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November Book Look

Local bibliophiles review their recent reads

This Book Look is the latest installment of a recurring round-up of book reviews by local readers. To contribute to this feature, contact the Kittanning Library. We would love to share your critiques & recommendations with other readers.



Gemini by Carol Cassella


Review by Laura Sue Stewart

Gemini, what an odd title for a book, especially a book about a woman in a coma. I’m not one to analyze a book, I read for the enjoyment so it took me to the end of the book to really get the significance of the title, but finally I saw the revelation!


Jane Doe is transferred from a rural hospital to a Seattle hospital into the care of Dr. Charlotte Reese.


In another time and place, thirteen-year-old Raney Remington’s friendship with the twelve-year-old Bo grows despite her Grandpa’s disapproval. But Bo only spent that one summer in Quentin, and Raney doesn’t see him again until years later, when they’re both in college, and then again in their mid twenties. Their romance ebbs and flows, and seems like the time is never right.


Dr. Reese’s job is to battle death – tending to patients with life-threatening illnesses and injuries. As Charlotte finds herself making increasingly complicated medical decisions her usual professional distance evaporates. She’s plagued by questions: Who is Jane Doe? Why will no one claim her? Who should decide her fate if she doesn’t regain consciousness – and when? Perhaps most troubling, Charlotte wonders if a life locked in a coma is a life worth living.


After no one comes to the hospital looking for the new patient, Charlotte takes a special interest in the case, and with the help of her boyfriend, Eric Bryson, begins to dig into Jane Doe’s past. Eric is a science writer who’s working on a book about genetics. He’s one of the folks in this book whose DNA doesn’t work the way it should, having inherited a disease that caused him to have seizures and later develop benign brain tumors.


Together Charlotte and Eric impulsively set out to uncover Jane Doe’s past. But the closer they get to the truth, the more their relationship is put to the test.

When Charlotte, Eric, Raney, and Bo’s paths finally cross, shocking secrets and pasts are revealed. It is only when they open their hearts to their own feelings, and toward life itself, that Charlotte and Eric will unlock Jane Doe’s shocking secret, and prepare themselves for a miracle.

The Poison Eaters: Fighting Danger and Fraud in Our Food and Drugs by Gail Jarrow


Review by Beth Milanak, Library Director

This is the story of how the Food and Drug Administration was started. It is through the relentless 30 years of work by Dr. Harvey Washington Wiley, a U.S. government scientist, who wanted to protect consumers from harmful food and drugs. The title, The Poison Eaters, comes from a research project of Dr. Wiley’s where a group of volunteers were served food additives to test the effects on the body.


Some of the additives to food in the early 1900s were borax, boric acid, salicylic acid, sodium benzoate, sulfurous acid, formaldehyde, and copper sulfate. Quack medicines or nostrums were incredibly popular at the time. There were no regulations on label warnings or on false advertising.


Some baby nostrums contained morphine or opium and basically drugged the baby to sleep, some even became addicted and died. Quack medicines were widely available and cheaper than a doctor visit and so were a great alternative for the consumers.


News media and magazines depended on the companies' money for advertising. The companies also put in a red clause, so called for the ink used, that the company would cancel their contract if any laws were passed that restricted the medicine business. This was blackmail and it worked.


Once consumers became better informed of what was in their food, there was public outcry, which was joined by many women’s groups, including the Women’s Christian Temperance Union and General Federation of Women’s Clubs. Then, President Theodore Roosevelt began to push for a food and drugs bill.


The book covers topics ranging from fake jam, where no fruit was even in the jar; to salad bouquet, which didn’t have any vinegar in it; to the radium girls - young women who painted watch dials with poison radium and became sick and/or died.


It is an interesting read that left me grateful for the FDA and Dr. Wiley.


The Masque of the Red Death by Edgar Allan Poe


Review by Daphne Ruffner

If you think Stephen King’s novels are scary and creepy, read Edgar Allan Poe. His short stories make the hair on the back of your neck stand, give you the shivers, and make you question entering a dark room.

Poe wrote extensively in the 1830s and 1840s, primarily short stories. These stories were macabre, i.e. bizarre in a gruesome way and dealing with death. Poe was an American, born in Boston and briefly educated in Virginia, who died shortly after his 40th birthday in Baltimore.


This short story is The Masque of the Red Death from The Complete Tales of Edgar Allen Poe. The red death of the story is a plague, presumably a virus, which is rapidly spreading through Europe. The symptoms include bleeding from the face. The disease is always lethal, with death occurring one half hour after onset. The body handlers and the grave diggers are unable to keep up with it and no one is spared.


The timing is probably the Middle Ages. The story's location is unknown, but could possibly be the United Kingdom. The main character is Prince Prospero, a very wealthy man.


The Prince summons one thousand people to his Abbey surrounded by an iron wall, which is bolted shut. Extensive provisions are provided and all means of entertainment. The outside world stays completely without. After six months the Prince gives a masked ball.


At midnight an unknown figure appears. He wears a corpse-like mask and spreads fear and apprehension among the revelers. Only the Prospero approaches the mysterious guest, at which point the prince immediately falls dead. One by one the guests fall and die and the Red Death prevails.


This story is available in The Complete Tales of Edgar Allen Poe (#813.3 Poe) available at the Kittanning Public Library.


Killing Crazy Horse by Bill O`Reilly and Martin Dugart


Review by Daphne Ruffner

This is book #16 of the bestseller “killing” series. Killing Crazy Horse: The Merciless Indian Wars in America by Bill O`Reilly and Martin Dugart is a nonfiction, history book.


Problems began as early as the 1500s with de Soto landing in the Gulf of Mexico searching for gold. He looted and enslaved the Creeks in Florida. But, it wasn’t until the 1800s, when Americans started moving west and mineral rights became an issue again, that the situation exploded.


In 1811, Tecumseh, chief of the Shawnee, began organizing tribes around Detroit and was defeated at the Battle of Tippecanoe in Indiana. In August of 1813 at Fort Mims, Alabama, 500 settlers were killed and the Fort was set on fire. It has called “the greatest Indian victory over Americans.” Retaliation came from Andrew Jackson at Horseshoe Bend, Alabama, five months later with three thousand volunteers killing 850 Indians and wounding 206.


In 1823, President James Monroe declared the “Sea to Shining Sea” policy saying Americans control all land from ocean to ocean. Population was sparse west of the Mississippi River. The Indian Removal Act of 1830, later called the Monroe Doctrine, planned to move Native Americans to the west. The next 60 years entailed much blood shed.


The book chronicles major events from the Trail of Tears, to the California Gold Rush genocide, to the Indian Wars of the last half of the 1800s. It covers Indian raids and battles with the U.S. military and includes the exploits of infamous figures like Gen. George Custer, Cochise, Crazy Horse, and Sitting Bull.


For more about the various battles and reasons for conflict and to learn what happened to Sitting Bull, Crazy Horse, and Geronimo check out this comprehensive resource. The book is available at the Kittanning Public Library (#970.004 ORE).


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