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Hole In His Head


The Only Living Man With A Hole in His Head by Todd Pliss

Phineas Gage changed the world in 1848. Unfortunately, it did take the world a while to notice. Don’t know who Phineas Gage was? You may remember him from that Psychology course you took way back when. While  blasting rock for the railroad in September of ‘48, he blew a tamping iron clean through his head, destroying most of his frontal lobe. Now workplace accidents happen, but what was amazing about this one is that Phineas survived. He lost an eye and he wasn’t quite the same man anymore, everyone said so. Still, he was alive, walking around with part of his brain gone.

His doctor, Dr. John Martyn Harlow, spent years trying to get the medical establishment to even believe that Gage had been injured as badly as he was. He spent years trying to get everyone to understand just how little we actually knew about the brain and its functions. Gage’s accident changed his life as well.  This book is just as much his story, maybe even more so than it is Gage’s.

Todd Pliss has made both men’s jump out of the pages in his book. Reading about Gage in textbooks, you were never able to get a bead on the man. Sure, they give you the basics, but by taking the facts and wrapping it up with some nice historical fiction wrapping, both men become human. So deftly done, there were times that I totally lost myself and needed a reminder that the book was indeed historical fiction.

As part of the tour, I asked Todd Pliss a question or two.

1. What was it, besides the obvious, that drew you to Phineas Gage?

I have always been a history buff and possess my teaching credentials in the social
sciences. My mom sent me a newspaper – printed up like an old-time paper from
the 19th Century, with stories included from that time. One of the stories was about
Phineas Gage and the doctor who had treated him, Dr. John Harlow, who had
been ridiculed by his colleagues for his published findings on the case. Like most
people, I was vaguely aware of the case, having learned about it in science class,
but didn’t really know the whole story and the aftermath of the accident. The more
I researched it, the more I was convinced it would make a gripping “based-on-a-
true-story” novel.

2. So much of a historical event isn’t just about the event itself,
but how it changes the outcomes of the participant’s lives. I think
that is what I appreciated about your book, that it was also about Dr.
Harlow and how Phineas changed him. Was highlighting his dealings with
Phineas and how his life turned out in your original plan/outline or did
it grow organically?

Going into detail about Dr. Harlow’s experiences and how having Phineas as a
patient changed him was always part of the plan and what originally helped draw
me to the project. The story was not only about Phineas, who died in 1860, but
how in the aftermath of Phineas’s death, John Harlow was able to find redemption.

There are so many times that we learn the basics of a story, but don’t get to know the people involved. The Only Living Man With A Hole in His Head brings you out of the text book and allows you a pretty good look directly into Gage’s good eye. (couldn’t resist the pun)

Somewhat OT, but this book reminded me of The Autobiography of Mrs. Tom Thumb by Melanie Benjamin . Both books bring the human factor into their subjects so strongly that you run to see if there are any other books about them.


The Only Living Man With A Hole in His Head by Todd Pliss


  • Paperback: 304 pages
  • Publisher: S.B. Addison Books (February 21, 2012)
  • ISBN-13: 978-0983868170



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Weekend Craziness – The Zombie Tarot

Zombie Tarot




Don’t know if you have heard the rumor that the Mayans are spreading around. You know, that the world is coming to an end and all that hogwash?

Seriously, who believes the Mayans? And while we are talking about the Mayans, have you ever played basketball with them? Talk about talking the game seriously.  That Mesoamerican Ball will teach you the real meaning of sacrifice.



When it comes to predicting the future, you need to go to more modern technology. No, not the talking toddler in the E*Trade commercials, I mean tarot cards. If you can’t trust the cards, you might want to just go ahead and throw in the towel with the Mayans.

Tarot cards have been around since the mid-fifteenth century, but they have never looked this good. Whoever came up with the idea of mixing fortune telling with the undead was a seriously confused individual, also a very talented one.


Zombie Tarot thelovers


The cards are beautiful and completely creepy at the same time. The colors are softened like vintage ephemera and made from sturdy card stock that can standup to any brain spill you throw at it.


If the Tarot is new to you, don’t fret. Included is a wonderful tiny manual with all of the directions. In no time at all you’ll be predicting who Susie is going to lose her brain, I mean heart,  and just when you and that star-crossed Zombie are going to meet.



okay putting semi-serious hat on now.

I have ZERO experience with tarot cards, but I do love great vintage inspired graphics and some of my best friends are zombies.  (that last part may not be true) I whipped these puppies out and well, let’s just say that either I need glasses or the future looks murky.

No matter, these are going to be great additions to the next party and if you’re not careful there will be brains on the menu.


The Zombie Tarot An Oracle of the Undead—with Deck and Instructions

by Paul Kepple and Stacey Graham

  • Cards: 96 pages
  • Publisher: Quirk Books; Crds/Bklt edition (June 5, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1594745692
  • ISBN-13: 978-1594745690


Big thanks to Quirk Books for letting me take control of my future. 




The Floor of Heaven

Three men collide in the Yukon.
*A cowboy, still grieving the loss of his wife, searching for new frontiers now that the west has been won joins the Pinkerton Agency.
*An orphaned Navy deserter, hoping to do what his father couldn’t do, becomes an Indian in the process.
*The King of Con Men, looking for a town big enough for it to be worth his while, fleeces everyone and anyone on his way there.

There is a story in my family that no one still living has really ever bothered to investigate. Supposedly, my great-great-grandmother, a widow, drug my very young great-grandmother up to the Klondike to run a laundry during the gold rush. Part of me thinks, That’s so cool and the other part of me wonders…. did any women go to a gold rush town and remain, um, just a laundress? You tell me, if you heard this story about one of your grandmothers, would you want to do the research and possibly air some dirty laundry?

Never the less, I have always been curious about what it was like to be searching for gold in such a forbidding place, so I snatched this one up. I didn’t find any family members. What I did find was a compelling story of three vastly different men and how their vastly different lives intersected in Alaska.

Told in a narrative style, The Floor of Heaven kept me turning pages and staying up until the wee hours. The Klondike was filled with hopes, dreams, heartbreak, horrible winters, and unique characters.

Here’s part of the blurb that hooked me….

In a true-life tale that rivets from the first page, we meet Charlie Siringo, a top-hand sharp-shooting cowboy who, after futilely trying to settle down with his new bride, becomes one of the Pinkerton Detective Agency’s shrewdest; George Carmack, a California-born American Marine who’s adopted by an Indian tribe, raises a family with a Taglish squaw, makes the discovery that starts off the Yukon Gold Rush – and becomes fabulously rich; and Soapy Smith, a sly and inventive predator-conman who rules a vast criminal empire.

As we follow this trio’s lives, we’re led inexorably into a perplexing mystery. A fortune in gold bars has somehow been stolen from the fortress-like Treadwell Mine in Juneau, Alaska, with no clues as to how the thieves made off with such an immensely heavy cargo.  To many it appears that the crime will never be solved.  But the Pinkerton Agency has a reputation for finding the answers that elude others.  Charged with getting the job done is Charlie Siringo who discovers that, to run the thieves to ground, he must embark on a rugged cross-territory odyssey that will lead him across frigid waters and through a frozen wilderness.  Ultimately, he’ll have his quarry in his sights. But then an additional challenge will present itself.  He must face down Soapy Smith and his gang of 300 cutthroats.  Hanging in the balance: George Carmack’s fortune in gold.

If you are a fan of narrative non-fiction and want to learn a bit more about the Yukon Gold Rush, this just might be your book. The tension that Blum builds reminded me watching a train wreck; you know it’s coming, but you can’t take your eyes off of the spectacle. I promise, you won’t find any dirty laundry in this one.


The Floor of Heaven: A True Tale of the Last Frontier and the Yukon Gold Rush by Howard Blum

  • Paperback: 432 pages
  • Publisher: Broadway; Reprint edition (March 27, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0307461734
  • ISBN-13: 978-0307461735


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The Lady in Gold by Anne-Marie O’Connor


Lady in Gold

The Lady in Gold: The Extraordinary Tale of Gustav Klimt’s Masterpiece, Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer

Gustav Klimt’s Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer is a painting that stays with you. What will haunt you is the story behind the painting and the Bloch-Bauer family, from its creation in Belle Epoque Vienna to how it landed in New York’s Neue Galerie in 2006.

“Repentance was scarce. Austria was awash in self-pity. Vienna was a ruin.”

Vienna was blooming with culture and mainstream acceptance of Jewish citizens in 1907 when the painting was completed. Artists catered to the emerging upper class Jews and broke the accepted boundaries with their styles, as well. The Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer was seen by many as the pinnacle of fashion and modernism.

Adele herself passed away in 1925, leaving the painting to her husband until his death, when she wished that it would be displayed in the Austrian National Gallery. Then the Nazis came and threw Vienna into a tailspin that would take decades to recover from. Anti-Semitism meant that everything was stripped from the Jews: their art, their homes, often their lives. Great works of art were bounced from hiding place to castles to shows, where they often had their original titles “Arayanized.” The people fled into hiding or death camps. The Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer became the Lady in Gold, losing the Jewish name and celebrating the Austrian painter, Klimt.

The war ended, but the governments kept the paintings. The heirs were left to battle in multiple courts to prove ownership and in the case of The Portrait, didn’t get it back until 2006. The lives lost and the stories that flow from this one painting will haunt, sadden, anger, and stick with you indefinitely.

The Lady in Gold: The Extraordinary Tale of Gustav Klimt’s Masterpiece, Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer by Anne-Marie O’Connor


  • Hardcover: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Knopf (February 7, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0307265641
  • ISBN-13: 978-0307265647


This books was provided to me by the San Francisco Book Review.





Today’s topic asks what we are doing beyond the blog, whether it be monitizing, writing articles for pay, going to events or whatever crazy places you blog has led you to reach out.

Chew & Digest Books and my other blog have given me so many opportunities. There have been blogging conferences, wonderful books, sponsored posts, relationships with people I never would have met in real life, new career paths, etc.

What I never thought a book blog would do was bring me face-to-face with a man sitting on death row for the murder of his brother and parents.

Let’s back up a minute.  I love non-fiction, especially historical crime like the work of Erik Larson.  The idea of writing history as riveting as he does seems so daunting. The guy not only has writing talent, but amazing research skills. Still, there is one story that has stuck out in my mind for years. It was a story that I had a tangential connection to and no one has written about it.

You see, I grew up across the street from a boy that later went on to brutally murder his family. It is easy to look back now and say he was a bully as a boy and something about him wasn’t right, but none of us would have thought he would go that far. Most of us had moved away, grown up, been long gone by the time it happened.

Still, when I read the story in the news over a decade ago it hit me like a ton of bricks. I knew him. I grew up with him. My dad almost throttled him when he knocked me off my powder blue banana-seat bike.

Over the years, there has been this tug to learn more about this story. Earlier this year, that tug turned into something stronger, a sort of this is the story that you need to write yank. That yank has led to research and talks with lawyers, clerks, other neighbors, an editor, an agent, and one day soon, it will lead me into a maximum security prison to meet the boy that used to call me runt that grew into the man that did horrible things.

This is where your blog can lead you. It can lead you to the story that you were meant to tell.


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