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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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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