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Book Review: WHERE AM I NOW? by Mara Wilson

October 17, 2016 – 7:36 pm | One Comment

Mara Wilson shot to fame when she was five years old, after playing Robin Williams and Sally Field’s daughter in Mrs. Doubtfire. That led to her stepping into Natalie Wood’s shoes in the remake of …

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Squirrels and Kittens and Gators—Oh, My!

October 10, 2016 – 10:48 pm | 10 Comments


Today is pub day for Laura Benedict‘s The Abandoned Heart, and I’m happy to welcome her back to PCN. She’s the nicest twisted person I know, as evidenced by the creepy post she wrote for me last year about medical dolls, which I’ve barely recovered from.

This year she takes a look at Victorian taxidermy, which plays a part in Abandoned Heart. Oh, man, I’m going to have nightmares about the kids below for a long time.

Read on, and then check out Laura’s book!

Victorians and Their Love for Creepy Dead Things

The Victorians were mad for taxidermy. One theory is that it had something to do with their legendary obsession with death. But given that Queen Victoria’s beloved Prince Albert didn’t die until 1861—giving rise to elaborate mourning traditions that the middle class quickly embraced—I think it was more complicated than that.

From the very early nineteenth century, naturalists like Charles Darwin were traveling widely, trying to make scientific sense of the natural world. They brought that world back with them for research and curiosity purposes.

The middle and leisure classes were also always on the lookout for new and novel things to fill their free time. If you were even vaguely interested in exotica like a baby rhinoceros and couldn’t get to Africa to see one, why not trot down to the local exhibition and view the next best thing?


London’s Great Exhibition of 1851 featured the work of no fewer than fourteen taxidermists. The one who drew the longest lines was Hermann Ploucquet, who had published a book called The Comical Creatures from Wurtemberg. Its illustrations featured anthropomorphized animals, and Plouquet took the illustrations one step further by posing taxidermy animals in representative tableaux.





From the pert look in the eyes of Ploucquet’s creatures, it would appear he figured out that animal eyeballs had to be replaced with glass. Not all early taxidermists understood this, and their work is sadly (and perhaps for the best) lost to time.

There are plenty of bad taxidermy examples on the Internet, but please enjoy this lion assembled from bones and skin in the eighteenth century by a taxidermist who had never seen an actual lion.

This is the famous Lion of Gripsholm Castle, along with his backstory.


Plouquet was famous in his time, but the taxidermist who emerged from the era with truly enduring fame is Walter Potter. No one is certain, but he must have been inspired by Plouquet’s earlier work.

Potter (with whom I share a birthday; apparently Cancers are a little twisted) took the tableau method and went crazy with it, often with birds (many, many birds) and kittens. He exhibited his work in a private museum in the village of Bramber in England until 1914, and his animals do look incredibly lifelike and plausible. Let’s try not to think how all of these kittens and squirrels coincidentally died at the same time, yes?



The Guardian did a piece with some wonderful photography of several of Potter’s works.

Thanks to some adoring parents, we have photographic evidence that nineteenth and early twentieth century taxidermy wasn’t just for grownups, but was enjoyed by the kiddies, too.

kid-with-crocodile kid-on-animal

And, yes, also by the Paris Hiltons and Kardashians of their day.


Taxidermy as popular viewing entertainment fell out of favor early in the twentieth century as Victorian whimsy was replaced by the very real concerns of industrialization and World War I. People also began to examine the provenance of the animals. Surely they all could not have died natural deaths, as Walter Potter’s descendants suggested.


Laura Benedict’s latest dark suspense novel, The Abandoned Heart: A Bliss House Novel, is set in 1878 Virginia. One of the children in the novel is very attached to a balding taxidermy squirrel named Brownkin, given to her by her eccentric grandfather, an amateur taxidermist. Read more about The Abandoned Heart and Laura’s other books here.

Photo: Jay Fram

Book Review: THE COUPLE NEXT DOOR by Shari Lapena

August 28, 2016 – 6:20 pm | One Comment
couple next door

At the outset of Shari Lapena’s first novel, Anne and Marco Conti are enjoying a rare night out at a dinner party next door. Their babysitter canceled at the last minute, so the Contis have …

Nerdy Special List August 2016

August 4, 2016 – 9:25 pm | 4 Comments
last days of night

Happy Friday, everyone! At least, I think it’s Friday. I’ve locked myself in the den this entire week because it’s too hot to go outside, and—wait, wasn’t I wearing these same shorts yester…anyway, my point is, …

Book Review: MISSING, PRESUMED by Susie Steiner

July 28, 2016 – 9:48 pm | 4 Comments
missing, presumed

Beautiful Cambridge grad student Edith Hind goes missing, leaving behind her belongings, including her passport and phone. There’s also blood at her home, and the door wide is open.
Investigating Edith’s disappearance, Cambridgeshire Detective Sergeant Manon …

Book Review: COLLECTING THE DEAD by Spencer Kope

July 21, 2016 – 9:33 pm | 2 Comments
collecting the dead

Spencer Kope’s Collecting the Dead introduces Magnus “Steps” Craig, who works in the FBI Special Tracking Unit as the “human bloodhound.”
Steps has the synesthetic ability to see touch, i.e., he can spot the traces people …


July 15, 2016 – 6:17 pm | No Comment

The first things you probably want to know are: Is it as good as the original? Is it funny?
No, and yes.
I wanted to be fair to this version and not compare it to the 1984 …

Nerdy Special List July 2016

July 5, 2016 – 9:41 pm | 3 Comments
woman in cabin 10

Hope you all have been enjoying summer! People usually go somewhere around this time for vacation, and this year they are all coming to stay with me. I’ve been hosting family and friends, and though their visits create total cleaning …

Nerdy Special List June 2016

June 9, 2016 – 9:52 pm | 6 Comments
lily and the octopus

I turned on the air conditioning and pulled out the tank tops two days ago, so you know what that means: I shouldn’t be opening the door to strangers.
It also means it’s time for the June Nerdy …

Book Review: CITY OF THE LOST by Kelley Armstrong

May 26, 2016 – 11:10 pm | One Comment

I featured this book in May’s Nerdy Special List, but the full review below appeared in Shelf Awareness for Readers and is republished here with permission.
” ‘I killed a man,’ I say to my new therapist.”
With …

Movie Review: THE NICE GUYS

May 19, 2016 – 8:18 pm | 5 Comments
nice guys

Shane Black, the screenwriter who shot to fame with the Lethal Weapon movies, may have had a few stumbles in the last three decades, but with The Nice Guys, a 1970s noir detective story Black cowrote …

Girl, You Need New Friends

May 10, 2016 – 9:17 pm | 5 Comments

I’ve been reading a couple of books in which a woman experiences or witnesses something shocking and she tells someone or several people. And no one believes her, not even her closest family members and friends.
They suggest …

Nerdy Special List May 2016

May 8, 2016 – 10:05 pm | 6 Comments

Every month I think the list is the best one ever, and May is no different. We read lots and lots of books, and only our top faves make the cut.
Here are the new releases we recommend.
From Jen …


May 4, 2016 – 9:26 pm | 11 Comments

Do you have superhero fatigue? Were you tempted to skip this post when you saw the title? What if I told you the movie is terrific?
Which is what I’m doing. Captain America: Civil War is one big bundle …

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