Book Review: Strawberry Sky by Jan Ruth

Strawberry Sky

Grown-up, romance-plus, contemporary fiction.

I was looking forward to this – the third book in the Midnight Sky series having read and enjoyed the two earlier ones.

I wasn’t disappointed. The main characters, Laura and James, had been through a lot in the first two novels, but the start of Strawberry Sky sees them married and ready to get on with their lives.

But now there is a set of new challenges for them to overcome. James is still recovering from the serious injuries he received in the second book and Callum Armstrong, the man believed to be responsible for those injuries, is still around and making his presence felt. James and Laura are also trying to establish a new business at their riding stables and then there’s the matter of Laura, desperate to have a baby but failing to conceive.

As in the earlier books, Laura’s sister Maggie and her family also play a major part in the story as their problems continue to impact on both Laura and James.

The supporting cast, including Rob the vet, and Laura’s assertive friend Carla, as well as the employees at the stable continue to feature strongly. And there’s a brilliant new addition of a young woman who comes to work at the stables and who has quite an effect on Laura.

So there’s plenty to keep the reader turning the pages. As always Jan Ruth’s characters are credible, three-dimensional and fascinating, and the setting of the Welsh mountains and countryside is beautifully drawn. As in the earlier books the healing power of being with horses features strongly too.

Yes all the features of a Jan Ruth novel are here – main characters who’ve lived long enough to have significant back-stories, stunning settings, and a satisfying and well-handled plot.

All in all a first –class read.

Incidentally you don’t have to have read Midnight Sky and Palomino Sky first in order to enjoy Strawberry Sky, but I recommend you do – just for the sheer enjoyment.

Back Cover Blurb: Maggie is devastated by her daughter’s plans, but Jess is determined to remove the past from her life no matter the upset it will cause. James is no longer running from his past, but a multitude of unresolved issues are set to catch up with Laura. As an orphaned foal and a motherless teenage girl slip seamlessly into her life, are they key to a positive change or an omen for impending danger? Armstrong is a troubled young man and a trail of minor events ends in a catastrophe no one could have predicted. Can the family ever recover, or should they simply trust in destiny?

Strawberry Sky is published by Celtic Connections and is available in paperback and as an e-book.

Book Review: Silent Water by Jan Ruth

Silent Water

Genre: Contemporary romantic fiction

I do like contemporary novels with romantic relationships at their heart, but I also like the characters, especially the women, to be twenty-first century in their aspirations, their experience and their way of life, and now I’m officially an old bat, I especially like them to be at least over forty.

Jan Ruth does not write soppy, unrealistically romantic, relationship tales, and that’s why I like her books. They tick all my contemporary romance criteria.

And Silent Water is no exception. It’s the third in the Wild Water series and I did enjoy being back with Jack and Anna once more. If you haven’t read the first two, I recommend you do so. You could do a box-set binge 🙂

Here are characters with full and messy lives. These are 3D people with flaws and baggage. They are credible, mixed-up and real. Even the children are complex and real. Eleven-year-old Lottie is a particularly vivid character.

Once again, the Welsh landscape is a bit of a character in its own right. There’s the brooding lake of the title and, the wilds of the mountain tracks, but there’s also the market town of Conwy and the seaside resort of Colwyn Bay. And, always, there’s the weather doing its bit to add to the atmosphere.

The plot is a tangle of various strands, the stakes are high and the emotion full on, but the author handles it all beautifully. Love in its many forms including marital, family and sexual runs through the whole story and it sets up plenty of conflict and a fair amount of jeopardy too.

There are moving moments of realisation and new self-knowledge for the main characters, as well as old patterns of behaviour which prove hard to escape from.

There are also twists and a level of suspense which made the final chapters especially hard to put down.

This is realistic, grown-up romance, peppered with grit and a fair bit of intrigue, and it all adds up to a highly satisfying read.

Type of Read: Feet up, comfy sofa, no distractions apart from very dark chocolate and a full-bodied red.

Back Cover Blurb: The tragedy and comedy that is Jack’s life; a dangerous web of lies concludes a bitter-sweet end. Jack Redman, estate agent to the Cheshire set and someone who’s broken all the rules. An unlikely hero or a misguided fool? In this sequel to Dark Water, Jack and Anna must face the consequences of their actions. As the police close in and Patsy’s manipulative ways hamper the investigations, will Jack escape unscathed? With her career in tatters and an uncertain future, Anna has serious decisions to make. Her silence could mean freedom for Jack, but an emotional prison for herself. Is remaining silent the ultimate test of faith, or is it end of the line for Jack and Anna?

Silent Water is published by Celtic Connections and is available as an e-book and as a paperback. The other two books in the series are Wild Water and Dark Water

Book Review: Midnight Sky and Palomino Sky by Jan Ruth

Midnight Sky

Genre: Contemporary Fiction

This a review of two novels, Midnight Sky and its sequel Palomino Sky.

In the first book we meet the two main protagonists of both novels. They are Laura Brown and James Morgan Jones. They are attracted to each other from the start. But the many differences between them and the fact they’ve both lived long enough to have their own complicated backstories mean that for most of the first book the reader is intrigued by the ‘will they/won’t they component of the story.

Palomino Sky 1

And although this question is resolved to some extent in book one, it’s by no means a finished story with all loose ends tied up. There’s lots more problems and dilemmas waiting for Laura and James in the second book.

As in the novel Silver Rain also by this author, the dramatic Welsh landscape features strongly, and, as in her novels Wild Water and Dark Water,  (which I reviewed here) there is once again a strong supporting cast of interesting three-dimensional characters. The main settings of the various houses and of the stables are vividly drawn and easy for the reader to picture.

The issues of early childhood influences, fertility, failed relationships, bereavement and serious physical injury are all sensitively dealt with and form strong story lines throughout both novels.

In both books, there’s a lot at stake for Laura and James. And because they are such interesting and sympathetic characters, the reader is gripped. The second book is even more introspective and intense than the first. And while Laura seems to be doing all the compromising, there is no doubt just how much James loves her. As you read, you are rooting for both of them to overcome their demons and find happiness together.

This is, as always from Jan Ruth, grown-up, romance-plus type of fiction and the endings to both books are satisfying but in no way sickly.

Type of Read: I recommend reading them both back-to-back in a sort of box-set binge way, with lots of tea and cake to hand.

Midnight Sky and Palomino Sky are published by Celtic Connections and are available in paperback and 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