The Secrets of Midwives by Sally Hepworth

21853678TITLE: The Secrets of Midwives
AUTHOR:
Sally Hepworth
LENGTH: 309 pages
PUBLISHED IN: 2015
GENRE: fiction (midwives, birth, mother-daughter relationships, family, babies)
ISBN: 9781250051899
REASON FOR READING: library bookclub
RATING: 5/5

SUMMARY (book jacket):

THE SECRETS OF MIDWIVES tells the story of three generations of women devoted to delivering new life into the world—and the secrets they keep that threaten to change their own lives forever. Neva Bradley, a third-generation midwife, is determined to keep the details surrounding her own pregnancy—including the identity of the baby’s father— hidden from her family and co-workers for as long as possible. Her mother, Grace, finds it impossible to let this secret rest. For Floss, Neva’s grandmother and a retired midwife, Neva’s situation thrusts her back 60 years in time to a secret that eerily mirrors her granddaughter’s—a secret which, if revealed, will have life-changing consequences for them all. Will these women reveal their secrets and deal with the inevitable consequences? Or are some secrets best kept hidden?

MY THOUGHTS: I absolutely loved this book! The subject of midwifery is one I’ve been really interested in over the past couple of years. Birthing a child did pique my interest in some areas I never thought of before–the birth process in general (hence the midwifery) and breastfeeding, to name a few. This book followed three story lines simultaneously, one for each of the midwives. That concept took a few chapters to get used to–I’m used to the concept with two characters, but throwing in the third threw off my rhythm a little at first. Once all the stories started to differentiate from each other, it was easier to understand. There were questions concerning each woman that made me keep wanting to read–I’m convinced that I could’ve read the whole book in one sitting if I’d had the time to do so. Concerning Neva, I wondered if she would reveal whom her baby daddy was AND who she’d end up with, if anyone, by story’s end (I didn’t really think they’d be the same man). With Grace, I wondered how her apparent hatred for the medical community would be important to the story–I also wondered why she had such a strong hatred, which was never specifically said, though I’m sure the three decades of being overlooked as NOT an expert (which midwives most certainly ARE) would be more than enough. And Floss, she had some kind of secret and, until right before it was revealed, I wasn’t sure what it was. As the revelation got closer, I figured it out for myself and couldn’t believe I’d missed it before.

In the end, everything came full circle and the ending was just how I’d like–some strings tied up, some left open. I like that mix because I like to imagine my future for the characters a little bit 🙂

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The Hundred-Foot Journey by Richard Morais

TITLE: The Hundred-Foot Journey by Richard Morais
The Hundred-Foot JourneyLENGTH: 242 pages
PUBLISHED IN: 2008
GENRE: fiction (India, France, cooking, haute cuisine, restaurants)
ISBN: 9781439165645
REASON FOR READING: local library book club pick
RATING: 2/5

SUMMARY (from Goodreads):

Born above his grandfather’s modest restaurant in Mumbai, Hassan first experienced life through intoxicating whiffs of spicy fish curry, trips to the local markets, and gourmet outings with his mother. But when tragedy pushes the family out of India, they console themselves by eating their way around the world, eventually settling in Lumière, a small village in the French Alps.

The boisterous Haji family takes Lumière by storm. They open an inexpensive Indian restaurant opposite an esteemed French relais (that of the famous chef Madame Mallory) and infuse the sleepy town with the spices of India, transforming the lives of its eccentric villagers and infuriating their celebrated neighbor. Only after Madame Mallory wages culinary war with the immigrant family, does she finally agree to mentor young Hassan, leading him to Paris, the launch of his own restaurant, and a slew of new adventures.

MY THOUGHTS: I didn’t care much for this book. I found it to be pretty boring, actually, which surprises me because it mostly takes place in India and the French countryside, two settings I would otherwise love to experience through reading. Perhaps it was because the focus was on food, “haute cuisine” mostly, which all sounds rather disgusting to me (though it was only uninteresting, and not boring talk of food a la Under the Tuscan Sun). Most of the story, I felt, didn’t seem precursory to anything important. I mean, the story followed Hassan from lowly, prepubescent kitchen boy in India to a 3-Michelin-star classic French chef/restauranteur. But at no point did Hassan seem vehement to get anything accomplished. I think the character, at one point, even said that Madame Mallory seemed to always be arranging his next step for him, before he even knew it was his next step. Hassan’s journey was pretty uneventful–nothing too spectacular or out-of-the-ordinary happened to him. Essentially, Hassan’s life was too life-like in that, if it’s pretty rudimentary, why would I read the story of his life? I’m sorry, but if there’s nothing very interesting or a twist in the story somewhere, a really life-like character is just boring. I mean, I write in a diary, I have for close to 20 years now. Would I expect anyone to find anything I’ve written about my life interesting? Not really. A trip to Edinburgh for a week over 10 years ago, and the birth of my daughter last summer–those are pretty much the highlights. (Obviously my husband is a highlight, too, but we’ve been together for 12 years now, so there’s not a whole lot of interesting stuff I’ve journaled about him recently haha.) Anyways, I give this a 2/5–which would be classified as “slightly a waste of my time”.

The Wednesday Sisters by Meg Waite Clayton

Title: The Wednesday Sisters
Author: Meg Waite Clayton
Length:284 pages
Publication Date: 2008
ISBN:9780345502834Rating: 4/5
Reason for Reading: Local library book club pick

Summary:

For thirty-five years, Frankie, Linda, Kath, Brett, and Ally have met every Wednesday at the park near their homes in Palo Alto, California. Defined when they first meet by what their husbands do, the young homemakers and mothers are far removed from the Summer of Love that has enveloped most of the Bay Area in 1967. These “Wednesday Sisters” seem to have little in common: Frankie is a timid transplant from Chicago, brutally blunt Linda is a remarkable athlete, Kath is a Kentucky debutante, quiet Ally has a secret, and quirky, ultra-intelligent Brett wears little white gloves with her miniskirts. But they are bonded by a shared love of both literature–Fitzgerald, Eliot, Austen, du Maurier, Plath, and Dickens–and the Miss America Pageant, which they watch together every year.

As the years roll on and their children grow, the quintet forms a writers circle to express their hopes and dreams through poems, stories, and, eventually, books. Along the way, they experience history in the making: Vietnam, the race for the moon, and a women’s movement that challenges everything they have ever thought about themselves, while at the same time supporting one another through changes in their personal lives brought on by infidelity, longing, illness, failure, and success.

My Thoughts: I really enjoyed this book. Of the novels I have read this year for the library’s book group in which I partake, this was my favorite. It interested me because it took place in the 1960s-70s, which was a time of great change in the US. It interested me because the characters–the five ladies–were all homemakers. While we prefer the term stay-at-home-mom (SAHM) nowadays, I do the same that they did–well, adjusting for the difference in what activities people partake. The difference being that I CHOOSE to be a SAHM, whereas they were more “thrust” into that role because of the times.

Usually I have more thoughts on the book after our group discusses it–it makes me think about it a little more when others say they did or didn’t like a certain aspect of the story. I admit my thoughts are typically superficial as I don’t usually look for much meaning in “symbols” in the books I read. Just like I pretty much take films at their face value as entertainment, I do the same with books.

One thing that really made me think about the role of men and women in this story was this:
We assumed the formulas developed by male scientists in jackets and ties must be better for our babies than anything we girls could produce. (p229)
One of the characters had a baby and this was brought up. It might be because of my own personal love of breastfeeding my daughter that this particular moment in the story caught my attention. I’m really just irked that this was even true of the times. I’ve gathered it to be the case from watching Call the Midwife (a BBC show set in the 1960s in London) that it was during that time when formula really became so popular. It’s like one of those “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” thing to me–female humans (and mammals in general) have breastfed babies for thousands of years, so why, when doing so was the norm, did formula even need to be created?? Anyways, that’s not the point of the story–just a part of the book that I remember the best.

The Storied Life of AJ Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin

Title: The Storied Life of AJ Fikry
Author: Gabrielle Zevin
Length: 258 pages
Published in: 2014
Genre: fiction
ISBN: 9781616203214
Source: borrowed from library
Reason for Reading: Local library book club
Rating: 5/5

Summary (from Goodreads):

On the faded Island Books sign hanging over the porch of the Victorian cottage is the motto “No Man Is an Island; Every Book Is a World.” A. J. Fikry, the irascible owner, is about to discover just what that truly means.

A. J. Fikry’s life is not at all what he expected it to be. His wife has died, his bookstore is experiencing the worst sales in its history, and now his prized possession, a rare collection of Poe poems, has been stolen. Slowly but surely, he is isolating himself from all the people of Alice Island-from Lambiase, the well-intentioned police officer who’s always felt kindly toward Fikry; from Ismay, his sister-in-law who is hell-bent on saving him from his dreary self; from Amelia, the lovely and idealistic (if eccentric) Knightley Press sales rep who keeps on taking the ferry over to Alice Island, refusing to be deterred by A.J.’s bad attitude. Even the books in his store have stopped holding pleasure for him. These days, A.J. can only see them as a sign of a world that is changing too rapidly.

And then a mysterious package appears at the bookstore. It’s a small package, but large in weight. It’s that unexpected arrival that gives A. J. Fikry the opportunity to make his life over, the ability to see everything anew. It doesn’t take long for the locals to notice the change overcoming A.J.; or for that determined sales rep, Amelia, to see her curmudgeonly client in a new light; or for the wisdom of all those books to become again the lifeblood of A.J.’s world; or for everything to twist again into a version of his life that he didn’t see coming. As surprising as it is moving, The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry is an unforgettable tale of transformation and second chances, an irresistible affirmation of why we read, and why we love.

My Thoughts: I really enjoyed this book. A lot of the ladies at my book club said that it was like a “fairy tale” in that there was not a whole lot that was realistic about it. Like, there was so much big stuff that happens to just the one character, but hey–it is called the life of AJ Fikry, so who is it supposed to be about?? And I think something that the main character said towards the end of the book kind of spoke to this: “In the end, we are all collected works…there are no collections where each story is perfect. Some hits. Some misses. If you’re lucky, a standout” (p249).

As for the reality of the stuff that happens in the story, I’ll give them that. But I think perhaps the point was to make the story flow better and not go into the nitty gritty details of how an adoption takes place or how an almost-failing bookstore manages to hang on. The story skipped around a little, but I liked that Zevin just let the reader imagine what happened in the skip. She didn’t mention that such and such happened, then this and that happened, and here we are now–it was a clean skip from one part to another and it was assumed the reader could use the context of the story to fill in the gaps. So I think that accounts for some of the reality that was left out. And is it really a bad thing that some of the heavier, “real” stuff was left out? Makes for a lighter story.

I really liked something Zevin wrote towards the beginning of the story: “The things we respond to at 20 are not necessarily the same things we respond to at 40 and vice versa” (p41). AJ, the main character, was talking about reading books and the impact they have on us. And I think that is so true, of things other than books even. I’ve always enjoyed reading, but some things I read at a younger age I didn’t understand and even now have read a few times since, and I still find something new in them each time.

One last thing, I really liked the ending of this story…

~*~SPOILER~*~
INCLUDES SPOILERS FOR THIS BOOK AND FOR ELSEWHERE, BOTH BY GABRIELLE ZEVIN

So, at the end of the book, AJ dies tragically of a very rare type of brain cancer. Normally this would make me a little sad. However, the entire premise of Zevin’s earlier book Elsewhere was that a teenage girl died and went to Elsewhere, Zevin’s version of heaven. When you die, you ride a ship to Elsewhere, where you “live” and age backwards from the age at which you died. Once you become 0 you are “reborn” into the world (with no memory of your previous life or time spent in Elsewhere). Anyways, that concept of heaven made it easier to cope with AJ’s death because I just pictured him in another book’s plot and then I started thinking about what his life in Elsewhere would be like before he was reborn. Anyways, that’s that…

~*~END SPOILER~*~