Three For The Price of One...

Oh my.  Seventeen days since my last post. I have three books to write about but I've been buried in an online Photoshop course for the past few weeks. It required more time than I expected and eventually something had to give. Something turned out to be the blog. Rather than skip these books altogether I'll just say a little bit about each of them in this one post.

A Wrinkle In Time by Madeleine L'Engle
It only took me fifty years to get around to reading this but when I finally did I loved it. The story centers around Meg Murray, daughter of two scientists, one of whom has been missing since he took part in a time travel experiment. Meg, her brother and friend meet three unusual women who help them locate Meg's dad on a far off world, traveling to distant planets and fighting strange creatures before they all arrive safely back home. There's mystery, fantasy, science, faith and all the usual ups and downs of growing up woven into this story. I liked it enough that I bought a copy of the 50th anniversary edition for my eleven year old grand-daughter. Hopefully, she'll love it too.

Back In 6 Years by Tony Robinson Smith    
This is the (true) story of a guy who set out to travel the world without leaving the surface of the planet, which basically meant cars, bikes, boats, trains and feet were acceptable forms of transportation and airplanes were not. The journey took him almost six years, and to be honest I thought it might take me that long to finish the book. I am usually a fan to travel writing but this one was not my thing at all. It chronicled the grittier parts of his adventure; I prefer the prettier parts. He talked in detail about the various horrors of his ocean crossings in small boats; I wanted to hear about the beautiful scenery he saw bicycling across Canada but that whole trip only got a couple of pages. He wrote a blood, sweat and tears adventure story that didn't appeal to my landscape, museum and architecture loving heart. Not my kind of adventure. I didn't like it, but I'm sure there are many who will find this a very good read.

 The Island by Victoria Hislop
Set in Greece, this is the story of an Island leper colony and the people who were taken from their families and sent there to live after receiving the diagnosis. Covering several generations, the story is told in flashbacks as a young American woman seeks to discover her family's history. It's a good story and an interesting subject, the first novel I've ever read that deals with this horrible and misunderstood disease. I didn't find the writing great, but it's pretty good for a first novel and the story is enough for me to give it a good recommendation.

So that's it - my feeble attempt to make up for neglecting these books. They deserve better but that's all they're getting while I'm living and breathing Photoshop. I should have a better handle on it soon, and then it's on to Christmas books, some new and some re-reads, but all of which I am anticipating for the quiet pleasure they bring in a season that is increasingly chaotic. I'll be back....sooner rather than later...I hope...

"The Birth House"

The Birth House by Ami McKay

Dora Rare is the first female born into her family in five generations. That, and having been born with a caul over her face, makes her the subject of gossip in the small community of Scot's Bay and an easy target for pointing fingers when any trouble befalls it's inhabitants.

Miss B. (Marie Babineau) is the local midwife and herbalist. She assists women through pregnancy and delivery, marital problems and sick children. She offers her services free of charge, opening her home to any woman who needs a place of refuge, but once they are no longer in need of her services the women tend to distance themselves from her and her sometimes strange ways.

While Dora is still a young girl, Miss B recognizes the kindred spirit in her and takes her on as an apprentice to learn the arts of healing and midwifery. They face a lot of opposition from the local physician who sees them as doing more harm than good and wants to shut them down. His interest in bringing modern medicine to Nova Scotia is strengthened by his interest in the fees he is hoping to receive for his services.

This book addresses the struggles of women to be autonomous and have control over what happens to their own bodies. It paints a picture that is both harsh and beautiful, looking at a broad spectrum of women from the strong and independent to those who are no more than slaves in abusive marriages. It makes a strong statement about a woman's need for female friendships and support. It is also emphatically pro-choice. Pregnancies are terminated based on the hardship it causes the mother and though the sheer desperation of some of these women is agonizing, I still can't get past the fact that to make one life more bearable, another life has to be ended. As a woman I find myself rooting for wives and mothers whose lives are unbelievably hard and being happy for them when things finally get easier, then as a Christian I sometimes get that uncomfortable feeling that I'm applauding things God doesn't call good. These are not easy issues but they do make me take stock of who I am and what I believe.  

The healing arts that Miss B and Dora practice are an eerie mixture of Mary-worship, superstition, future foretelling and herbal medicine. The "Willow Book" contains all the wisdom of their trade. It prescribes things like this: "Moonbath: Lie naked in a crossroads in the light of a full moon. Makes the womb ripe." Some of it is silliness, some of it seems more like the witchcraft of tv shows and movies.

 I will confess I don't like the messy aspects of being human so that part of the book was not enjoyable for me. When my children were babies I loved holding them and playing with them but I did not at all enjoy the drool, snot, vomit and other bodily function messes. Because this book tells a lot of pregnancy stories, there is blood, etc, and there was too much of it for me.

I thought Birth House was well written and I loved the setting of Scot's Bay, Nova Scotia. The glimpse into life in that time and place was wonderful but it wasn't enough to make me like the book so I can't recommend it.