Two Book Reviews: The Ferryboat and The Family at Farrshore by Kate Blackadder

 

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Genre: Contemporary Women’s Fiction

Entertaining and satisfying stories economically told

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What I look for when reading a novel, regardless of genre, is good story-telling and good writing. I’m also nothing if not eclectic in my reading as evidenced by the fact that the books I’m reviewing today couldn’t be more different from last week’s review.

Last week it was A Suitable Lie by Michael J Malone, a bleak, challenging and gripping psychological tale that was under the spotlight.

This week it’s two short and yes, sweet, easy reads. And I enjoyed both The Ferryboat and The Family at Farrshore just as much as I enjoy any book that’s well-written and engaging. I enjoyed them a lot.

Both novellas began life as serials in The People’s Friend magazine. This is a long-established UK magazine aimed mainly at older women. Therefore the author’s remit would have been tight and specific. The original target audience would have been busy, mature women who wanted a bit of a positive and uplifting read. And they’d have got that from these stories, populated as they are with contemporary, relatable and recognisable characters. The readers would not be looking for anything provocative, offensive, scary or challenging.

But it’s important to stress that neither of the stories have a formulaic feel to them, and the serialised episodes translate well into the novella format.

The character’s back stories and what’s at stake for each of them are all expertly handled – not easy to do in this relatively short format. It’s easy to see that readers of the original serialisation would have remained engaged.

Both stories involve characters from different generations within a particular family as well as standalone characters so the reader gets several perspectives on the predicaments and situations that are presented. The plots of both books involve strong female leads and credible male characters and all are facing realistic 21st century dilemmas.

All-in-all satisfying, worthwhile and entertaining reads.

Type of Read: With tea and biscuits or coffee and cake and plenty peace and quiet. A me-time indulgence.

Back Cover Blurbs:

The Ferryboat

When Judy and Tom Jeffreys are asked by their daughter Holly and her Scottish chef husband Corin if they will join them in buying The Ferryboat hotel in the West Highlands, they take the plunge and move north. The rundown hotel needs much expensive upgrading – and what with local opposition to some of their plans, and worrying about their younger daughter, left down south with her flighty grandma, Judy begins to wonder if they’ve made a terrible mistake.

 

The Family at Farrshore

Cathryn is delighted to join an archaeological dig at Farrshore, in the Scottish Highlands. Apart from her professional interest in the Vikings, it means she’ll be at a distance from her recently ex-boyfriend, Daniel. Canadian Magnus Macaskill, is in Farrshore for his own reasons, one of which is to trace his ancestry. As they spend the summer lodging with Dolly MacLeod and her husband JD, Cathryn and Magnus are drawn into the extended family and to each other. But how will Cathryn react when Daniel reappears?

 

The Ferryboat and The Family at Farrshore are both available as e-books.

Dark Water by Jan Ruth – Book Review

Click to buy from Amazon UK Yes! Fiction for the thinking, grown-up woman. Goodbye chick-lit, hello fiction for the older and wiser woman.

The road to hell is paved with good intentions, as the saying goes. And for Jack Redman, the main protagonist in this book, that is certainly the case. As in the first book in this series, we are confronted by messy lives, terrible binds, bad decisions and their repercussions. Only this time Jan Ruth has certainly upped the ante and her characters have even more at stake. However, the pitfalls and perils are all mixed up with love––the sexual, parental, familial and platonic kinds.

Dark Water is the sequel to Wild Water. It takes up the story of Cheshire estate agent, Jack Redman, his ex-wife Patsy and Jack’s new partner, Anna. What I especially like about these main characters is that they’re over forty–– Jack is fifty––but they’re in no way ‘past-it’. And their age and experience in no way grants them wisdom. These are flawed, disillusioned people with lots of baggage, but for all of them there is hope.

Click to buy from Amazon UK

For those of you who haven’t read the first book or who need a reminder of what happened there, here’s a short summary. Wild Water tells of the dramatic ending of Jack and Patsy’s marriage, a break-up brought on by Patsy’s affair with a fraudster – an affair which has repercussions beyond just emotional ones for the whole Redman family, the children included. But after the loss and grief of the marital breakdown, Jack moves on. He begins a relationship with his former sweetheart, from their teenage years, Anna, who is now living and working on a farm in Wales. He also rebuilds and reinforces his relationships with his children – grown-up Chelsey, teenage Oliver and young Lottie. He overcomes the fact that Chelsey isn’t his but was actually fathered by Simon Banks, someone else he, Patsy and Anna knew in their youth, and with whom Patsy had an affair. He employs his rather feckless son in the estate agency and he shares custody of the quirky but engaging Lottie. He even begins to come to terms with Patsy’s revelation that she’s pregnant again and that he may or may not be the father. By the end of the book it seems Jack and Anna may just have found lasting happiness together.

But, right from the start of Dark Water, it’s clear that things are not going to flow on smoothly to happy-ever-after for Jack or any of the people close to him. Jack is torn between wanting to be with Anna, and wanting to do right by his children. His decision, under pressure from his ex-wife, to move her and their younger daughter, Lottie,  along with her toddler son, James, to be nearer to Lottie’s new school in Wales and hence very near to Anna’s home puts an intolerable strain on Jack and Anna’s relationship. The question of  James’s parentage­­––he could be Jack’s son after all––the reappearance of Chelsey’s father, Simon Banks–– now a dangerously disturbed individual who also bears a grudge towards Anna and who wants to reveal his identity to an unsuspecting Chelsey at any cost––the proximity of Patsy to Anna, and the commute to and from his two offices in Cheshire and Wales all lead to Jack’s life being increasingly complicated and stressful. And, in the end, complicated and stressful becomes dangerous and life-threatening.

The setting is almost another character in its own right, especially when the action takes place in Wales. It certainly adds to the atmosphere. But the description isn’t overdone. There’s just enough to let the reader form their own picture of the dramatic landscape but it doesn’t get in the way. Having said that though, the novel is very visual and the characters and settings are vivid enough that it’s not hard to visualise them as part of a television drama. Dark Water has a Sally Wainwright – Last Tango in Halifax, Scott & Bailey vibe to it. Jack’s poky flat that he shares with his son, the farmhouse, Patsy’s cottage, the quarry, the mountains and the art gallery where Anna exhibits her work––all were, in my head at least, easily translated into sets.

The tele-visual appeal is also reinforced by the narrative’s questions and twists along the way which go from intriguing to scary. The author is skilled in pacing their resolutions and reveals, and in peppering the narrative with just enough relatively minor details of the character’s daily lives to make the whole seem credible and true to life. And the climax and its denouement are utterly gripping. There’s also a feeling there’s more to come ––something the epilogue sets up nicely. All very fitting for dramatisation.

The themes of love, disappointment, loss and hope run through this book. The author lets us see them developing through the eyes of both Jack and Anna. She lets us inside their heads and lets us feel their emotions. In this way they become real, flawed and familiar to the reader.

Jan Ruth makes the reader care about her characters’ fates. She portrays all the characters––heroes and villains––as credible individuals, so we can even feel sorry for and understand the less likeable ones. And how utterly refreshing to have some older lead characters. Hurrah for this fine example of those of us who’ve matured beyond the ‘chick’ stage and are now older, wiser birds.

This is excellent contemporary fiction. If I had to shelve it in my virtual book shop, I’d put it in the contemporary women’s fiction section. It’s not chick-lit; it’s not Mills and Boon romance. It’s thinking, mature woman-lit and, like its intended readership, it’s got depth, grit, realism and warmth.

It’s a five-star read.

Dark Water and Wild Water are both available to buy for Kindle and as Paperbacks on Amazon.

You can find out more about Jan and all her other books on her website and blog at janruth .com. She is also on Twitter @JanRuthAuthor , Pinterest and has an author facebook page on Facebook

Free Summer Read – a story to lose yourself in

Some shameless self-promotion!

A book for the ‘fabulous 45-and-over generation of wonderful and discerning women’ and anyone else who’d like honorary membership. The perfect lazy summer afternoon read – whether on sun lounger or in little cottage sheltering from the rain – ‘Change of Life’ will be free to download to Kindle from late on Friday 3rd August until Tuesday 7th August.

See below for more info:

‘Change of Life’ by Anne Stormont

A tale of life. A poignant mix of sadness, hope and love.

Be careful what you wish for…

Wife to Tom and mother to four adolescent children, Rosie feels taken for granted as she juggles family life and her work as a teacher. She longs for a change.

When she hits a teenage boy with her car, her life veers into unpredictable and uncharted territory. The boy is Robbie – and Rosie discovers he is part of a terrible secret that Tom has kept from her for seventeen years. Then Rosie is diagnosed with breast cancer.

Rosie leaves home and begins the fight for her life. Meanwhile heart surgeon, Tom, learns what it means to be a husband and father. He struggles to keep his family together and strives to get his wife back.

‘A good convincing voice that had me identifying with the characters from the outset.’ David Wishart, Novelist

‘It’s a real emotional roller-coaster of a read. I was completely involved in the characters and their lives.’ Romantic Novelists’ Association.

A new voice in contemporary women’s fiction

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