Plots and Pans by Kelly Eileen Hake


This is a really cute premise. A father sends his daughter to England for Lady Training, and she returns just as full of vinegar as when she left.

The character development is good, you get an excellent feel for each personality. However, I think the episodes in England with Jessie are a tad overdone because you do not need all that to understand her personality. Get on with the story already.

Story flow is good, very little choppiness. The head hopping is a bit annoying. I think a story flows much better when you stick with one character or two characters rather than jumping all over the place, especially when you are given a real reason to jump into another person's head.

I like the additional plot twist of the negro aunt. I think that part is done rather well, although prejudice was much more black and white back then (pun unintended). The whole story could have revolved around that one aspect and been incredibly interesting. That part was sadly missed. As a whole, though, it is an enjoyable novel.

3 out of five stars.

Order dictates Tucker Carmichael’s life—his orders. On a cattle drive, a moment’s hesitation can mean death. The Chisholm Trail is dirty, dangerous, and no place for women. After years at school, Jessalyn Culpepper has come home and is determined to show everyone that a woman can manage everything from cooking to cattle—whether they like it or not! Tucker tries to manage his partner’s headstrong sister, horrified when she wants to join the cattle drive. But when they need a chuck wagon cook, Jessalyn seems the only solution. Will God stir up love along a trail filled with their Plots and Pans?

A Mile Apart by Sarah Jae Foster


The title really says it all. The two most unlikely characters are thrown together and fall in love. Of course he gets sick and she has to nurse him back to health. His little boy is thrown into the mix, and the boy tugs at her heartstrings.

This is a fairly well written novel, but the premise is really unbelievable. Why would a woman whose husband has died stay in a crude, rude place like a mining town? No reason is given. Also, it is clear the author did zero research about mining towns and how men treated women in the Old West. Men had respect even for prostitutes!
A good woman commanded even more respect. Those men would never have treated her like is depicted in this story. I started to lose interest after that.

The general rule that the first man the woman comes in contact with and has conflict with is the man she falls in love with is broken in this book. The reader is not told the male friend (and protector) is too old to be the love interest until much later in the book.

Because the characters are so well developed, the storyline falls apart about the middle of the book when you suddenly realize [spoiler alert...maybe] who she's falling for and who is falling for her. Makes no sense, because there are really no reasons given for falling in love that I could tell.

The story starts to get boring about 1/3 of the way into the book, so I might have missed the reasons given because I started to skip around a bit. In my experience in reading thousands of books (no exaggeration) when a book falls apart, it just doesn't get better as you go along.

You might like it. I did not because things didn't seem believable, and I get really tired when an author tries too hard to make two people fall in love for no reason.

She was guided by prayer…and a little boy

Eden Montgomery arrived in the lawless territory of Whistle Creek as a newlywed, but she quickly lost her husband to his mistress…gold, and the claim he called The Golden Angel. When a premature blast at the cave killed her husband, and took the life of her unborn baby, Eden closed the mine…for good. Now she runs the local supply store, and in her bitterness, looks down on the men who shirk familial responsibilities in pursuit of something as meaningless as gold.

Joseph Benton knows the crime, filth and disease of a mining camp is no place for a child. So when his young son Christopher suddenly arrives at his tent, he turns to Eden Montgomery to care for the boy. But the uppity and righteous Eden refuses. Joseph is shocked at what he thinks is her lack of maternal instinct. Now he’s torn between his need to strike gold…and his desire to be a father.

When a ruthless speculator encroaches on the camp, threatening Joseph and the other miners, Eden knows she must do the one thing she vowed never to do…for the one man she vowed never to love.

Creating characters

Photo by Gina Burgess

Creating a truly good story is not only an art, it is a skilled art. There are certain skills in writing that do come naturally. Some people have a way with words that are incredibly interesting, while others have to work to get the same effect. However, character development is something that no one can just sit down and do unless they are a scholar of human nature.

Georgette Heyer was such a scholar. Her mastery of character development was so powerful you did not have to read a name to know who was talking in the dialogue. She had distinct personalities similar to Jane Austin's, although not quite as striking. For example, in The Black Moth the evil character Devil Andover is actually the same person as as Satanas the Duke of Avon in These Old Shades. Same characteristics, same mannerisms, same syntax of speech, the same man. What is so interesting about this character is that Devil in The Black Moth is the person you wish to die because he is so evil, while in These Old Shades you soon develop a great empathy for him and hope for his salvation.

Some good tips for character development come from The Creative Writer (Addison-Wesley, 1998).

1. Give physical details about the character within prose. Don't just list long, black hair, ruby red lips, curvaceous body, wearing sneakers and an evening dress. Do it creatively.
Her raven black hair shimmered under each street light as she ran up the street. Her lips looked dark red in the dim light, and were parted as she panted for air. The tail of her evening dress was tucked into her belt, showcasing each of her delicious curves. The slap of her sneakers echoed down the empty street, and was accompanied by screeching tires and manly shouts to stop. She ignored them all.

2. Describe the physical environment surrounding your character. (See #1). You get the feel that it is night, urban, and in a part of town that might be industrial because it is deserted, but lighted.

3. People the character associates with. (See #1). She's being chased by men who have at least one motor vehicle. You know they want something from her, or want her for something.

4. The things the character does. We don't know this from the first paragraph, but we know she's planned for this run because she's wearing sneakers with an evening dress. We know she is in shape or she would have planned a different kind of exit from wherever she was. She knew she'd be followed, she knows her enemy. She has a lot of growth to do. She didn't plan very well because she's running down an empty street. Is there safety up that street?

5. The things the character thinks and says. Keeping this consistent is not as hard as it seems. You can picture a person you know (in fact, I recommend this) and follow the same kind of syntax this person uses, same kind of whacky word (when I say Crikey, who do you think of?), same kind of mannerisms. Make your character as human as possible. Emphasize a frailty. But don't make your character a caricature (unless, of course, you are writing humorously). Especially, do not force your character to do something that is uncharacteristic unless you talk about it as uncharacteristic. Forcing characters into action that they ordinarily would not do is a classic story flow dam. I know one author who fills out a personality test on each character. Her characters breathe on the pages. They are vibrant and alive. You feel their fear and joy. It's powerful.


Creative tactics in writing -- story flow

I've been an editor for a long time, both in newspaper and various
other industries. I learned a lot about editing then and while earning my Master's, but most of what I have learned is through reading (fiction and non-fiction) since I was a little girl. Since I've been reviewing books, I've had to analyze what works and what doesn't work in a novel.

I've learned more about what not to do than what to do simply because when what I'm reading is working, all the tactics, intricacies, ploys, and tricks are never noticed. The story flow is so smooth and exciting nothing gets to the brain except the story.

Why do authors of today want readers to have any other kind of experience? Don't they want readers to remember what a great roller coaster ride they had when turning pages (or thumbing their Kindle, Nook, whatever)?

First, let's talk about story flow dams.

Flashbacks should be avoided like the plague, especially in the first page or even chapter of any work of fiction. If you must flashback in the first chapter, then you've started your novel or short story in the wrong place/time. Back up, regroup, and decide where is the best place/time to begin. You should always begin in such a way that the reader wonders "Why?" or "How?" so he or she will keep reading and turning those pages. When you answer that question then you want another one to pop up in its place so you've got a smooth Q&A for your reader. That is what keeps those pages flipping.

Empathy Poorly developed characters creates reader apathy for your fictional world. After the first few pages, your book is tossed to the floor or in the donation pile without being read. Of course, no more of your books will be purchased. You want to help your readers to develop a sense of empathy for your main character. That is if you want your readers to finish your novel and buy more of your books. Who wants to read about someone you couldn't care less about? Whether it is a villain or hero or heroine, creating that sense of caring what happens to a character is not hard to do when writing like it is real life. Make me want the villain to receive just desserts, and I'll read to the last page. Make me anticipate that first kiss, and I'll read to the last page just to reward that anticipation.

Head Jumping Like Randy Ingermanson, I do not like head jumping, which is switching the point of view from one character to another character within the same scene. This dams up the story flow because the reader first has to figure out why we're jumping from one character to another. There are so many ways this can go wrong. For instance, if the whole story is told from one character's (main character) point of view, then how can the main character know what is going on in another character's head? This creates a quandary on the reader's part because the story flow is suddenly not making any sense.

Review: While Love Stirs

While Love Stirs
While Love Stirs by Lorna Seilstad

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Truly unique premise about a young woman who studied nutrition. She's a bit misguided about what she really wants. It seems her real passion is to make sure people in hospitals have good nutrition, but she says out loud that she deeply desires to be a chef or to have her own restaurant.

Seilstad does a good job in developing the main character, and a fairly good job in developing the doctor although she uses a bit of a heavy hand there. On the other hand, men of that day had that same kind of mentality so maybe not so heavy a hand.

She sidetracks the entire story while she builds some back story for the 3rd Gregory sister. Why? The necessity of that is not clear at all. There are too many points of view here to tell this story well.

Head hopping from scene to scene gives the story flow a jerky feel. There are no, or very few transitions that would make the flow much more even. When hopping from one character to another there is no reason given to make the reader want to jump into the head of the next character. That gives the story a forced feeling.

I think Seilstad did her research well, and the historical part of the novel is good. I did not notice any out of place, modern slang or unduly modern motives of the character so the feel of the times comes through very well. Job well done on that score.

If she had stuck with one or two points of view, this novel would have received 4 stars from me. As it is, I rate it with 3 stars.

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Review: One Perfect Spring

One Perfect Spring
One Perfect Spring by Irene Hannon

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Novels are funny things because when I pick one up, I expect a story about someone growing, stretching, becoming better for all the experiences in the novel.

That happens in this story... er, stories for there are more than one. Love stories, living with cancer story, little girl with compassion story, burned in love story, depressingly tight on money story, and the list goes on and on.

Far too much happens in this one novel to get a real grip or really care deeply about any one character except the little girl.

Conflict is better than depressing circumstances for reader interest. I got so depressed reading about the terrible condition the house was in when the woman bought it I might add that I shut down my Kindle and turned the light out. I have zero desire to pick up this book again. Harping for 7 pages on the cosmetically bad shape the house is in detracts from a real reason to fall in love and get married.

The truly bright spot is the little girl, and for her I give the book 2 stars.

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Fair Play by Deeanne Gist

I have been an avid reader of Gist's books ever since her novel debut. She has always been teetering on the edge of edgy. This one topples over that edge. I have to say as well that Gist usually does her homework when it comes to research. This one, not so much.

I am by no means a prude. I realized more than two decades ago that steamy romance was erotica and just as much pornography as Playboy. When I get uncomfortable reading a romance novel, that raises all sorts of red flags for me. I took a lot of hard work to remove the foul language from my mind so I would not spew it out of my mouth, and it took a lot of hard work to shake myself of the steamy romance habit as well.

I love well-written Christian novels. I know that they can be better than most classics if authors and editors work hard at their craft. This one starts out definitely humorous, with really good references to actual events. It not only strikes true, but rings true. Then Gist falls apart. Using the guise of the female being a doctor, and the male being the patient with a bowel movement problem, this novel goes downhill from there.

I get enough garbage from TV commercials without having to read it in a Christian novel. This was the worst of Gist's efforts. Why go there? What was the purpose? The examination scene was written as nothing short of erotica. I balk at that. If Gist want's to write that kind of junk then she needs to move away from the Christian label.

The major problem most authors have is they think readers have no imagination. Why are we reading if we do not exercise our imagination to the fullest? I do not need an author to spell out that a female hand is on the abdomen of the male character and then have the male think something erotic even while he is in severe pain and has fainted in the elevator.

I read Christian books so that I can be assured of a clean imagination ride.

I give this book one star (I may be selling this one short just a bit, but going over the edge of edgy takes away that second star.)

From the bestselling author of It Happened at the Fair comes a historical love story about a lady doctor and a Texas Ranger who meet at the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair.

Saddled with a man’s name, the captivating Billy Jack Tate makes no apologies for taking on a man’s profession. As a doctor at the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair, she is one step closer to having her very own medical practice—until Hunter Scott asks her to give it all up to become his wife.

Hunter is one of the elite. A Texas Ranger and World’s Fair guard specifically chosen for his height, physique, character, and skill. Hailed as the toughest man west of any place east, he has no patience for big cities and women who think they belong anywhere but home…

Despite their difference of opinion on the role of women, Hunter and Billy find a growing attraction between them—until Hunter discovers an abandoned baby in the corner of a White City exhibit. He and Billy team up to make sure this foundling isn’t left in the slums of Chicago with only the flea-riddled, garbage-infested streets for a playground. As they fight for the underprivileged children in the Nineteenth Ward, an entire Playground Movement is birthed. But when the Fair comes to an end, one of them will have to give up their dream.

Will Billy exchange her doctor’s shingle for the domesticated role of a southern wife, or will Hunter abandon the wide open spaces of home for a life in the “gray city,” a woman who insists on being the wage earner, and a group of ragamuffins who need more than a playground for breathing space?

Review: How Sweet The Sound by Amy Sorrells

This is touted as a coming of age in the 1980s story. I remember that decade very well. I have lived in the South for my whole life. This must take place in a different South than I know. But then, the author is from Indiana, so we have to give her some leeway.

I found this book annoying for the most part. It is not even close to Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird. Of course, not every coming of ag story that takes place in the South can come close this this classic, at least some could come close. Why do authors think that if they study a region deep enough, they can write about it and truly get the heart of it? It just doesn't happen.

 The story is written from several points of view that make it difficult to follow the story flow. You hardly have a chance to get to know one character before you are yanked into the head of another character. When the ***spoiler alert*** shooting/killing takes place, you are not sure who shot who and who the two are who died. I quit reading after that because I was aggravated at having to go back several pages to understand which was the brother and who the other guy was, the father of the girl? The boyfriend?

This book had the potential to be a truly great modern classic. It fell sadly short in that respect.

 I just could not get past the head jumping. There were no transition except for the name of the character talking at the beginning of the chapter. When will editors AND authors finally get it that to do this kind of writing you MUST have good transitions? You MUST give the reader a desire to get into the head of the character that you jump to. It is imperative in order to maintain that level of trust between author and reader. I don't think it is entirely Sorrells' fault. The editor of this book shares the blame, and should have caught this at the beginning of the editing process. One place it was well done. When the little girl put the basket of goodies at the door of the bereaved aunt, you really wanted to know why the aunt had locked herself into the guest house. Grief is one thing, but removing yourself completely from all society of family is something different, almost troubling.

I have to give it 1 star. It just wasn't good enough to hold my interest.

Amy K. Sorrells writes about broken places...and the hope of healing. Her debut novel is a Southern coming-of-age tale set in Alabama in the summer of 1980 - where three generations of the well-to-do Harlan family must finally face their dark secrets.

 Amy K. Sorrells writes words of hope for a hurting world. Winner of the 2012 Women of Faith Writing Contest, and two-time ACFW Genesis Award Semi-Finalist, Amy got her start in journalism writing for medical publications, and enjoyed a three year stint as a weekly op-ed columnist for her town newspaper. Her passion for healing is also reflected in her role as a registered nurse for a large hospital. When she's not writing or reading, she can be found bare-handed in garden dirt, or covered in paint while refurbishing antiques. A graduate of DePauw University, Amy lives with her husband, three sons, and a gaggle of golden retrievers in central Indiana.
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