Book review: Friends take starring roles in three January novels

On a Beautiful Day by Lucy Diamond
On a Beautiful Day by Lucy Diamond

Friendships come in all shapes and forms – some good, some bad and some just downright fun – in three entertaining new novels to help keep the winter blues at bay.

On a Beautiful Day by Lucy Diamond

When four women narrowly escape death on a Manchester street, it brings about a sea-change in their lives.

Their brush with the Grim Reaper acts as a powerful catalyst, causing their hopes, fears – and in one case, a long-buried secret – to come bubbling to the surface. With their worlds thrown into turmoil, will their close-knit friendship be enough to ride out the storms ahead?

Lucy Diamond – better known to younger readers as children’s author Sue Mongredien – hits the spot again in this wise, endearing and acutely perceptive take on friendship, family and the way life has a habit of tripping you up when you least expect it.

The shining star of clever, contemporary novels like The Secrets of Happiness and The House of New Beginnings, Diamond is the go-to author for stories that inspire, uplift and entertain… funny, warm and believable domestic portraits that paint life as it really is.

On a gorgeous spring day of apple blossom and sunshine, four friends meet for a birthday lunch at a street-side restaurant in the heart of Manchester. The women consider themselves to be ‘an all-conquering group of friends who would drop anything for one another when the chips were down.’

But within minutes of their arrival, a passing car veers wildly towards their table before turning and crashing into a nearby shop. The driver had suffered a heart attack at the wheel, leaving a trail of chaos and injury.

It’s a defining moment for them all. For down-to-earth, sensible nurse Jo, who has just been through a painful divorce, it is the trigger to throw caution to the wind and allow herself to be swept up into a whirlwind romance with handsome Rick Silver, a man whose ‘baggage’ includes an unreliable ex-wife and a rude and stroppy 13-year-old daughter.

For Jo’s sister Laura, it’s a wake-up call to heed the ticking of her biological clock. After the heartbreak of three miscarriages, her first thought when she saw her life flash by, was that she ‘never got to have a baby.’ But is it too late?

And then there’s Eve, a no-nonsense accountant and highly competent mother-of-three, who is ‘freaking out’ because she has found a worrying lump in her breast and has not done anything about it. The shocking accident has focused her mind, and for one of the first times in her life she feels helpless and out of control.

Happy-go-lucky wife and mum India – who somehow never got to be the great musician she had once set her mind on being – is drawn to 20-year-old Alice, one of the victims of the accident who has been left in a coma and on the brink of death. Student Alice’s plight has brought back long suppressed and haunting memories for India.

All four women will need to draw on their reserves of bravery and resilience, and the bonds friendship, as they seek out hope in an uncertain world.

Get ready to cry, smile, and laugh out loud as Diamond peers into the lives and loves of four very different women, and comes up with the kind of dreams and dilemmas that we can all recognise.

It is perhaps the sheer ordinariness of her characters that makes Diamond’s stories zing. These are people that readers don’t just recognise but can invest in as they share with them an emotion-packed, rollercoaster journey through life’s slings and arrows.

Imbued with the warmth and empathy that are the hallmarks of this much-loved writer, On a Beautiful Day is a thought-provoking and poignant reminder to us all of the importance of making the most of every day.

(Macmillan, hardback, £12.99)

It’s Always the Husband by Michele Campbell

Sometimes a friend can be your worst enemy…

Welcome to the gripping debut novel from former Manhattan lawyer and NYC federal prosecutor Michele Campbell who delivers an intriguing page-turning thriller with a fabulous killer twist.

It’s Always the Husband is a riveting whodunit centred on three college roommates at a prestigious New Hampshire university whose lives become inextricably linked by a tragic death long after their student days are over.

Twenty years later, when the three very different women all end up living back in their old college town, their friendship takes a decidedly deadly turn.

Aubrey Miller, Jenny Vega and Kate Eastman are roommates at the Ivy League Carlisle College in Belle River and soon become inseparable friends who promise they will always be there for each other.

Aubrey only got to college through three years of dreaming and non-stop studying. With a mother who is a waitress, a father ‘out of the picture,’ and an older sister who is rarely seen at home, the family were considered to be ‘white trash’ no-hopers until Aubrey proved them wrong.

Jenny, meanwhile, is a local girl, a ‘townie.’ Confident and smart, she grew up in the college town Belle River where her parents own a hardware store, but she has high hopes that college will help her to achieve her ambitions.

And then there’s Kate, the wild little rich girl who looks like a hippy princess and is part of the drugs scene. She only got into Carlisle because of her father’s connections but she gives off seductive ‘waves of light and energy’ and for Aubrey who has never been ‘good at friendship,’ she is the friend she has been waiting for all her life.

But twenty years later, their friendship is about to take a deadly turn. Kate married the gorgeous party boy, Aubrey married up, and Jenny married the boy next door, but when one of the friends dies in shocking circumstances, will everyone assume that it’s always the husband? Or could it be the best friend?

Corrosive secrets are the menacing bedrock to this multi-faceted, deep and dark exploration of friendship, marriage and betrayal which will keep readers guessing until the very last page.

The complex web of relationships that form not just between the three women but also with the men who come into their lives adds grist to the mill of a mystery packed with atmosphere, suspense and ethical and moral issues that are relevant to any age.

An exciting and impressive debut from an author to watch…

(HQ, paperback, £7.99)

Snowballs: Winter Fun on the Slopes by Fliss Chester

If your fancy is for something frothier, why not escape to the glamorous resort of Val d'Argent for a winter week of fun and frivolity with a group of old university friends.

The snow and ice will soon be melting for Jenna, Max, Angus, Bertie, Hugo and Sally as they slope off for a hot holiday agenda which includes flirting, drinking, dancing… and a little bit of skiing along the way.

Former journalist Fliss Chester is on fine form in this sexy winter warmer which is packed with hilarious one-liners, plenty of partner swapping and as much action off piste as there is on the slopes.

It’s going to be an unforgettable Christmas as the pals jet off to the French Alps for a week of festive fun, flirting over fondue and hotting up over vin chaud. But once they arrive, the good friends are soon waylaid by secret passions, ominous oligarchs, chairlift shenanigans, sexy ski-instructors and the sort of social climbing that requires more effort and planning than a solo ascent of Mont Blanc!

Is the holiday destined to snowball into disaster or will there be someone waiting under the mistletoe at Christmas?

Clip on your skis, dig out your salopettes and get ready to be swept off your feet because it’s downhill all the way for Jenna, Max, Angus, Bertie, Hugo and Sally!

Bridget Jones style escapism on skis…

(Orion, paperback, £7.99)