Nonfiction — A Taste For Poison

A Taste For Poison:  Eleven Deadly Molecules and the Killers Who Used Them by Neil Bradbury

Expected Publication Date:  February 1, 2022 by St. Martin’s Press

Four out of Five stars

For the month of October, I wanted to find some nonfiction that would tie in with my favorite holiday, Halloween.  After looking at titles involving ghost hunting, unsolved mysteries, and even witchcraft, I happened upon this one on NetGalley and I couldn’t resist.  I mean, really, what’s scarier than a tiny molecule capable of killing within seconds?!

With A Taste For Poison, my inner science geek got to hold hands with my inner true crime junkie, embarking on a dark and interesting journey.  This book is primarily science-based, with each chapter focusing on a different poison that has been used for both good and evil through the ages.  Bradbury explains the origins of each, as well as a pretty detailed account of the poison’s  effects on the human body (let me tell you, it’s not pretty!).  He breaks them down into two categories:  biomolecules (ricin, digoxin, insulin, atropine, strychnine, aconite, and cyanide) and molecules from the earth (chlorine, arsenic, polonium, and potassium round out this section).  There are historical notes as well, especially on the subject of creating accurate testing/detection methods which helped in the early prosecutions of those who thought they could get away with murder.

For those who enjoy the true crime aspect, Bradbury introduces us to various criminals who have used these poisons as their weapons of choice.  Many of the cases are much older (1800’s to early 1900’s) but there are a few from more recent times, including the man who laced several bottles of tonic water at a local grocery store with atropine just to get to his wife, and the former spy who died a terribly slow and painful death from polonium poisoning.  Compared to the scientific explanations, I found the true crime aspect to be a bit lacking at times.  Even though they were thoroughly researched and well presented, I thought some of them just didn’t rise to the same level as the scientific narratives  (or perhaps it was the case studies themselves that lacked a certain shock factor, I’m not sure).

What I enjoyed most about this book is Bradbury’s writing style.  While the information can be overwhelming at times, it is written to be easily accessed and understood by everyone.  Even with such a weighty topic, he keeps the narration on the lighter side, with some darker humor thrown in as well.  In short, if you’re like me and have an inner science geek and/or inner true crime junkie, be sure to put this book on your 2022 reading list!

Happy Halloween!  Stay safe and Happy Reading!



Weekly Mash-Up #138

Book mail is always exciting, and this past week was no exception!

Not only did my order of Rings and Rust Belt Femme arrive, but I also received a new ARC that I won in a recent LibraryThing giveaway!  The Hidden sounds like it’s right up my alley, blending mystery/thriller with British folklore.  I’ll be diving into these in the very near future so be sure to look for my thoughts in upcoming mash-ups.

And if those weren’t exciting enough, check out this month’s NightWorms delivery!

The Last House on Needless Street has been on my must-read list since I first heard of it so finding it in this month’s package was truly fantastic!  I’m over halfway through and all I can say is “wow!”  Dark Matter is a 200+ page “magazine” that features a wide variety of short stories, poetry, and artwork from the science fiction and horror genres.  I’m seriously considering treating myself to a subscription for my upcoming birthday.

While I didn’t get a lot of reading in, I did manage to finish a couple of books.

The Week in Books

The Narrows by Ronald Malfi — 4 out of 5 stars

(H 21/31)  One of Malfi’s earlier works is the story of a small town harboring deadly secrets…and some pretty nasty creatures.  I thought this was a perfect Halloween read, even though it was a bit predictable.  The twist on the vampire was unexpected and truly creepy.  Recommended for fans of moderate horror.

City of Ash and Red by Hye-Young Pyun — 3 out of 5 stars

I picked up this book based on the cover synopsis promising a tale of a man stranded in a foreign country while a pandemic rages around him (sounds pretty timely, right?).  Well, not so much.  This is more the story of the main character’s personal failings, with flashbacks to events that have led him to his current state.    I agree with another reviewer’s comment that this book leaves you feeling filthy; from the reeking garbage and systematic rat deaths to the filthy soul of the unnamed main character, it’s not light reading by any means.  The writing was impressive, but for me the story was unsatisfying.

Stay safe and Happy Reading!


Weekly Mash-Up #137

I started this week’s mash-up with lofty goals of talking about Halloween, social media, autumn preparations, but…

Fx Networks Shadowsfx GIF by What We Do in the Shadows

The Week in Books

The Queen of the Cicadas by V. Castro — 4 out of 5 stars

(H 17/31)  In 1950’s Texas, a young female farmhand is brutally murdered.  Her death calls to an ancient goddess seeking vengeance.  In 2020, Belinda finds herself staying at the site of the crime which spawned the urban legend of La Reina de las Chicharras (the Queen of the Cicadas).  She will soon find out that the legend is all too real…    I really, truly like this book!  It has the perfect storyline for a Halloween read (an urban legend that may be real) and Ms. Castro does an excellent job at setting the mood and bringing the characters to life.  What kept it from being a full five stars for me was a bit of a downturn at one point (just my opinion, of course) which broke up the story and the momentum a bit.  But overall, highly recommend.

Mango, Mambo, and Murder by Raquel Reyes — 3.5 out of 5 stars

A new series in the cozy mystery genre, this one features Miriam Quinones-Smith, a food anthropologist-turned-television cooking show host.  As with many first books in a series, this one focuses more on character development with the mysterious deaths being more of a secondary plot line (not that it’s a bad thing).  This checks off most of the standard cooking cozy checklist, including the ride or die best friend, supportive husband, meddling in-laws, and seemingly tough-as-nails detective (and don’t forget the delicious recipes!).  While I enjoyed this book overall, I had issues with the “caper climax.”  I felt that after 300+ pages, the criminal conclusion scene was a bit of a let-down for me as it felt abrupt and almost like an afterthought.  I couldn’t help thinking “That’s it??”  Even with this personal  disappointment, I would still recommend giving this new series a try and I am looking forward to checking out the next one.

Gone at Midnight by Jake Anderson — 3 out of 5 stars

(H 18/31)  This nonfiction selection made me think it would be looking into the strange circumstances behind the death of Elisa Lam at the notorious Cecil Hotel in downtown Los Angeles back in 2013.  Her death became a media sensation:  after her body was found in one of the hotel’s water tanks, a mysterious surveillance video was posted online seemingly showing Lam trying to escape something unknown, prompting speculations ranging from hotel insiders to the paranormal being involved in her death.  While Anderson does address Lam’s disappearance and the still-unresolved mystery, he takes the bulk of the book to examine his own mental health issues.  He even goes as far as to compare his issues with hers, saying that “it could have been” him.  While I appreciate the author’s health struggles, I found it in poor taste to exploit a young woman’s death as a sounding board for his personal issues.  However, I gave this three stars for the content involving Elisa Lam as it was well written  and well researched.

Trick or Deadly Treat by Livia Washburn — 2 out of 5 stars

(H 19/31)  I enjoy cozy mysteries.  There, I said it.  They’re predictable, quick little stories with the same basic story lines and the same characters that offer a relaxing respite between darker or more difficult books (kind of like a literary palate cleanser).  With that being said, it takes a lot for a cozy to annoy me, but this one was able to achieve that with flying colors.  It was a little bit of everything that  got my eyes rolling, from the stilted conversations to the weird dog “adoption” at the beginning.  Plus, the fact that this was advertised as a Halloween themed story and the holiday was mentioned once really peeved me.  In summary, I don’t think I’ll be reading any more of this series anytime soon.

Novellas, Short Stories, and Anthologies

Find Us and Other Stories by Elford Alley — 4 out of 5 stars

(H 20/31)  A strong four stars to this collection of shorts from a new-to-me author.  Sometimes the scariest stories are those where the ending is unknown or ambiguous.  When an author can do this successfully not just once, but for every short story in a collection, well, he has found himself a new fan in me!  These tales range from ghostly encounters to cryogenics (if you’ve ever thought that freezing yourself after your death might be a good idea, after this story you might have second thoughts!), and with only one exception all were four and five star reads.  Highly recommend for Halloween reading!

Stay safe and Happy Reading!

Weekly Mash-Up #136 The 31 Books of Halloween Continues!

I thought I’d use this week to share my progress on my annual 31 Books of Halloween personal challenge.

read addams family GIF

As of October 5, I have officially hit the halfway mark, with 16 titles under my belt.  There have been some great ones, as well as some ho-hum ones, and I can’t wait to get to the next 15 titles I have lined up!  Plus, I think I’ve found a great nonfiction to share not only here but at MrPinkInk…watch for it around October 29/30!

The Week in Books

The Devil Crept In by Ania Ahlborn — 4 out of 5 stars

(H 12)  A young boy goes missing from the small town of Deer Valley, bringing back horrific memories of another boy found brutally murdered years ago.  Will this latest disappearance end the same…or with something even worse?   I’ll admit I thought the first bit of this novel felt a bit slow for me, but once it got going…wow!  I went into this one blind and I’m glad I did as the twist is perfectly evil!  I’ll be putting more of Ahlborn’s works on my to-read list, that’s for sure!

The Shadow People by Graham Masterton — 3.75/4 out of 5 stars

(H 13)  Supernatural Squad Detectives Jamila Patel and Jerry Pardoe are back, this time investigating a series of bizarre deaths linked to a cannibalistic cult.  Part gruesome horror, part thriller/mystery, with a dash of history and a large splash of the supernatural and ancient gods, this will keep you turning the pages while wishing you could erase some of the cannibals’ graphic ritual imagery from your mind.  This book is not for everyone!  But if you’re a fan of graphic horror with a supernatural twist, be sure to check this one out at its release in December 2021!

Novellas, Short Stories, and Anthologies

Death Watch by Lisa Shea — 4 out of 5 stars

(H 14)  This fifteen page short takes us into the mind of a mentally ill killer and his last hours on Death Row.  Not scary per se, but a bit uncomfortable and creepy.  Very good writing has me looking into more of Shea’s work.

Badwater: A Horror Story by Travis Liebert — 4 out of 5 stars

(H 15)  With vibes of mythology and local folklore, this is a tale of a creature/being that lives in the local waters and the townspeople who keep it in check.  Another well-written short that drew me in immediately and kept me wondering until the end.

Stone Hill: Book of Crane by Dean Rasmussen — 3.5 out of 5 stars

(H 16)  An underground crypt located beneath a church, a not-so pious pastor, and a tentacled creature should have been a home run Halloween story.  Overall I thought it was good, but I really think this would have been a better story if it had been fleshed out a bit more as 25 pages just wasn’t enough to create a truly creepy atmosphere.

Stay safe and Happy Reading!