So this week Love and Charity was released, and it’s super exciting because for the first time I’m mentioned in the dedication! As some of you know, I’m part of a number of writing groups and organisations and a while ago I was asked to beta read for author Fiona Miers. At first this was a little daunting. Fiona has published many, many books under a number of pen names, with a number of different publishers. She is one of the most prolific authors I know, whereas I have not yet published a full length novel, so being asked to read and comment on her work during the writing stage seemed a little weird—until she sat me down for a heart-to-heart.
“Honey,” she said to me. “You know how to READ. I’ve never seen you without a book in your handbag. We’ve never had coffee without dissecting a novel. Your bookshelves are bursting. I need the fresh eyes of an obsessive book lover.”
And that’s how I found myself doing my first beta read.
Love and Charity is a contemporary romance set in the city. The heroine, Emily, is a sweet, optimistic full-time corporate lawyer volunteering for a women’s charity on the weekend. Our hero is the dark and slightly tormented Nate, a self-made millionaire that founded and financially supports the charity. Before anyone starts making comparisons between a certain other, tormented millionaire, Nate is nothing like Christian Grey. Christian Gray is an psychopathic asshole, Nate is not.
I liked Nate. He had enough arrogance to be an attractive alpha male, but enough depth to make my heart ache for him. Emily annoyed me, in the way a puppy dog nipping at my heels annoys me. Don’t get me wrong, I liked her—she was sweet and hardworking and had a joyful optimism that is rare and beautiful and should never be lost—but her naivety and glass half full outlook caused her to make some serious missteps. It was both what attracted Nate to her, and what got in the way of their happiness. I had a work colleague like her recently, a beautiful, young, hopeful girl that whose enthusiasm and attitude was breath of fresh air—yet sometimes I just wanted to close the window. She made me feel old and jaded. I’m used to identifying with the heroine, so it was an interesting experience to read a book and need to be fall in love with the girl, not the guy (which I did in the end BTW).
In contrast, the supporting female characters in Love and Charity are more my kind of women—fewer virtues and a touch more cynicism. Interestingly, the Disney Princess character type doesn’t bother me so much when I read historical romance. I guess it’s more fantasy-like than a contemporary, so I have more patience for naive young women.
There was almost a Greys Anatomy feel to this book. There were no scrubs or needles, but I was reminded of a scene is Season 3 where Callie (boy I’ll miss her), calls it high school with scalpels. Everyone spent so many years at school, then uni, then med school that by the time they got out, they’d never had a relationship and had no idea how to go about it—that was really where I felt Emily was at. She’d studied and worked and that was it, so no wonder she so was so out of her depths in this relationship. In comparison Nate was more Dr Hunt… Hot and slightly damaged. The character growth in this book was great, as both Emily and Nate rubbed off on each other, proving that in this case, opposites do indeed attract.
Fiona’s conflict in this novel was spot on. It was driven completely by the different personality types of the two main characters, and it therefore completely believable. There was nothing orchestrated, nothing that felt contrived for the purposes of the novel. The sex scenes were hot! There weren’t too many, which I liked because I usually skip over them. These ones there was no skipping. They weren’t dirty—Emily is far too sweet for that—just steamy. Stomach tinglingly steamy.
This book was great! So the question is, what was my role as beta reader? Really, not much. Different authors will ask beta readers to look for certain things. Sometimes they might want just a general impression, other times they may be looking for something more specific—is this character likeable? Could you envisage the settings easily? Was there anything that jarred and made it difficult to read?
In this case, I was given two thirds of the novel, an idea of what came next and asked for my opinion on whether or not that worked for me as a reader. Fiona then took the advice, used what worked for her, and finished the book. Upside? It was cool getting to be part of the process like that. Downside? I had to wait a month before I knew how it ended!
If you are interested in beta reading, there are always authors out there looking for peoples’ opinions. Contact your local writers’ group on Facebook and let them know you’re available. Be warned though—just because you give advice, doesn’t mean they need to take it. Authors often get conflicting advice from different beta readers and ultimately have to now with their gut, with what they think works for their novel.
From the back cover:
In the city of Melbourne, Australia, Emily is working night and day as a solicitor. During the week she is a corporate lawyer, making enough money to pay off her own house, and her mother’s. After spending her whole life under the threat of losing her home and watching her mother survive a broken marriage, she is determined to never be in the same situation. On the weekends she donates her time at a charity- Ellen’s House, to help women in need to escape those same situations her mother was once in. She is determined to succeed and has time for only one love in her life, and that’s her work. Running his own Architecture business, Nathan Johnson lives to succeed. He set up Ellen’s House- his charity for women, after his mother dies of abuse at the hands of his father. Determined to never be anything like the man who raised him, he keeps his work at the fore front of his life, and his women as un-important as possible. He may not be able to make up for the sins of the past, but he is determined not to repeat them; and that means never letting his guard down again. They’re perfectly matched and yet they clash at every turn. A man with so many layers he’s not sure which personality is truly his, and a woman who’s heart is big enough to love all of him.