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21 Jan, 2016

The Last Midwife

/ posted in: Reading The Last Midwife The Last Midwife by Sandra Dallas
on September 29th 2015
Pages: 352
Genres: Fiction, Historical
Format: Hardcover
Source: Library
Buy on Amazon (affiliate link)

It is 1880 and Gracy Brookens is the only midwife in a small Colorado mining town where she has delivered hundreds, maybe thousands, of babies in her lifetime. The women of Swandyke trust and depend on Gracy, and most couldn't imagine getting through pregnancy and labor without her by their sides.

But everything changes when a baby is found dead...and the evidence points to Gracy as the murderer.


For someone who hates babies as much as I do, I sure do like reading books about midwives.

Maybe it is because at one time it was the only opportunity available for women interested in health care.  Maybe it is because midwives aren’t taking any lip from anyone.  I don’t know.

This story takes place in an isolated Colorado mining town high up in the mountains.  The men here are miners, looking for the claim that is going to make them rich.  They head out into the mountains in the summer for months at a time leaving the women to fend for themselves.  Gracy Brookens is a midwife with a reputation for helping in difficult cases.  Her reputation is put to the test when the owner of one of the local mines accuses her of strangling a baby.

This isn’t really a mystery story.  You know right off that Gracy didn’t do it.  This book uses the framework of the accusation and trial to discuss what life was like for people in the mountains.

  • What is it like to know that this pregnancy may kill you?
  • Does a midwife have a responsibility to help you if you don’t want a pregnancy?
  • Who raises the children if a woman dies?
  • What happens to two men who have lived together for a long time when one finds a wife?
  • How do women cope if they can’t have children or if their husbands are having affairs?


If you are interested in another book like this one, check out:

The Birth HouseThe 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.”

26 Dec, 2015

Winter Journey

/ posted in: FamilyReading Winter Journey Winter Journey by Diane Armstrong
on 2005
Pages: 483
Length: 14:33
Genres: Historical
Format: Audiobook
Source: Audible
Buy on Amazon (affiliate link)
Set in Australia and Poland

Halina Shore is a forensic dentist working in Sydney. She is invited to return to Poland to examine bodies in a mass grave to shed light on whether this was a German or a Polish war crime.



Helina Shore is a forensic dentist.  She was born in Poland and moved to Australia when she was nine.  Finding herself at loose ends after the death of her taciturn mother, she accepts an invitation to help exhume a mass grave in Poland.  The Jews of the town were burned to death in this barn in 1941.  Local lore says that the Nazis did it but rumors persist that it was the Polish people who committed the crime.  The investigation is supposed to find out the truth but is running against public opinion in this very conservative and nationalistic part of Poland.

To Sum Up

This book is amazing.  Go get it and read it or listen to the audio – whatever, just go do it.

The Longer Answer

I am always looking for historical fiction books set in Poland.  Generally, I want ones that aren’t about World War II.  This book is set in the early 2000s and in 1941.  The reason I’m interested in Poland is that my grandmother’s family comes from there.  She never told us much.  She didn’t like to be reminded that she was Polish.

In this book, Helina’s mother never told her anything about Poland.  It all sounded very familiar.  Every time Helina found out that her mother had lied about something I laughed.  It sounds like my family.  They never met an official form that they filled in truthfully.

In the course of listening to this audio, I got back on and got in contact with my second cousin.  We’ve been sharing documents about the family.  So far I found out about three more children that were siblings of my grandmother who all died young.  No one in my family had heard of them.  That’s not a surprise considering no one had heard of the adult brother that was murdered either.  Grandma didn’t talk about the past.

This book tries to discover what could make neighbors commit atrocities against their neighbors.  She has the viewpoints of Jewish survivors and of the people who burnt the barn.  She sets this against a picture of Polish nationalism that still exists today and leaves readers wondering how easily it could all happen again.  The rationalizations of the perpetrators are chilling.

There is a lot of discussion about identity.  This annoyed me a little.  I don’t have much tolerance for the plot device of finding out that your parents lied to you about some part of your background and then the character falls apart crying about how they don’t know who they are anymore.  You’re the same person you were two minutes ago.  Quit yer whinin’!

This can be a hard book to listen to because of the descriptions of what happened to the Jews of Nowa Kalwaria.  The author draws you into the story in both times leaving you wanting to find out who was involved and to see if the town can move past it into a brighter future.

This author has written other books about Poland and European immigration into Australia – both historical fiction and nonfiction.  I’m looking forward to reading more of her books.



20 Aug, 2015

My Name is Resolute by Nancy E. Turner

/ posted in: Reading My Name is Resolute by Nancy E. Turner My Name Is Resolute by Nancy E. Turner
on February 18th 2014
Pages: 593
Genres: Fiction, Historical
Format: Hardcover
Source: Library
Buy on Amazon (affiliate link)

The year is 1729, and Resolute Talbot and her siblings are captured by pirates, taken from their family in Jamaica, and brought to the New World. Resolute and her sister are sold into slavery in colonial New England and taught the trade of spinning and weaving. When Resolute finds herself alone in Lexington, Massachusetts, she struggles to find her way in a society that is quick to judge a young woman without a family. As the seeds of rebellion against England grow, Resolute is torn between following the rules and breaking free. Resolute's talent at the loom places her at the center of an incredible web of secrecy that helped drive the American Revolution.


“My story is the story of other women like me, women who left no name, who will not be remembered or their deeds written, every one of them a restless stalk of flax who lent fiber to the making of a whole cloth, every one of them a thread, be it gold, dapple, crimson, or tarred.”

Resolute was the spoiled and indulged ten year old daughter of a plantation owner in Jamaica when pirates raided her family home. Her father, sister, and brother were taken along with Resolute and many of the slaves to be sold. The pirate ship was taken by English privateers and eventually Resolute and her sister Patience were sold in New England.

Resolute at this age annoyed me and I had to keep reminding myself that this was a very naive child. Her sister tells her that women are taken from the hold of the ship to go on deck for dancing and feasting but then knocks Resolute almost unconscious when someone tries to take Resolute above deck at night. She thinks Patience is just trying to keep all the fun away from her.  She thinks that they will be able to buy their way back to Jamaica and their mother as soon as they land no matter what Patience tries to tell her.

She is sold as an indentured servant in a house that is poorer than she has ever lived in. She needs to quickly learn how to do everything that she had slaves to do for her.

Resolute learns to survive though. Over the next few years her life is turned upside down as her village is raided and she is taken captive and sold again.  Eventually she escapes and makes her way as a free woman to the outskirts of Boston.  She has been trained to weave and starts to make her living with cloth.

Her life is fairly ordinary.  She marries and has children and tends her house and farm.  But the British are putting harsher and harsher restrictions on Massachusetts and her family and neighbors are getting involved in the rebellion in various ways.  She isn’t one to sit idly by while her family is in danger.

“Perhaps, along with hundreds of other women in this place during this momentous time, I have made a difference.”

This is a wonderful historical fiction novel.  I found myself reading late into the night and ignoring other things I had to do in order to finish it.  It captures a time and place and the lives of the simple people who were part of it.

The one quote that kept coming to mind while reading this book was this one from The Princess Bride.

Grandpa: Are you kidding? Fencing, fighting, torture, revenge, giants, monsters, chases, escapes, true love, miracles…

The Grandson: Doesn’t sound too bad. I’ll try to stay awake.

Grandpa: Oh, well, thank you very much, very nice of you. Your vote of confidence is overwhelming.

That description of that book seems like it would fit this book and there are pirates throughout it!



About Nancy E. Turner

“Nancy Elaine Turner was born in Dallas, Texas and grew up in Southern California and Arizona. She began writing fiction as an assignment for a class at Pima Community College and completed a Bachelor’s degree in Fine Arts Studies from the University of Arizona in 1999 with a triple major in Creative Writing, Music, and Studio Art. She lives in Tucson with her husband and Snickers, a dog rescued by F.A.I.R. She has two married children and four grandchildren. She also enjoys the outdoors, theater, movies, and antiques.” from her website

03 Jun, 2015

The Mapmaker’s Children

/ posted in: Reading The Mapmaker’s Children The Mapmaker's Children by Sarah McCoy
on May 5th 2015
Pages: 320
Genres: Fiction, Historical
Format: Hardcover
Source: Library
Buy on Amazon (affiliate link)

"The Mapmaker's Children is the story of Sarah Brown, the vibrant, talented daughter of abolitionist John Brown. Her conventional life trajectory is dynamically changed when she's told the shocking news that she can't bear children and stumbles into her father's work on the Underground Railroad. Realizing that her artistic talents may be able to help save the lives of slaves fleeing north, she becomes one of the movement's leading mapmakers. Since many runaways are unable to read and cannot carry obvious maps demarcating safe houses, Sarah takes her cues from the slave code quilts of her abolitionist colleagues, hiding her maps within her paintings. But joining the mission makes her a target for the same bigotry and hatred that led to the execution of her father and is steering the country toward a bloody civil war. Interwoven with Sarah's adventure is the present-day story of Eden, a modern woman desperate to conceive a child with her husband, who moves to an old house in the suburbs of Washington, D.C. and discovers a porcelain head hidden in the root cellar--the remains of an Underground Railroad doll with an extraordinary past of secret messages, danger and deliverance. Sarah and Eden's connection bridges the past and present, forcing each of them to define courage, family, love and legacy in a new way"--


It is 2015.  Can we please move away from the idea that a woman’s worth is tied solely to her ability to reproduce?

I understand that feeling being expressed in the historical parts of this novel but I just don’t get it in the contemporary section.

By the way, Sarah Brown’s doctor tells her that she is infertile after a bad bout of dysentery.  I’m not certain but I can’t see how dysentery could cause that and even if it did –  how would a 19th century doctor be able to determine that?  I call B.S. on that doctor — especially if it is true that she made her decision not to marry based on his info.  She didn’t even try making babies to see if his diagnosis was true or not.

I liked the parts of this book about the Browns so I decided to go on a field trip. Ever since I moved here three years ago I’ve been passing a sign on the highway for the John Brown House.  I didn’t know he had lived in Ohio.  This is talked about briefly in the book.  Basically, he was here to be a shepherd for the family that founded the town.  He was good at that but he tried to run part of the business and ended up losing a bunch of money.  Then he went to New York where the book starts.  I decided to go see the house so I could add some pictures and history to the book review.

I got there and the historical society volunteer was so excited.  She couldn’t believe I was there for a tour.  I told her I didn’t need a tour.  I could just look around.  No can do.  This is a tour only operation. Can you say introvert nightmare?  A one on one tour. To top it off –no pictures allowed.

It was fairly interesting even though I learned a lot more about the family that hired John Brown than I learned about John Brown.  I was hoping for a bit of history about Sarah.  A sign with pictures of the family would have been good, but no.

From here

The house is across the street from the house that the family of the founders of Akron built.  This house was originally the house they lived in while they were building their fancy house.


About Sarah McCoy

“SARAH McCOY is author of the New York Times, USA Today, and international bestseller The Baker’s Daughter, a 2012 Goodreads Choice Award Best Historical Fiction nominee. Her first novel is The Time It Snowed in Puerto Rico.

Sarah’s work has been featured in Real Simple, The Millions, Your Health Monthly, Huffington Post and other publications. She has taught English writing at Old Dominion University and at the University of Texas at El Paso.

The daughter of an Army officer, her family was stationed in Germany during her childhood. She calls Virginia home but presently lives with her husband, an Army physician, and dog, Gilbert, in El Paso, Texas.” from her website

21 Feb, 2015

The Free Negress Elisabeth by Cynthia McLeod

/ posted in: Reading The Free Negress Elisabeth by Cynthia McLeod The Free Negress Elisabeth by Cynthia Mc Leod
on 2008
Pages: 316
Genres: Fiction, Historical
Published by Arcadia Books Limited
Format: Hardcover
Source: Library
Buy on Amazon (affiliate link)

Elisabeth Samson, a free black Surinamese woman who lived in 18th-century Dutch Guyana, is the central character in this compelling novel. Challenging the prevailing racial stereotypes by demonstrating her intelligence and business acumen, she is determined to marry a white man in defiance of all established norms and conventions. Set amidst the rich backdrop of the Golden Age of Suriname, this biographical account depicts the complex social and racial stratifications which were features of slave colonies of the era as well as this remarkable woman who overcame institutionalized discrimination and prejudice to become one of the wealthiest individuals in the slave colony of Dutch Guyana.


Sometimes a book is a perfect fit for what you are looking to read.  This book checked off all the boxes for me.

Set in a country that I’d never read about before?  Yep, Suriname.  Here’s where it is.  Elisabeth was most annoyed when people didn’t know.

Written about a person of color by a person of color who has lived in the area? Yep, Cynthia McLeod (right in the picture) was born in Suriname and is the daughter of the first President of the country.

Written in a language other than English? Yep, written in Dutch and translated to English.

I was so excited that I was getting that all in one book that before I started it I had a moment of panic.  “What if this book isn’t any good?”

I was worried for nothing though.  This is historical fiction about Elisabeth Samson.  She was born to a black woman who had been freed following the death of her owner who had fathered two of her children.  Elisabeth was born two years later and had no white blood in her.  Black women were the lowest rung of Suriname society but she was raised as a free child by her half-white older sister and her sister’s white husband.

Black women were caught in a logical loop.  They were not allowed to marry so many lived with men out of wedlock.  Because so many lived with men out of wedlock, they were considered too immoral to be allowed to marry.  Mulatto women could marry freely.  When she became one of the richest people in the colony, she decided to fight for her right to marry.

The author spent years researching her.  At the beginning of her work it was known that Samson had a fortune but everyone assumed it came from a white man who either freed her or was sleeping with her.  Going through the primary sources the author found that Samson was a self-made woman who was involved in several prominent court cases.  After publishing her research, she wrote this historical fiction version of Samson’s life.

She was a fascinating woman and is presented here faults and all.