Thursday, October 23, 2014

Book Review: The Viral Storm by Nathan Wolfe

The Viral Storm: The Dawn of a New Pandemic AgeThe Viral Storm: The Dawn of a New Pandemic Age by Nathan Wolfe

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Nathan Wolfe's The Viral Storm should be required reading for everyone talking or worrying hysterically about the current Ebola outbreak. An internationally recognized expert in the fields of viral forecasting, immunology, infectious diseases and human biology, Dr. Wolfe's book reads like a primer rather than a text book. His language is approachable for all readers.

He breaks down how viruses, both good and evil, developed alongside humans. He tracks the history of viruses that are benign. We need them in our bodies to process food and protect us from the evil viruses.

His discussions on how deadly viruses move from animal hosts to human hosts are the stuff of thrillers. Some, he points out, infect an individual and kill it, thereby stopping the transmission. Others, like HIV, swine flu and bird flu, are transmitted from human to human. Some,like Ebola and HIV, can only be transmitted through contact with bodily fluids. Others, swine and bird flu, are actually more dangerous because they easily pass through the human population by droplets in the air.

I bought this book for research for a mystery I'm writing. The book works on that dimension. More importantly, it works as an educational work that takes the hysteria out of pandemics by talking calmly about what these viruses are, how they are transmitted and how they can be forecast at the beginning of an outbreak before it becomes an epidemic or, worse, a pandemic.

I urge anyone interested in learning about illnesses to read this book. You will be better informed. Dr. Wolfe's journey is mankind's.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Book Review: Nora Bonesteel's Christmas Past by Sharyn McCrumb

Nora Bonesteel's Christmas Past: A Ballad NovellaNora Bonesteel's Christmas Past: A Ballad Novella by Sharyn McCrumb

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Fans of Sharyn McCrumb's ballad series need wait no longer for a new Nora Bonesteel story. NORA BONESTEEL'S CHRISTMAS PAST offers McCrumb at her best with two parallel stories centered around Christmas Eve.

In the primary story, Nora Bonesteel, she with the Sight, welcomes a new family in the old Honeycutt place next to her family home on the mountain. Summer people have decided to spend the holiday season instead of returning to Florida. Shirley Haverty wants to be friends with Nora but lacks knowledge of mountain traditions. She's too pushy at first, although she gradually backs off. When she arrives on Nora's doorstep one morning with a tale of her house being haunted, Nora invites her in, listens to the story and has an idea about what is happening in the parlor over at the Honeycutt mansion. She's sure her old friend is keeping a promise to be home by Christmas. The promise was made in the Second World War.

A parallel story involving the sheriff and his deputy takes the two on a trip up a mountain just as bad weather sets in. Pressured by a prominent politician to arrest a man for hitting his wife's car over in Tennessee and running from the accident send the two men on a journey they aren't likely to forget. They find their quarry, an old man living in a rundown farm house, at the end of a gravel lane. When they try to get the man to go with them, he agrees but is concerned for his aging wife. She needs firewood. A window in the bathroom lets in icy air. The two lawmen help split and stack firewood and reglaze the window. Darkness comes early. Before they can leave, the old man notices his cattle have gotten out of the barn. Again, the two lawmen help.

I won't tell you what happens in either story, but long-time fans will not be disappointed. The richness of McCrumb's detail, her deep knowledge of mountain tradition, her acknowledgement that prying is a breach of good manners combine to bring us a heartwarming read.

Yes, it's about Christmas. More, it's about human nature.

Received through NetGalley before I bought the book for my collection.

View all my reviews

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Book Review: Mockingbird by Kathryn Erskine

MockingbirdMockingbird by Kathryn Erskine

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Kathryn Erskine imagines what it would be like for a ten-year-old child to have to deal with the death of her brother. (No spoiler here) Caitlin has Asperger's syndrome and sees her world as black and white. She literally interprets what goes on around her, doesn't know how to read people's moods and has many of the tics and behaviors we associate with someone who finds the world confusing.

Until The Day Our Life Fell Apart, Devon translates the world for Caitlin. When students and teachers at his middle school are gunned down, Caitlin is set adrift. Her father has difficulty coping with her while trying to understand his own grief.

Caitlin's best friend is her dictionary. She learns two words, closure and empathy, that help her help her father.

Erskine wrote the manuscript after the Virginia Tech shootings and before Sandy Hook. Through Caitlin she explains the unexplainable.

A wonderful read for people of all ages.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Book Review: 400 Things Cops Know

Sometimes I buy a book because I think it will be good for research in the future. I usually scan it, pick up and read random chapters and put it on the shelf. Then I bought 400 Things Cops Know: Street-Smart Lessons from a Veteran Patrolman by Adam Plantinga, I thought I'd follow the same pattern. So did not happen.

I don't know what I expected, but Plantinga delivered so much more information in a way that made this list of "things" a page turner. Well written with terrific organization, the book falls into chapters like "16 Things Cops Know about Booze and Drugs." Each chapter has a theme and a series of short entries. "You'll read about people on their fifth DUI conviction, their seventh, their ninth. It's enough to make you look around at the way other countries do things. Drive drunk in Finland and the punishment is a year of hard labor."

"If you encounter an assault victim in the 'hood who has been punched in the mouth and is missing teeth, ask him if his teeth were knocked out tonight or had they already been like that. It is a wholly appropriate question, for dental hygiene is one of many casualties of the urban environment."

For a writer, Plantinga's blunt and often humorous style should help us be better writers. Why? Because for one thing, he takes us inside a cop's head so we can look at the world through his eyes. Because he debunks so much of what we watch on television. It should come as no shock that the needs for visual drama trump policing procedures.

Take the Miranda bugaboo. Cops in real life don't immediately read a perp his rights. "As a police officer, you are required to read someone their rights only after they are in police custody and you have begun interrogating them about an offense. Custody plus interrogation equals Miranda, not before."

Chasing a perp isn't high on Plantinga's list of preferred activities. Many reasons. You don't usually stand a chance of catching a fleet-footed youth. You don't know what's around the corner and down an alley. You may have spent too much time at the Donut Diner. And female cops and detectives NEVER, EVER chase a suspect in high heels. Sure way to break an ankle. Besides, you won't catch him.

I ordered this before it was released. When it arrived, I fell on it like a starving person finding a chocolate cache.

For my mystery writer peeps out there, stop reading this and order it. Read it. Return to it often. I plan to.