Review: The Birth House by Ami McKay

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the birth houseTitle: The Birth House
Author:
Ami McKay
Genre: Historical Fiction
Source: Purchased (Paperback)

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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.

Filled with details that are as compelling as they are surprising-childbirth in the aftermath of the Halifax Explosion, the prescribing of vibratory treatments to cure hysteria and a mysterious elixir called Beaver Brew- The Birth House is an unforgettable tale of the struggles women have faced to maintain control over their own bodies and to keep the best parts of tradition alive in the world of modern medicine.

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I kind of love Ami McKay. When it comes to Canadian authors, I think she is one of Canada’s treasures — her books are just THAT good. So good that when I finished this one — a book that had been on my shelf FOREVER (I read her newest book before even reading this one — that’s how long it’s been on my shelf) — I needed more. I was so sad that I had read all of her books! I guess that just means I’ll be wishing that she releases something new — ASAP!

Anyway, I read this book late last year while I was pregnant (yup — and I scheduled this post!) and was initially QUITE nervous to read it. I mean, it’s a book that deals heavily with pregnant women and birthing and all that jazz. I expected to be terrified and full of anxiety while reading it.

But it’s not written in a scary way. In fact, part of me wished I had someone like Mrs. B or Dora in my life for the birth of my own child. The art of midwifery is just that — an art. I love how the book really brings forth what was going on during that time, with women accepting midwives when it came to female ailments and childbirth, but that the men of society seemed against it (well, some at least) because there was no science to it. It was hard to believe that people like Mrs. B or Dora could be accused of witchcraft because they used natural means to help and heal, rather than immediately thinking that science has the answer. Sometimes a woman’s intuition is enough.

I was fascinated by this book. I had started it before bed one night and thought I would never get through it. It’s close to 400 pages and I had been getting my fair share of YA novels in, so a Canadian Literature book seemed daunting to me. However, Ami writes in such a way that it’s just that easy to get sucked into her writing and into the world she puts forth. I felt like I was there, witnessing what was going on around the main character, Dora. I felt her pain, I could feel her fears, and I could definitely feel the elation when a baby was born.

I also have to say something about the characters in this story. The women were FIERCE. Their strength should be enough to let them make a mark on the town, but sometimes it just wasn’t enough. While the women were amazing, some of the men just couldn’t see it. There were times where I found myself cringing as I read because of the attitudes of some of the male population. Though I did like that not ALL the males were against the women and their beliefs — there were some real keepers in the story!

I had also thought that the book would span generations, but we’re really only let into a year or so of Dora’s life. And it’s quite amazing how much she grows as a character in such a short amount of time. And the doctor? Oh. My. Gosh. I was so scared of him! To live in a period like that where the idea of a local obstetrician is such a new thing was terrifying. I had actually seen the movie Hysteria about the way to treat women with certain … ahem … ailments and it was nice to be familiar with the time period through that. I know that people thought they were really moving ahead in medicine, but some things just seemed so silly. Of course, the best thing to do would be to just label a woman as crazy.

When I was close to finishing the story, I had to think about how in times of emergency, it was always about saving the women and children — and then Ami (well, Dora) brings up that very sentence. It really was a great way to try and bridge the gap between the sexes. I finished the story feeling completely satisfied and so happy that I had finally given the story a go. Ami McKay will definitely remain up there in the ranks of my favourite Canadian authors — or, really, just my favourite authors. I can’t wait to see what she brings to her readers next.

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Review: Hellgoing: Stories by Lynn Coady

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hellgoingTitle: Hellgoing: Stories
Author:
Lynn Coady
Genre: Short Stories
Source: Purchased (eBook)

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With astonishing range and depth, Scotiabank Giller Prize finalist Lynn Coady gives us eight unforgettable new stories, each one of them grabbing our attention from the first line and resonating long after the last.

A young nun charged with talking an anorexic out of her religious fanaticism toys with the thin distance between practicality and blasphemy. A strange bond between a teacher and a schoolgirl takes on ever deeper, and stranger, shapes as the years progress. A bride-to-be with a penchant for nocturnal bondage can’t seem to stop bashing herself up in the light of day.

Equally adept at capturing the foibles and obsessions of men and of women, compassionate in her humour yet never missing an opportunity to make her characters squirm, fascinated as much by faithlessness as by faith, Lynn Coady is quite possibly the writer who best captures what it is to be human at this particular moment in our history.

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Short stories have always been something that alludes me. I mean, I understand the novel and I kind of get poetry (something I never really studied in university. Give me books!), but when it comes to short stories, I felt like it took a lot of work to really extrapolate the TRUE meaning of the story. If there was a meaning. Which, in university, there’s ALWAYS a meaning.

I’m not sure if I would have picked up Hellgoing on my own, but when I saw that local author Lynn Coady was up for a Giller Prize with her collection of stories, I decided to give it a whirl. Not only do I love trying out prize-worthy books, but I also have been on a mission to really explore the depths of local talent we have here in the capital city.

Without a doubt, it’s easy to see that Lynn Coady has talent. Right off the bat, I was in love with her writing style. It’s more mature than what I was used to, but it was also very accessible. I didn’t find myself fumbling through the text and actually found myself absorbed in the stories. Shocking, right?

I think my favourite stories in the collection have to be The Natural Elements, Wireless, and Body Condom. All had very real characters and interesting studies in our actions as humans. The stories aren’t light, they’re hard and sometimes a bit crude. It can be hard to really get to know a character through a short story, but I think there are certain characters (as in my favourites listed previously) who stand out. We don’t get a lot of filler with a short story, nor do we really get a lot of backstory. Instead, we get the here and now and the story that’s happening in this moment. It’s like we’ve suddenly attached ourselves as flies on the wall of someone else’s life, if only for a brief instant.

I’m definitely interested to try out some of Lynn’s full-length works. I think she is a true local talent and definitely worthy of acknowledgement. I’d be interested to see her writing a little serious of a story — maybe something with a mix of seriousness and a bit of humour, but I’d still say that this is a good introduction to her work.

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Review: Tampa by Allisa Nutting

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tampaTitle: Tampa
Author:
Allisa Nutting
Genre: Adult Fiction
Source: Library (Hardcover)

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Celeste Price is an eighth-grade English teacher in suburban Tampa. She’s undeniably attractive. She drives a red Corvette with tinted windows. Her husband, Ford, is rich, square-jawed, and devoted to her.

But Celeste’s devotion lies elsewhere. She has a singular sexual obsession—fourteen-year-old boys. Celeste pursues her craving with sociopathic meticulousness and forethought; her sole purpose in becoming a teacher is to fulfill her passion and provide her access to her compulsion. As the novel opens, fall semester at Jefferson Jr. High is beginning.

In mere weeks, Celeste has chosen and lured the lusciously naive Jack Patrick into her web. Jack is enthralled and in awe of his teacher, and, most important, willing to accept Celeste’s terms for a secret relationship—car rides after school; rendezvous at Jack’s house while his single father works late; body-slamming encounters in Celeste’s empty classroom between periods.

Ever mindful of the danger—the perpetual risk of exposure, Jack’s father’s own attraction to her, and the ticking clock as Jack leaves innocent boyhood behind—the hyperbolically insatiable Celeste bypasses each hurdle with swift thinking and shameless determination, even when the solutions involve greater misdeeds than the affair itself. In slaking her sexual thirst, Celeste Price is remorseless and deviously free of hesitation, a monstress driven by pure motivation. She deceives everyone, and cares nothing for anyone or anything but her own pleasure.

With crackling, rampantly unadulterated prose, Tampa is a grand, uncompromising, seriocomic examination of want and a scorching literary debut.

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In the genre-world of writing, I think we should add a new one: books that make us uncomfortable.

While reading is supposed to be for enjoyment, I can’t say that every single book read is written for pure enjoyment. Some books are written to make us squirm, to make us feel uncomfortable, and — most importantly — to make us want to talk to others about it. These books can be tame or they can be super controversial. Like this one.

I had initially thought I wouldn’t read Tampa, a story about a teacher who has a bit of a sexual obsession with 14-year-old boys. I mean, it just sounds a little too serious and a little too crude for me.  But then again, there’s something to say about authors who choose to write something that makes their readers squirm, something that is so outside of the box that readers are left wondering if even writing it was right or wrong.

In this book, we are DEEP in the brain of this sex-obsessed teacher. Normally, it’s not such a bad journey. I mean, the character has their problems, but it’s just sex, right? Except when we factor in the thing that triggers in her sexual obsession (14-year-old boys) and the fact that she’s a teacher, it just seems wrong.

However, while the whole thing seems like it just shouldn’t exist, I felt like it was a very interesting character study. By the end of the story I felt uncomfortable even saying that I liked the book. I mean, no one should like this kind of story, right? But I felt like the character of Celeste was done so well.

My only real qualms with the story was how realistic it actually was. I’d like to think that someone would say something about this teacher. She really couldn’t get away with these things, right? And if SHE is getting away with them, is it a safe assumption to say that there is probably someone out there exactly like her in the real world? There were certain things that Celeste would do in her classroom, or certain things she’d wear that really made me wonder WHY no one would report her. I’d like to think kids are smarter than that.

In the end, though, I felt kind of glued to these pages, kind of like watching an inevitable train wreck. You know it’s going to end bad, you know that you might get squirmy waiting for something bad to happen, but it’s going to happen either way. As I finished the last page, all I wanted to do was talk about the story to someone and tell them how wrong the whole thing was.

Be warned, though, this book is EXTREMELY graphic. If you’ve read romance novels in the past, expect something like that, but times about ten, between two people who should NOT be together. This isn’t swoon-worthy romance and sex, but rather something you will want to look away from.

So THAT is why I liked this book. The subject matter disgusted me and yet I couldn’t look away. I had to know what happened in the end. But it still kept me intrigued. Horrifying subject matter or not, I’d say that’s the sign of a good book.

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