Tag Archives: New York City

Book review: My Notorious Life by Madame X, by Kate Manning

My Notorious Life by Madame X, by Kate Manning

My Notorious Life by Madame X, by Kate Manning

“In the end, they celebrated. They bragged. They got me, finally, was their feeling. They said I would take my secrets to the grave.

 They should be so lucky.”

This is a review of the book My Notorious Life, by Kate Manning. It purports to be the journal of a midwife / female doctor in New York in the 1800s, who became notorious (as per the title) for her work on fertility and abortion.

I was given this book as an advance copy, to review before it is released by Bloomsbury in June 2013. (Got in just in time, right?) As such, my copy looks like the photo above, whereas the published version will have the title superimposed over the figure rather than the quote above. I apologise therefore for not having the published image to give you, but I’m sure you’ll be able to find on the bookshelves anyway, right?

And find it on the bookshelves you should. This is an absolutely fascinating historical novel, which chronicles the life of Axie Muldoon, aka Madame de Beausacq, and her experiences from being separated from her brother and sister via their adoption, to her education with the midwife who was unable to save her mother, to setting up a successful practice in “women’s medicine” with her husband Charlie. Anything which was seen to regulate conception was in those days illegal, and discussion of women’s reproductive systems was considered “obscene”, so Axie (or, as she was Christened, Ann) had to be very careful with the way she conducted her business.

The story is incredible. Short chapters and an engaging manner make it way too easy to keep reading way past bed time (“surely it’s not one o’clock in the morning already! I just went to bed!”) and, as Axie’s notoriety grows you become more and more convinced that things are too good to last. As, of course, they are. Madame de Beausacq become so reviled in the media that her clientele are too ashamed to admit they have used her services, and patients’ words are turned against them as the police struggle to find something they can convict her of. Yet, seen from the perspective of the twenty first century, what she is practicing is basic medical care, despite her lack of formal training. (It must be said, though, that some of the Republicans in America might be just as likely to go on a witch hunt for someone like her these days as the New York constabulary did back then. Maybe we haven’t evolved as much as I would like to think.)

Axie’s story is loosely based on the experiences of  Ann Trow Lowman, a midwife who practiced in New York City for approximately 40 years. Significant events from Lowman’s life are used, though they are (by admission of the author) moved around to make the story more compelling. In addition, Manning makes excellent use of real historical figures, such as Charles Loring Brace and Anthony Comstock, the latter of whom makes life extremely difficult for our heroine. All told it is gritty and realistic, and shows what life really was like 150 or so years ago, for city dwellers in America at least.

The novel is well written, tightly-plotted and very hard to put down. My only issue with it is the use of Axie’s grammatical foibles – while they add to the narrative, there are times when they feel forced and unnatural. Maybe it’s because they diminish somewhat as she matures so they are less common, but a couple of times they grated on me. Other than that, I can find nothing to criticise.  Read it. You’ll be glad you did.

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My Notorious Life by Madame X, by Kate Manning
434 pages (paperback)
Published by Bloomsbury in June 2013 as ebook and paperback

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Book review: Mimi, by Lucy Ellmann

mimi

 

This is a review of the book Mimi, which tells the story of the relationship between Mimi and Harrison, two very different New Yorkers whose lives become irreparably intertwined.

The book is notable at first because it was written by a woman, but is told in first person from Harrison’s point of view. This isn’t hugely unusual, but I always find that writing from the perspective of the opposite gender certainly has its own challenges. That said, the author does a magnificent job of getting into the head of a middle aged man and showing us his catharses.

The characters in the book are also remarkably interesting. Mimi is larger than life and makes no apologies for it; Harrison is surprisingly pliable (or perhaps quite so not surprisingly, given his profession is plastic surgery and he therefore makes a living out of plying others); Harrison’s sister Bee is forthright and an excellent foil for him; Bubbles the cat is luxuriant and indulged; the ex-girlfriend Gertrude is ridiculous. Even the city of New York is almost a character in this tale, such is its presence in the narrative – which, again, surprised me given that the author’s biography has her residences in Illinois and England. All told it provides for a fascinating story of how these characters clash, interact and generally behave.

That being said, the novel is not without flaws. I wondered at the copious amounts of backstory in the first third of it; sure, some of it helps ground the characters (particularly Harrison) but much of it seemed unnecessary. It was almost like any random thought from the protagonist would be enough to propel the reader into ten or so pages of historical content which had little bearing on the story at hand. Much of it makes more sense once you reach the story’s conclusion, but even so I felt it could have been cut substantially and yet still had the same impact. This perhaps also had a bearing on my thought in the early chapters that a book supposed to be about the character Mimi had pretty much no appearances from her for a very long time. (It seems an easy enough equation: less backstory = more Mimi.) Once she appeared for good, of course, she was rarely absent from the page, whether in presence or thought, but it did feel like it took a longer time than usual to get there.

My other comment is more a musing than anything – when did the C word become so acceptable? When I was growing up it was almost taboo, and now every third book seems to have it in abundance. Sometimes I feel it’s just used for shock value, other times it’s making a political statement – but maybe I’m just getting old and prudish, and in general society it doesn’t have the impact it used to have. In any case it takes some getting used to, seeing it in print so regularly, and this book was no exception. I admit it was within character for Harrison to use it, but I still raised my eyebrows.

Finally, I would like to say that Mimi ends up a very different book from how it started. I dare say this is deliberate, and showcases Harrison’s changing thought processes admirably, but what started pretty much as a love story becomes very political by the end. Naturally Mimi herself has had a large role in this change, and therefore it is quite appropriate that the book is named after her, but again it took me by surprise a little. I suppose, in the end, it’s about the effect love has on a person, for better or worse, even when the beloved is not present. And it’s a journey of self discovery – a journey from the fake to the real, in many ways – by a man who wasn’t all bad to start with, but who has an epiphany which affects thousands of others.

All in all, Mimi is a well-told story with a number of unexpected twists and turns. Its characters are real, warts and all, and almost compel you to keep reading by their sheer vivacity. If you would like to read a craftily-constructed tale which explores people’s deepest insecurities and celebrates matriarchal solutions, then this is definitely a book for you.

 

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Mimi, by Lucy Ellmann
352 pages (paperback)
Published by Bloomsbury
Available on Amazon as ebook and paperback

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Guest post: Dance to your own rhythm, by Linda Lee Greene

Today I welcome Linda Lee Greene, author of two novels, Guardians and Other Angels, and Jesus Gandhi Oma Mae Adams (co-authored with Debra Shiveley Welch), both rated 5 stars on Amazon. Linda has written a wonderful blog about burnout and how she deals with it – something I’m sure we can all relate to. So without further ado, here she is!

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Guardians and Other Angels, by Linda Lee Greene

Guardians and Other Angels, by Linda Lee Greene

Recently I experienced a serious case of burnout, the worst one I’ve encountered in many years.  It was linked to my obsessive online attendance since the release of my latest novel, Guardians and Other Angels in May 2012, a presence calculated almost wholly toward the marketing of my book.  I took to heart the advice of my publicist.  “A lack of a social media presence on your part each and every day translates to low book sales,” she said, and I believed her.

As a professional woman, I understand the importance of taking periodic breaks from work-life, and I approached this new venture with the idea that I would apply the same standards to it.  But the thing about marketing on social media is that one thing leads to another, and then another, and still another and another and another, until you’ve created a mountain of responsibilities, culminating in an avalanche that smothers you.  A further complication is that you get hooked on the people you get to know this way, fascinating people all over the world with whom you would never have a chance to interact otherwise, so pretty soon, not only are you marketing ceaselessly, but you’re also chatting like there’s no tomorrow!  A still further complication is that the devices for all of this (laptops, cellphones, tablets, etc.) are all portable and go on vacation with you.  The upshot is that never is a real hiatus possible!

After seven, intense months of this, I crashed.  And I mean big time.  Although my mind incessantly urged me to log on, I couldn’t do it because my soul had taken a powder, and it would not come back.  You see, one of the things I’ve learned about my soul during my long tenure in this life, is that when I feel such fragmentation, what I’m really going through is a spiritual crisis.  Inevitably, my soul is trying to tell me that it isn’t just fatigue that I’m experiencing.  My cure isn’t only to put my feet up and read a good novel or watch some favorite DVDs, or to take my grandchildren to see the Christmas lights at the zoo, or to spend a weekend at a spa, or to go on a diet, or even to get a facelift.  The bigger problem is that I’m on the wrong path, and no matter how many leisurely activities or cosmetic treatments in which I partake, my soul digs in and refuses to participate until, and unless, I also correct my course.

I call my soul “Koko,” which is short for “Kokopelli,” an ancient kachina, or spirit-being of Native Americans that predates the Meso-American ancestral pueblo people of the southwestern USA.  He is a storyteller par excellence, as well as a hunchbacked dancer and a flutist, this aspect of him implying that in order to function at our peak, we must find our authentic rhythm, and once found, to follow it faithfully.  In addition to these, and other, aspects, he is known for the tricks he plays.   My soul emulates Kokopelli in so many ways, not the least of which are the ploys with which it manipulates me—ergo, its most recent one of turning, and keeping, me discontent until I found my natural rhythm again.

Henry David Thoreau has nothing on me when it comes to a love of solitude.  I am, after all, an artist and a writer, two vocations that require long stretches of aloneness.  Therefore, my natural rhythm is slower and quieter than the average bird.  It is also essentially private.  These are three qualities that seem antithetical to traditional practices in social media.  The obvious unknown regarding my relationship with social media is how to continue to participate effectively in it in a way that will allow me to express myself genuinely and thoroughly while also pleasing my unhurried, calm, and reserved soul.

One of the things I’ve decided to believe about social media is that there is a way of using it that is well-suited to every type of personality.  The trick for each of us is to develop one that is a good fit.  I am also an interior designer, and if I can design a beautiful, comfortable, and functional home-setting for my clients, surely I can craft an online presence for myself that is better for me.  At this juncture, the only thing I know for certain is that my strongest ally on my new path is the authentic Linda Lee Greene, and that our task is to dance together to our own rhythm despite possible risks and rewards.  Koko will like that!

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Linda Lee Greene

Linda Lee Greene

Linda Lee Greene was born in the farmhouse bedroom of her maternal grandparents located on the rim of the famous star-wound in Peebles, Adams County, Ohio, USA known the world over as the Great Serpent Mount Crater.  Mother of a son and a daughter, and grandmother of two grandsons, she resides in Columbus, Ohio.  An award-winning artist, an exhibition of some of her artwork can be viewed at www.gallery-llgreene.com.

In the year of 2000, Linda wrote the original draft of the murder mystery/historical novel, Jesus Gandhi Oma Mae Adams, a manuscript that evolved into a co-authorship with Debra Shiveley Welch, and upon its release an Amazon best-seller.  Greene has written two additional books in the Oma Mae Adams series, a murder mystery titled, “My ‘Aumakua” [In Hawaiian, “A Spirit Guide”], and a story of an expat-American who finds new meaning in life, as well as love, while on a spiritual odyssey in Australia, titled Garden of the Spirits of the Pots.  Both books are in queue with her publisher and are slated for future release.

Linda’s current novel, Guardians and Other Angels has inspired two other books on which she is currently working, one of them a non-fiction sequel to the novel titled, “I Received Your Letter …,” as well as a book for young readers titled, Bussy Gaffin and His Champion Roosters.

Linda’s five-star rated novel, Guardians and Other Angels is at amzn.to/PUOXl9.  You can find her Amazon Author Page at http://amazon.com/author/lindaleegreene.  She would also welcome you as a friend on twitter at @LLGreeneAuthor.  You can find her on Facebook, Goodreads, LinkedIn and other online sites.

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