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REVIEW:  The Midwife’s Tale by Sam Thomas

REVIEW: The Midwife’s Tale by Sam Thomas

the-midwifes-tale

“It is 1644, and Parliament’s armies have risen against the King and laid siege to the city of York. Even as the city suffers at the rebels’ hands, midwife Bridget Hodgson becomes embroiled in a different sort of rebellion. One of Bridget’s friends, Esther Cooper, has been convicted of murdering her husband and sentenced to be burnt alive. Convinced that her friend is innocent, Bridget sets out to find the real killer.

Bridget joins forces with Martha Hawkins, a servant who’s far more skilled with a knife than any respectable woman ought to be. To save Esther from the stake, they must dodge rebel artillery, confront a murderous figure from Martha’s past, and capture a brutal killer who will stop at nothing to cover his tracks. The investigation takes Bridget and Martha from the homes of the city’s most powerful families to the alleyways of its poorest neighborhoods. As they delve into the life of Esther’s murdered husband, they discover that his ostentatious Puritanism hid a deeply sinister secret life, and that far too often tyranny and treason go hand in hand.”

Dear Mr. Thomas,

While it’s lovely to see the 17th century utilized as a setting and I learned a lot about York and midwifery (is that the correct term?), I can’t say that this book got me much more than lukewarm as far as a mystery. I just couldn’t get caught up in the anger, tension and fear that I should have felt. Something about the relationship of the two main characters didn’t feel right to me either.

Other things in the book felt off to me as well.”Filled me in?” Is this period as it sounds far too modern a term especially when juxtaposed after a paragraph with the word “cozen” in it. Perhaps the intention was to make the book feel more accessible to a 21st century reader but at times the seeming difference in wording was jarring. I have a hard time believing that a relatively new servant to the household would so easily question her mistress about personal matters. A long time family retainer? – sure, such a relationship would lead itself to the servant bossing a family member about but even the event which “bonds” these two women doesn’t seem as if it would allow for this. Since care is taken to spell out the social differences between gentlefolk and their lessors and Bridget often uses this to gain an advantage while seeking the truth, it just seems odd for it to be almost discarded at times in her relationship with Martha.

I did learn a great deal about common feelings and beliefs of the times such as the importance of the “natural order” of King, lord, husband/master and then the lowly women and servants. Also of how important religion still was and not merely for the Parliamentarians. It’s not just the Roundheads doing the psalm singing. Unfortunately this interesting stuff is dragged down by

lots of pedantic “telling” and un-useful information – neat little facts but hardly relevant. For instance, did we need to know how many churches were in York or be given so many detailed directions through the city for the characters to take? If I wanted a history of the city, this would have been great but here it just made the narrative crawl. The political intrigue was just so much “blah, blah, blah.” This is one of the more pivotal eras in English history and I didn’t learn a thing. When I’m more interested in the midwife aspect than the murder or the potential reasons behind it, it’s a bad thing. Personally, I dislike the use of “later I would discover that” or “soon I would learn of” as a way to convey information in a first person book. It’s used a lot, I know, and getting this info across in other ways might not work as well or be as easy to write but I still dislike it.

Throughout the book, almost every case or event delved into by Bridget – either as a midwife or investigator – has to do with sex. Usually it’s masters raping their maidservants but one in particular made me sigh. One character is already established as a villain before it’s revealed that he’s also homosexual. I thought we were past using this as shorthand for an even more vile villain.

What I loved are the sections spent on Bridget as a midwife. I had no idea about their duties – both to their clients and to maintain public morality – or how formal a position it was then. The jealousy and determination with which the midwives guarded their knowledge and prerogatives was amazing and not a thing for the men to mess with. The idea of a bunch of gossips (friends) gathering to help with a birth, chat amongst themselves and get rip roaring drunk at a new father’s expense is hilarious but also touching. Fewer mothers and babies die with today’s modern medicine but I think we might have lost something along the way.

I finished the book feeling disappointed. Often the description of the action felt dry and distancing. It’s like the writing kept me at arms length and I was not engaged enough to wish to continue with the series. After the murder was solved, there was too much trying up of loose ends that felt anti-climactic. I appreciate the historical period you used and the fact that the main character is based on such an interesting historical person but this one gets a C from me.

~Jayne

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REVIEW: Please Don’t Stop the Music by Jane Lovering

REVIEW: Please Don’t Stop the Music by Jane Lovering

This book won the RNA Romance Novel of the Year Award for 2011. The RNA Award is unique because it involves readers, authors and other industry professionals working together to award one book. I thought it would be fun to repost the review.

“How much can you hide?

Jemima Hutton is determined to build a successful new life and keep her past a dark secret. Trouble is, her jewellery business looks set to fail – until enigmatic Ben Davies offers to stock her handmade belt buckles in his guitar shop and things start looking up, on all fronts.
But Ben has secrets too. When Jemima finds out he used to be the front man of hugely successful Indie rock band Willow Down, she wants to know more. Why did he desert the band on their US tour? Why is he now a semi-recluse?
And the curiosity is mutual – which means that her own secret is no longer safe …”

Dear Ms. Lovering,

Since I enjoyed the first book of yours I read, “Slightly Foxed,” I jumped at the chance to check out your latest release, “Please Don’t Stop the Music.” Your description of it as a ‘dark psychological romance – with jokes’ is dead on. I knew from the beginning that there were going to be angsty emotional revelations along the way but I still enjoy laughing a bit on the road to them.

Please Don't Stop the Music by Jane LoveringThese are two very wounded people who have both current and past problems. They have to open up in order to heal and allow for possible future love and you take the time to pry them open, almost like clams, to allow this. Thank you for giving them REAL problems and not just “I’m so misunderstood by the world” navel gazing idiocy. I like that you give us some clues about what these issues are – it’s not all coy as some stories are – but the final revelations are still powerful and haunting. But it’s good that Rosie and Jason realize that Jem is hiding something – what friends would they be if they didn’t plus they’d look like idjuts.

I can kind of understand why Jem keeps running and almost runs again one last time. She’s got some serious self-esteem issues she has to deal with. Her warped views on sexuality were gained at a relatively young age and she’s both ashamed of what she allowed to happen and still not quite over it. But as Ben points out – look how she’s grown in the time since he’s met her. She is willing to confront Saskia (what’s with the popularity of this name anyway?) to help her friend Rosie and him and at least she realizes what her problem is even if she’s still sees running as how to overcome it. Ben does a wonderful thing for her in following her and *showing* her what she means to him. I don’t think Jem would believe it any other way.

Ben also has to overcome not only his “sex, drugs and rock’n’roll” past but also the guilt over how he left the band and the grief of the reason why. He had to get over the ‘towering artiste knocked down in his prime’ delusion. But get beyond it he finally does as he admits that he wouldn’t take his past back as a gift if it meant not having Jem in his life. That was a powerful revelation. No, he’ll never play again but he can still work in music.

Even after the explanations of why she did it, I have to say that Saskia gets away with too much. Her reason for what she did doesn’t excuse her for trying to ruin two lives – and harming Ben’s business as well. And she appears to be walking away from it scot free. Perhaps Jem and Ben will put the York trade authority screws to her but I needed to see some punishment or retribution.

I love that baby Harry isn’t a little bundle of total joy and happiness for Rosie. He’s not just a plot moppet but a real influence on Rosie and Jem and Jason’s lives. Rosie’s issues are certainly different and I did wonder about her relationship with the father but you turned that for an interesting twist as well. I like the sort of open ended finale – Jem and Ben look to be working things out. Jason and Rosie as well but no wedding bells are shown yet.

Yeah for the York setting again. Yes, there are other parts of England besides the Home Counties and London and I’m delighted to see them! I love the image of the center of York with streets that fold in on each other and hidden nooks and crannies. Plus I enjoyed the sardonic English humor in the story. Jem and Ben take the piss out of each other on a regular basis.

The book is Chick Lit’ish in that it’s mainly first person but there’s much more angst and we get Ben’s thoughts through his journal, which I loved. You’ve done a good job showing the arc of the characters’ development and change – of Jem and Ben falling in trust with each other, feeling safe and happy with each other, then falling in love. You put these two through the wringer a time or three but theirs is a HEA I believe in. B

~Jayne

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