Because I've been so busy with novel 2 this year I haven't read a lot of books. I've picked up and started quite a lot but, for some reason or another, I haven't finished many. Of the handful of books I have read from start to finish two have stayed with me - for quite different reasons - so I thought they deserved a mention here.
The first is Rowan Coleman's 'The Happy Home for Broken Hearts'. I was lucky enough to be sent a copy and, being a fan of one of Rowan's previous books - The Accidental Family - I couldn't wait to get started.
'The Happy Home for Broken Hearts' is about Ellen, a woman who loses her husband and is forced to take lodgers into her home so she can provide for her young son Charlie and avoid bankruptcy. Her new house guests include an aged Mills and Boon type novelist called Allegra, a separated German business woman called Sabine and Matt, a lads mag journalist. I'm not going to write a detailed book report (you'll have to read it yourself to find out more!) but I wanted to mention that what really stood out for me in this book is how well Rowan does characterisation.
There's so much depth to Ellen, her main character and you find out so much about her - her past, her personality, her hopes and fears - without the pace ever slowing or huge passages of exposition breaking up the plot. Ellen genuinely feels 'real' and while I really enjoyed the storywhat really stuck with me was Ellen's character arc - she ends the book in a very different place from where she started it.
Something else Rowan does brilliantly is to drop little hints about a secret that underlie the plot. As the reader you pick up on them but the characters remain woefully ignorant and that sense of 'why haven't you figured it out yet?!' really propels you through the book.
Rowan is also the mistress of the third person POV head switch (she does it seamlessly) so if you're writing a chicklit/women's fiction book using the same device it's definitely a book you should study.
And let's not forget that 'The Happy Home for Broken Hearts' is a wonderfully enjoyable, escapist read. Buy it as a Christmas treat for yourself!
The second book I want to recommend is 'The Unit' by Ninni Holmqvist.
I'm not sure if I've ever mentioned this on my blog before but I'm a HUGE sci-fi fan. No, really! Some of my favourite books, ever, are 'Brave New World', '1984', 'The Handmaid's Tale' and 'Fahrenheit 451' but it's a genre I've neglected a bit in recent years.
I was given 'The Unit' as a birthday present by someone who knows I'm a secret sci-fi enthusiast and I was immediately intrigued by the claim on the cover that it's a novel for 'Orwell and Huxley fans'. It could almost have been written for me!
I wasn't disappointed.
'The Unit' is a gripping, dark and thought-provoking novel about a dystopian future where childless, single, unproductive men and women over the age of fifty are sent to the Unit. Once incarcerated they live out the rest of their days in comfort...well, apart from the 'donations' they have to make to society in the form of medical, physiological and psychological experiments until the time comes for their 'final donation'. 'The Unit' follows the story of Dorrit and I found it utterly compelling and devoured it in a matter of days.
What gripped me most about this novel was the first person voice. It was so distinctive, so real, that my emotions were thrown all over the place. I really felt for Dorrit. I felt her disappointment, her disillusionment, her sorrow and her hope. I have mixed feelings about the ending of the novel but it in no way detracts from my huge enjoyment of this book. If you loved 'The Handmaid's Tale' you HAVE to read it.
I'm currently reading 'The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox' by Maggie O'Farrell (an author who totally blew me away with her novel 'After You'd Gone'). It's another compulsive read and one that I've temporarily had to (force myself to) put down until I've finished my novel 2 rewrites.
Talking of which - I'm over 2/3rds of the way through now. Hooray! 30/43 chapters REWRITTEN and good feedback from the agent and ed so far. I'm planning on getting the last 13 chapters out of the way between now and Christmas so I can have a nice, relaxing break then give the rewritten novel a quick read-through and tweak in the new year.
It means I'm going to have to rewrite about two chapters a day/night which is a bit of a tall order but it's got to be done....