Wednesday, April 25, 2012

REVIEW + GIVEAWAY: The Book of Madness and Cures by Regina O'Melveny

Synopsis (from Amazon): 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. 

My Thoughts: Gabriella Mondini shares the same passion for medicine and the cataloguing of diseases and cures as her father.  That is why it was heartbreaking for her when ten years ago, he decided to travel Europe to work on his magnum opus on this topic.  Devastated by the loss of her father and frustrated that she is now unable to practice medicine in her own right due to not having a mentor (women doctors being frowned upon in the 16th Century), Gabriella decides to set off in search of her long lost father using his letters over the years as clues to his potential whereabouts.

In gathering my thoughts on The Book of Madness and Cures, I was having difficulty deciding how I should rate this one.  Overall I did like this book but there were also some parts that were a little rough for me as well.  First, I liked Regina O'Melveny's writing style.  Having written poetry before tossing her hat in the historical fiction arena, her writing has a wonderfully lyrical quality to it.  The letters from Gabriella's father and Gabriella's entries for different forms of madness (and their cures of course!) were one of my favorite parts of the novel. Second, the premise of a female doctor in 16th Century Venice definitely piqued my interest and I did like the character of Gabriella quite a bit. I also like the cast of supporting characters including her devoted nanny Olmina and Olmina's husband Lorenzo who sees Gabriella as a daughter to him.

As the journey unfolds the book does an excellent job of touching upon the various historically significant events occurring in the different countries at the time (i.e the unrest in France due to the Revolution, the influence of the Inquisition...).  The problem for me though, also lies in the journey.  There was really no excitement factor throughout the whole novel.  It basically followed the pattern of journey to a country, talk to a colleague of her father, find out how out of it her father was at that particular stop, and then move on.  Also the entire time I was reading I kept wondering why she would start at the beginning with the very first letter he wrote her instead of starting the journey in the last suspected location of her father.  If I were searching for my long lost parent I would be less interested in tracing his steps and spiral towards madness and more interested in finding him as soon as possible.  Granted the book does state that some of the letters were lacking in locations and dates but not all of them so this just didn't make sense to me.  Also other than  intimations that Gabriella's father was going crazy, it is never really explained what exactly was wrong with him.  Our heroine is a Doctor so why wasn't this addressed?  She just seems to take the explanations of those he encountered on his travels at face value.

 I would put this book somewhere in the middle of the pack of books I've read this year.  I would also like to say that I may be in the minority with my thoughts on this novel because it has gotten great reviews elsewhere: Elle, Publisher's Weekly and Book Page to name a few.

 This book was provided to me by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Up for grabs: one hardcover copy of The Book of Madness and Cures!

Giveaway is open to: US

To Enter: Leave your name and email address in the comments.  One extra entry each will be given for spreading the word about the giveaway via Facebook, Twitter or on your blog.

Giveaway Ends: Midnight May 5th.  Winner will be announced on May 6th.


  1. I've been really interested in this book! Thanks for the opportunity to win it!

    Debbie alibraryofourown at gmail dot com

  2. Tweeted!!/LibraryOfOurOwn/status/195187908007829506

  3. This sounds interesting and great cover. The premise sounds good, too bad it wasnt as exciting as it could of been.

  4. Thanks for the honest review. I have mixed feelings about it, but would like to give it a try. Thanks for the giveaway.

  5. I'd be very interested in giving it a read! Thanks for the giveaway and the honest review.

    sidhekist at gmail dot com

  6. LOVE historical fiction! Stacy glavi47 at

  7. I think I would like to read this. Thanks for the giveaway.

    Tmrtini at gmail dot vom

  8. Thanks for the giveaway. I've read mixed reviews, but would love a chance to read it.

    Laura Kay

  9. Thanks for offering this book for giveaway. It's been one of my picks for a while now. To win a copy would be excellent.


  10. I also tweeted about the giveaway:!/carlrscott/status/195679657880854529

  11. I've an elderly relative who has become a voracious reader... I can barely keep ahead of her. I'd like to read this and then pass it on to her, so we can discuss it! Barry Morgan - - Thanks for the chance!

  12. Thanks for the giveaway and review. It's been on my radar for a while.

  13. This looks interesting, my mother would probably love it. kcarlson1152[at]

  14. Thanks for the opportunity to enter this giveaway!


    rexmoy (at) gmail (dot) com

  15. Awesome giveaway, thanks!


  16. g bailey ceis8009 at yahoo dot com!/emptynesterintx/status/197827357552279553

  17. Too bad you didn't completely love it, but the writing sounds glorious.

    cynicalsapphire at gmail dot com

  18. Sounds like a very interesting book. I would really enjoy reading it. Please enter me. Thanks!

  19. Thanks for the giveaway!