Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Medical Pioneer Dr. Elizabeth Blackwell!

On January 23, 1849, Elizabeth Blackwell became the first woman to receive her medical degree.  Born in England, she overcame great obstacles to become the first female doctor.  I thought we could honor her hard work and sacrifice by highlighting some of the most interesting female doctors in fictional literature.

Beverly Connor--One Grave Too Many--Diane Fallon is a Georgia forensic anthropologist.

Patricia Cornwell--Postmortem--Kay Scarpetta is the chief medical examiner in Richmond, Virginia.

Ariana Franklin--Mistress of the Art of Death--Adelia Aguilar is a young, medieval doctor sent from Italy to England to assist King Henry I in a murder investigation.

Tess Gerritsen--The Surgeon--Maura Isles is a Boston medical examiner who assists Detective Jane Rizzoli in solving murders.

Greg Iles--Blood Memory--"Cat" Ferry is a forensic odontologist/dentist in Mississippi.

Iris Johansen--The Face of Deception--Eve Duncan is a forensic sculptor.

Kathy Reichs--Deja Dead--Temperance Brennan is a forensic anthropologist in Montreal, Canada and North Carolina, USA.

Karin Slaughter--Blindsighted--Sara Linton is a pediatrician and medical examiner in small town Georgia.

Felicity Young--The Anatomy of Death--Dody McCleland is Britain's first female autopsy surgeon in Edwardian London.

Some helpful definitions:

Forensic anthropology is the application of of anthropology and its several sub-fields in judicial settings both criminal and civil.  A forensic anthropologist can assist in the identification of deceased individuals whose remains are decomposed, burned, mutilated or otherwise unrecognizable.

A medical examiner is a medically qualified officer whose duty is to investigate deaths and injuries that occur under unusual or suspicious circumstances, to perform autopsies, and in some jurisdictions to initiate inquests.

Forensic dentistry or forensic odontology is the proper handling, examination and evaluation of dental evidence, which will be then presented in the interest of justice.  Forensic dentists are responsible for six main areas of practice:
Identification of found human remains
Identification in mass fatalities
Assessment of bite mark injuries
Assessment of cases of abuse 
Civil cases involving malpractice
Age estimation

Forensic facial reconstruction is the process of recreating the face of an individual from their skeletal remains through a mixture of artistry, forensic science, anthropology, osteology (study of bones), and anatomy.  Forensic sculpting uses sculptures created with modeling clay and other materials or high-resolution, three-dimensional computer images. 

Pediatrics is the branch of medicine that deals with the medical care of infants, children, and adolescents, and the age limit usually ranges from birth up to 18. A medical practitioner who specializes in this area is known as a pediatrician. 

An autopsy is a highly specialized surgical procedure that consists of a thorough examination of a corpse to determine the cause and manner of death and to evaluate any disease or injury that may be present. It is usually performed by a specialized medical doctor called a pathologist or autopsy surgeon.

Who is your favorite fictional female doctor?

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Amazing Debut Novels of 2014

This is a great time to recap some of my favorite debut novels from 2014. Debut novels are wonderful! The author does their best to make their first novel fantastic so they can capture an immediate fan base. It happened with J.R.R. Tolkein's The Hobbit, Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre and more recently Before I go to Sleep by S.J. Watson, Still Alice by Lisa Genova and Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn. 

2014 offered many wonderful debut novels that are so great, you should definitely make time to read at least one of them. 

2 A.M. at The Cat's Pajamas: A Novel by Marie-Helene Bertino
An enchanting and original debut novel that will capture your heart and have you laughing out loud. 
Painted Horses: A Novel by Malcolm Brooks
Further Out Than You Thought: A Novel by Michaela Carter
An ambitious debut novel that captures the grandeur of the the American Southwest as it sends a dauntless young woman on a heroic quest and sings a love song to the horseman's vanishing way of life. 
Season of The Dragonflies by Sarah Creech
This debut novel captures the essence of sisterhood with the sweetness of flowers, a beguiling tale of magic, old secrets and love.
Don't Ever Look Back by Daniel Friedman
This novel takes a decades old feud between two elderly gentlemen and brings it to an explosive conclusion. An excellent mystery novel.
I Am Pilgrim: A Thriller by Terry Hayes
This astonishing debut espionage thriller depicts the collision course between two geniuses, one a tortured hero and the other a determined terrorist. This is a breakneck story that readers will not want to put down. 
Ugly Girls by Lindsay Hunter
Hunter's debut novel is gritty and an unrelenting baring of lost souls that pulls readers along. This is a hauntingly dark novel that will keep you turning pages until you reach the shocking conclusion. 
The Book of You by Claire Kendall
This is a darkly sophisticated, utterly compelling debut novel that explores what happens when the lines between love and compulsion, fantasy and reality become blurred. 
California: A Novel by Eden Lupecki
A gripping and provocative debut novel imagines a frighteningly realistic near future, in which clashes between mankind's dark nature and deep-seated resilience force us to question how fare we will go to protect the ones we love.
Down the Shore: A Novel by Stan Parish
This is an unflinching and unforgettable story of youth steeped in excess. The debut novel reminds us that not even an ocean can separate us from our family, our friends and our past. 
Doing Harm by Kelly Parsons
A chilling and compelling debut thriller that takes you into the hospital and details the politics and hierarchy among doctors as well as the life and death decisions which are made. Parsons work will have you glued to the pages to see what happens next.
In the Light Of What We Know by Zia Haider Rahman
This debut novel is set against the post 9/11 economic crisis. It is surprisingly tender and chronicles the lives of people who carry unshakable legacies of class and culture as they struggle to tame their futures. 
The Story of Land and Sea by Katy Smith Simpson
This elegant, evocative and haunting debut captures the singular love between parent and child, the devastation of love lost and the desperate paths we travel in the hopes of finding love again. 
Night Blindness by Susan Strecker
An emotionally thrilling and compelling debut set during a New England summer, is a novel about the choices we make, the sanctity of friendship and the power of love.
Land of Love and Drowning by Tiphanie Yanique
This debut is a gorgeous, vibrant story that follows the Bradshaw family through sixty years of fathers and daughters, mothers and sons, love affairs, curses, magical gifts, loyalties, losses and triumphs. 

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Dark Fantasy: A Step Away from Horror?

What is dark fantasy?

According to Lucy A. Snyder at

"Both horror and dark fantasy explore the nature of evil and create a creepy or frightening atmosphere. Thus, when asked what the difference between dark fantasy and supernatural horror is, some people will say that there is no difference, or that the difference is that horror goes to greater extremes."

"To my mind, that's a bit of an oversimplification.  While a broad gray area certainly exists between the two genres, there are a few ways to distinguish the two.  Some general characteristics:

Dark fantasies have an established setting that is fantastic or otherworldly. 
The protagonists of dark fantasies are often heroic. They choose to face danger in order to save others or to achieve some greater goal. They are often experienced with the occult or in possession of special skills, knowledge, or powers. 

In many dark fantasies, there's an implied comfort to the reader: The characters the reader cares about will usually make it out alive in the end, and the day will be saved."

Try some of these fantastic examples of dark fantasy:

Joe Abercrombie--First Law series--The Blade Itself--Inquisitor Glokta is a bitter relic, trapped in a broken body. Nobleman, Captain Jezal dan Luthar is vain, selfish and self-obsessed.  Logen Ninefingers is an infamous warrior with a bloody past.  Bayaz , an old man with a terrible temper, who could be the First of the Magi or a fraud.  Whatever he is, he's about to make the lives of Glotka, Jezal and Logen a lot more challenging...

Clive Barker--Imajica
Hunted through New York City by an assassin hired by her husband, Judith is saved by her former lover, John Zacharias, but the two are quickly thrust into the strange netherworld of Imajica, where they must fight unspeakable evils.

Glen Cook--The Black Company series--The Black Company
Adrift in a world torn by sorcery gone wild, the Company is the last remnant of a once-great mercenary army. Led by Croaker, former physician and primary chronicler, they must search the world for the last ray of hope--the White Rose.

Stephen R. Donaldson--Chronicles of Thomas Covenant--Lord Foul's Bane
He called himself the Unbeliever because he dared not believe in the strange alternate world in which he suddenly found himself. Yet he was tempted to believe, to fight for the Land, to be the reincarnation of its greatest hero....

Neil Gaiman--American Gods
After three years in prison, Shadow has done his time. Two days before he gets out, his wife dies in a mysterious car crash. Dazed, Shadow travels home, only to encounter the bizarre Mr. Wednesday who claims to be a former god and the king of America. Together they embark on a very strange journey across the States, solving murders along the way. 

Simon R. Green--The Nightside series--Something from the Nightside
John Taylor is not a private detective per se, but he has a knack for finding lost things. That's why he's been hired to descend into the Nightside, an otherworldly realm in the center of London where fantasy and reality share renting space and the sun never shines.

Caitlin Kiernan--The Red Tree
Sarah Crowe left Atlanta to live in an old house in rural Rhode Island. Within its walls she discovers an unfinished manuscript written by the house's former tenant – who was obsessed with the ancient oak growing on the property. As the tree takes root in her imagination, Sarah risks her sanity to unearth a revelation planted centuries ago.

Stephen King--Dark Tower series--The Gunslinger
The Gunslinger is a haunting figure in combat with The Man in Black in an epic battle of good versus evil. A spellbinding tale that is both grippingly realistic and eerily dreamlike and filled with ominous landscapes and chilling peril.               

Mark Lawrence--Broken Empire series--Prince of Thorns
When he was nine, he watched his mother and brother killed before him. By the time he was thirteen, he was the leader of a band of bloodthirsty thugs. By fifteen, he intends to be king...   Life and death are no more than a game to him-and he has nothing left to lose.

China Mieville--New Crobuzon series--Perdido Street Station
Beneath the bleached ribs of a dead, ancient beast lies New Crobuzon, a squalid city where humans, Re-mades, and arcane races live in perpetual fear. The air and rivers are thick with factory pollutants and the strange emissions of alchemy, and the ghettos contain a vast mix of workers, artists, spies, and junkies. 

Michael Moorcock--Elric of Melinbone series--Elric the Stealer of Souls
Elric - the albino sorcerer and battle-thirsty prince. Elric - doomed beyond hope to wander a world of savagery and treachery. Elric - seeker of impossible goals, fighter of remorseless battles, and an embittered poet. Elric - held in the grip of his own sword, the enchanted Stormbringer. 

Catherynne M. Valente--Palimpsest
Between dreaming and waking, at the train stop beyond the end of the world is the city of Palimpsest. To this kingdom come four travelers:  a locksmith; a beekeeper; a binder of rare books; and a young Japanese woman. They've each lost something important and what they will find is more than they could ever imagine.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

The Best Cookbooks of 2014!

2014 has come to a close and as I look back over the plethora of cookbooks released this year some truly stand out! Here are a few of my favorites. 

Josey Baker Bread by Josey Baker
This wonderful book combines easy (and I do mean easy) to follow step by step instructions with hundreds of photos to help every aspiring baker be successful. This is a book designed to help the novice baker, as well as the experienced baker excel!  If you don't enjoy baking this book is still great fun to read!

If you are an ice cream connoisseur you have to try Jeni's Splendid Ice Cream Desserts. Although Britton Bauer includes wonderful ice cream and frozen custard recipes that are fabulous, her book shows readers dishes they can make with ice cream. It does not have to be homemade ice cream, if you don't own an ice cream maker simply buy the ice cream at the store and then bake a yummy dessert and top it off with delicious ice cream.

The Baking Bible by Rose Levy Beranbaum
If you love to bake you have got to check out this amazing book! It's the holy grail of baking books. Whether you are a novice baker or an experienced one, this book will help make you better than you were before. This book includes recipes for cakes, pies, tarts, breads and candy. She includes many troubleshooting tips in each chapter that will help all bakers make delicious baked goods. Rose has written many award winning cookbooks and this is (I believe) the best one yet.

A Boat, A Whale, and A Walrus: Menus and Stories by Renee Erickson
Renee Erickson is the owner of several Seattle restaurants. Her cookbook features meals for a whole year based on the seasonal fare found in the Puget Sound, but once you open it you'll find that this book is not just a cookbook and it's not just about seafood. It reads like an autobiography of the chef herself, shaped by the people she knows and the seasonal influences of the food she loves. The book gives you a whole meal menu from start to finish. It is fantastic to read even if you don't like seafood. 

The Kitchn Cookbook by Sarah Kate Gillingham and Faith Durand
From the award winning cooking site, The Kitchn, comes a fantastic book that is really two beautifully photographed books in one. This cookbook includes 150 fantastic recipes as well as essential cooking techniques and includes tips on how to organize and maintain your kitchen. This is a must have for any cook. 

I hope you enjoy these wonderful books as much as I do! If you enjoy cooking ir like reading cookbooks try our e-newsletter, Simply Cookbooks. It's a bi-monthly booklist designed for the cooking enthusiast. It includes new release cookbooks, foodie books and a few old favorites.

Friday, January 9, 2015


That is not dead which can eternal lie, And with strange aeons, even death may die.

Ever wonder what lies on the other side of the veil between life and death? Well, Stephen King tackles this question in his latest novel, Revival, and--surprise, surprise--the answer he reveals isn't pretty. Things begin innocently enough in the fall of 1962 when six-year-old Jamie Morton meets the new reverend in town, a handsome fellow by the name of Charles Jacobs. Reverend Jacobs and his picture-perfect family make quite an impression on the God-fearing folks of Harlow, and Jacobs even performs a minor miracle of sorts on Jamie's brother when he uses his knowledge of electricity to restore the boy's injured vocal cords. Fast forward three years, and a horrible accident changes everything for Jacobs. Sick with grief, he loses his faith and denounces God from the pulpit, which earns him the bum's rush from Harlow. Jamie assumes he'll never see the good reverend again. Boy, is he ever wrong.

Some years later, Jamie, now a strung-out musician left stranded in Tulsa by his fed-up bandmates, unexpectedly runs into Jacobs one summer night at an amusement park, and he's amazed at the transformation the man has undergone. Jacobs has completely shed his former life as a preacher like an old skin and become a carny huckster, selling his own brand of electric trickery to the rubes gathered around him. Still, Jamie's meeting with Jacobs that night is a fateful one, setting Jamie back on the straight and narrow and giving him a much-needed clean start. But it's not all happily-ever-after when they part ways again. You knew that, right? The revival is coming, and Jacobs' lifelong obsession with the apocalyptic power of electricity will have deadly consequences for many. Before it's all said and done, Jamie will learn the horrible truth about what really lies beyond the grave, and it will haunt him to the end of his days.

Need a hint? There's a door in the wall. You can't see it. It's small and covered with ivy. The ivy is dead. She waits on the other side, above the broken city. Above the paper sky....

This probably goes without saying by now: Stephen King does not disappoint.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Catastrophe 1914: Europe goes to War by Max Hastings

Catastrophe 1914: Europe goes to War by Max Hastings

Last year was the 100th anniversary of World War One and, as with any similar milestone, there was a plethora of new books in late 2013 and 2014 regarding the subject. Catastrophe 1914 was one of these and has been on my to-be-read list for some time.

Max Hastings is a recognized and respected military historian, and in reading this book, it is easy to see why. He does an excellent job of presenting the theories to date and putting forth his own. His own theory on the start of the war adds complexity to the idea that the leaders of Europe were sleepwalkers, blindly wandering into confrontation while still laying large amounts of fault at the feet of the Germans.

The truly compelling aspect of Catastrophe is the addition of journal entries, letters, and other firsthand accounts of not just battles, but the effects of the war on those back at home, demonstrating the shifting conceptions of the conflicts morality and justifications.  These accounts are compelling and serves to make this not a book about “great figures” and “great events” that populates far too many historical accounts. Instead, Hastings uses this to bring the war, its causes, and its effects to life. This is not to say that he ignores the main figures of events, quite the opposite. He humanizes Europe’s leaders, again with accounts and primary documents to give the reader a sense of them as people and not historical figures.

At 628 pages it certainly is a long read, but it is fascinating to read a more complex and nuanced account of the start of World War One and its impact on the world and ordinary people. I would certainly recommend this well-crafted account of the first year of the First World War

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

How to Build a Girl

Not for the faint of heart (or critic of a well-placed curse word), Caitlin Moran has written another gem for the masses. I recently read Moran’s first foray into novel writing, How to Build Girl. I don’t want to receive any angry comments if someone takes my recommendation and runs with it, so please understand the book is a bit vulgar. However, it is also one of the funniest, well-written books I’ve read in 2014. I dare say it might even be my favorite book of 2014.
In case you aren't familiar with her, Caitlin Moran is an award winning columnist and author hailing from the UK. She has previously written for The Observer and The Guardian, but is currently a columnist for The Times, where she landed her first column at the age of eighteen. In 2011, she was voted Columnist of the Year at the British Press Awards. More importantly she’s becoming one of the loudest voices in the crowd for this generation’s feminist leaders. She’s brash, intelligent, and not afraid to share her thoughts.
How to Build a Girl follows the construction (or reconstruction) of Johanna Morrigan from age fourteen to early adulthood. After embarrassing herself on TV and feeling like the world is moving on without her, Johanna reinvents herself as Dolly Wilde—fast-talking and unafraid. Johanna uses her new persona to take risks and build her new life. She begins a rigorous course of music education by borrowing albums from the public library with the intent to become a writer for a music newspaper. Johanna, as Dolly, lands a job and the adventure begins. However, the deeper Johanna delves into her new life, the more she realizes that a new name, new look, and new music will only take you so far.
This book is one of the most awkwardly accurate portrayals of growing up that I've read. Though I can’t remember the exact quote, Moran spells out that building yourself comes from the bits your parents give, though you can’t totally be the girl they build, bits you collect and emulate, and bits that are inherently you—you need it all to build a girl. She said it much better than I can. If you become a fan of Caitlin Moran's through her fiction, I encourage you to check out her nonfiction book How to Be a Woman. To me, the two are a pair.