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Tonic and Balm

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It’s 1919, a time when traveling medicine shows can still find audiences eager to buy miracle “cures” and watch old-fashioned variety acts onstage. Stephanie Allen’s novel TONIC AND BALM follows one such troupe, Doc Bell’s Miracles and Mirth Medicine Show, as it winds through Pennsylvania, struggling to stay afloat amidst internal discord and dwindling revenues. Doc Bell’s It’s 1919, a time when traveling medicine shows can still find audiences eager to buy miracle “cures” and watch old-fashioned variety acts onstage. Stephanie Allen’s novel TONIC AND BALM follows one such troupe, Doc Bell’s Miracles and Mirth Medicine Show, as it winds through Pennsylvania, struggling to stay afloat amidst internal discord and dwindling revenues. Doc Bell’s show, which features both black and white performers, includes a song-and-dance team whose marriage is fraying, a sword-swallower and her charming but fickle lover, and a medical doctor in a downward spiral of alcoholism. Performers and crew alike are caught off-balance when the show takes on a new addition, a young woman with hydrocephaly, who finds herself cast into a dismaying role as a sideshow exhibit. Set against a backdrop of rural poverty and a wave of anti-black violence, TONIC AND BALM examines the tenuous solidarity and shifting alliances of people on the fringes of society.


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It’s 1919, a time when traveling medicine shows can still find audiences eager to buy miracle “cures” and watch old-fashioned variety acts onstage. Stephanie Allen’s novel TONIC AND BALM follows one such troupe, Doc Bell’s Miracles and Mirth Medicine Show, as it winds through Pennsylvania, struggling to stay afloat amidst internal discord and dwindling revenues. Doc Bell’s It’s 1919, a time when traveling medicine shows can still find audiences eager to buy miracle “cures” and watch old-fashioned variety acts onstage. Stephanie Allen’s novel TONIC AND BALM follows one such troupe, Doc Bell’s Miracles and Mirth Medicine Show, as it winds through Pennsylvania, struggling to stay afloat amidst internal discord and dwindling revenues. Doc Bell’s show, which features both black and white performers, includes a song-and-dance team whose marriage is fraying, a sword-swallower and her charming but fickle lover, and a medical doctor in a downward spiral of alcoholism. Performers and crew alike are caught off-balance when the show takes on a new addition, a young woman with hydrocephaly, who finds herself cast into a dismaying role as a sideshow exhibit. Set against a backdrop of rural poverty and a wave of anti-black violence, TONIC AND BALM examines the tenuous solidarity and shifting alliances of people on the fringes of society.

59 review for Tonic and Balm

  1. 4 out of 5

    Columbus

    Outstanding and incredibly original - whew!.. thoughts forthcoming.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Lori

    Set in my home state of Pennsylviana in the early 1900's, Tonic and Balm is the tale of Doc Bell's Miracles and Mirth Medicine Show, which is cleverly told from the perspective of each of Doc's motely crew - a collection of talented, traveling misfits who wow the nightly crowds with their acrobatics, sword swallowing, and dancing routines. Highlighted throughout each personal account is the mysterious heart of the show, the sideshow freak Miss Antoinette, a woman who suffers from hydrocephalus a Set in my home state of Pennsylviana in the early 1900's, Tonic and Balm is the tale of Doc Bell's Miracles and Mirth Medicine Show, which is cleverly told from the perspective of each of Doc's motely crew - a collection of talented, traveling misfits who wow the nightly crowds with their acrobatics, sword swallowing, and dancing routines. Highlighted throughout each personal account is the mysterious heart of the show, the sideshow freak Miss Antoinette, a woman who suffers from hydrocephalus and whose silence and strangeness creates much unease and uncertainty amidst the group's members. While wholy intriqued with Stephanie's approach to storytelling, the diversity of the cast which includes LGBTQ and POC lead characters, and the descriptions of the common chaos that seems to naturally rise up within the group, I found myself longing for more... I dunno... more sparkle? more subterfuge? just.... more.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Martha Toll

    Here’s my review on NPR Books. https://www.npr.org/2019/02/10/692530...

  4. 4 out of 5

    Nadine

    Wonderful evocation of the the rural midwest in 1919, as we ride along with Doc Bell's Miracles and Mirth Medicine Show. Each chapter is about a different member of The Show, and the members appear in each others' chapters, so we get to know them from the inside and the outside. It's a hardscrabble world, but somehow The Show manages (most of the time) to turn threadbare costumes, flim flam and snake oil huckstering into moments of magic for the local rubes. One touch I really loved - the Table Wonderful evocation of the the rural midwest in 1919, as we ride along with Doc Bell's Miracles and Mirth Medicine Show. Each chapter is about a different member of The Show, and the members appear in each others' chapters, so we get to know them from the inside and the outside. It's a hardscrabble world, but somehow The Show manages (most of the time) to turn threadbare costumes, flim flam and snake oil huckstering into moments of magic for the local rubes. One touch I really loved - the Table of Contents is written as the Program for the Medicine Show, so each chapter title and subtitle hawks a particular act - while the chapter itself is an inside look at the act's performers. That contrast makes the humanity of these characters even more poignant. My only complaint is that the first two chapters felt underdeveloped compared to the richness of all the following chapters.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Beth Castrodale

    This entertaining and deeply affecting novel-in-stories, set in 1919, immerses us in the lives and travails of various members of Doc Bell’s Miracles and Mirth Medicine Show, a traveling ensemble of musicians, acrobats, and other performers who, depending on chemistry or circumstance, find love or discord, common cause or conflict, with their fellow show members. The author takes us into the heart of these relationships, and into the interior lives of individual characters, creating an illuminat This entertaining and deeply affecting novel-in-stories, set in 1919, immerses us in the lives and travails of various members of Doc Bell’s Miracles and Mirth Medicine Show, a traveling ensemble of musicians, acrobats, and other performers who, depending on chemistry or circumstance, find love or discord, common cause or conflict, with their fellow show members. The author takes us into the heart of these relationships, and into the interior lives of individual characters, creating an illuminating and satisfying experience for readers. For my full review of the book, see https://smallpresspicks.com/tonic-and....

  6. 5 out of 5

    Beverly

    thoughts coming shortly

  7. 5 out of 5

    Ann

    Set in 1919, Stephanie Allen’s debut novel, Tonic and Balm, follows Doc Bell's Miracle and Mirth Medicine Show as it reels in rural audiences with variety acts and snake-oil cures. Doc Bell, the founder and emcee of the traveling show, is not a doctor. Rather, he is a flimflam artist who aims to make as much money as possible selling bogus medical elixirs to the poor, rural audiences drawn to the spectacle. The book is faceted, surprising, and worthy of attention. Step right up.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Melissa Cheresnick

  9. 5 out of 5

    Jenny Quickel-waring

  10. 4 out of 5

    Sarah

  11. 4 out of 5

    〰️Beth〰️

  12. 4 out of 5

    Theodore

  13. 4 out of 5

    Bill C

  14. 4 out of 5

    Rosalie

  15. 5 out of 5

    Jodi

  16. 4 out of 5

    Mle

  17. 4 out of 5

    Kurt Keefner

  18. 4 out of 5

    Cyd

  19. 5 out of 5

    Paraskevi Ioannides

  20. 5 out of 5

    Dusky Literati

  21. 5 out of 5

    Jennie Hanna

  22. 4 out of 5

    Redheadjen

  23. 4 out of 5

    skyup

  24. 4 out of 5

    Allison Davis

  25. 4 out of 5

    Csimplot Simplot

  26. 5 out of 5

    Karla Strand

  27. 5 out of 5

    Scoutaccount

  28. 5 out of 5

    Natasha

  29. 4 out of 5

    Katharine Coldiron

  30. 5 out of 5

    M Ann McNair

  31. 4 out of 5

    siris

  32. 4 out of 5

    madx2

  33. 5 out of 5

    Reggie

  34. 5 out of 5

    Scott H Collar

  35. 4 out of 5

    Nicole Gauss

  36. 4 out of 5

    Emily

  37. 5 out of 5

    Michael

  38. 4 out of 5

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    Sarah Nelson

  40. 4 out of 5

    Jeremy Maddux

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  42. 4 out of 5

    Emily

  43. 5 out of 5

    Denise

  44. 5 out of 5

    Sheryl Martin

  45. 5 out of 5

    Deborah

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    Kelly Flynn

  47. 5 out of 5

    Karen Michele

  48. 4 out of 5

    Frederick Rotzien

  49. 5 out of 5

    Micielle

  50. 5 out of 5

    Kim Friant

  51. 4 out of 5

    Amy Adams

  52. 4 out of 5

    JPC

  53. 5 out of 5

    Amy

  54. 4 out of 5

    Brown Girl Reading

  55. 5 out of 5

    April

  56. 5 out of 5

    Jane

  57. 4 out of 5

    Kim Ellis

  58. 5 out of 5

    Ann Ellis

  59. 4 out of 5

    Karyn Palmer

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