For the past couple of years, I have done interviews with authors on Saturdays, and I have LOVED the chance to get to know my comrades and to introduce you to them. Still, it has some time for a shift, so from now and into the foreseeable future, I will be doing book reviews on Saturdays.
Sometimes, I will review one book, sometimes a few. I will be bringing in lots of writing books – and a few books on business for writers – all with an eye to help you find books you love, books you can learn from as a writer, and books that might be helpful to you as a writer. So these won’t be entirely typical reviews – I’ll be looking at these books with a writer’s eye, trying to elucidate the choices these writers made that made their books sing or – let’s hope in rare cases – sink.
So, let’s begin. Oh, and I don’t do spoilers.
When Chick Lit Goes Right
I am not a big reader of chick lit. Or maybe I should say that it’s not my go-to form of reading. I prefer literary fiction or mysteries for my novels of choice, but from time to time, I am given the gift of reading a piece of women’s fiction that I just love. This was certainly the case with Jenni Ogden’s A Drop in the Ocean.
Here’s the gist of the book. Anna Fergusson, a researcher on Huntington’s disease, loses her funding and has to make – at age 49 – a radical shift in her life. She decides to take a year and live on a remote island off the coast of Australia, where she will act as caretaker for a campground. While there, she gets invested in studying the birthing patterns of sea turtles . . . and in a certain man.
So here’s what I loved:
- the protagonist in the story is intelligent, kind, engaging, and imperfect.
- the plot is straight-forward but interwoven with subplots and backstory that makes it rich and continually engaging.
- the setting is lovely for this introvert. A few key people. A small island. Beautiful views and places to take long walks.
- a larger story behind the story stands in the background but even so, the book isn’t moralistic or preachy. It’s just honest.
A Writer’s Eye View
As an ever-learning writer of fiction, I’m constantly working with how much conflict, how much complexity, and how much good, old-fashioned story needs to be in a work. In A Drop in the Ocean, Ogden finds an ideal balance of letting the main story flow while also drawing in threads of other plotlines. Therefore, I wasn’t lost, and I wasn’t bored, and I wasn’t overwhelmed. She does a great job of holding several stories together on one main throughline.
Additionally, one of these subplots comes to play as much more crucial than the reader first expects, and as is the case in the best novels with a bit of mystery in them, the news is surprising when we first read it AND it feels a bit like we’ve known it all along. Great use of light-handed foreshadowing here.
Finally, I just want to highlight the richness of Anna, the protagonist. She’s an intellectual, and she’s not sentimental or weak. She’s likable, but not in that flat way that women are sometimes depicted. Her imperfections are many but not overwhelming, and they don’t drive the story forward as much as her active choice do. I found that so refreshing.
I highly recommend A Drop in the Ocean if you enjoy reading stories about strong but imperfect women, if you love sea turtles (lots of those here), if you’re looking for a model story that heightens conflict as the story goes along without resorting to ridiculous measures, or if you would like to read a protagonist whose choices, not just who she is, drive the plot.
You can get a copy at the links below: