Blood Work by Holly Tucker – Book Review

Blood Work by Holly Tucker
Published by W. W.  Norton & Co

If you need a blood transfusion, you just head to the hospital, get your blood typed, and lay back and have a nice sterilized needle send some nice, compatible blood into your veins, right? Certainly this is the case now, but it wasn’t always so. In the 17th century, you might have been infused the blood of a cow, dog, or sheep through a long tube. And, too, you might not get the transfusion because you lost blood in an accident or something similar, you might receive one in order to treat your mental instability.

The men had agreed that the cooling effects of blood transfusion could be very promising treatment for “extravagant” minds. At the time, humoral imbalances were still understood to lie at the root of madness. -p. 159

Blood transfusion was not fully accepted during the 17th century, however. In fact, the conservative physicians of France were wholly against the entire proposition. For one thing, it ran counter to centuries of medical based on the works of Galen. For another thing, it offended the strict Catholic beliefs of most of the country.

To imagine transfusion meant to dismiss biblical dictates such as in Deuteronomy 12:23, “Eat not the blood, for the blood is the life.” p. -209

Not all French physicians felt the same, however. Jean-Baptiste Denis was captivated by stories of transfusion reaching France from across the English Chanel, and decided that he too wanted to attempt transfusions. To this end, he tracked down Antoine Mauroy, the most notorious madman in Paris, and attempted to transfuse him. The first transfusion went well and even seemed to cure his insanity temporarily. A later transfusion, however, went very strangely and ended very badly, leading to Denis being accused of murder. It seemed clear that he was framed, but by whom?

Blood Work is not only the story of this medical mystery, the death of Antoine Mauroy and the framing of Jean-Baptiste Denis. Tucker also provides a background to the history of early transfusion. In doing so, she sheds a great deal of light on the culture and beliefs of 17th century France and England, as well as explaining the previously omnipresent custom of bloodletting.

Holly Tucker has written absolutely fascinating book. It is an extremely compelling read. Even with a stack of books in my bag and an even bigger pile on my Nook,, when I picked up Blood Work on the airplane I did not put it back down until I had turned the last page. Part of this is simply Tucker’s writing style. She has clear, concise prose that makes even convoluted 17th century medical beliefs easy to follow. In addition, she clearly has a great command of her subject matter. When the author understands her material so well, she can explain even the most complex subjects with ease.

Blood Work is a fascinating medical and social history written with a clarity that brings the reader greater understanding. I highly recommend it. And now, let me just leave you with the questions Tucker poses at the end of her introduction:

For now I simply ask readers to keep two questions in mind as they enter the teeming streets and cluttered laboratories of seventeenth-century Paris and London: Should a society set limits on its science? If so, how and at what price? -p. xxix

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Source: Publisher for a blog tour.
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The Sherlockian by Graham Moore – Book Review

The Sherlockian by Graham Moore
Published by Twelve Books, an imprint of Hachette

One of the youngest Sherlock Holmes-enthusiasts ever to be inducted into the Baker Street Irregulars, Harold White is very much looking forward to his first gathering of Sherlockian societies, not least because there is a rumor that one of the most illustrious of Sherlockians has actually discovered Arthur Conan Doyle’s missing diary. Let me tell you, these people are SERIOUS about their Sherlock, so this is somewhere on par with confirmation of the existence of life on other planets, or a huge inheritance from a distant relative. Everything is going swimmingly, until said Sherlockian with the huge news is found dead in his hotel room, apparently murdered. Suddenly Harold is certain that he can solve the crime, using the methods of his oh-so-famous hero: Sherlock Holmes.

In alternating chapters, we are taken back in time approximately one century, to Arthur Conan Doyle’s life in the time after he killed off Sherlock Holmes. These days, Conan Doyle is nearly as hated as his character was beloved. Feeling that Holmes has begun to outweigh him in importance, Conan Doyle is trying to prove that he is still relevant as an author and a human being – and not just so he can sign some of his stories as Sherlock Holmes. When a letter bomb explodes in his home, Conan Doyle is determined to get to the bottom of the mystery, one he is convinced is connected to the death of a young woman found murdered in a bathtub, a wedding dress on the chair next to her. Along with his less-successful friend Bram Sroker, who had not yet published “Dracula,” Arthur begins an investigation such as would have been undertaken by Holmes himself. Surely the creator is at least equal to the creation?

Oftentimes in a book which alternates storylines, particularly one with dual time periods, one of the stories is much stronger than the other. I can think of numerous books I think would have been better served by cutting out one of the storylines altogether. Such is not the case with “The Sherlockian.” Both stories were engaging and well-plotted, the measure of this is that I was disappointed at the end of each chapter that I would have to postpone following the current storyline, but my disappointment never lasted even half a page, as I was immediately thrust back into the other story. As ridiculous as this may sound, I also loved the chapter length. Each chapter was short enough to maintain suspense and great pacing, but not so short that nothing happened and I became annoyed. Nor did Moore engage in the manipulative technique of manufactured cliffhangers at the end of each chapter, which occasionally happens in suspenseful books with multiple storylines.

Not only was this an exciting, suspenseful, well-plotted story, it was also based loosely on real events. There was really an illustrious Sherlockian found dead by suspicious means, and Arthur Conan Doyle truly did work on cases after initially killing Holmes off – not to mention the fact that he really did feel almost oppressed by the character he created. Moore’s Author’s Note at the end of the book provides a great guide to what was true and what wasn’t. I got a better handle on the fervor of Sherlockian societies and particularly on Conan Doyle’s life, and his attitudes towards Holmes and his reception.

I thoroughly enjoyed Graham Moore’s “The Sherlockian” and have, in fact, already recommended it highly to a number of people, one of whom seems to be crediting it with releasing her from her reading slump. Highly recommended.

Nicole and I spoke with Graham as part of our What’s Old is New podcast on Sherlock Holmes, give it a listen!

Buy this book from:
A local independent bookstore via Indiebound.*

Disclosure: I am writing this on Monday morning. Around noon, Graham and I will be having lunch together, because I was not able to make it to his book signing last week. I will not alter the content of this review after meeting Graham in person, and knowledge that I would have lunch with him did not alter the content of this review (and, really, I would never have suggested lunch had I not thoroughly enjoyed the book, because that would just be awkward). I do reserve the right to correct typos though.
Source: Publisher at BEA.
* These links are all affiliate links. If you buy your book here I’ll make a very small amount of money that goes towards hosting, giveaways, etc.

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The Hanging Tree by Bryan Gruley – Book Review

The Hanging Tree by Bryan Gruley
Published by Touchstone, an imprint of Simon & Schuster

Note: “The Hanging Tree” is a sequel to “Starvation Lake,” but stands alone quite well. This review does not knowingly contain any spoilers for “Starvation Lake.”

After a mishap at his job in Detroit, Gus Carpenter has returned to his childhood home, Starvation Lake, Michigan, where he became the Executive editor of the local paper. The only problem is that now, even as executive editor, Gus is no longer in charge of the paper. When his second cousin, Gracie McBride, is found dead of apparent suicide and Gus suspects her death is related to Laird Haskell, the man building Starvation Lake a new hockey rink. Gus isn’t winning any friends in Starvation Lake by poking into Haskell’s affairs and if he isn’t careful it may just lose him his job.

Gruley is a new-to-me author, and one I probably would not have read had it not been for the fact I got an unsolicited copy from the publisher and had he not been a Chicago author, but I am glad that circumstances conspired to get me to read this. What I found particularly special about “The Hanging Tree” was the media-slant on the story. As the Chicago bureau chief of The Wall Street Journal, Gruley clearly knows media, and having Gus be a newspaper man when Gruley is one himself gives his character a ring of truth. In addition to making Gus a more realistic character, the angle of media made the story even mre interesting than I might have otherwise found it.

“The Hanging Tree” is good enough that even all the hockey talk – which I could really not care less about – did not negate my enjoyment. Definitely a series to take a look at if you are looking for a good mystery.

Buy this book from:
A local independent bookstore via Indiebound.*

Bryan Gruley’s website

Other Books by Bryan Gruley:
“Starvation Lake”

This review was done with a book received from the publisher.
* These links are all affiliate links. If you buy your book here I’ll make a very small amount of money that goes towards hosting, giveaways, etc.

The City & The City by China Mieville – Audiobook Review

The City & the City by China Mieville, narrated by John Lee
Published in audio by Random House Audio
Published in print by Del Ray, an imprint of Random House


When a young woman is found murdered in Beszel, a city-state somewhere in Eastern Europe, detective Inspector Tyador Borlu finds himself pulled into a mystery with sticky inter-and trans-national implications, forcing him into the ‘neighboring’ city-state of Ul Qoma, in order to solve the crime before he becomes the next victim.

Thoughts on the story:

I absolutely adore the world that Mieville created in “The City & The City.” An outside observer would say that Ul Qoma and Beszel were one and the same city, but the residents and governments of the two city-states would soundly disagree. Since the two were meant to be different countries, although they were geographically intertwined, residents of one city could not interact with – or even admit to seeing – residents, buildings, vehicles, etc. of the other city without first crossing the border and visiting the other city. This made for a fascinating aspect of the story with all of the un-seeing that everyone was forced to do, and allowed the addition of various radical groups vying either for unification or more complete separation of the two entities. The disparities between the two cities was also very interesting, with Ul Qoma booming and Beszel flailing, but attempting to lure in new investment. It was, of course, the murder investigation that drove the story, but, although it was well done, I just wanted the chance to live in and explore this world.

Thoughts on the audio production:

John Lee has earned himself a place on my ‘narrators to follow’ mental list with his narration of “The City & The City”. As confusing a plot as Mieville put together, the audio could have easily been a disaster, but Lee narrated confidently and clearly, treating the oddities of Beszel and Ul Qoma as common place. Additionally, I am forever indebted to him for an idea how how to pronounce the names of people and places in “The City & The City.” If I had attempted the print version, I think that I would have spent an inordinate amount of time attempting pronunciations in my head.


I love, love, loved the story, and loved the audio. Highly recommended.

Buy this book from:
Audible: Audio (download)
Books on Tape: Audio (cds)
Powells: Print*
A local independent bookstore via Indiebound: Print*
Amazon: Print*

This review was done with a book borrowed from the library.
* These links are all affiliate links. If you buy your book here I’ll make a very small amount of money that goes towards hosting, giveaways, etc.

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The Nobodies Album by Carolyn Parkhurst – Book Review

The Nobodies Album by Carolyn Parkhurst

Octavia Frost is a very successful novelist, but she’s not entirely happy with all of her books. In fact, she would change the endings of many or most of them if she could. And, in fact, she’s reasonably certain that she can; in fact, Octavia’s latest book is not so much a story in and of itself, but a reworking of the endings of all of her previous novels. She is on her way to deliver this very work to her publisher in New York when she learns that her estranged son has been arrested for the murder of his girlfriend.

“The Nobodies Album” alternates between Octavia’s journey to find out what happened with her son Milo, a famous rock star in his own right, and her manuscript with the new endings to her old books. I was very hesitant about the idea of rewritten endings of imaginary books at first, but oh my gosh, did it ever work. Parkhurst deftly wove them together with Octavia’s story, exploring the Frost’s painful past and the reason for Milo and Octavia’s estrangement as well as the question of what happened between Milo and his girlfriend. Somehow Parkhurst managed to write and re-write endings to books that provided the reader with enlightenment as to Octavia’s own story while also making them into snippets of stories that pulled me in completely. I really, really wish that some of these were real books.

I loved “The Nobodies Album.” It just had so much going for it: family strife, murder, writing and publishing, a mother’s love and guilt, and mystery. All of these elements worked together to create book that I was able to completely lose myself in. If you liked Parkhurst’s first novel, “The Dogs of Babel,” “The Nobodies Album” is just as creative and an even better book. Highly recommended

Buy this book from:
A local independent bookstore via Indiebound

This review was done with a book received from the publisher via Shelf Awareness.
* These links are all affiliate links. If you buy your book here I’ll make a very small amount of money that goes towards hosting, giveaways, etc.