Book Review–The Midwife: A Memoir Of Birth, Joy & Hard Times

Title: The Midwife: A Memoir Of Birth, Joy & Hard Times
Author: 
Jennifer Worth
Format: 
Electronic / Kindle 
Written:  2009

Published:  2009

This memoir may seem like an odd choice for a book review on Easter Sunday.  I was looking through the books I’ve  read recently and trying to decide which one should receive the treatment this week.   I considered the many fictionalised accounts of the Life of Christ I’d read over the years.  I considered some of the books focusing on the Spring fertility rites of non-Christian religions.  I considered a couple of books dealing with Passover.   So how, exactly, did I end up with this title?

Much like Margaret Powell’s Below Stairs (reviewed by me here), this is a memoir that gave birth to a popular British television drama–in this case BBC1’s hit Call The Midwife.   I binge-watched Series 1 on Neflix Instant and found myself craving more.  I wanted to read the stories behind the stories and so I downloaded this first in a trilogy to my trusty Kindle.

The book is Jennifer Worth’s recounting of her time as a nurse-midwife attached to, but not a practicing  member of, a convent of Anglican Nuns in 1950s East London.   Babies are born, not born, made and unmade in these pages and the stories of those births are captivating in their own right.  But Worth takes the book a step further and introduces the reader to the poorest of the poor huddled in the capital city of one of the wealthiest empires in history.    We come to know the byways of the impoverished East End.  We find our way bicycling past bomb sites that are piles of rubble a decade after the blitz and  now home to addicts and prostitutes.  We meet the living dead refugees from the cruel and inhumane workhouses who are left to fight to live their remaining years amidst the squalor of condemned buildings.

Through all of this we see the nuns responding with grace and the hearts of servants.  Each Sister has her own personality uniquely suited to the challenges of midwifery among the poor.

So that’s why I chose this book for Easter.  It’s as good a picture of the purpose of Easter as I can think, watching how the nuns of Nonnatus House and the nurse-midwives they train respond to the stuff of life.    It is grace in action.  It is new life–the story of springtime and Eostre.  It is a living picture of the Hearth Goddesses.  It is an example of death passing over a people.

In other words, it’s the  perfect book for anyone to read in celebration of this season.

I’m giving it a 5.

3bookworms2bookworms

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Book Review: Vampire Knight by Matsuri Hino

Title: Vampire Knight

Author/Illustrator: Matsuri Hino

Written: 2005

Published: 2005

It was long ago that a college friend of mine recommended Vampire Knight to me.  I was curious as I admit that I am part of that massive influx of interest in Vampires but I promise you, they do not sparkle…EVER!  Anyway, going into the book I know more of the plot than the first book reveals.  It is a decent book with a unique premise where normal students go to school during the day and Vampires go to the same school at night.  I like the idea but I don’t like how almost every five pages the basic premise of the manga is told to me or mentioned in conversation.  I have to get through the first three chapters of the book to finally stop hearing about the same plot premise.  This is the plot, Yuki is on the disciplinary committee keeping the normal people from the vampires as there is a war between them.  The normal people don’t know that the night class is comprised of Vampires.

Once you get past the review of the main plot arch of the story, things starts to finally pick up and holds a bit of a twist.  I won’t spoil the plot twists but it wasn’t bad.  The other thing that was interesting about the book was the side notes by the author.  They were interesting to read but distracting from the story.  Matsuri was a comedic writer to begin with and it is very clear to tell that she was from that genre as it seems to me that she is fighting the comedic nature she is used to, to produce a serious type graphic novel.   I know my opinion of the manga is coming across as very negative but really once you get through the introduction the book is decent and I would give it a three page rating. Whether or not I’ll read any more from the series is left to question I guess I will if I’m bored and can’t think of something to read.

Book Review- Eighth Grade Bites

Title: Eighth Grade Bites

Author: Heather Brewer

Format: Paperback

Published: 2007

Eighth grade is difficult enough, but for Vladimir Tod, it really sucks. He’s got bully’s to worry about, his crush may or may not like his best friend, his favorite teacher has gone missing, and to top it all off, he is a vampire. When he discovers a journal left to him by his late father, a whole new world is opened up to him. Unfortunately, with that world comes the reality that his father was a wanted vampire, and there are some who unaware of his death… and willing to find him at any cost. Yup, it’s going to be a great year.

I was looking for a really good book to read, and a friend recommended Eighth Grade Bites. While it wasn’t the can’t-put-down-stay-up-all-night-reading story I was looking for, it was pretty good. Heather Brewer managed to capture the joys (and pains) of middle school quite well, I really enjoyed the characters, the dialogue was decently intelligent as well as humorous, and the story moved at a good pace.

Overall, I give it a 3.5 page review

Book Review – Push by Sapphire

Push

Sapphire

Paperback

1996

I really really want the review to simply say “this is crap. Run, run now!” but I will wait and instead attempt to give you a review.  You’ve been warned.

For those who aren’t familiar with this (this is the book that the movie Precious is based on), the story line is that 16-year-old Precious is once again pregnant with her father’s child. She gets kicked out of school (never mind that she can’t read and shouldn’t be in junior high school).  Out of her mother’s good graces (for being a slut and “seducing” her rapist bastard father), she finally decides she no longer cares about  her mother, and leaves.

Okay.  First of all, why does a fat black chick who keeps having her father’s babies make a good movie?  Why, oh why oh why must we have this book turned to cinema?

Second of all, who the hell thought it would make a good book?

The book is written from the perspective of Precious.  Who is remarkably illiterate considering that she grew up watching TV all the time and conversing with people when she felt the need to talk.  So I don’t understand why  she’s so… unable to tell this story with some level of coherantness.

She’s telling the story, not writing it down.  So I just don’t buy that she went to public school (yes, she’s 16 and in junior high, but still), watched television all the time, and somehow, the only words she knows are pussy and piss and she named her first baby Mongo because the kid was deformed.  Way to go.   In case you didn’t get that, I’ll reiterate – the writing is vulgar, the sentences are bad, and it’s just…

Just.  No.

I read the whole damn thing because it was like a train wreck, and I just had to keep reading to see if it got better.  To make this book even better, by the time the book ended, she was writing poetry, too.  Ahem.  I had such a bad headache trying to read this that it took two days to fully go away.  Hell, I even tried reading it to the cat in hopes that it would be better out loud (remember, it’s all dialect).  No luck.

Yes, somewhere in all of that is determination and an unbreaking spirit, but you have to swim through oatmeal to get to it.

Run.  Screaming.  In the other direction.  Like my cats did.  1/5 pages.

Book Review–Pope Joan by Donna Woolfolk Cross

Title: Pope Joan
Author: Donna Woolfolk Cross
Format: Electronic
Written: 1996
Published: 2009

The Popes have been in the news a lot in recent weeks; all the news channels were infatuated with all things Papal as they waited on the white smoke.  I get it, being kind of a Papal junkie myself.    A few years ago I went on a binge of Pope books–there are a surprising number of fictional accounts of various people becoming the Holy Father.   It’s sort of like winning the religious lottery and I’m a fan of lottery-winner books.*  Oddly enough, I missed this particular Pope story in that last whipround and when someone mentioned it in passing a couple of weeks ago I knew that I had to read this book.  

I mean, what’s not to love?  It’s got feminism, religion, medieval medicine, romance and animals.   In fact, it was eerily like someone sat down with a checklist of Katherine Coble’s Favourite Literary Tropes and penned a novel against it.  You’d think, of course, that I’d just be delighted and rapturously raving about it.

Sadly, that isn’t going to happen.

Pope Joan is a novel based on the legend of the only woman to hold the office of Pope in the Roman Catholic church.   The legend is routinely denounced by the Vatican; it’s dismissed as Protestant propaganda and an attempt to undercut the church by showing the Pope as a mockery.   Whenever they say that, however, I’m bemused.   Frankly the idea of a woman disguising herself as a man and dedicating her life to the service of God isn’t something I’m inclined to mock.  In fact I’m pretty much of the mind that that is one of the coolest things ever–barring, of course, the fact that she had to choose between her God and her genitalia.

The novel takes the few facts which are known about the woman who lived as John Anglicus in the mid-ninth century and embroiders upon them.   It started out compellingly, with a prologue as gripping as any I’ve ever read.   From that opening scene with Joan’s bloody birth into freezing England the book moves briskly through her childhood and follows each turn of events that shapes the unloved youngest child of a craven priest and his Saxon mistress into the devout scholar.

The book is entirely readable and I don’t want to discourage you from looking into it if you’re in the mood for some Dark Ages fiction.   But I will say that I’m not giving it any higher rating than three worms because of this:      The initial part of the story which focuses on Joan’s childhood with her family was so good.  I really came to care about her and wanted to keep knowing her.  But after spending hours of time with Joan I not only didn’t care one iota about her and was actually kind of sick of her in the end.   Past a certain point in the story it was as though Woolfolk-Cross stopped caring about writing a compelling character and just decided to stick in a bunch of stick figures that would let her pontificate (ooh! good topical pun, me!) about feminism, faith, doubt and all those weighty topics.

Hey.  I’m smart enough to want to pick up a book about history.  Let me be smart enough to intuit your message without stopping the action to give tortured paragraphs about how awfully women were regarded and treated  and how that made baby Pope Joan cry.   After awhile I really wanted to just skim because I couldn’t take going from three or four pages of decent story into a dead-end of repetitious rhetoric.

The other issue I had was the completely squickish love story.   I don’t want to get into too much spoiling detail but I found the central relationship between Joan and her Stock Love Interest to be incredibly disturbing.   That, I think, as much as the screediness of the latter half of the book is what detracted for me.

I suppose I would say that if you’re truly curious and truly into reading the religious version of a Cinderella story this book might be worth your time.   I’d definitely encourage you to borrow it from the library though.

Three bookworms it is.  3bookworms

*There are also a surprising number of those.

Book Review: Captive Temple by Jude Watson

Title: Captive Temple

Author:  Jude Watson

Format: Paperback

Written: 2000

Published: 2000

Captive Temple is one of those books you expect a lot from and get very little.  It was a book that had intrigued me to no end years ago.  I was eager to read about the threat on Yoda’s life as was advertised on the back of the book.  Yet, said threat on Yoda’s life ended up being a passing thought that was in some ways easily forgotten and ignored.  Honestly the book was rather unremarkable.  It wasn’t terrible nor was it great, it just was.

 

I didn’t mind the read it was quick and interesting enough for me to stick it out till the end but there wasn’t anything stuck out to me.  Oddly enough as a reviewer I would rather have a terrible book so I could at very least rant about it rather than sit here and say that I read the book and it was decent. With that in mind I give the book a two page rating if you are bored, read it, or if you want to continue the main story arch as I do.

Book Review- Pretty Guardian Sailor Moon, vol 1

Title: Pretty Guardian Sailor Moon, vol 1

Author/Illustrator: Naoko Takeuchi

Format: Paperback

Published: 2003

Translated: 2011

Usagi Tsukino loves food, sleep, and video games. She is allergic to anything that could remotely be construed as responsibility. So it is a bit surprising when a talking cat named Luna tells Usagi she is actually Guardian of Justice Sailor Moon. It can’t be possible, but when her best friend’s mother is taken in a plot to steal the Legendary Silver Crystal- a stone filled with enough power to rule the universe- she is called into action to not only defeat the powers of darkness, but to find her fellow Sailor Soldiers and protect her princess, wherever she may be.

It has been a while since I have read any of the Sailor Moon mangas, and I had forgotten a good deal of what they were like. I remember when I read them before I could not put them down, which is why it was so weird re-reading this first one, as it was not nearly as good as I remember. It was not a bad read, but it really did not hold much interest for me until the end. The storyline is decent, especially since it is just introducing the plot and the characters, and it moves at a good pace. I do appreciate the diversity in the character’s personalities, and especially like that Usagi is not the typically ‘perfect’ heroine. The one big issue that I had with it is that it is so jumpy. I had to go back and re-read some of the pages to make sure I did not miss something because the characters would be talking about some important detail in one graphic box, and the very next box would be about something completely trivial.

Overall, it was not a bad book, but it was not one of my favorites either. Overall, I give it a 3 page rating.

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