Have you ever heard of Typhoid Mary? The Irish-American cook in the early 1900s who was lambasted for spreading typhoid through her cooking. What many don’t know is that she was an asymptomatic carrier. This was the early ages of germ theory, and most didn’t realize you could pass on an illness without any symptoms. Captured and held against her will on North Brother Island, it’s easy to empathize with her plight. Until she’s released and begins cooking again.
I grew up hearing the cautionary tale of Typhoid Mary, who was mostly mentioned within hearing range in combination with an admonition to wash your hands. But some people (mainly other children) told tales of her purposefully infecting those she served. These sentences were spoken with a combination of fear and awe. On the one hand, how understandable at a time when worker’s rights were nearly completely absent and to be both a woman and Irish in America was not a good combination. On the other hand, how evil to poison people with such a heinous illness in their food. In any case, when this fictionalized account of Mary Mallon came up, I was immediately intrigued. Who was this woman anyway? It turns out, the mixture of awe and fear reflected in myself and other children was actually fairly accurate.
I’m going to speak first about the actual Mary Mallon and then about the writing of the book. If you’re looking for the perfect example of gray area and no easy answers mixed with unfair treatment based on gender and nation of origin, then hoo boy do you find one with Mary Mallon. The early 1900s was early germ theory, and honestly, when you think about it, germ theory sounds nuts if you don’t grow up with it. You can carry invisible creatures on your skin and in your saliva that can make other people but not yourself sick. Remember, people didn’t grow up knowing about germs. It was an entirely new theory. The status quo was don’t cook while you’re sick, and hygiene was abysmally low…basically everywhere. It’s easy to understand how Mary was accidentally spreading sickness and didn’t know it. It’s also easy to understand why she would have fought at being arrested (she did nothing malicious or wrong and was afraid of the police). Much as we may say now that she should have known enough to wash her hands frequently. Wellll, maybe not so much back then.
Public health officials said that they tried to reason with Mary, and she refused to stop cooking or believe that she was infecting others. This is why they quarantined her on North Brother Island. Some point to others (male, higher social status) who were found to be asymptomatic carriers who were not quarantined. True. But they also acknowledged the risk and agreed to stop doing whatever it was that was spreading the illness. Maybe Mary was more resistant because of the prejudice she was treated with from the beginning. Or maybe she really was too stubborn to be able to understand what a real risk she posed to others. Regardless, it is my opinion that no matter the extraneous social factors (being a laundress is more difficult than being a cook, people were overly harsh with her, etc…) Mary still knowingly cooked and infected people after she was released from North Brother Island. Yes, there were better ways public health officials could have handled the whole situation but that’s still an evil thing to do. So that’s the real story of Mary Mallon. Now, on to the fictional account (and here you’ll see why I bothered discussing the facts first).
At first Keane does a good job humanizing a person who has been extremely demonized in American pop culture. Time and effort is put into establishing Mary’s life and hopes. Effort is made into showing how she may not have noticed typhoid following her wherever she went. She emigrated from Ireland. She, to put it simply, saw a lot of shit. A lot of people got sick and died. That was just life. I also liked how the author showed the ways in which Mallon was contrarian to what was expected of women. She didn’t marry. She was opinionated and sometimes accused of not dressing femininely enough. But, unfortunately, that’s where my appreciation fo the author’s handling of Mallon ends.
The author found it necessary to give Mallon a live-in, alcoholic boyfriend who gets almost as much page time as herself. In a book that should be about Mary, he gets entirely too much time, and that hurts the plot. (There is seriously a whole section about him going to Minnesota that is entirely pointless). A lot of Mary’s decisions are blamed on this boyfriend. While I get it that shitty relationships can cause you to make shitty decisions, at a certain point accountability comes into play. No one held a gun to Mary’s head and made her cook or made her date this man (I couldn’t find any records to support this whole alcoholic boyfriend, btw).
On a similar note, a lot of effort is made into blaming literally everyone but Mary for the situation. It’s society’s fault. It’s culture’s fault. It’s Dr. Soper’s fault. They should have rehabbed her with a new job that was more comparable to cooking than being a laundress. They should have had more empathy. Blah blah blah. Yes. In a perfect world they would have realized how backbreaking being a laundress is and trained her in something else. But, my god, in the early 1900s they released her and found her a job in another career field. That’s a lot for that time period! This is the early days of public health. The fact that anyone even considered finding her a new career is kind of amazing. And while I value and understand the impact society and culture and others have on the individual’s ability to make good and moral decisions, I still believe ultimately the individual is morally responsible. And at some point, Mary, with all of her knowledge of the fact that if she cooked there was a high probability someone would die, decided to go and cook anyway. And she didn’t cook just anywhere. She cooked at a maternity ward in a hospital. So the fact that the book spends a lot of time trying to remove all personal culpability from Mary bothered me a lot.
I’m still glad I read the book, but I sort of wish I’d just read the interesting articles and watched the PBS special about her instead. It would have taken less time and been just as factual.
3 out of 5 stars
This month I’m participating in Nonfiction November, a book blogger event cohosted by four different bloggers (not including myself) that brings our attention to our nonfiction reads. Each week has a different topic, and this week’s asks us to look back at our year in nonfiction.
So far in 2015, I’ve read 6 nonfiction books. They are, in order of when I read them:
- Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy: Four Women Undercover in the Civil War by Karen Abbott (review)
- Drugs for Life: How Pharmaceutical Companies Define Our Health by Joseph Dumit (review)
- Cat Sense: How the New Feline Science Can Make You a Better Friend to Your Pet by John Bradshaw (review)
- Anarchism and Other Essays by Emma Goldman (review)
- Garlic, an Edible Biography: The History, Politics, and Mythology behind the World’s Most Pungent Food–with over 100 Recipes by Robin Cherry (review)
genre: food, cooking, history
- Toms River: A Story of Science and Salvation by Dan Fagin (review still to come)
genre: science, public health, history
I think it’s interesting to note that exactly half of my nonfiction reads were by women and half by men.
Now, on to the discussion questions about my reads!
What was your favorite nonfiction read of the year?
I’d have to go with Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy: Four Women Undercover in the Civil War. Although I have a BA in History, I never had much interest in the Civil War. This book’s title intrigued me, and then the content more than lived up to it. It held my interest, was easy to read (without being dumbed-down), and I still learned a lot from it.
What nonfiction book have you recommended the most?
Definitely Garlic, an Edible Biography: The History, Politics, and Mythology behind the World’s Most Pungent Food–with over 100 Recipes. I actually texted two of my friends while I was still reading it with snippets about garlic. Since a lot of my friends enjoy cooking and gardening, and this hit on both of those interests, it led to me recommending it more often than some of my other reads.
What is one topic or type of nonfiction you haven’t read enough of yet?
Usually I read at least one self-improvement nonfiction read a year. I am working on one, but have yet to finish it. I also haven’t touched a memoir this year, which kind of surprised me.
What are you hoping to get out of participating in Nonfiction November?
I hope to meet other book bloggers who also read nonfiction! I’ve met a couple of my best book blogger buddies through niche events like this, and I’d like to add some more. 🙂
Logan finds himself a single dad after his young son’s mother abandons him on his doorstep, so he moves back to his hometown of Salem, Massachusetts, looking to provide his young son with some stability. He has a bad rep from his teen years in Salem to get over, though, and he hopes his new job as a television producer at the local tv station will help. He wasn’t expecting his downstairs neighbor Melody Seabright, however.
Melody, who seems incapable of holding onto a job for any length of time, gets him to get her a meeting with the owner of the tv station and somehow convinces him to give her her own tv show, The Kitchen Witch. The only problem is she can’t cook, and whether or not she’s really a witch is up for debate.
Can Melody learn how to cook and hold onto the job? Or are both of their jobs now in jeopardy? And why does Logan keep thinking about such an unpredictable woman when he knows he needs to provide stability for his son?
I picked this up on a free book cart at a local library because the cover and title were cute, and I definitely am periodically in the mood for some lighthearted paranormal romance. I was a bit disappointed to find this isn’t really a paranormal romance, but I still enjoyed the contemporary tale it told, primarily due to its featuring a good-hearted single dad.
Logan is a contemporary romance character who will make many readers’ hearts beat a bit faster. He’s cute, young, has a high-powered job, lives in the quirky town of Salem and enjoys it, and is an awesome single dad to his young son. Having him be a bad boy who overcame it for his son is the perfect last touch for a contemporary romance. I can see many readers enjoying fantasizing about him.
Melody may be a bit more hit and miss with readers. The delightfully clumsy bit has been used a lot in romance recently and may feel a bit been there done that. Her apartment is divinely adorable, though, and she has some curves that are always looked upon as a good thing. Her difficult relationship with her own father adds some depth to the character, but some readers might have trouble sympathizing with a poor little rich girl, although I do think that Blair handled this particular aspect well.
Blair also writes children characters beautifully. The son sounds like a child, and yet still has the proper astuteness and vocabulary for his age. The only negative I can say about him is that I honestly already forgot his name. However, I enjoyed his presence every time he popped up into the story.
The plot is where things get a bit shaky. The book is definitely marketed as a paranormal romance, and there are hints at the beginning of the book that Melody might be a witch, but that never comes to fruition. The best I can tell is that she’s learned how to act and sound like a witch by virtue of living and working in Salem. There’s nothing wrong with this, but it was disappointing given that I thought I was getting a paranormal story. I also thought that if the book is going to have Logan suspicious Melody is a witch, at some point he should definitely find out once and for all whether she is one. I think perhaps the book was trying to say she’s just a regular girl with some knowledge of Wicca (which isn’t the same thing as being a paranormal romance witch, since Wicca is a religion and doesn’t actually involve paranormal romance style magic but it’s still a reveal I would have been happier with). However, that also is never firmly revealed. Just what type of witch, if any, Melody is is just a plot idea that is dropped and never fully dealt with, which is a bit frustrating.
A bigger plot issue to me though is that this book falls into the romance trope of everyone can see the couple should be together but the couple makes up fake obstacles to stand in their way and they just have to come to their senses and deal with their own stupidity to get over it. (I really wish there was a shorter way to describe that particular trope…..) It is just a trope that really bugs me. I don’t mind real obstacles in the way of a couple, but the couple just being idiotic and making up their own obstacles feels to me like the author stirring up fake drama to make the book longer. Also, I am 100% a-ok with a couple meeting, working out some realistic difficulties, and then being together. Things that are overly dramatic for the sake of drama just rub me the wrong way. Some readers may be ok with this trope, but for those who aren’t, be aware that this is where the plot eventually goes.
Having been to Salem multiple times, I can say that the author clearly did her research, as she depicts the culture and feel of Salem quite well. She also understands the layout of the town and even gives a realistic vague-ish location for Logan and Melody’s house. (In the few blocks nearish the House of the Seven Gables, in case you’re wondering).
The sex scenes were good, not ridiculous. They weren’t mind-blowingly hot, but they were fun to read and well-written.
Overall, this is a good contemporary romance featuring a lovable single dad love interest that is mismarketed as a paranormal romance. Those looking for paranormal romance should be aware that this fits in much better with the contemporary romance crowd. Additionally, those who are frustrated by couples keeping themselves apart for no reason should be aware that this is the romance trope found in this particular book. Recommended to those looking for a steamy contemporary read featuring a heartthrob single dad and a realistically quirky New England town.
3 out of 5 stars
Source: Library free book cart
Hello my lovely readers!
As previously promised, Friday Fun has now become a monthly check-in on the last Friday on the month to touch base with you guys and help you get to know (or stay in the know on) the blogger behind the reviews (and the novels/novellas/short stories of course).
May was a busy month for me. I attended a conference for medical librarians, which invaded this blog a bit, as I summarized what I learned for both myself and for other librarians. Thanks to that conference, I worked 12 days in a row, so I took off a few days the week after to give myself a nice long weekend. On that long weekend, I did some spring cleaning and got started on sorting through and getting rid of stuff. I usually do this in the spring, but I’m doing it with more vigor this year as my boyfriend and I are planning on moving in together when my lease is up. I’m of course incredibly happy to be moving in with my partner but also nervous! To that end, if any of you want to check out my ebay store, there’s mostly lp’s/records, clothes, and of course, books! This is also why I’ve been reading so many books for my Bottom of the TBR Pile Challenge. Most of my print books are for that challenge, and I’m trying to clear off my shelves.
My vacation also consisted of a lot of cooking. Cooking is one of my favorite hobbies, and I hadn’t had much of a chance to make more complex recipes since I was so busy and exhausted. I made: 4 hour lasagna (I call it that since it takes me…4 hours to make), twice-baked rutabagas, and pumpkin monkey bread muffins. You can see all of the recipes over on my Pinterest Pinned It And Did It board.
This month also brought back the real motorcycle riding season. My boyfriend got me an awesome vegan jacket (for safety) and a helmet (obviously, for safety), and we’ve been going on some nice evening rides together. I’m looking forward to some longer ones out into western Mass later in the season. I also got to dig my bicycle out of winter retirement and go on my first ride of the season. I’m pleased to say my legs stayed in much better shape over this winter season than previous ones, although my seat bones weren’t so happy with the first ride. Ow.
In related work-out news, my gym’s 60 day challenge completed last week. I had signed up for the body composition challenge, which was about body fat percent rather than body weight. Over the course of the two months my body fat percent went down by 1.2%, and I gained 2 pounds of muscle! I was totally shocked by those results, as I mostly just kept on doing my regular fitness routine, where I focus in on being healthy and acquiring more personal bests in weights/cardio/etc… I mostly wanted to see what impact my routine really has on my body, and it clearly is helping me build muscle. I’m very excited about that.
I’m also pleased to report that writing is progressing on the sequel to Ecstatic Evil! I’m really in a paranormal frame of mind right now, and I’m having fun with it. I hope to give the Tova fans the sequel as soon as possible.
In reading news, this month I read 7 books, which is the most I’ve read so far this year in a month. I’m not even going to try to guess as to what made it go up, but I’m glad that it did! I read a wide variety including scifi, urban fantasy, historical fiction, thriller/mystery, and horror, and I read across all reading platforms (ebook, print, and audio). I have yet to write up reviews for 4 of these books, so rest assured, more reviews are coming! For June I intend to continue my focus on predominantly choosing books that appeal to me most in that moment, although I would like to knock out at least one from my Bottom of the TBR Pile Challenge that is unappealing. Additionally, I got an arc for the next book in Madeline Ashby’s artificial intelligence series that is releasing next month, as well as the final book in Jackie Morse Kessler’s series that is also releasing in June, and I’d like to read/review both of those around their release dates.
How were your Mays? What was your favorite read of the month?
Sophie Mae and her best friend decided to join a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) as soon as the opportunity popped up in their small town. One day when they’re volunteering at the farm, a dead body is found in the compost heap. Sophie Mae is determined not to get involved this time, after all, she’s got enough on her plate with her soap making business and trying to make a baby with her husband, Detective Barr. But Barr’s boss asks her to help identify the body by talking to the folks in the community , and she just can’t say no.
Cozy mysteries consist of a mystery (that’s not too explicit or bloody) paired with an unlikely investigator, some sort of crafting, a good dose of humor, and a punny title. In other words, they were basically made for me. (Some even come with recipes!) So when this one popped up on NetGalley, I snatched it up, and I’m so glad I did! McRae successfully pulls together everything that makes a cozy great.
The plot is excellent. The murder mystery isn’t too gory, but is also realistic. The body is found in a compost heap, yes, but it’s just a dead body. There aren’t slashed off heads hanging out in tea kettles or something. Everyone is appropriately disturbed by the finding. There’s no ho-hum just another day element at play. Although I admit I had figured out whodunit before the end, the why and when were still a mystery. Plus I never felt that Sophie Mae was being stupid and just missing something. Why it was taking her a bit to see whodunit made total sense. I also really appreciate that GLBTQ people are included in the plot without a big deal being made out of it. They are just another character, which is just how I like my diversity in genre literature.
The characters are fairly three-dimensional for a cozy. Everyone had something I liked and didn’t like about their personality, even the heroine, which is key to characters seeming realistic. There were also a wide variety of people present from Sophie Mae’s best friend’s daughter to an elderly friend of the family. This range is something that is often missing in literature, and I liked seeing it here.
What I really come to cozies for, though, I admit, is the integration of crafting. In this case the theme is participating in a CSA, so parts of the book are devoted to how a CSA works from acquiring your weekly allotment to figuring out how to use it to cooking with it. I really appreciated the quips about having so much of a certain produce that they’re coming out your ears. I also really enjoyed the scenes that discussed taking real time out to cook dinner and what that feels like, such as talking about how garlic smells when you first throw it into a hot pan. I know not all readers enjoy this, but honestly that’s part of the point of a cozy. Taking the time to linger on crafts and talents that take time to cultivate but are well worth it, and McRae incorporated this element very smoothly into the book. I do wish some recipes or CSA tips had been included, but it’s possible I just didn’t see them since I had an advanced copy.
Overall this book has a dash of everything enjoyable about a cozy mystery. Recommended to cozy fans, particularly those in or considering a CSA.
4 out of 5 stars
Hello my lovely readers! I know you can all tell I’ve been very busy since there hasn’t been a Friday Fun from me in….over a month. I am pleased that I managed to at least keep a few posts trickling in, but even so I have three books waiting to be reviewed. No one thing in particular has kept me busy, it’s just….life is busy! So, beyond my usual work, reading, exercising, cooking, general hanging out, what have I been up to?
First off, a friend told me all about Boston Organics, and I signed up for it! Basically you get a box of fresh produce delivered to your door either every week or every other week. You can choose organic or organic and local. I chose organic and local. So far it has been totally awesome and removed my sense of boredom I had recently acquired over choosing recipes. Getting produce chosen and sent to me challenges my cooking skills, and I’m really enjoying it! Plus knowing that my food is coming locally, organic, and fresh makes me feel good both about what I’m feeding myself (and my boyfriend), but also makes me feel good about supporting local farmers.
Of course Halloween also happened. Friends of mine are on the organizing committee for a Boston area scifi/fantasy group (I am so nerdy), and so boyfriend and I went to their costume party. We were Gem and Sam from Tron, and it was awesome. My friends did a great job organizing, and it was the nicest Halloween I’ve had in a while. We also carved pumpkins! Since my current work in progress is set in the Lovecraft universe, I decided to do Cthulhu!
Hurricane Sandy also arrived. Thankfully, it really did not affect Boston very much. Most people either didn’t have work or got sent home mid-day. The T stopped running partway through the day as well. I briefly lost power, but frankly Nstar did an amazing job maintaining power to homes in Boston during this storm. I was a bit disturbed that my building was shaking, but truly nothing adverse happened. My cat spent the morning trying to dive out the window to chase the wind-whipped leaves (her survival instinct is clearly amazing *eye-roll*) but by afternoon needed some serious snuggles. I actually had to wrap her up in her favorite fuzzy blanket to calm her poor little kitten nerves. I was saddened to see that the National Park I worked at through Americorps in New Jersey suffered severe damage. Almost every single historical building was flooded, but more importantly, the dunes that the endangered piping plovers nest on were demolished. It’s very sad, and I can only hope that Americorps will have enough funding to send larger conservation teams than usual there in the spring.
Currently, I’m revving up for Thanksgiving this week! Since neither boyfriend nor I can make it home to our respective home states to visit, we’ll be making our own vegetarian Thanksgiving. The planned menu is chili and pumpkin pie with vegan maple whipped cream. Nom!
Be expecting some book reviews to come up! I’m hoping to get caught up writing them this weekend.
Happy weekends all!
Hello my lovely readers! It is finally fall in lovely New England. If I was forced to pick, I’d choose fall as my favorite season, although winter would come in a very close second. I might not feel this way in other areas of the US where there is no leaf changing or crisp autumnal weather or orchard season. But here all of these awesome things exist, so yayyyy!
Things I love about Fall, in no particular order:
- Cooler weather, which means I don’t immediately look like I ran a 5k when I step out my door
- Fall fashion, particularly knee high socks! And denim jackets! And getting to wear my hair down periodically!
- Also my hair no longer looks like I stuck my finger in a light socket.
- Pumpkin. Spice. Latte. (with soy)
- Fall leaves
- Kicking fall leaves
- Hiking in the woods
- Hot chocolate
- Spiked hot chocolate
- Giant pots of tea
- The perfect weather for snorgling
- Did I mention pie?
- Squash dishes
- Slow cooker season!
- Long hot baths
- Related: horror everywhere. Oh how I love horror.
- Cinnamon and nutmeg in everything
- CIDER for the love of fsm, I almost forgot cider.
I had a long weekend this weekend, which was partially a reward to myself for making it through what I have been told are the toughest two months in medical academic libraries’ calendar year and also partially to spend some time with my bf who just got back from a two week trip abroad. 🙂 Many things on this list were covered, including pumpkin spice latte and pie. We made an apple pie together with apples we got from the orchard ourselves, and it was amazingly delicious. Special thanks to my daddy for sharing his pie crust secrets.
As for the blog, you may have noticed that my most recent read was actually four books in one, and you really should check it out particularly if you are a scifi or 1950s American culture fan. That slowed the reviews down a bit, but I have this new rule where I won’t kick myself over my book numbers being lower because I read a long book (or two. or three!). Big books shouldn’t be left on the sidelines purely for being big. 😉
Happy weekends and happy fall, all!