By Kathleen Pohlig
The Reluctant Midwife: A Hope River Novel by Patricia Harman takes place in rural West Virginia in the mid-1930s. Nurse Becky Myers has recently returned to the area along with her disabled former employer, Dr. Isaac Blum. She is ready and willing to help the impoverished people of the town, but has had no experience and no interest in being a midwife. Circumstances, and her deep friendship with the local midwife, Patience, lead to situations where she is compelled to help mothers in labor even though she tries to avoid taking on the responsibility. Many people are unemployed, businesses struggle to remain open, people work hard just to find enough food to eat. Fans of American historical fiction will find a story with plenty of emotion and community spirit. Later in the book, Becky is working as a nurse at the nearby CCC camp, a forest fire devastates the area and she is involved with helping the injured. Author Pamela Schoenwaldt says the book is “… an entrancing saga of birth and rebirth, of people you come to love as they confront loss and guilt, poverty and fear, silence and doubt.”
When I decided to read this book, I was not aware that there was another novel by the same author that comes first in the Hope River series. The Midwife of Hope River is the first title and is the story of Patience, Nurse Becky’s friend. Both books came out as original paperbacks and are written by a woman who knows what she is talking about! Patricia Harman is a midwife herself and worked in rural areas before going on to teach at Ohio State University, Case Western Reserve University, and West Virginia University. She has written two memoirs as well as her two novels and currently lives near Morgantown, West Virginia. Since I really enjoyed the book, I may go back and read the first one too. I recommend this as a good historic fiction novel that will give the reader a glimpse into a Depression-era small town that was probably not unlike many places around the country at the time. Becky is a strong character who pushes herself to grow and take on new challenges … just overall a good story!
I’d like to mention briefly my thoughts about Harper Lee’s recently published novel, Go Set A Watchman. There have been huge publicity and controversy about it and many rather negative comments and reviews. I read the book within a week of its release and found it to be a compelling story, excellent writing, and with many profound and important things to say. No, it is not the same story and the characters are not the same as they are in her later writing of To Kill a Mockingbird. Try to put that out of your mind and read Watchman as a book on its own merits. Harper Lee is a great writer and I, for one, am very pleased that this manuscript was discovered and finally published. No one made any promises about it before its release, and while it will never have the acclaim that To Kill a Mockingbird achieved, it is a fine book and well worth reading.
Kathleen Pohlig is owner of Cherry Street Books in Alexandria.
The Ultimate Gift by Jim Stovall
Multi-millionaire Red Stevens passes away and leaves his fortune to family, friends and charities. One great-nephew, Jason, received nothing but a box of 12 videos with a letter explaining that each month he was to view one tape and follow its directions – each would introduce him to one element of the “Ultimate Gift.” Upon completion, he would receive the ultimate gift.
The 12 elements are Work, Money, Friends, Learning, Problems, Family, Laughter, Dreams, Giving, Gratitude, a Day, and Love. He has many life-changing experiences during the year and at the end has a deeper understanding of his uncle’s life and the “Ultimate Gift” he is blessed with.
I first read this book in 2009, but often re-read certain chapters. These elements have guided me through challenging situations and have given me a life perspective that I try to live toward each day.
I believe anyone who reads this will be a better person and will recognize the Ultimate Gift they already possess or choose to seek. The story of Jason’s quest is captivating, but will encourage readers to view themselves with a deeper understanding of life and the gifts available.
Mary Burgess of Brandon is a retired Brandon Evansville High School business teacher who now teaches part-time at Runestone Regional Learning Center in Alexandria. She has loved reading since childhood and recalls crying when told she could only check out two books from the library each week!
Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Gordon
This is not a book I would have selected to read but I joined a book club and this was the selection!
This is the story of a young girl who was born into poverty. When her mother died, her father sold her and her older sister to a man who took them to Gion, Japan. Her sister wasn’t as attractive so she was sold as a prostitute. The 9-year-old was sold to a geisha boarding house.
The story begins prior to World War II and takes the reader through the time when she was basically working to pay off her accumulating debt as a slave, through the training to be a geisha, to becoming a famous geisha, and finally to retiring and moving from Japan to New York City.
Although this is not something I would have chosen, I did find it to be a good read. It is a book of fiction, but it was very enlightening reading about another culture. If you are looking to get out of your comfort zone, this is a recommended book.
Sheryl Mandigo grew up on a farm by Brandon and retired to The Villages, Florida.