In Search of the Animalcule by Steven L. Berk, M.D.

In Search of the Animalcule by Steven L. Berk, M.D.
Publisher: iUniverse
Genre: Historical, Fiction
Rating: 5 stars
Reviewed by Lavender

When he is born in 1847 Vienna, Jacob Pfleger shares just two days with his mother, a female obstetrician who dies, like thousands of other women around the world, of the mysterious childbed fever. Because his birth father wants nothing to do with him, Jacob is placed in an orphanage. His mother’s dying wish is that he will grow up with resilience and independence.

As Jacob matures into a precocious twelve-year-old, he is told about the legacy of his mother by her colleague, Ignaz Semmelweis, and learns that his father is a winemaker in Lille, France. Determined to find his father and his destiny, Jacob embarks on a quest to locate him. When he arrives in France, Jacob is introduced to Louis Pasteur who is working with is father to determine why the wines of France are spoiling. As he is led on an intense scientific journey, Jacob eventually also works with Joseph Lister and Robert Koch, participating in the great discoveries of the era that uncover the animalcules, the bacteria, that have caused global disease and death. Later Jacob studies to become a doctor under the mentorship of Sir William Osler at Johns Hopkins.

In this amazing story that captures the real lives and work of the great scientists of the time, an orphan assists in shocking discoveries that change the worlds understanding of disease and uncovers the field of infectious disease.

To read an entertaining and engaging account of what is probably the most important medical breakthrough of the nineteenth century—germ theory—this book should not be missed! It is seen through the eyes of the highly likeable orphan boy, Jacob, whose mother died birthing him at the hands of doctors who didn’t wash their hands. Jacob’s mother was a doctor who believed that germs, or rather, animalcules, were responsible for many deaths. This sets young Jacob on a life-long course to discover more and save lives, but first, he must find the father he never met.

Jacob starts off on an adventure and runs away from the orphan home in a quest from Vienna to France to find his father, a vineyard worker. What comes next is a tale of danger, showing what a brave boy Jacob is. He heads out on foot with little food.

Over the course of the story, he runs into interesting people, both fictional and real. The characterization is done with excellence, and readers are treated to wonderful inside views of doctors and scientists who made history: Pasteur, Lister, and others. The author of this story is not only a doctor who understands the medical aspects involved but knows how to write these concepts in a way that laypeople can understand and enjoy.

Jacob’s interaction as he lives and works with those who have dedicated their lives to unfolding the mysteries of germ theory is not only charming but also enlightening. Readers will learn things, which is a bonus to being entertained. They will see what it was like to be a researcher in an era without modern equipment.

The author doesn’t forget the women who were involved and includes their important contributions. Jacob’s relationships are at times motivating and at others heartbreaking.

Setting in this story is done in a way to bring in even more realism and put readers there with a sense of time and place.

This is a fascinating account that is sure to touch readers’ hearts and inspire their minds. It is worth the read!

Sharavogue by Nancy Blanton

Sharavogue by Nancy Blanton
Publisher: iUniverse, Inc.
Genre: Historical
Length: Full Length (292 pages)
Rating: 4 Stars
Reviewed by Cyclamen

It is December of 1649 as England’s uncrowned king, Oliver Cromwell, leads his brutal army across Ireland to eliminate a violent rebellion. Fifteen-year-old Elvy Burke, the daughter of a great warrior, wants only one thing—to live her destiny as a leader and defender of her country. While waiting anxiously in her village, Elvy receives word that Cromwell and his cavalry are on the way. As she hears the thunderous hooves approaching, Elvy has already decided she will not give up easily.

When Cromwell cruelly beheads a village boy, Elvy vows to avenge the killing by destroying Cromwell. After fleeing from the general’s soldiers, Elvy aligns with a Scottish outlaw whose schemes send them headlong into a tumultuous journey across the sea to the West Indies, where she becomes an indentured servant for the fledgling sugar plantation Sharavogue. Knowing she will surely be killed if she attempts to escape, Elvy learns to survive in her new life—and soon discovers the depth of her own strengths and emotions.

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“The Irish were no different, after all, than the English. Cruelty reigned. We were without justice, without recourse. We were without hope.” Fifteen-year-old Elvy Burke only wants to live up to her destiny. As the daughter of a great warrior, she dreams of being a leader of her people and a defender of her country. But Oliver Cromwell and his brutal army change her destiny. After cursing Cromwell to his face, she flees her village determined to find a way to kill Cromwell and free her land. She thinks that only Cromwell is brutal, but she discovers the hard way as she becomes an indentured servant in the West Indies, that the English do not have a monopoly on brutality. Elvy learns to survive and she finds kindness in unexpected places. She uncovers her own strengths as she fights her way back to her home in Ireland.

Nancy Blanton has captured the Cromwellian era with an exciting and fast-paced story containing all the elements of the heroic quest. Elvy is a fascinating and captivating young woman who never loses sight of her goal. She is headstrong and naïve, but she has a strong love for her family and her country. I was with her every step of her journey, and I must say that I also learned a lot about the historical era. Blanton has accomplished what I think all writers of good historical fiction should. She has accurately portrayed a time in history with a real flare, serendipitously teaching her readers as she keeps them utterly captivated with her characters. Her descriptions of places and events is so vivid that it is easy to imagine being on the sugar plantation or sailing across the ocean.

The ending is a bit too easy and not quite believable. However, I am a sucker for a happy ending, so even if it is a little too slick, I was most happy to suspend my disbelief, especially because I was impressed by how much Elvy matured throughout the seven years of the story and how much she learned about both herself and her world. She did this without ever compromising her vision, a truly courageous feat. I highly recommend this book to all fans of historical fiction. It is an exciting, spine-tingling story.