Books: Call the Midwife

October 2, 2016

Tomorrow is our monthly book club meeting, and I just realized I had not written a post on last month’s book, Call the Midwife by Jennifer Worth. It’s not a book I would have thought of reading otherwise (mostly as I hadn’t heard of it before), but it was an enjoyable and fascinating read.

It is a view not only into the world of midwifery, but also into the lives of people living in postwar London Docklands. Worth recounts the stories of a wide variety of people, both the nuns (she lives and works at the convent of St. Raymund Nonnatus) and the women they serve and their families. There are a number of memorable characters, especially Conchita Warren and her very large family.

It is also a view into a historical era that exists now only in books and in memories. The slums have since been torn down and families moved elsewhere, ending a way of life that was very hard but that had its positive aspects also. The practice of medicine has changed a great deal since then also, so some of the practices of the midwives in the book seem strange to us in the 21st century. (I had never heard of boiling urine before, to test for pre-eclampsia.) Read the rest of this entry »

Books about WWII

July 30, 2016

I don’t know if there are more novels these days set in World War II, or if I just happen to be coming across them more, but I recently finished three of them, each told from a very different perspective.

Liberation Road: A Novel of World War II and the Red Ball Express, by David Robbins, follows the experiences of two American non-combatants from when they come ashore at Omaha Beach. Joe Amos Biggs is an African-American who left college to enlist and who longs to be able to fight alongside the white men. Ben Kahn is a chaplain who had fought in the trenches in World War I, whose son is a B-17 pilot shot down over France and now MIA, and who is motivated by desire for revenge on the Germans. Occasionally there are also passages told from the point of view of “White Dog,” an American pilot shot down over France, who prefers the comfortable life he has found as a black marketeer in occupied Paris to rejoining his comrades in arms.

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Books: Dictator

April 25, 2016

If I had realized that Dictator was the final book of a trilogy I’d have tried to read the other two books first. I knew Robert Harris had written other novels about ancient Rome – I just didn’t realize they were part of a single story.

I wonder now how far I’d have gotten if I had started with Imperium. It’s been a long time since I took this long to get through a library book – I actually had to go back to the library to check it out a second time (after using up my 3-week renewal period).

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Books: The Invention of Wings

April 17, 2016

The Reading Challenge 2016 I’ve been using calls for me to read a “book from Oprah’s Book Club,” and I had been wondering what book I could find that I wanted to read from that list. The books I prefer to read and the books on that list do not generally coincide.

But our book club selection this month was The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd, which I learned from the back cover is a selection of the Oprah Book Club 2.0. I don’t know what is different about the 2.0 list from the original, but all of us in the book club (well, those few of us who made it to this month’s meeting) thought this novel was well worth reading.

Before the meeting someone asked me if I enjoyed the book. I explained it’s hard to speak in terms of “enjoying” a book that describes the suffering of slaves, but it certainly was an engrossing book. I had thought, from the subject matter, it might take me a couple of weeks, reading it on and off, to finish it. But I finished it in two days.

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Books: Alexandria

March 26, 2016

Since I enjoy both historical fiction and mysteries, a mystery set in the Roman empire sounded interesting. I had not read anything previously by Lindsey Davis, but thought Alexandria sounded interesting.

When I check it out of the library, I was more interested in the fact that the ancient library of Alexandria featured prominent, than in noticing the book was part of a series. I generally like to start those at the beginning, and Alexandria turns out to be Davis’ nineteenth novel featuring Marcus Didius Falco. (For future reference, I found someone’s list of the books in order.) Read the rest of this entry »

Books: Remarkable Creatures

February 28, 2016

I vaguely remember learning of Mary Anning when Google celebrated the 215th anniversary of her birth with a special doodle. But the little that I read didn’t interest me enough to read more.

By the time I came across Tracy Chevalier’s novel Remarkable Creatures in the library recently, I had forgotten whatever little I knew of Anning. I wasn’t sure how much of the novel was based on fact, but it seemed interesting enough to check out.

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Books: Pompeii

February 15, 2016

I had no particular interest in the history of Pompeii when I picked up this novel, but I had enjoyed most of what I had read by Robert Harris. (I did not care for The Fear Index as well, though it was interesting to learn how a hedge fund operates.) Pompeii turned out to be fascinating, both for the characters and for the details about both aqueduct engineering and the progression of a volcanic eruption.

I had of course heard of Pompeii and how the massive eruption of Mount Vesuvius wiped out the entire city. I had wondered how so many people had let themselves be caught by a flow of lava, but apparently that is not what usually kills victims of volcanic eruptions.

I was also surprised to realize how much warning the inhabitants of Pompeii and the surrounding area had, if they had only recognized the signs. Even once the eruption started, many were able to escape while most of what was falling on them was still just pumice.

But they didn’t know what was going on, or what was coming. So they went on with their lives, lives that Harris brings wonderfully and imaginatively to life. A few are real people from history, such as Pliny the Elder, who I’m sure I learned about in some history course or other, but had little idea who he was or associated him in any way with the history of Pompeii.

I also knew little about the Roman aqueducts, though like any visitor to Segovia I had admired the aqueduct there. I had given little thought to how the water got from wherever it came from to Segovia, or realized that for much of its journey it traveled underground. Our history teacher talked about the excellence and  importance of Roman roads; I don’t remember that he mentioned the impressive engineering that went into their aqueducts.

As with much historical fiction, there is little surprise as to the ending, just a question of which fictional characters will survive the disaster. But the novel is a wonderful page-turner as you see the inevitable coming, viewed through the eyes of Attilius, the aqueduct engineer.