Reboot Review: Weirdo by Cathi Unsworth


WeirdoCathi Unsworth | Simon and Schuster
Reviewer: Jim Magwood


13431859  “And all he saw in her eyes was naked fear.”

In 1984, fifteen-year-old Corinne was locked away for the murder of a fellow teen. The evil of the act had her being called Wicked Witch of the East and her town banded against her. Keep her away.

It was a time when young people were demanding more, refusing guidance from parents and peers alike, and were caught in the trap of evil cloaked in the guise of independence.

It is now twenty years later, she is still locked in a hospital, still paralyzed with fear. A private detective with his own fears has been sent on a mission to determine whether there was someone else, someone Corrine refuses to even acknowledge.

But the town still has its secrets and still hides its own. How can he dig back twenty years into an era of teen isolation and fear and find those who might be able to uncover the secrets – if there are any?

Cathi Unsworth knows of the times and troubles, the hidden struggles, the desperate drive for acceptance. She knows the minds of those who would help and those who would hurt. She knows the secrets of small towns.

While the story is written in British English and some local word use and idioms may be slightly confusing in a U.S. market, her characters appear real; emotions, fears and confusions rip through the reader and it’s easy to “see” this all actually taking place.

Can people really be evil? Can teens, and adults, actually be forced through life by powers they don’t understand? Cathi answers these questions with a strong, “Oh, yeah.” Corrine is a teenage girl fighting the peer-demand to “be different” and trusting no one in the “adult, authority” group, all the while trying to unlock the doors of boredom, sameness and restrictions.

Now, private detective Sean Ward is trying to renew his own life, one ripped apart as his success was torn from him. But a twenty year old cold case? And only because an attorney decided to look at an unpopular case and asked him to to find the proof? As the story unfolds, Ward realizes he “needs” a major case, one that would jar him back into life. Teh question is: will this one wake him, or destroy him?

Unsworth writes with clarity and insight about the loss and searching of young people everywhere, twenty years ago and today, and wraps the insights into a story that will have the reader looking back into his or her own life with all its fears and pain.

It’s an absorbing story and this, Cathi Unsworth’s fourth novel, might just keep you up all night!


About the reviewer:

Jim Magwood is an author “born too many years ago” in Vancouver, Canada. He was dragged south across the border by his parents when he was too young to protest and has lived in California the rest of his life.  He retired early and moved from the city to his quiet country place in Twin Oaks. The loudest noises now are some howling coyotes (improvement). His work appears on Amazon and Smashwords; SANCTION, THE LESSER EVIL, COP and NIGHTMARE are available now; JACOB is right around the corner. You can catch him at (And he does answer his mail.)

Sample Sanction:
Web site:

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MedHum Monday: The Rose Melnick Medical Museum, Taking the “Show on the Road”

DailyDose_PosterHappy MedHum Monday, Everyone! Now that you’ve returned to the weekday grind (after at least one cup of coffee, likely) it’s time to hear from someone who uses an incredible amount of creativity and hard work to share the collections of a medical history museum without a physical gallery space. Cassie Nespor, curator of the Rose Melnick Medical Museum, partners with neighboring academic buildings, schools, and local museums to bring the history of medicine to her community. In addition to these efforts, the museum has a digital presence, allowing an even broader audience to appreciate and learn about all of the amazing artifacts. Welcome, Cassie!

The Rose Melnick Medical Museum at Youngstown State University opened in 2000. The core collection of artifacts comes from John Melnick, a local radiologist, who wanted to start a museum to help foster an appreciation for the history of medicine in the community. The museum consists of about 10,000 artifacts and a small collection of historical medical books. The museum also has a blog and YouTube channel.

In the beginning of 2013, it was decided that the museum should be relocated to the Health and Human Services academic building on the campus core. The move meant that I would be without a physical space to display exhibits and host events for possibly several years. The situation forced me to rethink my programming. I decided that I’d need to take “the show on the road” to other buildings on campus and into the community.

Hallway exhibit cases featuring an exhibit on medicinal alcohol

Hallway exhibit cases featuring an exhibit on medicinal alcohol

The Health and Human Services building was remodeled to include several hallway exhibit spaces for the museum throughout the building. These are small exhibits that I can change easily and in the future I plan to use them to feature student work from the collection. The current exhibits are fun and visually appealing to students waiting for class to begin or catching the eye of someone visiting the building. I have also reserved a number of banner exhibits from the National Library of Medicine. These banners get displayed near the café in the building and cover a variety of topics I bring in related speakers for public events or individual classes. For the “Binding Wounds, Pushing Boundaries: African Americans in Civil War Medicine” exhibit, I partnered with the local historical society for a public event featuring Betsy Estilow from the National Museum of Civil War Medicine. For the “Literature of Prescription: Charlotte Gilman Perkins and the Yellow Wall-paper,” I spoke to a graduate class in English about the “rest cure” and mental health care at the turn of the century. With these banner exhibits, I am trying to engage our college students in a variety of medical history topics that will hopefully drive them to our website and blog for more information and create an interest for using the collection on campus in the future.

Binding Wounds, Pushing Boundaries banner exhibit

Binding Wounds, Pushing Boundaries banner exhibit

The other component to “taking the show on the road” was developing a suitcase tour. I shadowed the local historical society on some of their mobile tours to local elementary schools. Since many of our tours were local schools as well, I developed a tour with curriculum standards in mind. The tour features durable artifacts (like pill molds) and some replica instruments I purchased from online Civil War sutlers (monaural stethoscopes, leech boxes, and an ether canister). The suitcase also carries 8 mortar and pestle sets that I use for a hands-on activity in making medicine (an 1881 tapeworm remedy using pumpkin seeds and sugar). My artifacts and PowerPoint presentation have been well received by the kids and I’ve given almost 20 suitcase presentations in the past year.

Suitcase Tour Items

Suitcase Tour Items

I am also a part of a Cultural Collaborative group of local museums. I let them know that I was looking for ways to get out in the community and they’ve responded with a number of invitations to join in their programs. This summer I am participating in several summer camps hosted by the park and the historical society, using my suitcase tour. I’ve had a table of historical instruments at the children’s science museum when they were making their own stethoscopes and microscopes. I did a fun presentation on quack medicine for the historical society’s brown bag/ lunch-and-learn program. The park also invited me to be part of their Family Garden Day with an Alice in Wonderland theme. For that, I created a new color-changing “digestive elixir” (out of cabbage juice). I’ll get to use this fun drink again with the science museum hosts a STEM festival in September.

Pumpkin Walk at the Mill Creek Metro Parks. The kids were using the mortars and pestles to make the tapeworm remedy using pumpkin seeds.

Pumpkin Walk at the Mill Creek Metro Parks. The kids used mortars and pestles to make the tapeworm remedy with pumpkin seeds.

These new partnerships will hopefully expand my reach in our community and create new audiences whenever the physical museum finally opens again!

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Friday Fiction Feature

FictionReboot2Greetings and welcome back to the Friday Fiction Feature! Tabatha is back, and this time I really am going to finish the Death & the apocalypse feature I promised! In part I we explored the world’s end & what to do about it, and now in part II we’ll focus more on the (wo)man who’ll make it happen. Death is a very important figure for most people (eventually), but (s)he never gets much face-time (ba dum chi). So today we’re going to take a peek into several different versions of Death as a character. However, I won’t be giving you selections like The Book Thief, because while I hear it is a great read, I’d prefer to look on the lighter side of Death for today (and I’ve never heard of a single Death-&-Nazi-centrous book that made me laugh). So without further ado, I give you a character who is just dying out in literature. I hope the humor’s not too grave for you! _______________________________________________________________ Mort by Terry Pratchett 

Mort (Discworld, #4)Terry Pratchett’s Mort is first on the list, for the simple reason that Discworld’s Death is my favorite in the entire series. He is charming, his humor just kills, and he’s really very understanding about his job (though he would like to have people be happy to see him, just once!).

In this Discworld installment, Death comes to Mort with an offer he can’t refuse — especially since being, well, dead isn’t compulsory.As Death’s apprentice, he’ll have free board and lodging, use of the company horse, and he won’t need time off for family funerals. The position is everything Mort thought he’d ever wanted, until he discovers that this perfect job can be a killer on his love life.

This book is worth a read if only for a look at how death (the state) functions in Discworld where the afterlife is whatever you believe it is, and everyone has a different idea of what comes next.

On a Pale Horse (Incarnations of Immortality #1) by Piers Anthony

On a Pale Horse (Incarnations of Immortality, #1)Another series novel, On a Pale Horse has a very different approach to Death. Unlike the usual idea of Death as an immutable anthropomorphic personification (a.k.a. just the one skeleton forever), Anthony shows Death as more of a job that gets filled by a new working stiff. All in all it’s not too bad; the hours aren’t great and the walking skeleton look takes a bit of getting used to, but you meet a lot of new people, travel the world, and don’t have to worry about health insurance. It’s just the retirement plan that’s a bit troubling.

When Zane shoots Death, he has to take the job, speeding over the world riding Mortis, his pale horse/limo, measuring souls for the exact balance of Good and Evil, sending each to Heaven or Hell instead of Purgatory. The new Thanatos is superbly competent, ends pain when he ends lives. But Satan is forging a trap for Luna, the woman Death loves.

Undeadly (The Reaper Diaries #1) by Michele Vail

Undeadly (The Reaper Diaries, #1)Moving even farther from the personality-less sythe-carying skeleton we all know and fear, Undeadly posits a very different view of the incarnation: a teenage girl who thought the world would be a nicer place with one more cute boy in it. Oops.

The day I turned 16, my boyfriend-to-be died. I brought him back to life. Then things got a little weird…
Molly Bartolucci wants to blend in, date hottie Rick and keep her zombie-raising abilities on the down-low. Then the god Anubis chooses her to become a reaper—and she accidentally undoes the work of another reaper, Rath. Within days, she’s shipped off to the Nekyia Academy, an elite boarding school that trains the best necromancers in the world. And her personal reaping tutor? Rath.

Life at Nekyia has its plusses. Molly has her own personal ghoul, for one. Rick follows her there out of the blue, for another…except, there’s something a little off about him. When students at the academy start to die and Rath disappears, Molly starts to wonder if anything is as it seems. Only one thing is certain—-Molly’s got an undeadly knack for finding trouble…

When  Adam Lacroft Met Death by Carlos Paolini

When Adam Lacroft Met DeathFor one last outsider’s opinion on Death, I’d like to point out that there is really no reason he needs to be a he (especially considering the whole fleshless skeleton thing…seems a bit of a moot point to me). When Adam Lacroft Met Death not only gender-bends our grim friend, but also gives her a personality. Far from Mort‘s understanding Death, this young(old) lady likes playing games with the lives, and deaths of others (but I suppose after a few millenia anyone would get tired of chess).

Death, in the form of a sexy, capricious twenty-something woman, offers a teenage boy a questionable way to win back his life in 19-year-old author’s debut novel.

Adam Lacroft is a carefree seventeen-year-old, in love, with a perfect slacker future in front of him–until a reckless driver crashes into his car and threatens to take all of that away. When Adam wakes-up in an empty white room, a cute girl sitting by his side giggles and explains to him that he is now dead. Coquettish and border-line psychotic , the girl produces a few demonstrations that scare Adam and verify the reality of his state of being. A proper introduction is then made and Adam Lacroft meets Death herself. Death, however, tells Adam he may call her Eve.

Feeling sympathy (or is it something else?) for Adam, Eve strikes-up a deal with him: if he can find and kill the driver who caused his accident within three days, Adam gets to turn 18 and find his natural end some other time. Having no clue of what to do next, Adam confides is rather strange predicament in his friend Erica and, together, they begin searching for the man who caused the accident. Their mission is unconscionable enough, but as Adam and Erica find-out more about their target, they find less of Eve’s version of the events ring true. Death is spoiled and condescending and, despite seeming to have a crush on Adam, is constantly setting him up to fail.

Death: a Life by George Pendle

Death: A LifeFinally, I want to shift gears a bit, out of the typical fiction and into autobiography. We’ve been looking at so many different accounts of what Death is like, it is only fair to get his perspective on the matter. (We at the Fiction Feature do believe in fair representation after all).

At last, the mysterious, feared, and misunderstood being known only as “Death” talks frankly and unforgettably about his infinitely awful existence. Chronicling his abusive childhood, his near-fatal addiction to Life, his excruciating time in rehab, and the ultimate triumph of his true nature, this long-awaited autobiography finally reveals the inner story of one of the most troubling, and troubled, figures in history. For the first time, Death reveals his affairs with the living, his maltreatment at the hands of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, the ungodly truth behind the infamous “Jesus Incident,” and the loneliness of being the End of All Things.

Intense, unpredictable, and instantly engaging, Death: A Life is not only a story of triumph against all odds, but also a tender, moving tale of unconditional love in a universe that, despite its profound flaws, gave Death the fiery determination to carve out a successful existence on his own terms.

DEATH was born in Hell, the only son of Satan and Sin. He was educated in the Palace of Pandemonium and the Garden of Eden. Since before the Dawn of Time, he has ushered souls into the darkness of eternity. This is his first book.

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The Fiction Reboot Presents: “Striking Research Gold” by D.B. Jackson

FictionReboot2Welcome back to the Fiction Reboot and the Daily Dose! Today, we are pleased to present the work of D.B. Jackson/David Coe–the Thieftaker Chronicles. One of my favorite things about this series, aside from the brilliant characters, is Jackson’s use of history. I am a historian myself, and work at a medical museum–disease stalks our past like no other villain.DailyDose_Poster (Of course, disease isn’t the only villain in the Thieftaker’s Boston!) Let’s hear about striking “research gold”–Welcome D.B.!


PlunderofSouls_hi_comp150My newest novel, A Plunder of Souls, is the third installment in my Thieftaker Chronicles, a series of historical urban fantasies. It should come as no surprise to anyone that the writing of these books, all of them set in pre-Revolutionary Boston, has required extensive research. I have consulted historical monographs and biographies, old newspaper articles and a host of other sources, some of them utterly predictable, and others as surprising as one can imagine. (One such document was an architectural plan written up by a firm that specializes in historical restorations. It included the results of bore samples from the walls of King’s Chapel, which told me what color the chapel’s interior was painted in the 1760s. Pure gold.)

For A Plunder of Souls, I relied on one source in particular that provided a bonanza of information and details, many of which found their way into my narrative. More on this shortly . . .

The first Thieftaker novel, Thieftaker (Tor Books, 2012), follows a murder investigation that coincides with the Stamp Act riots of August 1765. The second, Thieves’ Quarry (Tor Books 2013), is set against the backdrop of the occupation of Boston by British troops, which began in the autumn of 1768. In both cases, the challenge of writing the stories, and the joy of it, lay in interweaving my plot lines with actual historical events. The timelines associated with what truly took place in Boston during the periods, and those timelines that I created for my novels, had to mesh perfectly. This allowed me to build my fictional tension while at the same time tapping into the drama of historical developments. The results, I believe, have been two exciting, readable books that carry with them an element of verisimilitude, even as they add magic and imagined murders to those real happenings.

A Plunder of Souls, is a different sort of Thieftaker novel. First, it doesn’t revolve around a murder (at least not at first . . .), focusing instead on a series of grave robberies and their implications for my thieftaking, conjuring hero, Ethan Kaille. This third novel, also doesn’t use a political event as its backdrop. Rather, it takes place during the summer of 1769, as Boston faces what turned out to be a relatively minor but nevertheless deadly outbreak of smallpox. The distemper hangs over the entire narrative, a pestilent, menacing cloud. It’s hard to convey just how frightened of the disease people were at that time. It was highly contagious, horribly disfiguring, and often fatal. It might have been the MERS or SARS of its time, if either of those diseases left its victims with terrible scars on their faces and bodies.

By the middle part of the 18th century, the practice of inoculating the healthy with the smallpox pathogen in order to slow the spread of the disease had gained some general acceptance among physicians. The idea had first been broached in the American colonies by no less personage than the preacher Cotten Mather, but it remained controversial even in the late 1760s. Not only was it dangerous, it was also terribly expensive and thus an option only for the wealthiest of Boston’s residents. The safest course of action upon hearing reports of a smallpox outbreak was to flee the city for the countryside. But this, too, was a solution most available to those with means. The vast majority of the town’s residents had little choice but to avoid close contact with strangers and pray to whatever God they worshipped that they remained healthy.

The city government took precautions as well, and we are fortunate to have a full record of exactly what those precautions were, in the form of the minutes of meetings held by Boston’s Selectmen in 1769. Sounds dry, right? Not even a little. Now, I should probably mention here that I have a Ph.D. in history, and so I’m a bit of a history geek. But I think that anyone would find these documents interesting. For those wondering how an 18th century society dealt with this deadly disease, it is a treasure trove.

The first mention of smallpox in the minutes for the year in question comes on April 18. The selectmen are petitioned by a ship’s captain who wishes to dock in the city, but reports that one of his men “broke out with the smallpox and deceased on the 11th [of April], whom they threw over board with his Bed and Bedding, and that there remain one of his men liable to have the Distemper. [Sic]” The Selectmen order the captain to smoke and cleanse the ship as thoroughly as possible, making it clear that “the Vessel [will] not be suffered to come up to Town untill [sic] you have our orders.”

Despite these efforts, by June there are reports of isolated smallpox outbreaks within the city, and by July, as the first deaths from the disease are reported to the Selectmen, fears of a new epidemic have spread throughout Boston. For those who consent to be moved to the hospital in Boston’s West End, the so-called Pest House, treatment is available. But many refuse to leave their homes. And so those houses are quarantined, marked with red houses, and provided with guards, hired by the selectmen at a wage of three shillings, four pence per day, who are to keep away the curious and the unsuspecting.

When the first death is reported, the Selectmen lay out a procedure for dealing with the bodies:

Our orders are that you get the Corps into a Tarred Sheet & Coffin as soon as may be, and that you bury the same this Night between the Hours of 12 & 1 O’Clock. Let a Man go before the Corps [sic] at some distance to give notice to any one that may be passing — those who carry the Corps or enter the House to receive the same must not fail shifting & cleansing themselves — the Guards must still be kept up at the House, and you must direct those within not to burn anything that is Infectious, and if Mr. Tyler [whose wife has died] consents let the Bed, Bedding, etc. used by Mrs. Tyler be carried up to the Hospital at New Boston after the funeral in order to be cleansed and air’d.

As a historical document, the letter containing these instructions (which was entered into the Selectmen’s minutes) is fascinating. For this author, it was invaluable. Building this description of the precautions into my narrative enabled me to convey the terror that smallpox evoked, while at the same time creating a chilling night scene that added both realism and tension to my story. I found other sources, most of them secondary, that described some of these details, but the Selectmen’s minutes provided tone, language, and certain tidbits of information (like the guards’ wages) that I could not have found anywhere else. Without them, many key passages in A Plunder of Souls would not have had the same level of authenticity.

I know that for some, research is tedious, a task to be endured before the fun part — writing — begins. For others, it’s a delicious trap, something so absorbing it overwhelms the urge to write and becomes a time sink. For me, it falls somewhere between those two extremes: I don’t dread it, but neither do I have any desire to do lose myself in sources for days at a time. Research is a tool without which my books could not possibly be as successful. Yes, there is tedium. But there are also moments of sheer excitement and satisfaction: the discovery of that architectural plan, a moment when I happened upon a portrait of a historical character I had been trying for days to describe, and the hours I spent combing over the Selectmen’s minutes from 1769. In those moments I am every bit the investigator my lead character is meant to be, discovering clues, piecing together disparate bits of information, and, at last, coming up with a rich, coherent narrative that, I hope, captures the truth of my historical setting, even as I infuse it with fictional elements.


DBJacksonPubPhoto800D.B. Jackson is also David B. Coe, the award-winning author of more than a dozen fantasy novels. His first two books as D.B. Jackson, the Revolutionary War era urban fantasies, Thieftaker and Thieves’ Quarry, volumes I and II of the Thieftaker Chronicles, are both available from Tor Books in hardcover and paperback. The third volume, A Plunder of Souls, has recently been released in hardcover. The fourth Thieftaker novel, Dead Man’s Reach, is in production and will be out in the summer of 2015. D.B. lives on the Cumberland Plateau with his wife and two teenaged daughters. They’re all smarter and prettier than he is, but they keep him around because he makes a mean vegetarian fajita. When he’s not writing he likes to hike, play guitar, and stalk the perfect image with his camera.

Thank you, D.B.! AND if you would like to read my Huffington Post review of Jackson’s novel, see here.

Posted in Author Advice, Author Interview, Medical History, The Daily Dose, The Fiction Reboot | Tagged , , , , | 5 Comments

MedHum Monday: The Becker Library and Increased Visibility

DailyDose_PosterHello and welcome to this week’s MedHum Monday post on The Daily Dose! Today we are joined by Elisabeth Brander of the Bernard Becker Medical Library at the Washington University in St. Louis School of Medicine. The Becker Library shares its beautiful collections with students, through annual events, and more recently, social media. Welcome, Elisabeth!

The Bernard Becker Medical Library is the library of the Washington University in St. Louis School of Medicine.  Its rare book holdings consist of nine distinct collections, which cover some five hundred years of medical history.  Many of these collections are very cross-disciplinary in nature, and have a great deal of value to students and scholars working in the humanities as well as those in the medical field.  One of our challenges is making both groups aware that we are a resource that is available to them, and so we’re exploring a variety of ways to increase our visibility.

Having a strong working relationship with faculty interested in the medical humanities is very important for us.  Washington University faculty teaching in the History, Art History, and Gender and Sexuality departments bring their undergraduate classes to the Becker Library each year, and we provide show-and-tell sessions with rare medical texts that are related to their course readings.  We’ve hosted similar sessions for classes from the History and English departments at Saint Louis University, and the St. Louis College of Pharmacy.  Some of the professors come regularly each year, but we’ve found that it’s worthwhile to check the course listings each semester to see if there any offerings that might benefit from a visit to our rare book room – last year we found a course being offered through the University College on the subject of Medicine and Magic, and were able to arrange an evening class visit for the students to look at selections from our Paracelsus collection.

A selection of books from the Robert E. Schleuter Paracelsus Collection

A selection of books from the Robert E. Schleuter Paracelsus Collection

We’re also fortunate to have faculty at the medical school who appreciate our collections and want to expose the medical students to them.  The Center for History of Medicine, which is located within the medical library one floor below Archives and Rare Books, teaches elective courses for first year medical students on various aspects of medical history – in recent years topics have included the history of anatomy and the connections between medicine and war – and interacting with the historic collections is a central part of the students’ experience. Each class session begins with a display of rare books and historic documents and photographs, and the student evaluations always say that the chance to see and handle these materials is a highlight of the course.  We also put on a large display of our anatomical atlases each year either in November or December.  The professors of anatomy at the medical school strongly encourage their first year students to attend, but the event is open to everyone and attendance for the past two years has been very good.

A display of rare books for a visit by first-year medical students

A display of rare books for a visit by first-year medical students

While classes are a significant part of our outreach program, they are not our only means of reaching an audience.  Each year we co-sponsor the Historia Medica lecture series with the Center for History of Medicine.  The speakers consist of a mixture of historians and physicians both from Washington University and other institutions, and the topics are very diverse – this past year we had talks on early blood transfusion, Masters and Johnson’s research on sexuality, and William Stoker’s interest in neuroscience.  This coming February we’re also planning on something a bit bigger.  In celebration of Andreas Vesalius’ 500th birthday, Washington University will be co-hosting an academic symposium with Saint Louis University. The library’s collections include two 1543 editions of Vesalius’ Fabrica, one 1555 edition, and several publications by his contemporaries such as Colombo and Valverde; and we’re hoping to use the symposium as an opportunity to really showcase our holdings.  We’re going to be putting on an exhibit in our Glaser Gallery that will run throughout the event, and smaller breakout sessions will give attendees the opportunity to see our collections in a more intimate setting.

A letter from the William Beaumont papers held at the Becker Library

A letter from the William Beaumont papers held at the Becker Library

We’re also starting to experiment with social media.  We’ve recently set up accounts on Twitter and Tumblr (@beckerrarebooks and, and staff members working in Archives and Rare Books are also frequent contributors to the library’s blogging platform, Becker Briefs.  We’re hoping that this will help boost our online profile and reach a broader general audience.  We’re just starting out so it’s hard to say how effective it will be, but we’re cautiously optimistic!

About the Author
Elisabeth Brander is the Rare Book Librarian at the Becker Medical Library. She studied library science and early modern history at the University of Maryland, then spent a year working with the archival backlog of the National Park Service. She has been with the medical library for two years, and is happily learning as much as she can about the history of medicine; fortunately she has an abundance of primary source materials to consult.

Posted in Collections and Outreach, MedHum Monday, Medical Humanities, The Daily Dose | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Friday Fiction Feature

FictionReboot2Hello and welcome back to the Friday Fiction Feature! This is Tabatha here again, this time here with a confession: I lied. I know last week I promised you a feature on Death, but it’ll have to wait another week (don’t worry, I hear he’s very patient). So, in leiu of post-apocalyptic (get it? cuz last week was end-of-the-world books? nevermind) gallows humor, we’ll be going back to the Fiction Feature roots with some Young Adult fiction. This week’s lineup features young adults overcoming the vast array of issues facing their generation: romance, weight, necromancers, stepmothers, and rude squires (really it is a tough age folks).


Fraction of Stone (Fraction #1) by Kelley Lynn

Fraction of Stone (Fraction, #1)Just to make sure you don’t feel too out of place, I’ve decided to start this week’s feature with a small apocalypse to tie the two weeks together and make you feel more at home. First on the list is Fraction of Stone, the story of a teenager fighting to overcome one of the most trying issues facing teens today: angsty wizards. (Ok fine, they’re also dealing with relationships and catastrophic events, but doesn’t high school sound much more fun when it’s got things like angsty wizards?!).

Wind tunnels, torrential rains and earthquakes tear apart Casden. The cause of the world’s imbalance is unknown, but the mounting occurrences suggest there’s little time before life ceases to exist.
Rydan Gale and Akara Nazreth are the only humans with the ability to wield magic. The tattoo on their necks and the discovery of an ancient book, dictate they are the key to the world’s survival.
But the greatest obstacle for saving mankind isn’t the bizarre creatures, extreme betrayals and magic-fearing men hunting them.
It’s that Akara doesn’t believe the world is worth saving.

The Obvious Game by Rita Arens

The Obvious GameBecause I promise I do take teenagers and their problems seriously, our next selection is a more realistic take on the high-school years with The Obvious Game

“Everyone trusted me back then. Good old, dependable Diana. Which is why most people didn’t notice at first.” The Obvious Game is a journey into anorexia. Diana starts out normal enough, but soon the spiraling reality of her mother’s health and her growing relationship with a high school wrestler cutting weight find her helpless against the new rules taking shape in her mind. Read on to finally understand the psychology of anorexia … and how Diana found her way back. An important read on a complex and confusing mental illness.

There Comes a Prophet by David Litwack

There Comes a ProphetOf course this is a exploration of the world of fiction, where teenagers have all the same concerns, questions, and troubles as their real-life counterparts, but are not always able to give those issues the attention they deserve because of obnoxious distractions like dystopian governments that don’t care how cute that girl slated for reeducation is. Such is the case in There Comes a Prophet where our troubled young protagonist barely has time to figure out what his questions about girls are before he has to rescue the one he likes (possibly like-likes, it’s too early to say).

“But what are we without dreams?”
A thousand years ago the Darkness came—a terrible time of violence, fear, and social collapse when technology ran rampant. But the vicars of the Temple of Light brought peace, ushering in an era of blessed simplicity. For ten centuries they have kept the madness at bay with “temple magic” and by eliminating forever the rush of progress that nearly caused the destruction of everything.
A restless dreamer, Nathaniel has always lived in the tiny village of Little Pond, longing for something more but unwilling to challenge the unbending status quo. When his friend Thomas returns from the Temple after his “teaching”—the secret coming-of-age ritual that binds young men and women eternally to the Light—Nathaniel can barely recognize the broken and brooding young man the boy has become. And when the beautiful Orah is summoned as well, Nathaniel knows he must somehow save her. But in the prisons of Temple City he discovers a terrible secret that launches the three of them on a journey to find the forbidden keep, placing their lives in dire jeopardy. For a truth awaits them there that threatens the foundation of the Temple. But if they reveal that truth the words of the book of light might come to pass:
“If there comes among you a prophet saying ‘Let us return to the darkness,’ you shall stone him, because he has sought to thrust you away from the light.”

Root Bound (Emma and the Elementals #1) by Tanya Karen Gough

Root Bound (Emma and the Elementals, #1)In Root Bound we see yet another troubled teen who is unable to deal properly with her bullies, her social position, or her nomadic father because some brownies (definitely not the junk food, probably not the girl-scout) can’t deal with their own pesky goddesses without her help. Oh well, maybe Hades will give her some good tips for dealing with upperclassmen.

“A lighthearted, whimsical confection that will delight both kids and their parents’ inner child.” -Kirkus Reviews
How far will you go to find your way home?
Emma and her father are always on the move, travelling from place to place as her father’s work demands. Their new home, however, is different. There’s a frightening woman who lives down the hall: she bears an uncanny resemblance to a witch. A mysterious light comes from her apartment, and a small boy seems to be trapped inside.
School in this town is no happy place either, with an odd principal and a gang of girls who make tormenting Emma their special project. And strangest of all is the fact that there seem to be brownies – basement brownies, in the air vent in her bedroom.
Haunted by visions of her mother, Emma travels through the brownie burrow to the valley of Hades to visit with the goddess Ceres, following a series of clues that lead her across the sea of memory to the centre of the world.
There, on an inhospitable rock floating in a sea of steaming lava, Emma must find a way to release her mother from the sea of memory and restore magic to both the brownie burrow and the human world above.

The Tale of Mally Biddle by M.L. LeGette

The Tale of Mally BiddleThe stories we’ve shown you above all have one approach to the teenagerhood: trying to do something about your evil stepmother and that cute boy/girl/vampire in History, but getting interrupted by that troublesome outside world. The Tale of Mally Biddle shows another approach: trying to focus on your adventures and being interrupted by things like rude boys and-much worse-cute ones.

When Mally Biddle agreed to spy upon the King of Lenzar and his overbearing knights she knew she was heading into danger. She didn’t know she’d find a family unlike any other.
Posing as a servant in Bosc Castle, Mally serves tea and restocks the fires for the most dangerous men in the kingdom. Her goal is to learn the truth of what happened sixteen years ago, when the infant princess met her death … a death that has more questions than answers.
Along her search for the truth, Mally meets the energized Lita Stump, the strict and matriarchal Meriyal Boyd, and the opinionated Archibald Diggleby. Then of course there are the knights: Sir Leon Gibbs who is slicker than a greased hog, Adrian Bayard, hot tempered and violent, and the worst of the lot: Sir Illius Molick, Captain of the Knights. And then there is Maud, a mysterious woman who just might know everything…

The Grave Winner (The Grave Winner #1) by Lindsey R. Loucks 

The Grave Winner (The Grave Winner #1)Now, as we all (vaguely) remember, the issues we talked about above (girls, boys, angst, step-parents) are all the things we had to deal with as we escaped…I mean progressed through high school. But The Grave Winner shows Young Adulthood more the way we expereinced it: as a death-defying adventure where you are always confused, the enemy is hard to make out, and you’re pretty sure the prom queen has to be some kind of evil. (Just because the most dangerous parts took place in Geometry did nothing to lessen their life-or-deathness!).

Leigh Baxton is terrified her mom will come back from the dead — just like the prom queen did.
While the town goes beehive over the news, Leigh bikes to the local cemetery and buries some of her mom’s things in her grave to keep her there. When the hot and mysterious caretaker warns her not to give gifts to the dead, Leigh cranks up her punk music and keeps digging.
She should have listened.
Two dead sorceresses evicted the prom queen from her grave to bury someone who offered certain gifts. Bury them alive, that is, then resurrect them to create a trio of undead powerful enough to free the darkest sorceress ever from her prison inside the earth.
With help from the caretaker and the dead prom queen, Leigh must find out what’s so special about the gifts she gave, and why the sorceresses are stalking her and her little sister. If she doesn’t, she’ll either lose another loved one or have to give the ultimate gift to the dead – herself.


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Reboot Review: War of the Whales

War of the Whales: A True Story; Joshua Horwitz, Simon & Schuster
Reviewer: Hanna Clutterbuck

Joshua Horwitz’ War of the Whales has all the elements of a good beach-read thriller: compelling characters, a tight mystery, even a cute animal: in this case, beaked whales. However, Horwitz is talking real life: he spent six years researching and documenting the struggle between environmentalists and the United States Navy over the issue of Naval sonar. The basic dispute is thus: the Navy maintains that increasingly loud and complex use of sonar is critical to defense of the United States; environmentalists point out that Naval sonar disrupts the ability of whales and other sea creatures to navigate and has indexresulted in catastrophe for ocean life.

Horwitz begins his story with a mass stranding of whales in the Bahamas in March of 2000; at least ten whales of various species are known to have beached themselves overnight. A few were rescued and returned to open ocean. It’s impossible to tell, by the way, if these whales were healthy enough to survive or simply died later. Most of the stranded died from exposure. The ‘man on the spot’ was Ken Balcomb, ex-Naval officer and longtime marine mammal researcher with a history of many years working with the beaked whales that thrive in Bahamian waters, a number of which were among the stranded. Balcomb was also aware of a Naval sonar station on the islands as well as the presence of an unusual US destroyer.

From here, Horwitz’ story reads like a good Michael Crichton: Balcomb calls in help, the Navy stonewalls him, Balcomb collects his evidence and blows the whistle on what he believes is deliberate Naval whitewashing of the effects of sonar testing on marine mammals. Here the heroic lawyer steps in; the kind they make movies about. Joel Reynolds, working for the National Resources Defence Council, has been waiting for a case like this. For years, he has been edging his way towards direct confrontation with the Navy and, by extension, U.S. Fisheries and Wildlife over sonar testing in sensitive waters.

One of the strengths of Horwitz’ painstakingly researched book — other than providing the novice with a working understanding both of sonar and whale biology — is that he has resisted the temptation to construct a villain. From the point of view of Balcomb, the whales, and anyone concerned about the health of the oceans, the Navy steps right up to meet the need for a a bad guy. It would have been very easy for Horwitz to paint the Navy jet-black — creating a classic good guy/bad guy dichotomy between the black-hat military and the white-hat environmentalists. However, Horwitz avoids such easy distinctions and instead takes the time to elaborate on the mentalite of the Navy; inasmuch as a civilian can, he tries to explain why they are doing what they are doing, what the history is that leads top brass to behave in what seems like a deliberately inhumane — and illegal — way. Whether or not this is convincing to the reader in terms of the damage done is a question too individual for prediction.

Sometimes the narrative gets bogged down with personal details; Horwitz clearly spent a lot of time, face to face or otherwise, with his main ‘characters,’ particularly Reynolds and Balcomb, and absorbed a great deal of their personal history. Some details — like the painful break-up of Balcomb’s fourth marriage — seem unnecessary and almost intrusive. Since it helps determine Balcomb’s future involvement in the court case and his move from the Bahamas to the Pacific Northwest, where he has another chance to indict the Navy for sonar testing on a different whale group, the reality TV-style re-enactment of the moment of emotional break-up — in a bathtub, no less! — seems unnecessary.

There is no happy ending to this story; instead, there is a small step forward in a very, very long walk. If you’re looking for edutaining beach reading this summer, War of the Whales would be a good choice. Or you could hold out and wait for the movie!

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