Monday, November 20, 2017

Out of Tune by Norah McClintock, 2017

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When Alicia, a talented violinist at Riley Donovan's high school, is found bludgeoned to death in a field on the outskirts of town, suspicion immediately falls on Carrie, the teen's musical rival. But Riley isn't convinced of Carrie's guilt, and even though her police-officer aunt tells her to stay out of it, Riley goes searching for the truth. Did Carrie really kill Alicia in a fit of jealous rage, or is there another explanation for Alicia's death?
(122 pages)

This is a nice little murder mystery.

I know that sounds weird–"nice" and "murder mystery" aren't paired very often. But the truth is that Out of Tune is just the sort of novel I needed: a pure mystery, with a violent crime but no gory/explicit content. The basic scenario (a high school student enlisted to investigate the murder of a female fellow student who appears to be a "golden child") at first reminded me a lot of the much-gorier Running Girl by Simon Mason, but Out of Tune is frankly a little more my speed in the violence department. It's like an Agatha Christie murder mystery: the story starts with the crime, and then follows the main character as she tracks down the clues. We get a description of the crime scene in one of the beginning chapters but not much more than that. Actually, now that I think about some of Agatha Christie's book, this is probably actually a step down from those even.

I feel like so many of the murder mysteries I've read lately focused more on character drama (most of which didn't even wind up being relevant to the investigation), so I really appreciated how focused Out of Tune was. McClintock never forgets that she's writing a murder mystery, not a small-town drama. Granted, that does come at the expense of getting to know some of the side characters very well–a feat that's made doubly hard because you're expected to already know a bunch of the characters from the earlier books in the "Riley Donavan" series–but I personally didn't really mind focusing on the clues rather than on the characters pursuing them.

The reason I love Agatha Christie's novels is because she so perfectly blends interesting characters with fascinating crime investigations. While I've yet to find a murder mystery that does both of these areas as masterfully as she does, I'm finding that I much prefer the ones that err on the side of the crime investigations. This is the case of Out of Tune, which wound up being a perfectly satisfying who-dunnit with a logical, yet suprising, reveal–and a protagonist I still know little about. And I am perfectly okay with that.

Disclaimer: I received a complimentary copy of this novel from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Friday, November 17, 2017

The Hand Book by Miryam Z. Wahrman, 2016

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Handwashing, as part of basic hygiene, is a no-brainer. Whenever there's an outbreak of a contagious disease, we are advised that the first line of defense is proper handwashing. Nonetheless, many people, including healthcare workers, ignore this advice and routinely fail to wash their hands. Those who neglect to follow proper handwashing protocols put us at risk for serious disease--and even death.

In this well-researched book, Wahrman discusses the microbes that live among us, both benign and malevolent. She looks at how ancient cultures dealt with disease and hygiene and how scientific developments led to the germ theory, which laid the foundation for modern hygiene. She investigates hand hygiene in clinical settings, where lapses by medical professionals can lead to serious, even deadly, complications. She explains how microbes found on environmental surfaces can transmit disease and offers strategies to decrease transmission from person to person. The book's final chapter explores initiatives for grappling with ever more complex microbial issues, such as drug resistance and the dangers of residing in an interconnected world, and presents practical advice for hand hygiene and reducing infection. 

With chapters that conclude with handy reference lists, The Hand Book serves as a road map to safer hands and better hygiene and health. It is essential reading for the general public, healthcare professionals, educators, parents, community leaders, and politicians.
(248 pages)

This was one of the first books I ever won through the LibraryThing Early Reviewer program. I was new to LibraryThing at the time, and slightly too trigger-happy about clicking "request" for books that I'd normally never pick up. When I got the email saying I'd actually won a copy of The Hand Book, I was shocked–what was I going to do with a book about hand sanitization?! I thought it was going to be one of those pseudo-science books, full of "solutions" to germs that involved, I don't know, drinking special tea or something. I wound up just shoving the book on my shelf and planning to get to it "someday." Since I'm trying to review all the books I've gotten for review this summer before heading off to college, that day has finally come.

And honestly,  The Hand Book is way more legit than I was expecting. Wahrman is actually a real scientist who has done detailed experiments into the spread and dangers of germs. Her advice is thorough and practical, designed to make you think about the disgusting germs you come into contact with on a regular basis and to help you make some small changes to decrease the chances of contracting  an illness. That's interesting enough, but what I really liked were Wahrman's discussions of hand hygiene in hospitals, restaurants, and third-world countries. It's really disgusting to read about all the mistakes and deaths that occur every year because of carelessness in the first two institutions, but also quite interesting to learn about all the creative (and surprisingly effective) ways people in poor countries have developed to cleanse themselves without water.

I'll be honest, I didn't carefully read every page of The Hand Book; I was in a skimming sort of mood when I sat myself down to finally read it. But I enjoyed it way more than I'd ever thought I would–it was far more interesting, engaging, relevant, and well-researched than I'd expected. I can't say it was a page-turner, because this sort of material simply can't be, but it was as close to that as a book about hand hygiene can get. It also temporarily turned me into a germaphobe, so that's new.

Disclaimer: I received a complimentary copy of this book through the LibraryThing Early Reviewer program.

Monday, November 13, 2017

A Promising Life by Emily Arnold McCully, 2017

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For as long as he can remember, Jean Baptiste Charbonneau has been told that a promising future lies ahead of him. After all, his mother is the great Sacagawea, who accompanied Lewis and Clark on their expedition of discovery. And thanks to his mother, Baptiste's life changes forever when Captain Clark offers him an education in the bustling new city of St. Louis.

There, his mother charges him to "learn everything" - reading, writing, languages, mathematics. His life becomes a whirl of new experiences: lessons, duels, dances, elections. He makes friends and undertakes unexpected journeys to far-off places.

But he also witnesses the injustices Clark, as a US agent for Indian Affairs, forces upon the Osage, the Arikara, the Mandan, and so many others. He sees the effect of what some call "progress" on the land and on the people who have lived there for generations. And he must choose what path he will take and what place he will have in a rapidly changing society.

(304 pages)

When a copy of A Promising Life showed up on my doorstep a few weeks ago, I was intrigued by the idea of reading a book about Sacagawea's son set during a time period I knew very little about.

It wasn't much like what I was expecting, since Sacagawea disappears from the story almost immediately and the 300-page book covers a huge span of time from Baptiste's childhood to when he's about 25-30 years old. I did learn some valuable new things about history, like the fact that Sacagawea was actually the slave of a Frenchman (who was also Baptiste's father) and that the real-life Jean Baptiste Charbonneau lived an absolutely fascinating–and very international!–life.

Unfortunately, I can't say I really loved the book. I never got a good handle on the characters because it felt like there were just too many people and events going on. I also don't feel like there's a good rising action, climax, falling action, etc., because the author essentially just took all the historical facts known about Baptiste and filled in the gaps with her own ideas. Real life doesn't often fall into easy plot organization, does it?

Anyway, I feel like A Promising Life is a very educational book but it just wasn't quite my cup of tea. It felt a bit mature at times (especially when Baptiste fathers a baby in a one-night stand–though details are given!). It also introduced me to a lot of fascinating historical characters, though, so I'm still happy to have had the opportunity to read it.

Disclaimer: I received a complimentary copy of this novel from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.