Review: This Will Kill You: A Guide to the Ways in Which We Go

This Will Kill You: A Guide to the Ways in Which We Go
This Will Kill You: A Guide to the Ways in Which We Go by H.P. Newquist
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

If you’ve ever wondered precisely how a drug overdose or a leap off the Golden Gate bridge would kill you, this is the book that can answer your questions. However, it’s definitely written for the lad-mag-reading layperson.

Mildly interesting, but ultimately superficial. Some of the jokey illustrations work better than others.

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Review: The Barbary Plague: The Black Death in Victorian San Francisco

The Barbary Plague: The Black Death in Victorian San Francisco
The Barbary Plague: The Black Death in Victorian San Francisco by Marilyn Chase
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

It’s a good bet that even folks who live in San Francisco may not know of the outbreak of bubonic plague the city suffered at the early part of the 20th century. Borne by infected fleas that feasted on the blood of the harbor city’s large rat population, the plague claimed many victims initially in the Chinatown area, then slowly spread to other parts of the city.

This presented the city with not only a public health problem, but also a public relations one: San Francisco’s wealthy merchants were wary of scaring away business. Because of this, the plague claimed many more victims than it would have if it had been fought aggressively at first. The Barbary Plague tells of two men of science and their attempts to curb the infection: one, Joseph Kinyoun, was not the diplomat the times required and was quickly replaced. The other, Rupert Blue, persevered and eventually overcame the reluctance of the city and state government to fight the plague; unfortunately, he wasn’t able to do as much as he wanted to stem the tide of the plague, and as a consequence, it still claims the occasional human victim in the American Southwest thanks to infected squirrels.

At times, the author’s attempts at witty turn of phrase rankle a bit, but she has obtained access to some excellent primary sources, including the city’s Chinese newspapers and the archive of one of Blue’s plague fighters. Overall, The Barbary Plague is an enjoyable enough read, and recommended for those interested in public health.

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Review: Hercule Poirot’s Christmas

Hercule Poirot's Christmas
Hercule Poirot’s Christmas by Agatha Christie
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Hercule Poirot’s Christmas is interrupted by news of a gruesome killing. Retired multimillionaire Simeon Lee, infamous for his foul temper and his ability to hold a grudge, has been murdered in a locked room in his stately home, where his estranged sons and their wives are gathered for the holiday. Colonel Johnson, who figured in Murder in Three Acts, brings Poirot in on the baffling case.

Along the way, some surprising facts about the murdered man and his family come to light. Poirot faces a challenge compounded by the fact that nearly all of the family members and servants had a motive to kill.

Poirot’s personality is a bit tempered in this case, but the complicated situation makes up for it in what turns out to be an ingenious, and unexpected, solution.

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Review: Packing for Mars: The Curious Science of Life in the Void

Packing for Mars: The Curious Science of Life in the Void
Packing for Mars: The Curious Science of Life in the Void by Mary Roach
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

How would you feel if you couldn’t take a walk in the sun, watch TV, drive to the Starbucks, or have sex for a year? How about five? How about for the rest of your life? How would you feel about being stuck in a room with two other people for two weeks or more without a shower?

Questions like these are asked by NASA scientists as they choose astronauts, design spacesuits, and put food into sealed pouches for space missions. Things we take for granted, like eating, washing, and, yes, going to the bathroom, are a lot more complicated in space, and if humans are going to colonize other worlds, we have to figure some of that stuff out.

I love Mary Roach’s writing, and Packing for Mars does not disappoint. Facts and whimsy in a pretty even proportion fill this book that expresses hope for humanity’s future among the stars.

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Review: Appointment with Death

Appointment with Death
Appointment with Death by Agatha Christie
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Poirot’s ongoing Middle East holiday is interrupted by the murder of an elderly woman who had been traveling with her family. Even stranger, nobody, not even her own daughter, seems sorry that she’s dead. And strangest of all: some days before the murder, Poirot overheard a young man talking about how “she’s got to be killed.” Now it’s up to Poirot to seek out and bring to justice the murderer of this unlamented victim–within 24 hours.

This novel is a bit unusual in that it begins not with Poirot’s perspective, nor with that of an associate, but with the perspective of Sarah King, a fellow holidaymaker who has her own reasons for not being completely honest with Poirot.

Christie once again takes the opportunity to sprinkle allusions to Poirot’s earlier cases, with Colonel Race and the events of Cards on the Table again being mentioned, as well as an allusion to The A.B.C Murders, the events of which one of the characters recalls following in the newspapers. Interestingly, the ending of Murder on the Orient Express is mentioned by one of the characters, including details which would have been known only to someone who had been there–leaving Poirot to wonder from whom the character in question might have obtained that information.

Although the reddest of red herrings are on display in this work (and, alas, still no Hastings), Appointment with Death kept me guessing up until the end, and has perhaps the happiest ending of any of the Poirot novels I’ve read so far. Highly recommended.

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Review: League of Denial: The NFL, Concussions and the Battle for Truth

League of Denial: The NFL, Concussions and the Battle for Truth
League of Denial: The NFL, Concussions and the Battle for Truth by Mark Fainaru-Wada
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

For years, the NFL has known that many retired players were suffering terrible mental and physical deterioration; however, the culture of football glorifies hard hits and “toughness,” so the suffering those brutal hits caused has been covered up. A few brave medical professionals began studying brains of dead players and found a disturbing syndrome attributable to those players’ football careers; unfortunately, the league has ignored some, sought to discredit others, and co-opted a few.

Overall, this was a fascinating read, although I felt very sad about the plight of the former players whose lives have been forever altered through playing a game they loved. I remember watching ESPN reports about the events detailed in this book as they unfolded, and it forever changed my view of football, ruining my enjoyment of the game.

This book should be required reading for all football fans, and especially for parents who send their sons to football practice with dreams of gridiron stardom.

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Review: Death on the Nile

Death on the Nile
Death on the Nile by Agatha Christie
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Once again, Hercule Poirot finds himself dealing with murder on what was supposed to be a holiday. Linnet Doyle, the beautiful newlywed heiress, has been murdered on her honeymoon cruise in Egypt. The obvious suspect is her husband’s jilted ex-fiancee, but the ex-fiancee has an ironclad alibi, and there’s more than one passenger on the ship with a secret to hide.

This book kept me guessing as to the murderer’s identity, and it was a satisfying read. No Hastings in this one, although Poirot mentions him fondly. For trivia enthusiasts, this novel features a few allusions to earlier Christie works. Most notably, Col. Race, one of the sleuths involved in Cards on the Table helps Poirot with his investigation; in addition, one of the passengers mentions being acquainted with one of the characters from The Mystery of the Blue Train, and Poirot alludes to the events of Murder on the Orient Express.

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