Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Book Review: "The Reluctant Midwife" by Patricia Harman

The Reluctant Midwife Patricia Harman
Published: March 3, 2015
ISBN: 9780062358240
Genre: Historical Fiction
Source: TLC Book Tours
Highly Recommended

The Great Depression has hit West Virginia hard. Men are out of work; women struggle to feed hungry children. Luckily, Nurse Becky Myers has returned to care for them. While she can handle most situations, Becky is still uneasy helping women deliver their babies. For these mothers-to-be, she relies on an experienced midwife, her dear friend Patience Murphy. 

Though she is happy to be back in Hope River, time and experience have tempered Becky’s cheerfulness-as tragedy has destroyed the vibrant spirit of her former employer Dr Isaac Blum, who has accompanied her. Patience too has changed. Married and expecting a baby herself, she is relying on Becky to keep the mothers of Hope River safe. 

But becoming a midwife and ushering precious new life into the world is not Becky’s only challenge. Her skills and courage will be tested when a calamitous forest fire blazes through a Civilian Conservation Corps camp. And she must find a way to bring Isaac back to life and rediscover the hope they both need to go on.

My Thoughts:
When I agreed to review this book, I realized that I should probably read the first book, The Midwife of Hope River, first.  I'm normally one of those readers who just can't jump into a series mid-stream and starting with The Reluctant Midwife just didn't sit well with me.

So, before I go any further with this review, I do feel I should address the "sequel" aspect of this book.  Yes, The Reluctant Midwife is the second book in the series and, in many ways, it feels like a second book.  However, the two books are very different.  The first installment addresses several issues of the time and delves deeply into midwifery.  This book, however, addresses far fewer issues--it mostly focuses on the Great Depression--and deals more with general nursing than with midwifery.

Speaking for myself, I'm glad I read The Midwife of Hope River first.  However, I don't think that is absolutely necessary.  If someone were to read only The Reluctant Midwife, they would recognize that there was a previous book that fleshed out some of the supporting characters, but not reading The Midwife of Hope River would not affect the actual story of The Reluctant Midwife.  While I wouldn't go so far as to call this book a standalone, I would say that its plot does not depend on the preceding book.

Okay, now that I have that out of the way....

This was a comfortable read for me.  Harman again does an admirable job of recreating Depression-era Appalachia.  I think it is probably easy for modern readers to think of the Great Depression as something a little bit worse than the recent recession, but Harman makes it perfectly clear how hard that part of our history truly was.  At the same time, because she doesn't focus on too many aspects of the Depression, this is one of the historical fiction novels that readers who don't normally read historical fiction might like.

In this installment of the Hope River series (I'm not sure if Harman is planning any other novels, but we'll just call it a series for right now), Harman has created a tight story--the plot is centered entirely on Becky Myers, a once professionally and financially comfortable nurse who now finds herself penniless and in charge of her former employer, who has suffered some sort of mental break and is in an almost unresponsive state.  I didn't always like Becky, but I always admired her.  Yes, she had her periods of self-pity and what some may consider ugliness, but who wouldn't in her position?

I found the plot to move at a nice clip, which should appeal to many readers.  I will admit that I found the end to be a bit predictable, but that didn't make it any less satisfying for me.  Instead, it seemed more natural than predictable.

While I would still recommend The Midwife of Hope River, I do think that this book--due to the fact that it is more streamlined than its predecessor--might be more appealing for some readers.  Whether you read this book on its own or as part of the Hope River series, I think it would be well worth your time.

About the Author:
Patricia Harman, CNM, got her start as a lay midwife on rural communes and went on to become a nurse-midwife on the faculty of Ohio State University, Case Western Reserve University, and West Virginia University. She lives near Morgantown, West Virginia; has three sons; and is the author of two acclaimed memoirs.

Find out more about Patricia at her website, and connect with her on Facebook and Twitter

I was given a copy of this book in return for an honest review.  I received no other compensation for this post.

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