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Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Book Review and Giveaway: The Book of Madness and Cures by Regina O'Melveny

This is beautifully written and full of wonderful historical tidbits.

by Regina O'Melveny
  • Paperback: 336 pages
  • Publisher: John Murray Publishers (April 1, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1848547064
  • ISBN-13: 978-1848547063
Genre: Historical Fiction
My Rating: 4.25 of 5.0

Book Description
Publication Date: April 10, 2012
Dr. Gabriella Mondini, a strong-willed, young Venetian woman, has followed her father in the path of medicine. She possesses a singleminded passion for the art of physick, even though, in 1590, the male-dominated establishment is reluctant to accept a woman doctor. So when her father disappears on a mysterious journey, Gabriella's own status in the Venetian medical society is threatened. Her father has left clues--beautiful, thoughtful, sometimes torrid, and often enigmatic letters from his travels as he researches his vast encyclopedia, The Book of Diseases.

After ten years of missing his kindness, insight, and guidance, Gabriella decides to set off on a quest to find him--a daunting journey that will take her through great university cities, centers of medicine, and remote villages across Europe. Despite setbacks, wary strangers, and the menaces of the road, the young doctor bravely follows the clues to her lost father, all while taking notes on maladies and treating the ill to supplement her own work.

Gorgeous and brilliantly written, and filled with details about science, medicine, food, and madness, THE BOOK OF MADNESS AND CURES is an unforgettable debut.

Gabriella has always been inquisitive and a seeker of knowledge. She loved following her father during his doctoring rounds and listening to his comments on ailments and cures.  She had been his helper to gather and compile information for the Book of Diseases that he would someday publish. Gabriella was distressed when her father left to travel and learn more diseases for his book. She didn’t understand why she could not go along and was left with her nagging and negative mother who only wants Gabriella to settle into a proper young lady and find a husband.

Gabriella remained home for ten years, keeping her own notes and caring for women with their singular diseases, including frailties of the mind. But the male dominated society of doctors of Venetia in 1590 do not wish to acknowledge a female doctor. Since her father was no longer around to sponsor her she is banned from the society and university.  Gabriella decides to search out her father by following his trail across the continent.

Gabriella sets off with her faithful servant/companions, Olmina, more of a mother than Gabriella’s true mother, and Olmina's husband, Lorenzo, who has been a protector to Gabriella in place of her father.  As she pursues "the bread crumbs" of her father’s path, Gabriella meets other Doctors, some friendly and encouraging and some obviously jealous, suspicious and condemning. Gabriella learns hints about her father’s behavior that she doesn’t want to believe.

There is danger along the way as traveling is not safe, especially for a young attractive lady. Gabriella almost finds a place and a man to settle with but another clue pulls her back to her search.  What condition will her father be in if she can even find him alive?  Will finding him help Gabriella find herself?

Ms. O’Melveny has created a wonderful image of life as it may have been for a spirited woman whose dreams of being more than a chatelaine, mate and mother brought jeers and antagonism. Gabriella’s striving to be a female Doctor helping women was difficult enough but the risks were increased in a repressed society where even herbal cures were often considered witchcraft.  The story is told in third person POV and the author uses journal entries of diseases to reveal the level of information - or sometimes lack thereof - existing at the time.

Gabriella is a strong minded and interesting character. The plot is suitably interesting and the story is richly and beautifully portrayed. The descriptions of Venice, Edenburg and Marooco, as well as travels between are alternately breathtaking and fearsome. If you enjoy historical fiction that portrays an strong, engaging protagonist in a difficult but true to times setting I think you would enjoy this work.

Gabriella’s relationship with her mother:
..."Why not marry a good doctor? Why must you be one?" ....this time I simply stared at her, fierce and speechless with hurt. We were on opposite sides of a deep channel, no bridge between us. The sea ran on in the dark. Page 21.
Beginning the travels:
... I watched the Zattere retreat, then San Marco appear beyond the other bell towers, steeples, canted roofs, the other quarters shabby, mossy, glorious, gleaming, prayerful, lively, sorrowful, muted, exuberant, fleshy, fabulous, then diminished–made one by distance, faint, flat, bluish white, thin as gauze I might use to wrap a wound. Page 32.
A distinction between Lorenzo and Gabriella’s father:
My fist closed over the box and I pressed my head against Olmina, crying. Lorenzo had carried my teeth like seed pearls as he watched me grow into a woman. And still I wanted to travel to the ends of the earth – to Marocco now – for the father who’d abandoned me. Page 261.
A Big Thank You to Anna at Little Brown & Co., Division of Hachette, for providing this book for review and copies for giveaway!
This book will be added to my ARC and New Author challenge lists.

1. Visit the author's website and tell me something of interest you find there.
2. For an extra entry, become a follower or tell me if you are already a follower.
(Two total entries possible.)

* This contest is only open to residents of US and Canada.
* No P.O. Boxes Please - for shipping reasons.
* Limit one win per household.
* This contest will close 10 PM (Central) on May 18, 2012.
The winners will be randomly selected from all entries and announced on May 19 with 72 hours to complete the winners form.


  1. I learned there are many interesting reasons why this author wrote The Garden of Madness. One is the disappearance of her father and also, an herb garden influenced her. Her page is beautiful.

  2. Here is my email address if I should be so lucky.


  3. I enjoyed the painting by Sofonisba Anguissola

 of her father painting her.

    I'm a GFC follower!

  4. I liked the poetry section

    I'm a new follower on GFC!



  5. I am dying to read this. I am so glad that you liked it. Thanks for the great review.

  6. Oh my goodness...this is right up my alley! I think its so interesting that the idea for the story came from the culmination of many pieces from the author's life; exposure to Dante' Divine Comedy, her own father, a box of keys, an herb garden, etc. It's like the perfect storm! I can't wait to read The Book of Madness and Cures...keeping my fingers crossed! I follow you via GFC (Beth DiIorio) and Email -
    Beth :-)

  7. Thank you so much for the review!

    I'm already a follower!
    I found out from Regina's website that she is also an assemblage artist, amazing!

    I have my fingers crossed!

  8. What an interesting sounding book. I've been following it ever since I first heard about it.

    I did visit the author's website and found that she was the recipient of two different awards for her poetry: The Conflux Press Poetry Award and the Bright Hill Press poetry book award.

    I do follow this blog by email: carlscott(at)prodigy(dot)net(dot)mx

    Thanks for offering this intriguing new book.

  9. Really liked the poetry section on the author's website.


  10. I'm a longtime follower


  11. She teaches at Marymount College and lives with her husband near the Los Angeles harbor, where she can watch the blue transit of ships.

    I'm a follower.

    mittens0831 at aol dot com

  12. I wonder what happened to her mother. I am already a follower via email: Lmackesy @ Thanks so much for this giveaway. I want this book really badly.

  13. Her manuscript Blue Wolves, a collection of poems with reproductions of her assemblages, won the Bright Hill Press poetry book award in New York.

    tiramisu392 (at)

  14. I found it interesting that she won the Poetry Award presented by Conflux Press.

    I follow the blog.


  15. Thanks for the review, I've put this on my wishlist, it sounds like one I'd enjoy. Wish I could enter but I'm in Australia ;)

  16. I really like the poem on her site called On Turning Sixty. Please enter me. Thanks!

  17. Follow on GFC as Anita.

  18. Recently the author won the poetry award presented by Conflux Press.

    lag110 at mchsi dot com

  19. I follow via GFC and email.

    lag 110 at mchsi dot com


Your comments are always appreciated!


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