Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Book Review: Phage -- Do you know what's in the air you breathe or the food you eat?

Go ahead & check it out!
How safe is our food supply? How hard would it be for someone with nefarious intent to infiltrate that food supply at any point along the way?

PHAGE is a bio thriller that speculates on these questions. The answers are not encouraging. Mark Tamplin is an author-scientist whose specialities are microbiology and immunology, and whose vitae include work with the Center for Disease Control (CDC) and the UN Food and Agriculture Org. He scares up a nifty little tale about how easy it would be for a bio terrorist to use the technology of gene manipulation to contaminate the nation's food supply in a catastrophic way. 

Far-fetched? I wouldn't say so. As I am writing this review, on May 5, 2016, the FBI reports that it has in custody a man who entered several grocery stores in Ann Arbor, Michigan to spray mouse poison on produce and good bars. That was a localized incident. This past year, national restaurant chain Chipotle has suffered outbreaks of illness caused by e-coli whose origin is still being investigated. Cruise ship populations regularly break out in ship wide mini-epidemics caused by the noro virus. So far, these incidents seem random and easily controlled. But what if a dedicated bioterrorist put his or her mind to the effort?  Could we escape so easily?

Tamplin presents a plausible scenario with enough detail about how to create and disseminate a bio weapon to keep the reader fascinated. 

The opening chapters take us into the guts (sic) of a factory farm in the small town of Wilmer, Alabama. Here, pigs are born, housed, raised, slaughtered and processed in close confinement, all in the service of the most intensive production possible of pork products. This is contemporary agribusiness, the type of animal farming most prevalent in developed countries like the United States. We follow one worker as she goes through a typical day on the job, not knowing that as she sprays water to clean the areas where the pigs are confined, she breathes in a microscopic droplet of water containing a genetically mutated E. coli bacteria that had been purposely merged with DNA from a highly toxic pathogen and left to reproduce. I might not even have the terms right. It’s a fascinating but complex process Tamplin describes. But it only took me a little googling of the CDC to find out that he is right on the money when he writes about the ease with which a pathogen can be introduced to a human population through normal factory farming conditions.

The mutation jumps the factory inside its human host. A small microbial outbreak in Wilmer brings the attention of the CDC, the USDA, the FBI, the Department of Homeland Security and the CIA.  We meet Dr. Sam Townsend, academic and professional consultant/troubleshooter of microbial outbreaks, and follow him as he puts together an investigative team from his young graduate assistants. We watch our governmental and scientific bureaucracy in action as key players jockey to advance agendas and politics while Sam tries to get to the truth of the situation. Is this a random event, or is a more nefarious scheme at work?

I am an inveterate reader, and the digital publishing revolution has provided such a profusion of fiction that it would take several lifetimes to read all the novels a real book addict might want to read. This is a blessing and a curse. Part of the curse involves the deterioration of grammar and writing skills among published authors, as well as the lack of real editing from even the biggest publishing companies. I am happy to report that Phage does not suffer from these difficulties. Tamplin knows his way around the English language. The book is tightly constructed, well-written, and bears the marks of professional editing.
Buy it with confidence and have yourself a thrill. And a chill.  

Oh, and another thing I like about this book that is purely personal?  I know and love the locales in which the action takes place!

1) My permanent home is in Newark, Delaware, and I worked for 27 years at the University of Delaware where a main character in the book studied. The Philadelphia area, where I grew up, is the site of a lot of the action. 

2) I have a small second home in Selma, Alabama, near my daughter. The book opens in the rural Alabama area and stays there for its entire first section.

3) My husband and I, now retired, cruise the Caribbean as often as we can, several times each year. The book sends its protagonist to the the Bahamas and the warm islands of the Caribbean!

And I didn't even know any of this going into the book blind. What serendipity!

Monday, May 09, 2016

Book Review: In the Shadow of the Steel Cross: The Massacre of Fr. Sebastién Râle and the Indian Chiefs

 In the Shadow of the Steel Cross


By Louise Ketchum Hunt

Reviewed by Onalee McGraw

In this inspiring historic narrative, Louise Ketchum Hunt captures the story of Father Sebastién Râle. Father Râle and the Indian chiefs who tried to protect him were martyred on August 23, 1724 at the site of Louise Ketchum Hunt’s Norridgewock ancestors. In the day there was a raging conflict between England and France for control of the North American lands that belonged to the indigenous Native American tribes. The English put a price on Father Râle’s head because he kept the Native Americans loyal to the French who were headquartered in Quebec. Father Râle was determined to stand by his people, the Wabanackis tribe of what is now the state of Maine.

Louise spent the first twenty-one years of her life growing up in the parish of St. Anne’s Catholic Church on the Penobscot Indian Reservation located at Old Town Maine She learned from her grandmother abut Father Râle and the Norridgewock massacre as the story was passed down through her family’s oral tradition. 

Louise highlights what she remembers her grandmother telling her:

“Our ancestors, a young girl and her brother, escaped the massacre. They made their way to a mission village near Quebec, Canada. Father Râle was not buried at Norridgewock.” Louise recalls her grandmother saying that Father Râle’s body was scalped and desecrated.  Her grandmother said, “The people took Father Râle and buried him in a faraway place where none would ever find him.”

What emerges from this narrative of heroic fidelity to Christ and his Church is a message for our own time.  We are reminded that in days of darkness and of light, this world is not our home. Father Râle gave his life to serve a people, the Algonquin and Wabanackis tribes of the northeastern American continent who were completely dependent in their surroundings on the whims of nature. Father taught them and learned for himself the mystery and beauty of spirituality and nature. He stayed with his people for thirty years, living among them as friend, fellow laborer, teacher, spiritual leader, and giver of the sacraments.

Louise Ketchum Hunt makes the story come alive with her interesting and believable characterizations in this true story. In particular, her account of two young people who find each other while in the grip of the deadly conflict between the English and the French is a warm hearted diversion that blends well with the main story. The author has woven her narrative into a seamless tale of great heroism and sacrifice. 

Buy this book: http://amordeus.com/giftShopProductDetails.aspx?itemID=519