It’s publication day today for book 3 in the Hedgehog Hollow series – Family Secrets at Hedgehog Hollow – and I face the day with the usual blend of excitement, anticipation and also nerves! I’m sure all authors have the same questions whirring round their mind the day a book is released:
- Where will it chart?
- When will the first reviews come in?
- Will readers like it?
When writing a series, there’s the added worry: Will readers like it as much as the last one?
The bar has been set high for the series with the first two books being extremely well received. At the time of writing Finding Love at Hedgehog Hollow has just over 1,700 reviews/ratings on Amazon with 94% at 4 and 5 star and New Arrivals at Hedgehog Hollow has nearly 1,850 with 93% at 4 and 5 star. That’s a lot of pressure on Family Secrets at Hedgehog Hollow and, while readers love the main character Samantha Wishaw, they do not love her cousin, Chloe Turner.
And this book is partly Chloe’s story…
The first book – Finding Love at Hedgehog Hollow – was told purely from Samantha’s perspective. She’s one of the kindest women ever but she’s had a rough time and there are some family members who don’t treat her well but in whom she still tries to see the best. Readers get to know Samantha, discover how she comes to be the owner of Hedgehog Hollow, and follow her as she gets the hedgehog rescue centre up and running.
Book 2 – New Arrivals at Hedgehog Hollow – continues Samantha’s story with Hedgehog Hollow now open for business. Part of the book is told from her perspective but part of it is from boyfriend Josh’s perspective as we find out all about him and the challenging relationships he has with family members but for very different reasons to the challenges Samantha has.
This dual-perspective approach will continue across the series. Book 3 – Family Secrets at Hedgehog Hollow – adds Chloe’s perspective to Samantha’s. Chloe is Samantha’s cousin and she’s one of the family members who causes Samantha major problems. Readers don’t warm to her and it isn’t surprising as, right at the start of book 1, she marries Samantha’s ex-boyfriend. Eek! That’s going to hurt. I won’t give any spoilers about what else she does for those who might not yet have read the first book, but it’s not good and the overall feeling is that she’s spoilt and selfish and Samantha would be better off without Chloe in her life.
It therefore may seem like a risk for me to have written a novel where I’m focusing on an unlikeable character but it’s not actually the first time I’ve done this. In the Welcome to Whitsborough Bay series, the second, third and fourth books (New Beginnings at Seaside Blooms, Finding Hope at Lighthouse Cove and Coming Home to Seashell Cottage) include a character called Clare O’Connell who comes across initially as spiky, cold and sarcastic. Coming Home to Seashell Cottage is Clare’s story and readers discover why she’s the way she is and there are so many reviews where the reader comments that they didn’t initially like Clare but, by the end of the book, she’s their favourite.
Could the same be said of Chloe?
What I’m hoping for here is that readers will finish Family Secrets at Hedgehog Hollow understanding Chloe better even if they still don’t like her. I’m sure there will be readers who find that they like her and even a few who can feel themselves starting to fall a little in love with her but I think the latter may be in the minority because of everything that’s gone on before.
What worries me is having some readers who didn’t like Chloe from the previous books (completely understandable) who still don’t like Chloe in this book and, instead of looking at the whole story, they will rate/review the book based on whether or not they’re in Chloe’s fan club.
Whether a reader likes a character or not can massively affect their review for a book. I’ve seen it so often for other authors – Great story but I didn’t like [name of character] – and they give it a 1 or 2-star rating because that character wouldn’t have been on their list of drinking buddies. Yet they’ve acknowledged the story was great. This seems very unfair but I can see the point if that character is the only main character or there’s a book where there are several characters and none of them are likeable. I read a book recently with five or six main characters and none of them were likeable and I have to admit I struggled with the book. I wasn’t rooting for any of them but I kept going believing they were going on a journey and, by the end, I would be cheering for them. It didn’t happen. And here’s why…
There’s a brilliant ‘how to’ book called Save the Cat! by Blake Snyder. (There are also variations like Save the Cat! Goes to the Movies (also Snyder) and Save the Cat! Writes a Novel (Jessica Brody)). The original book is about screenwriting but the lessons can be equally applied to writing a novel. Snyder states, “liking the person we go on a journey with is the single most important element in drawing us into the story” and this is where he gets the title from. He writes about how a movie could have a real badass detective or gangster as the lead character who is potentially not very likeable … BUT there is a scene early on where he saves a cat and this makes the viewer warm to him because we see his nice-guy side and find ourselves rooting for him. This makes me think of the John Wick series of films starring Keanu Reeves. John Wick is an assassin and kills lots of people in those films but we see how much he loved his wife and his dog and that makes us warm to him and root for him.
So can the reader root for Chloe?
Chloe is selfish and self-centred but she has plenty of ‘Save the Cat!’ moments. While she does offload baby Samuel onto Samantha the second she turns up at Hedgehog Hollow, there are many moments where we see how caring and protective she is towards him. She says and does things that upset people but she recognises this and struggles as she reflects on her own behaviour. And, of course, Samantha keeps giving her chances and we find out why this is the case, again seeing the ‘Save the Cat!’ moments through Samantha’s reflections.
This book is also Samantha’s story and readers love her so it’s understandable they don’t want to see anyone hurt her or take advantage of her. I love it that readers may feel defensive towards her and outraged by Chloe’s initial behaviour. But Chloe’s treatment of her enables Samantha to develop further herself and it also has another positive outcome (but I won’t say what that is to avoid spoilers).
Even if readers still don’t like Chloe, I hope they’ll still enjoy the book because of their love for Samantha, Josh and, of course, the hedgehogs. Afterall, it is ultimately their story and Chloe is just the ‘featured guest’ this book if you like.
Overall I hope that, whether readers finish the book disliking Chloe or waving a banner declaring #TeamChloe, they will understand her, appreciate the journey she goes on, and love Family Secrets at Hedgehog Hollow as much as the previous two. Fingers crossed!
If you’ve pre-ordered or purchase the book (in any format) at any point today or in the future, a huge thank you to you. Happy reading!