A Family Man

41yXDcWNW8L._SY346_Matt Webster’s life is changed forever when he returns home from work to discover his wife has not only walked out on their marriage but has also abandoned their four-year-old son. Thrown in at the deep-end trying to juggle a demanding career in media with child-care, proves to be a massive learning curve for Matt but ultimately, a situation which brings rich rewards and Josh soon becomes the centre of his life.

I really enjoyed this; it’s always refreshing to read relationship-focused novels dealing with marriage and children from the male point of view, and I especially liked the blend of domestic tragedy with non-patronising, observational humour. The secondary characters are equally fleshed-out and add realistic colour such as Matt’s elderly father, and the absconded wife’s predatory best friend.

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The Other Woman

41ERDI7XjpL._SY346_Fran, trapped in a soulless marriage with a controlling bully of a man and an indifferent son, lives for her sensitive, secret lover. They hatch a plan to make a new life together. But when the final rendezvous goes awry, she is left with a heart-stopping race to retrace her steps and resume her old life before her indiscretion is discovered. But what has happened to Jack? His silence is painful and confusing. Jack is married to Helena, trapped in a marriage with a needy, volatile, wealthy woman dependent on alcohol and irritated by Jack’s lack of creativity and earnings. But as their relationship begins to fragment, Fran finds the strength to break free of her destructive marriage to discover not only does she have the wherewithal to be truly independent, she’s found the confidence to build relationships based on truth and reality.

Such clever writing, in that my allegiance was with Fran, the ‘other woman,’ the whole way through, and not Helena. Full of tension, especially throughout Fran’s half of the story, and so addictive! It really kept me turning the pages. And as well as a pacy plot moving between Fran and Helena, there is real depth to the characters – whether we like them or not – a reality-based insight into relationships, love and marriage, and children. I love how the entire cast knits together, how they rise and fall by their own hand. It delivered all the elements I enjoy in a novel.

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The Love Child

51Cd403P7GLJanine and Dougie were married for fifteen years until Janine decided she could no longer live with his addictions and his infidelity. Although she is now in a relationship with Dependable Mike, the depth of Janine and Dougie’s history together still lies like an unbreakable, invisible bond through Janine’s teenage daughter, Stevie. Their friends are something of a mixed bag including Dougie’s best friend Simon, and his wife, Victoria – who is so desperate for her own child she is often blind to Simon’s slippery ways. But when it comes to Stevie, Simon bites off more than he can chew and eventually, the dynamic of all their relationships implode.
This is a novel about relationships and how they connect: lovers, friends, husbands, wives, siblings, step-children, parents. It tackles some big issues alongside the domestic strata confirming that genuine, selfless love can overcome anything; and how something better can grow from the ashes of despair. Dougie enjoys the most development as a character, he’s so vibrant and colourful, almost larger than life! But for all his faults he’s big-hearted enough to still care for Janine’s daughter, and his personal struggle to once again build his life back from nothing is an enjoyable, remarkable journey and skilfully executed. The push and pull of emotional chess is rich and insightful, with just enough drama to keep the plot boiling without losing a grip on reality or resorting to sentiment. Deeply compelling, relatable, and hugely enjoyable.

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Daughters-in-Law

41JjP6FAJJL._SY346_Rachel has dedicated her married life to bringing up her three sons. When they marry and begin families of their own, their wives have their own ideas about family roles and interactions, and Rachel is often hurt. She says and thinks all the wrong things at the wrong time, and suddenly she is in danger of alienating herself completely.

This is rich, skilful writing; it does not rely on sensationalist plot twists, unreliable narrators, secrets or lies – it’s an intelligent observation of reality within family relationships, marriage, ageing, and what makes people tick. I recognised all the characters (although I did think three artists in one book was one too many) in people I know, even if the personalities were different, the traits and situations were the same. I could relate to the feelings from the young, first-time mother, to the bohemian wife torn in two by her husbands new city job, to the wife from a different country and culture, to the mother-in-law desperate not to be left out of any loops. The role which had been the centre of her life for so many years had suddenly turned on its axis, leaving Rachel lost and directionless, an acute condition for those who live solely for their children, and grandchildren. As Sigrid’s mother says; ‘there has to be enough in your own relationship and retirement to prevent you from living through (and therefore controlling) the life of someone else.’

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The Soldier’s Wife

51w-dQ39FqL._SY346_Dan Riley is a British soldier, a vocational career which takes him aeons away from home life and often stretches him to break point. In order to survive mentally and physically he relies on his comrades, and they become such an important and integral part of his life that he finds it difficult to disconnect once home and on leave. Returning from six months in Afghanistan, Dan is faced with the minefields of family life and turns to his equally adrift friend.
Alexa has managed without Dan’s emotional and physical support for so long she’s unsure how the family dynamic will adjust on his return, since the life of a military wife is one built around her husbands career and often leaves Alexa feeling invisible. Moving and making a home so many times not only inhibits taking a job, but her older child is at boarding school in order to provide some sort of continuity, but Isabel is so unhappy that Alexa is forced to make several decisions.

This is a slow, considered novel with a light plot, but it is meaty on character. The writing is pared back and subdued, and Trollope observes the human condition with her usual mix of truth and wry humour.

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A Spanish Lover

51ibpogxyylTwins Frances and Lizzie couldn’t be more different. Lizzie is the traditional achiever with husband and four children, a thriving business set in a fashionable town, and a large period-style family home furnished in the epitome of good taste to show for it all. Her days are interminably busy since looking after everything she’s created with her husband is a full-time job; and when the family finances take a considerable and worrying nosedive, their situation raises serious questions about what they value. Meanwhile, Frances creates a bespoke travel business and whilst seeking out off-the-beaten-track holidays for her clients, she meets and begins an affair with an enigmatic, wealthy – albeit married – Spanish hotelier. It seems that the freedom of choice for Frances is far more liberating and interesting than an indulgent lifestyle, and Lizzie finds she’s suddenly less than fulfilled with her lot.
Again, a misleading title as this novel is much more about the complexities of the family dynamic rather than a casual romance. This is a work-life balance problem versus feminism kind of novel, set in the early nineties. I really enjoyed the way these characters developed and the questions raised by their actions. My only negative was the amount of background detail about Andalusia, although the imagery was vivid and engaging.
 
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Second Honeymoon

Empty nest syndrome is preventing Edie from moving on. Her three children have all left home and husband Russell is looking forward to them spending time as a couple again. But eldest boy Matthew earns less than his girlfriend, who is ready to move up the property ladder, and he’s not happy. Rosa has a secret mountain of debt, and the strain of living with his girlfriend’s mother begins to take the shine off being part of a grown-up relationship for youngest boy, Ben. Meanwhile, after a stalled career, Edie lands a part in an Ibsen play, only to find herself offering an empty bedroom to her down-at-heel stage-son. Cue all three adult children eventually asking to come back, and their bohemian family home is fuller than ever.
Not as light as the title might suggest, and I really enjoyed this. A good, easy read without being overly sentimental. A touch of light comedy about it too, as well as Trollope’s usual insight into the complexities of family relationships.

Interview with a Character

Patricia Redman features throughout the Wild Water Series. A tough cookie and an astute businesswoman, she plays the victim card to her advantage and is always looking to better her lot, often valuing material things above relationships. But she is also vulnerable and desperate for genuine love. Sadly, she is often unable to recognise  it.

1. You seemed to have everything when you were married to Jack; a beautiful house, a hard-working husband, delightful children.  So why were you unfaithful to him?
“Oh, rubbish! Everyone only ever sees Jack side. He was a workaholic when I was married to him, just like his father, and look what happened there… I was unhappy, neglected, and bored. I didn’t plan to be unfaithful – it just happened. I know everyone says that and I admit I was stupid to fall for Philipe’s promises and his plans: yes, he had an amazing business plan for combining my beauty salon and his hairdressing chain but, well… things change and it progressed in a different direction from there. I suppose it was inevitable it all got in a mess since Jack was never around and Philipe just kind of ‘got me.’ Above all, he understood fashion and style in a way Jack never did. And anyway, Jack’s behaviour was no better. He couldn’t wait to get Anna Williams into bed the minute my back was turned.”
2. Your daughter Lottie seems such a lovely girl, but are you finding her behaviour rather challenging as she grows older?
“Lottie and I have never seen eye to eye, she was always a daddy’s girl. Still is, always will be. Which is why I made the decision to move away. It wasn’t easy, but I did it for her and Jack, in the end. You don’t believe me, do you? It’s true. Lottie has never needed me in the way that Oliver and James have. Even Chelsey was far more independent, but she’s another story altogether, isn’t she? Actually, I don’t want to talk about Chelsey because my words will be twisted and everything will come out about Banks and that awful, awful time when he… well, as I said, I’m not going to be drawn into that other than to say that Jack and Anna had a lot to do with it, surprise surprise! As for Lottie, she’s happy enough. She’s going to stage school, that’s the last I heard.”
3. What do you think about Anna?  In other circumstances could you have been friends?
“Haha! Anna? There are no circumstances where she and I would ever be friends. What on earth do we have in common? She’s a mess! She lived in a falling-down farmhouse surrounded by swamps of mud before Jack sunk a load of cash into it. So far as I know she still looks and behaves like a hippy from the seventies; long straggly hair, big boots, dirty skirts. Does she still waft incense sticks around and make her own polish out of beeswax? She used to be boring when we flat-shared in our student days but these days she takes it to a whole new level. Lottie told me the other day they baked liver biscuits for the dogs and dug up mealworms on the beach, so that says it all. Anna Williams has always been, and still is, fat and uninteresting, and she stole my husband.”
4. Why do you spend so much time and money on shopping?  Are you depressed?
“I did go through a stage of depression after losing everything, but I met another man, and you know how it is, some things just fall into place and I gradually got my mojo back. I love shopping, so why not? There’s nothing more satisfying than filling the boot of my car with lots of shiny bags. I don’t think it had anything to do with my depression… I see shopping more as a hobby, so in the end I think it helped me. It has to be better than taking pills, surely?”
5. Some people call you manipulative, but do you really deserve our sympathy?
“Do you know, I’ve never asked for sympathy but yes, I do think I deserve at least a little. I’ve had a really hard time with my family. My parents, for example, have been no support at all. I know I had to move back in to their place and I was grateful for that but emotionally, you know? I’ve never felt good enough for them, nothing I could do to impress them. And it’s the same now. Another reason I moved away. I can’t see where I’ve manipulated anyone… I don’t know what you mean. Oh, do you mean all those complicated paternity issues with Jack? Look, I did what I thought was for the best, for the children, at the time. I honestly think I deserve some credit for that, it wasn’t easy, holding it all together. I’ve no hard feelings towards Jack. I’m in a better place now. Although, I do miss him sometimes, after all we never forget our first love. I wonder if he thinks about me?”

Idea and Original post by Lizanne Lloyd, plus her book review: https://lizannelloyd.wordpress.com/2018/02/12/an-interview-with-patsy-from-the-wild-water-series-by-jan-ruth/ 

Inheritance

A clever, multi-stranded time-slipping generational novel centred around Kittiwake; a crumbling Cornish mansion. The story begins with a 50th birthday celebration in honour of its present-day owner, Lance. His mother, Natasha, flies in from France – free several years now from the cruel clutches of her husband, Hugo. Lances’ adoptive sister, Bel, who lives in much less grand circumstances, is also a guest. She’s nervous of the occasion, fearful of where it all began. But how will it end? And then we’re taken back seventy years to when American heiress Peggy Carmichael first set eyes on the mansion and sets about making it a home. But the death of a child means Peggy flees back to America and Kittiwake lies empty again, housing only wild parties in the sixties hosted by Peggy’s son, Benedict and his sister, Natasha.
A chance meeting at a party with runaway Serena is another beginning of sorts, and we’re taken along another journey, one of hope, ambition, and a naive young woman’s search for love. But Hugo is ever watchful and manipulative, and the consequences of greed, power, and control are just around the corner.
I thought this was an outstanding novel about the ripple effect of consequences. Despite the number of central characters and time slips, never once did I loose my way. It’s certainly more serious than Eclair’s other books, it’s also insightful, poignant, heart-rending and above all, completely compelling.

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Something To Live For


Andrew is living the perfect lie: he’s married to Diane and they have two children and a large family home. The innocence of this lie snowballs rapidly after a successful interview with the local council for a job in Death Administration. Bereaved at a young age, Andrew has had more than his fair share of loss. But in truth, family life on any level doesn’t exist for Andrew – he’s something of a nerdy loner, preferring his own company to socialising, and he’d much prefer to forget about his past. His job for the council is both fascinating and sad, and arranging funerals for those who’ve died alone touches a nerve in Andrew and he becomes steadily more concerned about his own fate. When Peggy joins the office her forthright personality draws out something of the man Andrew used to be, and a friendship blossoms. But a team-building exercise based on Come Dine With Me, is poised to blow everything apart and Andrew’s entire life looks set to be exposed – the rundown flat he shares with his model railway, the difficult relationship with his sister and her husband… and what happened to the real Diane.

Dark humour with a strong and original message about family ties. I found this read a slow burn to start but my enjoyment rapidly increased as the novel developed, and I loved the final third. Although there are dark themes – death, loneliness, depression, funerals – the satirical humour bubbles beneath the surface and the narrative remains witty and engaging. The secondary characters are relatable, colourful and interesting, and these subplots compliment the main story and add complex layers. There are numerous sad circumstances throughout, but it is also about the potential of love, truth, and hope, and the light these powers can bring to the darkest of places.