Review – The Stone Circle by Elly Griffiths

It’s almost embarrassing that I’ve had this blog for about six months now and have yet to make a specific mention of my love for Elly Griffiths’ Ruth Galloway series, but the most recent instalment was released at the beginning of February so it seemed the perfect time to profess said love. I first came across this series back in 2017 when I picked up The Woman in Blue by chance at my local Waterstone’s and was completely hooked, so I did what any rational person would do and consumed the previous seven books in the space of a couple of weeks. Although I loved the entire series, I do wish I’d realised at the first instance that the book I’d picked up was part of an existing series and had read them in chronological order because I ruined some quite major plot twists for myself by starting on book eight.

Ruth is one of my many, many literary heroes. Living alone in a cosy yet creepy cottage on the edge of Norfolk’s saltmarsh which I always imagine as Kate Winslet’s cottage in The Holiday but surrounded by an eerie fog, is basically the dream. She’s independent, intelligent and fiercely feminist which I love, and her day job is as an archaeology lecturer but somehow seems to get called in by Norfolk Police to examine murder victims’ bones at regular intervals. The only real plot hole in this saga is that people continue living in this area despite there seeming to be a new murder case approximately every six months.

Whilst I’m on the topic of Elly Griffiths’ fictional version of Norfolk Police force, this brings me to DCI Harry Nelson. Ah Nelson, how you confuse my emotions. I hated Nelson at the start of this series – he’s a narcissistic, indecisive pig who just loves to have his cake and eat it too. However, he’s also incredibly charming and clearly cares very deeply about both Ruth and his wife – we’re twelve books in now and I still go back and forth over whether I want him and Ruth to ride off into the sunset together and spend their remaining years solving crimes and doting on Kate, or stay as far away from each other as humanly possible because in many respects they are simply not compatible. To maintain any good saga, characters have to continually develop and this is something that Elly Griffiths absolutely nails. Keeping a story fresh after twelve books about the same set of characters is no easy feat, but I still feel like I’m seeing new sides of everyone every time I pick up the next book.

The Stone Circle probably wasn’t my favourite of all the Ruth Galloway series; I’d struggle to say which one was because I read them in such quick succession but A Dying Fall definitely stood out for me – the undertones of Pendle Witches made it extra creepy, though all Ruth books hvea given me a few creepy chills. However, that’s not to say I didn’t love The Stone Circle. The pinnacle of a good saga is that when a new book comes out, you feel like you’re catching up with old friends and this was no exception. Having a lot of principal characters, all of whom have intertwining plots and secondary characters around them, keeps the story fresh all the time and Elly Griffiths achieves that perfect balance for the reader where we can dive back in and know the characters inside out, but still be excited about fresh plots and new journeys on which they’re embarking.

Like every book in the Ruth Galloway series, I was immensely frustrated by The Stone Circle not answering the big question of what the future holds for Ruth and Nelson, and I’m still conflicted as to whether I want them to be together because Elly Griffiths does not like making things simple. The Stone Circle followed Ruth’s usual mysterious pattern of there being a really obvious culprit for whom it makes logical sense to have committed the crime, but you just know there’ll be a twist and the murderer will end up being someone you completely disregarded after the first few pages. Twelve times Elly Griffiths has fooled me with that. Twelve. The introduction of new characters created yet another layer to Ruth’s complicated story, and I’m quite interested to see if Star returns in book Thirteen and I would also like to keep seeing more of Michelle’s point of view. It would be great if Frank is explored more next too, because as much as I love Nelson I do also love Frank – which is precisely Ruth’s dilemma at this point in her journey.

Although it feels at this point like I’ve under-sold The Stone Circle, I do highly recommend the overall Ruth Galloway series. Each time I pick up an RG book I get completely sucked into her eerie world of lonely countryside and suspicious dark strangers appearing in the dead of night, which always makes me feel like I need to put the fire on and dim the lights – even if it’s the height of summer.

Review – Belle of the Back Streets

This week I found myself with three days off work (bliss) so, what did I do in that time? Get ahead with wedding planning? Finally redecorate the living room? Work out? Well, I sent one email to a photographer and repainted one wall of the living room, which in itself made me get a sweat on so *technically* I did do all three, but obviously not before binge reading a great new book.

Belle of the Back Streets is Glenda Young’s debut novel which only just came out I believe last week, but don’t cite me as a reliable source there. I’ll admit I hadn’t heard of Glenda Young or read any of her work until I saw some buzz about this novel on Twitter, buzz which came from Nancy Revell and anyone who has read my previous post will know that I pretty much live and breathe for her Shipyard Girls saga. Slight exaggeration, but it is really good, so obviously this was an endorsement I felt I could trust.

So, I went into Belle of the Back Streets with admittedly very high expectations, and I was certainly not disappointed. The story takes place in Sunderland in 1919, an era which doesn’t get a lot of coverage I think (usually it’s one of the World Wars or the Tudors when it comes to historical fiction), so my interest was piqued immediately, along with the fact that Meg ends up working as a rag and bone man (or girl, I suppose) – something which I knew very little about, but is basically the 20th Century version of Houghton’s scrap men.

But, of course, none of us are reading fiction books for a history lesson. Even if you come for the historical learning curve, Glenda Young makes sure you stay for the character development and overall suspense. I was almost late for an appointment during the baby stealing fiasco, and I pride myself on working out plot twists really easily but I will hold my hands up and admit that after the ‘bad woman’ was foreshadowed, I was blown away when it became apparent who that was going to be. As I’ve said before of my beloved Shipyard Girls, Meg has been added to the list of book characters that I wish I was friends with. She is so fiercely independent and driven but at the same time kind, loving and a bit vulnerable that I had to stop myself from fist pumping every time she triumphed.

And what is a women’s fiction novel without a dreamy man to fantasize over? Sorry Feminism, I am still very much in your club and firmly believe that Meg took care of her own damn self – triumphing at the end because of her own pure resilience and determination – but Adam is an absolute hunk. I loved Adam from the first time he’s introduced to us, despite the presence of the smelly netty during this otherwise very romantic meet cute, and had my fingers crossed through every page turn that Meg would come to her senses and just bloody well kiss him. Don’t get me wrong however, this isn’t some ridiculous Wuthering Heights damsel in distress being saved by the man rubbish – Adam is only rewarded with hubby status once Meg has won all her personal battles and it is made abundantly clear that she does. not. need. him. As annoyed as I was that she rejected his first marriage proposal, once I finished the book I realised what Glenda Young was doing – Meg does not need to be rescued and that is why she is a fantastic protagonist that you root for from page one. Historical fiction with fierce feminist undertones that make me want to yell YESSSS QUEEN from Ryhope cliffs is the only kind of historical fiction worth reading, in my humble opinion.

In case it isn’t abundantly clear by this point, I absolutely loved Belle of the Back Streets and will certainly be pre-ordering Glenda Young’s next masterpiece. Every plot point is tied up and concluded perfectly, the characters have so much depth that you get completely sucked into their individual worlds and it is an emotional rollercoaster which takes you through fear, anger, anticipation, laughter, pure joy and everything in between. Plus, there are animals in there too and what’s not to love about canine and equine side kicks? There was a brief moment where I really thought she had sent Stella to the knacker’s yard though, and if you had let that happen Ms Young, well there’s a small chance I would have been outside your house with a pitchfork. Kidding. A little bit. Hashtag ‘Justice For Stella’.

I definitely didn’t cry at the end though, I just had a bit of Dorito crumb in my eye…

Review – My Mum Tracy Beaker

Like all Millennials, particularly those like me who didn’t tend to get out much, I grew up reading Jacqueline Wilson’s eclectic oeuvre of tragically depressing yet addictive stories about kids on the fringes of society. Maybe this is why our generation grew up to love Corbyn so much? That is definitely something that needs to be explored. But I digress. So yes, here I was, twenty four and way too old to be reading books with illustrations, but the announcement that there was going to be a new Tracy Beaker story immediately reverted me back to being ten years old and immersing myself in a great book for hours on end without the guilt of ‘I really should hoover today’ or ‘I should probably use this time to go to the gym’. Ah, youth.

As is the case with many sequels, this excitement also came with a degree of apprehension. ‘The Story of Tracy Beaker’, ‘The Dare Game’ and ‘Starring Tracy Beaker’ were all released in a moderately paced succession, but it’s been twelve years since we last checked in with Tracy and Cam and, frankly, I was a bit worried that this one was going to feel forced and ruin the magic of the first three; but for the first time in recorded history – I was wrong.

We first  meet grown-up Tracy through the eyes of her daughter Jess Beaker, who has all of Tracy’s well-hidden good qualities – she’s thoughtful and puts everyone else’s needs before her own, which I think Tracy does deep down but it’s usually masked by her harsh outer shell. Jess is how I imagine the love child of Tracy and Peter Ingham would be, and given how this installment ends, that may well become a reality if there is a further book…

Tracy thankfully hasn’t lost her feisty streak – even as a mother she still hates authority, shouts at teachers and flies completely off the handle whenever she sees red. Having said that, she is fiercely protective of her daughter and very aware of how Carly treated her so she steers vigorously away from that cycle for Jess which adds so much depth to Tracy’s character and reminds you that her vulnerability is still there beneath the angst.

Tracy then falls head over heels for a boy (I know, ick!), and is convinced this is her ticket to the life she always dreamed her mum would give her with fame, fortune and even the pink Cadillac she’s dreamed of since book one. Nice touch there, Ms Wilson! I had reservations about the idea of Tracy being all loved up with a boyfriend, it just didn’t seem realistic to me and I went into this book with great cynicism towards that. However, trying not to reveal too many spoilers here, the boyfriend she has is actually a character we’ve met before – one I always thought there was something a little bit ‘off’ about when we first met him in ‘The Dare Game’. Throughout their relationship, Tracy’s guard is gradually let down and it was so endearing to see that side of her in such a big dose. It seemed like as she’s become an adult Tracy started to lose that sixth sense she always seemed to have about people’s character and her ability to spot a potential baddie within seconds, but thankfully, this is a quality she passed on to Jess – who is not so easily fooled.

Although this book would still be a great read as a standalone, it’s far more special for readers who are familiar with Tracy’s journey as all the previous significant characters make a return either directly or by reference from Tracy or another principal character. And the return of the Mickey Mouse alarm clock was just a nostalgia overdose for me, along with the several other subtle nods to Tracy’s formative yeas.

Naturally Cam is still here as the port of sensibleness in Tracy’s chaotic life, and her relationship with Jess is absolutely perfect and so touching to read. Cam actually has a more significant role in this installment, and becomes more of a character in herself rather than being formed through Tracy’s eyes from the pedestal on which she placed Cam after their first meeting; and her role is a really important consistency for the readers who have followed Tracy’s story from the start. Having Tracy transition into an adult without anyone from her younger years staying in her life wouldn’t really have worked, and also it would be difficult for fans of the series to believe that Cam wouldn’t have remained a part of Tracy’s story. There are some interesting developments with Cam’s character as well, and one pretty big one which is quite amusing as it is discovered through Jess’ observations, but Jess is a bit too naive to understand quite what this storyline implies. This part actually made me really want to go back and re-read the first three, in case this was implied earlier and I just didn’t pick up on it because I, too, was naive when I first read them.

As with all the classic Jacqueline Wilson books, the darker themes like poverty, bullying and to an extent domestic violence were still very prominent, but are narrated through Jess’ innocent perspective so it is somewhat softened and doesn’t feel like a really depressing, gloomy story. And, as ever, you’re still always rooting for Tracy to come out on top even when she is making some monumental mistakes. But of course, as she always does, Tracy comes out on top in the end despite all the struggles, and I love her even more for it. As much as I would love this series to go on and on because Tracy Beaker feels like an old friend with whom I grew up, the ending of this book is so fitting and satisfying that I don’t know where another one could feasibly go – thought I’m sure if anyone can manage it it’s Jacqueline Wilson. Tracy’s reunion with Peter really signified to me that she has come full circle and done the growing up that she needed to in order to appreciate him for the friend he always tried to be for her; and, wherever that relationship goes, it remains a perfect end point for Tracy and Jess’ journey. Plus, it is always nice to leave the door open for readers to make up their own mind about what Tracy might do next.