Review: The Reluctant Midwife by Patricia Harman

 

Title: The Reluctant Midwife { A Hope River Novel #2}

Author: Patricia Harman

Published: William Morrow: HarperCollins March 2015

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Status: Read from March 02 to 04, 2015 — I own a copy   {Courtesy the publisher/Edelwiess}

My Thoughts:

The Reluctant Midwife is a heartwarming and engaging novel by Patricia Harman, set in the same location and era as her fiction debut, The Midwife of Hope River.

Penniless, homeless and the sole carer of her inexplicably catatonic ex-employer, Dr Isaac Blum, nurse Becky Myers is in desperate straits by the time she arrives in Hope River, rural West Virgina. It is the 1930’s, times are tough for everyone, and with few options, Becky is forced to figure out a way to support herself and Blum.

Harman effortlessly evokes the era in which The Reluctant Midwife is set. The focus is on the challenges of the Great Depression, in rural areas unemployment rose to around 80% leaving hundreds of thousands of people struggling to survive.

With a little luck and hard work, Becky finds a way to eke out a living as the Depression ravages the country. Though initially forced to rely on the generosity of friends and neighbours, she delivers groceries, reluctantly assists the local midwife Patience Murphy, and becomes a part time staff nurse at a nearby Civilian Conservation Corps camp.

Characterisation is a real strength of Harman’s writing. Becky is not a saint, she can be uptight and prideful, she is often frustrated by Blum’s non responsiveness and resents having to work as a midwife when the whole notion of childbirth horrifies her, however it is difficult to fault her drive to better her circumstances. I really enjoyed the way her hard edges softened over the course of the novel.
Readers familiar with The Midwife of Hope River may remember Dr Blum as an arrogant and cold man. His unexplained catatonia was precipitated by the death of his wife, and he is now a pitiful man but his silence also hides a secret.
I loved reconnecting with Patience Murphy, Hope River’s sole midwife, now married to the ‘new’ vet, Daniel Hester and the mother of a young son, but even more minor characters, like Nico and Captain Wolfe are well drawn and believable.

The Reluctant Midwife is a captivating story of hardship, loss, friendship, and hope. Though its not necessary to have read The Midwife of Hope River to enjoy The Reluctant Midwife, I would recommend it, simply because it too is a wonderful story.

 

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Review: My Sunshine Away by M.O. Walsh

 

Title: My Sunshine Away

Author: M.O Walsh

Published: GP Putnam & Sons: Penguin USA February 2015

Status: Read on February 15, 2015 — I own a copy   {Courtesy the publisher/Edelweiss}

My Thoughts:
My Sunshine Away is a moving and poignant coming of age narrative from debut author M.O. Walsh.

The unnamed narrator of My Sunshine Away is fourteen during the summer of 1989. He lives with his mother in middle class Baton Rouge, where he rakes leaves, plays baseball in the streets, chases the ice cream van and spies on the object of his obsessive crush, fifteen year old Lindy Simpson. One late summer evening his suburban idyll is disrupted when Lindy is is attacked on their street on her way home from a track practice.

This is a story of memory and hindsight, innocence and heartache, blessings and tragedy. Walsh brilliantly recalls the emotional intensity of adolescence, the confusion, the conviction, the naivete, and the regrets that can linger into adulthood. He highlights the joy and melancholy of first love, the shock of first disappointments, and the way in which these things stay with us.

The intensity of the first person narrative is tempered slightly by the adult perspective as the narrator segues between recall and rumination of Lindy’s rape and the aftermath.

“Every moment is crucial. And if we recognize this and embrace it, we will one day be able to look back and understand and feel and regret and reminisce and, if we are lucky, cherish.”

Referencing defining events such as the Challenger explosion, the capture of Jeffrey Dahmer and Hurricane Katrina, Walsh evokes nostalgia for long summer days on neighborhood streets, before the advent of cell phones and the internet. He explores the way in which the experiences of childhood and adolescence help to shape who we become as adults, but also the ways in which our memories of that time may be deeply flawed.

“But for every adult person you look up to in life there is trailing behind them an invisible chain gang of ghosts, all of which, as a child, you are generously spared from meeting.”

Evocative, tender and sincere My Sunshine Away is an absorbing, beautifully observed tale.

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Review: The Secrets of Midwives by Sally Hepworth

 

Title: The Secrets of Midwives

Author: Sally Hepworth

Published: Macmillan February 2015

Status: Read from February 05 to 06, 2015 — I own a copy   {Courtesy the publisher}

My Thoughts:

A warm hearted story of family, motherhood and midwifery, The Secrets of Midwives by Sally Hepworth features three generations of women – Neva, Grace, and Floss.

“I suppose you could say I was born to be a midwife. Three generations of women in my family had devoted their lies to bringing babies into the world; the work was in my blood. But my path wasn’t so obvious as that. I wasn’t my mother—a basket-wearing hippie who rejoiced in the magic of new, precious life. I wasn’t my grandmother—wise, no nonsense, with a strong belief in the power of natural birth. I didn’t even particularly like babies. No, for me, the decision to become a midwife had nothing to do with babies. And everything to do with mothers.”

As the narrative unfolds from the alternating perspectives of each woman, it is revealed that they each hold a secret. Neva has successfully hidden her pregnancy for 30 weeks and now that she no longer can, refuses to divulge the identity of the father, her mother, Grace, is struggling both personally and professionally, and Floss, the family matriarch, is increasingly anxious about the repercussions for both her daughter and granddaughter, of a choice she made years before.

Though the plot is fairly predictable and lacks any real sense of depth, The Secrets of Midwives is an engaging read. The drama generated by the women’s secrets is fairly low key, there is never really any doubt that things will work out, and their issues are resolved quite neatly by the end of the book.
I’m a sucker for birth stories so I particularly enjoyed the midwifery angle. I was a little worried that Hepworth may have had a ‘natural birth’ agenda but she presents a fairly balanced view that favours choice for the mother.

The characters are easy to relate to and generally believable. I thought the dynamics between the three women were well drawn, particularly between Neva and Grace whose relationship is loving but complicated, simply because they are very different people. Grace is probably the most nuanced of the three characters, but it was Floss, and her story, that I found most interesting.

An easy and amiable novel, I found The Secrets of Midwives to be a pleasant and satisfying read.

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Review: The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks by E. Lockhart

 

Title: The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks

Author: E. Lockhart

Published: Allen & Unwin Jan 2015

Status:  Read from January 28 to 29, 2015 — I own a copy {Courtesy the author}

My Thoughts:

“This chronicle is an attempt to mark out the contributing elements in Frankie Landau-Banks’s character. What led her to do what she did: things she would later view with a curious mixture of hubris and regret.”

The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks is an intelligent, witty story of a contemporary teenage girl’s determined rebellion against the expectations of those that surround her.

“”She will not be simple and sweet. She will not be what people tell her she should be. That Bunny Rabbit is dead.”

This novel has a definite message. Alabaster Prep School is a microcosm of wider society, and within it, Lockhart explores some major issues including social order, the hierarchy of power and gender inequality. Frankie is determined to challenge the status quo by surreptitiously taking charge of The Loyal Order of the Basset Hound – the all male secret society on campus, and giving the pranks she devises a politically motivated agenda. Frankie’s motives aren’t entirely pure though, and inevitably neither do things go exactly to plan.

I liked Frankie, she’s smart and feisty though she also has her flaws, but it’s the contradictions in her actions and her thought processes that makes her so interesting, and I think is probably the point of the whole novel. Frankie may be slightly more self aware than many teen girls but she hasn’t yet got everything figured out. Like most girls, Frankie struggles with her desire to be true to herself and her wish to fit in. This is particularly an issue in her relationship with the handsome, wealthy and charming Senior, Matthew Livingston. Frankie is delighted by his attention, proud to be chosen by him, even when she realises that he isn’t really interested in what she wants or thinks.

“It is better to be alone, she figures, than to be with someone who can’t see who you are. It is better to lead than to follow. It is better to speak up than stay silent. It is better to open doors than to shut them on people.”

Despite the serious themes, the overall tone of the novel is lighthearted. The narrative is often witty and the story is well paced.

I enjoyed The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks, it’s a thought provoking novel that, from my perspective, explores some interesting contradictions. I’ve passed it on to my teen daughter and I’m eager to see what she thinks.

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