Book Review: The Birth House

The Birth House by Ami McKay

The Birth House is the story of Dora Rare, the first daughter to be born in five generations of the Rare family. As a child in an isolated village in Nova Scotia, she is drawn to Miss Babineau, an outspoken Acadian midwife with a gift for healing and a kitchen filled with herbs and folk remedies. During the turbulent years of World War I, Dora becomes the midwife’s apprentice. Together, they help the women of Scots Bay through infertility, difficult labors, breech births, unwanted pregnancies and even unfulfilling sex lives.

When Gilbert Thomas, a brash medical doctor, comes to Scots Bay with promises of fast, painless childbirth, some of the women begin to question Miss Babineau’s methods – and after Miss Babineau’s death, Dora is left to carry on alone. In the face of fierce opposition, she must summon all of her strength to protect the birthing traditions and wisdom that have been passed down to her.

Filled with details that are as compelling as they are surprising-childbirth in the aftermath of the Halifax Explosion, the prescribing of vibratory treatments to cure hysteria and a mysterious elixir called Beaver Brew- The Birth House is an unforgettable tale of the struggles women have faced to maintain control over their own bodies and to keep the best parts of tradition alive in the world of modern medicine.

Review:
I’m really torn by this book. I loved reading about midwifery, being immersed in the history, and the reactions to change. I enjoyed the beginning of this book when Dora was apprenticing to be a midwife and all of the parts with Mss Babineau and her journal. I like how the author wove the story by including letters, newspaper articles, and ads. It was clever. However, I found the book dragged for me after Dora decided to get married.
It is clear that McKay has done her research. I did find that she tended to put everything in, however, that she found interesting from that time and place. For example, it is highly unlikely that this young woman would have really helped with the Halifax explosion survivors and that section of the book didn’t really lead anywhere. The part that took place in Boston also seemed a bit contrived simply to give Dora that experience.
I love to think that Dora was as open minded as she was, for example, being feminist, a pacifist, and not homophobic, but it also didn’t feel that realistic.
But, I did like Dora. The women in her knitting circle were fantastic and the friendship the women showed each other was great.
Overall, I thought this was a good book, if a bit unfocused, and provided an interesting look at a pivotal time in Canadian history.
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Book Review: The Fragments

The Fragments by Toni Jordan 

INGA Karlson died in a fire in New York in the 1930s, leaving behind three things: a phenomenally successful first novel, the scorched fragments of a second book— and a mystery that has captivated generations of readers.

Nearly fifty years later, Brisbane bookseller Caddie Walker is waiting in line to see a Karlson exhibition featuring the famous fragments when she meets a charismatic older woman.

The woman quotes a phrase from the Karlson fragments that Caddie knows does not exist—and yet to Caddie, who knows Inga Karlson’s work like she knows her name, it feels genuine.

Caddie is electrified. Jolted her from her sleepy, no-worries life in torpid 1980s Brisbane, she is driven to investigate: to find the clues that will unlock the greatest literary mystery of the twentieth century.

Review:
The Fragments tells 2 stories, separated by time and location, but are intertwined in an unexpected way.
Caddie grew up with and loved Inga Karlson’s one iconic novel. Inga died in a terrible fire before her second novel could be published. All that is left are some fragments. At an exhibit about Inga’s life and work, Caddie comes across an elderly woman who quotes a line from Inga’s work that does not appear in any of the existing fragments, thus the mystery begins. Caddie is sure that there is something going on and she works tirelessly to figure out the truth.
The novel alternates between Caddie’s life in present day Australia where she investigates what really happened to Inga, to the story of Rachel in America, a friend of Inga’s.
The story is lovely and I enjoyed learning about all of the women involved, from the shy Rachel, to the eccentric Inga, and the tormented Caddie. Their lives were woven together masterfully. The one thing that bothered me were Caddie’s decisions sometimes — they seemed strange and more designed to further the plot than feel authentic. However, the ending and good writing more than makes up for any shortfalls.
Thank you to Netgalley and the publisher for a review copy of this book.
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Book Review: Gone Too Long

Gone Too Long by Lori Roy

“This electrifying novel…[is] a gripping mystery with a timely, unnerving message–you won’t be able to look away.”
People, “Book of the Week”
“A book so good you can’t look away.”
O Magazine, “Best Books of Summer”

Two-time Edgar Award-winning author Lori Roy entangles readers in a heart-pounding tale of two women battling for survival against a century’s worth of hate.

On the day a black truck rattles past her house and a Klan flyer lands in her front yard, ten-year-old Beth disappears from her Simmonsville, Georgia, home. Armed with skills honed while caring for an alcoholic mother, she must battle to survive the days and months ahead.

Seven years later, Imogene Coulter is burying her father–a Klan leader she has spent her life distancing herself from–and trying to escape the memories his funeral evokes. But Imogene is forced to confront secrets long held by Simmonsville and her own family when, while clearing out her father’s apparent hideout on the day of his funeral, she finds a child. Young and alive, in an abandoned basement, and behind a door that only locks from the outside.

As Imogene begins to uncover the truth of what happened to young Beth all those years ago, her father’s heir apparent to the Klan’s leadership threatens her and her family. Driven by a love that extends beyond the ties of blood, Imogene struggles to save a girl she never knew but will now be bound to forever, and to save herself and those dearest to her. Tightly coiled and chilling, Gone Too Long ensnares, twists, and exposes the high price we are willing to pay for the ones we love.

Review:
This book captivated me from page one. I’ll admit it was slow at times, but it was still griping.
Imogene’s father is a Klan leader, and though she does not follow the Klan’s beliefs, the rest of her family does. She is struggling after her husband and son were killed in an accident. After her father’s death she finds a child being kept in her father’s secret hideout.
This is also the story of Beth, who was kidnapped and held for years by a Klan member.
We spend a lot of time in each of these women’s heads as they struggle to cope with their situations. These are both strong women who, while being vulnerable, do what they need to do to survive. The characters were very well developed and I was so anxious for them, turning the pages to find out how their stories would turn out. There was almost a psychological thriller aspect to the whole thing.
The narrative is also interspersed with pages about the history of the Ku Klux Klan, which is fascinating and definitely adds to the story. The author clearly did her research as the parts about the Klan felt authentic.
Overall, this book is harrowing, gripping, and timely. I found the writing compelling and the author did an amazing job with her ambitious mandate.
Thank you to Netgalley and the publisher for a review copy of this book.
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Book Review: The Traveling Triple-C Incorporeal Circus

The Traveling Triple-C Incorporeal Circus by Alanna McFall

Chelsea is determined to make it to her brother’s wedding. And she’s not going to let the fact that she’s been dead for two years stop her.
Joining with her mime friend from a New York City park and her ghostly mentor with forty years of afterlife under her belt, the three women set out on foot for San Francisco. Along the way, they are faced with joy, sorrow, and the haunting surprises of the open road. This humorous and lightly macabre journey explores relationships, personal burdens, and what it means to keep moving, even when your heartbeat has stopped.
Review:
I loved this book. It was such a fun, interesting, and unique read.
Chelsea is a ghost and is friends with other ghosts in New York City, but has a ghostly best friend and mentor called Carmen. There is one woman, Cyndricka, who can see ghosts, but is a mute mime who communicates with sign language. The 3 decide to walk to San Francisco so that Chelsea can attend her brother’s wedding.
There is so much that happens along the way that bring out issues of relationship and family, forgiveness, life purpose, and what stops us. All 3 women need to learn to come to terms with issues from their past in order to move on. There are also tense moments involving both human and supernatural predators that the 3 women need to overcome.
The character development was great and felt authentic. I felt so much for all 3 women and wanted the best for them so badly. And the writing and descriptions were terrific and engaging, keeping me turning the pages.
I love how McFall dealt with big issues, but in a sensitive way. There is a lesbian character, but she is simply gay and it is one part of her character. Homelessness and how people are treated is also tackled, as is racism. Binding all of these big issues together is friendship and loyalty and purpose. It was interesting to explore these women looking back on their lives and deciding what was important and what wasn’t, and what paths to take in the future.
Thank you to Netgalley and the publisher for a review copy of this book.
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