Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Ready-Made Family

Cheryl Wyatt
Inspirational Romance
Steeple Hill Books - April, 2009

Based on my reading experience of over 2,500 romance novels over the past eight years, Cheryl Wyatt may be pioneering the Contemporary Christian Military Romance genre. She suspects it might even be destiny.

Cheryl Wyatt was born on a naval base—there’s the military. She was born on Valentine’s Day—there’s the romance. But unlike in the military, Wyatt reports that her characters don’t always obey her orders and “take the hill” she had planned to advance the story. But authors tell me that that rebellion is a good sign.

When characters become real in an author’s mind, more than fiction, they always want to usurp the author’s authority. Usually that rebellion makes for a realistic, more surprising, more rewarding read, often better than the one the author had in mind at the outset.

In Ready-Made Family, the third in Wyatt’s “Wings of Refuge” series, her interesting cast of characters seemed to be badgering her to keep themselves all front-and-center, all the time. In some scenes, it’s as if all her creations are jumping up and down, yelling, “Me! Me!” As a result, these scenes lose focus, and the reader—this reader, at least—is not always sure where Wyatt wants me to look. Too many of her scenes are a clattering mayhem like the din of a family of 20 whipping up Thanksgiving dinner. “I thought you brought the cranberry sauce.” It’s a friendly din, to be sure, but it weakens the narrative thrust. (Or maybe I shouldn’t be making dinner and watching the evening news while reading.)

In any event, Ready-Made Family opens with a bang: “Mister! Mommy needs help!”
The panicked voice comes from seven year-old Reece North clutching her ever-present stuffed toy, Bearby. She asks Ben Dillinger for help. Reece’s mom fell asleep at the wheel and slammed into a light pole. Reese and Bearby survived, but the little girl isn’t so sure about her mom.

Wyatt falls into a similar trap in some action scenes. She brings to them too many details that I don’t see contributing to the action. I assume she does this in an effort to give the scene greater life while further illuminating her characters. Not good when a life’s at stake.

But I did find the psychology of the characters more true to life. Amelia, Reece’s mom, was on her way to St. Louis for a job when she fell asleep at the wheel. She was trying to gain independence. Her father repeatedly told her that she’d never amount to anything. After all, she’d had Reece out of wedlock with no man in sight. Her dad thought that behavior just showed how worthless she was. Needless to say, Amelia didn’t feel too good about herself. Ben Dillinger was ashamed at the way he had treated his brother who had Mosaic Down Syndrome. That gave him some guilt problems which caused him to doubt his worth. The characters continued to live out their scripts until a hurricane in the Carolinas gave them all something more important to use their energy in a cooperative way. Amelia’s dad came around and even acted like the Christian he’d always claimed to be. Ben and his brother spent time together and even enjoyed it. Gradually, the story unfolds to a very satisfying people story.

All in all and for me, the mechanics got in the way of an otherwise compelling story. The military environment and the hurricane events aren’t the usual stuff of romance novels. Typical of the Steeple Hill books, Wyatt seamlessly wove the Christian elements into her story. We’ll watch Cheryl as she grows and I think she’ll make it.

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