Sunday, February 28, 2016

Winter Reading 2016 Bubonic Panic: When Plague Invaded America

Bubonic Panic: When Plague Invaded America

If you enjoy the gross and gory, perhaps you should consider a future working in bacteriology - you might get to do the exciting job of examining rats and their fleas for traces of plague. That would have been a big possibility if you were working for the Marine Hospital Service in San Francisco during the early 1900s. But that is not where the story starts. Jarrow traces the plague back to Constantinople in 542, and shares all the theories of how, when, and why it spread from one place to another through Asia and Europe, before it eventually reached North America. It's amazing how much progress was made in identifying and treating the disease from the mid-19th century on. Readers may see parallels between the terror bubonic plague caused in the past and diseases today such as Ebola. But readers may also be shocked at the way in which politics and racial prejudices made the containment and control of the disease a difficult proposition in San Francisco 100 years ago. 

The author takes great care in laying out the timeline of the plague's spread through the ages, as well as describing how it was treated (or not), and the number of deaths associated with it in each epidemic. Primary sources such as newspaper headlines, photos, editorial cartoons, and historical images of other sorts to illustrate popular reactions to the epidemics. Quotes from these materials are used to bring the historical figures mentioned in the narrative to life. In the back matter there are a glossary, timeline, author's note, bibliography, and sources for further information. The book is the final in a trio of Deadly Diseases - the other two are Red Madness: How a Medical Mystery Changed What We Eat and Fatal Fever: Tracking Down Typhoid Mary. Readers who find this type of documentary of medical subjects may wish to find the other two books.

The text is clearly organized and easy to follow - maintaining a balance of facts and of establishing the context for the events. The numerous primary sources show everything from tombstones of plague victims, photos of medical investigators, and illustrations from periodicals with popular opinions. These images make it much easier to visualize the different eras, the victims, and those trying to save them. The book seems much shorter than it really is because the story captures the reader's attention. The style is reminiscent of Jim Murphy's historical works such as The Great Fire.

I received a copy of the book from the publisher for review purposes.

Winter Reading 2016 Into the Dim


For YA fans of series like Outlander, Janet Taylor's Into the Dim gathers some great names from history along with some amazing technology to create a time travel adventure that never stops twisting and turning. I mentioned great names - Eleanor of Aquitaine, Henry II, Thomas a Becket, John Dee, Nikola Tesla - how are those for a starter? Some of the time travel itself is similar to other such stories, with nexus points along ley lines that make it possible to visit other times. A new element in this book is the use of machinery invented by Tesla to control the trips, along with more recent computer hardware and programs to fine-tune things. The use of particular talismans for safe passage adds to the difficulties and the twists of the story. The characters themselves are a wide variety - Hope (eidetic memory, home schooled), Phoebe (blue hair, wiz at hand to hand), Collum (Phoebe's brother, swordsman), Douglas (computer nerd), and Bran (fighter and lover?). These teens are caught in a struggle between two groups, the Viators and the Timeslippers, as they both try to find the legendary Nonius Stone which they believe will allow them to control the time stream. Which side will win?

If you enjoy stories that are a mix of action, mystery, suspense, and time travel, then this could be the book for you. There are mysteries buried hundreds of years in the past, as well as their effect on the present. Double- and even triple-crosses keep the suspense ratcheted up throughout the events. Loyalties are questioned and strained. Bravery is shown again and again. There is youthful romance, villainy, and unexpected allies. You will want to read without stopping just to try and figure out who are friends and who are foes. 

Note - The f-bomb makes a few appearances and there are several attempted rape scenes which makes this unsuitable for younger children.

I read an e-book provided by the publisher through NetGalley.

Saturday, February 20, 2016

Winter Reading 2016 All the Single Ladies: Unmarried Women and the Rise of an Independent Nation


A woman's place is in the home. A man brings home the bacon. There are many such sayings or societal expectations. Rebecca Traister has taken the time to read numerous studies and reports, as well as interviewing women of various ages, occupations, and cities of residence. In her study of single women in the United States, she has found that there are an incredible variety of circumstances that women who are not in a traditional marriage with children. She explores the reasons why women choose to remain single, why they remain single involuntarily, etc. along with their feelings about having children or not, and if they think they will do so with a partner or without. Within the data Traister has sifted through, there are reports going back through the 20th century from both sides of the debate (those who expect women to follow the expected path of marriage and children, and those who are curious about the growing independence of single women). 

The discussion is lively and captivating. The statistics (an area many people find stultifying), are used to trace the changes of society's makeup over time periods throughout history. It is amazing to see the ebb and flow of the numbers of single women over the years. For instance, many women living in the eastern U.S. were left without men to marry when a great number of the able-bodied men headed west for the Gold Rush and western pioneer life. Then again, women moved into the work force in great numbers during the war years (think of Rosie the Riveter), and then there was an upsurge of marriages as men returned home from the front lines. It is very interesting to read and watch the developments over the years that have led to today's situation with women choosing to stay single or to focus on their careers during their earlier adulthood, putting off marriage and families until later on.

If you are interested in social theory or explorations of historical trends, then this can be added to your to-be-read pile. I read an e-book provided by the publisher through NetGalley.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Winter Reading 2016 The 4 x 4 Diet

I've never read a diet book before, but this one makes a lot of sense. Erin explains how she developed her approach, what she means by "clean and lean," and even talks about excuses and how to overcome them. In the section on eating clean, she lays out the reasons for the 4 foods she targets and why it is important to control them. She doesn't advocate eliminating any of them, just limiting them and choosing your indulgences. Then she shares tips on kitchen tools and ingredients, and provides recipes for meals, snacks, and even desserts. In the next section she describes the tabata approach to exercise, lists equipment you will need, and gives sample workouts for beginning, intermediate, and advanced levels. The final section of the book puts it all together with a 4-week plan of menus and workouts.

I appreciate the detail Erin gives and the way she confronts and debunks excuses right from the start. The recipes offer various flavors and there are also variations and substitutions at the end of that section. The exercise section includes pointers for how to work around injuries and ailments, and she stresses that it is okay to move between the levels as needed. Her comment, "you don't have to put in 100 percent when you're not feeling 100 percent," is so sensible. (So if you have a cold and feel rotten, you may not be up to doing an advanced workout - but you can get up off the couch and at least go for a walk.) And I really appreciate the 4-week plan to get started. Having it all laid out so that beginners don't have to try and map out meals and workouts and worry about getting a good balance is great. It allows you to ease into the routine, working on one clean eating habit per week and gradually increasing the difficulty of the exercise so that you feel progress rather than frustration.

With the option to squeeze in these short 4-minute workouts throughout the day (if you can't do them all in one session), and plenty of recipes to choose from, as well as suggestions to make your own recipes a healthier version, there really aren't any excuses left. Guess I better get away from the computer and get moving!

I would recommend this to anyone who wants to create a healthier lifestyle for themselves and their families. Erin's writing style makes it seem you are talking with a friend whose energy and fitness you admire. The photos with the exercises show good form for the movements. And I can't wait to give some of these recipes a try. I'll report back in 4 weeks and tell you how it's going.

Visit the author bio or the book's information page to find out more. You may also find the author on Twitter or Facebook.

I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.

Winter Reading 2016 The Misadventures of Sherlock Holmes


Holmes in love? A wedding in the works? Watson as best man? Okay, that last one actually sounds possible, but not the rest. The author takes characters from the original stories and comes up with a totally new plot. The misadventures include the appearance of Irene Adler and Moriarty, but there is no scandal in Bohemia or even an actual encounter with the criminal mastermind. Holmes and Watson have to figure out how a stolen page of sheet music, a murder at the theater, another murder at the museum, forged artwork, a flash mob, and a mysterious railway car all have in common. The events are told from Watson's point of view and he also includes several articles from London newspapers that pertain to the various pieces of the puzzle. The poor doctor is severely frustrated by the distraction from detective work that Sherlock's new love life causes.

Chanot is able to create a story that contains the remarkable ability of Holmes to piece seemingly disparate facts and events together, while at the same time showing a more human and imperfect man. Just imagine Holmes dating, buying flowers, or seemingly passed out in his soup bowl. The whole time one is reading there is the unmistakable feeling that the famous duo are being led on a merry chase and toyed with in a game of cat and mouse. I also appreciated the way the author slipped himself into the story in the character of the violin shop owner.

For all the myriad fans of Holmes in all his incarnations, this is one more to add to their collection. Humor, suspense, mystery (obviously), danger, and romance keep the story moving along quickly and it is over more quickly than expected. I am curious to see if the author will continue with the unanswered questions in a sequel.

I read an e-book provided by the publisher through NetGalley.

Monday, February 8, 2016

Winter Reading 2016 Mark of Blood and Alchemy


I read an advance copy of Curio and was sent the prequel by the publisher. This story goes back to the very beginning and the events that began the struggle between the Chemists and the Defenders. It also shows the cause of the problems shown in Monument City during the first book and why everyone there is dependent on potions from the Chemists to get any nutrition from their food. There is plenty of intrigue, and enough action to keep the story moving along, and we meet some of the characters we already know, like Alaric and Olan,  but they are much younger than during the events in Curio and there are still unanswered questions and a gap between the end of this book and the beginning of the next.