The Janus Stone by Elly Griffiths

Janus Stone

‘The Janus Stone’ is the second in Elly Griffiths’ Ruth Galloway novels and was my May selection for the reading group to which I belong. I chose ‘The Janus Stone’ because I don’t normally read crime fiction and the reading group has many crime fiction fans.

Ruth Galloway is a forensic archaeologist called in by DCI Harry Nelson when the skeleton of a child is discovered by builders demolishing a Victorian House in Norwich. The house has had a sinister history, as two children went missing, never to be found, when the house was used as a children’s home.

I always avoid saying too much about the plot in my blog as I think this can spoil the read for others, but the narrative was entirely credible and thoroughly well researched with its references to Janus without being smug or preachy. I found it totally absorbing and exciting – a true page turner.

What I thought was so skilful about Kelly Griffiths’ writing was that, whilst there were references to the first Ruth Galloway novel, they were so well woven into this one, the reader didn’t feel they only had half the story as I have found with other series.

The characters in ‘The Janus Stone’ are very realistic, flawed and human so that they come alive on the page and transform form mere characters to real people. I especially warmed to Ruth and Harry. Their story is definitely not over in this novel and I’m desperate to know what happens next to them.

A further triumph was Elly Griffiths’ use of setting. She has the ability to make a scene real and to convey something sinister exquisitely. I know Norfolk well and the descriptions were perfect. Similarly, I found there was a lightness of touch at times so that the narrative has humour as well as its darker side.

I thought ‘The Janus Stone’ was brilliant. I am now a confirmed crime fiction and Elly Griffiths’ Ruth Galloway fan. I’m off to read the others in the series.

My Mother’s Secret by Sheila O’Flanagan

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My enormous thanks to Frances Gough at Hodder Headline and Bookbridgr for the opportunity to read a pre-publication copy of ‘My Mother’s Secret’.

The Sheehans are a big, complicated Irish family whose lives are about to be disrupted beyond recognition when Roisin, Davey and Steffie organise a surprise party for their parents’ fortieth wedding anniversary. The secrets revealed and events that unfold at the party mean none of their lives will ever be the same again.

I’ve always enjoyed Sheila O’Flanagan’s novels, but ‘My Mother’s Secret’ has to rank as one of her best. It is typically written with warmth and understanding of what makes us human in all our frailties. With several twists along the way, the plot is satisfactorily resolved without being trite or hackneyed and I found myself cheering for each character and hoping life would work out for them. You’ll have to read it yourself to see who comes off best!

What I find so engaging about ‘My Mother’s Secret’ is that every character is human and realistic so that they begin to feel like people I really know and care about. I found myself thinking  about them when I wasn’t reading about them. It really does feel as if you’re part of the family taking part in the story with them.

I can’t recommend ‘My Mother’s Secret’ highly enough for those who love a heartwarming story with plenty of action, a brilliant range of characters and a jolly good cry along the way. It will definitely be a best seller.

The Last Letter From Your Lover by Jojo Moyes

last letter

Ellie is in the middle of an affair with a married man, John, that is distracting her from her work for The National newspaper, putting both her job and happiness at risk. In the past Jenny is the married participant in another all consuming passionate affair with Anthony, or Boot as she calls him. When Ellie finds letters in the newspaper archives written from Boot to Jennifer Stirling a chain of events unfolds that weaves past and present together in a spell binding read.

Circumstances meant that I read this story by Jojo Moyes over several months and I think it is testament to the quality of her writing that I never needed to go back over previous reading or remind myself of the characters and narrative. The lives of Ellie and John, Jenny and Anthony remained with me through other novels and events in my own life because they were so well depicted it was as if I was returning to catch up with people I really knew well.

What Jojo Moyes does exceptionally well is convey the human quality of her characters with all their self-delusions, faults and dreams so that the reader is deeply moved by those they come to love. I was desperate for Ellie to find happiness, but as the book progresses, it is by no means clear that she will. Similarly, the grief and wasted opportunity felt by Jenny affected me like a personal blow. I found Jennifer the more appealing female in this story.

Love and loss, self awareness, grief and happiness are the universal themes of our lives and Jojo Moyes conveys them with skill and realism. I’ve enjoyed every one of her books and this was no exception.

Six Months to Get a Life by Ben Adams

Six months

My thanks to Ben Adams for providing a copy of his novel for review saying ‘I’m quite happy with honesty, so if it isn’t your favourite book, be sure to tell me.’ (He didn’t have to worry!)

Graham’s life is a mess. The father of two teenage boys, he’s in a dead end job and is going through divorce. Deciding to give himself the six months before his 43rd birthday to get his life back in order, Graham meets Amy whilst walking his newly acquired dog. This could be the start of something positive – and possibly complicated, given his son, Jack, falls for Amy’s daughter Lucy. Unfortunately for Graham, he has a nasty habit of managing to say and do exactly the wrong thing at the wrong moment so getting to that birthday is never going to be easy.

I really enjoyed ‘Six Months to Get a Life’. I found it better written than some more established writers in this genre. Structured around short daily diary entries, the reader is given access to Graham’s inner most thoughts so that they get a real sense of who he is as a man. The diary format makes Ben Adams’ story an effective and accessible read.

The writing is fluid and engaging. There is considerable humour underlying Graham’s haplessness and on occasion I found myself laughing out loud. However, that is not to say that there isn’t real tragedy and emotion too and a twist towards the end took me completely by surprise. Reading Ben Adams’  ‘Six Months to Get A Life’ put me in mind of a more mature male perspective ‘Bridget Jones’ and the lessons Graham learns along the way would benefit anyone who reads the book.

Just occasionally I found the first person pronoun a little overused and might have liked a little more variety in the style, but then this is Graham’s diary so I suppose he can write it any way he likes!

One real success is Graham’s avoidance of his ex’s name. It put me in mind of Curley’s Wife in Steinbeck’s ‘Of Mice and Men’ where the woman is never named to try to reduce her status. As Graham finds out, preventing his ex from influencing his life is not as simple as he’d like it to be!

I’d certainly recommend ‘Six  Months to Get a Life’ to both male and female readers, and especially anyone who wants to know how to get their life back in order after a messy divorce! I’ll definitely be reading Ben Adams’ next book ‘Six Lies’