In her stunning novel, The Midwife of Venice (now a phenomenal Canadian bestseller), Roberta Rich weaves a suspenseful tale of love and loss against the backdrop of Renaissance Venice.  
Here, wealthy Christians and impoverished Jews lead separate lives.   Christians enjoy costume parties and gold-infused palazzos, while the Jews are subject to persecution and poverty.  
It is here, in the crowded squalor of the Jewish Ghetto, that Rich presents her heroine and hero:  Hannah is a proficient midwife who cannot herself bear children, and her husband, Isaac, a feisty entrepreneur whose business pursuits lead him to danger in Malta.  Hannah and Isaac share beauty, integrity and a deep love for each other that grows as they are torn apart.
The novel moves between their stories, as they encounter hurdle after hurdle in their quest to reunite.  When Hannah is summoned by a wealthy Christian to assist in a difficult delivery, she unwittingly steps into a realm of intrigue, darkness and greed.  Isaac, sold as a slave in Malta, suffers at the hands of barbaric slave-owners and a transgendered nun.
To say The Midwife of Venice is suspenseful is an understatement:  Around every corner, lurks danger.  Cloaked villains abound, and just when you think the gods of good fortune have finally noticed Hannah and Isaac, another shocking twist occurs and their quest is brutally derailed yet again.  
Rich has a gift for sensual description.  While reading, I could smell the raw stench of the canals and feel the rustling silks of the nobility.  Without giving too much away, one of my favourite passages includes Hannah observing her sister, Jessica, as she prepares for an evening out.  Rich’s meticulous research is evident in her descriptions of make-up created from crushed pearls,  jasmine, lemon and bergamot perfumes and rigid corsets.
In my opinion, the heart of the novel is Hannah and her commitment to the profession of midwifery.  She is fiercely proud of her talent, and her ability to earn.  Here, Roberta Rich vividly shows us another side of urban motherhood.  Before there were Bugaboo strollers and Ferberizing techniques, there was another world – where pregnancy and delivery were as dangerous as war.   
As her journey progresses, Hannah finds opportunities to help mothers in need.  She administers herbs to a wet nurse for the increased flow of breast milk, she advises a fellow traveler on birth control, and provides relief for pain and swelling after childbirth.   In one heart-wrenching scene, Hannah relays one mother’s tragic experience of post-partum depression.  Hannah is a strong, capable heroine at the top of her game.  I loved reading about her.  
I devoured this novel like a savoury Italian feast – the writing is captivating and the story so rich, you won’t be able to put it down.  
Tell me about the last great book you read, and you’ll be entered to win a copy of The Midwife of Venice, autographed by Roberta Rich!
Contest ends on June 5, 2011.

Click here for Contest Rules and Regulations.

UrbanMoms.ca members are eligible to win so don’t forget to sign-in.  Not a member yet?  Click here to join.

  • Amreen

    How fascinating, Kristin! So interested in reading this book now after your heartfelt, glowing review! So nice to reconnect with you, btw!

  • kristinb

    I know it’s too late for you contest, but I had to let you and your readers know about The Birth House by Ami McKay. She is a Canadian writer and wrote a story about a turn of the century midwife in the east coast.
    As it turns out, Ami’s house was the “birth house” and her home was filled with memories of the past of the midwife that lived there (which she found upon starting a renovation).
    Her writing is fluid and warm and the characters completely took over my life for about five days when I couldn’t put this book down. This book reminds you of how much women need each other, and also, how easy it is to tear one another apart.
    I cried, I laughed, and I actually went out and bought a “lending” copy so I can keep my original close to me. I am intrigued by The Midwife of Venice!!!!

  • saraharmony

    The most recent book I read and thoroughly enjoyed was The Time Traveller’s Wife. I knew I would love the book as I loved the movie and it really was just as great. You find that you either enjoy the book OR the movie, not both, but with The Time Traveller’s Wife, I enjoyed both.
    I’m currently reading The Forgotten Garden by Kate Morton and while I was skeptical when I picked it up from the library, I’m finding it’s hard to put down.

  • jacdav

    The last good book I read is The Mistress of Nothing. It is about a maid to an English noblewomen who must travel to Egypt to tend to her mistress. I really enjoyed the book because I had just returned from a vacation in Egypt and many of the places in Egypt I had been including cruising on a boat down the Nile.

  • A_plus

    If you enjoyed the intrigue and charm of Edward you must read the rest of them….you need to know how the story ends.

  • Amreen

    Haha! i too read twilight (secretly) out of curiosity and ended up loving it! i haven’t read the sequels yet, but Edward did intrigue and charm me for sure.

  • Amreen

    The Forgotten Garden is the next selection for my neighbourhood book club. I’m even more excited to read it now after reading your review!

  • Amreen

    Where are you meeting diana?

  • Amreen

    oh i loved those Wakefield twins! how is the sequel?

  • Amreen

    i think she’s amazing. i heard she has her own show on the new Oprah network?!

  • Christine

    The last two books I read were “Leap of the Deer” — interesting stories in Ireland; and a book by Diana Butler Bass. I am looking forward to meeting Diana next Saturday.

  • A_plus

    How was it? I loved sweet vally high.

  • eabeier

    I really enjoyed a nifty little tale of Agnes and the Hitman. So many twists and turns and a lot of laughs.

  • ek03yr

    I relived my youth and read the latest Sweet Valley High novel LOL

  • faith

    Alice’s Adventure In Wonderland

  • drjess

    I just reread The Amber Spyglass by Philip Pullman and I liked it even more than I did when I was younger.

  • A_plus

    I was never a fan or cared about the twilight saga. I secretly laughed at the die hard “twihards” fans, the Edward love crazed girls annnnd women. I recently had the collection of novels put in front of me to read, including twilight, new moon, eclipse and breaking dawn. Out of boredom and the ever so slight bit of curiosity I cave…and begun to read twilight. That’s all it took, with that said and my secret out; I was in love with Edward or at least the thought of him. I am now ready to move on and read something of a different caliber.

  • scarlettsgarden

    I’ve just finished “The Forgotten Garden” by Kate Morton and really liked it. It’s on the New York Times bestseller list and it’s a historical novel. I love it because it weaves through generations, a girl trying to find her sense of family through ancestors. Very well written and kept me thinking of it well after I had finished it. Would love to read The Midwife of Venice.

  • monica s

    I just finished Thread of Sky by Deanna Fei. It is about 6 Chinese American women who span over 3 generations and how this family of women have separated over time. They take a trip to mainland China to explore their roots and hope to bond and thread their faimily back together. It deals with many relationships such as grandmother-daughters-sisters, and their perception of their culture and history.

  • ebickell

    The last great book I read was This Body of Death by Elizabeth George. I love how she really develops her characters – over several books, but you can also just pick up the latest in the series and get to know them. Her books are intelligent and convoluted.

  • frugalfeline

    I enjoyed ‘I am Number Four’ by Pittacus Lore. Not sure how it will compare to the movie, wanted to read the book first!

  • lpappas

    It was made into a movie – What Dreams May Come (written by Richard Matheson). I am now reading the book…it’s nearly done. A real page turner.

  • nascar_girl_24

    I see someone mentioned Three Cups of Tea…which I loved. The follow up Stones Into Schools was even better! These are among my favourite books ever.
    My most recent great read…finally reading Eat, Pray, Love. I ended up really enjoying it once I allowed myself to read it. 🙂

  • moviefreak

    I am reading Lost and Found by Geneen Roth. Very good

  • billiondollarprincesss

    I read Shania Twain’s book. It was really good. Honest and truthful.

  • Amreen

    I’ve heard so many good things about the Help. Lately I’ve been downloading books on my Ipad through Kindle – I hope I can get it on that. I saw the preview for the movie, they played it before Bridesmaids, and it looked good too.

  • Amreen

    I enjoy her writing – I used to read her column in the Post – thanks for letting me know about Lucky Sperm Club!

  • Amreen

    A Fine Balance is absolutely one of my all-time favourite novels, so tragic yet hopeful too.

  • Anu

    I just finished reading the “The lucky sperm club” and thought it was a nice light fun read!
    It’s by Rebecca Ekler.

  • michpetea

    The last book I just finished was The Song of Hannah by Eva Etzioni-Haalevy, based on the biblical heroine who was the prophet Samuel. Very good read as historical fiction (based on the old testament) is a favourite of mine. Similar story-telling to one of my favourites The Red Tent.

  • ChrisB

    I recently read The Help, and it was wonderful. I would recommend it to everyone.

  • JJ

    I really enjoyed The Magic Mountain by Thomas Mann.

  • Jennifer M.

    The last book I read was A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry. The novel is set in India, and follows the life of two tailors, as well as a widow who hires them. The characters in this book experienced heart-breaking injustices, and it makes me sad to think that there are so many people who still experience similar suffering. It made me deeply appreciative of the blessings in my life.

  • Amreen

    I have to read those books! A friend gave me the first book when I had my 3d child because….I named her Ayla! I was unaware of the connection at the time, but now I’m eager to read about that strong female heroine

  • Amreen

    i like your description of it it being a “gentle and enjoyable” read – sometimes, esp after a particularly heart-wrenching book or an exasperating day with my kids – that’s exactly what I’m looking for!

  • Amreen

    Interesting. the columbine tragedy inspired so many artistic creations – movies, books, tv shows all about the impact of those types of events. i don’t think i’ve seen anything else refer to a mom’s perspective

  • Amreen

    that is on my list for sure – i’ve heard only good things!

  • spynaert

    under the dome by stephen king

  • Cayla

    I cried out loud in 1000 splended suns. And I had to put the book down at one point (won’t say which point because I knew what was coming & didn’t want it to). That is one talented author.

  • lisa

    Hi I enjoyed The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer. It was a gentle and enjoyable read. Thanks

  • nikkialeta

    nineteen minutes by jodi picoult, a fantastic story from the perspective of a mother of a school shooting, someone you don’t really think about in such a terrible tragedy.

  • kcrmb

    The last great book I read was Three Cups of Tea, a true story about an American who helps build schools in Afghanistan. This was an inspirational story . There was no monetary reward for Greg to do this, only the satisfaction of helping children especially girls, get an education and change their futures.

  • Jen

    The last book I read and loved was The Almost Moon – which is by Alice Sebold (who also authored The Lovely Bones). I didn’t read any reviews or aanything before I read it, and was surprised when I came across plenty that thought it was awful. I thought it was completely engaging – anyone who has read her work knows she doesn’t write about “easy” subject matter. Her memoir, Lucky, was one that stuck with me for a very long time.

  • Amreen

    I do not know anything about Michael Caine’s life but i’m sure it’s fascinating – he just has that aura of someone who’s really lived life. I want to start reading more biographies; apparently Andre Agassi’s “Open” is very poignant and I’ve heard good things about Rob Lowe’s autobiography as well – it was excerpted in Vanity Fair

  • Amreen

    I love your description – i adore big, meaty novels about friendships that span years…

  • Amreen

    Have you seen the movie yet?

  • Amreen

    Sounds intriguing, reminds me a little of Lovely Bones, which haunted me for a very long time, but also left a big impact.

  • Amreen

    I liked alot of that book, esp the part set in Italy. I found her ability to describe food and her surrounding was fabulous. I saw the movie with Julia Roberts and really enjoyed it. Javier Bardem was a fantastic casting choice for Felipe! I’d love to hear your thoughts on the second one, I think it’s about marriage?

  • Amreen

    How interesting – would be neat to compare a book on “modern” midwifery to The Midwife of Venice, which is set in the 1500’s. I’m sure lots has changed, but that even more is exactly the same! Enjoy your reading summer – keep me posted on any great literary finds, I’m concocting a great summer reading list which I will be sure to share too.

  • Amreen

    Who’s the author of Faith??

  • Amreen

    I have the Paris Wife too on my bedside. can’t wait to read it. it’s about Hemingway’s first marriage, and based on the woman’s letters. The new Woody Allen movie is set in that same time period, and apparently the young Hemingway makes an appearance in a flashback!

  • LeeLee


  • Julie R

    The last book I read was quite a while ago, but it was Baby Catcher: Chronicles of a Modern Midwife by Peggy Vincent and I loved it, it was beautifully written and very eye-opening. I haven’t read anything recently, but i’m off work for summer so I plan to read TONS. Reading is one of my fav things to do when I have free time and I miss it! The Midwife of Venice sounds really good and right up my alley.

  • mom2girls1974

    I just finnished Eat Pray Love a couple weeks ago – it was amazing, I could not put it down, and learned so much about myself as a woman, and a spirirtual being. Such a great read, my mom just brought me her second book yesterday so I will be taking that up when I am finished what I am reading right now. In my mind that book is a must read for everyone.

  • loribaz

    I also loved the Kite Runner.

  • Charleydog

    The Town Below by Roger Lemelin

  • Tonya

    Something Borrowed – it was a good book!

  • grace1972

    The last great book I read was The Ladies of Garrison Gardens. It was filled with secrets past, the bond between women, abuse, and overcoming and learning to rejoice life again. Would highly recommend it. Very poigniant and difficult to put down.

  • Laura

    I am reading Jean M. Auel’s latest book now which is part of the series that starts with Clan of the Cave Bear. So that would be the last book I read. I highly recommend the series.

  • catamorgan

    Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen.

  • flower

    Both of Michael Caine’s biographies

  • lovelylindy

    My last great read was Three Cups of Tea

  • bushcampcafe

    Call Me Russell….and autobiography by comedian Russell Peters….FUNNY

  • janetm

    I just finished The Long Stretch by Linden MacIntyre. I enjoyed the realistic and straightforward story of the east coast.

  • ghisl

    The Book of Negroes – fantastic

  • barbfersht

    I very much enjoyed THE LAST CHILD by John Hart. It was sad and exciting the same time. The book is very well written and tells the story of a 13 year boy as tries to find his missing sister who has been taken by a pedophile – or so everyone thinks! Keeps you reading on the edge of your seat.

  • Tracey

    Gah! I haven’t read ANYTHING recently, though I’m halfway through Malcom Gladwell’s “Blink” (which is sooooooo very interesting) but I’d have to say it’s Ken Follett’s “Pillars of the Earth” which last had me deeply entranced. LOVED it. And I’ve got “The Paris Wife” by Paula McLain on the nightstand…

  • AgnesM

    My last great read was Cure by Robin Cook!

  • tammyp10

    The Coming Plague was the last great book I read

  • Amreen

    I love that it has a criminology edge – i’m a fan of those shows. Have you read Perfume by Patrick Suskind? I think you’d like it.

  • Amreen

    Lovely – thanks! I’ve seen it in the bookstores but I’m always reluctant to pick up a book unless I know it’s good. I’m going to see if I can download it on my Ipad.

  • elkhornchris

    The Poisoner’s Handbook by Deborah Blum. Set in the early 20th century (around 1918) during the Jazz Age. In those days poison was the easy path to a perfect murder. Deborah Blum is a science writer and delves into chemistry and the early beginnings of tests such as those used now as you see in tv shows such as CSI .

  • Julie

    the red tent by anita diamant.
    just picked it up on a whim and was totally sucked in. it’s the story of dinah from the book of genesis but it’s from her viewpoint (which is great since i think her story in the bible is only 2 verses!)

  • Amreen

    It’s so good. did you read his novel after that – i think it was a 1000 Splendid Suns?

  • trioworks

    I also loved the Kite Runner.

  • Amreen

    Thanks for the recommendation. The only book i’ve read about Afghanistan was The Kite Runner, which made me cry – alot. i remember reading about Melissa Fung when it happened. i’d like to read this – thanks!

  • slp

    Last great read was Under An Afghan Sky. The story about Melissa Fung, Canadian journalist kidnapped in Afghanistan. A reminder about family, love, life, freedom and just how small the world really is.

  • Amreen

    Cayla, thank you so much for that recommendation – the book sounds amazing and it sounds like it had a tremendous impact on you. I don’t know anything about that period of history – can’t wait to check it out!

  • Cayla

    By far the best book I have read in a long time, or maybe forever, is The Beauty of Humanity, by Camilla Gibb. It takes place in modern Vietnam and focuses on the lives of three individuals all haunted by the fallout from the revolutions surrounding the Vietnam war.
    One thing that I really appreciated about this book is that because it was written by a Canadian writing from the perspective of the Vietnamese people, the US involvement in the war is not really touched on, something I think is key. In North America, there is still so much of a focus on the way Americans were affected by the war that it is easy to miss how much more the people of the country suffered than the Americans ever could.
    Besides enlightening me on the history of Vietnam, the thing about this book that truly got touched my core is the way she created these characters who are all proufoundly and heartbreakingly real people. In the more dire of conditions, in the most unlikely of situations, they always find the good in people and each other and in the world around them. The goal of each and every one of them was to find and promote the beauty in humanity and change themselves and the world around them to make it even a better place in the most unselfish and giving ways. Even the characters who you thought were “bad” had good intentions and you struggled along with them, understanding the tough decisions they felt forced to make.
    This book, The Beauty of Humanity, changed me. It changed the way I look at the world, it changed the way I treat others, and it changed the way I look at the intentions of others.

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