The past few months, I’ve been uploading posts from my fellow Level Best Book authors. Today, I’m posting a review of a most remarkable book from that publisher. I love historical fiction books, and Jane Rubin’s new novel, In the Hands of Women, is truly an amazing read. I couldn’t put it down.
It is set at the turn of the twentieth century, and Hannah Isaacson is a Jewish, female, obstetrician-in-training in Baltimore and New York City. She’s determined to make women safer during their pregnancies and childbirth. It’s a constant battle against backstreet abortions and the boardrooms of hospitals dominated by men. Not surprisingly, her male colleagues offer her little respect.
Besides her work in hospitals, Hannah is hired to be an on-call doctor for the wealthy clientele at the Waldorf Hotel. When a botched abortion takes her to the hotel room of one such woman who dies, she is charged with murder and sent to Blackwell’s Prison to await trial. And that is where her life takes a turn, not only for the worse, but also for a new and powerful journey in her life.
Rubin’s book introduces us to real characters from history, such as Margaret Sanger, and also fictional characters like her nemesis from her time at Johns Hopkins Medical School.
Her settings are well-researched, and the prison scenes are filled with gritty realism. It isn’t hard to root for Hannah, worrying about her decisions that trip her up, but also finding her more understandable. Many of the issues of our time, including the right of women to make decisions about their own health, are managed with a perfect touch and without preaching. The characters around her are fully believable, especially the mentors who help her and the male figures of power who throw roadblocks in her way. Rubin’s historical research is flawless and effortlessly integrated into the exciting plot. In short, I’d call this a five-star book that I’d definitely recommend.
A terrifying diagnosis, a genetic defect, and a lifelong fascination with the history of medicine led Jane Rubin to put pen to paper. After an ovarian cancer diagnosis in 2009, Jane, then a healthcare executive, poured her energy into raising research dollars for ovarian cancer and learning more about her familial roots. Her research led her to her great-grandmother, Mathilda (Tillie), who arrived in New York City in 1866, at sixteen married a man twelve years her senior, and later died of ‘a woman’s disease.’ Then the trail ran cold. With limited facts, she was determined to give Mathilda an exciting fictional life of her own. Jane was left imagining Tillie’s life, her fight with terminal disease, and circumstances surrounding her death. Her research of the history of New York City, its ultra-conservative reproductive laws, and the state of medicine during that era has culminated in a suspenseful, fast-paced, two-book historical series. Her engaging characters are confronted with the shifting role of midwives, dangers of pregnancy, the infamous Blackwell’s Workhouse, and the perilous road to financial success. In the Hands of Women was published 5/23 (Level Best Books), and its prequel, Threadbare, will be published 5/24 (Level Best Books).
Jane’s other publications include an essay memoir, Almost a Princess, My Life as a Two-Time Cancer Survivor (2009 Next Generation Indie Book Finalist), and multiple articles in the Coping with Cancer periodical. She writes a monthly blog, Musings, reflecting on her post- health care career experiences and writing journey. Jane also volunteers for the Women’s Fiction Writers Association, assisting with the coordination of its annual national meeting. Jane lives with her husband, David an attorney, in Northern New Jersey. Between them, they have five adult children and seven grandchildren.
Her website: JaneLoebRubin
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