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Monday, 8 November 2010

Reviews Saving Nathaniel and Proper Charlie

In case you've missed it, here they are again.

There are two reviews posted, please scroll down.


Jillian Brookes-Ward

REVIEW:  29th Oct. 2010
Having read more than half of Saving Nathaniel, and having enjoyed it hugely, I must say the great strength of this novel is the characters.  This is not your garden-variety chick-lit with improbable situations, a plotline as bendy as a Disneyland Mickey straw, and a snippy underlying theme about men.  Rather Saving Nathaniel is a novel of genuine emotion, never strained to fit some lipstick feminist agenda, but just good people sorting themselves out and doing the best they can.
The novel opens with Megan arriving amidst a hail of rain and cursing to fill in as housekeeper for her sister at the house of one Nathaniel.  He's not meant to be there, but he is, so Megan's expletive-filled embarrassing arrival is not just observed, it sets off the very real situation of 'I don't think this will work...'  Nevertheless, Nathaniel doesn't sack her (he does need a housekeeper) and she begins work in his house, and from there a deep friendship and then romance ensues.
Nathaniel, a widower, is entirely believable, wholly credible.  He is wracked with guilt, still, over the death of wife; he works too hard; he drinks too much; he gets surly often.  His life is slowly but implacably spinning out of its orbit and he has no idea what to do about it or how to fix it.  He's also a believably sexy man--not in any chocolaty brown eye stereotype way, but just as a person.  And this is a rare feat for a novelist to achieve--because there's no defined or easy way to ensure sexiness in a character.  Try too hard and it shows with all the glaring brassiness of over-peroxided hair on an X-factor loser.  Nathaniel just is.  And this is a gift.
Megan is one of life's good 'uns.  She's a good apple, kind-hearted, genuine, compassionate, caring and with a sharp sense of Northern humour that keeps her from ever being saccharine.  She's a delight.  And the unfolding friendship and gentle sparring and sparking of these two characters makes for a read as pleasant as an afternoon wallow in front of the fire with a mug of hot cocoa.  It's that good.
The author has a great ear for dialogue and writes it well.  All of it is wholly genuine (there's that word again) and believable:  funny, wry, teasing, snarly, honest.  But herein too lies one of the novel's problems.  Because a novel is more than just an extended dialogue between characters--and this isn't to say that there's anything wrong with any of the dialogue.  There's not.  And readers love nothing more than seeing a relationship grow and flourish.  But there's little else here.  And that balance needs to be redressed.
Several of the situations and scenes are somewhat repetitive rather than escalating in action or tension or empathy, and those could afford to be trimmed.
Then too, we're told that Nathaniel has a big house near Aberdeen, but there is absolutely nothing made of the scenery, not out the window, not in taking a walk.  There's no attempt to create any sense of place at all.  For example, lots of the action takes place in the kitchen but there's never a clue what kind of kitchen it is--Aga country, stainless-steel impersonal?  The house we're told is big.  But what does that mean?  Is it made of granite?  Is it old?  New baronial arriviste?  How is it decorated?  Are there frayed edges on the window seat cushions?  All of this would contribute to atmosphere and give a firmer sense of Nathaniel's character too.  And the grounds of this big house--who looks after them?  Nathaniel himself?  Or is there a gardener, once a week?  An introduction even of another character would add to our ability to see Megan and Nathaniel from a different angle and would round out their characters, because the one time we're given even a glimpse of Nathaniel's surroundings in his private study, where the "shelves groaned with books" that tells us so much, and it's lovely.
Other than that there are few wrong notes here:  Megan's sudden character change when describing her ex-husband doesn't work--especially since by this point in the novel we've come to see her as a most compassionate and forgiving and tolerant human being.  Nor do the few (and they are mercifully few!) infodumps about the characters' previous love lives and families and what they see in each other which are found only in the first few chapters.  For the most part, the author shows us their perceptions of each other--and that is so much stronger a way to reveal this kind of information.
Other minor points--would a Scot as well-heeled as Nathaniel is meant to be drink Southern Comfort?  Isn't that a crime against humanity for those north of the border?  Talisker is mentioned later in the book, but I would have expected him to regularly drink a single malt--Jura or Laphroigh.  And without ice.
Equally, I would suggest that there's an overuse of present participles in the first paragraphs:  "waiting", "kicking", "directing".  And to that I would say, don't be afraid of the strength of your verbs.  But I'd also say, this is just 'opening of novel' nerves, because it doesn't recur after about the second chapter, so don't be so concerned about 'hooking' your reader.
Saving Nathaniel is a good story, a story of great hope, wonderful characters, excellent and believable dialogue.  It has the potential to go very far.


The book chosen for review by Sinead was,
A Proper Charlie
Louise Wise

REVIEW: 17th Oct. 2010
A Proper Charlie opens with a genre-typical upbeat start. Although Charlie is feeling decidedly sorry for herself in this first chapter, she does so in such a humorously self-deprecating way that she manages to charm us even in her despondency. Her voice also feels quite fresh and real, while still keeping that vital chick-lit tone to it. Melvin is a delight as a secondary character and I hope we’ll be seeing more of him as the book progresses. The office politics and associated supporting cast work well here to give the chapter depth and a genuine feel. The little touches, like the coffee machine serving tea in error, are deftly done and add to the light-hearted feel while also working to build atmosphere. One of the chief pleasures of chick lit is a witty authorial voice and this opening chapter certainly engaged me as a reader. It is difficult in a crowded genre to sound different and new but I did find an originality here that made me want to read on.
Chapter Two has a very different tone. While there is still some wry humour, this is much more about connecting emotionally with Ben. I was delighted that the book took this turn. Good comedy contains pathos too and the beginning of chapter two provides an excellent contrast in tone with what has gone before and I found parts of it genuinely touching. Altogether, this allows for a more intelligent read, which I appreciate in this genre. The relationship between Ben and Camilla was handled well and gave some of the most affecting moments. Nicole is a suitably hideous character and provides for some lighter moments. There were times when I wondered if I found her a little too pantomime but ultimately I decided that I wouldn’t want her toned down given the depth of emotion in the scene as she counterbalances that effectively.
There were several points in the first chapter where I felt we were being given information we did not need to know at that time. While I now know a lot about Charlie, I would prefer to have that information conveyed through carefully constructed scenes rather than having it unloaded upfront, and I would contentedly wait for that information until a suitable moment. One example of this is Charlie and Melvin’s shared back story. I can see they are close and it would be preferable to see why later than to be told why in this opening chapter. It would also be worth looking for repetitions, such as Melvin’s comments on Andy where the reader can see that Melvin doesn’t like him and doesn’t bother to hide it, meaning that it is unnecessary for us to be told this as well.
Focusing on these two aspects would, I feel, improve on what is a strong start with some excellent characters and an intriguing premise. I was left disappointed there was not more to read. Which is, of course, exactly as the reader should be feeling at the end of chapter two. I could see myself tucking up on the sofa on a rainy night after a long day at work and relishing  A Proper Charlie.
To read a couple of chapters of, A Proper Charlie go to:

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