books · Reviews · The Good Life

She had me at pie…

I just finished reading THE SECRET INGREDIENT OF WISHES by Susan Bishop Crispell — and it felt like reading an excellent intermediate draft — very promising, but needs work.

She had me at pie — and magical realism and the promise of a wonderful tale along the lines of Sarah Addison Allen or Menna Van Praag with a beautiful cover positively wafting cinnamon goodness. Alas, it was not to be. Let me hasten to say that there is so much that is powerful in this book: many characters are vivid and multi-dimensional; some of the settings are extremely well-drawn. However — and this is a BIG however — for all of the promise, the story ultimately fails to deliver. The protagonist is woebegone and whiny where stories of her past might have illuminated. Too many story strands fail to be developed: the father who is a charmer and who has managed to trick landowners out of their property (why?), the common agreement that things are “different” in Nowhere, but there only two or three “magical” people and no explanation of why it’s different there than anywhere else. The townspeople are suspicious and small-minded, mean and all-knowing like a tiny village getting ready to rid the world of witches. The pacing is uneven and too much is left dangling. Secrets are alluded to, but never drawn into the story in a meaningful way — so they feel like interruptions and side conversations. Ultimately, this was a solid story that needed further love and attention from readers and editors at all levels, from story development through careful copy editing to craft a coherent story where the correct words are used (“hawking” wares rather than “hocking,” for one example) and continuity is maintained (in one scene, pie is assembled in a tin pan, but magically gets slid into the oven as a glass dish). I’m with other reviewers who also enjoyed a decent effort and I hope to see more in the future from this talented writer — albeit with greater support from mentors, guides, critique partners, and editors all along the way to publication!

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