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on September 26, 2012
Previous reviewers noted that this book was slow with trudging, ponderous plot. But I was taken by the concept--an adventure during an exciting time in history and science from a female perspective. I kept waiting for the plot to pick up but--YAWN--it never did! Plod, plod, plod through Europe visiting her father's old friends and having a few flirtations on the way. Flirtations that result in unrealistic devotion: Both men follow her. One meets an oddly horrible end. Also, the heroine wasn't very likeable. I think she's supposed to be determined and perhaps a bit obsessed. But I found her lack of gratitude and concern for her family, servants, friends, and even animals annoying and tiring. Anyway, I came out of it with a new philosophy: Life is too short to plod through books I don't like!
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on July 31, 2017
The heroine leaves late 16th century Venice in search of her father, and travels throughout northern Europe and to Morocco. Yet somehow nothing happens on this journey. She keeps missing her father; her love affairs go nowhere; she has almost no contact with the people along the way. She fears for her father's sanity, yet his letters, far from sounding delusional, are merely poetically elliptical. (He doesn't seem to have accomplished much on his travels, either.) People converse in highfalutin language that nobody would really use.
I'd be surprised if the author did more than five minutes' research on this period. The book is chock-full of anachronisms; diseases and conditions that weren't described until the 18th century, dishes that weren't known until the 19th. There are also ridiculous made-up diseases and cures that Gabriella either writes down or reads about. And the author uses pretentious archaic city names, when we'd really like to know if the heroine is in Algeciras or Algiers.
Contrast this pallid effort with what a great romanticist like Mika Waltari (The Egyptian), or a historian like Sidney Alexander (Michelangelo The Florentine), would have made of such a bravura journey. Or better yet, read the Angélique series by Sergeanne Golon, about the travels and adventures of a French girl in the 17th century.
There's one thing this book IS good at--putting me to sleep!
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on August 13, 2012
There is much to enjoy, appreciate and savor here in poet O'Melveny's debut novel. She creates a spirited and determined heroine, Gabriella Mondini, who sets off on a quest with her two loyal and humble servants (beautifully drawn) across Europe on horseback and mule to find the father who left 10 years ago and who appears to be at risk of madness. The culture of late 16th century Venice, Europe and Morocco come alive in all their mystery, superstition, peril and horror.The journey is mapped and the tale colored with the poet's pen--vivid prose, steadfast attention to detail,evocative, imaginative passages bordering on the surreal but feeling right at home in the world O'Melveny has created.

One such passage involves a young woman whose malady, Porphyria, causes her to grow the fur of a beast--"From the time she was a very young girl, a woman in Lucca cringed at the light of the sun, the moon, even candle glow. Her hair began to grow in such thick waves from her face and body that from a distance, Irmina was sometimes mistaken for a small costumed bear escaped from the traveling carnival." Years ago, Gabriella's father explained--"We can't cure her my daughter. One of the most important things you'll learn in the art of physick is the recognition of God's puzzles or, as some might call them, devil's knots. He has created someone here who loves animal darkness." (Irmina begged to be conveyed to a cave). The chapter ends with--"As we left I glimpsed Irmina at the window, the curtain of her hair separating at the sill where her yellow sleeve and hand appeared, a clenched paw cuffed with lace." How's that for a haunting image.

This novel is not a fast read. Intend to take time with it. It is a rich and many-layered literary feast. It won't disappoint.
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on July 10, 2015
This book looked like it would be very interesting. It's set in the Renaissance period in Europe, in different countries. I found the story a little bit "out there". The young woman who is at the heart of the story is a doctor, traveling all over Europe searching for her missing father. I have a problem with her being a doctor in this time period. I also had a problem with all her travels in general. Woman at that time didn't have the freedoms the author has given her. What I did like was the description of the clothing, the customs, the food and the like from that time. The medical treatments were very interesting. The seller was excellent. The book was excellently priced, used but in wonderful condition. I'm glad I didn't pay full price!
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on August 16, 2012
Regina O'Melveny's first novel, THE BOOK OF MADNESS AND CURES, is a meticulously researched and beautifully written novel about Gabriella Mondini's search for her father, a physician in Renaissance Venice. Gabriella is herself a physician, but loses the right to practice medicine when her father leaves Venice on a mysterious journey which seems initially tied to his life's work, The Book of Diseases. His infrequent letters home sound increasingly gloomy and confused, prompting his daughter to set out on a search for him that covers much of Europe and eventually North Africa. This is a classic quest novel in which Gabriella is searching not only for her father but
for increased medical knowledge, and ultimately for her own center, separate from her father. The pace of the book is somewhat slowed by entries from The Book of Diseases, but the entries are a delight in themselves, one of my favorites being blue earworms that emerge from the ground and lodge in the ears of women. The description of the crossing into North Africa from Spain and subsequent travel in the desert is not so very different from what I experienced in the late nineties on a trip to Morocco. This is an unusually rich book that needs to be read slowly
to be savoured.
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on August 17, 2012
I had read Regina's poetry so my first impression of her book was how poetic it was especially in her choice of words and how she used them to create images. I also noticed Italians use the letter z a lot more than Americans do, mostly in names.

I am impressed that the author challenged gender stereotypes by having the main character be a doctor, something unheard of during the Renaissance. The author's research is so thorough in all areas of that time that I know some would doubt the existence of a female doctor, but I do not.

This book will capture readers who are into history and appreciate sophisticated English. I look forward to more novels by Regina O'Melveny.
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on February 17, 2017
The characters were not very well developed and I found the writing a bit weak.
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on December 21, 2016
Extremely interesting and different historical novel. Well written with intriguing characters.
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on February 6, 2017
So disappointed with this book! My book club chose it, but almost nobody finished it because it just dragged on and on. While the descriptions are lyrical, the period details are sparse, the characters weak, and the plot....isn't. Read the Chronicles of Hugh de Singleton instead!
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on June 25, 2015
Rich, elegant, beautifully written - the language is loaded with wonderful imagery and keen observation. It's a great adventure story told, felt and experienced from the genuinely feminine. You are transported to renaissance Italy, Germany, Holland, Scotland, France and Morocco - the author's command of language has you tasting the food, feeling the emotions - being there. Plus it's a good yarn. Just a great read.
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