Quackery: A Brief History of the Worst Ways to Cure Everything by Lydia Kang and Nate Petersen

The human body has been an enigma since time began when Adam and Eve discovered the meaning of nakedness. Mankind has been obsessed with maintaining a sort of harmony of body and soul which has led to some interesting “techniques” flavored by both our passions and our ignorance of scientific facts. Even if a procedure had some foothold in curing our ailments, there were those who deigned to use their talents to take a popular idea, twist it up, package it prettily, and make a profit off of the foolish purchasers who paid big bucks for something which at best had a placebo effect or at worst could kill you.

Which brings us to the book, Quackery: A Brief History of the Worst Ways to Cure Everything by Lydia Kang and Nate Petersen which provides an in-depth discussion of the various “cures” which have been perpetrated on society since “written” records have existed (this includes drawings on cave walls). The sixty seven entries fall under five categories – Elements, Plants and Soil, Tools, Animals, and Mysterious Powers. Kant, a doctor, and Petersen, a journalist, investigate various medical techniques giving a complete historical background of their usage along with fascinating anecdotes, also delving into the lives of those individuals who took advantage of the public’s ignorance to sell a product they knew was worthless (such as snake oil without the snake or the oil). This book covered a multitude of topics relevant to the 21st Century reader. It will surprise you to discover how many recognizable names supported and even died using some of the listed cures – even a couple of United States Presidents. In my review copy, the index was incomplete and the numerous illustrations and photos were labeled in a language other than English, although I assume this will be corrected before publication.

It wasn’t until the last century that we started to recognize the value of cleanliness so our forbearers suffered from all sorts of maladies related to infections that set in from the after effects of common diseases. To top it off, “doctors” had the idea that out was better than in, so techniques such as bloodletting, leeches, and enemas (they were obsessed with excrement), were commonly used to alleviate the body of harmful elements. Of course, constipation must have been common because opiates in various manifestations were used on a regular basis. Mothers little pill in the form of laudanum could easily become addictive. It did relieve ones’ pain, however, although an overdose was lethal. Considering heroin use, a cheap opiate, has become such an epidemic in the United States that the Governor of New York State has called for people to walk around with syringes full of narcon (an antidote to a heroin overdose) tells the tale that we haven’t learned enough from our past mistakes.

Besides narcotics (which included ether and laughing gas), people also were “cured” with known poisons such as mercury, arsenic, and strychnine. When Marie Curie discovered radiation it became a tool for treating cancer and while it is still a useful tool (now a limited dose pinpointed at an exact location) it originally was taped to the body or even inserted into the vagina to treat cervical cancer. While I’m sure this reduced tumors, the radiation poisoning might kill you instead. Ignorantly, doctors would carry radon around in their pockets thus hastening their own demise.

The philosophy was often: “If some is good, more is better”. So while a hot bath would be soothing, two weeks in a hot tub might not be a good thing, especially if you had to sit in your own excrement. Other treatments included being prodded with a hot poker, swallowing pearls and gold, or drilling a hole in the head and letting the brain leak out.

Perhaps the most disgusting item was the eating of human flesh (right next to drinking the blood of people being executed, preferably from a human skull). Mummy remains were also a popular repast, and when mummies became scarce (those tomb robbers weren’t just looking for gold and gems), individuals killed by the desert elements were a good second choice.

Mesmerizing became popular in France in the 1700s, which was really a sort of mass hysteria, but after a while it fell out of favor. However, hypnotism was a natural progression which still is in use today to treat various ailments such as quitting smoking or losing weight. It was also used as a type of anesthetic at the time when there was a lack of such products.

The upsetting point is that despite our knowledge of medicine, quackeries still exist in 2017. Non-doctors make their “inventions” sound miraculous when in reality there is no scientific evidence to the truth in their advertising. In order to be an acceptable medical practice, the results have to be reproducible. Many people still believe that vaccinations cause autism based on one doctor’s discoveries even though the medical community has debunked this idea. Still, enough children have skipped their required shots to result in more than one measles epidemic.

Alternative” medicines, even if banned in the United States, are available in other parts of the world, taking advantage of desperate people who will try anything, a fact which the shysters count on when they package their products. I was determined to find a “cure” for my dyslexic son, and even tried Irwin Glasses (tinted purple to help him follow a line of print) and Fast Forward (a computer program which was supposed to reconfigure the brain). While eventually he did learn to read (more due to his teachers and programs such as Earobics and Orton Gillingham) he is still dyslexic. My philosophy was to throw everything at the problem and see what worked. I, however, would not try any methodology which even hinted at physical damage. I didn’t mind losing money, I would mind if my son were harmed.

While fascinating, this book did have a sense of tongue and check irreverence, making witty and at times silly comments about the more outrageous “medical” promises. I thought it added some humor to an already ridiculous topic, although some might not like the mixed use of tones – at times serious and at times frivolous. However, this is one of those nonfiction books which is both entertaining and educational with an easily readable format, although it makes you wonder about some of the common approaches used in medicine today. Four stars.

A thank you to Netgalley and Workman Publishing Company for providing this ARC in exchange for an honest review. This review also appears on Goodreads.

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Too Sinful to Deny (Scoundrels and Sinners, Book 2) by Erica Ridley

Susan Stanton loves gossip, so much that when she overhears a juicy bit from a wife cuckolding her husband, she finds herself on the wrong side of The Ton, despite the truth to her words. Her mother’s attempt to marry her off to a morally questionable but well off gentlemen was destined to fail (see Too Wicked to Kiss) so she ends up confined to her room until further notice. Yet Susan was determined to attend The Frost Fair in celebration of the Thames freezing over, a rare occurrence. Who knew that despite her stealthy attempts to sneak out, she was discovered when she fell through the ice and drowned. Luckily she was rescued and brought back to life, but only to be banished from her beloved London – packed up and sent to the end of nowhere at Moonseed Manor in Bournemouth, to stay with her cousin Lady Beaune with the closest center of civilization the town of Bath.

The situation is even worse that Susan expected when there is no Lady Beaune to greet her and she is “welcomed” instead by her cousin’s creepy husband, Ollie. The town folks don’t cotton to her overtures of friendship, especially the owner of the dress shop who resents her popularity with the only decent men around including Gordon Forrester, the local magistrate. Susan’s only interest, though, is to find a way home again, if only she can discover a way to get to the closest town where her recognizable family name will provide the means of the necessary escape. Things are looking up when Forrester offers to accompany her to the upcoming Assembly in Bath, occurring in about two weeks, but Susan is not sure she can wait that long. It seems that there have been a series of recent deaths, and the lingering ghosts can’t rest until she does them each a favor. Seeing and hearing spirits seems to be a new but unwanted talent she has acquired after her near death experience and she’ll do anything to shut them up. Of course, these are ghosts of the recently departed, so who exactly is the murderer? There is a plethora of suspects which only a Bow Street Runner could untangle. Then there is the question of her missing cousin. Is she buried under that unmarked grave or is it that freshly dug mound of earth the resting place of some other hapless soul? Nobody’s talking.

Complicatiog her life is Ollie’s friend, Evan Bothwick, a devastatingly handsome rogue tinkering in the Pirate business and bent on making her his latest conquest. If only she could trust him, but she worries that he will not only keep her from escaping, but also steal her heart. Her focus is to keep her eye on the prize – someone from The Ton who loves London as much as she does, ready to marry a chaste and pure innocent, a dream threatened by Evan’s carefree ways.

Too Sinful to Deny, Book 2 in the Scoundrels and Sinners series, never seemed to end. While Erica Ridley tried to capture a sense of gothic all she exceeded in doing was to create a horrifying scenario filled with mean spiritedness and senseless violence which could not be compensated for by the rest of the trappings of a Regency Romance. The ghosts actually provided a bit of levity, if you can believe that. While the love interests had a somewhat decent sensibility, the townsfolk were a horrid unredeeming bunch who I’d just as soon not meet again. The only scene which brought a smile to my lips was when the heroine buys a seemingly endless round of drinks resulting in a packed bar with a tab she can never hope to pay unless her parents cough up her allowance.

If you are a fan of the Saw movies, this one is for you, but if you avoid fare such as chainsaw massacres, then find another book to read. Two and a half stars.

This ARC was provided by Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

Too Wicked to Kiss (Scoundrels and Secrets, Book 1) by Erica Ridley

Miss Evangeline Pemberton has a gift or perhaps it’s better to describe it as a curse. The daughter of a gypsy, she has inherited the ability to see “visions”, whether from the past, present, or future, just by touching another. Her mother, forced to marry in the face of disgrace, has died at the hands of her sadistic husband, forcing Evangeline to run away or face the cruelty of a stepfather that feels he owns her and her power. Unfortunately the woman she has turned to in desperation is also quite despicable and she finds herself at a house party in a creepy mansion owned by Gavin Lioncroft, a known killer, with the task of helping compromise her friend Susan, Lady Stanton’s daughter, into matrimony to that very owner of Blackberry Manor. Little does Evangeline expect to develop feeling for the handsome, gruff man who has a tendency to react with his fists, nor does Gavin know how to combat the instant attraction they feel towards one another.

Also at the gathering is Lioncroft’s sister, Rose, with her husband, Lord Hetherton, and their children, as well as Rose’s brother-in-law, Benedict Rutherford and his wife Francine, plus their cousin Edmund. An elderly, doddering gentleman, Mr Teasdale has also been invited (targeted) as a prospective husband for Rose’s eldest daughter Nancy. Hetherton turns out to be a real piece of work so when he turns up dead nobody, except perhaps his children, seem upset. His insulting behavior gives everyone a motive, but the prime candidate is the host who publicly threatened to kill his brother-in-law after witnessing the results of his spousal abuse. Somehow Evangeline’s gift has been revealed, although she claims her insight is because she hears messages from God, and she sets out to discover the truth, hopefully proving Gavin’s innocence. Mayhem ensues. While everyone wants to leave ASAP, it is Jane’s thirteenth birthday and she has been promised a party so they all stay to celebrate resulting in the best day of her life (despite her recent father’s murder), giving Evangeline time to discover the identity of the true murderer.

While this started out as an enticing read Too Wicked to Kiss by Erica Ridley turned out to be long winded with internal repetitive narratives which distracted from the whole. Disguised as a Gothic story, instead of being mysterious, much of this Regency Romance is nonsensical. While there were some potentially interesting characters, none of the secondary cast of players was fully developed. The reason Miss Susan Stanton (one of the better defined individuals) was banned from society and thus reduced to entrapping a husband, was lame and the reader is at a loss for the irrational behaviors of her mother. Edmund was constantly drunk which was perhaps a reason for his inappropriate crudeness which would never have been tolerated at a house party, and the other guests were just as one sided in their descriptions. The children, however, were a delight, and injected some light heartedness into a dark theme. I also couldn’t understand why the Lioncrofts blackballed their brother after their parents death since it was all obviously an accident. Under all the handwringing there was a decent plot, but you had to search to find it. This is Book 1 of the Scoundrels and Secrets series.

Three stars and a thank you to Netgalley for providing this ARC in exchange for an honest review. This review also appears on my blog, Gotta Read.

Nick Bertozzi’s Adaptation of The Good Earth by Pearl S Buck

It seems like everyone read The Good Earth by Pearl S Buck during their high school years and even if they didn’t, they’ve at least heard of this book. Buck, as a Westerner, was criticized for daring to write a story about a family in China. Taking place in the 1920’s it’s a universal story about a man’s struggles in life from his years as a young farmer through his old age, dealing with the numerous trials which come from overseeing a large extended family. He makes mistakes, lives through various crises, has disgruntled sons, and supports a bunch of leeches who take advantage of his hard work as he moves from poverty into wealth. In the background is the Chinese Revolution and the shedding of the old ways. As the reader becomes immersed in the story, they grow to understand something of the culture from that time period. Published in 1931, this book was considered a ground breaker for a generation of people who knew nothing about the Chinese culture.

This review does not attempt to rate Pearl S Buck’s works. Instead I would like to focus on the adaptation by Nick Bertozzi who has created a graphic novel illustrating the plot line of the original work. While it helps if you’ve already read the book, the reader can easily get more than a gist of the tale through this condensed version of Buck’s words. The black and white line drawings, however are problematic. I received an ARC from Netgalley so perhaps additions have been made to the illustrations for the final copy to make them clearer and more defined. While in the beginning there are some relevant details, as the book progresses there is less and less definition to the drawings. You definitely need the text, at times, to figure out what is going on in the picture. So even though the adaptation is adequate, the graphics are not. While I wasn’t expecting color (it just wouldn’t have been appropriate in a story reflecting the grayness of their lives), I was expecting a sharper image with characters who were well shaped instead of basically a blob. My main complaint is the abrupt ending with a final panel which only vaguely captures any of Buck’s nuances unless you just happened to have recently read the final paragraph of the book.

Hopefully the final draft had an improved quality. Still, illustrations always enhance a work, which is why graphic novels are so popular, and I appreciate when the classics are made more approachable for the upcoming generations. A barely three star version of a five star book.

I received an ARC from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

Big Nate: A Good Old-Fashioned Wedgie by Lincoln Peirce

Nate Wright is back searching for romance by putting little notes on each girl’s locker, helping his friend Chad lose some weight, and playing baseball on a team called the Cream Puffs. It’s the end of another school year, time for yearbook signatures then summer vacation with baseball, the beach, and a trip to the fair. Gramps visits, Nate earns money so he can go to the movies, and his dog Spitsy continues to be an embarrassment. Ever unsuccessful in his various attempts at courtship, poor Nate is rejected by the new pitcher Lila, who already has a boyfriend, as well as his former love, Jenny, who’s back in town and still with foreign exchange student Artur. Yet he has hope, so Nate takes on the role of Private Eye to discover who wrote the scrap of note he found which must indicate there’s an admirer out there.

Big Nate: A Good Old-Fashioned Wedgie by Lincoln Peirce is full of word plays, poetry, jokes, and humor achieved by taking ordinary events experienced by preteens and creating a twist which brings a smile and even a laugh to the reader. Nate is both clever and an idiot at the same time as he deals with not only his nemesis Mrs Godfrey (she always has the last word) but his sister Ellen, his dad, Randy the school bully, and tattle tale Gina. With his tag along friends, Albert and Francis, Nate finds himself in questionable situations, but he never gives up even if his actions result in an old fashioned wedgie.

My favorite sequence is when Nate is trying to adjust to summer vacation but keeps waking up at 6:30 in the morning. His solution: staying up all night watching TV and drinking Mountain Dew so he can finally sleep in until 9:30. Unfortunately it’s PM not AM. Dad comments,”Time to readjust your readjustment.”

A quick fun read perfect for middle schoolers who will relate to Big Nate’s angst.

A thank you to Netgalley for a copy of this ARC in exchange for an honest review.

Harley Quinn Volume 2 (Issues 8-13): Joker Loves Harley (Rebirth)

It’s a comic book, not the Great American Novel, so have fun.

In this particular set of stories, Harley Quinn Volume 2 (Issues 8-13): Joker Loves Harley (Rebirth), we are taken in all different directions as Harley relates her dreams to her shrink who recommends she take a vacation. So it’s off to Bermuda with Poison Ivy to visit Sy where, surprise, they find themselves in the midst of a nudist colony (all tastefully done). With tears when the vaca is over, Harley must leave her loved one behind and we enter into some dark moments fraught with danger and the appearance of the Joker who claims he has changed. Harley isn’t buying it, but there’s quite a bit of violence involved with lots of blood and guts, a hospital stay, and more than one cold blooded murder. Various flashbacks remind us of previous plot lines which have a bearing on this set of tales and Harley’s friends are there to back her up. Rounding things out are some amusing tidbits involving a Harley Wizard of Oz and some Saving Santa.

While each illustrator has a different take on Harley, all are totally recognizable and appealing, full of sexual innuendos and the color and detail designed to grab your attention.

While I don’t mind the violence, it’s to be expected with such psychotic characters, I object to senseless murders, but with all the gore we see on television and in the movies, perhaps I’m being too judgmental. Just look at how popular Game of Thrones has become where viewers look forward to the predicting the next victim to succumb to death. Written by Amanda Connor and Jimmy Palmiotti with art by Chad Hardin and John Timms.

Three stars and a thank you to Netgalley and DC Comics for providing this ARC in exchange for an honest review. This review also appears on Goodreads.

Moon Tiger by Penelope Lively

At 70 something, Claudia Hampton is at a facility dying of cancer where she decides to write a history of the world, in essence her history. Yet this is not to be a boring tome, but a kaleidoscope of memories switching back and forth over time, like a shuffled deck of cards, as thoughts of past events flit through her mind. One of the nurses asks the doctor if she was a somebody due to her high handed behaviors. With an offhand remark he responds that it appears so, some sort of writer in her day.

And what a “day” that was. Born in England in 1910, losing her father in the first world war, Claudia and her brother Gordon are a handful that their mother can’t or won’t control, so they forge their own path, constantly competing even on the minutest of levels. At the age of ten she asks God to kill her brother so she can win a foot race and when her brother is victorious she decides to become an agnostic. Constantly bickering, the two are as close as two siblings can be, with Gordon becoming a renowned economist and Claudia achieving acclaim through her writing as both a journalist and an author.

During World War II she finds herself in Cairo, Egypt, a lone women trying to get a scoop at the front lines even though her gender precludes her from gaining proximity to the action. Through a series of events while she is nevertheless attempting such a feat, she meets the love of her life, Tom Southern, and the two spend precious time together visiting the sights during the day, reserving the evenings for romantic rendezvous’ whenever Tom can get leave from his duties as an Armored Tank Commander. Their affair is not destined to survive the war, and Claudia ends up back in London with a new lover, Jasper, a half Russian aristocrat. Through a series of serendipitous events, she ends up impressing an editor who bolsters her career. There’s a child, no marriage but an arrangement of sorts, a movie about Cortez, a harrowing car ride with a renowned actor, a quasi adoption, and an ongoing narcissistic relationship with her brother alongside a barely tolerable nod to his wife, Sylvia.

Through the various flashbacks as well as visits from her relatively few well wishers, we get a glimpse of the woman she once was – someone who commanded attention through her manner of dress, comportment, wit, and style retaining the ability to stun even as she grew older until during her last days on earth she relives these moments, summing up the pieces of her life (thus immortalizing her soul).

Moon Tiger by Penelope Lively was the winner of the Man Booker Prize in 1987. This book was often referred to as the “housewife’s choice”, but it actually has a lot of charm for any reader. My favorite aspect about literature is authors who have a unique way of presenting themselves, authentic rather than pretentious, who know how to shape a phrase in such a way as to enchant the reader. Lively is just such an author. I delighted in the idea of a kaleidoscope approach to ones past, plus there were numerous witty remarks imbedded in the text which led me to smile with a chuckle or two. Then, to top things off, there were some interesting tidbits of information. The details of the interactions between Cortez and the Aztecs was fascinating, as was the grittiness of the fighting in Egypt, a location of World War II which we sometimes neglect with our focus on Japan or Germany. Yes, the warfront extended to Africa and those interactions have a direct impact on our current political climate.

Lively, who was born in Cairo in 1933, speaks from first hand knowledge vividly describing the desert, transporting the reader into an almost virtual experience of those war torn times. Although Lively calls this an anti-memoir, using her life as a prompt to create this fictional story, I can’t help but believe that there’s a significant piece of herself wrapped up in Claudia’s persona peeking out through the words. While the majority of the book was written from a narrative/third person viewpoint, several scenes were repeated through the eyes of one or two of the other characters, each who sees a specific event from a slightly different perspective (like looking at life through that ever changing kaleidoscope). Four and a half stars.

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