Posts Tagged ‘ book review ’

The Poisoner’s Handbook

Cover of "The Poisoner's Handbook: Murder...

Cover via Amazon

I read The Poisoner’s Handbook: Murder and the Birth of Forensic Science in Jazz Age New York by Deborah Blum before the holidays, and loved it.  I don’t usually get into non-fiction books but this one may be sparking a new trend for me.  I stumbled onto this books while I was looking for books on detective fiction.  While not exactly about detective fiction, The Poisoner’s Handbook  is about the solving of real poison murders and the science that was developed to do it.   The detectives are two brilliant scientists who revolutionized the way we look at crime scenes, process crime scenes and the evidence that is presented in court.  Any fan of CSI owes a lot to these first forensic scientists.

Deborah Blum takes this bit of scientific history and makes it read like a story.  Everything comes to life.  not only does she describe the procedures but she also describes the cold and life of New York.  She did a lot of research before writing the book, even finding journal accounts of the weather and traffic and other events taking place during the murders. So not only are you seeing science come alive, but also 1920s New York, Prohibition, and even the speakeasies.

This book can be a bit gruesome at times and I advise to read it with a strong stomach.  But it’s also fascinating.  The radium poisoning stories are pretty crazy.  Before they knew it was a poisonous substance, women would dust it into the hair, on the skin, and even “Cheshire Cat” their teeth with it.  The shine and sparkle of it was irresistible.   Many people took Radium tonics to keep them healthy.  That is until their hair and teeth began to fall out.

If you like detective fiction, the roaring twenties, and crime scene analysis, or if you just like a good true story, pick this one up.   Blum will show you a glimpse of 1920s New York in gritty detail.


Novels, Books or Literature?

It’s always interesting to me to read books that have been translated from their original language.  The amount of the original language that is kept varies.  Of course, most books will always be better in their original form, but I’ve learned to appreciate a good translator.   Alison Anderson did an excellent job translating A Novel Bookstore by Laurence Cosse.   Though I do wish more of the original language was kept, the pace was very French, and I loved the way the chapters flowed.  Many were short and concise, almost like a series of short vignettes.  The narrator speaks seamlessly, each chapter end comes upon the reader like a breath before plunging into the next piece of the story.  A Novel Bookstore is about a Parisian bookstore that only stocks “good novels” and the reactions of the public to this store that dares to define what a good novel is.  It is also that they dare to exclude books that do not fit their criteria.  Well written and definitely a love story to literature, this book inspired to me to examine my own bookcases.

And here is where I admit that though I have a degree in English literature, I definitely lean more towards mysteries and serial fiction.  I can’t help it, I love to solve puzzles and read about people’s imaginative versions of other worlds.  So looking at my own shelves, I must ask this question: What is literature to me?  What defines a book as a literary novel?  Well written, beautifully composed, meaningful…this is pretty standard.  I came to the conclusion that not only did it need to fill those requirements, it also had to change the way I looked at the world.  I think that really great books open a window so that you can see clearer or perhaps get a glimpse of something you didn’t even dream of.

With this criteria in mind, here are my top 15 “Good Novels” in no particular order.
Amrita, Banana Yoshimoto
Animal Dreams, Barabara Kingsolver
Bleak House, Charles Dickens
The Complete Tales, Edgar Allen Poe (too good to leave out)
The Count of Monte Cristo, Alexandre Dumas
The House of Seven Gables, Nathaniel Hawthorne
In the Time of The Butterflies, Julia Alverez
Jane Eyre, Charlotte Bronte
Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, Susanna Clarke
Middlemarch, George Eliot
Pride and prejudice, Jane Austin
Swiss Family Robinson, Johann Wyss
Their Eyes Were Watching God, Zora Neal Hurston
Wide Sargasso Sea, Jean Rhys
The Years, Virginia Woolf
If you’re looking for a great book shop in the Chapel Hill area, I suggest checking out Flyleaf Books.  They have wonderful taste and a great selection.  They will also order any book for you that they don’t have in stock.

This is not Doris

Please Don't Eat the Daisies (film)

Image via Wikipedia

Please don’t eat the daisies, Jean Kerr,1954
I discovered this book a small used book store at the beach in North Carolina.  I am a big Doris Day fan, so I thought, “How cute!  It’s the book that the movie was based on.”  Well, it is the book that the movie was based on, but that is where all similarity ends.  In fact the book is pretty saucy compared to the movie which features Doris Day as a housewife and mother of 4 rowdy boys.

Please don’t eat the daisies is a collection of essays by Jean Kerr about her life as a playwright, mother and wife in the early 50’s.  She writes frankly that her goal in life had always been to sleep late, so she married and found a career that enabled her to do just that.  I am really interested in vintage books, but rarely do I come across anything so frank from a woman’s perspective.  I highly recommend this collection of essays if you ever come across it.  I don’t have kids, but I found what Jean Kerr says about her own pretty funny.  She survives her 4 boys  and juggles home and work with wit and brazen style.  Or at least, she writes that she does.

Don’t expect the Doris Day version, the real thing is so much more.

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