Susan J. (Twain Harte, CA)
I missed the "humor and warmth"
I was surprised to read that the author has a daughter like Freya. She describes Anna's and Tobias's behaviors as "outrageous"; I found them to be immature, impulsive, irresponsible. Anna is described as a planner; I would say she's a dreamer. Moving away from her support system with a severely disabled newborn, buying a disaster of a property, hoping to open a restaurant or cooking school, expecting her partner to become what he is not…all examples of her poor judgment. Yes, their world was turned upside down by Freya's birth, but their responses were frustrating to me. I did enjoy the setting of the book, the descriptions of the area, the hostile weather and terrain, and the interesting local characters, but my lack of sympathy for the main characters overrode my enjoyment of the story and the setting. And I kept wanting to know why they didn't get a cat in the first place!
Erin J. (Milwaukie, OR)
Emotionally heavy subject matter
I received this as an Advance Reader's Copy (ARC) from Bookbrowse.com, and when I started reading it, I questioned my sanity in requesting it in the first place. Not because it's a terrible book--it's not. Rather, because a woman in her late 30s, six months pregnant for the first time with a much-anticipated daughter should probably not read a story about a woman in her late 30s who just gave birth for the first time to Freya, an unexpectedly severely handicapped baby girl. Anna's despair, frustration, and need to control something - anything - in her out-of-control life rang out so strongly, I had a hard time disengaging my own emotions from hers.
Anna's husband shirks responsibility and provides virtually no support - emotionally, financially, or practically. I kept wondering why she stayed with him. She supposedly loved him very much, but I really didn't see why. He ignores her for most of the book and spends most of his time shutting out the world while he works on composing movie music and flirting with Lizzy, the flibbertigibbet teenager they pay to help take care of Freya...which she never actually does.
Anna becomes increasingly short-tempered and shrewish as the book progresses and her exhaustion (mental and physical) mounts, which is certainly a realistic reaction to her situation. I didn't always like Anna, but I also could empathize with how she was feeling, and I certainly don't claim I'd react any better were I in her shoes. How does one cope with the collapse of one's dreams of parenthood? How do you face a lifetime caring for a child whose brain never fully developed and who has constant seizures, a lack of muscle control, and will only ever be, in essence, a gigantic infant, no matter how long she lives, never capable of caring for her own most basic needs.
For readers' advisers: character doorway is primary, setting (they move from England to a village in France) is secondary. To me the tone of the book was...heavy and frequently depressing. The secondary characters are quite well-developed, and the mystery of their neighbor's mother's death during WWII was intriguing. I think this would make an excellent choice for an adult book discussion group.
Iris F. (West Bloomfield, MI)
The Mouse-Proof Kitchen
This book begins with the birth of Freya, a profoundly disabled baby whose parents, Anna and Tobias, have very different views of how they wish to handle the future of their child, I could empathize with both. I thought that this would develop into an emotional read that examined these difficult moral decisions. The storyline was diverted by their move from London to a French village into a home that was Anna's dream. This home presented problem after problem and while Anna was responsible, Tobias was a complete slacker. The people of the village were charming and interesting and this could have been developed into a simple little novel on its own. Though Freya was briefly mentioned throughout, this storyline was not given the importance I was expecting until the very end. The author tried to tie everything into a neat bundle in which she used Anna's relationship to Freya and her own mother, as well as Lizzie's relationship to her mother to define motherhood. It seemed like this was thrown in at the last minute. I felt that there were two different stories here: the story of Freya, and the story of the people of the village. Not enough was done with either. I also felt that in concluding the way she did she put a happily ever after ending on a situation that in reality would never have a fairy tale ending.
Lynne B. (South Lake Tahoe, CA)
Mouse-Proofing the Kitchen: One of Life's Small Problems
Reading this engrossing story put me on a roller coaster of emotions. A young couple, Tobias and Anna, are preparing for the birth of their first child when suddenly their lives turn into a whirlwind of drama, emotion and adventure relayed month by month over the first year of their new daughter's life. Both Tobias and Anna search for a way to 'escape' the emotional burden of caring for their severely disabled but "perfect" daughter. They struggle with a fear of loving her and losing her. The move to France to take on the renovation of a dilapidated estate begins the adventure and the many delightful characters that come into their lives during that year in France add great depth to the story. I found I could not put down the book as I was caught up in their quest for providing care for this child and still finding some way to develop some normalcy in their lives and survive. The touching scenes between parent and child in so many situations will stay with me for a long time. Their final decision is a testament to the power of love which in this case was able to surmount many difficulties. Beware that their kitchen needed a lot more than mouse-proofing.
Diane D. (South Portland, ME)
A Heart-warming Tale.....
Although The Mouse Proof Kitchen starts out slow, by halfway through you can't put it down. Shah has a way with characters that endears them to you with their quirky ways. You can picture this town she writes about and all the characters within. Shah writes insightfully about babies with disabilities, every word rings true. I thoroughly enjoyed this story!
Diana J. (Highland Falls, NY)
Uncertain about how I'd like this book
But, I ended up enjoying it. It was interesting that the diagnosis of Freya, the baby in the book, is the same diagnosis of the author's own baby girl. According to the afterward, this is the only similarity. It was an unusual premise, but probably more true to life than would appear, that the entire book revolves around Freya's birth, the defect of the baby, and how everyone reacts to it. The interplay between the parents as they grow to love the baby, is interesting as well. In general, I enjoyed it, and also enjoyed the character development of Anna's mother, as she also grows to love the baby. The characters in the village where the two protagonists buy the farmhouse, are also fun. All in all, it was a slightly uncomfortable, at first, premise, but it grows on you
Nancy L. (Zephyrhills, FL)
"The Mouse-Proof Kitchen" by Saira Shah is a book with a split personality. On the one hand is a gripping story of how the birth of a severely disabled child affects a marriage as well as family relations and personal friendships. The other hand holds a very different story. Think "A Year in Provence" type tale where a young couple buys a big old run-down house on the top of a hill and seeks to convert it to a restaurant and/or cooking school. As individual plots, these two stories would work quite well. Combined, they require a suspension of belief on the reader's part. What young parents, faced with a newborn who is critically ill, sell everything they own, leave behind work, friends, and their entire support systems and move to a far distant peak in another country, to a rattle-trap building with no heat or running water and where the nearest health care is two hours away? Add to this mix a rather strange mother who telephones at all hours with bizarre requests of her daughter, a mentally ill young woman who is squatting on their land in an outbuilding, and a supporting cast of odd and unusual town residents. My attention was continually bouncing from one plot line to the other. It was an interesting read.