Posts Categorized: Book Review

NFBookClub: The Poisoner’s Handbook Discussion Part One

October 21, 2016 Book Review, Book Talk, reviews 2

NFBookClub: The Poisoner’s Handbook Discussion Part OneThe Poisoner's Handbook by Deborah Blum
Published by Penguin on February 18th, 2010
Genres: Narrative, Non-Fiction
Pages: 319
Source: Local Library


My friend, Katie, over at DoingDeweyDecimal ,hosts a nonfiction read each month. For October, she appropriately chose The Poisoner’s Handbook: Murder and the Birth of Forensic Medicine in Jazz Age New York. It reads like a modern-day thriller with a fast-pace and in-depth narrative. If you’re looking for a creepy nonfiction book you can’t go wrong with this one! Plus you learn so much about how forensic science is developed. I promise it’s not all dry!

I see poisoners—so calculating, so cold-blooded—as most like the villains of our horror stories. They’re closer to that lurking monster in the closet than some drug-impaired crazy with a gun. I don’t mean to dismiss the latter—both can achieve the same awful results. But the scarier killer is the one who thoughtfully plans his murder ahead, tricks a friend, wife, lover into swallowing something that will dissolve tissue, blister skin, twist the muscles with convulsions, knows all that will happen and does it anyway.

1. How are you liking the book (the organization by poison, the way the science is written, etc)?

This has been one of my most favorite non-fiction books to read. The personal anecdotes of the poisoners and the poisonees was fascinating. Wait, does that make me sound morbid?!?

There are a few spots where the author goes deep into the science and lost me, but those sections were few and far between. Reading The Poisoner’s Handbook inspired me to do a couple of fun experiments with my grandson, like create elephant/dinosaur toothpaste. Although the Little Monkey informed me dinosaurs do not brush their teeth – cheeky little devil, yes?

2. What’s your favorite fun fact or story so far?

Not sure I would call it a fun fact/story;  however, the ingenuity of the Medical Examiner, Charles Norris and Toxicologist, Alexander Gettler discovered the keys to unlocking this case. A large immigrant family initially presented with the mom and children with their hair falling out.  Soon, two of the children got deathly ill. Ultimately, several members of the family died.  The father was arrested and charged with murder as his mother-in-law and some of the children slowly recovered. Without Norris and Gettler’s experimentation and research, the culprit would never have been discovered. Hint: it was not the father.

3. Do you check out the citations in narrative nonfiction like this? If so, did you find the citations in this book satisfactory?

Absolutely! I’m a bit nerdy like that! The Jazz Age was such a pivotal era in history. Medical breakthroughs were happening almost daily.  Forensic science exploded during this period. Both Charles Norris and Alexander Gettler were at the forefront of forensic science, especially within the States. Once I finished the book I wanted to learn more about the men behind the book. The citations and Google helped me delve a little deeper.

4. Did you know anything about early forensic science before reading this book? Did anything surprise you?

I knew nothing at all about early forensic science. It’s fascinating to read how Norris and Gettler conducted incredible experiments to discover how someone died. Quite a few of the experiments were gross and had me cringing. The imagination of the two men at creating the tests to figure out how and which poisons affected the body were nothing short of genius.

[Tweet “Perfect Fall read with #NFBookClub and The Poisoner’s Handbook”]

To learn more about the author, Deborah Blum visit her WebsiteTwitter. Public Television did a PBS Special on The Poisoner’s Handbook along with providing an interactive comic book, teacher’s guide, and forensic science timeline. It’s a pretty cool resource for history and science buffs!

Are you interested in forensic science? A sucker for all the CSIs, Bones, Law & Order, etc? If so, then you will enjoy this book!



A Story of Hope with The Feathered Bone

September 21, 2016 Book Review, reviews 1

A Story of Hope with The Feathered BoneThe Feathered Bone by Julie Cantrell
Published by Thomas Nelson on January 26th 2016
Genres: Fiction, Inspirational
Pages: 384
Source: purchased

So maybe a miracle is anything that gets us through another day when life gets too hard.

The Feathered Bone begins with a class field trip to the Big Easy: New Orleans on Halloween. Two best friends, Sarah and Ellie are twelve, best friends and middle schoolers. Since their moms are best friends they’ve grown up to be almost inseparable. When Ellie’s mom, Amanda, is left to chaperone the two girls so Beth, Sarah’s mom can return to her work as a pastor’s wife, the unspeakable happens. Sarah goes to the restroom but never returns to the group. With Sarah’s disappearance, Amanda and Ellie both fight the guilt demons plaguing them. The Feathered Bone is a look at how do you have faith and hope in the face of unspeakable horror? How do you survive the guilt? and as a victim, how do you get through each day, each awful happening and still remain true to yourself and your faith?

That’s what we have to remember. Light defeats darkness. Never the other way around.

The Feathered Bone is also a story of trusting our instincts and valuing our own worth. It’s a testament to *feminism, a story of hope and the power of God to carry us through. Julie Cantrell’s books tackle the worst of mankind yet reveals the hope of mankind as well. Depression, domestic violence and trafficking are all tackled with equal voracity. Honestly, I started crying half-way through and didn’t stop until I closed the book. It’s the story of your neighbor, a friend, a relative, or even one in which you see parts of yourself.

Favorite Passage

He said that the day he tried to kill himself, he sat in front of Walmart for three hours trying to talk himself out of it. He sat right there on the bench, almost in tears, and thought, If one person smiles at me, I won’t do it. That’ll be a good enough reason to live. But in those three hours, nobody did. You know how many people go in and out of Walmart in the span of three hours? But everybody walked right past him, looking down at their phones or off in the distance, pretending he wasn’t there at all. He felt invisible. As if he were already dead. So he figured, what’s the point? And he went home and he did it. And only by the grace of God did he live to tell us that story. So from that moment on, I decided I never want to be the one who walks by and doesn’t smile. I want to be the one who makes everybody feel glad to be alive. To let them know they matter.

Final Thoughts

It’s difficult to beat Julie Cantrell’s debut novel Into the Free. I fell in love with Millie’s character and strength and the Depression-era setting. When  Mountains Move carries forward Millie’s life into adulthood. Both books are historical fiction {one of my favorite genres}. The Feathered Bone is straight from the headlines of today. I could taste the gumbo, smell the wet, swampy marsh and feel the sweltering humid heat during Hurricane Katrina. The characters ring true: Amanda’s guilt, Ellie’s depression, and Beth’s faith. Once you close the pages you’ll have been rung out, but you will know the tremendous power of faith, hope and love.

*my definition: feminism is equality for men and women rather than a continued patriarchal society 

Julie CantrellAbout the Author

Julie Cantrell has got to be one of the nicest authors around! Here she is sharing a favorite recent read for the 30Authors annual event. To learn more about this lovely lady and her books visit her website | Twitter | Facebook.  If you’re a foodie like me, definitely check out some of these recipes for gumbo and jambalaya! AND, if you saw my recent post on authors who create playlists to accompany or inspire their books and characters then you may have seen The Feathered Bone and Julie Cantrell featured there as well!

[Tweet “A story of hope and faith in times of unspeakable horror with @juliecantrell”]



Kidlit Review: Max at Night

September 16, 2016 Book Review, reviews 5

I received this book for free from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book nor the content of my review.

Kidlit Review: Max at NightMax at Night by Ed Vere
Published by Sourcebooks Jabberwocky on September 1st 2016
Genres: Children, Picture Books
Pages: 32
Source: complimentary review copy

In Max at Night we find Max getting ready for bed, but he can’t find the moon to say goodnight. Like most any young child, Max will not rest until he has completed his bedtime routine. With the moon nowhere to be found Max goes in search believing the higher he gets the closer to the moon he will be and the more likely it is he will see that errant moon.

The illustrations in Max at Night are sparse yet beautiful. The colors are darker, giving the impression of night while the stars and lettering are a bright white. The combination creates a calming scene. Max at Night is a good bedtime picture book for younger children, probably from ages zero to five. The words are simple enough that an older sibling with a reading level of 2 or 3 could read the bedtime story {giving the older sibling reading practice and the younger sibling the awe of the attention of the older sibling}.

My 5-year-old grandson and I read it a couple of times. He especially liked the part where Max gets frustrated and shouts “Mooooooooon! Where are yoooouu?” Of course it may have been because I startled him with the really loud shout and sound effects!  {I wouldn’t recommend doing that if read at bedtime}. 😉

There is a definite play on the classic Goodnight Moon as the story begins, and Max is saying goodnight to everything. Overall, we enjoyed Max at Night, but we did not love it. I am quite impressed by the incredible job the author/illustrator does of giving expressions to Max that are easily distinguished. The illustrations are the best part of the book.

[Tweet “Adorable picture book that builds on the classic ‘goodnight moon'”]

Extra Credit

Download the pdf activity kit here. It is the cutest thing ever, starting off with “can you tell how Max is feeling based on his expressions?” What’s so cute about the activity is Max has no mouth, only eyes and a nose. The expressions Vere creates with just Max’s eyes are incredible. This type of activity can help build empathy and emotional intelligence in young children.

Author Links

Twitter: @ed_vere

Enter to Win

With thanks to Sourcebooks Jabberwocky enter to win an original sketch by author and illustrator Ed Vere
a Rafflecopter giveaway

linking to Saturday’s Kid Connection with Booking Mama

Many thanks to Sourcebooks Jabberwocky for a copy of Max at Night to review.



KidLit Review and Giveaway: The Storybook Knight

September 9, 2016 Book Review, reviews 2

I received this book for free from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book nor the content of my review.

KidLit Review and Giveaway: The Storybook KnightThe Storybook Knight by Helen Docherty, Thomas Docherty
Published by Sourcebooks Jabberwocky on September 6th 2016
Genres: Children, Picture Books
Pages: 32
Source: complimentary review copy


Little Leo is not the knight his parents expected. He enjoys nothing more than reading and being kind to all. His parents don’t believe a knight should be gentle, so when they read an ad about a dragon needing taming, off they send Leo to do them proud!

One morning, Leo’s parents said
they’d like to have a chat.
There was nothing wrong with reading,
but he couldn’t just do that!

Along the way, Leo encounters a griffin, a troll and a dragon. Rather than use the new sword and shield his parents gave him, Leo uses his head, his heart and the books he brought along for the trip.

A few of the lessons

  • Books are cool because you will know what a griffin is should you happen upon one!
  • You can be successful in a ‘fight’ with savvy smarts and knowledge without the use of swords and shields.
  • It’s ok if others are different, and I’m quieter and like to read. I’ve got equally great qualities, though I may be different from you.
  • The world could use more kindness and acceptance.

Final Thoughts

Truly a delightful picture book for both adults and children! My grandson, who is now in Kindergarten, and I have read this one quite a few times. Both of us love it! Me, for the lovely manner in which books and reading are featured, the numerous messages woven throughout the book, and the inclusion of the classic Billy Goat’s Gruff! My grandson loves this one for the rhyming that lends itself to some fantastic reading aloud. The bright colors of the pictures, along with the attention to detail, have kept us finding new features in the layouts! Honestly, The Storybook Knight gets 4 thumbs-up from this reading duo!

[Tweet “.#thestorybook is sure to become a children’s classic and an adult favorite!”]

Extra Credit

→Visit here to take Leo’s pledge and become a Storybook Knight. “Remember: A story is mightier than the sword.”

→We all know how children enjoy receiving happy mail, right? For your wee reader friends or family, mailing the book + the printable Activity Kit is a package little ones from ages 4 – 8 will be thrilled to receive.


→Most students are back in school now that September is well underway. And most of us adults have heard the plight of our tireless teachers, yes? A truly wonderful gift for your Kindergarten, 1st or 2nd grade teacher would be the book + the printable Educators Guide which aligns with the Common Core State Standards for English Language Arts.

Author and Illustrator Links

Thomas Docherty:
Twitter: @TDIllustration

Helen Docherty:
Twitter: @docherty_helen

Enter for a chance to win

a Rafflecopter giveaway



Book Review: Into the Free

September 3, 2016 Book Review 5

Book Review: Into the FreeInto the Free by Julie Cantrell
Published by David C. Cook on February 1st 2012
Genres: Fiction, Historical, Inspirational
Pages: 329
Source: purchased


Into the Free begins with 9-year old Millie wishing for a way to escape her life, her abusive father and a mother who gets so blue she forgets to care for Millie.  The family lives in a tiny shack, former slaves quarters, which have since been remodeled into tenant housing for the farm hands. Millie’s dad, Jack, is a rodeo cowboy and helps with the horses on the farm. Millie’s mom takes in ironing and sewing when she’s not gone away to the dark place Millie calls ‘the valley.’

What is remarkable with Into the Free is the seemingly ease of interweaving hope and a realistic faith throughout the threads of the novel. Not all Christians portrayed in the book are “good” just as in real life some proclaimed Christians are bad…very bad. Had the novel been set in most recent times, Millie would have been removed from her parent’s home due to the abuse suffered at the hands of her father and the neglect of her mother. When Millie is around a regular family we can see how hard it is for an abused child to accept kindness, gentleness and love. Having worked with abused children I can attest to the absolute accuracy of Cantrell’s portrayal of Millie.

[Tweet “Beautiful coming-of-age story set in Depression-era Mississippi”]

It would have been easy for Cantrell to fall into the use of stereotypes and yet such is not the case with Into the Free. If anything, stereotypical characters are turned on their head. The gypsy is not dirty nor illiterate and the grandparents who shun Millie are supposed to be of good Christian stock. That’s not to say there’s not a few characters who happen to fall into a stereotype, but they make it so easy! For instance, the ladies who cluck about everything Millie is and does. Although the ladies did offer a little bit of comic relief, even if it was because we’ve all known those types of busy-bodies with an opinion on everything without knowing anything.

Julie Cantrell does a magnificent job of tackling diversity, child abuse, the gross hypocrisy of a few so-called Christians and the resilience of children, to not only survive a horrific childhood, but to then thrive. Believing God has forgotten about her, Millie slowly comes to realize God was with her all along, even in the deepest pits of despair.

I do two things,” she told me. “I remind myself that it’s not all about me. And I focus on the good. There’s always a way to find some good.

I can’t recommend this one highly enough. If you enjoy Joshilyn Jackson or Susan Gregg Gilmore then you’ll most likely fall in love with Julie Cantrell and her band of characters.

Just a note When Mountains Move is the follow-up to Millie’s story taking us into her adulthood. Review coming soon!

In a few words: Emotional, heart-felt coming-of-age story. Inspirational, though not overtly preachy.  Southern, yet diverse with gypsies and Indians playing vital roles. Set in a small train town during the Depression-era Mississippi. Highly Recommended.

Connect with author Julie Cantrell on website | Facebook | Twitter