The Monday Check-In ~ 10/15/2018

cooltext1850356879 My Monday tradition, including a look back and a look ahead — what I read last week, what new books came my way, and what books are keeping me busy right now. Plus a smattering of other stuff too.

What did I read during the last week?

One Day in December by Josie Silver: A bit of romance, to break up my sci-fi heavy week. My review is here.

Old Man’s War series by John Scalzi: I’ve made it halfway through the series! My thoughts so far, here.

Pop culture goodness:

I saw this:

And now I’m obsessed with this song:

Fresh Catch:

Bookish goodies! I treated myself to the Subterranean Press edition of one of my very favorite novellas by Patricia Briggs, Alpha & Omega.

I also picked up these two used books, which just happened to catch my eye:

 

What will I be reading during the coming week?

Currently in my hands:

Pride by Ibi Zoboi: The public library comes through again! Hurray for my hold request getting processed in record time — I’m so happy to be starting this Pride and Prejudice retelling.

Now playing via audiobook:

The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller: I LOVE this — but I’m getting super frustrated by how long it’s taking me to get through it. My week has been crazy, with so little listening time. Must correct that this coming week!

Ongoing reads:

Book group reads:

  • Classic read: My book group’s current classic read is Middlemarch by George Eliot.  We’re reading and discussing two chapters per week. Slow but steady!
  • The Scottish Prisoner by Diana Gabaldon. An ongoing group read, two chapters per week — we’ll be finished in December. Want to join in? Ask me how!

So many books, so little time…

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The Monday Check-In ~ 10/8/2018

cooltext1850356879 My Monday tradition, including a look back and a look ahead — what I read last week, what new books came my way, and what books are keeping me busy right now. Plus a smattering of other stuff too.

Life.

I just spent a lovely weekend in Boulder, Colorado with my wonderful daughter! It was a very quick 48-hours, but so much fun. We saw an amazing production of Pride and Prejudice, featuring a small cast where most of the actors and actresses played multiple roles, often across gender lines. It was fresh and funny, and we loved it!

Besides wandering and exploring, we also took a tour of the Celestial Seasonings tea factory — the heavenly smells alone made it worthwhile, not to mention all the variety of tea sampling that we indulged in. A couple of restaurants, coffee shops, and an awesome little used book store just added to the fun. Also, Boulder has a beautiful public library that made me want to move in and never leave.

Of course, best of all was doing all this in the company of my lovely girl.

And now… back to the books!

What did I read during the last week?

The Sisters of the Winter Wood by Rena Rossner: I loved this beautiful tale! My review is here.

Old Man’s War by John Scalzi: I finished this book on the plane on the way to Boulder. Finally, after talking about it for years, I’ve read it! I really enjoyed this book, and will try to write up a quick review later in the week, once I’ve had a chance to catch my breath a bit.

Fresh Catch:

So many wonderful books arrived this week! First of all, yet another Tamora Pierce hardcover, one-volume edition:

I also received excellent bookmail from Amazon:, including:

What will I be reading during the coming week?

Currently in my hands:

The Ghost Brigades by John Scalzi: The second book in the Old Man’s War series — I haven’t gotten very far yet, but consider me intrigued.

Now playing via audiobook:

The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller: I’ve listened to about 25% so far. Just beautiful — can’t wait to continue after a weekend away from audiobooks.

Ongoing reads:

Book group reads:

  • Classic read: My book group’s current classic read is Middlemarch by George Eliot.  We’re reading and discussing two chapters per week. Slow but steady!
  • The Scottish Prisoner by Diana Gabaldon. An ongoing group read, two chapters per week — we’ll be finished in December. Want to join in? Ask me how!

So many books, so little time…

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The Monday Check-In ~ 10/1/2018

cooltext1850356879 My Monday tradition, including a look back and a look ahead — what I read last week, what new books came my way, and what books are keeping me busy right now. Plus a smattering of other stuff too.

What did I read during the last week?

Miss Kopp Just Won’t Quit by Amy Stewart: I adore this series, and the audiobook is fantastic. My review is here.

Lethal White by Robert Galbraith: Another terrific volume in the ongoing Cormoran Strike series. My review is here.

Dry by Neal Shusterman and Jarrod Shusterman: YA adventure about surviving an extreme drought. My thoughts are here.

In audiobooks, I also listened to The Turn of the Screw by Henry James, narrated by Emma Thompson (with an intro performed by Richard Armitage). I’d never read the story before, and I’m not sure it was what I’d expected… but the voice performance was excellent, and I was definitely captivated throughout.

Fresh Catch:

I treated myself to a couple of hardcover all-in-one editions of Tamora Pierce quartets:

 

What will I be reading during the coming week?

Currently in my hands:

The Sisters of the Winter Wood by Rena Rossner: A story of two sisters in a Jewish shtetl, living on the edge of forest where there are magical, fairy-tale creatures. I’m loving it so far!

Now playing via audiobook:

The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller: This has been on my to-read list for such a long time! I’ve only just started, but I have high hopes!

Ongoing reads:

Book group reads:

  • Classic read: My book group’s current classic read is Middlemarch by George Eliot.  We’re reading and discussing two chapters per week. Slow but steady!
  • The Scottish Prisoner by Diana Gabaldon. An ongoing group read, two chapters per week — we’ll be finished in December. Want to join in? Ask me how!

So many books, so little time…

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The Monday Check-In ~ 9/24/2018

cooltext1850356879 My Monday tradition, including a look back and a look ahead — what I read last week, what new books came my way, and what books are keeping me busy right now. Plus a smattering of other stuff too.

What did I read during the last week?

The Wedding Date by Jasmine Guillory: Light, sexy romance — a nice change from heavier reading! My review is here.

The 7 1/2 Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Turton: I DNFd, then decided to give it another chance and read through to the end. Not the best decision I’ve ever made. My thoughts are here.

Evidence of the Affair by Taylor Jenkins Reid: A short story consisting of letters between a man and a woman who discover their spouses are having an affair with each other. Sweet, moving, and heart-felt.

In audiobooks:

I finished the 4th book in The Immortals quartet by Tamora Pierce. My series wrap-up post is here.

Bookish delight:

I attended a book event for the always wonderful Gail Carriger, in honor of the publication of the 10th anniversary illustrated edition of Soulless. The event was so much fun, and since it was held at one of my favorite bookstores, I felt pretty great about buying lots ‘o stuff on the way out the door.

Fresh Catch:

It’s a feast of new books! Look at all the pretties that arrived this week:

What will I be reading during the coming week?

Currently in my hands:

Lethal White by Robert Galbraith: Hurray for the public library! My hold request came in the week the book was released! It’s a BIG book (600+ pages), so I need to get cracking if I’m going to finish before the due date. (I’m about 100 pages in, and loving it so far!)

Now playing via audiobook:

Miss Kopp Just Won’t Quit by Amy Stewart: It’s the 4th Kopp Sisters book! I love these books, and this one is just as fabulous as the previous three. And the audiobook narrator is perfection.

Ongoing reads:

Book group reads:

  • Classic read: My book group’s current classic read is Middlemarch by George Eliot.  We’re reading and discussing two chapters per week. Slow but steady!
  • The Scottish Prisoner by Diana Gabaldon. An ongoing group read, two chapters per week — we’ll be finished in December. Want to join in? Ask me how!

So many books, so little time…

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The Monday Check-In ~ 9/17/2018

cooltext1850356879 My Monday tradition, including a look back and a look ahead — what I read last week, what new books came my way, and what books are keeping me busy right now. Plus a smattering of other stuff too.

What did I read during the last week?

The Calculating Stars by Mary Robinette Kowal: Definitely a favorite for 2018! Read my love-fest of a review, here.

Stay With Me by Ayobami Adebayo: My book group read for September. My review is here.

Vox by Christina Dalcher: A look at a US society in which women’s voice have literally been silenced. My review is here.

In audiobooks:

Emperor Mage by Tamora Pierce: Book #3 in The Immortals series. Excellent addition to the world of Tortall!

Pop culture goodness:

Has anyone else watched Forever on Amazon yet? It’s weird and funny and totally surprising. Maya Rudolph is just as good as you’d expect. I’ve watched half of the available episodes, and recommend checking it out! (It’s pretty low commitment for a binge-watch, just eight half-hour episodes).

Fresh Catch:

I added even more Kindle books to my never-ending TBR list, thanks to various price drops that popped up this week. Here’s a peek at my newest acquisitions:

What will I be reading during the coming week?

Currently in my hands:

The Wedding Date by Jasmine Guillory: After some heavier reads, a little light-and-fluffy romance might really hit the spot.

Now playing via audiobook:

The Realms of the Gods (The Immortals, #4) by Tamora Pierce: Finishing up the Immortals quartet!

Ongoing reads:

Book group reads:

  • Classic read: My book group’s current classic read is Middlemarch by George Eliot.  We’re reading and discussing two chapters per week. Slow but steady!
  • The Scottish Prisoner by Diana Gabaldon. Continuing our group read of the Lord John works, it’s lovely to revisit The Scottish Prisoner, which stars Lord John Grey and everyone’s favorite Scottish laird, Jamie Fraser. Want to join in? Ask me how!

So many books, so little time…

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Take A Peek Book Review: Stay With Me by Ayobami Adebayo

“Take a Peek” book reviews are short and (possibly) sweet, keeping the commentary brief and providing a little peek at what the book’s about and what I thought.

 

Synopsis:

(via Goodreads)

Yejide and Akin have been married since they met and fell in love at university. Though many expected Akin to take several wives, he and Yejide have always agreed: polygamy is not for them. But four years into their marriage–after consulting fertility doctors and healers, trying strange teas and unlikely cures–Yejide is still not pregnant. She assumes she still has time–until her family arrives on her doorstep with a young woman they introduce as Akin’s second wife. Furious, shocked, and livid with jealousy, Yejide knows the only way to save her marriage is to get pregnant, which, finally, she does, but at a cost far greater than she could have dared to imagine. An electrifying novel of enormous emotional power, Stay With Me asks how much we can sacrifice for the sake of family.

My Thoughts:

Stay With Me is a powerful look at the tragedies that befall a young Nigerian woman for whom the pressure to provide children becomes the dominating force in her life. Yejide’s mother was one of her father’s many wives, and polygamy is still prevalent in her culture. Although she and her husband married for love and agreed to have a monogamous relationship, the absolute focus on reproduction and providing an heir eventually causes her husband to accept a second wife, which begins a downward spiral for Yejide.

The books is so much more than simply Yejide’s struggle to have children. It’s about marriage and family, the cost of lies, and the role of women in a society that places men’s needs first. Stay With Me provides a glimpse into a culture that’s probably unknown to most Western readers, and weaves folklore into the narrative in clever and meaningful ways. The violence and upheavals of Nigeria’s political climate provide a backdrop to the story of family and loyalty. Stay With Me is a quick read, but provides a lot of food for thought.

Yet another great book club pick! I can’t wait to discuss it with my group.

Read more about Stay With Me:

New York Times review
NPR
The Guardian review
Chicago Tribune review

_________________________________________

The details:

Title: Stay With Me
Author: Ayobami Adebayo
Publisher: Knopf Publishing Goup
Publication date: August 22, 2017
Length: 260 pages
Genre: Contemporary fiction
Source: Library

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Take A Peek Book Review: Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman

“Take a Peek” book reviews are short and (possibly) sweet, keeping the commentary brief and providing a little peek at what the book’s about and what I thought.

 

Synopsis:

(via Goodreads)

No one’s ever told Eleanor that life should be better than fine.

Meet Eleanor Oliphant: She struggles with appropriate social skills and tends to say exactly what she’s thinking. Nothing is missing in her carefully timetabled life of avoiding social interactions, where weekends are punctuated by frozen pizza, vodka, and phone chats with Mummy.

But everything changes when Eleanor meets Raymond, the bumbling and deeply unhygienic IT guy from her office. When she and Raymond together save Sammy, an elderly gentleman who has fallen on the sidewalk, the three become the kinds of friends who rescue one another from the lives of isolation they have each been living. And it is Raymond’s big heart that will ultimately help Eleanor find the way to repair her own profoundly damaged one.

Soon to be a major motion picture produced by Reese Witherspoon, Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine is the smart, warm, and uplifting story of an out-of-the-ordinary heroine whose deadpan weirdness and unconscious wit make for an irresistible journey as she realizes. . .

The only way to survive is to open your heart.

My Thoughts:

I had very wrong expectations when I started this book. Based on the synopsis, I was expecting something quirky, potentially funny, maybe reminiscent of The Rosie Project or something similar. I was shocked to discover just how misleading the synopsis is.

Yes, Eleanor has extreme social awkwardness. She lives a desperately lonely life and expects nothing else. But she’s not merely awkward or an odd duck waiting for her chance to shine — she’s the survivor of terrible childhood trauma that informs every moment of her life and keeps her trapped in her contact-free, isolated life.

Don’t get me wrong — Eleanor Oliphant is a terrific book. It’s deeply moving and horribly sad. Eleanor herself is a memorable lead character, lovable despite her coldness and judgmental nature. We understand early on that there’s something terrible lurking beneath the icy, unfeeling exterior. As we get to know Eleanor better, it’s easier to understand what has made her the way she is, and to cheer her on as she takes the necessary small steps toward recovery.

Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine is a lovely, powerful book. Once again, I’m grateful to my book group for picking such a great book to discuss. I’ve had this book on my TBR list for a while now, but having a set date on the calendar is what finally made me pick it up… and once I started, I just couldn’t put it down until I finished it.

A final note: I bought my copy via Book Depository. The UK version has a very different cover, which I believe gives a truer sense of the book:

_________________________________________

The details:

Title: Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine
Author: Gail Honeyman
Publisher: Pamela Dorman Books
Publication date: May 9, 2017
Length: 327 pages
Genre: Contemporary fiction
Source: Purchased

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Book Review: Before We Were Yours by Lisa Wingate

 

Two families, generations apart, are forever changed by a heartbreaking injustice in this poignant novel, inspired by a true story, for readers of Orphan Train and The Nightingale.

Memphis, 1939. Twelve-year-old Rill Foss and her four younger siblings live a magical life aboard their family’s Mississippi River shantyboat. But when their father must rush their mother to the hospital one stormy night, Rill is left in charge—until strangers arrive in force. Wrenched from all that is familiar and thrown into a Tennessee Children’s Home Society orphanage, the Foss children are assured that they will soon be returned to their parents—but they quickly realize that the truth is much darker. At the mercy of the facility’s cruel director, Rill fights to keep her sisters and brother together—in a world of danger and uncertainty.

Aiken, South Carolina, present day. Born into wealth and privilege, Avery Stafford seems to have it all: a successful career as a federal prosecutor, a handsome fiancé, and a lavish wedding on the horizon. But when Avery returns home to help her father weather a health crisis, a chance encounter leaves her with uncomfortable questions—and compels her to take a journey through her family’s long-hidden history, on a path that will ultimately lead either to devastation or redemption.

Based on one of America’s most notorious real-life scandals—in which Georgia Tann, director of a Memphis-based adoption organization, kidnapped and sold poor children to wealthy families all over the country—Wingate’s riveting, wrenching, and ultimately uplifting tale reminds us how, even though the paths we take can lead to many places, the heart never forgets where we belong.

The story of Before We Were Yours is all the more shocking and heart-breaking when you realize that while the main characters are fictional, the tragedy depicted is all too real.

In this powerful work of historical fiction, we follow the story of 12-year-old Rill, a girl growing up poor but happy on a riverboat with her parents and four younger siblings. But when the children become separated from their parents due to complications of labor and an emergency trip to the hospital, their lives become dark and dangerous. Stolen away by the notorious Georgia Tann, the children are taken to a children’s home, where they’re starved, neglected, and abused before ultimately being adopted out, one by one, to wealthy families who are willing to pay.

In alternating chapters, we follow a modern-day story, as Avery Stafford comes home to South Carolina to support her ill father, a politician from a powerful family. Avery stumbles upon a woman in a nursing home, May Crandall, who seems to have some sort of connection to Avery’s family. What starts as a curiosity for Avery turns into a quest to unravel the mystery of May’s strange tie to Avery’s grandmother, now suffering early stages of dementia. As Avery digs deeper, she begins to see that her family’s hidden past may have intersected with the schemes of Georgia Tann, and Avery must decide if it’s wiser to uncover the truth or let the past stay in the past.

While Avery’s search for answers is interesting, it’s the story of Rill and her sisters and brother that’s truly stunning. The children grow up free and open to adventure, never minding that they’re looked down upon as “river rats”. On board their boat and with their parents, they live in a kingdom of their own. Reading about how this family is torn apart is shocking — it’s amazing how much cruelty was inflicted upon these young children, especially as the story drives home the fact that this happened to thousands of chlidren over a period of more than 20 years.

The mystery of how Avery’s grandmother is connect to May is not revealed until close to the end of the book, and while there are hints along the way, the answer isn’t entirely obvious. Meanwhile, while we see how Rill grew up and changed from the river girl to a woman with a family of her own and a new life, the journey she makes isn’t easy and is no fairy tale. Not all the loose ends are tied up, which is fitting, given that in the historical records of the Georgia Tann scandal, many families never did find their missing children, and many hundreds are believed to have died under the “care” of this awful, twisted adoption industry.

Before We Were Yours is a compelling read, although I was less engaged during the contemporary chapters, particularly when the focus shifted from Avery’s search into family history to dwell more upon Avery’s romantic life and her career choices. Other than that, I found it a quick, fascinating, and terribly sad read.

This was a book group pick, and I’m so glad it was! As with all of my book group’s books, I can’t wait to hear from my bookish friends and to exchange reactions, ideas, and questions.

If you’ve read Before We Were Yours, I’d love to hear your thoughts too!

_________________________________________

The details:

Title: Before We Were Yours
Author: Lisa Wingate
Publisher: Ballantine
Publication date: June 6, 2017
Length: 342 pages
Genre: Historical fiction
Source: Library

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Audiobook Review: The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir by Jennifer Ryan

 

 
The village of Chilbury in Kent is about to ring in some changes.

This is a delightful novel of wartime gumption and village spirit that will make your heart sing out.

Kent, 1940.

In the idyllic village of Chilbury change is afoot. Hearts are breaking as sons and husbands leave to fight, and when the Vicar decides to close the choir until the men return, all seems lost.

But coming together in song is just what the women of Chilbury need in these dark hours, and they are ready to sing. With a little fighting spirit and the arrival of a new musical resident, the charismatic Miss Primrose Trent, the choir is reborn.

Some see the choir as a chance to forget their troubles, others the chance to shine. Though for one villager, the choir is the perfect cover to destroy Chilbury’s new-found harmony.

Uplifting and profoundly moving, THE CHILBURY LADIES’ CHOIR explores how a village can endure the onslaught of war, how monumental history affects small lives and how survival is as much about friendship as it is about courage.

What an uplifting, engaging, utterly delightful read (and listen)!

The Chilbury Ladies Choir is set in the small English village of Chilbury in 1940, as the ladies of the town try to find purpose and solace while the men are at war. When the official church choir is closed down due to a lack of men, spirits sink even further, until the women decide to sing on their own. Stemming from there, relationships are strengthened as the women find a new source of courage. By standing up together, they realize they can make a difference, and each, in her own way, starts to move beyond the boundaries of her former life and take a chance on something new.

Told through journal entries, newspaper clippings, and letters, we get to know the main characters through their own voices, which is a wonderful touch. Young Kitty Winthrop, age 13 (almost 14! as she likes to point out) is an aspiring singer with a childish crush on an older boy, which she allows to dominate her romantic dreams. Kitty’s sister Venetia, age 18, is the town beauty who likes nothing better than flirting and toying with attractive men, making them fall in love with her and then pushing them aside once they do. However, when Venetia meets the mysterious Mr. Sleator, an artist who moves to Chilbury along with many other evacuees, she sense something more in him than merely this week’s fling. For Mrs. Tilling, a woman widowed years earlier whose only son is now fighting in the war, the ladies’ choir offers a chance to create beauty and harmony, and helps her come out of her shy shell and become a leading force in the community. And then there’s Mrs. Paltrey, a midwife with a heart of stone, who schemes to make it rich no matter what, and no matter whose lives may be shattered along the way.

It’s moving and fascinating to see how these and other characters grow and change over the course of the book. Venetia in particular is an absorbing character. Shallow and self-centered when we first meet her, she grows into a woman of substance over the months we know her, as she falls in love, suffers great loss, and emerges as a hero at a time of devastation. Likewise, Kitty, while still a young woman, learns to appreciate those around her and see people more realistically, while also realizing that even someone of her young age can make a difference.

These characters’ stories, as well as those of other women of the village, weave together to create a portrait of community and courage. We don’t go to war; we stay behind and see how this small village is affected by the war, and how all are changed by it, for good or for ill.

I loved the audiobook version, which features a cast of voice actors to represent the main narrative voices of the story. Hearing the women’s stories told in their own words, each with a voice that felt specific to that character’s true self, was a really special way to appreciate the story. In this particular case, I highly encourage giving the audio a try — it’s a wonderful experience. As an added bonus, in key points in the story, we hear choral music in the background which ties in with what the Chilbury Ladies’ Choir is singing in that moment. It’s not overdone, certainly not enough to interrupt the flow or get annoying. Instead, at crucial moments, when a song is particularly meaningful in relation to the events being portrayed, we hear a lovely women’s choir providing an added bit of atmostphere.

The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir was a book group pick, and yet another one that I might have skipped over if not for the group. When it was first selected I was skeptical: The title made me think that it would be a very church-y sort of book, perhaps a little saccharine and cloying. Well, once again I’m glad to not have judged a book by its title! The choir itself is the framework of the story, but really, the book is about so much more. It’s a portrait of the courage and strength a community can find by supporting one another through the worst of times, and shows how each woman emerges as a better version of herself when given the opportunity to step forward and stand up.

Highly recommended!

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The details:

Title: The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir
Author: Jennifer Ryan
Narrated by:  Gabrielle Glaister, Laura Kirman, Imogen Wilde, Adjoa Andoh, Tom Clegg, Mike Grady
Publisher: Crown
Publication date: February 14, 2017
Length (print): 384 pages
Length (audio): 11 hours, 34 minutes
Genre: Historical fiction
Source: Purchased**Save

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Audiobook Review: The Midwife of Venice

 


Hannah Levi is known throughout sixteenth-century Venice for her skill in midwifery. When a Christian count appears at Hannah’s door in the Jewish ghetto imploring her to attend his labouring wife, who is nearing death, Hannah is forced to make a dangerous decision. Not only is it illegal for Jews to render medical treatment to Christians, it’s also punishable by torture and death. Moreover, as her Rabbi angrily points out, if the mother or child should die, the entire ghetto population will be in peril.

But Hannah’s compassion for another woman’s misery overrides her concern for self-preservation. The Rabbi once forced her to withhold care from her shunned sister, Jessica, with terrible consequences. Hannah cannot turn away from a labouring woman again. Moreover, she cannot turn down the enormous fee offered by the Conte. Despite the Rabbi’s protests, she knows that this money can release her husband, Isaac, a merchant who was recently taken captive on Malta as a slave. There is nothing Hannah wants more than to see the handsome face of the loving man who married her despite her lack of dowry, and who continues to love her despite her barrenness. She must save Isaac.

Meanwhile, far away in Malta, Isaac is worried about Hannah’s safety, having heard tales of the terrifying plague ravaging Venice. But his own life is in terrible danger. He is auctioned as a slave to the head of the local convent, Sister Assunta, who is bent on converting him to Christianity. When he won’t give up his faith, he’s traded to the brutish lout Joseph, who is renowned for working his slaves to death. Isaac soon learns that Joseph is heartsick over a local beauty who won’t give him the time of day. Isaac uses his gifts of literacy and a poetic imagination—not to mention long-pent-up desire—to earn his day-to-day survival by penning love letters on behalf of his captor and a paying illiterate public.

Back in Venice, Hannah packs her “”birthing spoons”—secret rudimentary forceps she invented to help with difficult births—and sets off with the Conte and his treacherous brother. Can she save the mother? Can she save the baby, on whose tiny shoulders the Conte’s legacy rests? And can she also save herself, and Isaac, and their own hopes for a future, without endangering the lives of everyone in the ghetto?

My Thoughts:

I found the plotlines revolving around Hannah’s midwife practice very compelling. It was fascinating to learn more about the role of midwives at that time (1575). Of course, we know that childbirth was a hazardous undertaking for women prior to the advent of modern medicine, but seeing it up close through Hannah’s experiences really drives home how risky it was and how closely death would hover for both mother and child. On top of the risks of childbirth, in The Midwife of Venice we get a stark portrayal of the status of Jews in Venice. The anti-Semitism of the time is commonplace, ordinary, and frightening. The threat of the inquisitors arresting Jews in violation of the law is an ever-present danger. When Hannah agrees to deliver a Christian nobleman’s baby, she’s putting the entire ghetto at risk, because if a Jewish woman can be blamed for causing the mother or baby to die, it’s likely that the people of Venice will invade the ghetto and slaughter the Jews.

Woven throughout Hannah’s story are chapters focusing on her husband Isaac, held prisoner on Malta with a ridiculous and unattainable sum set as his ransom. His efforts to earn his own freedom come to nothing, and the best he can do is try to stay alive until he can either escape or get rescued.

While the story as a whole held my interest, there are some oddities in the narrative that kept it from being more than just an okay read (listen) for me. It was often hard to tell how much time had passed from one chapter to another, so that a messenger might bring Isaac word of something that had happened in Venice — word that would presumably take weeks or longer to travel that distance — while only days had passed in Hannah’s part of the story. I wish the sections dealing with Hannah and her estranged sister Jessica had been better developed; their relationship is very layered and complex, yet it seemed to be dealt with much too quickly. Some of the action sequences happened much too quickly as well, leading me to believe that the author isn’t quite skilled enough in this type of writing: She’s very good at creating mood and characters, but putting together scenes of suspense or physical danger doesn’t seem to be a strength.

On the whole, there are some believability issues as well. Characters change course and act in ways that seem illogical and not in keeping with what we know about them. There are story beats that seem to come from nowhere, keeping the drama high, but almost without connection to the scenes that came before. A few moments of high drama keep the tension ratcheted up, but at the same time, at least one in particular seems to have no impact on the plot whatsoever, so why even include it?

Overall, The Midwife of Venice presents a very interesting story and setting, but the execution isn’t as good as I would have hoped. As for the audiobook, I didn’t particularly care for the narrator. She does a good job with the Italian phrases and names, but the depiction of the rougher folks of Malta was off — there were times when I thought the people in the crowd scenes sounded like New Yorkers! Also, the audiobook experience makes certain repetitions more glaring — why, for example, is it necessary to begin every chapter by identifying not only the location of the chapter (helpful to know whether we’re in Venice or Malta), but the year? It’s 1575 in every single chapter, so why repeat it in EVERY SINGLE CHAPTER?

The Midwife of Venice was my book group’s pick for March, and I’ve enjoyed hearing others’ thoughts on the book. I understand this is the first in a trilogy. Because of my issues with The Midwife of Venice, I’m not planning to read the follow-up books — but I’m interested enough in the outcome for the characters to be glad that one of my book group friends is reading the whole trilogy and has promised to let us know how it all turns out!

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The details:

Title: The Midwife of Venice
Author: Roberta Rich
Narrated by: Antoinette LaVecchia
Publisher: Anchor Canada
Publication date: January 1, 2011
Length (print): 336 pages
Length (audio): 9 hours, 7 minutes
Genre: Historical fiction
Source: Purchased

 

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