The Midwife Of Hope River by Patricia Harman

The Midwife Of Hope River

From Goodreads: “As a midwife working in the hardscrabble conditions of Appalachia during the Depression, Patience Murphy’s only solace is her gift: the chance to escort mothers through the challenges of childbirth. Just beginning, she takes on the jobs no one else wants: those most in need-and least likely to pay. Patience is willing to do what it takes to fulfill her mentor’s wishes, but starting a midwife practice means gaining trust, and Patience’s secrets are too fragile to let anyone in.”

I enjoyed Patricia Harman’s take on midwifery in the 1930’s – both from a historical perspective and also her ability to inject her own personal experiences as a midwife.  Harman tackles many social justice issues in this novel, which make it interesting, but also made it clear that the author could not abandon her 21st century self when writing the book.  I couldn’t help but feel that Patience Murphy was a bit anachronistic at times.  But I must say, I still loved the book.  Harman wrote a fascinating story coupled with an authenticity in midwifery experience, so I’ll forgive her for the “historical” faux pas.

4 stars (out of 5)
Published in 2012
382 pages

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Dead Wake by Erik Larson

Dead Wake

On May 7, 1915, the great ocean liner Lusitania, was sunk by a German U-boat patrolling the waters off the coast of Great Britain.  Nearly 1200 passengers died (including 98 children), and the world was outraged at an attack on innocent civilians.

Larson does a terrific job of presenting the history of the ship, her captain and crew, as well as the U-Boat and her captain.  It is interesting to note that Cunard was well aware of the dangers, yet those in charge felt The Lusitania could outrun any U-Boat it encountered.  I especially appreciated the stories of the passengers.  Getting an opportunity to know them and then learning of their harrowing ordeal, made the narrative come alive and could not help but affect the reader.

Also fascinating is Larson’s portrayal of  U.S. President Woodrow Wilson, and how he chose to grapple with an attack on a British ocean-liner which was obviously carrying American citizens.  Wilson chose to delay entering into the European war by nearly two years and was criticized by Winston Churchill who believed the delay only prolonged the war and the loss of lives.

Excellent work!

4 stars (out of 5)
Published in 2015
430 pages

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The Orenda by Joseph Boyden

The Orenda

From Goodreads: “In the remote winter landscape a brutal massacre and the kidnapping of a young Iroquois girl violently re-ignites a deep rift between two tribes. The girl’s captor, Bird, is one of the Huron Nation’s great warriors and statesmen. Years have passed since the murder of his family, and yet they are never far from his mind. In the girl, Snow Falls, he recognizes the ghost of his lost daughter, but as he fights for her heart and allegiance, small battles erupt into bigger wars as both tribes face a new, more dangerous threat from afar.”

The Orenda is a fascinating look at Canada’s early history.  Narrated by three characters. we hear the perspectives of a French Missionary, a tribal leader, and a young girl.  Rich in imagery and prose, Joseph Boyden weaves a story that is as interesting as it is brutal.  I’m not that squeamish and I have to admit there were times when I thought the author spent too much time elaborating on the violence in their lives.  But perhaps that was the point.  It was a time where values, faith and culture demanded balance – even retribution.

4 stars (out of 5)
Published in 2013
501 pages

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Holding On To The Air by Suzanne Farrell

Holding On To The Air

George Balanchine’s last great muse was ballerina Suzanne Farrell.  Balanchine was already in his 50’s when he made the teenager a star of the New York City Ballet, making several of his famous ballets on her.  But their relationship was complex.  Balanchine was clearly in love with Farrell, as he was his previous muses, whom he married.  At the time, he was still married to Tanaquil LeClerc, who became wheelchair bound as a result of contracting polio when she was 27.

I enjoyed Farrell’s autobiography, but she never does say if her relationship with Balanchine crossed that sexual line.  Perhaps it did, perhaps it didn’t.  But when she chose to marry a fellow dancer, George Balanchine decided to punish her by firing them both.  They found it difficult to find work because no American ballet company wanted to risk Balanchine’s ire.  Eventually the couple was offered work in Belgium with Maurice Bejart, where they stayed for a number of years until Ms. Farrell returned to New York, asking Mr. B. for her job back.  He agreed, but would not hire her husband.

Given today’s sexual harassment/abuse climate has reached into the ballet world (Peter Martins was forced to give up his post as Balanchine’s successor), this book was especially interesting to me.  I found it sad that such a young girl had to struggle with the complexities of such a relationship with no support.  Her family wanted her to do whatever Balanchine said – they considered the job more important.  Her fellow dancers disliked her out of jealousy for the attention Mr. B gave her.  To top it off, she genuinely adored Balanchine and didn’t want to hurt him. She was just too young to understand what anyone looking at his attentions today would know – that his demands upon her were completely inappropriate.

4 stars (out of 5)
Published in 1990
352 pages

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The North Water by Ian McGuire

The North Water

Set on a whaling ship headed for the arctic circle, The North Water is a gripping, gritty thriller I found hard to put down.  Patrick Sumner, the ex-army surgeon discovers a young cabin boy brutally raped and obviously beaten, and is determined to find the culprit.  As the story unfolds, we are privy to murder, a fight for survival and a mystery.  This was an excellent work of historical fiction, and worthy of all the awards it was nominated for, including the Man Booker Prize.

4 stars (out of 5)
Published in 2016
272 pages

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Pomegranate Soup by Marsha Mehran

Pomegranate Soup

Seven years after the Aminpour sisters flee Iran, they choose to settle in a cozy village in Ireland – Ballinacroagh.  Marjan, with the help of her younger sisters, sets up a cafe featuring Iranian cooking, hoping her culinary talents will be welcomed in a community with few foreigners.

What follows is part foodie fiction, with a little history of the Iranian revolution thrown in.  I enjoyed the foodie part.  Each chapter was filled with enticing recipes and even more tempting descriptions of each dish.  I thought the author didn’t give enough attention to the background of the girls.  And the story line of that one racist guy in the community seemed very contrived.  It gave the novel a chick-lit/young adult feel.

3 1/2 stars (out of 5)
Published in 2006
256 pages

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Brilliant by Jane Brox

Brilliant

We take lighting for granted. By the time you finish Brilliant: The Evolution of Artificial Light you won’t.
The book starts in a cave where we meet our ancestors, huddled over a flame. We learn what it took to keep that flame alive, and what that flame meant to the start of civilization. You’ll learn that light and civilization go hand in hand. The book follows the history of man’s relationship with creating light: fire, candles, whale oil, coal gas, kerosene, and electricity. But the story doesn’t end there. Electricity has it’s own history: arc lights, incandescent lamps, fluorescent lamps, LEDs, etc. All this light makes modern life possible, but it also brings problems, which are discussed in Part IV.

The best chapters are on Rural Electrification in the US. The weakest chapters are on Fluorescent lamps and anything technical. I would like to find a book that would cover more of the technical history of light to compliment this book which covers the social aspects. I like Brox’s style and enjoyed reading the book.

A-
373 pages

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