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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To the Edge of Shadows by Joanne Graham

To the Edge of ShadowsTo the Edge of Shadows by Joanne Graham

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

To the Edge of Shadows is a very difficult book to categorize or talk about without giving away key plot points, but I will do my best to write about it without revealing spoilers.
First of all, I eagerly anticipated To the Edge of Shadows, Joanne Graham’s second novel, after falling in love with the characters and world she created in her debut, Lacey’s House. You can see my review of that novel here…
That said, To the Edge of Shadows is an ambitious second novel that bridges several genres, including fiction focused on the lives of women, as well as suspense and mystery. Major themes of the novel include grief, abuse, memory, and self-actualization.
Graham has a recognizable voice as a writer, one which often borders on the poetic. At times, this voice works well to convey the sense of being lost, or undefined, which her characters struggle with. In Graham’s debut novel, Lacey’s House, this poetic voice was used with great success for an older character who was dealing with memory issues, while her younger friend seemed slightly more concrete and immediate.
To the Edge of Shadows also follows the intertwining narratives of two women. However, in this novel, I found the descriptive writing style to be overpowering at times, such that it slowed down the pace and immediacy of the story.
Some other impressions I have after finishing To the Edge of Shadows:
Part of what I really enjoy about Graham’s writing is that she has the ability to create an atmosphere of warmth and comfort, a feeling that you are in a cozy pink bedroom with a softly glowing nightlight, warm hot chocolate, and comfy pajamas. In fact, scenes very similar to this exist in To the Edge of Shadows, and combined with one of the main characters, the gentle and affectionate Aunt Leah, Graham is able to create a singularly lovely sense of place.
At the same time, Graham is able to write authentically about the horror of violent death, abuse, and fear. Her writing is never excessively gory, but rather, is powerful because it feels true.
So Graham is talented in that she is able to write a story that is (at different times) lovely, and terrifying.
So here’s the thing. The twist, and there is a big one, was something I realized 1/3 of the way into the novel. It seemed so obvious to me that I thought I couldn’t be right. I kept reading, wondering if the author’s intention was for the reader to guess so early on, or if this was a red herring. I was slightly disappointed when, near the end of the novel, my suspicions about the twist were proved true.
However, after that (and this is where Graham really excels) the way that Graham examines the repercussions of the twist on her characters’ lives, makes the story something special.
Joanne Graham writes books that no one else could write, with characters who are truly her own. But she writes in such a way that she gently draws readers into her imaginary world, and leaves us with deeper empathy for others, as well as a greater understanding of ourselves.
To the Edge of Shadows is, in some ways, a more ambitious novel than Lacey’s House, in that it attempts to be a thriller as well as a character-driven narrative. While it does not fully succeed at the suspense element, I admire that Joanne Graham is expanding her horizons as a writer. This second novel has flaws, but it also has much to recommend it, and I look forward to seeing where Joanne Graham’s imagination and talents will take us next.
I’d like to thank Legend Press who allowed me access to the arc of To the Edge of Shadows through NetGalley.

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The Midwife’s Confession by Diane Chamberlain

The Midwife's ConfessionThe Midwife’s Confession by Diane Chamberlain

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Midwife’s Confession is a very good book. It’s a solid 4-star novel, and I am very glad to have recently discovered author Diane Chamberlain.
The Midwife’s Confession will appeal to fans of Liane Moriarty’s The Husband’s Secret. It’s a story with several female friends as lead characters and narrators. The story goes between past and present, and deals with family secrets. The Midwife’s Confession is mostly set in North Carolina and Virginia, so it has a welcoming southern feel and charm.
Things I liked about The Midwife’s Confession:
1. The characters were all very well developed and loveable. I could tell which narrator out of five was speaking if I opened the book randomly to any page. This says a lot about the character development, given that the narrators were three best friends another woman, and a daughter. A less talented author might have struggled to distinguish their voices, but in the capable hands of Diane Chamberlain, each woman has a recognizable voice.
2. This book made me care about making a difference. Main themes in the story include friendship, guilt, and forgiveness. Main issues include the controversies surrounding midwifery, as well as the struggles of children dealing with cancer. In Haley, a 12-year-old with leukemia, we have a believable, spunky heroine who we root for as she waits for a bone marrow transplant. Reading The Midwife’s Confession made me want to go online and find out more about how I could donate blood or bone marrow. Chamberlain’s novel made me more aware of the ways that I could help those fighting cancer.
3. The mystery was complex, but well plotted. As someone who reads lots of mysteries and thrillers, I was happy that I did not figure out Noelle’s secret until the reveal at the end of the novel.
4. In this vein, Diane Chamberlain knows how to pull off a reveal in a satisfying way. A lot of contemporary mystery novels suffer from being apparently conceived from a far-fetched plot twist. The characters are secondary to the surprise. In The Midwife’s Confession, Diane Chamberlain creates characters that feel utterly real and important. Thus, the plot twist has real impact, rather than simply feeling like a device created to elicit shock.

Things that I would have liked to see in this novel: (or why I didn’t give it 5 stars).
1. As I greedily devoured this 400+ page novel, I realized several times that one thing that was missing was humor. The topics the novel dealt with were heavy…suicide, cancer, death, betrayal, and I really cared about the characters dealing with them. I think it would have been nice if Chamberlain could have inserted lightness here and there, in the way that Liane Moriarty does so beautifully in her novels. Moriarty also deals with heartbreaking topics, but I laughed out loud quite frequently while reading The Husband’s Secret and What Alice Forgot. A little humor would have been a breath of fresh air in The Midwife’s Confession.
2. When I think about it, there are a couple of plot threads that I don’t think were fully explained.

Those are really my only quibbles with The Midwife’s Confession. I enjoyed reading this novel, and while to me, it wasn’t quite as deep as The Husband’s Secret, or as the depressing but amazing Apple Tree Yard by Louise Doughty, The Midwife’s Confession was by no means fluff. It was a compelling, engrossing story.
Diane Chamberlain’s bio states that she has written 23 novels. Normally I shy away from authors who are especially prolific, because sometimes that seems to be a red flag that they are simply churning out cookie-cutter commercial fluff. But when I saw that Diane Chamberlain was the author of 23 books, I thought to myself, “she is a born storyteller.”
Happily, Chamberlain has a gift, and she is sharing it with the world. I’m looking forward to reading more of her work.

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The Husband’s Secret by Liane Moriarty

The Husband's SecretThe Husband’s Secret by Liane Moriarty

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Husband’s Secret is the first book I have read by Liane Moriarty, but it will not be the last. The immense popularity of this novel made me curious to see what all the fuss was about, even though books labeled as “chic lit” are not usually my favorite genre.
The plot of The Husband’s Secret is both simple and complex. It tells the story Cecilia, a wife and mother who derives a sense of control and satisfaction from being a superwoman at juggling her busy life. Cecilia accidentally discovers a letter from her husband, which is labeled “to be opened only in the event of my death.” The impact of this letter on Cecilia’s life, and on the lives of other characters from her past and present, is immense.
The Husband’s Secret has many strong points. First, the story itself is a complex one, with a plot that follows the lives of friends and family as they intertwine in life-changing ways. Liane Moriarty is able to weave the seemingly disparate plot threads of the lives of many characters into a satisfying, impactful conclusion.
Secondly, the author is a fluent writer; her characters are loveable, frustrating, and often laugh-out-loud funny.
But what impressed me the most about The Husband’s Secret is the unexpected insight into human nature that Liane Moriarty brings to what I had expected to be a light, easily forgettable read. There are a few authors whose emotional perceptiveness I deeply admire, such as Louise Doughty and Ruth Dugdall. After reading The Husband’s Secret, I would also put Liane Moriarty in this category.
First, just like Louise Doughty did in Apple Tree Yard, Liane Moriarty writes about the psychological and emotional reasons that married people have affairs. The author helped me to understand human friendship, love, lust, and what keeps couples together, in new ways. Moriarty does not provide easy answers, or pretend there is a simple solution to marital struggles. Instead, she demonstrates the complexity of human emotions.
The second thing that made this novel especially memorable to me, and which I think gives it universal value, is how Liane Moriarty demonstrates the labrinthine way in which all our lives intertwine, and how, as humans, we never know the full effects of our actions, or can understand what “could have been,” if something had happened differently.
To be more specific, one of the main characters in the story is Janie, the 17-year-old girl who was murdered years before, and whose killer has never been found. Although Janie is long dead, we hear about her from her mother Rachel, who still grieves and longs for justice, and from all the other people who are still alive, and who remember her. Throughout the novel, Liane Moriarty describes Janie’s life, and specifically, what happened on the day of her death. Moriarty recounts the choices Janie made, choices that were not right or wrong, but simply were facts which resulted in her murder. Moriarty also describes what would have happened to Janie if she had lived. And at the end of the novel, Moriarty describes, in an epilogue, how the lives of all the characters would have been different in ways they could never imagine if Janie had not been murdered.
The thing that makes the Moriarty’s descriptions especially powerful is that she does not pass judgment. She doesn’t suggest that things would have been better if Janie had lived. In fact, Moriarty shows that, because we are all connected, if Janie had lived, other people would have suffered, other people met, or married, or not been born. Moriarty shows, rather than tells us, how some secrets, the secrets of what would have been if we had made different choice in our life, are secrets that we will never know. And Moriarty’s story suggests that it is okay that we have limited knowledge.
What I loved about this is that the author never, never gives us easy answers, or writes in platitudes. She validates the idea that grief and loss are devastating. And she doesn’t give the simplistic reassurance that “the dead person is in a better place,” or “maybe she died for a reason.” Instead, Moriarty shows in the lives of her characters how people do not exist in a vacuum. A death, a marriage, a birth, any action we take…none of these are isolated events. All of them have ripple effects that are ultimately unknowable. All we can do is make the best choices we are able in a given moment in time, with the limited insight available to us. In that realization, Liane Moriarty offers the reader a sense of peace.
All that said, I loved this book. It deals with universal issues, those of family, friendship, love, guilt, forgiveness, and redemption. It is never saccharine, often sad, but also genuinely funny. In writing about Cecilia and her family and friends, Liane Moriarty also is writing about us all. I would recommend this book to everyone, and am so glad to have read it.

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