Blood Work is a non-fictional account of the first blood transfusions which took place in England and France during Scientific Revolution in the 1600s...moreBlood Work is a non-fictional account of the first blood transfusions which took place in England and France during Scientific Revolution in the 1600s. If you've ever read any historical fiction or non-fiction from this period and onwards through the 1800s, you'll notice odd medical practices like blood-letting for illnesses. Leeches, draining, and more were done to bring the body back into balance through the humors. If you've never heard of this practice, I think it's mentioned in at least one of Jane Austen's novels. Holly Tucker also notes that George Washington had this practice done. Wow. Never knew that.
When blood transfusions were first thought up and carried out by the curious and educated, I find it odd that they didn't see it as a way to make up for lost blood, but as another way of treating an illness of the body or mind. I loved how these men pursued the quest for knowledge and how England and France kind were in kind of a scientific war over this. Quiet fascinating and at times very disgusting. I have to admit that I felt so sorry for all the animals that were worked on during their practices. But they eventually moved on to humans and this is where most of the drama unfolds. Blood transfusion became a religious, moral, and national problem. Transferring blood between human and animal or even human and human might possible interfere with a person's soul and even worse turn someone into a hybrid with animal and human characteristics! Or so they believed.
History books like these are the type I adore. It's well research and jammed packed with all sorts of interesting characters and aspects of life during this period. We get a glimpse into the court life of the Sun King, Louis XIV, as his Academy of Sciences opposes blood transfusion. We get a vibrant look at people like Jean-Baptiste Denis who try to make a name for himself by becoming successful at blood transfusion almost at all cost. Henry Oldenburg, a German-born philosopher working in England who is imprisoned because he is a foreigner and therefore suspicious. And one of my favorites, Henri-Martin de la Martinière, who ran away from home as a young boy, became a pirate then physician. I'd love to read more about him. As for the murder...well you'll just have to read the book for that one.
As a side note: I was reading this the other day when I had a doctor's appointment. As I was getting some blood taken, the nurse noticed the book title and asked what it was about. When I told her she looked a little shocked and then asked why I was reading it. That actually made me think. While I totally enjoyed it, it does seem like an odd book to just pick up. Then I read Holly's epilogue and I came to understand what it was. She wrote, "early animal-to-human transfusions were a case study for larger political struggles, religious controversies, and cutthroat ambitions during the late seventeenth century." And it doesn't stop there. She wrote that she became aware that she needed to write this book when she heard President Bush's speech in 2006 wanting to prohibit animal-human embryonic stem cell research. Wow. Is history trying to repeat itself? And that's why I was reading it and enjoying it. It's a fascinating historical tale that provides a new outlook on modern controversies. Thanks Holly!(less)
Small Scottish town in the Highlands in 1950's: a small boy is found dead/drowned in a canal lock one morning. First thought to be an accident, it com...moreSmall Scottish town in the Highlands in 1950's: a small boy is found dead/drowned in a canal lock one morning. First thought to be an accident, it comes out that he was murdered. Although there is not much evidence against him, a Polish man is accused of the accident. He jumped ship and was trying to escape going back to his wrecked and war-torn homeland. The only ones in town really trying to uncover what really happened is the small local newspaper staff.
That's the basic gist of the novel but it was so much more than that. The 1950's small town mentality is really apparent in the story. Joanne, a part-time writer for the newspaper, mother and abused wife can't leave her husband because of the shame and the fear. The town's obvious prejudice and outright accusation of any "others" becomes apparent as they accuse the Polish man, shun his Polish friend, and outcast the town's local Italian newcomers. It's also apparent how bad most of the social systems are: orphanages, elderly people's homes, and prisons.
I think I enjoyed this book though because of the characters and am so glad that there is going to be at least one sequel to the novel which, according A.D. Scott's website is called Tales from the Highland Gazette and will be coming out next year. Joanne's plight and her care of her two daughter who were the last people to see the small boy. The cast of the newspaper: Don, McAllister, and Rob - such great characters. There's a snippet into McAllister's life where his bachelor abode has piles of books everywhere. When Don comes over to his house, here's a quote:
"...grateful that Don hadn't asked if he had read all the books - McAllister had to drop an acquaintance for asking such an inane question..."
Isn't that awesome. I totally get that. There's also a part I loved where at a party they get introduced to American Rock n' Roll and it was just a fun part of the story.
I also loved the Scottish lore, history, and just atmosphere the book has pared with beautiful writing. I will admit that were quite a lot of words and references that I did not understand but it made me read the book more slowly than I might have which I actually liked. (less)
The book starts out with a List of Players which, thank you Robert Parry, I definitely used. I love history but am not a huge Tudor fan as some others...moreThe book starts out with a List of Players which, thank you Robert Parry, I definitely used. I love history but am not a huge Tudor fan as some others out there. So when they refer to, say, the Earl of Devonshire, I know exactly who they are talking about. The time span follows Elizabeth as a small child, through the death of her half brother Edward VI, King of England, to the fateful reign of Jane Grey, to the succession of Queen Mary and through her death to Elizabeth's ascension.
This book is so originally written. I mean, it reads like a play. Not like Shakespeare or anything but it's written in present tense, which as odd as that sounds totally works. There are main chapters but a lot of the chapters have Acts and Interludes which I really enjoyed.
Basically what this all means is that I remember this book like I've seen it played out before me. For instance, when John Dee first meets Elizabeth when they are just children. Elizabeth is crying over the recent death of Katherine Howard by her father, Henry VIII. That scene is just awesome. Then later after they are much older there is a scene I love. John Dee had taught Elizabeth how to send secret messages through groupings of flowers. So when Queen Mary is on the throne and Elizabeth is pretty much under house arrest, Dee sneaks into to see Elizabeth disguised as one of the many gardeners. There they pass flowers back and forth wordlessly and you know they are sending each other messages. I just loved scenes like this in this book.
It also does an amazing job of telling the whole story by not just following John Dee or Elizabeth but by following most of the characters. I found this gave me such a well-rounded view of all the tension and politics going on at the time. It's absolutely amazing that history turned out the way it did. It's shocking all the events these characters went through and survived how they did.
Towards the end of the book, Robert Dudley says something that I just chuckled at because it so fit this book.
"And yet I do wonder how it has all come to pass just as you and Cecil said it would," Robert observes, "like the unfolding of some great drama or history play! It is astonishing!"
I absolutely adored this book and can't wait to read another book by Robert Parry. My only disappointment with this book is that with so many other books on this subject, this gem might get overlooked. (less)
The Queen of Palmyra takes place that fateful summer in 1963 in Mississippi when temperatures got to record breaking highs, JFK and Medgar Evers were...moreThe Queen of Palmyra takes place that fateful summer in 1963 in Mississippi when temperatures got to record breaking highs, JFK and Medgar Evers were assassinated, and the country's racial tensions were at an all time high.
Florence Forrest is a young white girl and it is the summer between her fourth and fifth year in school. However, she is way behind in studies because for the past year, her father and mother have been on the "lam" as she calls it, traveling around while her father unsuccessfully tries to hold one job after another. They finally return home to Millwood, Mississippi and that's when things start to crumble.
Florence's father, unbeknownst to her, is part of the Klan which is something her mother abhors. However, her father is a bit of a terror and as their marriage slowly crumbles, he tries to keep Florence close by telling her stories that have deeper darker meanings. Her mother manages a quite successful cake business but Florence starts being pawned off more and more on others, mainly Zenie, her grandmother's black housemaid. That summer, Zenie's college student niece, Eva, comes to stay with them. Florence is made a witness to all and must finally grow up and choose for herself which path she must follow.
I found this to be such an absorbing novel. I normally don't choose to read novels with such obvious serious topics. In the past, I normally tried to read lighter books for an escapism type of enjoyment. But I'm finding that more and more I'm steering toward books with tougher topics. This is definitely one of those novels.
Florence is such an interesting character because of her obvious lack of understanding but she observes everything and tries to figure out what is going on. She's such a neglected character. She is left to fend for herself often and goes long periods of time without food, a bath, or a a change of clothes.
I have to say that all the other characters were so well written as well. Her father, though while a terrifying character, is flawed and realistic. Her mother refuses to stand up and chooses to escape. Zenie and Eva were my favorite characters. Zenie, named after Zenobia the Queen of Palmyra, tells Florence stories about the Queen. While a good influence on Florence, Zenie views the care-taking of Florence as just another job and often refers to the girl as "it". Eva...well you'll just have to read the story to find out about Eva.
I keep wanting to blab about the book so I think this would make a perfect Book Club book. While I've never read The Help, I have read The Color Purple and Their Eyes Were Watching God. (less)
Let me start my synopsis by quoting a piece from the novel: "It had never occurred to me before but everything in New York is built upon another thing...moreLet me start my synopsis by quoting a piece from the novel: "It had never occurred to me before but everything in New York is built upon another thing, nothing is entirely by itself, each thing as strange as the last, and connected."
I love this quote. It depicts New York City AND the novel so very well. Most of the book takes place or focuses on NYC, 1974. We start the story centered around two Irish brothers in the Bronx. The story then skips perspectives, darting around the city but each story is somehow connected to each other. Pivoting in almost each story is the August event of Philippe Petit's tightrope walk between the Twin Towers.
When I first heard about this book, I thought it was going to be a series of interconnected short stories. That's not really what it is. It's a full novel with various perspectives. Front and center is the story of Corrigan, an Irish man of God who moves to the Bronx to work with people in need. Think of Corrigan as an odd modern Francis of Assisi. Corrigan's story is mainly told through the eyes of his brother but we hear from nearby prostitutes as well. Then the story skips to others: an Upper East Side wife, a wealthy judge, a single black mother who's lost her son in Vietnam, an artist who's fifteen minutes has come and gone, and many others.
I can't tell you all the voices in the story without giving away some of the pivotal story, but it's all interconnected. Just like the city. I remember living there and even though there are so many many people, the city hummed as one. If it was a bleak rainy day, everyone was bleak. If it was a beautiful sunny Spring day, everyone perked up. But what intrigued me was looking back into the past life of NYC and it's people. This glimpse in 1974 is not pretty. People were used to being mugged, seeing prostitutes on street corners, and drugged up people daily. I remember hearing stories from my neighbors about heroin needles on the street and the drug running from Jersey. While NYC today is a much cleaner and safer place to be, living there I often turned a blind eye to the darker aspects of the city. I remember one winter's day, seeing a homeless man on the subway going around stealing the coats of other homeless people sleeping on the benches. He had about five coats and was picking up his sixth. But what do you do? I'm not proud to say what I did (turn a blind eye) and what Corrigan would have done is not the same thing.
Was this book good? Yes. Was it a difficult read? Yes. Does it make me think? Yes.
I'll end this review with something Colum McCann wrote at the end: "The world spins. We stumble on. It is enough." (less)
The story revolves around Bartholomew Fortuno, dubbed "THE WORLD'S SKINNIEST MAN" in P.T. Barnum's museum in New York City. P.T. Barnum is the same gu...moreThe story revolves around Bartholomew Fortuno, dubbed "THE WORLD'S SKINNIEST MAN" in P.T. Barnum's museum in New York City. P.T. Barnum is the same guy from Barnum and Bailey Circus. It's 1865 and the Civil War has just ended and President Lincoln has just been shot. But this story isn't about Lincoln or the Civil War. It's about the Curiosities (the freaks and oddities as they were called) who actually lived in the Barnum's museum.
Bartholomew Fortuno is considered a True Prodigy, one who was born with his "gift." But his world is rocked when a mysterious veiled lady arrives under cover and is rumored to be a new act. From that moment on, Fortuno's life will never be the same.
I absolutely loved this story of Bartholomew Fortuno. The entire time period and feel of New York City and the Museum comes alive, but it's Fortuno's story, as well as the other Curiosities, that I fell for. Fortuno struggles with past and with his future as he grows in character and as a man.
I had briefly heard about P.T. Barnum's odd museum which later on burned to the ground. A few years ago, some CUNY students recreated the museum online in a wonderful interactive site. If you've never checked out the Lost Museum website, I urge you to go check it out.
I loved that Ellen took pains to include authenticity into the book. For example, every once in a while there are hand written letters or Notices for the museum performers.(less)
While vacationing at a resort in Alaska, Jenna and Robert Rosen lost their only young son in a boating accident and his body was never recovered. Two...moreWhile vacationing at a resort in Alaska, Jenna and Robert Rosen lost their only young son in a boating accident and his body was never recovered. Two years later, back in Seattle, Jenna is still unable to come to terms with the guilt and grief over his death. After an angry fight with Robert, Jenna spontaneously drives to Bellingham where she catches the ferry to Alaska knowing she must deal with his death in her own way.
Jenna arrives in Wrangell, the home of her Tlingit grandmother who passed away years earlier. There she meets a few characters who help her search for answers to her son's death and disappearance including Eddie, an injured fisherman who develops quite the crush on Jenna. While searching for answers, Jenna becomes more and more a believer in the Tlingit lore and legend surrounding kushtaka spirits: shape-shifting otter spirits believed to steal the souls of lost people.
I am having a hard time deciding how I like this book. I liked it. I didn't love it. There were too many hard topics to make it really enjoyable but I was sucked into the story anyway. My husband said it's not as engaging as The Art of Racing in the Rain, but we both devoured the story anyway. When I wasn't reading the book, he was.
I think the biggest thing to note is that this is an older book of Garth Stein's and it shows in the writing which is not as fluid as The Art of Racing in the Rain. But I completely loved the Alaskan setting and the Tlingit spirit lore. Garth Stein is part Tlingit and I loved that he really put work into the Alaskan setting.
The hard part about reading this book is the topics of death, grief, and guilt and how they can wreck, ravage, and pull apart a family. It was a great book for discussion between my husband and I though. I found that I had more sympathy with the husband and thought Jenna was insanely selfish while my husband felt they were both mildly awful in their selfishness.(less)