The ‘Fierce Five’ have always been the best of friends. Gail, Allie, Emily, Stacie and Diana are all different in character, but have complimented each other. Gail is the organised one who tends to get them altogether. Allie is quiet and tends to be more introspective than the others. Emily is the traditional one, with her twins and husband Adam at the centre of everything she does. Stacie has been married twice, someone who is proud of being straight talking, but is still holding a lot inside. Finally there’s Diana who came from a more deprived background than the others and has a more cynical or realist’s perspective on life. They are all invited by Gail to celebrate her 35th birthday at her cabin, an isolated and atmospheric spot in the Scottish Highlands. The girls plan on catching up, having a drink and enjoying the remote location where they’re removed from their everyday lives. However, when a snow storm threatens to cut them off completely, events are set in motion that no one expected.
This was my first book from Carys Jones and she certainly knows how to ratchet up the tension. This wasn’t my first remote chalet thriller this year because there have been a few books with a similar premise such as Catherine Cooper’s The Chalet and Ruth Ware’s One by One. I found this story compulsively readable, with well-drawn characters and a real sense of surprise and menace. The story is told in two timelines, the current stay in the cabin and then back into the girl’s pasts where we could explore their past interactions and the events that shaped who they are. These sections were not necessarily chronological, but each section informed the situation in the present. A third section is written as the transcript of a police interview with an unnamed person of interest. Since one of these transcripts starts the book off, we know how important they are to the story and that something very very wrong has happened on the girl’s weekend.
The storm is menacing and I felt like the author depicted it like a sixth character in the novel. Even though it’s outside, it seems to influence what happens inside, so as the storm builds so do the friend’s emotions. When the storm is at it’s height the secrets, and lies of the book’s title, come to the surface and events take a drastic turn. I loved the way the author depicted this complicated friendship, because it was realistic. Often large friendship groups like this do have factions – two of the group who are closer than the others, another pair keeping a secret from the group or one member feeling isolated from the others. It’s impossible for groups like this to weather the years without changes happening. Individual experiences shape and change us over time and that might mean friendships wax and wane, but in groups like this those changes can cause resentment and jealousy. This happens especially if two people bond over an experience they’ve both had, switching allegiances such as friends who’ve both have children tending to gravitate towards one another. As the secrets come tumbling out and the girls battle to cope with the revelations and the effects of the storm things reach boiling point. Which of the friends will snap? This is an entertaining novel about old friendships that might just put you off your next school reunion. Tense, claustrophobic, and an unexpected ending. I’ve been reading this in a remote cabin in North Wales and it definitely added to the experience!
Kate Sullivan has a beautiful home, a job she loves and a handsome fiancé: all she’d ever dreamed of since getting sober and painstakingly piecing her life back together.
But a chance encounter with her old best friend Becky threatens Kate’s newfound and fragile happiness. Kate remembers nothing of their last drunken night out, the night Becky broke off their friendship without warning or explanation.
With Becky back in her life, Kate is desperate to make amends for the past. For the closure she craves, Kate needs to know what she did that ruined everything.
But what if the truth is worse than Kate could have imagined?
This novel gripped me from the beginning and I could relate this back to being a young woman, unsure of my place in the world and being uncomfortable in my own skin. It’s depiction of how our fears and demons can shape us if we let them, and the dangers of self-medicating our anxiety and lack of confidence. It was such a thoughtful and honest exploration of female friendship and what can happen when those bonds are broken. As is usually the case in this type of domestic noir when the novel opens Kate appears to have everything. She’s just about to marry her American fiancé Ben, they have a beautiful home and she’s settled into a job she loves as a teacher. However, all of this hasn’t come easily for Kate, because she spent a few of her young adult years totally out of control. Thanks to the 12-step programme she has found a way out of alcoholism, and is on an even keel.
Yet, her past does threaten her perfect future when she meets an old friend by chance. Back in her wilder, drinking, days Becky was a partner in crime. In fact the pair were best friends, until one drunken night out, after which Becky never spoke to Kate again. Kate has no memory of that night. On meeting Becky, she feels the need to make amends for whatever happened that night, even though she doesn’t remember what she’s done wrong.
What distinguished this book from the average thriller was Freud’s compassionate and thorough understanding of alcoholism and the psychological journey individuals take when they embark on their recovery with AA. It was beautifully written, slightly slow in parts, but infused with a creeping unease throughout. I loved the psychological ins and outs of Kate’s journey, because we are inside her mind as she battles her past and tries to hang on to the life she loves. Freud really does nail the complexity of our inner voices and how they can trip us up and knock us off balance. That endless negative chatter that tells us we can’t do this, we’re not worthy and don’t deserve the good things we have in our life. I felt so much empathy for Kate and wanted her to be resilient enough to resist the chatter, and stay on course. I thought the author showed incredible knowledge and compassion for how childhood trauma affects our lives, particularly the struggles to form good, solid relationships. This was a powerfully written thriller, and I will be looking out for whatever the author writes next.
Meet The Author
In her other life, Emily Freud makes TV. She has over ten years experience in development and production and has worked on some of the most loved, talked about and award-winning series in recent years. Credits include: Educating Yorkshire, First Dates, and SAS: Who Dares Wins. This lifelong fixation with story and character is the thread that runs through her work, and ultimately led to the pursuit of a writing career.
‘My Best Friend’s Secret’ is her debut novel, published by Quercus.
This was an unexpectedly quirky and refreshing take on the obsessional friendship trope, a theme I’ve loved ever since watching Single White Female back in the 1990’s. This is the first of the author’s novels to be translated into English from the original Japanese. I was surprised by that, because there was something about the writing style and the main character that I thought would appeal to the British reader. I thought earlier novels might have also appealed to British readers. The daily eccentricities of the the Woman in the Purple Skirt the man m were charming and intriguing, so it was that and my curiosity about the motives of the Woman in the Yellow Cardigan that drew me in to the story. There is also an interesting, melancholic sense of humour that struck me as something British reader would enjoy.
There are some characteristics that the two women share, such as living standards and finances. It’s possible that both are lonely and are living from hand to mouth, but what drives the Woman in the Yellow Cardigan to get up and watch her every move? What does she want? Eventually, she lures the Woman in the Purple Skirt to a job with the cleaning agency where she works as a hotel housekeeper. This brings the women into proximity, but instead of a friendship emerging, the Woman in a Purple Skirt falls into an affair with the boss. This is the main difference between the women; the Woman in a Yellow Cardigan only watches, while the Woman in a Purple Skirt actually lives. I felt this distinction very strongly and wondered whether there would be resentment or even anger towards the Woman in a Purple Skirt. This is where the book really ventures into thriller territory as the women meet and we see the dynamics of female relationships, the obsessiveness and that human need to be seen, recognised and even desired. This woman simply wants to be noticed and considered by someone else. Why do people recognise the Woman in the Purple Skirt? What does she have that makes people sit up and take notice?
I found myself thinking about the word ‘sonder’ – one I’m using for my own writing at the moment. It’s a German word to describe the realisation that every random passer by has a life as rich and varied as our own. This seems to be what the Woman in the Yellow Cardigan wants to know, the rich complexity of the Woman in the Purple Skirt’s life. The woman always wears a purple skirt, it is possibly this and her set daily routine that makes people notice her. As she leaves her apartment every day she is followed and insulted by neighbourhood children, in fact she’s great entertainment for the neighbours who seem equally fascinated by her set routine. Every day she walks to the bakery and buys a single cream cake, takes it to the same park bench and eats it. No one knows who her family are or where she’s from. Her jobs are temporary, she lives alone and doesn’t even attempt to relate to others. She is an enigma, and the Woman in the Yellow Cardigan watches her every move, until she knows her daily routine uby heart. Even her appearance is intriguing. From a distance she could pass for a schoolgirl, but up close she has liver spots that belie her age. Her hair is dry, she lives in a small, shabby apartment and is short on money. She looks like one thing, but could very well be another. She’s different, but seems to have carved a life out in the world, something that the Woman in the Yellow Cardigan seems to find so difficult.
I thought it was wonderful to have two such complex and multi-dimensional female characters, especially where the relationship between them is the focus. There was a peculiar creeping unease built into the narrative. Japan seems to exude ‘otherness’ like nowhere else, a theme explored in the film Lost in Translation. I lived next to a Japanese Garden for seven years, where English plants and trees were pruned into the shapes of Japanese topiary. Stepping into it from my cottage garden made felt like entering a surreal and alien landscape. That’s a little bit what this book felt like. It was original and refreshing, perfect for if you’re in a reading slump, and a fascinating take on the thriller genre.
Flora and Julian struggled for years, scraping together just enough acting work to raise their daughter in Manhattan and keep Julian’s small theatre company—Good Company—afloat. A move to Los Angeles brought their first real career successes, a chance to breathe easier, and a reunion with Margot, now a bona fide television star. But has their new life been built on lies? What happened that summer all those years ago? And most importantly, what happens now?
GOOD COMPANY follows two couples entering the midpoint of their lives, against the backdrop of the New York theatre scene and Hollywood. It tells a story of what it means to, as the author says, “truly love but never truly know another person”.
By chance this week I’ve read two books that focus on that mid-point in life, either that or the universe is trying to tell me something. It seems to be a time of shake-ups and regrets. The time when we look at life and either wonder where our younger selves and their vitality disappeared to, or take stock and realise if we don’t make our dreams a reality soon, we never will. It’s the archetypal mid-life crisis on one hand and we shake things up – buy a motorbike, a sports car or trade in our partner for a different type of ‘racy little number’. Other people throw out the ordinary life and go travelling, create a micro-brewery or start a bucket list. For me it means getting some writing experience and gaining confidence with an MA, while finally sitting down and starting to write my book (wish me luck).
Flora meanwhile, is feeling the need to catalogue the years of mementos and evidence of what she and husband Justin have achieved in life. Whether it’s through the theatre group Good Company that they work on together, or through the family they’ve created. The author sets the scene with something familiar that we’ve all done, clearing out old cupboards and storage spaces we’ve been neglecting for years. Flora is looking for a photograph, but is also enjoying reminiscing over the years they’ve spent together professionally and personally. The photo she’s looking for is from when their daughter Ruby is about five years old and they’re staying in Julian’s family mansion in upstate New York for the summer. At the bottom of the filing cabinet she finds it, an envelope of photographs marked ‘KEEP’ from that very summer. Under it is another envelope with an object in, so Flora opens it to find Julian’s wedding ring. This is nothing new. He’s had at least three since they’ve been together. However, on closer inspection this is their first ring, she had engraved especially for him. We all know that feeling. When you discover something that makes the bottom fall out of your world. Julian claimed to have lost this ring on their summer vacation, somewhere outdoors. So how did it get here, carefully sealed and buried under years of family detritus?
We also get to take a look at Flora’s friend Margot, who alongside Ben and Julian used to tread the boards with Good Company. She was one of those friends so interwoven in their lives she’s like family. In fact a five year old Ruby was so taken with Margot that she was always on her knee and being cuddled. Another photo from that summer shows them all, each intertwined in some way with the other. When people are that close, boundaries can be forgotten and it’s hard to see where your ‘self’ ends and the other begins. When one boundary is crossed, others can be breached too. We see that Margot could be overbearing, even interfering, especially back when Flora is planning to marry Julian. Now a famous actress, with a lead role in a hospital soap, we start to see her personality emerging during an interview with a very well informed journalist. It’s clear that she’s well versed in avoiding the difficult question and very willing to manipulate to get what she wants.
I found the setting fascinating, whether it was a beautifully realised New York or sunny LA I felt like I’d escaped into a different world world while reading. I love the idea of Broadway, it was the only thing I wanted to do when I turned 40 – go to Manhattan and see a Broadway show. To be able to read behind the scenes made me feel like I was reading an episode of Smash, a series that I used to watch with a stupid grin on my face. I love to see people perform so it was an absolute joy to have that feeling after being barred from live theatre for so long now. As we sit back and observe the ins and outs of these characters, we can really observe and analyse their behaviour. We see the individual behaviour but also how it feeds into the group dynamic. I could see the established roles, the shorthand they have developed when communicating, and some undercurrents that even the group aren’t aware of. Margot’s controlling ways have followed her through life, Julian is more passive and even powerless in some situations, and Flora is awakening to the fact that sometimes the individual is more important than the group. Many people in middle age are ‘stuck’ in friendship dynamics that are unhealthy and need to change. It can be impossible to change within the group and only by walking away can the individual put themselves first or initiate change in their own life. Our friends can be used to us being one way and may even actively try to manipulate or force us to stay in our little box. I could see all of this here and for a therapist it’s a delicious psychological puzzle to unravel.
I can see why the author’s debut novel was such a success. This was a great character driven read, with a great sense of place to get lost in. I became fully immersed in Flora’s life and all the complexities of these interwoven friendships and marriages. A wonderful ‘holiday read’ to get lost in from a novelist well-versed in the dynamics of people and their friendship circles. It might even make you think about your own friendships. I must just mention that stunning cover art too.
Thanks to Anne Cater at Random Things Tours and Ecco Harper Collins for having me on the tour.
Meet The Author
Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney’s debut novel, The Nest, was a smash success, receiving widespread critical acclaim and named a Best Book of 2016 by many, including The Washington Post. Much of what made The Nestbeloved is back in play with GOOD COMPANY, including Sweeney’s distinctive wit and her incisive examination of the way people, and their relationships—with others and themselves—evolve over decades.
I loved The Last Days of Rabbit Hayes and it’s sequel, both written by this talented author, so I looked forward to starting her new one as soon as NetGalley granted it. As usual for this author it was full of big emotive issues, mixed with the funniest dialogue, strong female characters and an interesting set up. In the narrative from 2010, our four characters meet at an infertility support group. There is a second narrative from 1976 where we meet Catherine, a young girl from Ireland who becomes pregnant as a teenager and is sent to one of the now infamous homes for young mothers, run by the Roman Catholic Church. Coming from a Catholic family myself and finding out I would find it hard to conceive at the age of 25, I was concerned the storyline might be too close to home. I remember being given a list of telephone numbers at the hospital, of women who volunteered for a charity supporting those who had miscarried. I only called one number. Next to the names on the list was a little warning that some of these women had gone on to have healthy pregnancies and there might be children in the house when I called. I knew my outcome would be different by this point. I didn’t have the mental or physical strength to keep getting pregnant, then lose the baby multiple times. I had decided after losing my fourth child that I couldn’t keep going. It was a very hard choice, but the right one for me. I can remember ringing that number for support, only to hear a baby crying in the background. I put the phone down and locked myself in the bathroom so I could grieve in peace. As I read though, I found a kinship with these characters and wished I’d had a group like this to belong to, at a time when my family and friends were supportive, but really didn’t know what it felt like.
Within the group there are women at different stages of this difficult journey. There are so many different reasons for infertility and the author covers most situations within the group: those pursuing IVF; some going through the adoption process; some using donor sperm to have a baby with their same sex partner; women with medical conditions like endometriosis. One has anti-phospho lipid syndrome (often named Hughes Syndrome after the doctor who discovered it) which is my diagnosis and means that it’s possible for patients to get pregnant, but difficult to sustain a pregnancy. Patients with Hughes have sticky blood, making it very difficult to for blood flow to go through the placenta and to the baby. Pregnancies usually fail within the first trimester, my latest miscarriage was at just 12 weeks with twins. As the character in the book relates to the others, often it isn’t detected until the first scan and then an operation must be performed to ‘to remove the products of conception’. As she points out, the medical language may create a distance for the doctor, but for the patient it feels very wrong to see the words ‘termination’ on the consent forms and even harder to sign away the baby you have wanted for so long. The interactions with the NHS were so true to life it felt like the author had popped inside my head and rifled around in my memories. However, there was comfort in knowing this was a shared experience and that other women had been through this feeling exactly the same as I did.
Four women with very different reasons for their fertility problems are drawn together in the group and slowly develop a very strong friendship. A new face in the group sessions seems to bring them together. Ronnie is challenging at first. She seems super confident, asks uncomfortable questions, and invites the others to the pub. She has a strange ability to pull uncomfortable truths and intimate details from those around her, but never seems to disclose much of herself. I found myself starting to question why she was there in the group. Yet as time went on I warmed to her, she seemed feisty and frequently made me smile. Caroline is just about to hit rock bottom in her fertility journey. They have spent a lot of money on medical bills and rounds of IVF, but have never conceived. After discussion with her husband some time ago, they are meant to be never going through it again. Yet Caroline can’t stop yearning for a baby of her own and in her desperation she’s driving her husband away. To make things worse her beloved dog has just died. In a very fragile state she starts to consider just one more round of fertility treatment but her husband isn’t on board. She has to face a very hard decision; is her desire to be a mother, stronger than her love for him? Natalie and her girlfriend have decided to have children using a donor who is very close to home – her girlfriend’s brother. Her girlfriend thinks that if the baby is a blood relative to her, she might be more invested in the idea of becoming parents. Janet’s husband may be having an affair with one of the receptionists from his work place. How can she find out what’s going on? The women are very much a team and support each other, even if one of them is doing something crazy.
Between the present day sections there is the story of a girl called Catherine, back in 1976. Catherine finds herself pregnant after her very first sexual experience with a boy from school. He claims to love her, but she is about to be let down very badly. Catherine’s family are poor, whereas her boyfriend’s family are wealthy and well known in the area. His father is a local magistrate. So when Catherine tells her religious parents what has happened they immediately summon the parish priest and before she knows it Catherine is sitting at the back of his back being shipped off to the nuns at a mother and baby home. We already know the terrible way young girls were treated in these places from films like The Magdalene Laundries and Philomena, but I must admit there were parts of Catherine’s story that genuinely made me cry. I couldn’t believe the casual brutality of these nuns, who are supposed to be women of God. They really made my blood boil. I found it was Catherine’s story that drove the book for me, her plight kept me reading and there were a couple of moments in her story where I was so involved I forgot everything going on around me! The heartbreak, betrayal and psychological abuse this girl goes through is horrendous and her ability to keep going and survive is incredible.
I think that this author enjoys writing about women’s issues and their friendships. She has an awareness, that although we love our partners in life, it is often our female friends that hold us up and keep us going through the worst times. I refer to my best friends as my non-sexual life partners! I had an inkling about the mystery at the centre of the story. What did happen to the baby Catherine had stolen from her at the mother and baby home? I read this in a day, because I was so drawn in by the story and these women who felt completely real to me. Anna McPartlin has such a storytelling skill. She has a way of mining your emotions until you’re sobbing over someone who isn’t even real. For those who’ve been through any of the experiences featured, it might be a difficult read in parts, but I promise you won’t feel let down or misrepresented by the way she depicts your experience. This was sad, funny, warm and poignant. A little bit like life.
Meet The Author.
From Anna’s Amazon Author Page.
I’m an Irish novelist and a TV scriptwriter. Currently with 7 fiction titles available to buy online and one children’s title under the name Bannie McPartlin. As of August 2019 I’ve just finished writing ‘Under The Big Blue Sky,’ the follow up to international best selling title ‘The Last Days of Rabbit Hayes.’ This title will be published by Bonnier Zaffer and will be available UK &I IRE and amazon Summer 2020.
My previous short incarnation as a stand-up comedian left an indelible mark. I’m described by all who know me as a slave to the joke and my work focuses on humour and humanity in even the darkness situations.
So if you’d like to take a trip to the dark side and if you are a fan of big, bold characters check out my titles and I hope you enjoy.
If you are not a fan of moderate to severe cursing, best to move on. Either way good luck to you.
I dabble in twitter but often forget it’s there (@annamcpartlin). I’m better on Facebook but not brilliant Anna McPartlin and I really giving it a good old go on instagram #Trying (mcpartlin.anna) and my website is annamcpartlin.com.