Wednesday, December 31, 2014

2014 Books

Top 10 Fiction (In no particular order except the first two are purposefully at the top of the list):

Elizabeth is Missing by Emma Healey
The Martian
by Andy Weir
The Kept by James Scott
This Dark Road to Mercy by Wiley Cash
The Possibilities by Kaui Hart Hemmings
Closed Doors by Lisa O'Donnell
A Song for Issy Bradley by Carys Bray
The Demon who Peddled Longing by Khanh Ha
Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel
Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty

Top 4 Short Stories:
Stone Mattress
by Margaret Atwood
Tell Me One Thing by Deena Goldstone
Thunderstruck & Other Stories by Elizabeth McCracken
Family Furnishings  by Alice Munro

Top 10 Nonfiction:
Too Many Lovers: a Guide to Freedom from Idolatry by Paul Taylor
No Mercy by Eleanor Learmonth, Jenny Tabakoff
Earthquake Storms by John Dvorak
The Lost Tribe of Coney Island by Claire Prentice
The Power of God's Names by Tony Evans
The Good Spy by Kai Bird
The Map Thief by Michael Blanding
The Skeleton Crew by Deborah Halber
Stolen from the Garden by William Swanson
Out of the Woods: A Memoir of Wayfinding by Lynn Darling

2014 Books: 204 books (Books noted with an asterisk are top rated. This was an excellent year of reading. My decision to drop cable TV seems to be showing in the numbers, especially considering I also took on a second part time job in the evenings and am still work full time during the day.)

January – 19 books 
**1. In the Blood by Lisa Unger, 352 pages, 1/2/14 very highly recommended 
2. Phoenix Island by John Dixon, 320 pages, 1/4/14, highly recommended 
*3. Out of the Woods: A Memoir of Wayfinding by Lynn Darling, 288 pages, 1/6/14, very highly recommended, nonfict.
4. The End by G. Michael Hopf,384 pages, 1/8/14, so-so
5. The Long Road by G. Michael Hopf, 320 pages, 1/8/14, recommended
*6. The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd, 384 pages, 1/9/14, very highly recommended
7. The Dead in Their Vaulted Arches by Alan Bradley, 336, 1/12/14, highly recommended
8. A Highly Unlikely Scenario, or a Neetsa Pizza Employee's Guide to Saving the World by Rachel Cantor, 256 pages, 1/14/14, recommended 
*9. Little Failure by Gary Shteyngart, 368 pages, 1/15/14, very highly recommended
*10. Small Space Garden Ideas by Philippa Pearson, 256 pages, 1/16/14, very highly recommended nonfic
11. Pandemic by Scott Sigler, 592 pages, 1/18/14, highly recommended
12. Eyes Wide Open by Ted Dekker, 304 pages, 1/20/14, so-so
*13. What We've Lost Is Nothing by Rachel Louise Snyder, 320 pages, 1/21/14, very highly recommended
14. The Gods of Heavenly Punishment by Jennifer Cody Epstein, 400 pages, 1/23/14, recommended
15. Why Are You So Sad? by Jason Porter, 224 pages, 1/24/14, recommended
16. The Culling by Robert Johnson, 256 pages, 1/25/14, so-so
17. To Sir, With Love by E. R. Braithwaite, 184 pages, 1/26/14, highly recommended
**18. The Kept by James Scott, 368 pages, 1/28/14, very highly recommended
*19.The Power of God's Names by Tony Evans, 224 pages, 1/31/14, very highly recommended

February – 23 books
20. The Truest Thing about You by David Lomas  D. R. Jacobsen, 224 pages, 2/1/14, recommended
21. Poison Town by Creston Mapes, 368 pages, 2/2/14, highly recommended
*22. The Deepest Secret by Carla Buckley, 448 pages, 2/3/14, very highly recommended
**23. This Dark Road to Mercy by Wiley Cash, 240 pages, 2/5/14, very highly recommended
*24. The Fixer by T. E. Woods, 280 pages, 2/6/14, very highly recommended
25. The Korean Word For Butterfly by Jamie Zerndt, 328 pages, 2/7/14, highly recommended
**26. The Winter People by Jennifer McMahon, 336 pages, 2/8/14, very highly recommended
**27. The Martian by Andy Weir, 384 pages, 2/10/14, very highly recommended
28. Mercy Snow by Tiffany Baker, 336 pages, 2/11/14, highly recommended
29. Thirty Girls by Susan Minot, 320 pages, 2/12/14, recommended
30. The Music Room by Dennis McFarland, 275 pages, 2/12/14, recommended
31. The Waking Engine by David Edison, 400 pages, 2/13/14, recommended
32. Deadly Memories by S. D. O'Donnell, 326 pages, 2/13/14, recommended
33. Where Monsters Dwell by Jorgen Brekke 368 pages, 2/14/14, highly recommended
34. The Museum of Extraordinary Things by Alice Hoffman, 384 pages, 2/15/14, highly recommended
*35. Earthquake Storms by John Dvorak, 352 pages, 2/15/14, very highly recommended, nonfiction
36. Ripper by Isabel Allende, 496 pages, 2/17/14, recommended
37. Runner by Patrick Lee, 336 pages, 2/18/14, highly recommended
38. Deep Winter by Samuel W. Gailey, 304 pages, 2/19/14, highly recommended
39. The Troop by Nick Cutter, 368 pages, 2/21/14, highly recommended
40. The Wives of Los Alamos by TaraShea Nesbit, 240 pages,  2/24/14, highly recommended
41. A Man Came Out of a Door in the Mountain by Adrianne Harun, 272 pages, 2/25/14, highly recommended
42. The Sound of Broken Glass by Deborah Crombie, 384 pages, 2/26/14, highly recommended

March – 13 books
*43. The Weight of Blood by Laura McHugh, 320 pages, 3/1/14, very highly recommended
44. The Chase by Janet Evanovich and Lee Goldberg, 320 pages, 3/2/14, highly recommended 
45. Precious Thing by Colette McBeth, 304 pages, 3/4/14, highly recommended
46. Above by Isla Morley, 384 pages, 3/5/14, so-so
47. The Accident by Chris Pavone, 400 pages, 3/7/14, highly recommended
48. The Detainee by Peter Liney, 352 pages, 3/11/14, highly recommended
*49. The Boy Who Stole from the Dead by Orest Stelmach, 368 pages, 3/12/14, very highly recommended
50. Apocalypse by Dean Crawford, 416 pages, 3/19/14, recommended
51. Welcome to Mars by Ken Hollings, 304 pages, 3/19/14, highly recommended
52. Distortion by Terri Blackstock, 352 pages, 3/22/14, highly recommended
53. For Rent: Dangerous Paradise by Eric James Miller, 420 pages, 3/26/14, highly recommended
*54. Byrd by Kim Church, 228 pages, 3/30/14, very highly recommended
55. Not for Nothing by Stephen Graham Jones, 298 pages, 3/31/14, recommended

April – 22 books
56. Dark Eden by Chris Beckett, 448 pages, 4/1/14, so-so
57. Love and Treasure by Ayelet Waldman, 352 pages, 4/2/14, highly recommended
58. And the Dark Sacred Night by Julia Glass,400 pages,  4/4/14, recommended
59. Worst. Person. Ever. by Douglas Coupland, 304 pages, 4/6/14, recommended
60. The Here and Now by Ann Brashares, 256 pages, 4/7/14, recommended
61. Waiting for Wednesday by Nicci French, 384 pages, 4/7/14, highly recommended
*62. A Letter for My Mother by Nina Foxx, 240 pages, 4/9/14, very highly recommended
63. Saucer: Savage Planet by Stephen Coonts, 352 pages, 4/9/14, recommended
64. All the Birds, Singing by Evie Wyld, 240 pages, 4/13,14, highly recommended
65. Until You're Mine by Samantha Hayes, 368 pages, 4/14/14, highly recommended
66. Under a Silent Moon by Elizabeth Haynes, 368 pages, 4/17/14, highly recommended
67. Chop Chop by Simon Wroe, 288, 4/17/14, highly recommended
68. Casebook by Mona Simpson, 336 pages, 4/18/14, highly recommended
69. When We Fall by Peter Giglio, 220 pages, 4/19/14, highly recommended
*70. Tell Me One Thing by Deena Goldstone, 272 pages, 4/21/14, very highly recommended  short stories 
*71. Thunderstruck & Other Stories by Elizabeth McCracken, 240 pages, 4/22/14, very highly recommended short stories
72. Ruin Falls by Jenny Milchman, 352 pages, 4/23/14, recommended
73. Intervention: The Pandora Virus by WRR Munro, 340 pages, 4/24/14, highly recommended
74. Death Below Zero by Richard Anderson, 334 pages, 4/25/14, recommended
75. What Remains by Kay Holland, 141 pages, 4/26/14, not recommended
76. The Unraveling of Reverend G by RJ Thesman, 206 pages, 4/27/14, highly recommended
77. How Not to Calm a Child on a Plane by Johanna Stein, 256 pages, 4/28/14, highly recommended

May -20 books
78. Frankenstorm by Ray Garton, 352 pages, 5/8/14, recommended
*79. The Painter by Peter Heller, 384 pages, 5/8/14, very highly recommended
80. Delicious! by Ruth Reichl, 400 pages, 5/9/14, highly recommended
81. The Day She Died by Catriona McPherson, 5/10/14, recommended
82. Good Call by Jase Robertson, 256 pages, 5/11/14, highly recommended
83. Dante's Poison by Lynne Raimondo, 271 pages, 5/11/14, highly recommended
*84. The Possibilities by Kaui Hart Hemmings, 288 pages, 5/12/14, very highly recommended
85. Remember Me Like This by Bret Anthony Johnston, 384 pages, 5/13/14, highly recommended
*86. The Noble Hustle by Colson Whitehead, 256 pages, 5/14/14, very highly recommended, nonfiction
87. The New Reality by Stephen Martino, 336 pages, 5/15/14, highly recommended
*88. The Good Spy by Kai Bird, 448 pages, 5/17/14, very highly recommended nonfiction
89. The Son by Jo Nesbo, 416 pages, 5/17/14, highly recommended
90. Decompression by Juli Zeh, 272 pages, 5/19/20, so-so
*91. Closed Doors by Lisa O'Donnell, 256 pages, 5/20/14, very highly recommended
92. The Man with the Compound Eyes by Wu Ming-Yi, 304 pages, 5/22/14, recommended
*93. The Map Thief by Michael Blanding, 5/22/14, 320 pages, very highly recommended, nonfiction
*94. Blast, Corrupt, Dismantle, Erase edited by Grubisic, Baxter, and Lee, 450 pages, 5/22/14, very highly recommended nonfiction
95. Green Girl by Kate Zambreno, 100 pages read, 5/25/14, not recommended
96. Reach for Infinity edited by Jonathan Strahan, 352 pages, 5/27/14, highly recommended
97. Problems with People: Stories by David Guterson, 176 pages, 5/29/14, highly recommended

June - 20
98. The Travel Writer by Jeff Soloway, 240 pages, 6/1/14, recommended
*99. The Red Hot Fix by T. E. Woods, 288 pages, 6/3/14 very highly recommended
100. SynBio by Leslie Horvitz, 415 pages,  6/4/14, so-so
101. Shirley by Susan Scarf Merrell, 288 pages, 6/5/14, recommended
102. Love Will make You Drink & Gamble, Stay Out Late at Night by Shelly Lowenopf, 186 pages, 6/6/14 highly recommended
**103. Elizabeth is Missing by Emma Healey, 320 pages, 6/7/14, very highly recommended
104. The Rise & Fall of Great Powers by Tom Rachman, 6/9/14, 400 pages, highly recommended
105. Memory of Water by Emmi Itäranta, 272 pages, 6/10/14, highly recommended
106. The Fever by Megan Abbott, 320 pages, 6/11/14, highly recommended
107. Robopocalypse by Daniel H. Wilson, 350 pages, 6/12/14, recommended
108. Robogenesis by Daniel H. Wilson, 384 pages, 6/13/14, highly recommended
109. That Night by Chevy Stevens, 384 pages, 6/14/14,  highly recommended
110. Total Loss Farm  by Raymond Mungo, 176 pages, 6/15/14, recommended
*111. A Better World by Marcus Sakey, 390 pages, 6/16/14, very highly recommended
112. North of Normal by Cea Sunrise Person, 352 pages, 6/17/14, highly recommended
*113. Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng, 304 pages, 6/23/14, very highly recommended
114. Sanctuary by G. Michael Hopf, 368 pages, 6/25/14, recommended
*115. Cop Town by Karin Slaughter, 416 pages, 6/28/14, very highly recommended
116. Don't Talk to Strangers by Amanda Kyle Williams, 336 pages, 6/29/14, highly recommended
117. ExtraLife, Inc. by Kfir Luzzatto, 308 pages, 6/30/14, recommended

July – 20 books
*118. How to Tell Toledo from the Night Sky by Lydia Netzer, 352 pages, 7/1/14, very highly recommended
119. Dollbaby by Laura Lane McNeal, 352 pages, 7/3/14, recommended
120. Critical Damage by Robert K. Lewis, 312 pages, 7/4/14, highly recommended
*121. The Skeleton Crew by Deborah Halber, 304 pages, 7/6/14, very highly recommended, nonfiction
122. Forsaking Home by A. American, 416 pages,7/7/14, recommended
123. The Infinity Program by Richard H. Hardy, 250 pages, 7/10/14, recommended
124. Hurricane Fever by Tobias S. Buckell, 272 pages, 7/11/14, very highly recommended 125. The Panopticon by Jenni Fagan, 320 pages, 7/13/14, highly recommended
126. The Forever Man by Pierre Ouellette, 340 pages, 7/14/14, very highly recommended
127. The Mockingbird Next Door: Life with Harper Lee by Marja Mills, 288 pages, 7/15/14, highly recommended
128. But I Love You by Peter Rosch, 282 pages, 7/16/14, highly recommended
129. Isolation by Denise R. Stephenson, 396 pages, 7/17/14, highly recommended
*130. Sing in the Morning, Cry at Night by Barbara J. Taylor, 256 pages, 7/18/14, very highly recommended
131. The City by Dean Koontz, 416 pages, 7/20/14, very highly recommended
*132. Road Ends by Mary Lawson, 352 pages, 7/22/14, very highly recommended
133. Don't Worry about the Kids by Jay Neugeboren, 178 pages, 7/23/14, highly recommended
134. Lucky Us by Amy Bloom, 256 pages, highly recommended, 7/24/14
135. The Good Girl by Mary Kubica, 352 pages, 7/25/14, highly recommended
**136. Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty, 480 pages, 7/28/14, very highly recommended
137. When Grief Calls Forth the Healing by Mary Rockefeller Morgan, 236 pages, 7/31/14, highly recommended

August – 11 books
138. A History of the Future  by James Howard Kunstler, 336 pages, 8/1/14, highly recommended
139. All We Had by Annie Weatherwax, 272 pages, 8/2/14, highly recommended
140. California by Edan Lepucki, 400 pages, 8/4/14, so-so
*141. The 6th Extinction by James Rollins, 448 pages, 8/7/14, very highly recommended
142. The House We Grew Up In by Lisa Jewell, 400 pages, 8/12/14, very highly recommended
**143. A Song for Issy Bradley by Carys Bray, 352 pages, 8/17/14, very highly recommended
144. One of Us by Tawni O'Dell, 304 pages, 8/20/14, highly recommended
145. The Story Hour by Thrity Umrigar, 336 pages, 8/24/14, recommended
146. Don't Look Back by Gregg Hurwitz, 400 pages, 8/24/14, highly recommended
147. American Cornball by Christopher Miller, 544 pages, 8/27/14, very highly recommended
148. Sweetness #9 by Stephan Eirik Clark, 352 pages, 8/27/14, highly recommended

September -14 books
149. Lighthouse Island by Paulette Jiles, 416 pages, 9/1/14, highly recommended
150. The Secret Place by Tana French, 464 pages, 9/6/14, highly recommended
151. Such Good Girls by R. D. Rosen, 288 pages, 9/7/14, very highly recommended, nonfiction
152. Yesterday's Kin by Nancy Kress, 192 pages, 9/7/14, highly recommended
*153. Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel, 352 pages, 9/9/14, very highly recommended
154. Ballroom by Alice Simpson, 304 pages, 9/11/14, recommended 
155. In Certain Circles by Elizabeth Harrower, 256 pages,  9/13/14, recommended 
**156. Stone Mattress by Margaret Atwood, 288 pages, 9/14/14, very highly recommended
*157. Living Courageously by Joyce Meyer, 272 pages, 9/16/14, very highly recommended
*158. The Early Science Fiction of Philip K. Dick by Philip K. Dick, 256 pages, 9/20/14, very highly recommended
*159. A Slip of the Keyboard by Terry Pratchett, 336 pages, 9/21/14, very highly recommended, nonfiction
160. To Dwell in Darkness by Deborah Crombie, 336 pages, 9/24/14, very highly recommended
161. How Can I Possibly Forgive? by Sara Horn, 208 pages, 9/27/14, highly recommended
*162. Painting Juliana by Martha Louise Hunter, 362 pages, 9/30/14, very highly recommended

October – 17 books
*163. Some Luck by Jane Smiley, 416 pages, 10/4/14, very highly recommended
164. The Forgotten Girl by David Bell, 448 pages, 10/5/14, highly recommended
165. Nora Webster by Colm Tóibín, 384 pages, 10/6/14, highly recommended
166. Reunion by Hannah Pittard, 288 pages, 10/7/14, highly recommended
167. Sharkman by Steve Alten, 272 pages, 10/9/14, recommended
**168. Crooked River by Valerie Geary, 336 pages, 10/11/14, very highly recommended
*169. Tinseltown by William J. Mann, 480 pages, 10/12/14, very highly recommended, nonfiction
170. Slow Road to Brownsville, David Reynolds, 400 pages, 10/12/14, recommended
*171. Stolen from the Garden by William Swanson, 288 pages, 10/12/14, very highly recommended, nonfiction
172. The River Is Dark by Joe Hart, 234 pages, 10/13/14, highly recommended
173. A Death in Vegas by Christopher Meeks, 180 pages, 10/15/14, highly recommended
*174. The Unforgivable Fix by T. E. Woods, 300 pages, 10/20/14, very highly recommended 
*175. The Lost Tribe of Coney Island by Claire Prentice, 416 pages, 10/22/14, very highly recommended, nonfiction
176. Fish Tails by Sheri S. Tepper, 720 pages, 10/15/14, highly recommended
177. The Killer Next Door by Alex Marwood, 400 pages, 10/26/14, highly recommended
178. Born into the Children of God by Natacha Tormey, 320 pages, 10/27/14, highly recommended
179. Twinkle by S. J. Parkinson, 572 pages, 10/30/14, very highly recommended

November – 13 books
180. Metrophage by Richard Kadrey, 320 pages, 11/1/14, recommended
181. Crazy is Normal: a classroom exposé by Lloyd Lofthouse, 386 pages, 11/3/14, highly recommended
182. The Winter Boy by Sally Wiener Grotta, 496 pages, 11/5/14, highly recommended
183. Mr. Bones: Twenty Stories by Paul Theroux, 368 pages, 11/8/14, very highly recommended
184. Hello From the Gillespies by Monica McInerney, 624 pages, 11/9/14, highly recommended
*185. Family Furnishings  by Alice Munro, 640 pages, 11/11/14, very highly recommended, short stories
*186. The Demon who Peddled Longing by Khanh Ha, 298 pages, 11/17/14, very highly recommended
*187. Blue Labyrinth by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child, 416 pages, 11/18/14, very highly recommended
188. Prism by Roland Allnach, 284 pages, 11/20/14, highly recommended, short stories
189. The Vineyard by Michael Hurley, 384 pages, 11/22/14, highly recommended
190. My Sister's Grave by Robert Dugoni, 410 pages, 11/23/14, highly recommended
191. The Sweetness of Life by Paulus Hochgatterer, 320 pages, 12/1/14
192. Her Brilliant Career  by Rachel Cooke, 368 pages, 11/30/14, highly recommended

December - 12 books
193. You Could Be Home By Now by Tracy Manaster, 288 pages, 12/6/14, highly recommended
*194. No Mercy by Eleanor Learmonth, Jenny Tabakoff, 324 pages, 12/13/14, very highly recommended nonfiction
195. Found, Near Water by Katherine Hayton, 214 pages, 12/20/14, highly recommended
196. The Peculiar Life of a Lonely Postman by Denis Theriault, 128 pages, 12/22/14, highly recommended
197. Glow by Ned Beauman, 256 pages, 12/23/14, recommended
*198. Too Many Lovers by Paul Taylor, 248 pages, 12/23/14, very highly recommended
**199. Too Many Lovers: a Guide to Freedom from Idolatry by Paul Taylor, 129 pages, 12/23/14, very highly recommended
200. The Walk Home by Rachel Seiffert, 304 pages, 12/25/14, highly recommended
201. Descent by Tim Johnston, 384 pages, 12/26/14, highly recommended
202. Almost Famous Women by Megan Mayhew Bergman, 256 pages, 12/27/14, highly recommended 
203. The Poison Secret by Gregg Loomis, 352 pages, 12/28/14, highly recommend
204. As Chimney Sweepers Come to Dust by Alan Bradley, 416 pages, 12/29/14, highly recommended

Monday, December 29, 2014

As Chimney Sweepers Come to Dust

As Chimney Sweepers Come to Dust by Alan Bradley
Random House: 1/6/2015
eBook, 416 pages
ISBN-13: 9780345539939
Flavia de Luce Series #7

Banished! is how twelve-year-old Flavia de Luce laments her predicament, when her father and Aunt Felicity ship her off to Miss Bodycote’s Female Academy, the boarding school that her mother, Harriet, once attended across the sea in Canada. The sun has not yet risen on Flavia’s first day in captivity when a gift lands at her feet. Flavia being Flavia, a budding chemist and sleuth, that gift is a charred and mummified body, which tumbles out of a bedroom chimney. Now, while attending classes, making friends (and enemies), and assessing the school’s stern headmistress and faculty (one of whom is an acquitted murderess), Flavia is on the hunt for the victim’s identity and time of death, as well as suspects, motives, and means. Rumors swirl that Miss Bodycote’s is haunted, and that several girls have disappeared without a trace. When it comes to solving multiple mysteries, Flavia is up to the task—but her true destiny has yet to be revealed.

My Thoughts:

As Chimney Sweepers Come to Dust by Alan Bradley is the highly recommended seventh book featuring the precocious chemist and toxicologist Flavia de Luce.

In As Chimney Sweepers Come to Dust Flavia has been sent away from her family home in Bishop’s Lacey, England, to Canada where she has been enrolled in her late mother’s alma mater, Miss Bodycote’s Female Academy. Flavia can immediately discern that "the faculty of Miss Bodycote’s Female Academy had one thing in common: They were all dead serious. There was no frivolity: no laughter and no lipstick." The academy is "the slap in the face with a velvet glove, the sting in the smile, the razor blade in the butter." Even in a new environment without her normal support and lab available, Flavia proves to be an intelligent, astute investigator.

On Flavia's first night at the academy another student, P.A. Collingwood, bursts into her room, pummeling her, until she realizes that Flavia is not the student she thought. Then, when an angry knock at the door makes it clear that the girls are about to get caught by Miss Fawlthorne, the head of school, Collingwood shimmers up the chimney to hide. This action results in a charred mummified body falling out of the chimney and the detached skull rolling across the floor.

Flavia likes nothing better than having a murder to solve. She learns that three girls have gone missing at the school. Could one of them be the body? Luckily, from all the movies Flavia has watched at the cinema with Daffy and Feely, Flavia already has a handle on her first foreign language and learned it well, so she is able to converse with the locals. Even in the new setting and apart from her normal set of confidantes, Flavia relishes trying to solve the murder mystery.

As Chimney Sweepers Come to Dust is a strong addition to the YA series that is enjoyed and heralded with equal fervor by many adults. It is a bit different from the others in the series because Bradley has set Flavia down in a totally new environment without her familiar people and tools available to help her investigation. This new setting requires some time spent on describing the new setting and characters. Bradley is up to the task and does an excellent job presenting this latest adventure. There will be a surprise at the end that should please fans.

Disclosure: My advanced reading copy for the Kindle was courtesy of Random House for review purposes.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

The Poison Secret

The Poison Secret by Gregg Loomis
Turner Publishing: 1/6/2015
eBook, 352 pages

ISBN-13: 9781630260064

In the year 88 BC, King Mithradates of Anatolia died suddenly after an apparent poisoning. His son, Prince Mithradates, then disappeared for seven years into the woods where he collected hemlock plants and other deadly poisons. Upon his return, he shared a fatal meal with his mother and brother. Mithradates, who ultimately became King, somehow left the meal unharmed.
In modern-day Turkey, a young boy endures a bite from a venomous viper. His doctor reports that the child experienced no ill effects and suggests the existence of a universal immunity in his blood, possibly as a descendant of Mithradates. And then the battle over his blood sample begins, attracting vigilantes who will stop at nothing to get their hands on the immunity. They even go so far as to steal young boy’s hematology reports—and then murder the doctor who made the discovery.
Word of the discovery made in his Holt Foundation children’s hospital quickly spreads across continents to Lang Reilly. Lang decides he and his wife, Gurt must travel to Turkey to get to the bottom of these tragic events. Soon after arriving in Trabzon, Turkey, Lang’s house is burglarized, his rental car is attacked by phony police officers, and his wife is abducted from their hotel room by members of the Turkish mafia. Lang’s life is not the only one in danger, and he must work fast to gain possession of the immunity before it is too late.
My Thoughts:

The Poison Secret by Gregg Loomis is a highly recommended thriller that will hold your attention from beginning to end.

The chapters alternate between the present day and the past. The story from the past goes back to 88 BC and tells the story of Prince Mithradates and his immunity to poisons.
In the present day in the Holt Foundation children’s hospital in Trabzon, Turkey, a young boy is discovered to possibly carry the genetic code for universal immunity. The folk stories about a family that carries a universal immunity go back in time:
"But the tales I had in mind were about a family who lived along the coast here a long time ago, a family who had some sort of immunity.”
“Immunity to what?” Fatima demanded.
“Just about everything or, at least, to known poisons.”
“And you think this child is one of them?”
“Fatima, I don’t know what to think. All I now is the blood of this child is as full of antidotes, anti-toxins and immunities as kuru fasuly is of beans. I do know I’ve never seen anything like it nor have any of the hematologists I know.”

Naturally, a sample of the boy's blood is sent to the Holt Foundation in the USA. The information about the boy and possible universal immunity is stolen and then the information is offered for a price to a pharmaceutical company:
“Gentlemen,” Grassley interrupted, “let’s look at a few facts: First, if this information is even close to accurate, that someone has discovered anything approaching what this man claims the correspondence says, five grand is nothing. The first company to get FDA approval of such a drug will make Viagra look like peanuts. Second, as you know, Dystra Pharmaceuticals has been limping along the last few years, producing generics once a drug’s patent expires along with half a dozen of our competitors. Mere crumbs from the big boys’ table. If we could get our hands on this serum or whatever it is . . . Well, move over Pfizer, get out of the way, Merck. Hell, this could be as big as Aspirin.”

The battle begins for possession of the blood sample and the name of the boy. Possession of both proves to be worth killing anyone who stands in the way. Paperwork is stolen and a doctor is killed over the information which sends the head of the Holt foundation, ex-CIA agent and practicing attorney Lang Reilly and his wife Gurt, a former German agent, traveling to Turkey in an attempt to find some answers.

Loomis keeps the action swiftly moving in this riveting seventh thriller featuring Lang Reilly. I know I haven't read all the Lang Reily novels but that didn't detract from the sheer enjoyment and escapism found in this latest offering. Loomis sets up the premise of the story in a credible way, and then delivers the goods. He keeps the plot moving forward, and the action rolling without  lecturing the reader about greedy drug companies. That's not to say that credulity isn't stretched from time to time, but that's part of what makes for a great international thriller. This would be a good stuck all night at the airport book or a great way to pass a cold, snowy evening.

Disclosure: My Kindle edition was courtesy of
Turner Publishing for review purposes.

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Almost Famous Women

Almost Famous Women by Megan Mayhew Bergman
Scribner: 1/6/2015
eBook, 256 pages
ISBN-13: 9781476786568

The fascinating lives of the characters in Almost Famous Women have mostly been forgotten, but their stories are burning to be told. Now Megan Mayhew Bergman, author of Birds of a Lesser Paradise, resurrects these women, lets them live in the reader’s imagination, so we can explore their difficult choices. Nearly every story in this dazzling collection is based on a woman who attained some celebrity—she raced speed boats or was a conjoined twin in show business; a reclusive painter of renown; a member of the first all-female, integrated swing band. We see Lord Byron’s illegitimate daughter, Allegra; Oscar Wilde’s troubled niece, Dolly; West With the Night author Beryl Markham; Edna St. Vincent Millay’s sister, Norma. These extraordinary stories travel the world, explore the past (and delve into the future), and portray fiercely independent women defined by their acts of bravery, creative impulses, and sometimes reckless decisions.

My Thoughts:

Almost Famous Women by Megan Mayhew Bergman is a highly recommended collection of fictionalized stories that are, in varying degrees, about women from history who were almost famous.

While these stories are best classified as historical fiction, Bergman did try to tie her characters actions into real historical details about their lives. Some of the almost famous women take the forefront in the stories as the main character while others play an accidental, footnote, also appearing role, much as they seemed to have done in life.  These are short, easy to read stories. Some of the women included are: Violet& Daisy Hilton, 'Joe' Carstairs, Lucia Joyce, Romaine Brooks, Norma Millay, Dolly Wilde, Butterfly McQueen, Tiny Davis, Hazel Watkins, Clara Byron, Beryl Markham, and the women of Bergen-Belsen.

Since it is often a fictionalized character other than the famous woman narrating the stories or telling their story, often the famous women play an incidental part in the story. I was a bit disappointed that the woman didn't have a bit more crucial role in all of the stories. As with any collection there were some stories I enjoyed more than others. There were also a couple stories that seemed repetitive rather than unique. Still, the well written stories all left me wanting more. It was great to have a list of resources Bergman used to research the lives of the women included at the end of the collection.

Disclosure: My Kindle edition was courtesy of Scribner for review purposes.

Friday, December 26, 2014


Descent by Tim Johnston
Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill: 1/6/2015
eBook, 384 pages
ISBN-13: 9781616203047

The Rocky Mountains have cast their spell over the Courtlands, a young family from the plains taking a last summer vacation before their daughter begins college. For eighteen-year-old Caitlin, the mountains loom as the ultimate test of her runner’s heart, while her parents hope that so much beauty, so much grandeur, will somehow repair a damaged marriage. But when Caitlin and her younger brother, Sean, go out for an early morning run and only Sean returns, the mountains become as terrifying as they are majestic, as suddenly this family find themselves living the kind of nightmare they’ve only read about in headlines
or seen on TV.

As their world comes undone, the Courtlands are drawn into a vortex of dread and recrimination. Why weren’t they more careful? What has happened to their daughter? Is she alive? Will they ever know? Caitlin’s disappearance, all the more devastating for its mystery, is the beginning of the family’s harrowing journey down increasingly divergent and solitary paths until all that continues to bind them together are the questions they can never bring themselves to ask: At what point does a family stop searching? At what point will a girl stop fighting for her life?

Written with a precision that captures every emotion, every moment of fear, as each member of the family searches for answers, Descent is a perfectly crafted thriller that races like an avalanche toward its heart-pounding conclusion, and heralds the arrival of a master storyteller.

My Thoughts:

Descent by Tim Johnston is a highly recommended thriller/family drama.

"A daughter was your life; it was as simple as that. Her body was the only body, her heart the only heart. The most absolute, the most terrible love."

Grant and Angela Courtland have taken their children, Caitland and Sean, on a last summer vacation in Colorado before their daughter Caitland starts college in the fall. When Caitland and Sean leave their hotel for an early morning run (Caitland) and an accompanying bikre ride (Sean) in the mountains. Only Sean comes back and his return is via a hospital stay for a badly broken leg. Caitland has seemingly disappeared after accepting a ride from a stranger in an effort to get Sean help.

Suddenly the Courtlands are a family with a missing daughter and a broken son. The whole family begins to implode under the tremendous emotional toll they are undergoing between Caitland's disappearance and Sean's recovery. Weeks become months and then years. Angela stays at the family's home in Wisconsin, slowly falling apart while Grant stays in Colorado, helping an elderly man while hoping to find clues leading to Caitland's return. Sean takes off in his dad's truck and crosses the country on his own adventure before circumstances send him back to Colorado.

Descent by Tim Johnston shows how a single choice can change so many circumstances for each of his characters.. While the writing is elegant and poetic, the actual development of all his very flawed characters is somewhat lacking. Angela's character is the least fully formed, while the development of Grant and Sean is based more on their actions than any real insight into their psyche. Descent, although beautifully written, was rather slow going until the plot took a turn part way through the book and became a more satisfying thriller and less family drama. The tension is ratcheted way up at this point and the narrative will firmly hold your attention to the end.

Disclosure: My Kindle edition was courtesy of
Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill for review purposes.

Thursday, December 25, 2014

The Walk Home

The Walk Home by Rachel Seiffert
Knopf Doubleday: 7/8/2014
eBook, 304 pages
ISBN-13: 9780307908810

Stevie comes from a long line of people who have cut and run. Just like he has.
Only he’s not so sure he was right to go. He’s been to London, taught himself to get by, and now he’s working as a laborer not so far from his childhood home in Glasgow. But Stevie hasn’t told his family—what’s left of them—that he’s back. Not yet.
He’s also not far from his uncle Eric, another one who left—for love this time. Stevie’s toughened himself up against that emotion. And as for his mother, Lindsey . . . well, she ran her whole life. From her father and Ireland, from her husband, and eventually from Stevie, too.
Moving between Stevie’s contemporary Glaswegian life and the story of his parents when they were young, The Walk Home is a powerful novel about the risk of love, and the madness and betrayals that can split a family. Without your past, who are you? Where does it leave you when you go against your family, turn your back on your home; when you defy the world you grew up in? If you cut your ties, will you cut yourself adrift? Yearning to belong exerts a powerful draw, and Stevie knows there are still people waiting for him to walk home.
An extraordinarily deft and humane writer, Rachel Seiffert tells us the truth about love and about hope.

My Thoughts:

The Walk Home by Rachel Seiffert is a highly recommended novel set in Glasgow about conflict, loss, and the nature of what is a home.

Opening in the present day Glasgow with Polish construction foreman Jozef hoping to earn enough money to allow him to go back to Gdansk, Poland, and reunite with his estranged wife, we also meet Glasgow native Stevie, an enigmatic young man, who is now working on the Polish construction crew. The story then goes back in time and we meet Stevie's parents, Graham and Lindsey as well as his grandmother (Graham's mother) Brenda, and learn about the troubles with the family black sheep, her brother Eric.

The Walk Home follows three main narrative threads:  Graham and Lindsey, his uncle Eric, and Polish Jozef. This is a novel of exiles, but also one of family tensions and troubles over the generations. Much of the tension is associated with the historic Irish Troubles as well as a familiar strain of brutality that runs through the family. There are topics that are off limits and never discussed. While all these family members need each other, their personal pain keeps them apart and there is no chance for healing.

The prose in this well written novel is simultaneously graceful, but also sparse and controlled, almost reflecting the dysfunctional  inner life of her characters. Seiffert's use of the Glasgow dialect is both authentic and a monumental struggle (at times) for this American reader. While I'm highly recommending The Walk Home, the time it took for me to fully comprehend the written dialect should be noted

Disclosure: My Kindle edition was courtesy of Knopf Doubleday for review purposes.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Too Many Lovers: book and study guide

Too Many Lovers by Paul Taylor
AuthorHouse: 9/23/2010
Trade Paperback, 248 pages
ISBN-13: 9781452037059

This book is a wake-up call for Christians who are suffering from the rampant - yet unrecognized - effects caused by the deception of idolatry. Idolatry is not an outdated practice of extinct religions; it is very much alive and flourishing today. Most Christians who practice idolatry aren't even aware of it. They are suffering spiritually, emotionally, and even physically but can't connect the dot between their misery and their practice of idolatry.
How does it happen? Instead of giving the best of our love to the God who deserves it, many Christians have gradually fallen more and more in love with what God created, instead of the Creator himself. With our lips we tell God we love Him, but our everyday thoughts and actions may be revealing that we have other "lovers." These so called lovers seem innocent enough because they offer to give us what we want. But in the end, they betray us by taking the best of what God has given, only to leave us poor, empty, and dead inside.

My Thoughts:

Too Many Lovers: Uncovering the Deception of Idolatry by Paul Taylor is a very highly recommended book that challenges Christians to examine who or what they are truly devoted to and serving.  
"An idol can be anything or anyone other than God who we believe will give us happiness, fulfillment, security, destiny, power, love, comfort, or pleasure instead of finding those same things in God. We make the idol a false 'god' by giving it our devotion, attention, affection, and resources in exchange for what it gives us." (page 9) Looking at that reality alone immediately puts up red flags on things that any of us can make into idols:  money, alcohol, a job, sports teams, food, drugs... the list could go on and on. Taylor points out that one of the most perilous idols is self-love. "We can become consumed with OUR needs, wishes, desires, pleasures, and rights ; and we act aggressively if anyone or anything stands in our way." (page 11)  

But the treachery of having idols in our lives is much more insidious. "The most dangerous idol is the one you don't want to give up. The second most dangerous idol... is the one you don't see." (page 119) Taylor goes on to give a long list of things that may be idols to people - and chances are more than one item will hit home and make you question your devotion to these idols in your life.  

What is extremely helpful though is working through the study guide along with reading the book. 

Too Many Lovers a Guide to Freedom from Idolatry by Paul Taylor
AuthorHouse: 1/19/2012
Trade Paperback, 129 pages
ISBN-13: 9781468539882

Me? Have a problem with idols? You've got to be kidding! That's just something that was practiced by people in ancient religions who weren't as well educated as we are today . . . right? If this was your first thought, you couldn't be more wrong! The problem of idols and idolatry is not an outdated practice of extinct religions; it's actually alive and flourishing today in our "modern" society. True, our current idols aren't typically made of wood, stone, or gold. That's because idolatry is simply the act of loving and worshipping something or someone more than the one person who actually deserves it - God Himself. So by this definition, we can turn anything or anyone into our personal idol -and we will suffer for it! Most people, even Christians, who practice idolatry aren't even aware of it, but here they are suffering spiritually, emotionally, and even physically but can't seem to connect the dots between misery and the practice of idolatry. This study guide was developed to help people find out if idolatry is a bigger problem than you realized. It was put together to help you - and maybe a group of your friends - get real and get honest with each other and with God. This guide was designed to complement the book, Too Many Lovers and to go deeper into God's truth together.
My Thoughts:  

Too Many Lovers: a Guide to Freedom from Idolatry by Paul Taylor is a very highly recommended study guide that will challenge you weed out the things you may be making into idols in your own life.  

This study guide to Too Many Lovers is an excellent resource to help small groups identify what idols they may have in their own lives that need to be removed. The study guide can be used independently from the book or as a supplement. Certainly the study guide will help you focus in on what you may be making into an idol and what God's Word says. The study guide is organized into 4 units that encompass a total of 10 lessons.  Each lesson includes scripture and a memory verse. At the end of the lesson is a summary box with key points from the lesson and reflection questions to help bring the key points home and guide the course of a group study. At the end of each of the four units there are life application questions to assist group members to privately reflect on what is being revealed to them personally. The guide ends with lessons on how to live an idol free life.
This was actually one of the best and most helpful small group studies I have done.


Contents include:

Unit 1. Idolatry Then and Now
Session 1. Becoming Aware of Idols
Session 2. Uncovering the Idolatrous Heart

Unit 2. God, Our Faithful Partner
Session 3. God is a Lover
Session 4. Idolatry from God's Perspective

Unit 3. The Cost of Idolatry
Session 5. On Our Lives
Session 6. On the Church
Session 7. On Our Nation & the Environment

Unit 4. Releasing the grip of Idols.
Session 8. Recognition and Repentance
Session 9. Removing Idols
Session 10. Idol-free Living