Reviews of what you should be reading next.

Month: August 2014

The Fantastic Laboratory of Dr Weigl by Arthur Allen

fantastic laboratory

The subtitle of this book is “How two brave scientists battled typhus and sabotaged the Nazis”. Those scientists are Polish zoologist Rudolf Weigl, an unsung and mostly forgotten hero of WW2, and Ludwig Fleck, a Jewish immunologist. Both men were condemned to Buchenwald and commanded by the Nazis to concoct a vaccine against typhus, a disease equated with Jews and feared more than almost anything else.

Typhus is spread by lice, and to create this vaccine it had to be obtained from live lice, that were nourished by inmates of the concentration camp. Originally there were lice that didn’t carry typhus, and so they were given the disease, allowed to feed on human blood, and then they were sacrificed and their intestines removed and made into a kind of slurry. That’s the basic way, I suppose. However, it’s not that easy to do; but these brave men in the lab convinced the Nazis that they DID make a vaccine. And they did! Thousands of doses were sent up to Germans at the front. Those vaccines didn’t prevent anything. The small batches of protective vaccines were secretly distributed at the camps to prisoners. Gutsy!

This book has everything: stories of how Jews were abused, scientific theory, intrigue (will the lying scientists get caught?) and morality (some medical personnel felt that creating a fake vaccine went against their “do no harm” tenet and wanted to truly protect the Nazis against typhus).

Sprinkled throughout the book are tidbits of Nazi behavior, such as “The camp commander, Fritz Gebauer, was generally mild-mannered but occasionally needed to strangle a woman, an action that produced a state of red-faced passion.” That is a sentence that is hard to top. Any Holocaust deniers out there: read this book. There is NO WAY that all this was made up. Realize this now.

While I read this book, I kept thinking that the Nazis weren’t really all that gullible, were they? Apparently so. They were more interested in abusing the prisoners than checking on the scientific methods being used. The political intrigue and back stabbing gets convoluted as former enemies become friends, and vice versa.

I did learn a lot about typhus, which is always a plus for me. Give me plague and pestilence and I’m a happy camper. I also marveled at the resilience and strength of the prisoners and displaced Polish Jews of the story. Time after time I shook my head in amazement after finishing a gory paragraph or three.

This book explains an important and mostly unknown back story of WW2, and I feel better for having read it. The resilience of the human spirit is truly wonderful.

You can get a copy of your own here!















The Skin Collector by Jeffrey Deaver


Lincoln Rhyme’s 11th outing is about the same as the previous ones; the forensic genius is irascible and impatient, Amelia Sachs is tortured by claustrophobia and is still driving on the sidewalks of New York City, and there is a sicko murdering innocent people. The plot suggests that there is a link between aforementioned sicko and the Bone Collector, except this guy murders his victims by tattooing them and then injecting them with poison during the finishing touches.

I did learn more about tattooing, and I also learned not to go into the basement, no matter what was happening. I also came to the realization that if I never read the phrase “walk the grid” again, it would be too soon.

Subplots are many here: undercover cops at a funeral, (the deceased is Rhyme’s nemesis The Watchman) Amelia struggling with the odd behavior of her “foster” daughter Pam, a view into the Skin Collector’s family. I felt that the book dragged a great deal in spots and at times I had to force myself to keep going. Honestly, I felt that Billy Haven was a boring character.

Yes, there are the obligatory Deaver twists and turns in the plot, and then it doubles back on itself….but after I read the last page I felt nothing. Well, maybe some excitement that the ordeal was finally over and I could read something else.

I’d recommend this for hardcore Deaver fans only.

Confessions of a Sociopath by M.E. Thomas


confessions sociopath


Sociopaths are hot topics now, apparently, as this is the second book I’ve read recently with this subject matter. What makes this one different is that it’s written by an actual, authentic, self proclaimed and later-diagnosed, sociopath. She describes her life from childhood, as she grows up, interacts with others, and ponders (ad nauseum) her every move and why she is wonderful.

Goodreads has so many scathing reviews on this book, I laughed out loud. Unfortunately, here is another one to throw on the pile. I realize that she is a sociopath, and that she is expected to be a megalomaniac and self promoting. However, her stories seem full of detail, all contradictory. She will say she had an awful childhood and was beaten, then later on she will wax nostalgic about how her parents loved her and did nothing but the best for her.  Most of her tales describe how she has no emotion, for a crying friend, for animals that need help, for no one and nothing. I found this to be tiresome after the first third of the book. By page 166 I loathed her, not for her alleged sociopathy, but for her boring writing style and major self absorption. I think this person, if she really does exist, has Borderline Personality Disorder. Her exploits at using and “ruining” (her words) people just made me roll my eyes and want to smack her. Actually, leaving her alone and not basking in the glow of her wonderfulness would probably hurt her more.

Oh, but that’s right–she has no emotion. Other than that, she is perfect in every way, and is making the world better by her cunning ways and ability to cut through to what is needed most.

I can’t even write this review without rolling my eyes and sneering. Sorry. And as a final note, one I’ve not seen mentioned in any other reviews, is that her use of a certain italic font, is disturbing and disconcerting. I’m not sure of the typeface, but it’s very hard to read, due to the unusual way the “s” is printed. This, most of all, made me want to throw this book across the room.

Don’t waste your time or money reading this. It was awful.  If you do not heed my warning and wish to slog through it anyway;  here is the Random House page on the book.

I received this book from Blogging for Books in exchange for this honest review.

If, for whatever reason, you decide that you want to own this tripe for yourself, you can get it here.

The Fever by Megan Abbott

The fever

Once again Megan Abbott has written a dark, sensuous novel that captures perfectly the heart and soul of the teenage girl, complete with drama, love, pain, and subterfuge. Her prose is exquisite, putting words to simple things and making you see those things differently; such as the description of how the main character wishes she could be alone with her friend the way they used to be: “Ever since the first week of school freshman year, it had been hard to find Gabby alone–at least at school, where girls hung from her like tassels.”

Anguished and picture perfect girls populate an average high school where things become frantic after one student has a seizure in class. More and more girls follow suit, while rumors fly and friends stay up all night texting and eyeing everyone with suspicion.

Abbott is the master of teenage angst, deeper and much more twisty than many realize. No one in the town knows where this strange illness is coming from, and I was not able to see the end coming a mile away, as you can with some mysteries. Yes, the quality of the plot is as wonderful as the writing. I cannot imagine how it must be to grow up in a world where everything is recorded instantly on a cellphone and uploaded to the Internet before the event is even finished; yet this is the pull of the story. Who can be trusted? Are these videos helping or hurting? Is everything really what it seems to be?

I devoured this book in two days, wishing alternatively that I was a teenager again, and then being glad that I wasn’t. If you liked Abbott’s previous novel Dare Me, you will love this one as well. Let me know what you think! You can get a copy here.

The Soul of All Living Creatures by Vint Varga, DVM

Dr Vint Varga knows animals. He has practiced veterinary medicine for decades, first as an emergency room vet, then a specialist in veterinary behavior medicine.

Early on in his career, he realized that a strong connection could be made between humans and animals, enough to cause healing on both sides. The Soul of All Living Creatures is a quick read filled with real stories and real patients Dr Varga has seen during his career. Each chapter is titled with the name of a human emotional trait, and he goes on to explain how animals embody these traits as well. If we can learn to understand our pets better, we will learn something about ourselves in the process.

The introduction to the book has tear-jerking potential. Varga tells us about a dog that is hit by a car, and how the dog failed to thrive despite his excellent medical care. I’m not giving anything away here…but you will nod your head when you how things turned out.

Bloodhounds, mice , clouded leopards….all non human creatures are the same to the good doctor, as he illustrates the chapter’s subject (sensitivity, integrity, forgiveness, etc) with short tales about patients that he has seen and tried to fix/cure, with thorough analysis of the animal’s behavior and listening to those who know the creatures best.

Varga believes that “in the presence of animals, we find true acceptance” and so we can be ourselves in front of our dog or cat. He says that he remembers each case not only for what illness the patient had, but recalls the bond that was shared between the pet and the owner.

Interspersed throughout the book are short fables and folk tales that also illustrate Varga’s point, as well as little snippets of his own wisdom, such as “When one behavior is not expressed, another behavior will take its place” and “When we limit our experience to what we perceive, we let our senses define our existence”.  Despite all this home grown sentiment, the book is not overly touchy-feely. What is obvious is Varga’s love and compassion for those who cannot tell their own story, and how he does his best to help every one he can, even to the point of rescuing a tiny field mouse that was helpless on a busy road during a torrential rainstorm.

My only complaint with the book was that we never got to hear how most of the patients did after the treatment. It was as if they dropped off the face of the earth with no follow up. I was really curious to see if his instinct and healing methods worked. That being said, this book would make a great addition to an animal lover’s library.

If you would like to enjoy this book as I did, click here to get a copy of your own!

Interested in what the New York Times said about this book? Click here.

Thanks to the publisher, Broadway Books for providing me with this review copy. I received this book from Blogging for Books in exchange for this honest review.


Guilt By Association by Marcia Clark



Guilt by Association

Thanks to NetGalley  for giving me this book in exchange for an honest review.

This book is number one in a series about fictitious Los Angeles DA Rachel Knight, who bends the law just a bit to help solve crimes. The cast of regulars wasn’t too hard to keep up with, and their personalities were different enough that I didn’t get them confused. That is a win. Second, the plot held my interest (her colleague is found violently dead under dubious circumstances) and it was mostly plausible. Her cop friends take her along to question suspects, and she uses HER contacts in the Justice Building to find short cuts and get inside information.

Her residence is in a high priced hotel, and there are a lot of scenes where she and her cronies are getting room service, boozing up at the hotel bar, and living luxuriously. This woman does NOT cook at home. In fact, I was annoyed at a plot point that had her car vandalized and her subsequent bemoaning the lack of funds to repair it. I actually said out loud to my Nook “Maybe if you didn’t go to fancy restaurants so much you could save some cash! Nuke a frozen dinner for god’s sake!”

Sumptuous dining aside, this debut novel had minimal courtroom drama, lots of sleazy and colorful characters, and was written smoothly, with wisecracks and pathos alike. Author Marcia Clark was the lead prosecutor in the OJ Simpson trial and knows the inside scoop. Think John Grisham, but less down-homey and more fast action. I’m curious to see which characters reappear in book #2. As of this writing there are four Rachel Knight books, and editions marked 1.5, 1.6, and 2.5. Number 4 was published this year, and I hope to get to it in a timely fashion. I’m really excited to find another series with a lead character I want to follow, a la John Sandford and Lee Child. No smarmy girl protagonist here; Knight is a strong woman.  This one is a “gimme” for sure.

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