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The Pull of the Stars

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In an Ireland doubly ravaged by war and disease, Nurse Julia Power works at an understaffed hospital in the city center, where expectant mothers who have come down with the terrible new Flu are quarantined together. Into Julia's regimented world step two outsiders—Doctor Kathleen Lynn, a rumoured Rebel on the run from the police, and a young volunteer helper, Bridie Sweeney.

In the darkness and intensity of this tiny ward, over three days, these women change each other's lives in unexpected ways. They lose patients to this baffling pandemic, but they also shepherd new life into a fearful world. With tireless tenderness and humanity, carers and mothers alike somehow do their impossible work.

In The Pull of the Stars, Emma Donoghue once again finds the light in the darkness in this new classic of hope and survival against all odds.

295 pages, Hardcover

First published July 21, 2020

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About the author

Emma Donoghue

66 books11.7k followers
Grew up in Ireland, 20s in England doing a PhD in eighteenth-century literature, since then in Canada. Best known for my novel, film and play ROOM, also other contemporary and historical novels and short stories, non-fiction, theatre and middle-grade novels.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 9,931 reviews
Profile Image for Emily May.
1,993 reviews298k followers
July 21, 2020
Here we are in the golden age of medicine— making such great strides against rabies, typhoid fever, diphtheria— and a common or garden influenza is beating us hollow.

Serious question: were there always this many books about pandemics? Is this like one of those things where you learn about something you'd never heard of before and then, suddenly, it's EVERYWHERE. Because I keep reading these books that were written pre-COVID and pandemics seem to be stalking me.

Anyway, I really liked this understated exploration of healthcare, illness, maternity, and all kinds of power abuses. The Pull of the Stars is set in Ireland in 1918. It's a book that goes a lot deeper than you may first expect. It takes place over only a few days and barely moves outside of the single room in which Nurse Julia Power cares for those who are pregnant and in quarantine. It was a surprisingly emotional journey following Julia through her day as a nurse, trying to keep fevers down and despair at bay. Trying, against horrendous odds, to deliver healthy living babies.

The 1918 influenza was a devastating pandemic. Even as people were killing each other on the battlefields of the First World War, an even more deadly killer was spreading from person to person through love, kindness, touch. Here Donaghue brings a uniquely Irish perspective to the time. With the combination of aversion to contraception, the social pressure to churn out babies (upwards of ten was the norm), sexual abuses in religious institutions and Magdalene laundries, a maternal mortality rate of 15%, AND the pandemic, this was a terrible time and place to be a woman and pregnant.

Nurse Power sees mothers trying and failing to give birth to their twelfth child because their bodies can't take any more. She sees young victims of sexual abuse terrified as they are forced to give birth to the babies of the male relatives who raped them. She sees the "fallen women" of Magdalene laundries forced to give up their babies. She sees abuse victims who are afraid to get better and leave the hospital.
I found myself wondering who'd put us all in the hands of these old men in the first place.

It may seem like the whole story takes place in one small room, but much of the horror that happens there is rooted in far-reaching abuses of power, religious hypocrisy, and social policy. In the early twentieth century, many people really did believe that class was genetic and passed from parent to child, so the doctors in this book dismiss the infants of poor working class people literally from the minute they are born.

I would definitely recommend it if you can stomach the gore and the mentions of abuse/incest (all off-page). I liked that the author wove a lot of historical fact with her fiction, including the character of Kathleen Lynn, who I was unfamiliar with. The only thing I didn't love is how the romantic subplot seemed to come flying in out of nowhere with no romantic chemistry suggested beforehand, but it was such a small part of what's going on in this book that I didn't mind very much.

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Profile Image for Liz.
2,145 reviews2,763 followers
June 23, 2020
5 Stars, one of the best of 2020
Talk about timing. Emma Donoghue became interested in the Great Influenza in 2018 because of the 100 year anniversary. But as she put the final touches on her draft, the corona virus reared its ugly head.
Emma Donoghue has always been a master at putting us smack dab in a time and place. Here, it’s Ireland in 1918. WWI is still ongoing and the Influenza has Dublin in its grasp. Nurse Julia Powers is acting matron of the Maternity/Fever Ward. Into her ward comes Bridie, with no training whatsoever, and Dr. Lynn, a female doctor and Sinn Fein rebel.
There are similarities to our current epidemic, with overflowing hospitals, supply shortages and the need for masks, but we also get to see what has changed. No doctors nowadays prescribing alcohol to pregnant women to give them comfort or linseed poultices to cure a cough. And the same lack of understanding about social distancing. “The queue I passed outside the picture house! Grown men, women and children, all gasping to get into the great germ box.”
The writing is so detailed, you will feel you are in the room. And the characters come across as fully fleshed. This book just drew me in. It’s not a fast paced story, but I was desperate to know what the outcome would be for them and the patients under their care. The story is heartbreaking. As with our own crisis, the book points out the incredible strain on the workers tasked with caring for the sick.
As an interesting side note, Dr. Lynn was a real person. Make sure to read the Author’s Note for her history.
My thanks to netgalley and Little, Brown for an advance copy of this book.
Profile Image for Diane S ☔.
4,782 reviews14.2k followers
May 31, 2020
Dublin, 1918, the world is being ravaged by the Spanish flu, influenza. Men are returning from the war, damaged, changed. Julia is an almost thirty, single woman, living with her brother who cannot or will not speak. She is also a nurse, which is one of the only decent employment available to women. Her hospital is beseiged by flu cases and her ward is one that handles the flu in those that are also pregnant. Staff so short, she is alone, in charge, handling what can only be described as our present ICU. Supplies snd medicines are scarce. Sound familiar?

Since she is alone, Julia is assigned a young untrained girl to be her runner. Bridie lives with the sisters, nuns who have little mercy for orphans or so called fallen women. Few available doctor's has the hospital allowing a woman doctor, Kathleen Lynn, who is wanted by the police for taking part in protests. Over three days these women will come to mean alot to each other.

Medicine was so primitive, there was little that could be done. The accuracy in the writing, the details pull one right in and immerses them in this desperate time frame. Reminded me of a darker, Call if the Midwives, though these sisters were not the kind ones of Nautilus House. Dr. Katherine Lynn was a real person, as is detailed in the authors note, as are many of the historical details.

A sad time chronicling the terrible times in the past, parallel to the time happening now. Our medicines and capabilities are better, but still we are at present held hostage by a virus.

ARC from Edelweiss.
Profile Image for jessica.
2,555 reviews35.6k followers
August 31, 2020
‘blame the stars… thats what influenza means. influenza delle stelle - the influence of the stars. medieval italians thought the illness proved that the heavens were governing their fates.’

not gonna lie - this started out rough for me. the narrative style is… a choice. lol. i was actually quite adverse to it in the beginning. but ive really enjoyed EDs other books, so i stuck with it and im so glad i did.

and i wouldnt consider this the most recommendable story out there - its a very niche tale - but i would be lying if i didnt say i was captivated by it, especially considering the current global pandemic. the story feels very relevant.

i understand why many readers wont be able to get on-board with the understated plot and highly descriptive days spent in the maternity ward (i never want to have a child after reading this!), but its the characters of the novel that i became enthralled with. i love the relationship between julia and bridie - one uneducated in nursing and the other uneducated in lifes hardships - and how they taught each other. not to mention the highly inspirational dr. flynn.

this book definitely isnt for everyone, but i enjoyed the simple nature of it.

3.5 stars
Profile Image for Christine.
596 reviews1,179 followers
June 18, 2020
4.5 stars rounded to 5 stars

What a quiet yet powerful little gem this is. Emma Donoghue escaped my radar up until now. The blurb enticed me, and my impulse decision to hit the green Net Galley request button paid off nicely.

This is a 3-day slice of life centering on 3 women and several key minor characters. The book takes place during the 1918 influenza pandemic. Much of the story unfolds in the tiny “lyingin ward” (really a small room) for pregnant women ill with the flu in an understaffed hospital in Dublin. Twenty- nine-year-old Julia Power is an nurse and midwife; we are privy to much of what is in her head. Her volunteer helper is Bridie, “around 22 years-old,” who is a product of the miserable nun-run orphanage in town. Dr. Kathleen Lynn, a member of a rebel group who is wanted by the police, also plays a key role in the novel. Her character is based on a real person of the same name—do not fail to read about her in the wonderful Author’s Note by Ms. Donoghue. Each of these women have their issues that play a major role and influence the relationships forged amongst the three. Interesting side characters include Julia’s brother, rendered mute by his experiences during WWI; orderly Groyne doing his best to cope with issues in his own way; and, of course, the ill mothers-to-be: Honor White, Delia Garrett, Ita Noonan, and seventeen-year-old Mary O’Rahilly, all with their own burdens to bear.

This book is not for action fans. It is a slow burn, to be sure, yet it somehow drew me in quickly and captivated me for the duration. Despite it being character-driven and nearly totally confined to one small space, there was a tremendous amount of tension and suspense in that tiny room that shackled me to the pages.

Oh, and what a learning experience! Gosh, I took an OB-GYN rotation in medical school, but I was so much more entranced by all the knowledge I gleaned about the state of the art of delivering a baby in the early 20th century in a time of little help and rampant illness. Ms. Donoghue really did her research.

The ambiance is well portrayed as the dark and dreary times it was. Such hardships, but how strong people were back then to do the very best they could with the situations they found themselves in. I particularly loved how people by helping others and sticking together could accomplish a great deal in making the most of their lives.

This book isn’t for everyone, but it was for me. I highly recommend it for all who are interested in reading about admirable people doing their best under less than ideal circumstances and taking lessons learned from those who pass through their lives.

I wish to thank Net Galley, Little Brown and Company, and Miss Emma Donoghue for an advanced copy. Opinions are mine alone and are not biased in any way.
Profile Image for MarilynW.
1,199 reviews3,042 followers
March 23, 2021
The Pull of the Stars by Emma Donoghue (author), Emma Lowe (narrator)

It's 1918 Dublin, the city and the country ravaged by war, poverty, and the Great Flu. Very few people aren't suffering from the flu or the after effects of the flu and Nurse Julia Power's inner city hospital is running on a skeleton crew, with not enough workers or supplies. A tiny room has been set aside for expectant mothers that are suffering from the flu, and for the first time, Nurse Julie is in charge of a "ward". The tiny room might only have 3 beds but her hands are full and she is extremely lucky to be assigned an unskilled volunteer. What Bridie Sweeney lacks in skill is more than made up for by her willingness to work, learn, and live each moment with a sense of realistic awe. Rather than be falsely positive about things, her life has been so hard that she is able to see even the worst moments as moments she is lucky to experience. Although Nurse Julie is not financially well off, she is so much better off than most people of the city and it's through her few days with Bridie that she learns how the poor, orphaned, and downtrodden really exist. 

The three days of this story are grueling and there is the overwhelming sense that even when this flu is "over" that most the people who live through it have nothing better ahead of them. In fact, for most of the women birthing babies at the hospital, whether they have the flu or not, being in a bed, enduring labor pains or labor, is a kind of rest they won't get once they can go back home. The women of this time are expected to have as many babies as possible, despite the ravages that pregnancy and raising so many children has on the body. Many of these same women are slaving away in horrible working conditions while trying to raise their children, with not enough food or shelter and with no money. 

Then there are children who had the same fate as Bridie. Never knowing their family, growing up in orphanages that are basically slave camps, fighting to find enough food to survive, even if it means taking food from those younger than themselves. Supposedly the church is getting money to support these children but instead the money goes elsewhere and the children live under horrible conditions, many not surviving at all. No wonder Bridie is thrilled to get to help Nurse Julie birth babies, with no prior knowledge of the pain and horror of what is going to happen in that tiny ward. Nothing she sees there is worse than what she has lived or seen and her enthusiasm for life is inspiring. 

Despite the difficult subject matter, especially during our own time of pandemic, I enjoyed this story. This is another story that shows us how good we have it even during our worrying times. The only thing that didn't seem to fit for me is the element of romance that is inserted into these three days. It felt shoehorned into an already hectic time when I thought that even an autopsy seemed out of place due to the urgency of just trying to keep people alive. 

Published July 21st 2020
Profile Image for Nilufer Ozmekik.
2,307 reviews44k followers
December 26, 2020
Dublin, 1918, during the Great Flu Influenza, three different women’s lives connected in strange way to help the pregnant women who are effected by flu to give birth to their children.

We’re witnessing and hardly absorbing their dark, intense, claustrophobic, heart wrenching story takes place in lying ward- extremely small room- for 3 days. Just like the author’s previous work “Room”, these women are captivated, being scared of outside because the flu is getting more contagious at each moment, trapped in a place, giving births to their children but they still no idea after the birth, what the future will bring: will they survive and beat the flu? Will be safe to leave the place? What will happen to them?

There are women who have been raped, lying on their beds and forced to give birth to their rapists’ child. They don’t want to bring those children to this wild, unpredictable world but they have to: they have no other option!

On the other hand: there are outcast, notorious women of Magdalene laundries who want to keep their children but they know they cannot raise them.

And finally there are women in the ward, abused by their partners are volunteered to be trapped in this place because there are things scarier than war and flu influenza for them. They already know how to sleep next to a monster!

Let’s focus on three main characters starting with Julia Power who is summoned for extra shift: experienced midwife and nurse, nearly 30, focusing on saving lives but the hospital is already understaffed! And now there are two outsiders at her ward. 22 years old Birdie with a secret past is a volunteer to assist her and Katherine Lynn who is member of rebel group, running from police ( based on real character).

This is intriguing, slow burn, character driven story and its claustrophobic, high tension world building completely disturbs you. The explicit, gory stories of women ( abuse, incest, domestic violence, rape, political hypocrisy) truly blow your mind. This is way too much provocative, impactful, dark, pessimistic story that you hardly digest.

The hopeless women in pain are captivated in a ward as the doctors left to hospital to fight against the enemies to save the country. But what about the invisible enemies which get stronger each day to take people’s lives?
Well, it’s so much irritating and dark for my taste but I always get impressed by the incredible talent of the author. Each of her books hurt me so much and after reading them, I feel numb for weeks so I have always second thoughts before I start one of her books. It’s like putting your hand to the hot stove: you know you’re gonna burn as soon as you touch it!

Well, at least I always get a real taste of great literature when I decide to read her words even though she sets my heart in fire!
Profile Image for Miranda Reads.
1,589 reviews157k followers
March 20, 2021

Just released my Worst 2020 Books Video - now that you know this one made the list, click the link to find the rest!
The Written Review
Nurse Julia works tirelessly in the maternity ward as the plague and the war ravages through Ireland.

As the night wears on, she's joined by a suspicious new doctor (a rumored rebel) and Birdie (a volunteer).

Together they fight save as many lives as humanly possible.

Soooooo....it may just be me but I did NOT enjoy this one at all.

I'm not big on historical fiction, nor books centered on or occurring during a war...so I really should've seen this one coming...but I just couldn't get into it.

I listened to the audiobook and I'm normally quite good at that - but I just constantly felt my mind wandering and my attention straying.

There were elements that worked well for me - like the characters of Julia and Birdie, and their friendship.

And (from what I can tell) the actual history bits were incredibly well-researched and put-together...it just never clicked with me.

I think it might also be the flu that Julia dealt with just felt too close to home with the current pandemic.

Ah well.

YouTube | Blog | Instagram | Twitter | Facebook | Snapchat @miranda_reads
Profile Image for Linda.
1,288 reviews1,329 followers
February 24, 2021
Pain and suffering gather at doorsteps.

No particular street. No predestined number. Certainly, without invitation.

Julia Power rides her bicycle through the darkened streets of Dublin in the pouring rain. Her destination is the understaffed and over-populated hospital reeling from the onslaught of The Great Flu of 1918. The world, and in particular Ireland, takes on an invisible enemy the likes of which they've never known. And in parallel, the human enemies lay in trenches and on battle fields during World War I. Julia's own brother, Tim, has returned from the war altered in every way.

But Julia, a trained nurse of nine years specializing in midwifery, trudges up the stairs to come face-to-face with a daunting reality. She will be on call flying solo during her shift today. No extra hands to lighten the burden of caring for women in labor harboring the harsh symptoms of the flu.
Julia survived a case of it a few months back. Most doctors have been called to the battlefields with few to take up the gauntlet of fighting this monster pandemic with limited supplies and even less sleep and endurance.

Emma Donoghue writes with a sharp-ended pen here dipping into the ink of suffering, remorse, helplessness, and endless heels caught on the rim of hopelessness. The Pull of the Stars speaks to the reality of the times. The birthing is explicit and detailed. Panic rises and rises with very little recourse. If you are of a gentle persuasion, this book may be a bit of heavy lifting for you. But if you lean toward the gallant efforts of humans pushed to the limits, this novel will leave you with a solid respect for those who came before us and for those who still battle the unspeakable every day.

Yes, this novel cuts close to the grain as we battle the Covid 19 pandemic. Pain and misfortune will never leave this world. But it is an eye-opener as to how these brave individuals gave their all with such antiquated knowledge and materials. The Irish government set out posters advocating eating onions and wearing eucalyptus to fight the grippe. And in spite of the odds, so many survived. Packed on crowded trams, a bad cough would get the response: "Sure you might as well spray us with bullets."

The Pull of the Stars is an exceptional read. Brutal, but not without the essentials of compassion and dedication. And the profound reality is that humanity rises up, time and time again, for another day.

I received a copy of this book through NetGalley for an honest review. My thanks to Little, Brown and Company and to the talented Emma Donoghue for the opportunity.
Profile Image for Elyse Walters.
4,010 reviews605 followers
July 21, 2020
This story felt so short!

The history, ( inspired by the Spanish flu), and story ( not for the squeamish),
in “The Pull of the Stars”, is certainly relevant to our current pandemic health crisis today.....

....The writing was compelling
with spare yet vividly descriptive prose.

...Parts were slow -

...Parts were disturbing and graphic -

...The eerie environment descriptions were strong.

...It was haunting and easily imagined.

...Not my favorite book of the year - but it had redeeming qualities.

Profile Image for Dem.
1,190 reviews1,131 followers
August 12, 2020
This one read a little like “ A complete idiots guide to giving birth” in a pandemic in 1918 .

I really wasn’t going to read this novel as being centre stage in a pandemic is enough without having to read about it in my leisure time. I took a chance as I loved The Wonder The Wonder by Emma Donoghue by this author. The book is historically accurate and interesting it was way too medically detailed for me. The story takes place over 3 days and most of the drama is played out in a maternity Ward in the hospital.

The medical procedure of the time is meticulously researched and accurately potrayed but for 3/4 of the novel it was relentless and tiring in its descriptions of childbirth and I honestly found myself skimming paragraphs just to move it on a little quicker. i didn’t feel the characters connections and the book was a struggle. The description of the Spanish Flu pandemic is certainly in keeping with the current pandemic and reading back then how they tried to curtail the spread of it. The last quarter of the book I found more entertaining and well researched book but on a whole just didn’t work for me.
An ok read but not one I will have to squeeze onto my real life bookshelf.
Profile Image for Cheri.
1,798 reviews2,391 followers
January 14, 2021

Vita gloriosa vita. Life glorious life.

There’s an aura throughout this story that is somewhat bleak, while at the same time gripping in the dangers, the then fairly recent uprising that occurred Easter 1916, WWI, the conditions these people face during the 1918 pandemic – something that we have all recently become too familiar with. There’s also so much tender consideration, kindness from this nurse and her young charge that comes to assist the ward where Julia Power works, the Maternity / Fever ward, designated for those women with the flu who are separated from the healthy maternity patients. Along with that, some lovely writing, too.

Julia is a nurse nearing her 30th birthday, and when she arrives at work that morning she’s informed that she will be in charge, for the day, of this newly formed ward, and that the other nurse scheduled is ‘missing in action,’ with two expectant, as well as sick, mothers in her care - one having died during the previous night’s shift. And while no assistant is promised, one eventually appears, Bridie Sweeney.

Bridie is a delight, a wonderful addition, both to Julia and to the reader, as she brings much light to this story. A young woman who isn’t quite sure of her age, having been left in one of the Catholic convents, she’s known little of the world, and nothing about love, the only treatment she’s had at the hands of the nuns has not been kind. Bridie shares her story, little by little with Julia. Julia, being a kind hearted woman, cringes a bit at how unflinchingly Bridie shares the trauma she’s endured, but opens her heart more to her in the process of getting to know her, and begins to look forward to her company. This relationship adds so much light that’s so needed in such a dark time.

But, there’s so much more to this story than I could tell you in a few short paragraphs.

So many of the small details of this might seem too conveniently placed - the lack of disinfectant, the having to make do with other medical necessities normally available, the signs that seem to echo those of our current times, but Donoghue began writing this story in October of 2018, long before this pandemic we are all living through began. So many similarities, the shops closed, companies that appear to be deserted. A changed world from the one they knew, all that and in addition, they were still dealing with the repercussions of the war that only ended in November of that year. Families with losses from both the war and the pandemic.

While I haven’t read all of her books, I’ve read a few others by her - Room, Frog Music, and The Wonder and I have to say that out of all of those, that I think that she’s outdone herself with this one, as much as I enjoyed, loved the others. There is so much tenderness in the way these characters are shown, and so much compassion in how this story is shared, it served as a lovely reminder that there still is love, tenderness and compassion in this world.

Published: 21 Jul 2020

Many thanks for the ARC provided by Little, Brown and Company
Profile Image for Jennifer ~ TarHeelReader.
2,183 reviews30.5k followers
August 30, 2020
All the stars!

I finished The Pull of the Stars over last weekend, a buddy read with my dear friend, @bibliobeth. We gobbled this book up. At 304 pages, and taking place over only 3 days, this book is something, and I mean something remarkable. The Pull of the Stars makes my second book I’ve read about the 1918 influenza pandemic in the last month.

On a related note, Emma Donoghue began writing the book in 2018 for the 100 year anniversary of the pandemic. Little did she know that the coronavirus outbreak would occur while the book was being prepared for publication. I was struck by so many similarities and differences to what occurred then and how it was handled versus now.

I first want you to know how suspenseful and gripping this book is. It is literally filled with action, but it’s mostly happening in one tiny room (closet, really) where pregnant women who are also sick with the flu are fighting for their own lives as they struggle to bring new life into the world. At the center of the novel is Julia, the highly intelligent and caring midwife, who is left to her own devices much of the time to keep these women and babies alive due to the massive shortages of doctors (everyone was sick).

The writing is smooth and precise, which enables the pacing. I think I loved the richly drawn characters most of all. This is a special book, and I’m glad it’s receiving love and accolades. Hauntingly beautiful, character-driven, compelling, and full of so much love. It’s a tribute to humanity and the nurturing, great care, and sacrifice made by those in the health care profession.

I received a gifted early copy from the publisher but also bought my own finished copy.

Many of my reviews can also be found on my blog: www.jennifertarheelreader.com and instagram: www.instagram.com/tarheelreader (instagram review)
Profile Image for Beata.
756 reviews1,157 followers
September 5, 2020
A compelling offering by Ms Donoghue which, read in the times of COVID, could not escape comparison between the present and 1918.
Nurse Julia Power is in charge of the maternity ward in a Dublin hospital. Thirty, taking care of her brother who suffers from shell-shock, Julia concentrates on her three charges, pregnant women who are of different background and whose pregnancies are endangered due to flu complications.
The plot spans over three days during which Julia helps new life to appear and witnesses death. She also finds something she did not expect to find.
This book is detailed regarding the labour, but it also gives an insight into the status of women in Ireland one hundred years ago, and the institutions which were expected to look after babies born out of wedlock and orphans but which in fact profited from them, not securing the babies' welfare. Truly upsetting and disturbing ...
Profile Image for Lindsay L.
679 reviews1,324 followers
September 15, 2020
4.5 stars! Another fantastic novel by a favourite author of mine.

Relevant and timely. Eye-opening and informative. Outstanding and unforgettable characters!

Dublin, 1918: Julia Power celebrates her thirtieth birthday while working as a nurse in the maternity unit of a hospital overloaded with patients battling a new and deadly strain of influenza. Expectant mother’s who show signs of the Great flu are transferred to Julia’s charge. Her makeshift ward is an old supply closet that fits three beds with very little room to move between patients. Julia is overjoyed when volunteer Bridie Sweeney arrives eager and ready to assist. Julia and Bridie form a quick friendship while working endlessly to tend to their patients.

This was a powerful, extremely relevant and informative story that had me surprised at how very similar this time in our history was to our current world situation battling Covid 19. Our current world pandemic made this novel feel even more real and impactful.

Although extremely atmospheric and relevant to our times, I found the characters to be the heart of this book! I simply adored the main character Julia. I loved her personality, her work ethic, her dedication to her patients and staff. She was a phenomenal lead character. Bridie was just as enjoyable and endearing — the type of character who got right to my heart.

The novel takes place over the span of three days. We get to know the characters in their work environment but their personal lives filter into the story which makes it even more relatable and heart wrenching. There is a lot of birthing detail that could make some readers uncomfortable. The atmosphere is thick — I truly felt as if I was alongside the characters witnessing them assisting their patients and making on-the-spot decisions.

Overall, this was a beautifully written and detailed story that had me fully invested and rooting for the characters. I highly recommend!
September 16, 2020
The timing on this one is perfect, and surprising when you think about how Emma Donoghue starting writing the story in 2018, and it is so relevant today. It's startling when you think about how history can repeat itself and leaves you to consider how we can learn from history. The one thing that might not change is the astonishing heroes in times of crisis. The ones of yesterday and we see today! It's stories like this that focus on the remarkable, selfless heroes that rise above all the ugly, put others first and risk it all to save others and don't lose their humanity along the way.

Emma Donoghue does not shy away from the ugliness of the 1918 Great Flu as she creates a tense one-room scene here in the "maternity/fever hospital room in Dublin. She develops a darkly and graphic written story here with the details surrounding the care and procedures with the pregnant women suffering from the deadly flu. She creates unflinching, remarkable women here with Nurse Julia and volunteer Bridie while highlighting not only their courage but stamina with the overwhelming conditions. Women are represented well here as the story explores the lives and bodies of women, and Julia addresses some concerns the patients live under with kindness, compassion yet still showing human feelings of frustrations and anger. Not only is the dark realities explored here, we see hope and survival against all the odds.

I loved the relationship Julia and Bridie developed over such a short time as they bond together over the painful conditions they are dealing with. We see the beauty in the characters through their compassion and selfless determination to do what it takes for the women suffering from the disease.

While this one might not be for gentle souls to read, it's an empowering story that celebrates our selfless heroes and one that highlights the realities of their world. I highly recommend but with caution to readers who need a more gentle read.
Profile Image for Debra .
2,422 reviews35.2k followers
July 31, 2020
"The human race settles on terms with every plague in the end, the doctor told her. Or a stalemate, at the least."

Talk about a timely book. In the Author's note, Emma Donoghue shares how she began writing this book after being inspired by the centenary of the great flu, and by the time she had delivered her last draft to publishers in March 2020, COVID 19 came on the scene.
"**The influenza pandemic of 1918 killed more people than the first World War - an estimated 3 to 6 percent of the human race."

In Dublin, 1918, Nurse Julia Power is working in the maternity ward of an understaffed hospital. There to assist her are Dr. Lynn and a volunteer helper, Bridie Sweeney. Over the course of three days, these women's lives will be intertwined, and we watch as they (mainly Julia) attempt to save their patients, bring babies into the world, and care for their very sick patients.

"Your job's not to bear the babies, Bridie had told me, it’s to save them."

The research that went into this book is impressive. I applaud Donoghue's attention to detail. I love how she blended facts with fiction. The writing is impeccable, the story drew me into, and I felt as if I were a fly on the wall as all the characters attempted to save lives, deliver babies, and just plain live in desperate times. I enjoyed how the characters cared for each other and tried their best despite the odds being against them. I think it is worth mentioning a second time that this book is beautifully written, researched and carefully plotted.

Thank you to Little, Brown and Company and NetGalley who provided me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. All the thoughts and opinions are my own.
Profile Image for Beverly.
835 reviews313 followers
May 10, 2021
A beautiful, uplifting tribute to mothers and nurses, The Pull of the Stars, is a very fitting book to read on Mother's Day. A lot of times, I forget why I've chosen the book I'm reading. This one I was drawn to, initially, because it is set in Ireland during the flu pandemic of World War I. It is so much more than that. Some authors give you a history lesson and some, like Emma Donoghue, send you back in time and you feel you are there.

Nurse Powers is smart, strong, kind and efficient. Suddenly, over three days in the maternity/fever ward, she is put in charge, since her head nurse is down with the influenza. At first, she is by herself, but then she gets a volunteer helper, Bridie Sweeney. Bridie is bright and willing, but is ignorant of ordinary things and grateful for kindness. The two work together as one, to try and save the mothers, who have the influenza, and the babies they are bringing into the world.

I came to love Nurse Julia Powers, her war damaged brother Tim, Doctor Lynn (a real person from that time, who founded a hospital for the poor), and most of all, the wonderful, Bridie Sweeney. Bridie, the tears are coming, even now at the mention of her name, such a decent girl, who endured all the indecency done to her and came out grand.
Profile Image for Debbie W..
762 reviews570 followers
January 16, 2021
An interesting and informative historical fiction read that not only was easily relatable to our current times in regards to living through a pandemic, but also about how a society dealt with their war veterans, their unwed mothers and their orphaned children.

Why I liked this story:
(1) well-developed plot and characters (I especially liked Bridie Sweeney and her hard-working initiative!);
(2) the similarities, then and now, of home remedies, superstitious beliefs, correct (and incorrect) behaviors and directives, notices about closures and physical distancing, and shortage of supplies;
(3) detailed descriptions of childbirth and autopsies;
(4) the significance of the title and this particular cover design; and,
(5) new vocabulary learned (e.g. barmbrack and shillelagh) as well as a mention of the Magdalene Laundries (I have a book about that on my WTR list!)

A couple of teeny issues that I had with this story:
(1) the lack of quotation marks occasionally confused me, and
(2) the motions Mary O'Rahilly uses to make the sign of the cross are written in the wrong order.

Recent and relevant news report: On January 13, 2021, Irish prime minister, Micheal Martin, formally apologizes to survivors after an investigation into Ireland's Church-run mother-and-baby homes. About 9000 children died in the 18 institutions under this investigation!

Profile Image for Jen CAN.
505 reviews1,486 followers
November 2, 2020
4.5 ✭
3 days.
That’s all it takes to change lives drastically during the 1918 flu pandemic for a nurse, a runner, and a doctor in a maternity ward in Dublin.
Julia Power, a passionate nurse trying to help her patients with her hands tied by not being a practitioner but knowing as much as one; Bridie, the charming girl who has come in as a volunteer runner completely taken off guard by the devastation of the illness; Dr. Lynn. A rebel doctor on the run from the police.

This is the story of frontline workers and the parallels we are seeing right now at the height of the 1918 pandemic. The knowledge they had for treating the flu still aligns to what we know today. Masks, washing hands, fresh air.
“Influenzas” - defined as the influence of the stars. Medieval theory that the heavens determined our fates.
Memorable characters and the structure of the story in 4 colours of human illness: red, brown, blue and black.
The darkest days slivered by the light of hope.
September 13, 2020

“This flu was clogging the whole works of the hospital. Not just the hospital, I reminded myself—the whole of Dublin. The whole country. As far as I could tell, the whole world was a machine grinding to a halt. Across the globe, in hundreds of languages, signs were going up urging people to cover their coughs.”

It's 1918 and the flu pandemic is raging across the globe. Nurse Julia, along with her aide, Bridie, is in charge of a small hospital ward, a supply closet really, for pregnant women suffering from the flu. Dr. Katherine Lynn, a real person of history, is the physician in charge.

The poverty, illness, and malnutrition of the poor, along with supply shortages and misinformation, made the health professional’s job even more challenging during an already challenging time. As a nurse myself, I appreciated that the author portrayed Julia as compassionate, intelligent and capable.

The descriptions of childbirth and the conditions under which the doctors and nurses were expected to work are not for the squeamish. Maternal and infant death was common, usually under horrific circumstances. The medical knowledge was woefully inadequate by today’s standards, and it made me ever so grateful for the advances in modern medicine (and for epidurals!). It’s obvious Donaghue did her research.

Nearly the entire book is set in this small supply closet of a ward and yet the author manages to maintain interest and intensity. It would be easy for Julia and Bridie to give in to despair in the midst of such suffering but they provide us with an example of perseverance in the face of adversity.

On the heels of WWI, the world was hit with a devastating pandemic, one that killed young people at a far greater rate than the elderly. The overwhelming poverty, malnutrition and lack of basic medical care made a bad situation worse. At the same time, the world was dealing with the veterans of WWI who had devastating physical and emotional damage. Julia’s brother was one such casualty of the war.

The ending may be a little cliché but I had tears in my eyes as I finished, so there’s that. I closed the book with sadness for the past and hope for the future. It certainly put things into perspective. Some of the scenarios regarding the pandemic of 1918 are eerily familiar and as bad as it is, I’m ever so grateful I am dealing with the pandemic of 2020 and not the one of 1918.

This was a buddy read with my friend Marialyce, and it provided us with perspective and much to discuss. Don’t miss the afterward where the author tells us Dr. Lynn’s story.

As this book teaches us, this too shall pass….
“The human race settles on terms with every plague in the end, the doctor told her. Or a stalemate, at the least. We somehow muddle along, sharing the earth with each new form of life.”

*For our duo reviews of this and others visit https://yayareadslotsofbooks.wordpres...
Profile Image for sarah.
404 reviews269 followers
July 19, 2020
"Cover up each cough or sneeze... fools and traitors spread disease."

The Pull of the Stars is Emma Donoghue's newest release, eerily relevant to today. We follow Nurse Julia Powers in the midst of the Spanish Flu pandemic in 1918 Ireland. She works at an overcapacity hospital in the maternity ward, and we see her both bring life into the world and struggle against the pull of the stars- the merciless influenza. Critically understaffed, Julia takes upon an uneducated volunteer, Bridie Sweeny and they slowly grow together.

"That’s what influenza means, she said. Influenza delle stelle—the influence of the stars. Medieval Italians thought the illness proved that the heavens were governing their fates, that people were quite literally star-crossed. I pictured that, the celestial bodies trying to fly us like upside-down kites. Or perhaps just yanking on us for their obscure amusement."

I went into this book solely knowing that this book dealt with the Spanish Flu pandemic in Ireland. While that is true, the novel is very narrow in scope and focus, centring almost entirely in one room, in the span of three days. I think I just went in with the wrong expectations, hoping for a book with a broader look at how society dealt with the illness. Instead, it felt like more of a documentary/slice of life with copious medical and historical details.

"It occurred to me that in the case of this flu there could be no signing a pact with it; what we waged in hospitals was a war of attrition, a battle over each and every body."

I really enjoyed whenever we got a look at the farer reaching repercussions of the pandemic. From the government's mixed messages, to the disproportionate effect on the poor- I was drawing some frightening parallels between today and over 100 years ago.

"The government has the situation well in hand and the epidemic is actually in decline. There is no real risk except to the reckless who try to fight the flu on their feet. If you feel yourself succumbing, report yourself and life down for a fortnight. Would they be dead if they'd stayed in bed?"

I also loved the inclusion of real historical figure, Doctor Kathleen Lynn. I was hoping she would be more prevalent in the story- or even that this book centred around her instead- because she was a fascinating character.

I appreciated the fact that Emma Donoghue took a genre that oftentimes uses its historical setting to rationalise the erasure of people of different identities and flipped it on its head. We have an LGBT relationship that develops over the story that took me by surprise- but that was perhaps not a positive thing. I felt like the relationship had no build up or hints at romantic chemistry so when it occurred I was taken aback. I would have liked it better if the romance was sprinkled in throughout rather than as an almost plot twist near the end to add emotional stakes.

Speaking of the ending, I found it rushed. While thinking back to what occurred, I objectively liked the ending. However the way that it happened felt conflicting with the slower pace of the majority of the book. By the time I was finished it felt like whiplash more than the explosive ending I think was intended.

Overall, I found this book to be really interesting in terms of drawing similarities to today, and learning more about life in those times. It was immersive, and felt like I was in the room with them, heightened by the audiobook in which I really enjoyed the accents and overall performance. The atmosphere was bleak and suffocating but broken up with moments of hope and human compassion. While it wasn't what I was looking for, I am certain that many people will enjoy this one more than I did.

Thank you to Hachette Audio and Libro.fm for this ALC

Release Date: 21 July 2020
Profile Image for Carol.
1,370 reviews2,157 followers
July 16, 2020
"Cover up each cough or sneeze......fools and traitors spread disease."

October 31, 1918. Dublin, Ireland - A war - A pandemic - A hospital maternity/fever ward - A skilled midwife/nurse Julia Power - An able bodied helper/runner Bridie Sweeney - And Dr. Kathleen Lynn, rebel doctor and 'real life' character.

The story takes place in three very long exhausting days for a nurse, her helper and a doctor on the run. And everyone is overworked including an annoying singing orderly...that you may just come to like, dangerously inept doctors and "old crow" Sister Luke, that you probably won't.

And whew! If you don't know anything about the technical aspects of childbirth, while fighting contagious flu symptoms, you certainly will after reading THE PULL OF THE STARS. You will also come to know the reason for the unseemly scary chapter titles....RED - BROWN - BLUE - BLACK.

For me, a slowly paced start of medical procedures and graphic births changed into enlightenment, an intense fight for life, a surprising relationship and a fast-moving shocker of a conclusion.

So......"How do we get back to normal after a pandemic?"......I hope we find out....sooner than later.

ARC provided by Little Brown & Company via NetGalley in exchange for review.

Profile Image for Karen.
593 reviews1,197 followers
August 8, 2020
During the 1918 flu epidemic in a Dublin hospital..
30 yr old maternity nurse Julia Power is trying to save the lives of the pregnant women who are at great risk when they come in with flu symptoms.
She has to care for them in a converted supply room that is just big enough for three cots because the hospital is overrun with patients.
Equipment and personnel are scarce and the world war has taken many doctors to the front.
An aide named Bridie is sent to help Julia, she’s a young uneducated girl from the catholic convent... but Bridie is quick to learn and together they deal with three harrowing deliveries with a couple fatal results.. the scenes may make you squeamish...
One of the doctors at the hospital tells Julia that the word “influenza” comes from the medieval Italian belief that the influence of the stars made people ill.
“As if, when it’s your time, your star gives you a yank,” Bridie says.
The author celebrates women who bring life into the world and those that help them through the journey.
Profile Image for Marialyce (on our way to Venice).
2,038 reviews709 followers
March 2, 2022
Looking for a book to read about the a well known pandemic that killed millions globally, and hearing good things about The Pull of the Stars, Jan and I decided to read this story of a fictitious understaffed and overwhelmed hospital in Ireland, and its staff focusing on those in the maternity section infected with the flu.

I will admit that I was one of those few outliers who didn't like Emma Donahue's book Room. There were multiple reasons, so I was a bit reticent about picking up this new book of hers fearing the very same issues I had with the other one would crop up once again.

Happily, although truth be told, I had some tiny issues with the story line, I did enjoy this book. As many know, we can't help but see comparisons made between the Spanish flu of 1918, to the current situation we are faced with today. Although the Spanish flu is estimated to have killed 17-50 million of the world's population, thankfully today's pandemic's numbers are not in that awful statistic. Also, the Spanish flu seemed to be particularly virulent among the young, a peculiarity, as most diseases often attack the old and the debilitated.

“The influenza pandemic of 1918 killed more people than the First World War—an estimated 3 to 6 per cent of the human race.”

We are introduced to a truly heroic nurse, Julie, an unmarried thirty-year-old who lives with her brother who has returned from the war a mute. Julie is assisted by a young volunteer, Bridie, who is an orphan from a local convent, and a doctor Dr Katherine Lynn (a real person woven into the story), sought by the police because of her affiliation with Sein Fein. Together they tackle the many issues connected with this flu in a small room that houses three ill maternity patients. All these women were brave and one can't imagine how horrid it was to not only battle the flu but also be pregnant, with the specter of labor and delivery in front of them At the time, it was believed that the flu was responsible for premature births and the women, we meet do experience both the joys and the sorrows that accompanied life and death in a time where death, the bone man, seemed to be in every corner lying in wait.

It's a horrendous situation and of course the times made it even more so as the people in Ireland where the story is set lived in crowded, horrible situations where sickness ran rampant. Women had many children, many of whom succumbed not only to the flu, but to lack of proper nutrition, housing, and care. The church at the time had stringent rules and regulations and children who were orphaned were let into a life of servitude to the convent/orphanages they were assigned to. Ms Donahue is clear in pointing out the abuses, and generally holds both the nuns and the male population in contempt. A child born disfigured or outside the bonds of marriage was shunned and made to bear their birth as a sin. Horrible indeed!

In essence this was an appalling story of times past but also a story of hope that with the aid and loving care of doctors and nurses, overworked then as they seem to be now, were the heroes of the times. Definitely a worthy story to be read.

"The human race settles on terms with every plague in the end, the doctor told her. Or a stalemate, at the least. We somehow muddle along, sharing the world with each new form of life."
Our duo review: http://yayareadslotsofbooks.wordpress...
Profile Image for Debbie.
455 reviews2,896 followers
September 7, 2020
Stare lovingly at its spine, or call the shrink for meds?

I want to hug this book, and I want to buy a copy so I can stare at its spine and go all ga-ga. I also want to high-tail it to the shrink’s office and demand meds because the book depressed me so much. Let me explain.

When the book ended, there was this expansive, almost giddy, feeling I get whenever I finish reading a masterpiece. It was thrilling, intense, epic, vivid, and rich, and it had complex, amazing characters. I could go on and on with the positive adjectives. The book grabbed me and wouldn’t let go. I know it’s a cliché, but I will say I really was under its spell. I even cried, which I’ve done maybe only 5 or 6 times in my lifetime when reading. (I know, just call me Stoic Stella.)

On the other hand, while reading this book I often stopped in my tracks, shocked that anyone could write anything this horrific. Not only was there death, but there also was tremendous suffering, and worst of all, gory details of difficult childbirths, including vivid medical procedures. (I kept wondering why the author would choose to paint such a depressing picture. What is the purpose? Did she really want to freak out the reader so much?) I squirmed, I grimaced; sometimes my stomach hurt. I kept asking myself why I was subjecting myself to such intense drear and gloom. This was over the top. It seriously might be the most depressing book I’ve ever read. Surely I could find something lighter, especially in these times.

I think it’s the “I don’t remember the pain anymore; all I’m left with are good memories” syndrome. Sort of like if I broke my ankle while on a phenomenal trip of a lifetime. Once my ankle healed, I’d only remember all the incredible experiences. The pain would have faded and what would be left in my head were all the good feelings. Well, that’s what happened here.

The story takes place in Dublin, mostly in a very small hospital room with three patients, a nurse (the main character), and a helper. There’s an interesting doctor who pops in and out. You feel like you’re in the room with them. You desperately want to get out, but you also desperately want to stay there and find out what happens.

I knew going into this book that it was about the 1918 worldwide influenza. Some reviewers said it felt strangely cathartic to read about something so monumental that we can relate to today. It was relatable, and it made me feel a little more hopeful knowing that we have better hospitals and medical technology than what existed in 1918. Yet, despite all our advancements, a virus is still a killer, a century later. The book talked about missing out on Halloween; that’s happening to us, too—no trick-or-treaters this year. Kids miss out on that one. Ha, as if that is our only problem.

Donoghue wrote the book in 2018, exactly 100 years after the pandemic. This was her plan. However, it was not her plan that it be published right when a pandemic of our own was starting. The book got published in March 2020, the same month that the COVID pandemic hit America. Very strange.

Of course I didn’t think the book would just be about the importance of wearing masks and staying away from each other. Secretly, though, I did hope I’d get some practical advice—like how to get through a pandemic without dying, for instance. (No, I didn’t think it would be a self-help book or Chicken Soup for Pandemic-ites, god no; but still, I didn’t expect a complete horror show.) I simply wanted a peek at how people probably felt back then, and how the world looked. Anthropology, sociology, history—all those nice academic subjects that often give me some distance. I didn’t expect to be so involved and tortured.

True, it’s fiction, but I knew that Donoghue did her research so I could expect that she’d be portraying a picture of what it was like in those years. “Oh, I can relate to that!” I’d think. But oh no, the book had different plans. It was more like this: I was thrown into a tiny, claustrophobic ICU; all the patients had COVID and were on ventilators, fighting for their lives; every patient was a female, 8 or 9 months pregnant; there weren’t nearly enough doctors or supplies; I talked to some of the patients and liked them; a really kind, smart, and overworked nurse whispered in my ear, telling me exactly was going on medically, in vivid detail, as people died and were born. Get the picture? Brutal. I’m surprised that no one else mentioned just how horrifying this read was. Yet I can say with a straight face that it was all worth it.

A minor warning: If you like quotation marks, you’re out of luck—there aren’t any. To compound the issue, sometimes characters would talk mid-paragraph, but this might be a funky ARC formatting issue. And with no quotation marks, the fact that dialogue wasn’t given its own line sometimes was a hold-up. I got used to it and didn’t mind.

A major warning: Beware if you can’t hack an overdose of human suffering or reading about medical procedures in minute detail. And if you ever plan on getting pregnant, this will be a hard read.

BUT, and this is a big BUT, there is also a lot of hope and love in this book. It reeks of compassion and soul. The characters are extremely likeable; you won’t mind hanging out with them, even in the tight, brutal space where they work. The story is so captivating, so well done, so immersive. Three main characters, all women, are all strong and resilient, brave and caring, charismatic.

This was written by the same author who wrote Room, a favorite of mine. Now I want to—no, I must—check out Donoghue’s other books.

Believe it or not, this book is one of my favorites of this year! I want to bring out my pogo stick, but my shrink tells me I shouldn’t, that I need to face the facts and realize I need to deal with my repressed depression, not gallivant around, all bouncy and smiley. I tell her she’s nuts. Now that the pain is over (like with my imagined healed ankle), all I feel is utter happiness about this amazing, amazing book. I can’t wait to admire its spine on my shelf, I just can’t wait.

Thanks to NetGalley for the advance copy.
Profile Image for Matthew.
1,219 reviews8,990 followers
November 8, 2020
4 to 4.5 Stars

An enthralling but difficult book to read. I could list the trigger warnings, but let's just say if anything you can imagine being difficult or going wrong in child birth triggers you, stay far, far away! It is not inappropriate in any way, just very shocking, graphic, heart-wrenching, and real. I was kind of exhausted when I was finished.

This book takes place during the 1918 flu pandemic in Ireland. The setting is a maternity ward full of patients suffering to from the flu. Medicine and disinfection is still very primative and the people suffer financially and socially. It is dark and stark and there is little hope to be found throughout. But, all of this makes for several hours of captivating literature.

I mentioned above the child birth scenes are exhausting. I don't think it is an exaggeration to say that 80 to 90% of this book is childbirth scenes with the rest being stories about the flu pandemic, World War I, Irish rebellion, and even a little unexpected romance (which felt kind of forced to me, but not really enough to matter or ruin anything).

In the afterward, Donoghue mentions she submitted this book to the publisher in March 2020 - right as COVID-19 was taking hold and shutting countries down. It was great that the publisher was able to release it this year as reflections on the 1918 pandemic really hit hard during this current pandemic.

This book is 100% worth checking out - but, don't forget the warnings - it is not a smooth ride.
Profile Image for Regina.
1,136 reviews3,332 followers
November 11, 2020
Let's play a casting game with the story elements from The Pull of the Stars.

In the lead role of CHILDBIRTH, we have Charlize Theron from Monster.
- Typically beautiful, but NOT HERE!
- Nope, here she's as ugly and graphically violent as possible.
- And deadly, and mutilating. Did I mention graphic? (Ok, yes I did, but if the placenta's that nice I'll mention it twice. So if you winced at one of the words in that sentence, then this book is definitely not for you.)

In the supporting role of THE SPANISH FLU PANDEMIC, we've got Allison Janney (from anything).
- You know her, she feels very familiar, it's almost like she's in everything these days.
- She's very serious, and you just know from her mere presence that she's shaking things up.
- But she knows her place. She's here to help elevate CHILDBIRTH's performance.

And finally, in the role of everyone's favorite creepy uncle WORLD WAR I, enter Tommy Lee Jones.
- It's pretty obvious he's lead a really crazy life before now, but we never get his full story.
- Here he's just lingering, poking his head into a scene or two to remind you that he's going to keep lurking in the background keeping things weird.

Given that it's 2020, all the PR seems to be going to Allison Janey aka the PANDEMIC, but Charlize Therone aka Monster aka CHILDBIRTH is like "step aside lady, I'm the star of this show."

3.5 stars.
Profile Image for Nicole.
750 reviews1,935 followers
August 20, 2021
I’m trying to read historical novels set in new periods of time (aka anything other than the wws). When I came across this book, I downloaded the audio right away since it had no holds on overdrive. It’s the first time I read a book set during the spanish flu pandemic. That was certainly interesting. The book was also graphic since the main character is a nurse and takes place in a hospital.

I sadly couldn’t feel anything towards the character nor found myself wanting to just listen to the audiobook, sadly. Hence the 3 stars rating. I recognise it’s a good book and why many loved it and I certainly found it informative but it’s nothing I’m going to remember. I do however want to read more books set during those times.

I’ve been listening to a lot of audiobooks lately that sadly aren’t leaving anything with me, no a single emotion or strong opinion. The setting was interesting but the story itself didn’t mean anything to me. Yet another completely forgettable book that I don’t have a lot to say about.
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