It’s always a real pleasure to feature a new book by Jan Ruth here on Being Anne: I had the great privilege of being an early reader of her latest (many thanks to Jan for my reading e-copy), and it’s a particular joy to be able to share my review. Gift Horse is now available as an e-book via Amazon – and I really think it’s her best yet.
Imagine living eighteen years of your life around a mistake…
Caroline Walker’s daughter suffers a horrific riding accident. Her distraught parents wonder if she’ll ever walk again, let alone ride. And when Mollie’s blood group is discovered as rare, her husband offers to donate blood. Except Ian is not a match. In fact, it’s unlikely he’s Mollie’s father.
Eighteen years previously, Caroline had a one-night stand with Irish rock star, Rory O’Connor. Caroline fell pregnant. Deeply flawed boyfriend, Ian, was overjoyed. And Caroline’s parents were simply grateful that their daughter was to marry into the rich, influential Walker family.
Caroline turns to Rory’s friend Connor; and although his almost spiritual connection with his horses appears to be the balm she needs, Caroline cannot forget Rory, or her youth – both lost to a man she never loved. Eighteen years on and after surviving cancer Rory lives as a virtual recluse in the Welsh mountains. Through his well-meaning but interfering sister, he is shocked to discover he has a teenage daughter. Or does he? As the truth begins to unravel, Caroline finds herself faced with a complex trail of moral dilemma.
Someone has made a terrible mistake… someone is going to get hurt…
When someone asks me “what kind of books do you enjoy reading?”, I thrash about a bit and talk about more mature characters, “real” people, common experiences, emotional content well handled, a great story – but my answer could just as easily be “I love Jan Ruth’s writing”.
Her latest, Gift Horse, is a powerful story so very well told – a story of youthful mistakes leading to unwise choices, a layering of secrets with their inevitable consequences, the disintegration of a marriage and family, an examination of the meaning of parenthood, an exploration of family relationships, with a series of twists and turns and moments of drama that makes it a compelling read.
As always, one of the author’s great strengths is in her character development, and the way she draws you into the story by engaging your emotions as you join the lives of her characters: Caroline had my sympathy for her plight throughout, but regularly put it to the test. And I enjoyed the supporting cast – particularly gentle Connor, ex-rocker Rory, interfering friend Niamh – all superbly drawn, sometimes capturing your heart, sometimes behaving very badly, as real people do.
I particularly liked the early structure of this book, the dramatic and life-changing events of the present day interspersed with the story of Caroline’s past – the tentative start to her relationship with Ian, the insights into their early relationship highlighting their many differences, the headiness of the night that brings so many repercussions in later life. But I equally enjoyed the development of the present day story, the many relationships so well portrayed, the emotional content so authentic.
It’ll come as no surprise to anyone that there are horses here, but not to the degree I perhaps expected: I did particularly enjoy the focus on horses as therapy and a source of healing, something I knew little about, and so well done. And as always, the whole book has a strong – at times, almost cinematic – sense of place and location, the descriptions vibrant and detailed, capturing the beauty and wildness of the surrounding Welsh countryside.
I always enjoy Jan Ruth’s writing, but this book was really something rather special – my favourite so far, and highly recommended.
If you’d like to read more about Jan Ruth’s writing, you’ll find other reviews here on Being Anne – of Silver Rain (with a lovely interview), The Wild Water Series, Home for Christmas and Away for Christmas. Jan also visited with a rather lovely post – that always makes me smile – on riding Tom and racing to the finish line, to mark the release of the Midnight Sky trilogy.
About the author
Jan Ruth lives in Snowdonia, a mountainous area of North Wales, UK. Jan writes contemporary fiction about the darker side of the family dynamic, often blending life in rural Wales with a touch of city business. Her style is best described as fast-paced and realistic, with a sprinkling of dry humour.
The real story began at school, with prizes for short stories and poetry. She failed all things mathematical and scientific, and to this day struggles to make sense of anything numerical.
Her first novel – written in 1986 – attracted the attention of an agent who was trying to set up her own company, Love Stories Ltd. It was a project aiming to champion those books of substance which contained a romantic element but were perhaps directed towards the more mature reader and consistently fell through the net in traditional publishing. Sadly, the project failed to get the right financial backing.
Many years later Jan’s second novel, Wild Water, was taken on by Jane Judd, literary agent. Judd was a huge inspiration, but the book failed to find the right niche with a publisher. And then Amazon changed the face of the industry with the advent of self-publishing. Jan went on to successfully publish several works of fiction under her own imprint, Celtic Connections.
After a brief partnership with Accent Press in 2015, Jan chose to return to the freedom of independent publishing.
Jan’s books are available globally via Amazon in paperback and for Kindle; and locally, you’ll find them in North Wales libraries and Hinton’s bookshop of Conwy.