The Big Story: Isaac’s Storm by Erik Larson

“The Cubans wrote of hunches and beliefs, sunsets and foreboding. Where Americans saw numbers, the Cubans saw poetry. Dark poetry perhaps—the works of Poe and Baudelaire—but poetry all the same.” Erik Larson, Isaac’s Storm


If we ever thought we had the ability to predict the weather, or forecast the destruction of major hurricanes, Hurricane Katrina of 2005 and Superstorm Sandy of 2012 disabused us of the notion. If we, with our twenty-first century technology, are unable to predict a storm’s destructive path, then how could one man be prepared for the second most devastating hurricane in US history, the Galveston Hurricane of 1900?



In Isaac’s Storm, author Erik Larson skillfully builds a heartbreaking tale of courage, ambition, salvation, and devastation while revealing the strengths and weaknesses of the titular character Isaac Monroe Cline. A man of his era, Cline exhibited all the hubris of a dedicated scientist in an emerging field while reveling in scientific endeavors that challenged the adventures depicted by one of his favorite authors, Jules Verne.


“Meticulously researched, Isaac’s Storm is based on Cline’s own letters, telegrams, and reports, the testimony of scores of survivors. Ultimately, however, it is the story of what can happen when human arrogance meets nature’s last great uncontrollable force. As such, Isaac’s Storm carries a warning for our time.” (

Celebrate National Tea Day with Five Novel-Teas


“Take some more tea,” the March Hare said to Alice, very earnestly.

“I’ve had nothing yet,” Alice replied in an offended tone, “so I can’t take more.”

“You mean you can’t take less,” said the Hatter: “it’s very easy to take more than nothing.”

“Nobody asked your opinion,” said Alice.”

― Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland 

While the tea party in Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland may be the most famous tea in literature, it is not the only noteworthy tea. In honor of National Tea Day, here are five novels that celebrate the glories of tea.

  1. Alice in Wonderland, Lewis Carroll

There was a table set out under a tree in front of the house, and the March Hare and the Hatter were having tea at it: a Dormouse was sitting between them, fast asleep, and the other two were using it as a cushion, resting their elbows on it, and the talking over its head. ‘Very uncomfortable for the Dormouse,’ thought Alice; ‘only, as it’s asleep, I suppose it doesn’t mind.’ 

carroll lewis nursery c03757 07

The table was a large one, but the three were all crowded together at one corner of it: ‘No room! No room!’ they cried out when they saw Alice coming. ‘There’s plenty of room!’ said Alice indignantly, and she sat down in a large arm-chair at one end of the table.

-Lewis Carroll


Who could resist a crumpet spread with “best butter” and a cup of tea with the delightfully mad crew of Wonderland characters? Apparently not very many, since tea shops bearing Alice related names and filled with novel and movie related goods abound.

2. And Then There Were None, Agatha Christie

Vera moved to the tea table. “Will you pour out tea, Miss Brent?”

The elder woman replied: ‘No, you do it, dear. That tea-pot is so heavy. And I have lost two skeins of my grey knitting-​wool. So annoying.’

Tea! Blessed ordinary everyday afternoon tea!

Normality returned. Philip Lom­bard made a cheery re­mark.  Blore responded. Dr. Armstrong told a humorous sto­ry.  Mr. Justice Wargrave, who ordinarily hated tea, sipped approvingly.


While the image of guests gathered around a tea table may appear soothing, things are rarely as they seem in a Christie novel. Murder is on the menu, and poor Vera is closely watched to make sure that she hasn’t slipped anything extra in the tea.

3. The Wind in the Willows, Kenneth Grahame,

“When the girl returned, some hours later, she carried a tray, with a cup of fragrant tea steaming on it; and a plate piled up with very hot buttered toast, cut thick, very brown on both sides, with the butter running through the holes in great golden drops, like honey from the honeycomb. The smell of that buttered toast simply talked to Toad, and with no uncertain voice; talked of warm kitchens, of breakfasts on bright frosty mornings, of cosy parlour firesides on winter evenings, when one’s ramble was over and slippered feet were propped on the fender, of the purring of contented cats, and the twitter of sleepy canaries.”


Buttered toast always speak to me, and fool that I am, I can never resist their call. I am a firm believer in sitting down with a cup of tea when I need to save the world.


4.    Rebecca, Daphne du Maurier

“Those dripping crumpets, I can see them now. Tiny crisp wedges of toast, and piping-hot, flaky scones. Sandwiches of unknown nature, mysteriously flavoured and quite delectable, and that very special gingerbread. Angel cake, that melted in the mouth, and his rather stodgier companion, bursting with peel and raisins. There was enough food there to keep a starving family for a week.”


While I am seriously enamored of scones dripping with butter and jam, I find sandwiches with mystery fillings far less enticing. Still, I suppose Rebecca had more things to worry about than the origins of the caviar topping her nibbles.



5. Manner & Mutiny, Gail Carriger

“We’re a team like tea and milk, or cake and custard, or pork and apple.”


If you haven’t discovered the Finishing School Series by Gail Carriger, you should read them ASAP. Proper young ladies not only learn how to navigate the social limitations of a Steampunk Great Britain, they also learn such niceties as poisoning and medicinal cures. Is that almond extract or cyanide lacing your pastries? Graduates of Mademoiselle Geraldine’s Finishing Academy know, and are prepared for a wide range of career possibilities.





Chasing Kipling’s Kim

9823b2b1e75e441bf42be4da66c89069“Still, I had a book.” -Mary Russell, “The Game” 

And, you would think that Mary Russell, wife and partner of Sherlock Holmes in Laurie R. King’s novel, “The Game,” would have time to read on the long voyage between rural England and exotic, remote India. No such chance. It’s only the second day of 1924, and Mycroft Holmes has embroiled to clever duo in one of his signature intrigues. Sherlock Holmes uses the lengthy voyage to stuff Russell’s head with language, history, and skill lessons necessary for their assignment.

Mycroft Holmes calls on the pair only for the most secret, and potentially deadly assignments. His New Year’s gift to them is a strange package containing the papers of an English spy named Kimball O’Hara—known to the world through Kipling’s famed novel “Kim.” Inexplicably, O’Hara withdrew from the “Great Game” of espionage and now he has just as inexplicably disappeared. Eccentric Indian princes, flamboyant flappers, and charming British soldiers populate the fast paced adventure which pairs two of England’s favorite literary characters; Doyle’s Holmes and Kipling’s Kim.

While traveling India in the roaring 20’s may sound “nifty,” period details indicate some of the sights are at best off-putting. Mired in ennui, the ultra-rich seek ever more demanding sports, outrageous parties, and bizarre, if expensive collections, to excite their minds and senses.


“The Kitten’s Wedding,” Walter Potter’s Museum of Curiosities

Case in point, Russel discovers a secret “toy room” filled with mechanical and taxidermied oddities. During the Victorian era, taxidermists created scenes from everyday domestic life – a cricket match, a tea and croquet party, a wedding, a schoolroom – using taxidermied guinea pigs, rabbits, kittens, squirrels, and other small birds and animals. Imagine coming across these curiosities while searching a dark room!


An exciting read.



The Game (Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes #7)

Laurie R. King

Kindle Edition, 480 pages

First published January 1, 2004




Mystery and Heartbreak During WW1


Source: Kiplin Hall,


“But it was certainly a library, rather than a room with decorative books and well-used sofas. Shelves lined the walls, unbroken but for five windows, two doors, and a fireplace with a portrait above it. Free standing bookshelves of a subtly newer appearance extended into one end of the room, creating three bays that filled a third of the library’s floor space. On the other end, under the windows, were two long mahogany work tables and a trio of leather armchairs, all of which were equipped with reading lamps.”

– Justice Hall, Laurie R. King


While this description of the library in Justice Hall, found in the novel of the same name by Laurie R. King, sounds like a book lover’s delight, all is not well in the manor. Married sleuths Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes must fallow a dangerous trail of ominous clues that leads from a post-WW1 English village to the city of Paris and on to a bleak Canadian wilderness. The heir to Justice Hall died in France during the Great War amid scandalous rumors, leaving a title in question.

There is a meme going around about books that made you cry, and this heartbreaking story caused me to tear up on several occasions. With WW1 Centennial remembrance ceremonies going on around the western world, it is hard not to reflect on the tragedy of millions of boys dying horrible deaths in mud filled trenches.


Source: Atlas Obscura

What I found even more tragic, however, were the boys and young men condemned to death for desertion or cowardice, often without representation.  The Shot at Dawn memorial in the Memorial Arboretum in Staffordshire, England depicts a seventeen-year-old private, who was condemned without representation in the summer of 1915. Behind the blindfolded figure are 306 wooden stakes, each representing an executed Commonwealth soldier.

My heart weeps.


Source: Atlas Obscura



Justice Hall  by Laurie R. King



Lord of the Rings travels through Dystopia


“As I arranged the clothes in my pack, my hand hit the spine of one of my books. The Lord of the Rings. I found it years before in a Walmart, buried beneath a pile of torn baby clothes and dry leaves. I’d read it start to finish six times, always waiting until after Grandpa went to sleep. He’s said the only thing books were good for was kindling.”

“I flipped through the book’s crinkled pages and placed it at the very top of the bag so it would be the first thing my fingers touched when I reached inside. Doing this gave me a rebel thrill. I didn’t have to worry about Grandpa finding it now.”

-The Eleventh Plague by Jeff Hirsch


Summation from Goodreads:

Fifteen-year-old Stephen Quinn and his family were among the few that survived and became salvagers, roaming the country in search of material to trade. But when Stephen’s grandfather dies and his father falls into a coma after an accident, Stephen finds his way to Settler’s Landing, a community that seems too good to be true.


Like many contemporary post-apocalyptic YA dystopias, The Eleventh Plague features a bleak, devastated, virtually unrecognizable United States ravaged by war and disease. Quinn and his family represent a small group of the surviving population who manage to endure by scavenging the countryside for usable goods and food.

Luck does not travel with the survivors though, and Quinn eventually is left on his own until he stumbles upon the town of Settlers Landing. In a classic case of a community looking too good to be true, Quinn eventually is forced to decide what a new society should be, and his role within it.

I found the use of Tolkien’s LOTR particularly interesting. Like Sam, Quinn is forced to face hardship, deprivation, betrayal, fear, and grief. Yet through these challenges, Quinn is eventually shaped into the adult he chooses to be, and determines his own set of values.

The Abominable: A Novel by Dan Simmons


ALA Reading List Award for History, Short List

I admit, when I first read the title, “The Abominable,” it was hard for me not to go to abominables I have known, like the famous “Bumble” from Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.  (1964 TV Movie)


Or the Yeti, from Disney’s Monsters, Inc.


But while these familiar fluffies are cute and cuddly, something far more terrifying is stalking the climbers hoping to be the first to summit Mount Everest. The plot twists and turns, at one time making the reader believe in mythical monsters, at others offering more prosaic explanations for climbing accidents, equipment failures and mysterious deaths.


The Abominable: A Novel is heavy on alternate history, climbing terminology and 100 words for snow. Well, maybe not 100, but far more than I had encountered before.

From Booklist:

“It’s 1924, and a trio of rogue climbers—mysterious WWI vet Deacon; emotional Frenchman Jean-Claude; and our narrator, brash young American Jacob—are hired to find the corpse of a dignitary lost on Everest… it’s the subsequent complications that make this required reading for anyone inspired or terrified by high-altitude acrobatics: sudden avalanches, hidden crevasses, murderous temperatures, mountainside betrayals, and maybe—just maybe—a pack of bloodthirsty yeti. Though the first 200 pages of climbing background might have readers pining for the big climb, it is nearly always interesting, and, later, Simmons excels at those small but full-throated moments of terror when, for example, a single bent screw might mean death for everyone.”

Good read, but a bit slow at times. The final push to solve a series of mysteries while trying for the summit make it worthwhile.

Three out of four stars.

A book to read when non-fiction books about Everest lack appeal.

The Watchmaker of Filigree Street by Natasha Pulley


Excerpt from opening paragraph:

“The Home Office telegraphy department always smelled of tea. The source was one packet of Lipton’s at the back of Nathaniel Stapleton’s desk drawer. Before the widespread use of the electric telegraph, the office had been a broom cupboard. Thaniel had heard more than once that its failure to expand was a sign of the Home Secretary’s continuing mistrust of naval inventions, but even if that wasn’t the case, the department budget had never stretched to the replacement of the original carpet, which liked to keep the ghosts of old smells…”


Tea! The opening sentence has tea! Books and tea are two of my favorite things. Stir in a delicious mystery featuring a lonely Japanese immigrant who specializes in amazing machines; an interfering female Oxford physicist and you’ve got an amazing steampunk adventure. Everyone seems to be hiding something as the sweeping narrative blends fantastic and historic events to create a compelling journey for readers.




Oh, and there’s a mechanical octopus. How could you NOT want to read about a mechanical Octopus?

Four stars out of five.

Brain candy, but we all deserve it occasionally.