Call the Midwife by Jennifer Worth

Genre: memoir
Secondary genre: medical, modern history
Rep: poverty
Format read: audiobook
Rating: planchet-4

We all know the show. But does the book match the drama and intensity of television?

Hell yes.

Following WWII, the UK made an effort to equalize things between the classes, instituting a large network of social services and welfare oportunities to increase health, sanitation, and access to services throughout the country.

Eastern London was poverty stricken, reeling from bombings during the war. The slums that had housed so many for centuries were in the process of being shut down, but with a housing shortage across the country and in London in particular, there were few other places for people to go. Residents of the now-famous Poplar neighborhood found themselves crammed 10-20 deep in 1-3 rooms, with no running water, except maybe a tap in the hall. Toilets were shared and located outdoors. Families scraped by on minimal food and income, wearing clothes until they became little more than rags.

The midwives of St. Nautilus house were a major part of the welfare initiative, proving free pre-natal screenings, delivery, post-natal care, and in home health services. At a time when one couldn’t simply go to the pharmacy to pick up a month’s supply of insulin–for starters most of their patients didn’t even have refrigerators–they administered medication, tended wounds, and checked in on the elderly or injured.

Jenny Worth was one such midwife and district nurse, working in the early 1950s. By bicycle she traveled all over London, mixing with the lowest members of society. Even on streets where policemen feared to walk, a midwife could go alone and be unmolested because of her uniform.

This book looks at several specific cases, some of which are interwoven as patients come back again and again. The last story in particular–which I won’t spoil here–was absolutely amazing to hear, and I have a hard time believing it’s even true.

Is it identical to the television show? Or rather, is the show identical to the book? Absolutely not. But I do think the show has done a great job of maintaining the heart of Mrs. Worth’s memoir, so if you enjoyed that, you should certainly pick up the book.

The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley

Genre: adult mystery
Secondary genre: historical
Format read: audiobook
Rep: autistic coding
Series: Flavia de Luce vol 1
Rating: planchet-4

This book is unusual in that it is written for adults, but the main character, Flavia, is only eleven.

I’m a sucker for a girl genius, especially one living in a previous era, so when I heard about this book I was eager to get my hands on it.

Set in 1950, Flavia lives with her two older sisters–who are horrid–and her distant father in a big old English manor house.

When Flavia discovers a dying man–who expires right before her eyes–in the garden, it sets the wheels turning on a mystery that dredges up her father’s past and puts out intrepid young chemist on the path to no only uncovering one murder, but two.

I gobbled up this book in two days. I loved the dynamics between the sisters, and how, in this stiff-upper-lip family, they show affection by tormenting each other. I do wish that Daphne, the middle sister, were just a little more fleshed out–I feel like if the three of them could find common ground, they’d be hell on wheels if they worked together.

I adored the complexity of the mystery, the characters, the setting–everything about this book, and I will definitely be looking for the next in the series.