a professor of German history who begins investigating her past.

Anna grew up and lived in the Weimar, Germany during World War II. She is not proud of a lot of things she did to survive during the war and wants to keep the past in the past. After the war, Weimar and neighboring Buchenwald Concentration Camp (it was only 8 km from the city center) were liberated by American soldiers, one of which Anna married. She, along with her daughter, moved with him to his farmhouse in rural Minnesota.

Flash forward to the present day where Trudy is a grown woman and is a professor at a university in Minnesota. She agrees to work with a colleague and collect oral histories from German survivors of the war. As Trudy conducts the interviews, she becomes more and more curious about her mother’s past.Eventually Trudy’s work and Anna’s past collide.

Those Who Save Us is more than historical fiction. The book is about what one must sometimes do to survive and the lasting shame it can bring.

Agent Storm (bk rvw)

Agent Storm: My Life Inside Al Qaeda and the CIA by Morten Storm with Paul Cruickshank & Tim Lister

I first heard about Agent Storm from an online book review in the New York Times. Immediately, I knew I wanted to read this book – and I’m glad I did. Morten Storm 9780802123145provides amazing insight into working for Western intelligence agencies trying to track down Al Qaeda members.

Now, I must admit that I was a bit skeptical about Agent Storm’s story after I got my hands on the book. I didn’t understand why a secret agent would go public with his story and I was unsure about how truthful the information would be. This was a book, after all, written by a former spy. The co-authors Paul Cruickshank & Tim Lister detail the amount and types of material Storm had to corroborate his story in an author’s note at the beginning of the book. There are also photos of some of the corroborating material at the back of the book.

Agent Storm is the story about Morten Storm, a six-foot-one, red-headed man from Denmark who became radicalized soon after he converted to Islam. For 10 years, Storm befriended militant Islamists and became a trusted member within the inner circles of some radical clerics.

After Storm began to question is belief in Islam, the methods and targets of his militant friends and the last 10 years of his list, Morten Storm called the Danish Intelligence Service (PET) and asked for a meeting. Soon after, Storm was in contact with the British Intelligence Service (MI5 and MI6) and the United States Intelligence Service (CIA).

This book recounts the assignments Storm carried out for MI6 and the CIA. Storm describes how the agencies supplied him with laptops, cellphones, and other supplies rigged with tracking devices to pass on to militants. The also talk about Storm’s contributions that led to air strikes against “high value” Al Qaeda targets.

Agent Storm: My Life Inside Al Qaeda and the CIA is a captivating book. Not only does the book provide amazing insight into the life of one spy, but it will make you think about the methods intelligences agencies use to achieve their goals.

Agent Storm is available for checkout at the VC/UHV Library.

Review written by Amanda B.

America’s Bitter Pill (bk rvw)

I am, as you will come to know, a huge fan of audio books.  I just got through listening to America’s Bitter Pill: Money, Politics, Backroom Deals, and the Fight to Fix Our Broken Healthcare System by Steven Brill.

AmericasBitterPillI am very interested in healthcare in the United States, as we fall way short in in the world in terms of several measures of health. I read an article by this guy in Time Magazine last year that scared the bejeezus out of me, so when I heard there was a book out by him, I immediately got it to listen to.

It is a treatise on the development of the Affordable Care Act, and the book title is a completely apt description of its contents. I could never have read this book in print, and had to stop listening several times because it was so frustrating, but I did listen all the way through. It is a highly imperfect act, and does not address the underlying issues in our healthcare system. But it does point out how imperfect our political system is. He offers some ways the act could be improved. I wish all of us ordinary folks would read or listen to it; maybe we could make a difference if we took action.

Please let me know if you are, too, and what you’d like to hear. If you have any audiobooks you’d like to see the VC/UHV Library purchase, please send us an email.

We have the book on order, so if you’d like to read it – check back soon or let us know and we’ll put your name on the wait list.

Review written by Jennifer F.

Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour BKST (bk rv)

Named best book of the year by NPR, Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore follows the adventures of Clay Jannon. Clay suddenly finds himself out of a job and hoping to land on his feet in the streets of San Francisco. He is a talented web designing enthusiast, 811wT2-uD8Lbut after becoming a casualty of the Great Recession, he ends up being offered a job in a 24-hour bookstore run by the eccentric Mr. Penumbra.

Soon, Clay realizes there is much more to this bookstore than meets the eye as he encounters a rather odd cast of characters and begins to let his curiosity get the best of him. As his obsession with the bookstore grows, Clay finds the trail of clues becoming stranger and stranger as he and his friends pool their individual talents to unravel a centuries-old mystery. With excellent plot twists, quick-witted humor and a bit of technological nerdiness, Robin Sloan crafts together a wonderful tale meshing the modern and old-world.

I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book and I would recommend it to anyone who enjoys humorous mystery and adventure. The book reads very well and has a very good flow to its plot. Plus, the characters are highly believable and relatable. Excellent read all around.

This book is available for checkout at the VC/UHV Library. You’ll find it in our Leisure Reading area on the 1st Floor.

Review written by Greg G.

The Postmortal (bk rvw)

What if you could simply stop aging? This question is at the heart of the novel The Postmortal by Drew Magary. The story is told through a series of electronic diary entries written by John Farrell, a lawyer from New York City.

postmortalThe diary entries of Farrell begin soon after the cure for aging has been discovered. This discovery – known as The Cure – takes humanity on a first, and intensive, step toward immortality. People who have The Cure will no longer die of old age. They can still die from cancer or die because they were hit by a bus; but suddenly, people could live for 100, 200, 300, or more years.

Living forever sounds great, right? On the surface, the idea of getting The Cure might seem like a fabulous idea; however, Farrell and other characters must address tough questions and choices that people never had to consider prior to The Cure. Would you continue to work if retirement was no longer an option? Would you get married? Would you get bored of life if you did the same thing over and over for 100+ years?

The Postmortal, Magary addresses the issue of what life would be like if you could stop aging. He ties in political, economic, environmental, and social issues. There is no “sugar coating” in this book about what like could be like with a cure for aging.

I recommend The Postmortal to anyone interested in pre- or post-apocalyptic fiction. The Postmortal is available for checkout at the VC/UHV Library. You’ll find the book on the 1st Floor in our Leisure Reading section.

Review by Amanda B.

The Walking Dead (bk rvw)

“The Walking Dead” – volumes 17-22 – with some spoilers

Rick and the gang are back in true form in volumes 17-22 of “The Walking Dead” by Robert Kirkman. They’re living at Alexandria near Vol17covthe Hilltop (where we last saw them) and the Kingdom just trying to survive. They’re fighting zombies and scrounging for sustenance when they are attacked by the nefarious Nevan.

Nevan is angry with Rick and the rest of the local settlements for refusing to give him half of everything they have in exchange for… well, nothing. He decides to teach Rick’s group a lesson, and bashes in the brains of one of our favorite characters!

This sets off a series of events that will lead our heroes in to all-out war with a psychopath. The zombies are not the only threat now, and no one is safe… and creepy Carl makes a weird friendship with nutty Nevan.

I really enjoyed 17-21, but 22 is what really caught my attention.

I always enjoy the issues with a “calm before the storm” setting. The war is over, walls are built to keep out the zombies, gardens are planted, transportation routes are being cleared of roamers, and the group is even planning a fair for the surrounding settlements.

A scout comes back from outside the safety the walls, he’s lost is scouting partner and is in bad shape having been attacked by a herd of zombies, zombies which he claims can now talk. A small group is sent out to recovery the scout’s lost partner when they too are attacked by herd of what appears to be zombies that whisper… Have the undead learned to talk? Or is something more twisted afoot? You’ll have to read to find out, but you won’t be disappointed!

“The Walking Dead” is available as a graphic novel at the VC/UHV Library. You’ll find them in our Leisure Reading section.

Review written by Rebecca Holm

Life After Death (bk rvw)

Life After Death by Damien Echols is a book about stereotypes and survival.

echolsMost people know Echols’ name because of the attention surrounding his imprisonment and release. Echols, along with two other young men (Jessie Misskelley and Jason Baldwin), were convicted of killing three boys in West Memphis, Arkansas in 1993.

Life After Death, however, focuses on more than the trial and Echols time on death row. In the book, Echols describes his upbringing and how stereotypes led to his wrongful imprisonment. He tells how growing up as “white trash” (yes, that is how Echols often describes himself in the book) and his love of dark clothes and heavy metal music led him spending 18 years on death row.

The book does not detail much of Echols’ trial. Most of the narrative is about Echols’ childhood, and his life on death row. The author does give the reader a glimpse into his life since his release, but that story is not over.

Damien Echols has a fascinating story and anyone interested in social justice should read Life After Death. The first-hand account of the injustices suffered by one man will make you think about how your actions impact others.

Life After Death is available for checkout at the VC/UHV Library. You’ll find it in our Leisure Reading section.

Review written by Amanda B.

Holocaust Remembrance Day

Int_HMD_dayThe UN General Assembly designated January 27—the anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau—as International Holocaust Remembrance Day. On this day, we remember the victims of the Nazi era and work prevent future genocides.

To learn more about International Holocaust Remembrance Day, click on these websites:

You can also check out the following books at the VC/UHV Library (select list):

  • Hiding in Plain Sight: Eluding the Nazis in Occupied France by Sarah Lew Miller
  • Flight from the Reich: Refugee Jews, 1933-1946 by Deborah Dwork
  • After Daybreak: The Liberation of Bergen-Belsen, 1945 by William Hitchcock
  • The Secret Holocaust Diaries: The Untold Story of Nonna Bannister by Nona Bannister
  • Night by Elie Wiesel
  • The Years of Extermination: Nazi Germany and the Jews, 1939-1945 by Saul Freilander
  • The Lost: A Search for Six of Six Million by Daniel Adam Mendelsohn
  • People in Auschwitz by Hermann Langbein
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