on June 2, 2013 :
First things first: the chapters are incorrectly numbered - there are two Chapter 4s!
This is almost a book of two halves. It started out as a straightforward romance, but after just 3 or 4 chapters it was pretty obvious that the two main protagonists were going to form a relationship, so with a dozen or more chapters to go I was wondering how the novel was going to sustain interest when there really wasn't much else going on plot-wise. By the halfway stage the story had already reached the point where I thought it might have concluded, which left me even more curious. Luckily after that, the novel actually came up with some actual plot, and the second half was much better than the first.
So my main gripe was that the first half of the book had too little going on, it needed more subplots for the budding romance to be played out against, or at least to tantalise the reader with some mysteries. The opportunities were there, but they were invariably spurned.
This was, essentially, Mandy's story so I think it should have been told solely from Mandy's viewpoint. The constant cutting to Buddy's viewpoint weakened it, because every time Mandy was curious about Buddy's behaviour we were immediately given an insight to his thoughts and any chance of intrigue was gone, so that by the time Mandy discovered the answer for herself the reader already knew it and consequently wouldn't be that interested.
Similarly, after the initial misunderstanding in the first chapter, rather than Mandy be told by Melanie that Buddy is really a nice guy once you get to know him, it would have been better, dramatically, to have had Mandy discover this entirely for herself. In this sense, Melanie was a bit of a superfluous character; the story might have worked better had Ginny taken Mandy to the card game, the initial disagreement with Buddy taking place, then Mandy decides to stay on in town and hears that the Turner ranch is looking for a new live-in helper. Mandy answers the advert, and only when taking up the position does she then discover Buddy lives on the ranch, thinks "Oh no, not HIM" and then gradually gets to know him better and fall for him.
Likewise the aspect of Christian faith might have been sold better if Mandy's faith had lapsed as a result of her abuse by Jerry, and Buddy and the Turner family helped her slowly regain it.
As for Ginny - she just vanishes! One moment she and Mandy are hugging like old friends, then Ginny is just dropped. She doesn't get even an invite to the wedding, and it was largely through her that Mandy and Buddy met in the first place!
Large portions of dialogue seemed unnatural to me, no matter how I read them I just couldn't visualise anybody actually speaking some of those lines naturally. This wasn't helped by a lack of contractions (eg "I am so happy" used instead of "I'm so happy") and the use of brackets in dialogue also seems very odd.
I found a lot of the sentences too short, meaning the text didn't flow as well as it could.
The story has a bad habit of labouring a point. There's just so much general repetition. Over and over and over again the main characters say how much they like/love each other and how grateful they are for whatever. The same vocabulary is constantly used , the same similes are repeated (eg Mandy's emotional outpouring is likened to a dam breaking at least four times).
Descriptions of key characters are brief or non-existent, yet we're told the full contents of every meal (of which there are many).
In spite of all this, there were good aspects too. As I said previously, the second half of the novel worked quite well in terms of plot structure. The characters, Ginny aside, all seemed to have a relevant role in the story. There were occasional punctuation errors or typos, but considering the length of the piece, it was, on the whole, correct in terms of spelling, grammar and punctuation. The author obviously cared passionately about the characters and some of the situations, which came across at times, for example Buddy's favourite place being vividly described. Writing a 90,000 word novel is no mean feat either, as anybody who has tried will know, so my thanks to Mary Tribbey for making this available for no charge.
(review of free book)