Ghost on Black Mountain by Ann Hite

Ghost on Black MountainGhost on Black Mountain by Ann Hite

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

An atmospheric family saga which I really enjoyed. Included plenty of sad bits, and maybe went on a little too long in parts. Told through the viewpoint of several different female characters whose lives are interrelated. Some of the characters felt more fully realized, and some drew me in more than others. But overall, I am so very glad I discovered Ghost on Black Mountain, and author Ann Hite. Hite is a storyteller in the southern tradition, and one who I am so glad is sharing her gift.
*My hardback edition included a short interview with the author which gave fascinating insight into her creative process, and what inspires her. Love this stuff!

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The Secrets of Midwives by Sally Hepworth

The Secrets of MidwivesThe Secrets of Midwives by Sally Hepworth

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I really loved this book, which tells the story of three distinct women-grandmother Floss, mother Grace, and daughter Neva-who are all midwives, who all love each other deeply, and who all sometimes drive each other crazy.
What I love about it:
Author Sally Hepworth writes with respect, awe, and warmth for women who are pregnant, giving birth, and supporting other women.
Hepworth clearly has done a lot of research about the state of present-day midwifery in the United States, as well as how it has been regulated and practiced during the past 50 years.
The Secrets of Midwives goes back and forth in time between Floss beginning her practice in England in the 1950’s, and Neva and Grace practicing in Rhode Island, in the present day.
If, like me, you were fascinated by the novel Midwives by Chris Bohjalian, (and in particular, by the complex dynamics of being a midwife in a time and place in which modern western medicine often promotes hospital births as THE RIGHT way for a woman to give birth) you will also find much to chew on in Hepworth’s novel.

Neva is a midwife who works in a birthing center, where there are pediatricians and ob-gyns present, whereas her mom, Grace, a certified midwife, mostly assists in home births (unless a complicated birth necessitates hospital intervention.)
However, even if you’re not fascinated by this stuff, you’ll still find a lot to enjoy in The Secrets of Midwives.
For one thing, Hepworth writes a rollicking good tale. In Floss, Grace, and Neva, she has created three women who I cared about (though I will admit to feeling frustrated with all of them at times).
I also loved the settings…rural England, present day coastal Rhode Island…this was great summer escapism.
The Secrets of Midwives is by no means as intense or dark (for the MOST part) as Bohjalian’s Midwives. It reminded me tonally  of the novels of Kate Morton mixed with those of Julie Cohen. The Secrets of Midwives was a book I was pretty sure would end happily, even though it contained tragedy.
There were a couple of things which I didn’t love about this book. First, it was, at times, disappointingly superficial/gender oppressive. For example, the men that Neva falls for obviously have to be gorgeous, obviously, Neva is gorgeous, (in ways that are in alignment with all our cultural expectations for today!) Not a big surprise, but it would have made me happier, if this book, with so much going for it, could have challenged those norms.
I also felt bad for Floss’s lover Lil, who was long-suffering, quiet, and mostly ignored by the three main characters. It really ticked me off, to be honest, the way she was treated, and how it seemed that everyone just assumed that she had no story of her own, other than as a support to them.
That said, I ENJOYED The Secrets of Midwives. When Sally Hepworth writes another tale, I will be right there reading it.

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Rooms by Lauren Oliver

RoomsRooms by Lauren Oliver

My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

The more I read, the harder I find it to rate novels. The biggest challenge for me comes in the 3-4 star range, in which, there are books which are engaging reads, but which I’m also aware aren’t necessarily well written.
Also falling within this 3-4 star range are books in which I feel like the author has talent, and is trying to achieve something out of the ordinary, but which don’t fully succeed.
Rooms, an adult novel by author Lauren Oliver, was difficult for me to rate for these reasons. It was an engaging read; it kept my attention and the pages seemed to go quickly. But, I felt overwhelmed by all the perspectives, characters, “rooms,” mysteries….It was all very interesting, and at times the writing was beautiful, but I’m not sure that Rooms worked together for me as a powerful, cohesive whole.
There are scenes, such as those featuring sex addict and struggling single mother, Minna, which have strong emotional resonance. Minna’s self-destructive tendencies, combined with her insight that her decent high-school boyfriend (who refuses to submit to her sexual advances) might be just who she needs, are compelling and tragic. I wanted to know what would happen to Minna, and felt disappointed that her story was more fully explored.
I found some of the other characters’ stories to be less convincing. Rooms included just about every “big issue,” from domestic violence, to extramarital affairs, to car accidents, suicide, teen angst and alcoholism (plus others which I won’t mention as they would be spoilers). I think perhaps having so many characters, with so many problems, meant that each “big” issue lost impact.
This is the first novel I’ve read by Lauren Oliver, who has written several extremely popular young-adult novels (which I understand also deal with “big” issues). At times, I wondered what distinguished this novel as an “adult” story.  That is actually a question I would like to ask the author, as well as other readers who enjoy the blossoming young-adult genre.
Another thing which I found off-putting about Rooms was the author’s use of swearing and graphic descriptions of bodily functions in a way that seemed intended to shock the reader. I have no problem with swearing, or gritty descriptions as such. But you know how when some people swear, it seems put on, or forced, like a performance? This was how the swearing and crude toilet descriptions and metaphors came across in Rooms. These things seemed juvenile and out of place in a novel about longing, regret, and release.
Rooms reminded me in some ways of the recently published, A Sudden Light, by Garth Stein. Both feature haunted houses and dysfunctional families, and deal with the secrets of the past. I found Rooms to be less frustrating than A Sudden Light because it seemed less judgmental and didactic. But while I found the myriad of human stories in Rooms interesting, I’m not sure that I felt satisfied at the end of the novel. Rooms was an entertaining book, but I don’t know that it will stick with me, or change the way I view the world.

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