Character Spotlight: Ann H. Gabhart’s Francine & Ben (with a giveaway)

These Healing HillsMeet a nurse & a former soldier in

Ann H. Gabhart’s

historical romance

These Healing Hills



The Story

Francine Howard has her life all mapped out until the soldier she planned to marry at WWII’s end writes to tell her he’s in love with a woman in England. Devastated, Francine seeks a fresh start in the Appalachian Mountains, training to be a nurse midwife for the Frontier Nursing Service.

Deeply affected by the horrors he witnessed at war, Ben Locke has never thought further ahead than making it home to Kentucky. His future shrouded in as much mist as his beloved mountains, he’s at a loss when it comes to envisioning what’s next for his life.

When Francine’s and Ben’s paths intersect, it’s immediately clear that they are from different worlds and value different things. But love has a way of healing old wounds . . . and revealing tantalizing new possibilities.

Introducing Francine & Ben

Brief physical description

Francine Howard

Francine has brown hair with auburn highlights. She keeps her hair tucked in a roll above her neck in a style that was popular in the Forties. Her hazel eyes shift from green to light brown according to what she’s wearing or sometimes what she’s thinking. She’s tall and slender and attractive with an oval face, high cheekbones and a generous mouth.

Benjamin (Ben) Locke

Ben has midnight blue eyes and dark brown hair that curls around his neck when he needs a haircut. He has a strong, square chin and dark eyebrows. His beard grows a shadow quickly between shaves. He’s six foot 2 inches with a slim waist and broad shoulders.



I didn’t find a picture to exactly represent Francine, but I’ve attached a picture of an actual Frontier Nurse who makes me think of Francine and how she would have looked while helping the mountain women deliver their babies. (A photo of a Frontier Nursing Service nurse-midwife bathing a newborn. [University of Kentucky Photographic Archives])



I decided Henry Cavill might look something like Ben.

Strengths and weaknesses


Fran is capable and has a can-do attitude. She’s never felt she was very attractive because her mother who was petite always made Francine feel tall and awkward. She likes helping others and has deep compassion for the people she treats in the mountains. Her lack of ability to keep directions in mind when she’s travelling across the mountains to visit her patients is a weakness that causes her innumerable problems in the story.  But her appreciation of the mountains and the people there are strengths. Francine has a strong faith due to spending summers with her grandmother who taught Francine things generally happen for a purpose and sometimes due to God’s providence. Fran never expects a smooth path but is ready to work for what she wants.


Ben has a quiet strength. What he experienced during the war has changed him from a boy into a man. He is confident in his abilities and doesn’t mind hard work. He feels a bit unsettled when he gets home after the war because he’s not sure of his future. He doesn’t look at life through rose-colored glasses but faces trouble head on. He believes people can make a difference. 

Quirk (if any)


Her inability to keep in mind whether she’s going north, south, east or west. She sometimes sings as she goes on her rounds so that she won’t suddenly come across any moonshine stills along the mountain trails and startle a wary moonshiner. She likes dogs, but does not like snakes.


Ben sometimes has a chip on his shoulder when he thinks people don’t respect mountain people.

Your inspiration for the character


When I became interested in the history of the Frontier Nursing Service in the Appalachian Mountains, I knew my main female character would be a midwife/nurse with the Service. So then I read several memoirs of midwives. The first person accounts of those midwives inspired my character, Francine Howard.


Ben is a soldier returning to his beloved mountains after the war. The mountains are in his blood but he also wonders if he can find a place there after seeing the world during the war. When I started bringing him to life in my imagination, I thought of all the soldiers who came home after WW II ready to put the war behind them and start living life. I imagined that adjustment might be hard for some with the horrors they may have experienced in the war even as they were thankful to be home.

Background to the story

I’ve written a number of historical novels and my initial idea for all of them was some bit of Kentucky history. The pioneer days. The Civil War in Kentucky. The Shaker communities. The election riots of 1855 in Louisville. The effect of the Great Depression and then World War II on a family in a small rural community.  So this time when I was searching for a new idea, I came across an account of Mary Breckinridge starting up the Frontier Nursing Service in Leslie County, Kentucky.

Breckinridge had a vision of bringing good healthcare, especially maternity care, into a poor area and making a difference in the lives of mothers and children. She established the Frontier Nursing Service in 1925 as a private charitable organization serving an area of about 700 square miles in southeastern Kentucky. She recruited midwives from England since there were no midwifery schools in the States prior to the 1930’s. Through her influential connections in the society world at the time and by travelling around doing speaking engagements, she was able to raise over six million dollars to bring healthcare to the Appalachian Mountains.

california mtn trip fns 2014 038


When World War II broke out overseas, many of the English nurse/midwives felt compelled to return home to serve their countrymen during the way. In order to keep providing midwifery service, Breckinridge started the Frontier Nursing Midwifery School that is still in operation in Leslie County, Kentucky today.

In the early days of the Service, Mrs. Breckinridge recruited nurses by promising them their own horse, dog and the adventure of taking healthcare to the cabins of the mountain people in all sorts of weather and across rivers and creeks. She kept those promises, and I dropped my character right down into that school at the end of World War II and let her fall in love with the mountains as many of the Frontier Nurses actually did.

I’ve attached a picture of Wendover, Mary Breckinridge’s home in the mountains, that was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1991. It is now the Wendover Bed and Breakfast Inn. I took the picture on a research trip to the area.

Thank you, Ann!


Ann H. Gabhart is the bestselling author of several Shaker novels–The Outsider, The Believer, The Seeker, The Blessed,and The Gifted–as well as Angel Sister, Small Town Girl, Love Comes Home, Words Spoken True, and The Heart of Hollyhill series. She lives with her husband a mile from where she was born in rural Kentucky. Learn more at

Relz Reviewz Extras
All Things Gabhart @ Relz Reviewz
Visit Ann’s website and blog
Buy at Amazon: These Healing Hills or Koorong

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56 Responses to Character Spotlight: Ann H. Gabhart’s Francine & Ben (with a giveaway)

  1. She had me at Henry Cavill. :-)

  2. These characters sound fascinating! I’ve heard a lot of great things about this book. It’s going on my wish list! Thanks, Rel and Ann.

  3. What a fun post I definitely want to read Francine and Ben’s story from reading it. Thanks for sharing!! :)

  4. I love Ann’s books and definitely want to read this one about Ben and Francine. I have put it on my wish list and would love to win a copy. Thanks! 😊

    • So good to be on your wish list. Maybe you’ll win a copy right here. I named a character in my Rosey Corner books, Angel Sister, Small Town Girl, and Love Comes Home, Evangeline and then let her be nicknamed Evie. I had an Aunt Evelyn who was called Evie by her sister. But I wanted a different name and so I had the parents be poetry lovers and that poem Evangeline led to the name of their first daughter. I guess you can tell I like names and the stories behind them.

  5. Whilst I love imaging characters in my head, it is always fascinating to discover who an author intended them to look like – and Mr Cavill is no bad choice.
    Can’t wait to imagine Ben and Francine for myself though!

    Thanks Rel!


    • That’s interesting, Lydia. I actually do the same and then in interviews I’m asked to come up with an actor or someone to represent my character. I never go out and look at movie stars or anyone when I’m coming up with a character. It all springs from my imagination. Then when I’m asked that question about which actor could be my character, I trust Google by putting in blue-eyed, dark-haired actors. I don’t watch much television or see many movies (I’m into reading) and I don’t really remember actors’ or actresses’ names when I do see movies. So then I scroll through the people Google pops up from me and hope I’m picking somebody nice and not somebody who always plays the villain. LOL. Hope you will enjoy imagining Ben and Francine for yourself.

  6. I drive through Hyden on a regular basis, so when I saw your book, I knew I needed to read it. I’m midway through, and loving it so far!

  7. I’m excited to read Fran and Ben’s story. I’ve read Gabhart’s other books and they always draw me in, teach me something new and make me fall in love with the characters.

  8. I very nearly bought this book over the weekend and now I will for sure if I don’t win this giveaway:) I think what most draws me to the characters is the setting. It reminds me of where I grew up in the mountains of western North Carolina.

  9. Francine and Ben sound like very interesting characters. I love novels that take a bit of history that most of us don’t know about and create a fascinating story around it. I enjoy Ann’s books and am looking forward to reading this one.

    • So glad you’ve enjoyed some of my stories, Pam. I like those kind of novels too. Guess that’s one reason I like to write historical books. It is fun to stumble across some bit of history that sparks the creative imagination and leads to dropping some characters down into that time period and setting off on a story trail.

  10. The story sounds fantastic and the characters feel real and lovable. Isn’t it awful that I have no idea who any of these popular actors and actresses are (except for those who’ve starred in Marvel movies since my kids are totally into those…)? We rarely watch TV and don’t watch a whole lot of movies…..but definitely read books!

  11. Thanks del for reviewing on of my favorite authors. Hi Ann, I am so ready to read this book. Love the pic of Wendover. So pretty. love books about WW ii also. My oldest brother, cousins, 2 brother-in-laws served then. We moved from a small country town to Houston, Tx. during the war so dad could work in the shipyard. I was there from age 8 to 10. Would love to win this book. Love Midwife stories. Maxie

  12. Thanks del for reviewing on of my favorite authors. Hi Ann, I am so ready to read this book. Love the pic of Wendover. So pretty. love books about WW ii also. My oldest brother, cousins, 2 brother-in-laws served then. We moved from a small country town to Houston, Tx. during the war so dad could work in the shipyard. I was there from age 8 to 10. Would love to win this book. Love Midwife stories. Maxie

    • Always fun to hear from you, Maxie. Glad you liked the picture. Actually that’s a picture of what used to be the stables, I think. But it shows the surrounding mountains nicely. Mary Breckinridge’s house is a lovely log house with beautiful windows. I’ll have to post a picture of it on my FB page or blog.

  13. Both characters have so much healing to do and different wounds to figure out how to overcome. I can’t wait to read how or if these characters can work together to help each other.

  14. I think the characters are great. Love all ann’s books.

  15. I think her characters sound interesting. Such an adventurous thing and worthy decision to do what the nurses did. I have friends now who have left their lives to go live in these Ky hills to share Jesus with the people. It’s a beautiful area of the world. I imagine healing for Ben could take place as he walked the hills and reflected on God, and possibly with a little help from a beautiful woman named Francine.

    • Glad you think Ben and Francine sound interesting. There are still many needs in the Appalachian Mountains and missions are important in that area. Knowing Jesus can change lives and sometimes, as you say, trekking through the beauty of nature can bring us closer to the Lord.

  16. They both sound like capable can-do type of people. I like that!

  17. We need more can-do people, Patty, in our world.

  18. I love the characters in THESE HEALING HILLS.
    Meeting Francine & Ben this way makes them even more special.
    Looking forward to reading more of their story when you write the sequel 😊

  19. I love the characters in THESE HEALING HILLS.
    Meeting Francine & Ben this way makes them even more special.
    Looking forward to reading more of their story when you write the sequel (please)

  20. They sound like two people I would like to get to know. I hope I will by getting to read this book!

  21. I especially like books about midwives and have had men in my family come back from war so these characters sound very interesting.

    • These Healing Hill covered both of those bases, Joan. It was interesting researching and doing my best to write about a midwife. Several of my previous books have had soldiers returning from war with their own unique difficulties.

  22. There were so many different dynamics in play during the War, which resulted in lifestyle changes then and afterward. Fascinating and tragic period in history. My parents used to talk about it a great deal, trying to give me a feel and appreciation for all that happened.

    • You are certainly right about that, Cathy. Women went out to work in factories. There were many romances sped up and then the husband and wife got to know each other through letters. And of course, many did not come home. Much did change forever after WW II.

  23. Francine sounds like me on the directionally challenged issue…lol! I can get turned around so easily, especially in a place that I’m unfamiliar with. Ben: tall dark and handsome that’s all I got to know…lol! But his quiet strength would be is admirable trait.

    This book is already on on must-read list & I’m excited for the chance to win a copy. Thank you Rel and Ann for the fun character spotlight. These are some of my favorite kind of blog posts!

    • I am also directionally challenged, Trixi. My sister has a compass in her head and always knows whether to go north or south. I know east when the sun comes up and west when it goes down. And I can get north and south from that, but my problem is knowing if I need to go east or west. So writing about Francine having direction problems was easy for me. I like reading these kind of posts too. The character interviews are fun too.

  24. I can definitely relate to Francine’s struggle with directions! 😄 I think there will be an interestin dynamic between her and Ben and I’m excited to read their story!

  25. I’ve loved all your books, and I’m really looking forward to reading “These Healing Hills”!

  26. Francine and Ben sound like they make a really nice looking couple. Really liked the description of the book and I’m looking forward to reading the book.

  27. I’m excited to read Francine and Ben’s story! I love the setting too!

  28. I have been reading a lot about this book and would love to read it. It is on my to buy list

  29. Francine and Ben sound like folks I would admire, love to be friends with and definitely worth reading about.

    Had to laugh about Francine’s inability to know directions because that is me dead out. Meanwhile Ben has so many traits that remind me of my husband including his love for the mountains.

  30. I have been hearing a lot about this book. It is going in my TBR for sure! I have not read a book by Ann yet! Think I need to remedy that soon.

    • She is a great author!! You have got to try this or something else by her. I highly recommend the series Hidden Springs Mysteries

  31. Loved the book, the frontier nurses, and the Appalachian mts. :-)

    • I posted my comment before reading what to post LOL so…. I think Francine was a strong amazingly courageous woman, with a surprising sense of adventure. Ben, of course, was a hero, a hunk I am sure, and and overall wonderful guy!

  32. I think I want to know more of these characters. Can’t wait to get my hands on this book. I love reading stories around the Appalachian mountains.

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