Book review: Shadows of the Workhouse by Jennifer Worth

Shadows of the Workhouse
By Jennifer Worth

9780753825853

Publication: 22/01/2009- London, United Kingdom
Paperback
Publisher: Orion Publishing Co
★★★★★

Shadows of the Workhouse is the second title in the Call The Midwife Trilogy written by Jennifer Worth. In this follow up to Call the Midwife – which first published in June – Jennifer Worth, a midwife working in the East End of London in the 1950s, tells more stories about the people she encountered.

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After my experience reading Jennifer Worth’s first book, I was very much looking forward to this one and I must say that it didn’t disappoint me. Not a tiny bit! The paperback is available to buy from Amazon and bookshops but I bought myself the Kindle edition.

This sequel continues the story that was first started in Call The Midwife, and revolves around Jennifer’s memories of Nonnatus House, the nuns that lived and worked there, the people she met and treated, and life in the docklands in the 1950s.

The complete title of the book is Shadows of the Workhouse: The Drama of Life in Postwar London and I was eager to start reading it because I thought I’d find the same kind of stories I did in Call The Midwife. I didn’t. Shadows of the Workhouse is, in fact, a much darker book and much sadder as well. Jennifer’s writing remains the same – light and beautiful – but the stories she remembers throughout the pages are blue and truly heartbreaking.

In the book you’ll find Jane, who cleaned and helped out at Nonnatus House and was taken to the workhouse as a baby. Then there’s also Peggy and Frank’s story; their parents both died and they were left destitute. At the time, there was no other option for them but the workhouse. You’ll also meet Reverend Thornton-Appleby-Thorton, a missionary in Africa who visits the Nonnatus nuns. And then there’s Sister Monica Joan and her shoplifting habits… which, in the end, will take her to court.

Shadows of the Workhouse is definitely harder to read than its predecessor -the stories it explores are very tragic – but it also reveals the reality of workhouses and life as it truly was in postwar London.
Jennifer Worth’s memories  help the reader to learn a bit more about the history of England and how society was organised. If you like history, you’d love to read about these and you’ll learn while you read – which sounds very boring but it really isn’t?

The BBC TV series brought this title to the screen by mixing its stories with more pleasant ones – and not everything was presented as remembered by the author- so I’d definitely recommend giving these books a go, instead of just relying on the TV portrayal of her memories. Her stories give a fascinating insight into the resilience and spirit that enabled ordinary people to overcome their difficulties. It’s a powerful book,  based on powerful memories and written by a powerful author. It’s sad I only have one title left to read in the series…

 

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Book review: Maestra by L.S.Hilton

Maestra
by L.S. Hilton

9781785760037

Publication date: 10/03/2016
Hardback
Publisher: Zaffre Publishing
★★★★

I first heard about Maestra on my way to work. It was a normal day and I was on the bus checking my emails when I came across my daily subscription to The Pool. I guess it was the red cover what made me open the article and author interview, I don’t know… but I recognised the book because I had seen adverts on the tube and it appeared to be all over the media. I suppose I decided to read it because I wanted to know why people kept talking about it. Was it really that good? What was I missing? And also because my current employer told me I should give it a go. And so I did. I bought the e-book on a Thursday night and devoured it in less than a week.

The book tells the story of Judith Rashleigh, an art-lover and assistant who works in a prestigious London auction house. Her dreams of breaking into the art world have been gradually dulled by the blunt forces of snobbery and corruption. To make ends meet, she starts working as a hostess in one of the West End’s less salubrious bars. Desperate to make something of herself, she learns to dress, speak and act in the interests of men. She learns to be a good girl. However, after uncovering a conspiracy at her action house, she is fired before she can expose the fraud. In desperation, she accepts an offer from one of the bar’s clients to accompany him to the French Riviera. But when an ill-advised attempt to slip him sedatives has momentous consequences, Judith finds herself fleeing for her life. 

Now alone and in danger, all Judith has to rely on is her consummate ability to fake it amongst the rich and famous – and the inside track on the hugely lucrative art fraud that triggered her dismissal.

 

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I’ve never been an avid reader of crime fiction / thrillers, I tend to read non-fiction titles, YA and women’s fiction so this was the first time I met a character like Judith. And I never came across such a story before, no kidding.

I felt like the book, in the very first pages, uncovers the story little by little. Judith narrates it and I felt very close to her in the first chapters: working as an assistant, trying to develop herself, describing rush hour and struggling to get the life she knows she’s always wanted. Feelings of distance and fear started to grow as I kept on reading. I didn’t understand Judith and her morally complex personality but her wicked intelligence made me want to keep reading and discover what was going to happen.

Her story is full of explicit sex and murders – I was surprised because the main character doesn’t seem to have feelings of remorse or sadness. She is a dark, dark character but that’s her best quality too. She doesn’t disappoint, in fact, she surprises the reader every so often that I kept asking myself: ‘What is she going to do now’?

L.S. Hilton sets her story in Europe and it’s beautiful to travel from place to place, including London, Italy and France. Her descriptions are vivid and there’s moments where you cannot wait to turn the page in order to discover what’s going to happen. It is an incredibly addictive story that has many layers. However, some of those layers are truly unrealistic and exaggerated. So be prepared to feel sceptical about what happens to our protagonist.

I must confess I don’t like Judith – nor her tastes or ambitions – And that’s one of the greatest things about her: she doesn’t need anyone to like her, not even the reader. She has great psychological depth, though:  she is vivid, unrelenting, scary and leaves destruction behind her.

And the twists, oh! the twists in the book are magnificent. There’s no way the reader can be prepared to discover what happens in the story. The world of art is fascinating, the fraud and corruption and the murders make this story a delicious dark thriller that will ‘shock and please in equal measure’.

This little red book is a must read and I am looking forward to discover what happens next. Does Maestra live up to the expectations? In my opinion, it does. The book is, however, strong in graphic sexual content and if this is likely to perturb you, then be prepared. I would suggest to read the book with an open mind and you won’t be disappointed.

Now, now… can someone bring me Maestra‘s sequel?

Book Review: Call The Midwife by Jennifer Worth

In my last blog post, I made clear that I wanted my new site to be truthful, to reflect what goes through my mind on a day to day basis and I’ve been thinking there’s no better way to do it than by sharing my opinion and thoughts on the books I get to read. You see, working for the publishing industry has its perks…

Call The Midwife: A True Story of the East End in the 1950s
by Jennifer Worth

9780753823835

Publication date: 06/03/2008 – London, United Kingdom
Publisher: Orion Publishing Group
Imprint: Phoenix
★★★★★

The first time someone spoke to me about Call The Midwife, they were talking about the famous BBC series starring – among others – Jessica Raine, Miranda Hart, Helen George, Bryony Hannah and Laura Main and which focuses on a group of nurse midwives working in the East End of London in the late 1950s and early 1960s. It never occurred to me there could be a book behind the episodes and that I was actually watching the memories of a real midwife – Jennifer Worth – who did really work in the East End of London in the 1950s and 1960s. I should’ve known, honestly. It’s funny how many movies and series do come from books lately, right?

The series was charming and truly moving so it didn’t took me very long to know I desperately wanted to read the book.

Call the Midwife is the first book in a series, followed by Shadows of the Workhouse and Farewell to the East End. They were all written by Jennifer Worth, who came from a sheltered background when she started working as a midwife in the Docklands in the 1950s.
London’s East End was then characterised by tight-knit family communities, strange characters and a lively social scene. It was into this world that the author entered, a world where the conditions in which many women gave birth were horrifying. Not only because of their impoverished surroundings and lack of medical assistance, but also because of what they were expected to endure. In her series of books, Worth recounts her time working as a midwife, witnessing brutality and tragedy but also encountering kindness and understanding. Attached to an order of nuns who had been working in the slums since the 1870s, the author tells the story not only of the women she treated, but also of the community of nuns and the nurses and midwifes with whom she trained.

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After watching the series, I didn’t know what to expect from Jennifer Worth’s first book but I was very much looking forward to reading it. And now that I’ve finished, I cannot wait to read the other two.
Jennifer Worth’s memories are so vivid and real that they take you back in time to the 1950s to one of the poorest areas in London. It is true that I’ve always liked reading memoirs and biographies but Worth’s words are somehow special. What I really like about the book is that the author doesn’t disguise reality and explains in detail how things were, even if they were horrid, obscene or repulsive. Her descriptions bring to life a long gone era, where family values where different, were people faced poverty, disease and painful situations and were women were the heroines of it all.

Some of the author’s memories were brought to the screen but some of them didn’t and that was interesting to discover. Her stories are beautifully told and some of them developed in a complete different way that what the BBC portrayed. Films / TV and books are not the same – nor they have to be – so it seems obvious that there was going to be differences between the way Worth’s stories are represented.

As I was devouring the pages, I felt nostalgic and I wished I could have seen it all. I wished I could speak Cockney and get to know the nuns who lived in Nonnatus House – a pseudonym, of course. I liked the way the author helped people and the way she admits she was not a saint – she describes her feelings of disgust, anger and revulsion towards some people she met, the mistakes she made along the way as well as the East Ender’s amazing tenacity, their traditions and their warmth and humour in the face of hardship.

The book is easy to enjoy and the descriptions didn’t seem long or boring – even though sometimes that’s the case of non-fiction titles. I actually found myself wanting to know what was going to happen to the characters – the nuns, the midwifes, the prostitutes, the expectant mothers – and discovering a beautiful side of Jennifer, one that is not understood in the TV series. Indeed, I really liked the way she speaks about the nuns, the way she first thought their religion is a joke and the way she realises – little by little – the important labour that these women were doing, helping people because they believed in something greater and felt love and peace within themselves.

Having said this, I truly recommend giving this little book a go, it kept me wanting to read even during rush hour and I already miss the characters and people I discovered between the pages. Thankfully, there’s still two more titles in the series.

Hi there!

One of my resolutions for the new year was starting a new blog – and actually update it. Not on a daily basis, maybe, but just do it regularly.
I had various blogs in the past but I deleted them all. This is because when I came back and look at them from the outside, they seem tedious, tacky and most of all, pessimistic.

All those posts I kept writing for months reflected a person that was just starting to develop and couldn’t understand what was going on around her. I kept blogging about difficulties I encountered along the way, about how horrible was to be without the person I loved, about broken friendships and profound feelings. And I felt proud of my writing at that moment.

If I could look back at those paragraphs now, I think I’d feel repelled and bored. It’s not only that I was naive, it’s the fact that I thought I knew it all. I thought I was the only one struggling, the only one feeling alone and  the only one coming up against all sort of challenges.
I relied on inspirational quotes, images, films and songs which I thought would me keep going when in reality – deep inside – they only made me compare myself to others. Other people that I could not be, stories that I couldn’t live and quotes that I didn’t really believe in. I compared my behind-the-scenes to everyone else’s highlight reel. To put it bluntly, my posts were just pretentious, vague and unrealistic.

So this year, hopefully, I’ll be a better me. I’ll make sure to post what I really believe in, trying to look at things from another perspective, from a more positive and truthful perspective – one that reflects the girl that lives in flat number 41.

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