The Heart Specialist by Claire Holden Rothman

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The Heart Specialist by Claire Holden Rothman

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Category: Historical Fiction
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Louise Laurie
Reviewed by Louise Laurie
Summary: It's the early 1890s in Canada. A young girl, Agnes, is intelligent and believes she can do anything so she is determined to become a medical doctor - against all the odds.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 236 Date: March 2011
Publisher: Oneworld Publications
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 978-1851687947

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We first meet teenager Agnes at home - dissecting a recently-dead squirrel in secret. She knows full well that her family would not approve of this unseemly behaviour, especially from a girl. She's expected to be a young lady and enjoying ladylike hobbies, like playing with dolls. Fat chance. Feisty Agnes is her father's daughter and she has an interest in medicine. It must be in the blood, in the genes. If that's the case it's skipped younger sister Laure. The two sisters are very different. Laure is a gentle and pretty girl but her health is rather delicate. Agnes is a bit of a tom-boy and a go-getter. Their grandmother despairs of young Agnes - what's to become of her? The norm is marriage and a family, this medical nonsense must be stamped out. It's out of the question. This profession is strictly for the men. Try telling that to Agnes.

I must say that I took to Agnes right from the start. She's up for a challenge and I loved that. And by golly she's got her work cut out for her from here on. Almost everyone she knows, including her family, demand that she drop this ridiculous idea of becoming a doctor. But - there's one person on her side. Her governess, Miss Skerry. Miss Skerry rates Agnes' intelligence highly. It's as if she's living her life through Agnes. But even with her governess firmly on board, there's plenty of problems and obstacles ahead.

We learn that there's been some sort of scandal in the family in the recent past. But mud has a habit of sticking so will Agnes also be tainted? Time will tell. And talking of time, the times are unsettling in which the novel is set as we witness the lead-up to the First World War.

We also learn that Agnes does not have an easy childhood, nor an easy adolescence. There's a piece in the novel where she reaches puberty which is quite heart-wrenching. Poor Alice, for all her obvious intelligence, seems to struggle through everything in life. It doesn't help that, as she grows into a young woman, she's a bit of an ugly duckling. I really felt for her all the way through her story. I wanted her to excel at something. But does she?

She decides on a plan to get the necessary medical qualifications. It's an almighty uphill struggle with Rothman filling in all the gaps for her readers. Some locals may just surprise Agnes. Good times though seem to be in short supply. And as the story develops we see medicine and in particular the study of the heart (hence the title of the book) becoming a passion, an obsession. Where her contemporaries are happy to lead 'normal' lives Agnes does her own thing. But is it all worth it?

She's also haunted by a personal situation which she cannot shake, no matter how hard she tries. As I was reading the book I was humbled by Agnes and her dedication in the face of all sorts of opposition. She made a striking and very likable character. The fripperies of romance hold little interest for her, but she does have her moments. Her story is indeed heart-warming and I, for one, warmed to it. Recommended.

I'd like to thank the publishers for sending a copy to The Bookbag.

If this book appeals then you might like to try The Outlander by Gil Adamson.

Buy The Heart Specialist by Claire Holden Rothman at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Heart Specialist by Claire Holden Rothman at

Buy The Heart Specialist by Claire Holden Rothman at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Heart Specialist by Claire Holden Rothman at


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