Book Review: Who’d Have Thought It? By Christine Webber

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Genre: Contemporary Fiction

This book is packed with interesting characters. There are friends, lovers, and families and lots of entangled relationships between the individuals. The characters are so well drawn, it’s easy to imagine the book as a TV serial drama.

The story centres around GP Annie Templeton who finds herself single in her fifties when her long marriage comes to an end. Having to cope with an elderly parent who has dementia, a demanding job, grown-up but still needy children, and friends who need her support through their own life challenges take up a lot of her time and energy.

But in amongst it all she does long for a new partner to share her life with. However, it’s not easy and her quest has false starts, dead ends and surprises along the way.

Who’d Have Thought It? is bursting with warmth, humour and poignancy. It’s a story of mid-life in all its vibrancy, frustration, messiness and joy.

Type of Read: One to two sittings, snuggled up with wine and chocolate. Grown-up fiction for mature women for whom life is still full of love and surprises.

Back Cover Blurb: A year after discovering that her husband no longer loves her, Dr Annie Templeton wakes up with a sudden relish for singledom. However, she soon realises that being single in your fifties is very different from being single in your twenties. How, she wonders, do people of my age – with careers, adult children doing unwise things with unwise people, parents going gaga, and friends falling ill, or in or out of love – ever have the time and energy to find a new partner? Who’d Have Thought It? is a romantic comedy, which will make you laugh and cry – often at the same time.

Who’d Have Thought It? is published by On Call and is available in paperback and as an e-book.

Good Reads and Independent Booksellers

Two main reasons for this post: It’s  Independent Booksellers Week in the UK (20th to 27th June 2015) and I’ve only done one book review so far this year.

It’s not that I haven’t been reading. I’ve read more books than usual since January. I’ve just not made time to get the reviews done. Apart that is from my (ahem – modest cough) prize-winning review of JJ Marsh’s Cold Pressed which I posted here.

So now seems like a good moment to flag up the best of the rest of the books-read-so-far in 2015 and to ask that if you’re tempted to buy any of them, you perhaps consider going to your local independent bookshop and making your purchase there. Even if they don’t stock the book they’ll be able to get it in for you. Independent bookshops offer a real booky atmosphere and a personal touch and they need booklovers to use them. (Yes, I’ve included Amazon links but only so you can find out more about the books before you go out and buy them 🙂 )

I should also mention that my two local bookshops have just agreed to stock my novels and I appreciate their support very much. Let’s hear it for Tippecanoe and for Aros.

To keep it manageable I’m doing mainly brief reviews. The books are an eclectic mix, fiction of several genres, non-fiction, bestsellers and lesser-knowns, established and debut authors.

And so here they are – my five star reads for 2015 so far:

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Torn by Gilli Allan: A contemporary romance-plus novel – no gush or slush – believable, flawed, three-dimensional characters, vividly drawn setting and not one, but two expertly crafted will-they-won’t-theys. An evening or  bedtime curl-up read. [Accent Press]

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Get the Happiness Habit by Christine Webber: (only available as e-book so not one for the book shop) Self-help book on how to improve your emotional wellbeing. Easy to read, practical down-to-earth advice on how to improve your optimism levels and to recognise daily moments of happiness. Focuses on taking exercise, practising altruism, developing an inquiring mind, building resilience, maintaining a social network – in the real world as well as online, finding soul-feeding moments, for example through mindfulness or meditation or just going for a walk or listening to music, adopting a stoical view of life and taking time to care for ourselves. All sensible and doable. [Bloomsbury Reader]

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Us by David Nicholls: It’s David Nicholls so hey, I was expecting an entertaining read. I wasn’t disappointed. It’s a contemporary story of midlife crisis and re-evaluation told in first person by husband and father Douglas. His marriage is failing and his relationship with his teenage son is fraught. The holiday he hopes may set things right doesn’t go to plan. This is a sometimes humorous, sometimes poignant, always brilliant story of a guy whose good intentions pave a chaotic path. [Hodder & Stoughton]

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The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins: Contemporary thriller.  The story is told through the eyes of Rachel, Megan and Anna. Rachel is the girl on the train, commuting to work, fantasising about the people she sees from the train window, but then the fantasy becomes a much more challenging reality, a scary, tense and engrossing reality involving all three women. This is a gripping read – a definite page turner. great twists and storytelling. [Doubleday-Transworld]

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The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion: I quickly followed up reading this book by reading its sequel The Rosie Effect. Both are great. Narrated by main character Professor Don Tillman, both books tell of life as experienced by Don, a brilliant geneticist looking for and failing at romantic love.  He also happens to have Asperger’s syndrome. His unique take on human relationships leads him to set up a project to find a wife. Against all odds it succeeds and the two books follow his finding Rosie and later marrying her. Both books are charming, witty, funny, highly original and are just sublime storytelling. [Penguin]

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Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott: This book, published twenty years ago, is a writing manual – except it’s not. Oh sure it has lots of good advice for writers about facing the blank page, about getting started, persevering, getting support and getting published, but it’s also about so much more. It’s really a sort of wry look at life in a way – in that a lot of Lamott’s advice can be applied generally and not just ti the act of writing. It’s warm, instructive and wise.

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Killochries by Jim Carruth: This was a first for me. I’ve never read a verse-novella before. Carruth is a prize-winning Scottish poet. He was poet laureate of Glasgow last year. This slim wee volume is stunning – brief and beautiful. It tells a redemptive story of two men, distant relatives, both very different from one another. One an atheist poet, the other a bible quoting, stoical Christian. They are forced by circumstances to live together for a year on the older man’s somewhat bleak farm but as they do so they gain a mutual respect and a renewed perspective on life. [Freight Books]

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In the Shadow of the Hill by Helen Forbes: There’s an Ann Cleeves meets Ian Rankin and Kate Atkinson vibe going on here – fans of crime fiction will know what I mean by this.  This book is not just any old crime fiction, it’s Tartan Noir crime fiction, and it’s set in the Hebrides –  so before I even started reading this book it was already ticking important reading boxes for me. This is the author’s first novel and I can’t wait for the next one. It’s starts in Inverness on a slow burn and gradually picks up pace until after several clever, unforeseen twists it reaches its exciting conclusion on the island of Harris. The characters are believable and well fleshed out, especially the main character of DS Joe Galbraith who is both flawed and likeable. I definitely look forward to getting to know him as well as I know Jackson Brodie and John Rebus. [ThunderPoint Publishing]

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Bella’s Betrothal by Anne Stenhouse: (only available as ebook) This is a historical romance and it’s set in Georgian Edinburgh. And with this novel I’d say we’re sort of in Jane Austen meets Bridget Jones territory. But as well as the history and the will-they-won’t-they romance, there’s also a mystery at the heart of this novel. It’s an enchanting story and the author gets the tension level just right. There’s a great cast of characters from Bella’s good friends and her lovely aunt and uncle to her horrid mama and menacing pursuer. Being an Edinburgh native, I loved all the references to places I know and was impressed by the author’s attention to the details of the city’s development as its New Town was being established. Best of all though was Bella herself. Bella is no wimp. She’s resilient and feisty in the face of scandal and suffering and in the face of a real threat to her personal safety. She makes informed choices and she does what’s right even when it puts her at risk.  [MuseitUp Publishing]

So there you have it. What’s your favourite read of 2015 so far? And which independent bookseller do you support? Please do reply below.

 

 

 

 

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