Saturday 2 March 2019

#BookReview — Midwife of Normandy (Secrets of the Austen Midwives Book 1) By Carole Penfield #HistoricalFiction #France

Midwife of Normandy
 (Secrets of the Austen Midwives Book 1)
By Carole Penfield

Clare Dupres, ambitious young Huguenot midwife living in turbulent 17th century France, struggles to save her family and career from the terrors of tyrannical King Louis XIV.

On the brink of womanhood, she records in her journal the grand plan for her perfect life--marriage to the man she loves, renovation of mysterious Maison Dupres as her home, and a rewarding profession. The key to her plan lies in "the magic elixir," her ancestors' secret formula for pain-free childbirth, which she offers solely to wealthy aristocratic women.

But King Louis' increasing pressure on Huguenots to convert to Catholicism shatters Clare's dreams. Her lover forced to flee France, she is compelled to marry his boring brother. Then she is banned from practicing midwifery. Yearning to continue her profession coupled with fear that her children will be kidnapped by Papists, Clare tries to convince her stubborn husband to move to England, but he is blind to the growing menace. When danger lurks in the form of the King's dreaded Dragonnade soldiers, she must summon all her strength and determination to save her family.

Can Clare succeed in getting her family safely out of France before it is too late?

I was drawn immediately into Carole Penfield's Midwife of Normandy (Secrets of the Austen Midwives Book 1), through the excellent descriptions of Clare, her childhood home, family, and experiences.

Clare Dupres is the daughter of an expert midwife. When Clare reaches her early teen years, she receives, as a birthday gift, a beautiful journal from her mother. In this, she is supposed to record her mother’s lessons and advice, so that Clare may eventually take her place as the town’s midwife. However, as well as essential notes on herbs, elixirs and methods, Clare begins to note her own thoughts, and set out how her life should unfold: providing care to the women of the town and receiving her just rewards in return.

Alas, as with many plans, life does not go exactly the way Clare intended it to go. She falls for her handsome cousin, Pierre. However, Pierre is forced to leave France by King Louis increasingly harsh rules for Huguenots in his Catholic France, which leaves Clare with no choice but to marry Pierre’s dull brother Jacques instead.

Life as a merchant’s wife is not for Clare, and she continues to practise her beloved midwifery, making powerful friends in Rouen as she does so. But it isn’t long before the king’s rules prevent even this, and life becomes dangerous for her and her devout husband. With appalling risks to her family, Clare must act, and try to get them all safely out of the country.

I was drawn immediately into Carole Penfield's Midwife of Normandy (Secrets of the Austen Midwives Book 1), through the excellent descriptions of Clare, her childhood home, family, and experiences. Throughout the novel, the threat of King Louis’ rulings against the Huguenots is evident, and growing, but is not always front-and-centre, tied in with the usual domestic issues befalling many a newly-wedded couple.

Following news that the Edict of Nantes, the law which gave Huguenots the right to worship in their own way, is possibly to be revoked, the pressure and pace of the novel mounts, along with the growing urgency of Clare’s determination that she and her family will not fall prey to the brutality some of their faith are being subjected to. When the dreaded dragonnades begin to flood the country and reach Rouen itself, the book shifts again, with almost the sense of a thriller.

In terms of the writing, both character and plot developed naturally as the story continued, with the motives and drive of each character feeling believable throughout. Clare herself is an interesting lead, driven to do better than her mother in terms of the rewards she gains for her midwifery skills. Her mother may have been contented with chickens or other meat; Clare wants coins, jewels, and connections to the higher echelons of society. The supporting characters are well-drawn, each given just the right level of detail so that we can get to know them, but no time is wasted providing an extensive description of characters we will only be meeting briefly.

There were, on occasions, the odd word which jarred in terms of historical accuracy, but this is not an era I know inside out, and I could be wrong. References by a soldier to ‘the kid’ felt odd, as did the use of ‘fall’ rather than ‘autumn’, but these were few and far between. It did not detract from my overall enjoyment of the novel.

Midwife of Normandy, (Secrets of the Austen Midwives Book 1) is well-written, well-paced, with a story which carries you along. If you enjoy a seventeenth-century setting, then this is the book for you. Having read a summary of the following novel, it’s definitely one I would look forward to reading.

I Highly Recommend.

Review by Jennifer C. Wilson.
The Coffee Pot Book Club.

Carole Penfield

Carole Penfield was born in Chicago, Illinois. After graduating from University of Illinois with a Bachelor of Arts degree in elementary education, she accepted a position as first grade teacher in Webster Groves, Missouri.  There she enjoyed adapting fairytales into short scripted plays for her young students to perform at holiday school events.

Subsequently becoming a stay-at-home mom with four young children in Newton, Massachusetts, she organized and directed the Merry Moviemakers, an aspiring troupe of neighborhood children who gathered in her basement to create original theatricals. Before the advent of video cameras, Carole used her 8 mm movie camera set on a tripod to film these young actors. One of their amateur productions, “Terry Tooth Learns the Terrible Truth,” premiered at the Boston Women’s Film Festival. Unfortunately, no copy of this early work survives.

After moving with her family to Arizona, Carole returned to college earning a law degree in 1981 and joining the large Phoenix firm, Lewis & Roca.  Five years later she was invited to become a partner, specializing in the field of employment law. After dedicating seventeen busy years to legal writing and court appearances on behalf of her many clients, she made a life-changing decision to seek a less stressful life style. Like many aspiring authors, she dreamed of writing a novel, but still needed to earn a living.

In 1997, Carole and her second husband Perry Krowne relocated to rural Northern Arizona, where she became a combination small-town lawyer and retail doll store co-owner. In the beginning, dolls were displayed in the law office waiting room and empty doll boxes stored on the conference room shelves, next to the Arizona Revised Statutes. For a few years, Amanda Jane’s Doll Shoppe was Carole’s pride and joy and provided her the creative satisfaction of writing radio and television commercials for local stations, as well as advertising copy for magazines and newspapers. Sadly, the market for dolls declined after 9-11 and she was forced to close her beloved store.

Fate intervened and she returned to full-time practice of law as Attorney General for the Yavapai-Apache Nation for the next five years. Then, appointed to the bench as Associate Justice for the Tribal Court of Appeals, Justice Penfield authored legal opinions on issues of Indian Law. Planning ahead for retirement, she began taking on-line creative writing classes in her spare time and started to write poetry, short stories and her memoirs, all of which remain unfinished manuscripts on a dusty shelf.

Perhaps Carole’s greatest motivation for writing historical fiction arises from her life-long admiration of the novels of Jane Austen. She and her husband are life members and active participants in JASNA (Jane Austen Society of North America) and enjoy hosting Box Hill Picnics for members of the Phoenix Region in the verdure of their tree-filled backyard. In 2010, they toured London, Kent and Hampshire before attending the week-long Jane Austen festival in Bath and marching in the costumed parade. Like one of the fictional characters (Celia Smithfield) in Midwife of Normandy, Carole “has difficulty with a needle” but does enjoy designing her own Regency gowns and constructing bonnets with the aid of a stapler and glue gun.

JASNA recently accepted publication of Carole’s short mash up theatrical Finding a Husband for Poor Julia in Highbury for its script bank, where it is available to regional coordinators seeking Austen-themed comedy sketches to perform at their meetings. It was first performed by members of the Phoenix region of JASNA.

Midwife of Normandy is Carole’s debut novel and the first in the series entitled “Secrets of the Austen Midwives.”  Needless to say, Jane Austen is this budding fiction author’s muse and her famous words echo throughout this book and the ones yet to be written.


  1. Congratulations on your award, Carole!

    1. Thank you Penny Hampson. It is a great honor to have my debut novel receive this prestigious award.


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Mary Anne xxx