Just beyond the Gilded Age, in the mist-covered streets of New York, the deadly Spanish influenza ripples through the city. But with so many victims in her close circle, young socialite Allene questions if the flu is really to blame. All appear to have been poisoned—and every death was accompanied by a mysterious note.
Desperate for answers and dreading her own engagement to a wealthy gentleman, Allene returns to her passion for scientific discovery and recruits her long-lost friends, Jasper and Birdie, for help. The investigation brings her closer to Jasper, an apprentice medical examiner at Bellevue Hospital who still holds her heart, and offers the delicate Birdie a last-ditch chance to find a safe haven before her fragile health fails.
As more of their friends and family die, alliances shift, lives become entangled, and the three begin to suspect everyone—even each other. As they race to find the culprit, Allene, Birdie, and Jasper must once again trust each other, before one of them becomes the next victim.
Paperback: 350 pages
Publisher: Lake Union Publishing (August 1, 2017)
Publisher: Lake Union Publishing (August 1, 2017)
I love historical fiction and I love a good mystery--especially one that delves into forensics to solve crimes, so A Beautiful Poison sucked me into the story immediately. With the main character Allene having a passion for science and chemistry and her friend Jasper operating as an apprentice in the medical examiner's department at Bellevue Hospital, there was plenty of interesting historic forensic data but it is written in an accessible and entertaining way. I loved the 1918 New York City setting and how Kang brought it to life through her vivid descriptions of the current events of the day. In 1918 World War I was being waged and the draft age range was expanded, from 21-35 to 18-45, and the Spanish flu pandemic was cutting a swath through the city, resulting in over 20,000 deaths. Kang even managed to work in a job as a female factory worker, painting radium on watch and clock dials for Birdie, one of the lead characters--of particular interest to me having recently checked out Radium Girls from the library via e-book. It's a whole lot of history but oh-so-fascinating and woven together very well, along with the poisoning of friends and family members of the three main characters. Because the author is a physician, the medical and historical details ring true and that was probably what I liked best about the book--that and the mystery which kept me guessing until close to the end and had plenty of twists and turns along the way.
It took me a while to warm up to the main characters and I had to keep reminding myself that Allene and Birdie were only eighteen and Jasper was nineteen, as they came across as quite immature and shallow, particularly at the start of the book. There is growth however, especially for Allene, and I was much fonder of her and her friends by the end of the book--as I'm sure the author intended. For some reason I also thought the book would have more of a cozy mystery feel and it is definitely darker in tone--not that I mind that at all, but if you are looking for something lighthearted, this isn't your mystery. If you love history, crime, forensics and mysteries, you should enjoy this one. (And you have to love that gorgeous cover!) There's a chance to win a copy of your own at the bottom of the post if you live in the U.S. and Canada.
Author Notes: Lydia Kang is a physician and author of fiction, poetry, and non-fiction. She was born in Baltimore, Maryland and graduated from Columbia University and New York University School of Medicine. She completed her residency and chief residency at Bellevue Hospital in New York City and currently lives in the midwest, where she continues to practice internal medicine.
Connect with Lydia via her website, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram
With all of the descriptions of poisoning effects, autopsies, and the Spanish flu pandemic, A Beautiful Poison doesn't exactly inspire a desire to cook and eat, but there were certainly food mentions in the book like: champagne, jam, almonds and the smell of burnt nut brittle, chewing gum, beer, whiskey, newly baked bread and honey, oatmeal, eggs--especially poached eggs, Nabisco's cookies, a "Hooverite" (chocolate hard candy), cabbage, yellow wax beans, juicy roasted chicken and tarragon, cream sauce and scalloped potatoes, peaches, tea cakes, tea, "Meatless Tuesdays" and "Wheatless Wednesdays," sandwiches, cold jellied chicken, fresh eggs, applesauce and toast for breakfast, wine, filet mignon, veal sweetbreads, cherries, birthday cake, Apricot Brandy, a chocolate phosphate, hot chocolate, strawberry tarts, twist doughnuts with glaze, cooked onions and good thick onion soup broths, roast beef, a Danish, and pasta and braised chicken,
Since Holly (Birdie's young sister) requests one in the story and because it's a popular historical drink, I decided to make an egg cream as my book-inspired dish. A classic New York soda drink that contains neither egg or cream, but instead chocolate syrup, milk and soda water or seltzer.
Epicurious says, "The name egg cream is misleading—in actuality, the soda fountain classic contains no eggs and no cream. The three winning elements are milk, flavored syrup, and seltzer. For an icy beverage like top soda jerks used to craft, it's best to frost glasses in the freezer."
Classic Chocolate Egg Cream
Recipe from Epicurious.com
(Makes 1 Drink)
1/2 cup whole milk (I used coconut milk)
4 Tbsp chocolate syrup
Pour the milk into a very cold 12-ounce glass. Slowly pour in the seltzer, then gently add the syrup. Using a long spoon, stir well and serve.
Notes/Results: I have decided that an egg cream is a very good thing.;-)It's sweet and chocolatey without being over-sweet or cloying and the seltzer bubbles keep it light. I used non-dairy coconut milk because my lungs aren't fond of dairy, and it was delicious. Cooling and refreshing, it was a nice afternoon treat on a warm ad humid day. I will make it again.
I'm linking this post up to the Weekend Cooking event at Beth Fish Reads, a weekly event that is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share. For more information, see the welcome post.
Note: A review copy of "A Beautiful Poison" was provided to me by the author and publisher via TLC Book Tours. I was not compensated for this review and as always, my thoughts and opinions are my own.
You can see the stops for the rest of this TLC Book Tour and what other reviewers thought about the book here.
The publisher is generously providing a copy of A Beautiful Poison to give away (U.S. & Canada addresses only, sorry) here at Kahakai Kitchen.
To enter the Rafflecopter Giveaway below, leave a comment (Because I like to read them!) ;-) telling me your favorite molecule (It's a question Allene likes to ask/answer) and/or your favorite soda or fizzy beverage.
There are a couple of other optional ways to get more entries to win: 1) Tweet about this giveaway or 2) follow me on Twitter (@DebinHawaii) and/or Author Lydia Kang (@LydiaYKang) (Note: You can still get extra entries even if you already follow me and the author on Twitter.)
Deadline for entry is midnight (EST) on Wednesday, August 16th.
a Rafflecopter giveaway