If you enjoy crime fiction, I can recommend Last Rituals by Yrsa Sigurdardottir.

I have developed a taste for Scandinavian crime fiction. It started with The Girl with the Dragoon Tattoo trilogy, and went from there.

Sigurdardottir is a Icelander and her novels take place in that country. Last Rituals is described as “An Icelandic Novel of Secret Symbols, Medieval Witchcraft and Modern Murder.” The book introduces protagonist Thora Gudmundsdottir, a lawyer struggling to raise her two children on an income not quite big enough to cover everything she needs.

Despite misgivings, the promise of a hefty fee induces Thora to investigate the bizarre and shocking murder of a young university student. Investigation uncovers links to Iceland’s little known history of witch hunts, torture and executions.

In the end, of course Thora and her associate Michael Reich, discover the murderer’s identity and justice is served.

I enjoyed the book and did not guess the murderer in advance of the reveal at the end. If there is a complaint, it would be that some of the descriptions of the historical documents was confusing and a little difficult to keep straight.

As I mentioned, this book introduces Thora Gudmundsdottir and sets the stage for other books with the same protagonist. I have read several of them. They are all good.

I have just finished reading Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail, by Cheryl Strayed. Not long before that I saw the movie by the same name, which motivated me to read the book.

I enjoyed both the book and the movie. The movie kept my attention because, firstly, Reese Witherspoon is a great actor, and secondly, because of the amazing visuals of the trail and the scenery.  The movie truly captured the majesty and ruggedness of the trail, while the book did a better job of depicting the psychological and emotional growth that Cheryl experienced during the long pilgrimage-like journey that she undertook.

If you aren’t familiar with this true story, its the tale of one woman’s solo hike, journeying 1,100 miles on foot on the spectacular but challenging Pacific Crest Trail.

The trail itself starts on the Mexico-California border, runs through California, Oregon and Washington, crosses the Canadian border and ends in the Okanagan region of British Columbia. Cheryl  started near the beginning of the trail and ended her hike in Oregon, as planned.

The author’s brutal honesty about her previous life, and the self defecting behaviors that she managed to overcome is the part that impresses me the most. I have read reviews from other readers that judge Cheryl Strayed harshly for her life prior to commencing the hike — activities that included heroin use,  free-style sexuality, an abortion and  an intense emotional grief reaction following her mother’s death.

However, to me, the point was that the author overcome these challenges by pressing herself to the limit of her endurance in this grueling, physical challenge.  She made no excuses and sugar coated nothing. Her ability to be honest with herself was and is her true strength, and one that I admire.

Throughout this journal, Cheryl’s body became strong and fit, but more importantly, he worked through her grief, her rage and other emotional burdens stemming from her younger life.

I recommend both the book and the movie.

 

 

 

 

The Day is Dark, by Yrsa Sigurdardottir, is one example of the remarkable crime fiction being written by Nordic authors.

Set in Iceland and Greenland, this book features Sigurdardottir’s usual protagonist, lawyer and single mother, Thora Gudmunsdsdottir.

Thora and her law firm are engaged to travel to a remote location in Greenland to investigate the mysterious disappearances of three employees of a mining company.

Thora and her team discover a disturbing situation that the local villagers consider to be supernatural.

As the investigation continues, the situation becomes increasingly weird and unsettling.

The ending is sure to surprise the reader.  As is typical in Sigurdardottir’s books, the supernatural appears to be behind the mystery, but in the end, its human activity that can be explained, although perhaps not condoned.

I like the way this author weaves a story. The characters are well developed, the storyline is not predictable, the ending is always a surprise, and the chance to look at live in contemporary Iceland is always fascinating.

The Daily Telegraph calls Yrsa Sigurdardottis “Iceland’s answer to Stieg Larsson.”  Her writing is indeed similar to Larsson’s, but less gory. The late Stieg Larsson wrote The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and two others in the series.

 

 

Before I move into talking about this book, I want to tell you that before I published this post, I tried Grammarly’s plagiarism checker free of charge because hey, Santa’s coming soon and I wanna make sure I’m on the Nice List!

Now then, back to business. The Healing Code, by Alexander Loyd, PhD, ND with Ben Johnson, MC, DO, NMD introduces a new approach to energy healing that they have named The Healing Code.

This book will appeal to those who are interested in alternative health care and in taking personal responsibility for their own health. It may also appeal to those who are strong supporters of allopathic medicine but who have an open mind to other complimentary approaches. Those who decry alternative healing will, no doubt, find much to scoff at.

Loyd and Johnson claim to have discovered a previously unknown immune system that has the potential to heal physical, emotional and spiritual challenges when activated with their technique. They maintain that any and all disease is caused by stress stored in the form of cellular memories. The first three-quarters of the book builds a case to support the validity of the authors’ findings and of the Healing Code technique. The doctors provide their personal case histories, testimonials from others who have experienced healings and scientific validation based on the work of scientists such as Dr. Bruce Lipton.

In the last quarter of the book, Loyd and Johnson explain the Healing Code and demonstrate through text and drawings how to apply the technique. They refer to the code provided in the book as the Universal Healing Code. When used for six minutes, three times daily, the authors claim that healings will occur. The time required to heal varies depending on the individual and the nature of the problem.

The authors make the disclaimer that the Healing Code does not replace medical care, nor does it diagnose, nor does it heal the physical body. Their premise is that the code removes an energetic charge in the form of cellular memories, and this in turn, frees the body to heal itself. The book also provides a ten second procedure that when used two or three times a day, will deal with stress as it is happening, or situational stress, as the authors call it.

Loyd and Johnson write from a Christian perspective. They maintain that their spiritual healing technique is supported Biblically and does nothing to violate their Christian beliefs. This need not be a deterrent to non-Christians. Those with other beliefs will find it simple enough to use the codes in the context of their own faith, whatever that faith may be.

Skeptics, obviously, will regard the Healing Codes as hooey, and it is not my role or my intention to change their minds. Those who are open to trying this approach may find the technique a little confusing based on the explanations in the book. Personally, I found it necessary to search for YouTube videos demonstrating the proper use of the hand positions. I believe that the authors could have done a better job of explaining the procedure at that point. Otherwise, I find the book to be well written, well organized and well explained — with the aforementioned exception.

Having read other blog and forum posts from readers, I note that some reviewers see the authors as “money grubbers”. It is true, they do offer custom codes, workbooks and coaching services, and these products and services do not come cheap. However, in my view, the authors have made the Universal Healing Codes available to anyone for the price of a book, and there are plenty of free videos online showing how to do the technique. Having ensured that the codes are therefore available to anyone and everyone, they have a right to generate income by selling the additional add ons, which are luxuries but not necessities.

My recommendation is this: If you are at all opened minded, read the book and try the codes. You have nothing to lose and much to gain.

In The Sociopath Next Door, author Martha Stout, ph.d describes the sociopathic or psychopathic personality and descrubes the current theories that attempt to make sense of this disorder.

According to Stout, sociopathy (also known as antisocial personality disorder) occurs in four percent of the population. In other words, one out of twenty five people fits this profile. We are are likely to have met at least one and probably more — if we are not one ourselves.

Stout reports that sociopaths do not have a conscience. Therefore, they feel no empathy for others. They are unable to love and they feel no guilt. They know the difference between right and wrong, but their only consideration would be whether or not they are likely to get caught. The motivation is all about power and manipulation. They could be the colleague who sabotages your project just for fun, or the spouse who philanders incessantly, or the corporate executive who climbs to the top through apple polishing those above him and disparaging those below him on the corporate ladder.

It is difficult, almost impossible, for those of us who do have a conscience to imagine being this way. Perhaps that explains why it is so difficult to identify a sociopath when we encounter one. In many, if not most cases, sociopaths continue to create their havoc unchallenged due to their uncanny ability to manipulate and to charm and because other people simply can’t believe that their actions are deliberate.

All too often, the beleaugered victim of a sociopath is blamed or ridiculed because others do not believe that the victim is telling the truth or is portraying the situation accurately. Even victims sometimes doubt their own reality and wonder if they were somehow to blame or somehow misunderstood.

Sociopaths, says Stout, exist in all occupations and in all levels of society. The majority are not violent or criminal. The Ted Bundys and Adolf Hitlers of this world are sociopaths, true, but most people fitting this profile live more mundane lives.

Stout examines the genetic vs environmental theories that strive to to explain how this disorder occurs and why. She also postulates that sociopathy may have had survival value along the lines of “survival of the fittest”.

I found the book to be informative and thought provoking. Stout has researched and analyzed well. She does a good job of describing how sociopaths interact with others and the effect they can have on others.

The book misses the mark, I think, in the sense that it portrays sociopathy as all or nothing. I may be wrong, but I believe that psychologists use a sliding scale to determine sociopathy. In other words, all of us have some sociopathic tendencies. The issue is not “if” but “how much.” Stout does not mention this but seemingly regards the disorder as “all or nothing.”

I also questioned Stout’s conclusions that in the long run, those of us with a conscience make out better than those who lack one. It is true, of course, that historically, and in the present, some sociopaths have met their just rewards through executions, jail time, societal shunning and so forth.

Nevertheless, I would be willing to bet that a fair number of these folk get through life just fine, alebeit at the expense of others.

I am not saying this is a good thing, and I am not saying I would want to be one of them. I am simply saying that if a sociopath is clever enough to avoid “getting caught”, then probably many sociopaths make out just fine.

But read the book for yourself. Its a good read.

I have just read The Dinner a Novel, by Herman Koch. I am not sure what genre this book of fiction falls into, but I would class it as psychological horror.

The story takes place in Amsterdam. Two brothers and their respective wives meet for dinner in an expensive, top-rated restaurant. The purpose of the dinner, we eventually learn, is discuss the problems posed by their three teenage children. The boys have done an evil deed – very evil, as it turns out. If they are found out, it will be a serious police matter.

Do the parents cover up for this act, or do they turn the kids in and face the music? How far should a parent go to protect their off-spring.

I can only hope that most parents wouldn’t go as far as this pair.

I enjoyed this book, but it may not be everyone’s cup of tea.

This is a book in which we start out liking the protagonists and gradually change our opinion as the plot wears on. If you have read Gone Girls, you will know what I mean. In my case, the parent I least respected in the beginning was the one I admired the most in the end. Admired is perhaps too strong a word. It might be more accurate to say, “the parent I disliked the least.”

In the end, at least for me, I was afraid for the future of these families and afraid for the future victims of the young boys involved.

If you are looking for a happy ending, or at least an ending where something is resolved, you will be disappointed. In the end, the good do not prosper and the bad do not get their just rewards. Instead, we are left with a highly unsettled feeling that the worst is yet to come.

Nevertheless, I liked it and would recommend it to those who enjoy reading about the darker side of the human spirit.

The Virgin Cure, by Ami McKay is a work of historical fiction set in New York in the 1870s.

Protagonist Moth is a 12 year old girl, daughter of a gypsy fortune teller. Moth’s life is hard, impoverished and dangerous. When her mother arranges for her to work as a personal maid for the wealthy Mrs. Wentworth, Moth believes that her life is improving for the better. Her relief is short-lived, however, as Mrs. Wentworth proves herself to be cruel and possibly mad.

Moth escapes, only to find that her mother has vacated the tenement where she once lived and left no forwarding address. Through a series of events, Moth ends up being “rescued” by Mae, a prostitute in training. She goes to live in a high class brothel where she undergoes training for the life of a whore. When Moth is assessed as being ready, her virginity will be sold to the highest bidder. Men pay high prices for the right to deflower a young virgin, especially a beautiful girl like Moth, who has been trained in the desirable social skills.

In time, Moth is befriended by a woman physician, “Doctress Sadie”, who tends to the physical needs of the women and girls in the brothel. Dr. Sadie teaches Moth to beware of participating in “the virgin cure.” Men with syphilis and other incurable diseases believed that their diseases could be cured by having sex with a virgin.

One fascinating aspect of this book lies in the fact that the Dr. Sadie character is based on the life of real “Dr. Sadie”, an ancestor of Ami McKay. The actual Dr. Sadie was one of the first women to become a physician. She devoted her life to working in the Bowery, lending assistance to impoverished women and children.

The book paints a devastating picture of what life was like for women, especially poor women, in that period of New York’s history.

If you liked The Birth House, you will like The Virgin Cure. It’s a well-developed story with characters that you care about. If there is a negative to this book, it is that the end is somewhat difficult to believe.


The Midwife’s Confession, by Diane Chamberlain, is the story of families and friends who are dealing with secrets.

The novel begins with the suicide of midwife, Noelle. The suicide is mystery to all those who knew Noelle. She left no suicide note, was not depressed and had demonstrated no warning signs that she was about to take her own life.

As the novel progresses, we are introduced to Noelle’s friends, their spouses and their teenage children. The story is told from the point of view of Noelle herself, and of her two women friends, Emmerson and Tara, and Emmerson’s and Tara’s teenagers, Grace and Jenny. Later on, we hear from the point of view of Anna, a woman who’s life is entwined with the other women’s in a most unusual manner.

As the women struggle to make sense of the suicide, we gradually realize that Noelle was a woman of mystery. Step by step, we are shown clues that her life was not what it seemed, and the intrigue shows itself in ways that threaten to break the friendship of the key protagonists.

In the end, a mystery is solved and the key persons resolve their issues as best they can.

It’s a good book and I enjoyed reading it. At times, it was a little more slow moving than I would have liked, but perhaps I am just too hooked on thriller suspense stories.

If you like Diane Chamberlain’s books, this one will not disappoint.

In Inferno by author Dan Brown, Professor Robert Langdon returns to save the world (and his own skin) from yet another disaster-in-the-making.

If you are new to Dan Brown and his Robert Langdon series, this is the gist of it. Professor Langdon is an expert in art history and symbology. Typically, Langdon must solve a mystery using clues and riddles as me moves through the great art galleries and museums of the world, searching for answers to a riddle or puzzle.

In this, the fourth book in the series, Langdon visits the great historic sites of Florence, Venice and Istanbul, seeking clues taken from the great epic poem, The Divine Comedy. Written by Italian poet Dante Alighieri, the poem consists of three parts: Inferno, Purgatorio and Paradisio. Brown’s latest book is based on the writings in the first part, Inferno (or Hell). If Langdon fails to solve the riddle, all of mankind will perish in a man-made plague. The situation is complicated by the fact that we never know, until the end, which of the characters are friends and which are foe.

I am a fan of Dan Brown. I loved the first three books in the series, especially the first, The Da Vinci Code. However, I consider Inferno to be the least enjoyable of the four. Perhaps I am just becoming too familiar with Brown’s formulaic stories, but I tend to think that Robert Langdon has come close to reaching his expiration date, literature-wise.

On the other hand, the art history and the descriptions of the architecture and art in Italy and Turkey is fascinating and worthwhile. It made me want to visit these countries.

I wonder if savvy tour guides have created a Dan Brown tour through the glamorous cities of Europe. If not, they are missing a great opportunity.

Lincoln Child’s novel, Death Match, is a techno thriller with artificial intelligence at its core.

What would happen if you created a super colossal computer system, and that system had the ability to learn? In some respects, we already have that. However, in this story, the computer, Liza, has the ability to learn human emotions and human motivations.

Liza’s creator puts the computer to use, creating the world’s most effective love matching system. Clients spend $25,000 to be matched with the ideal love partner at Eden Incorporated. And — it works. The matches are “made in heaven”, judging by the happy couples.

But as you may expect, there is trouble in paradise. Mysteriously, two of the happiest couples are discovered in a mutual-suicide situation.

Forensic psychologist, Christopher Lash contracts with Eden Incorporated to investigate these mysterious suicides.

At first, everything appears to be as it seems. But, as the book races to its thrilling climax, Lash finds himself fighting for his life, along with the life of other happy couples.

This thriller ends as all thrillers do. The good guys win and the bad guys are silenced or terminated. You already know its going to end that way, so I’m not spoiling the suspense.

If you like techno thrillers, you’ll like this book. I did.

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