Source: Local Library


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!



Book Review: The Elegance of the Hedgehog

November 13, 2013 Book Review, reviews 17

Book Review: The Elegance of the HedgehogThe Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery
Published by Europa Editions on September 2nd, 2008
Genres: Fiction
Pages: 325
Source: Local Library
AmazonBarnes & Noble

Renee is the concierge of a grand Parisian apartment building, home to members of the great and the good. Over the years she has maintained her carefully constructed persona as someone reliable but totally uncultivated, in keeping, she feels, with society's expectations of what a concierge should be. But beneath this facade lies the real Renee: passionate about culture and the arts, and more knowledgeable in many ways than her employers with their outwardly successful but emotionally void lives. Down in her lodge, apart from weekly visits by her one friend Manuela, Renee lives resigned to her lonely lot with only her cat for company. Meanwhile, several floors up, twelve-year-old Paloma Josse is determined to avoid the pampered and vacuous future laid out for her, and decides to end her life on her thirteenth birthday. But unknown to them both, the sudden death of one of their privileged neighbours will dramatically alter their lives forever.

Have you ever started a book and in the first few pages thought “Oh my gosh this person is so depressing there’s no way I’m reading this!”?  But almost like a train wreck you have to keep reading to see if it is really as bad as all that?

The Elegance of the Hedgehog was our book club’s pick for November.  Not only was it a book club pick it was a book club pick selected by my baby girl {who is not such a baby at 19!} thus I had to read it completely.  Especially since she kept texting and calling me “have you started the book yet? have you finished the book yet? it’s the greatest book of all time. . .”  Now how could I not finish it after all that encouragement?!?  between us friends though ~ I thought she may have chosen the depressing novel to torture me or something or that her reading tastes may not be up to par {i know ~ **gasp**}


I kept reading. And honestly about a 1/4 of my way into the book I started to see the charm and beauty in this French million+ bestseller.

On the way home I thought: pity the poor in spirit who know neither the enchantment nor the beauty of language.   (Profound Thought No. 10)

This novel is one in which the little things are of utmost importance.  The beauty of a camellia, the ceremony of hot tea, a languid movement without movement of a soccer player all come together to give meaning and substance to the characters.  Renee, the aging, unattractive, yet incredibly smart concierge sees the residents of Number 7 rue de Grenelle as snobbish and stereotypical all while hiding behind the stereotype of “concierge.”  Paloma, the precocious twelve year old resident sees no purpose in living to adulthood ~ she’s brilliant, unpretentious and dislikes greatly the attitude of her parents and all wealthy people.  Paloma has decided to end her life on her 13th birthday but  in the meantime til her birthday she journals her “profound thoughts.”

This novel begins with two characters who feel their lives are meaningless and takes us through their journey discovering the simple joys of life.  Both Paloma and Renee struggle with their identity and yet it’s through their friendship that they begin to find out who each person is and who each can become.

There are moments of sheer hilarity ~ Renee finally accepts an invitation to new resident Kikuro Ozu’s apartment because of their shared love of Anna Karenina.  While there she has an awkward moment in asking to use the restroom, and it becomes even more awkward when she emerges after listening to the symphony instead of the toilet flushing!  Both Ozu and Renee have a shared laugh over the Japanese tradition to play music over the sound of the toilet flushing.  {hmmm, kind of cool tradition!}

And moments of heartbreaking sadness.  Paloma’s despair over not finding meaning in life, Renee’s hiding of her truest self behind a shuffling, bumbling, dumbed-down facade come to a head when a new tenant moves into Number 7 rue de Grenelle.  Hope is found.  Joy is sought.  And lives are forever changed.

A tour de force, literary masterpiece that should be read and savored. . .with copious amounts of hot tea.


Faith in Fiction Friday: Caleb’s Crossing

September 20, 2013 Book Review, reviews 1

Faith in Fiction Friday: Caleb’s CrossingCaleb's Crossing by Geraldine Brooks
Published by Penguin, Viking on May, 2011
Genres: Fiction, Literary
Pages: 336
Source: Local Library
AmazonBarnes & Noble


For our last book club meeting {the one I’m in with my daughters ~ we don’t have an official name other than “book club” pretty original, huh?} we read Caleb’s Crossing by Geraldine Brooks.  This is the same Geraldine Brooks who won the Pulitzer Prize for March in 2006.  Caleb’s Crossing is her most latest release, published in 2011.

I held it out and Caleb took it. This was the first book he had held in his hands. He made me smile, opening it upside down and back to front, but he touched the pages with the utmost care, as if gentling some fragile-boned wild thing. The godliest among us did not touch the Bible with such reverence as he showed to that small book.

Caleb’s Crossing takes us on a journey through the life of Bethia Mayfield, a young Puritan girl desperate for an education denied to her because of gender.  As a child she wanders the island of Great Harbor learning its secrets and gleaning every bit of knowledge it can give.  Set in the mid-1600’s Bethia secretly befriends a young native indian of the Wampanoag tribe.  Caleb is the son of the chief while Bethia’s father is the local minister attempting to convert the Wampanoag tribe to Christianity.  While Bethia and Caleb struggle to keep their individual identities they also confront the differences of each other’s beliefs in life, God, and man.  As Bethia yearns for the education denied to her, Caleb actively seeks the “white man education” while suppressing his own upbringing and beliefs.   Many in the community believe the native indians to be savages and unable to grasp the concept of one God, including Bethia’s own brother, Makepeace, who invariably causes problems for Bethia most of her life.  But as Pastor Mayfield teaches the natives it is the natives who teach Bethia.

One of the major themes of Caleb’s Crossing is Christianity, spirituality and the acceptance, or lack thereof, of differing belief systems.  Sin and the nature of sin is a primary theme as well ~ after Bethia drinks a potion of the Wampanoag tribe she believes every bad thing that occurs afterward is because of her “sin.”  She truly believes she is going to hell and that God allowed the bad things to happen in order to punish her sinful nature.

Only one god. Strange, that you English, who gather about you so many things, are content with one only.

A novel perfect for book clubs with discussions to be had about how far our society has come in accepting and allowing women the same rights as men; i.e. ~ education!  Religion and spirituality are two key discussions ~ which culture was right in their beliefs, the Wampanoag tribe or the Puritans?  And what about the stories the Puritans shared with the natives in an effort to convert them? The stories of Moses and the parting of the Red Sea or Jesus fasting in the wilderness for seven days ~ how much more fantastical would those stories be to someone of a different culture whereas the flip side is the beliefs and stories of the Wampanoag tribe. . .whose to say which was right?

..I thought it all outlandish. But as I rode home that afternoon, it came to me that our story of a burning bush and a parted sea might also seem fabulous, to one not raised up knowing it was true.

A character-driven novel based on the true story of the first Native American to graduate from Harvard, Caleb Cheeshahteaumauk, a member of the Wopanaak tribe from what is now Martha’s Vineyard.  Geraldine Brooks has the ability to transport the reader to the Great Harbor/Martha’s Vineyard of the mid-1600’s with prose that is as engaging as it is profound.  Highly recommended, especially for those who enjoy literary fiction, controversial subjects and historical settings.

Have you read Caleb’s Crossing?  Did you find the spiritual aspect of the novel to be engaging or did it turn you off to the book?  What about the education theme and the denial of basic rights to women during the early days of colonial America?  All the women in my book club are pretty well educated and the thought of being denied even a basic education outside of cooking and cleaning was enough to get us agitated!