The Adoption by Dave Hill
: this is Dave’s new novel. I haven’t read his other ones, but this is cracking. Very touching, very ‘real’ – he really gets into the heads of multiple characters. I thought what was particularly strong was the detail of family life, the nitty-gritty incidents that are instantly recognisable, alongside the more emotional drama of the adoption of a troubled child. The family itself acts as a character, and I loved the way each person’s backstory was carefully woven in (e.g. the reason for the adoptive daughter’s phobia).
It would have been even higher, except that I found the central character, Jane, a little unsympathetic (there's a scene where some non-parents question her desire for more kids, and I did side a bit with them, which probably just proves how shallow I am!). Jane’s a devoted mum who craves another child, and I am a lazy author who struggles with the responsibilities of cat ownership, so maybe it’s not surprising. And not all fiction has to have 100 per cent lovable protagonists (something I have debated a lot myself, as a lot of the more formulaic chick lit is full of 'endearing' heroines who are scatty but cute, ugh!). Jane was still an intriguing character, and I couldn’t put the book down!The Job by Douglas Kennedy
: I usually love a bit of Douglas Kennedy, but this is one of his earlier ones, a John Grisham style thriller. He switched to writing more literary romantic/relationship novels which have made his name, and I felt he’s definitely found his niche with those as I couldn’t rave about The Job. Personally I didn’t find the setting of the advertising world all that interesting, and though I sympathised with the protagonist’s dilemma, this kind of plot-driven thriller isn’t for me and I skipped quite a bit of the middle. Still undoubtedly well written and I found it interesting to compare with the fab novels he’s done since.Life Swap by Jane Green
: I haven’t read a Jane Green in years though I enjoyed her early ones. This had some lively writing and an interesting Wife Swap style scenario. What it lacked for me was any real conflict – not giving the plot away but both of the central protagonists had nice enough lives and thought the grass might be a bit greener and…well, to me, there has to be a bit more to make a book memorable. Of course, what do I know? She sells squillions and good for her! (Also, those amazon reviews are vitriolic in the extreme, who rattled their cages I wonder?)Twelve Sharp by Janet Evanovich
: Haven’t read any Evanovich before as it’s not really my thang, but this was feisty and fun, with a great heroine. But the fact is this kind of adventure isn’t my natural choice of reading: I’m not overly keen on stuff that I can’t relate to my own life. That doesn’t mean I only want to read books about thirtysomething novelists (thank God) but though I love humour, I have to believe in the essential truth of the people whose lives are making me laugh and this was too far from my own interests and experience.
To prove my plebitude beyond doubt, I really couldn’t get into Don’t Tell Alfred by Nancy Mitford
. I haven’t read any of her books before, so perhaps this was the wrong one to choose as a first one, but though I liked the beginning, I soon got bored and it went back in my suitcase unfinished.
I worked my way through a couple of non-fictions, too:Smart Dating by Mary Balfour
: no, I’m not planning to ditch the boyf, but this was a library book I took out as part of my research for Book 5. It has lots of checklists to fill in and exercises to do, which I do like in a self-help book. Having said that, it got a bit repetitive, especially the hint for girls who wear glasses to take their specs off a lot during the first date.Tales from the Country Matchmaker by Patricia Warren
was also part of my research. This woman has had a fascinating life, with some moments of real tragedy as well as joy at bringing people together. But the prose was very dry and ploddy, which was a missed opportunity as her life offers fab material. I still think biography needs good writing and a sense of dramatic structure, and this lacked both.
Finally, on the plane home I was reading Queen Camilla by Sue Townsend
, which was engaging enough to take my mind of my fear of flying, but since getting back I’ve felt no inclination to go back to it. It’s funny but a bit silly and January doesn’t feel quite right for ‘daft.’ For me, it almost falls into the same category as the Evanovich in that I can’t relate to that world, and of course I know that Camilla et al aren’t in fact living in a dodgy estate under an extended ASBO type scheme. I could suspend my disbelief but somehow other stuff’s more pressing. Plus it’s also a fact that I’m not mad keen on fiction while I’m writing my own…
So, what did YOU read over the break?