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A brilliant rendering of a scandalous historical figure, Kate Manning's My Notorious Life is an ambitious, thrilling novel introducing Axie Muldoon, a fiery heroine for the ages. Axie's story begins on the streets of 1860s New York. The impoverished child of Irish immigrants, she grows up to become one of the wealthiest and most controversial women of her day. In vivid pros A brilliant rendering of a scandalous historical figure, Kate Manning's My Notorious Life is an ambitious, thrilling novel introducing Axie Muldoon, a fiery heroine for the ages. Axie's story begins on the streets of 1860s New York. The impoverished child of Irish immigrants, she grows up to become one of the wealthiest and most controversial women of her day. In vivid prose, Axie recounts how she is forcibly separated from her mother and siblings, apprenticed to a doctor, and how she and her husband parlay the sale of a few bottles of 'Lunar Tablets for Female Complaint' into a thriving midwifery business. Flouting convention and defying the law in the name of women's reproductive rights, Axie rises from grim tenement rooms to the splendor of a mansion on Fifth Avenue, amassing wealth while learning over and over never to trust a man who says "trust me." When her services attract outraged headlines, Axie finds herself on a collision course with a crusading official, Anthony Comstock, founder of the Society for the Suppression of Vice. It will take all of Axie's cunning and power to outwit him in the fight to preserve her freedom and everything she holds dear. Inspired by the true history of an infamous female physician who was once called "the Wickedest Woman in New York," My Notorious Life is a mystery, a family saga, a love story, and an exquisitely detailed portrait of nineteenth-century America. Axie Muldoon's inimitable voice brings the past alive, and her story haunts and enlightens the present.


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A brilliant rendering of a scandalous historical figure, Kate Manning's My Notorious Life is an ambitious, thrilling novel introducing Axie Muldoon, a fiery heroine for the ages. Axie's story begins on the streets of 1860s New York. The impoverished child of Irish immigrants, she grows up to become one of the wealthiest and most controversial women of her day. In vivid pros A brilliant rendering of a scandalous historical figure, Kate Manning's My Notorious Life is an ambitious, thrilling novel introducing Axie Muldoon, a fiery heroine for the ages. Axie's story begins on the streets of 1860s New York. The impoverished child of Irish immigrants, she grows up to become one of the wealthiest and most controversial women of her day. In vivid prose, Axie recounts how she is forcibly separated from her mother and siblings, apprenticed to a doctor, and how she and her husband parlay the sale of a few bottles of 'Lunar Tablets for Female Complaint' into a thriving midwifery business. Flouting convention and defying the law in the name of women's reproductive rights, Axie rises from grim tenement rooms to the splendor of a mansion on Fifth Avenue, amassing wealth while learning over and over never to trust a man who says "trust me." When her services attract outraged headlines, Axie finds herself on a collision course with a crusading official, Anthony Comstock, founder of the Society for the Suppression of Vice. It will take all of Axie's cunning and power to outwit him in the fight to preserve her freedom and everything she holds dear. Inspired by the true history of an infamous female physician who was once called "the Wickedest Woman in New York," My Notorious Life is a mystery, a family saga, a love story, and an exquisitely detailed portrait of nineteenth-century America. Axie Muldoon's inimitable voice brings the past alive, and her story haunts and enlightens the present.

30 review for My Notorious Life

  1. 4 out of 5

    Jen

    Axie Muldoon. A stubborn, brazen and relentless Irish orphan who became a notorious midwife in the 1860’s in New York. A highly likeable character with her numerous flaws. This is her story and how she rose from poverty and became a medical practitioner in a day and age where it was frowned upon for taking an interest in anything outside of being a wife and mother. From her early days of being a housemaid, she learned the skill of assisting women during their confinement along with other female Axie Muldoon. A stubborn, brazen and relentless Irish orphan who became a notorious midwife in the 1860’s in New York. A highly likeable character with her numerous flaws. This is her story and how she rose from poverty and became a medical practitioner in a day and age where it was frowned upon for taking an interest in anything outside of being a wife and mother. From her early days of being a housemaid, she learned the skill of assisting women during their confinement along with other female issues - including being an abortionist to those women whom were victimized or whom would be if they carried their babies to term. This was her fight against the male dominated perspective that nothing should interfere with conception. It was also her emotional journey - learning to trust and love unconditionally. This probably could still be considered a controversial read and one whose subject is still under debate today, more than a century later. A great read and one I may have missed had I not seen the reviews by my GR friends. 4 ★

  2. 4 out of 5

    Carol - Reading Writing and Riesling

    My View: How to begin – this book is extraordinary and exquisite and I loved every word on every page! This book has much to offer- it is a historical feminist work of fiction “based partly on the life and death of Ann Trow Lohman (1811-79) also known as Madame Restell who practiced midwifery in New York for almost forty year” (Author’s note). It is a love story, it is a story of overcoming adversity where the heroine actually wins, and it is a story of courage, devotion, family and humanity at w My View: How to begin – this book is extraordinary and exquisite and I loved every word on every page! This book has much to offer- it is a historical feminist work of fiction “based partly on the life and death of Ann Trow Lohman (1811-79) also known as Madame Restell who practiced midwifery in New York for almost forty year” (Author’s note). It is a love story, it is a story of overcoming adversity where the heroine actually wins, and it is a story of courage, devotion, family and humanity at work. The early years of Madame X’s life echo of life of so many women at the time; fighting to survive, fighting to feed their families, each day a hardship, each day a battle against poverty, hunger, disease and child birth death. For many women pregnancy was a real health threat, so many died in childbirth or shortly after. But enough of the feminist ideology and analysis – that could go on and on and this is a book review not an essay on feminism but I do hope this book becomes part of high school and university curriculum – and has so much to offer to men and women. I loved the well developed characters in this book- Madame X/Axie/Ann is a powerful and heroic young woman. She is feisty, says her mind, she is intelligent, she is a mother, a daughter, a wife and she is a business woman, she is a health worker. She speaks with attitude, honesty and she has an authentic voice. I love her frailties, they make her credible – she is plagued by jealously, she has a quick temper, she speaks her mind. She has self doubts, she rises to her husband’s baits and taunts – she is manipulated by his words and takes risks she might not have taken by herself. She grows. The minor characters are also quite likable and fallible – all seeking to be loved and cherished and seeking the right to determine their own future, to rise above poverty. Charlie is a likable rogue and is quite enlightened for the times. Greta is vulnerable, loyal and demonstrates we are all just one mistake or bad judgement away from despair. Manning paints from an incredibly rich palette of colours – her settings, the clothes, the buildings, the language of the time, her characters, all come alive on the page. When you read this novel you do not merely observe; you walk this life side by side with Madame X. The plot is fast paced and exciting. This historical work of fiction also provides intrigue, romance and mystery. This book has something for everyone. I cannot recommend this book more highly. This is one of the best reads of 2013. Thank you GoodReads, First Reads and Bloomsbury for the opportunity to read this impressive book.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Angela M

    There's the hook right at the beginning and I didn't want to stop reading . Then there are the three hungry children on the streets of New York in the mid 1860's. Before you know it they are on the Orphan Train for Illinois, though not yet orphans . Several months later, twelve year old Axie Muldoon is back on the train to New York City, where she really becomes an orphan. Sad and alone, little Axie Muldoon will steal your heart as she dreams of reuniting with her brother and sister . She will ca There's the hook right at the beginning and I didn't want to stop reading . Then there are the three hungry children on the streets of New York in the mid 1860's. Before you know it they are on the Orphan Train for Illinois, though not yet orphans . Several months later, twelve year old Axie Muldoon is back on the train to New York City, where she really becomes an orphan. Sad and alone, little Axie Muldoon will steal your heart as she dreams of reuniting with her brother and sister . She will capture your imagination as she grows into a smart, tough, headstrong and caring , woman, who eventually makes and sells medicine " to help a girl in trouble". Axie becomes a midwife who delivers babies and performs abortions . Even though activities other than to save the life of a mother were illegal, the laws were not enforced for a time. However, trouble for Axie soon begins. This book is just so interesting in it's depiction of New York City during this time period , the Orphan Trains, and the issues surrounding reproductive rights of women . Manning's inspiration for Axie's story is Ann Trow , a physician "who practiced midwifery and was called the "wickedest woman in New York ." I don't know how much of the real Ann Trow is represented in Axie, but Manning has created one of those characters that help me understand just why I love to read. I won't give away Axie's fate , in case someone decides to read this and I hope you do . I will say that she was destined to become an unforgettable character whose wonderful name and story I'll always remember . I just can't give this book anything less than 5 stars .

  4. 4 out of 5

    Barb

    Historical Fiction is my favorite genre and I love reading books set in the 1800s. I was excited to read this story based on the life of Ann Trow Lohman, known as Madame Restell who practiced as a female physician in New York City for forty years. The author thoughtfully illustrates the way women's lives were bound by their fertility before birth control was legal. She gives the protagonist, Axie/Annie Muldoon personal experiences that guide her path in life to becoming a midwife and healer to w Historical Fiction is my favorite genre and I love reading books set in the 1800s. I was excited to read this story based on the life of Ann Trow Lohman, known as Madame Restell who practiced as a female physician in New York City for forty years. The author thoughtfully illustrates the way women's lives were bound by their fertility before birth control was legal. She gives the protagonist, Axie/Annie Muldoon personal experiences that guide her path in life to becoming a midwife and healer to women. She convincingly details the early years of Axie's life and her experiences riding the Orphan Train. The first part of the novel was well written and engaging, the narrator's voice was believable, the characters were well developed and the disappointment and hardships were realistic. Unfortunately the remainder of the novel isn't written with the same attention to detail and the story becomes flat and lags. The narrator begins to repeat herself, she's jealous and can't trust her husband but doesn't offer us many details as to why she feels this way. She also begins to fixate on the loss of her sister and brother which she mentions repeatedly with little if any progression in that story line either. Events in the second half of the book felt manufactured and contrived in order to give us the ending we already know will happen, as it's revealed in the first chapter. I found it a challenge to continue reading this book and repeatedly wished the ending had been written with the same attention to detail as the beginning.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Diane S ☔

    Written in somewhat of a melodramatic fashion and yes sometimes I felt a little too dramatic yet it was impossible for me to not get caught up in Axie's story. For one thing I just love this character's name, Axie Muldoon, just resonated for me for some reason. That this book is loosely built on the real life person of a female medical doctor once considered the Wickedest Women in New York, is a plus because it makes the story so much more genuine. This book contains so much history, and I feel Written in somewhat of a melodramatic fashion and yes sometimes I felt a little too dramatic yet it was impossible for me to not get caught up in Axie's story. For one thing I just love this character's name, Axie Muldoon, just resonated for me for some reason. That this book is loosely built on the real life person of a female medical doctor once considered the Wickedest Women in New York, is a plus because it makes the story so much more genuine. This book contains so much history, and I feel that the author's writing was the strongest in her descriptions of the streets of New York, with so many immigrants and orphans, a street that was filthy and not very friendly too many. The orphan trains and the splitting up of families. A journey through women's contraceptive practices of the day, the beginning trade in medicines, where people were willing to part with their few dollars just on the hope that something would work. The trade of midwife and all it entailed and of course Comstock and his moral crusade to clear out profanity of any kind. Axie is a character that is larger than life at a time when choices for woman were at their lowest. The ending is a little too pat, but I can live with it. I kept thinking what a wonderful mini-series this book would be. Maybe gain a wonderful following like The Midwives and Downton Abbey. Think it would work wonderfully well.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Heather Fineisen

    If you read one book this year, make it this one. Women's reproductive rights. Immigration and the Orphan Train. Characters you won't forget. Well written. Well researched. And a darn good yarn. If you read one book this year, make it this one. Women's reproductive rights. Immigration and the Orphan Train. Characters you won't forget. Well written. Well researched. And a darn good yarn.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Tania

    new York City was the roofless and only domicile of thirty-five thousand children. in our hideous number we scraps was cast outdoors or lost by our parents, we was orphans and half orphans and runaways, the miserable offspring of irish and germans, italians and Russians, servants and slaves, Magdalenes and miscreants, all the unwashed poor huddled slubs who landed yearning and unlucky on the Battery with nothing to own but our muscles and teeth, the hunger of our bellies. 3.5 stars. This was an e new York City was the roofless and only domicile of thirty-five thousand children. in our hideous number we scraps was cast outdoors or lost by our parents, we was orphans and half orphans and runaways, the miserable offspring of irish and germans, italians and Russians, servants and slaves, Magdalenes and miscreants, all the unwashed poor huddled slubs who landed yearning and unlucky on the Battery with nothing to own but our muscles and teeth, the hunger of our bellies. 3.5 stars. This was an easy-reading, interesting story inspired by a real midwife who became one of the most controversial figures in Victorian New York City. I especially loved the first half of the book, it reminded me of Angela's ashes and Gangs of New York. My heart broke for Axie, Dutch and little Joe having to beg for scraps of food, being taken from their mom and then being split up from each other, and handed out like parcels. The second half of the book was very thought-provoking, as I've never thought about life without contraceptives. Imagine a life where you have to give up your children because you can't feed them, just to find yourself pregnant a few months down the line. So even if you are a pro-lifer it's very difficult to condemn Axie, and her patients for making the decisions they did. I really enjoyed Axie's character, she felt very real. A true survivor, with no regard for society's expectations, she is also extremely human with loads of trust issues and an insatiable greed for money (security). My only issues with My Notorious Life was that I thought the second half could have been a bit shorter. I also had problems with *'s being used for the swearwords, for example c**p. I found myself spending a lot of time deciphering these expletives. All in all I'm glad I met Axie and was introduced to this aspect of Victorian life. The Story:Axie Muldoon, the headstrong daughter of Irish immigrants, forced to beg for pennies as a child on the brutal streets on New York City, grows up to become the most successful - and controversial - midwife of her time. When she is taken in by a Manhattan doctor Axie learns the craft that she will live by - and later fight for. She rises from the gutter to the glitter of Fifth Avenue high society, and discovers that the right way is not always the way of the church or the law. As Axie's reputation grows she finds herself on a collision course with the crusading official who would be the righteous instrument of her downfall. It will take all of her power to outwit him and save both herself and those she loves from ruin.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Susan

    I first became aware of author Kate Manning with her excellent 2002 novel Whitegirl, a fictional alternative story based on O.J. Simpson and his former wife, Nicole Brown Simpson. It has been too long since she has written anything new and I was delighted to see that she has now corrected that with this historical work. Again, the story is based on a real person - in this case New York midwife Ann Trow Lohman (1811-1879). Using the form of a newly 'discovered' diary, this book tells the life stor I first became aware of author Kate Manning with her excellent 2002 novel Whitegirl, a fictional alternative story based on O.J. Simpson and his former wife, Nicole Brown Simpson. It has been too long since she has written anything new and I was delighted to see that she has now corrected that with this historical work. Again, the story is based on a real person - in this case New York midwife Ann Trow Lohman (1811-1879). Using the form of a newly 'discovered' diary, this book tells the life story of Axie (Annie) Muldoon, a street urchin who is taken from her poverty stricken and injured mother and put on an orphan train to Illinois along with her brother and sister. Against her wishes, the family are split up and, as nobody wants to keep the difficult and agressive Axie, she returns to New York along with Charlie - another unwanted child. Eventually, after many trials and tribulations, Axie is taken on as a maid to Mrs Evans and, later, as her assistant. For Mrs Evans is a midwife and there are many women in New York who have need of her services. Axie eventually becomes the Notorious Madame X - successful and wealthy beyond her wildest dreams, but her wealth is made from scandalous means. For many are threatened by her success and her means of obtaining it. While women fear childbirth and pregnancy, her services are seen as a danger to society. Having made it to the top, there are those that intend to bring her down. Can Axie save herself and, more than that, can she learn to trust those who want to help her? This is a really great read. It has a fantastic central character in the redoubtable Axie Muldoon and the author does a wonderful job of recreating both the era and the danger of childbirth at that time. You really wish Axie to succeed and will cheer her through her desperate childhood, her rise and possible fall. If you are looking for a book with substance, thrills and a really romping story, then look no further. I have to admit that I feared Ms Manning may had lost her touch after such a long time between books, but I am happy to say that is not the case. A brilliant story and it is well worth searching out her first novel too - perhaps it is too much to hope that it will be republished on kindle along with this new novel, which is sure to be a success? I hope so and, to the author, I trust she will not leave us waiting so long again for her next book.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Megan Brain

    My Notorious Life By Madame X by Kate Manning is my favorite book of the year so far. Based loosely on the story of a midwife who lived in the late 1800's it demonstrates some of the issues faced by women at the time and some of societies opinions on "Women's business." The book starts off by introducing Axie Muldoon, the main character and her siblings, while they are out scavenging for food they meet a man who offers to help them. They accept his offer of food and are happy with his kindness a My Notorious Life By Madame X by Kate Manning is my favorite book of the year so far. Based loosely on the story of a midwife who lived in the late 1800's it demonstrates some of the issues faced by women at the time and some of societies opinions on "Women's business." The book starts off by introducing Axie Muldoon, the main character and her siblings, while they are out scavenging for food they meet a man who offers to help them. They accept his offer of food and are happy with his kindness and generosity, it is only later that Axie will look back on this moment as being a major turning point in her life. The children take this man back home to their mother who is severely ill and has lost the use of one arm after an incident at work. When the man see's the state of their living conditions he offers to take Mrs Muldoon to the hospital to see a doctor and tells her he will organize for the children to be taken to lovely homes in the country to be cared for while she gets better. After dropping her off he takes all the children to an orphanage, this is the start of a very different life for Azie who is used to caring for her siblings and family. After a series of events Axie meets a Doctor and his wife who is a midwife, they offer to let her move in to their home and give her work helping the maid with her daily duties. After awhile of Axie working and living in this house she is asked to help with sorting the medical equipment and medicine, which is how she is introduced to the world of midwifery and medicine. Soon she is helping the doctors wife with delivering babies and tending to patients, it is during this time she learns the art she will later practice, it is this art that made Axie a wealthy and powerful woman and it is also this that destroys her and her reputation in the end. This is a gripping and powerful story that is very well written, I highly recommend reading My Notorious life to anyone looking for a great read. The historical parts of the story are accurately depicted and told in such a way you feel like you are there in the 1880's. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Lori

    What an amazing story!!! As I read a novel like this, I am continuously reminded of how thankful I am for the rights that women now have!!! Even today, these issues still cause a lot of controversy... Manning does a wonderful job, through Axie's voice, of putting a face to the issues of birth control and I feel that regardless of your views it's impossible not to empathize with the difficult plight of these women!!! What an amazing story!!! As I read a novel like this, I am continuously reminded of how thankful I am for the rights that women now have!!! Even today, these issues still cause a lot of controversy... Manning does a wonderful job, through Axie's voice, of putting a face to the issues of birth control and I feel that regardless of your views it's impossible not to empathize with the difficult plight of these women!!!

  11. 5 out of 5

    Martha

    I have to say this is one of those rare books that has it all: an amazing story, historic detail that is well integrated into the telling of it, a narrator you can't help but empathize with, and circumstances that raise some age old questions and debate about women's reproductive rights. Kate Manning is a clever author. As Axie Muldoon tells her story she drops some tantalizing hints about what is to come, sometimes only the slimmest of observations or a thought that promises a significant insi I have to say this is one of those rare books that has it all: an amazing story, historic detail that is well integrated into the telling of it, a narrator you can't help but empathize with, and circumstances that raise some age old questions and debate about women's reproductive rights. Kate Manning is a clever author. As Axie Muldoon tells her story she drops some tantalizing hints about what is to come, sometimes only the slimmest of observations or a thought that promises a significant insight into future relationships or occurrences, but, like a clever gossip who keeps you hanging, enough to make you want to read on and find out where she is leading. She is a lively, intelligent woman who can't help but tell it the way she sees it and some of her descriptions of the people she meets and deals with (especially those she dislikes and often invoking animals) are about as funny as any I've ever heard before. I thought at first I would not be able to deal with the dialect, but as Axie ages and she is coached by various better educated people in her life and rises in society, the dialect becomes diluted and her narration smooths out, until Axie herself has only a charming hiccup of poor grammar. The change is subtle and believable. It also allows the story to flow. I couldn't put this book down and wished for more as Axie's story ended.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Hannah

    Well, this was a surprise. I won it in a first reads giveaway. I expected this to be about a prostitute in Victorian times and was more than pleasantly surprised that it's a completely different subject matter. That element of surprise is fantastic and it's actually a far more interesting and intriguing read because of the profession that Madame X is involved in :) This is a real page turner, fairly easy read that doesn't feel at all like a slog. Often, books this long can feel a bit of a drag but Well, this was a surprise. I won it in a first reads giveaway. I expected this to be about a prostitute in Victorian times and was more than pleasantly surprised that it's a completely different subject matter. That element of surprise is fantastic and it's actually a far more interesting and intriguing read because of the profession that Madame X is involved in :) This is a real page turner, fairly easy read that doesn't feel at all like a slog. Often, books this long can feel a bit of a drag but this is perfectly timed and very, very well written. I love diary style books that ignore the correct grammar rules. They offer a lot of intrigue and give the protagonist much more character. I don't like to give away any plot lines in reviews as I am a real spoiler hater, but this is full of surprises and Axie is an unbelievable character. She's written so perfectly. I was hooked at the first chapter and stayed hooked throughout. Well worth a read, I would recommend it to anybody especially those with any kind of an interest in history. Fabulous!

  13. 4 out of 5

    Tracy

    This was far better than I expected! It consumed me from the first page to be honest. I was rapidly pulled into the life of Axie Muldoon and all of her travails and challenges! It's a very nice piece of historical fiction and gives you an interesting look at all levels of society in late 1800s NYC. You learn about the slums, the upper class, orphan trains, doctors, women's rights, etc. I found it very fascinating. Highly recommended! This was far better than I expected! It consumed me from the first page to be honest. I was rapidly pulled into the life of Axie Muldoon and all of her travails and challenges! It's a very nice piece of historical fiction and gives you an interesting look at all levels of society in late 1800s NYC. You learn about the slums, the upper class, orphan trains, doctors, women's rights, etc. I found it very fascinating. Highly recommended!

  14. 5 out of 5

    Alicia

    Once I got past the style of writing, it was a really quite enjoyable! A big eye opener to the way things were done back in the day... women's rights, birthing rights, women's health care... The feminist in me really came out :) Also, I loved the cover and the print on the inside of the cover!! Once I got past the style of writing, it was a really quite enjoyable! A big eye opener to the way things were done back in the day... women's rights, birthing rights, women's health care... The feminist in me really came out :) Also, I loved the cover and the print on the inside of the cover!!

  15. 5 out of 5

    Connie Mayo

    This was a book I thought I would love, but I didn't - in fact, I am quitting on page 307 out of 434. And it puzzles me a bit why this book bugs me so much. The subject matter is extremely interesting, and I love reading about this era. But it grated on me. One thing that bothered me is the voice of the narrator Axie - it's filled with "they was there" and "he didn't give me none" kind of grammar, and yet later in her adult life she converses competently with educated folk. So why is she telling This was a book I thought I would love, but I didn't - in fact, I am quitting on page 307 out of 434. And it puzzles me a bit why this book bugs me so much. The subject matter is extremely interesting, and I love reading about this era. But it grated on me. One thing that bothered me is the voice of the narrator Axie - it's filled with "they was there" and "he didn't give me none" kind of grammar, and yet later in her adult life she converses competently with educated folk. So why is she telling her history in the language she used as a child when she knows better now? Also, her demeanor ... I just found her not entirely believable or perhaps it was that she was not consistently drawn. Sometimes she's tough as nails and other times she is tenderly administering to a woman with a fever, and I had trouble reconciling these kind of extremes somehow. And there is just something so black-or-white about the men trying to put her out of business, sometimes just to sell newspapers - they are such villains and she is such the hero, there just isn't any nuance to it. I guess I like my characters flawed and struggling internally, and it seemed that Axie is so sure she has done nothing wrong and the bad guys seem so awful and without redeeming qualities. It was flat for me.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Donna

    I loved, loved, loved the writing in this book. It was so warm, creative and vivid. The characters and the surroundings sprang forth from the pages in splendid color. I even found myself laughing out loud. The main character was portrayed in such depth, from her dreams to her fears, from her wants to her needs. She whined a lot though, but with good reason. And I loved Charlie. He was perfect for Axie. The story was uniquely creative, as well. Even though this story takes place in the mid 1800’s I loved, loved, loved the writing in this book. It was so warm, creative and vivid. The characters and the surroundings sprang forth from the pages in splendid color. I even found myself laughing out loud. The main character was portrayed in such depth, from her dreams to her fears, from her wants to her needs. She whined a lot though, but with good reason. And I loved Charlie. He was perfect for Axie. The story was uniquely creative, as well. Even though this story takes place in the mid 1800’s, the topic is as controversial today as it was back then. The author painted a heart breaking picture of the life of women during that time. It seemed like such a sad plight. Their load seemed weary and heavy to bear, with the added weight of the stigma of abortion, a lack of medical care for women, unwanted pregnancies and no contraception. The author shed light on the plight of these women. The nature of some of these problems seemed to transcend class. But when it came to proper medical attention, it seemed worse if you were poor. Overall, this was thought provoking. Not in determining what side I am on, but simply that there are two sides and reasons for both, which always seem to result in heated arguments, even today.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Lynn

    Axie Muldoon is an New York Irish gutter snipe. She is taken from her destitute mother and shipped off on the Orphan Train to Chicago. She and her two younger siblings are separated and Axie vows to reunite them as their mother has since died. Axie works as a house maid for a midwife who also does a procedure to remove unwanted female obstructions (i.e.-abortions). She learns both trades and goes on to be very successful. The book is vibrant, charming, plucky, and is full of twists and turns and Axie Muldoon is an New York Irish gutter snipe. She is taken from her destitute mother and shipped off on the Orphan Train to Chicago. She and her two younger siblings are separated and Axie vows to reunite them as their mother has since died. Axie works as a house maid for a midwife who also does a procedure to remove unwanted female obstructions (i.e.-abortions). She learns both trades and goes on to be very successful. The book is vibrant, charming, plucky, and is full of twists and turns and multiple story lines. Axie marries, has a baby, reunites with family, becomes rich and uses her talents to help the suffering of worn out, poor, misfortunate women with no where else to turn. She also delivers hundreds of babies and saves many a woman from childbirth death. Due to the misplaced zeal of white "Christian" men (sound familiar) she is put out of business and jailed for her surgical crimes. I will let you discover what becomes of her for yourself. I found this read particularly salient given that a woman's right to chose and control her own fertility is being threatened 150 years since the above story (which is based on a real midwife). Scary times.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Linda

    The descriptive writing in this book is a time traveling machine. I was instantly transported to late 19th century New York. The book comes on strong right "outta da'box." If one wants to visit a time when women and children were at the complete mercy of society, lived without civil rights, labor rights, and reproductive rights, this book will give you an education by way of living it for yourself. This book is an exquisite page turner, full of surprises, tears, laughter, sarcasm and wit. The ma The descriptive writing in this book is a time traveling machine. I was instantly transported to late 19th century New York. The book comes on strong right "outta da'box." If one wants to visit a time when women and children were at the complete mercy of society, lived without civil rights, labor rights, and reproductive rights, this book will give you an education by way of living it for yourself. This book is an exquisite page turner, full of surprises, tears, laughter, sarcasm and wit. The main character, "Axie Muldoon" is passionate, strong willed, rebellious and sees the injustice of her life coming at her like a runaway freight train. "Axie," represents strong-willed women everywhere who are willing to pay the price of their convictions to ensure a better life for women and children.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Karen

    Excellent historical fiction about a midwife in the mid 1800's in NYC. Listened to an audio of the book, kept me interested the entire time... Excellent historical fiction about a midwife in the mid 1800's in NYC. Listened to an audio of the book, kept me interested the entire time...

  20. 5 out of 5

    Libby

    Extraordinary story based on the life of Ann Trow Lohman, better known as Madame Restell, a female physician (without official medical training) who delivered babies and assisted women with abortions and other feminine troubles. I gather that it is loosely based on Lohman's life from a question and answer series with author Kate Manning at the back of the book. Lohman lived from 1812 to 1878 whereas our story opens in 1860 with protagonist Axie Muldoon, age 12, on the streets of New York City l Extraordinary story based on the life of Ann Trow Lohman, better known as Madame Restell, a female physician (without official medical training) who delivered babies and assisted women with abortions and other feminine troubles. I gather that it is loosely based on Lohman's life from a question and answer series with author Kate Manning at the back of the book. Lohman lived from 1812 to 1878 whereas our story opens in 1860 with protagonist Axie Muldoon, age 12, on the streets of New York City living In a very impoverished situation. Her father has died and her mother has gotten her arm mangled in a machine. Although based on Lohman, Axie Muldoon's life takes on its own particular rhythm and under Manning's authorship she becomes a likable and engaging character. Reading about Madame Restell and her husband, Charles Lohman online, I'm not sure I would have found them likeable people. The streets of New York during the time of this story, are teaming with urchins begging and stealing what they can to survive. Axie and her siblings are no exception when Reverend Charles Brace runs across them. Brace is an actual historical figure who started the orphan train and founded The Children's Aid Society. Well, it isn't long before Axie and siblings are on the train headed west. Manning is able to draw the reader into the story with her descriptive narrative and rich portrayals of historical details. Women are very marginalized with very little say in deciding when and how many children they will have. Contraception is available, but not readily. Both my grandmothers had large families, one of them 12 children, the other 10. The one that had 12 children died at age 58 after several years of ill health. The number of children she had and her health during those pregnancies led to her early decline. The other one breastfed her children a long time in order to better stave off another pregnancy. It was hard times with so many mouths to feed. Both sets of grandparents were farm folk. I wonder how they would have fared in a big city like New York or Chicago. The hardships that Axie faces growing up rings true. There are many issues to consider in 'my Notorious Life.' I certainly like the idea of contraception so that women aren't faced with either an unwanted pregnancy nor an abortion. Axie's teacher, Mrs. Evans warns Axie about the complexities of life, and this story is full of them.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Jenny

    “When I look back on my childhood I wonder how I survived at all. It was, of course, a miserable childhood: the happy childhood is hardly worth your while. Worse than the ordinary miserable childhood is the miserable Irish childhood, and worse yet is the miserable Irish Catholic childhood.” -Frank McCourt, Angela's Ashes This quote is true for Axie Muldoon, the hardscrabble heroine of My Notorious Life. An Orphan Train reject, Axie returns home heartbroken, only to watch her mother die in childbi “When I look back on my childhood I wonder how I survived at all. It was, of course, a miserable childhood: the happy childhood is hardly worth your while. Worse than the ordinary miserable childhood is the miserable Irish childhood, and worse yet is the miserable Irish Catholic childhood.” -Frank McCourt, Angela's Ashes This quote is true for Axie Muldoon, the hardscrabble heroine of My Notorious Life. An Orphan Train reject, Axie returns home heartbroken, only to watch her mother die in childbirth when an ignorant neighbor causes a hemorrhage. It is this early experience, her poverty, and Axie's own independent nature that eventually lead to her rise as New York's leading expert on "women's maladies". Never mind that dispensing such advise was illegal at the time. But the police have better things to do than prosecute, until a male doctor and his sanctimonious holier-than-thou friend cross Axie's path. The fact is, she can never deny her services to a woman in need, even if she recognizes at the time that trouble may be knocking at her door. And it takes her more than once to learn that to ensure her family's privacy and livelihood, she may have to journey away from her country and her identity. This book was an interesting read, but seemed a bit longer than necessary in parts and occasionally seems repetitive. A good addition to the available opinions on a hot button subject, this novel brings in history that often is ignored. It is obvious that it will not be popular with the pro-lifers. (Readers who enjoy this may enjoy Angela's Ashes, When She Woke, Cider House Rules, and The Story of Jane)

  22. 4 out of 5

    Amelia Gremelspacher

    The narrator of this book is a plucky girl from the tenements who refuses to allow her status to determine her whole life. I must be getting cranky, because honestly the plot line made me sigh at first. Lately it seems that a number of women in literature have beaten the odds in old New York. I even checked the publishing date to make sure I haven't read it. Nonetheless, I was quickly engaged in the story of Ann/Axey. Her character is as ready to criticize her own behavior as she is to complain The narrator of this book is a plucky girl from the tenements who refuses to allow her status to determine her whole life. I must be getting cranky, because honestly the plot line made me sigh at first. Lately it seems that a number of women in literature have beaten the odds in old New York. I even checked the publishing date to make sure I haven't read it. Nonetheless, I was quickly engaged in the story of Ann/Axey. Her character is as ready to criticize her own behavior as she is to complain about other people. The author uses a quirky way to portray this character that sets her aside from other heroines in the historical fiction genre. I also appreciate the self deprecating wit and sense of humor. The book takes place during the Civil War and encompasses several of the prominent social movements of that time. She and her siblings had been taken off the streets in the great Orphan Train movement in which children were sent to live in Midwest homes to a greater or lesser good. The Civil War and its furor raged outside the city, but the draft riots engufed the streets. Women were just on the cusp of some small independence, and Ann takes advantage of this small chink in prospects. Based on the true story of an infamous midwife, this book addresses the very difficult issues of birth and contraception that have yet to be resolved in our own time. Watching the the birth of new technology and medical knowledge brings the discussion into a different light that I find useful. So in the end, I was surprised to really enjoy this book, and I find that it stands out from many books of this type.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Barb

    I was recently in Town Hall in New York City, a theater created for The League for Politcal Education in 1921. I saw a plaque showing Margaret Sanger's arrest from the stage where she was speaking about birth control. An advocate of woman's rights, she founded the American Birth Control League (now known as Planned Parenthood). With this heroine in mind, I was lucky to read Kate Manning's wonderful novel, based on a true turn of the century character of an earlier advocate for women's' reproduct I was recently in Town Hall in New York City, a theater created for The League for Politcal Education in 1921. I saw a plaque showing Margaret Sanger's arrest from the stage where she was speaking about birth control. An advocate of woman's rights, she founded the American Birth Control League (now known as Planned Parenthood). With this heroine in mind, I was lucky to read Kate Manning's wonderful novel, based on a true turn of the century character of an earlier advocate for women's' reproductive rights and the desperate situations women found themselves in at the time. Set mostly in New York City, this novel seems well researched and carefully crafted. The characters (some historical figures included) are carefully developed and hold your interest regarding their fate. This is a wonderful book, for women young and old, for those who enjoy historical fiction and those who lean a bit to the left. Religious conservatives would not approve. We've come a long way, but t is a shame that many of the arguments still exist over one hundred years later.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Carie

    This by far is the best book I have read in 2015. If you loved The Orphan Train and All the Light We Can Not See, then you will enjoy this book. I feel the writing is as beautiful as in All The Light We Can Not See and has a similar plot line to The Orphan Train. Be warned that the book does focus on a controversial subject (might be a spoiler, so I will not share). Such a wonderful book that I highly recommend all to read!!!

  25. 4 out of 5

    ♫~Sapfo~♫

    Despite the fact that this was a very sad and tragic read at times, I loved it. I loved Axie Muldoon! She was a very strong and courageous woman. This novel was loosely based on the true story of Ann Trow Lohman, also known as Madame Restell, midwife and abortionist. The story covers a period in history where womens rights were non-existent. Highly recommended to lovers of historical fiction.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Jennifer

    I enjoyed the basic plot of this book, but all the literary artifaces of the author were annoying and distracting, from the attempt to write in a working class Irish voice, the ** between all the swear words and the endless newspaper articles and advertisements. They really got in the way of an otherwise interesting story.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Phyllis

    I love how this story is told by the author. You can almost hear the Irish accent of Axie Muldoon. Although this is historical fiction, it is loosely based on the life of Ann Trow Lohman, a midwife in 19th century New York City. I would love to see this as a mini series.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Holly Weiss

    Similar subject matter as The Gilded Hour by Sara Donati, but with a central figure I don't think I will forget. Similar subject matter as The Gilded Hour by Sara Donati, but with a central figure I don't think I will forget.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Ron Charles

    Even if you’re solidly pro-choice, a novel celebrating abortion rights sounds about as appealing as reading every bumper sticker in the parking lot at a NARAL convention. Which makes the success of “My Notorious Life” all the more remarkable. While dramatizing one of the most contentious abortion debates in American history, Kate Manning lays out the gray moral landscape where physical imperatives still battle with conscience. Manning’s novel is loosely based on the life of a 19th-century midwife Even if you’re solidly pro-choice, a novel celebrating abortion rights sounds about as appealing as reading every bumper sticker in the parking lot at a NARAL convention. Which makes the success of “My Notorious Life” all the more remarkable. While dramatizing one of the most contentious abortion debates in American history, Kate Manning lays out the gray moral landscape where physical imperatives still battle with conscience. Manning’s novel is loosely based on the life of a 19th-century midwife in New York named Ann Lohman. After arriving from England in the 1830s, Lohman — eventually known as “Madame Restell” — began selling women’s medicines and performing abortions. Though largely unremembered today, the story of her career and trial is another one of those sensational tales carelessly misplaced in the attic of our historical memory. As Manning freely admits, she’s taken a number of creative liberties with the details of Lohman’s biography, including changing her name to Axie Muldoon. “My Notorious Life” comes to us as a memoir long suppressed by the descendants of this “scandalous American character.” The novel’s most fanciful invention comes right at the opening. While the prosecution of the actual Madame Restell was halted by her suicide in 1878, in this colorful re-imagining Axie fakes her death by substituting the body of one of her patients. Vanishing behind a new identity, she sets down this “true history” in an Irish brogue that’s alternately sentimental and furious. The result is a Victorian melodrama that races along the back alleys and posh avenues of Manhattan for more than 400 pages. The fundamental fact of mid-19th-century life that Manning impresses upon us is the ready possibility of starvation. It circumscribed women’s lives and influenced their behavior in ways utterly foreign to us today. During Axie’s Dickensian childhood in New York City, 35,000 homeless kids compete for food by begging, stealing and prostituting themselves. Babies are abandoned like unwanted kittens; half die in foundling hospitals before their first birthday. People who can’t work freeze to death or starve. When Axie’s mother gets her arm caught in a laundry mangle, the family’s prospects slip on that gory accident toward certain ruin. Here is America unburdened by all those onerous regulations and entitlement programs that sap initiative in today’s economy. Manning takes her time getting to the legal confrontation that eventually dominates the novel, but she uses these early chapters to portray the traumas that will help us understand what motivates Axie later in life. Again and again, the girl sees that women bear the burden of men’s sexual desire; there is no choice, no freedom, no escape from grievous risk. To be female is to get pregnant, and yet the costs of that unavoidable condition are determined entirely by men, who maintain the rigid fiction of women’s moral duty to be chaste. This lesson is taught in blood at the home of Dr. and Mrs. Evans, two elderly quacks who take in Axie as a servant girl. Aside from her sharp eye for the details of domestic life in the city, Manning is also particularly good at capturing the transitional state of medical care when new biological insights were still being ground up with folk cures in the crucible of science. Reliable diagnosis of gynecological conditions was decades away, clouded by wacky ideas about the humors, the magnetic fluids and the risks of female intellectual exertion. (It’s funny to see that when Axie sneaks into her employers’ dusty medical library, she finds what all of us still discover when we type our vague symptoms into Google: You have a rare condition and will die in horrible pain.) Fortunately, despite how little they know, the Evanses are among the more enlightened practitioners in town. From them, Axie learns that a pregnant woman’s body is “a miraculous machine,” not “a maladie to be relieved by a doctor.” Determined to figure out the source of her mother’s obstetrical misery, she pays special attention to the Evanses’ practice and eventually develops the skills to set up her own office. Manning isn’t the first to point out that the history of medical science is infected by virulent strains of misogyny, but “My Notorious Life” presents a dramatic demonstration of what women faced as they tried to learn about their own bodies and take control of their health. At first, Axie provides simple advice and midwifery care, but soon, desperate women of all classes are begging her for relief from pregnancies that will ruin their reputations, cast them into poverty or even kill them. Slowly, tentatively, compassionately, Axie begins to help. These were, as Manning graphically illustrates, desperate times. Given the mechanics of 19th-century prophylactics, it’s hard to believe anybody could ever get in the mood, but the “newfangled rubber pessaries” were apparently better than serial pregnancies. Axie advertises her “Lunar Remedy for Relief of Obstruction” in the highly euphemistic terms of the day, and there’s particularly high demand for her explanatory pamphlets. Her business flourishes under the benign neglect of policemen and legislators who grow queasy at the idea of women’s insides. There’s no ignoring the strong pro-choice theme of this story, but Manning’s descriptions of abortions performed without anesthetics — “like cleaning the guts of a pumpkin” — are almost too painful to read. Her point, after all, is not the virtue of abortion, but its inevitability and the tragedy of denying that fact. Axie’s teacher tells her solemnly: “The soul of a midwife is a broad soul and a gentle soul, and she delivers the greatest blessing the Lord bestows on us poor creatures. But, a midwife must also keep comfortable with the complexities. What I call the lesser evil.” Then as now, staying “comfortable with the complexities” is difficult when this most personal decision is thrust by loud, obnoxious men into the public arena. As the second half of “My Notorious Life” plays out, Axie finds herself dogged by yellow journalists and eventually by that towering, pre-satirized defender of American purity, Anthony Comstock. At 250 priggish pounds, he’s the perfect archenemy to keep Axie’s fiery story burning right to the end. Polemic novels usually suffer from deadening preachiness, but Manning is writing in the venerable tradition of Stephen Crane and Frank Norris. Unburdened by our contemporary obsession with stylistic sophistication and ambiguous irony, those social reformers knew that a powerful tale with memorable characters could draw us into the heat of social debates like nothing else. This year, when asked whether Roe v. Wade should be overturned, a record-high 18 percent of Americans said they were “unsure.” Axie Muldoon has a story to tell you.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Shelleyrae at Book'd Out

    A compelling and provocative tale, author Kate Manning blends history and imagination to create a wonderfully rich portrait of an extraordinary character. My Notorious Life is loosely based on the history of 19th-century New York midwife and abortionist Ann Trow Lohman, better known as Madame Restell. The narrative of this tale is in the first person point of view and takes the form of a journal, chronicling the life of Axie (Ann) Muldoon. It begins with thirteen year old Axie begging with her y A compelling and provocative tale, author Kate Manning blends history and imagination to create a wonderfully rich portrait of an extraordinary character. My Notorious Life is loosely based on the history of 19th-century New York midwife and abortionist Ann Trow Lohman, better known as Madame Restell. The narrative of this tale is in the first person point of view and takes the form of a journal, chronicling the life of Axie (Ann) Muldoon. It begins with thirteen year old Axie begging with her younger siblings, sister Dutchie and brother Joe, on the streets of New York and follows her rising and falling fortunes after being separated from her family and eventually apprenticed to Mrs Evans, a Manhattan midwife who also treats 'womens troubles'. Reunited with fellow street urchin turned print setter and aspiring journalist, Charlie G Jones, whom she marries, the death of Mrs Evans and the couple's poverty inspires Axie to manufacture and sell medicinal aids for female complaints, a business that soon expands to include advising women on matters such as contraception, and offering both midwifery care and early term abortions for those desperate enough to seek them. Axie is a character who will get under your skin. Feisty, loyal, compassionate and brave, she is an uncommon woman for the times. Manning develops her beautifully from an orphaned 13 year old street rat to a wealthy wife, mother and midwife. Her journey from 'rags to riches' is remarkable but the fine clothes and fancy decor doesn't changes who she is, despite the veneer of wealth. For Axie, whose own mother died from childbirth fever, abortion was a practice that she honoured despite its unpleasantness. I found Axie's initial ambivalence interesting, while she understood the desperation of women worn out by childbirth, girls taken advantage of by their 'guardians', women seduced by the sweet nothings whispered by those they loved, it took her some time to recognise the value of the service she provided. The social portrait of 18th century America is brilliantly drawn. The disparity in class, economic and educational opportunities, the lack of social welfare and the unfettered misogyny of religion, politics and government. Central to My Notorious Life however are the issues that women faced as marginalised members of society with few rights. With the distinct lack of contraceptive options in the late 19th century women had little control over their fertility. For wives who were unable to refuse sex with their husbands, multiple pregnancies increased the already high risk of death in childbirth or other crippling complications. Women were also particularly vulnerable to sexual exploitation and assault, and as men abdicated any responsibility with impunity, once impregnated they were ostracised by society. As such, women relied on abortion to terminate unwanted pregnancies and at the time it was a accepted practice, though not openly discussed. Home remedies such as gin and hot bath, concoctions with dubious medicinal qualities such as the type Axie sells after leaving the Evans were tried while others sought out a sympathetic midwife for a abortion. The procedure, as long as it was performed before the 'quickening' was not made illegal until Comstock began his moral crusade, backed by (male) doctors who were determined to wrest control of obstetric practices away from midwives. While My Notorious Life explores the history of social and health issues it is foremost a remarkable and compelling story that I could not put down. I found it fascinating, thought provoking and thoroughly entertaining and I offer it my highest recommendation.

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