A Bed of Barley Straw
Hettie Redfern tends the stables on Lord Melton’s English estate and makes no secret of her feelings – she prefers dogs to men. Dogs don’t lie. They don’t manipulate, and when they love, they love unconditionally. Men, as the petite, copper-haired beauty has previously discovered, are rarely so loyal.
Alexander Melton, the son of Hettie’s employer, returns home from Afghanistan bringing with him the stray dog he adopted during his tour of service. He is immediately attracted to Hettie but finds her past distasteful – and Alexander is as suspicious of women as Hettie is of men.
The attraction between the two is powerful and magnetic, but their growing passion struggles against suspicion and mistrust. Can Hettie and Alexander put aside the past in order to look to the future?
I saw this on the ALLi showcase website when I was looking up another author and thought it looked entertaining, so I bought it.
It is an easy read. Although it is mainly a romance novel, it doesn't fall neatly into that genre, although it does contain the main ingredients: drop-dead gorgeous main man (complete with “chiselled face”); a heroine who is a “petite, copper-haired beauty”; other woman; best friend; conflict between the protagonists; a “past”; will they/won’t they. It has a nice setting: stables and big house in the countryside. And it looks at some interesting issues. Some bits are a bit clichéd, such as the only woman who can resist the gorgeous main man turns out to be a lesbian. Generally, though, I think if you enjoy escapist romantic novels, you will enjoy this one, although I have some caveats to that.
The main characters will appeal to animal lovers especially – a yard manager and an ex-army veterinary surgeon. As far as book sales go, it maybe wasn’t the right move to make the stables a hunt stables, though, with our hero taking part in the local hunts.
It has an omnipotent narrator, which is quite unusual these days and results in the reader seeing things from the point of view of people who are peripheral to the story. I think the story would have been much tighter and stronger if the points of view had been just the two main characters and we get to know the subplots through their eyes.
The story and its substories are quite well plotted, and some passages well written. The main and secondary characters are nicely drawn. But I feel that the book could have been made much stronger with some hand-holding by an editor.
This is the first book in a series, and I will read the next one to see how the story/writing develops.
If you've read it, let me know if you agree with my summary.
Editorial Input & Design
This story needs a much tighter edit. The omnipotent narrator makes for a lot of head-hopping and the points of view of people we neither care about nor are likely to meet again. I would have advised against this as I think the story could have been kept much more on track and tightened up to a more enjoyable read if the reader becomes immersed in just the two main characters.
I found the genre problematic. I have no issue with crossing genres and, indeed, like stories that aren’t shoe-horned into a category, and I applaud writers that refuse to be confined to a pigeon-hole. I think, though, this particular story would benefit (certainly in terms of sales) from being a bit more easy to categorise. Having a setting involving dogs and horses and countryside is great and appealing, but I would have advised against it being a hunt stables and there being descriptions of meets as this will lose a swathe of readers. Of course some novels must address unpopular subject areas, and writers are brave to do so, but in this instance the fact that it is a stables is important but the type of stables is not, and since there are plenty of readers who are against blood sports I would have suggested that the author steer clear of an unnecessary alienating of potential readers. Also, a number of equine terms are used, which will be incomprehensible to the general reader – is the story aimed at horse riders only, or at a wider readership? Losing or explaining (as part of the normal dialogue or story) the terms would be easy and none of the story be lost by it.
Is the story romance or erotica? If it’s romance, I’d suggest rewriting some of the more explicit passages – there are only a few, and they would be best toned down to avoid alienating some readers. Of course, some other readers will like the juicy detail, but I think the majority would respond better to a little less graphic scene-setting. If, on the other hand, the book is meant to be erotica, then there should be a lot more of it!
I would try to persuade the author not to fear the word “said”, as really it would work much better than the proliferation of muttereds, trilleds, hisseds, roareds and so on. I would also caution against so much exposition – let the story do the explaining and give the background.
I would suggest the author rewrites the scene where Hettie drives having been drinking. It’s a minor part of the book, and certainly people do this, but it is the sort of thing that might make readers of romance lose sympathy with the heroine. If you want readers to buy the next book, authors have to know who their audience is and keep them on side.
All in all it is a good story with some nice writing, but I would have enjoyed it better if it had had a darn good edit.
Cover: Simple and effective, but not professional looking. I think the reader will know pretty much what to expect from looking at the front cover, although a picture including a horse would be appealing. The blurb is OK, but a bit clichéd – it could be made more exciting and inviting. The blurb on Amazon is too detailed – it’s best to stick to what’s on the cover, I think.
Internal design: I read it on a Kindle and had no problems.
Book Clubs & Reviews
Very light to be a book club read. There are some issues brought up in the story that could be discussed, but it is more of an escapist book than a discussion book.
What others are saying: Amazon UK readers give it five stars (12 reviewers; ten of them use the words or a variant of “couldn’t put it down” and most have reviewed just this book; one of them found it to be “The best book I have read for years”); no Amazon US reviews; Goodreads readers give it 5 stars (5 ratings but no written reviews).
I couldn’t find any blogger reviews. Let me know if I’ve missed any and I will amend this section.