These Healing Hills
I’m a big fan of the TV show Call the Midwife, so, when These Healing Hills became available for review, I figured it would be right up my alley. It’s set in the Appalachian mountains of Kentucky right after World War II comes to an end, a time and setting I was sure I’d love, and for the most part, I was right about that.
Before I get to the meat of this review, let me first say that I don’t usually read inspirational romances. I don’t necessarily dislike them, but I don’t personally identify as Christian, so I often have trouble relating to the characters and the situations in which they find themselves. When I decided to read this book, I wasn’t aware of its genre classification, so the faith-based content came as a bit of a surprise.
Francine Howard has her future all mapped out until a letter from the man she plans to marry changes everything. Seth has been overseas fighting in the war for the past few years, and he writes to inform her he’s fallen in love with someone else. Now, he and his fiancée are on their way back to Cincinnati, and Fran knows she needs to get out of town. The Frontier Nursing Service’s need for trainees seems like just the thing to offer her the fresh start she so desperately needs, so, in spite of the the heated protests of her overly conventional mother, Fran travels to the Appalachian mountains to become a nurse/midwife. The work is arduous and the hours long, but Fran feels an immediate kinship with the mountain people. Their way of life is very different from what she’s used to, but there’s something about the beauty and ruggedness of the terrain and the steady, unshakable faith of those she encounters that draws her in.
Ben Locke has just returned from a stint as an army medic. He’s still haunted by the horrors of the war, which makes his adjustment to civilian life understandably difficult. He’s glad to be reunited with his family, but in some ways, they feel like strangers. Now that his father has died, Ben is compelled to provide for his mother and younger siblings, but he’s not sure what he really wants out of life. His dream of going to college to study medicine seems completely out of reach, yet he’s not fully convinced he can live the rest of his life in the mountains, either.
I prefer my romances to contain a certain amount of sizzle and tension, and These Healing Hills was unable to provide that for me. Ben and Fran are from two completely different worlds, but from the moment they meet, it’s obvious to the reader they have a deep connection. Unfortunately, this connection isn’t nearly as apparent to our hero and heroine, who enjoy each other’s company, but seem unwilling to consider themselves anything other than friends. Several members of Ben’s family are dealing with medical issues, causing Fran to spend a great deal of time in their company, so we have plenty of opportunity to see her and Ben together, and it’s a joy to watch their friendship blossom. However, I wanted to see them move beyond the friendship stage, and that didn’t happen until the book was practically over.
I fell in love with the setting of this novel. Ms. Gabhart’s prose practically transported me through time and space, and I love an author who can make me feel that way. She seems to have a great deal of love for the Kentucky hills and the people who dwell there, and, through the words she put on the page, I felt myself growing quite fond of them, too.
It’s easy to love the characters in this novel; they’re so multi-dimensional they practically leap off the page. Their life experiences are very different from mine, but the author is able to make them completely relatable, and while there were some characters I liked more than others, that’s the case in real life as well. I don’t go into a book expecting to like and identify with every single character; in fact, some of my very favorite novels are peopled with some pretty despicable individuals.
I ended up enjoying this story mostly for the setting and the characters. The romance didn’t move me nearly as much as I hoped it would, but I can’t bring myself to dismiss These Healing Hills out of hand. I’m thinking it’s likely to appeal most strongly to fans of clean historical novels who aren’t looking for hugely complex romances.