Book review: The Art of Keeping Secrets by Rachael Johns

Saturday, September 24, 2016 Permalink

I’ve never read any of Rachael Johns’ novels, yet I included her in a post I wrote earlier this year for US book blogger, Caffeinated Book Reviewer, in which I featured three Australian authors.

I realise that sounds kinda strange, but… I follow Rachael on social media and love her words, updates and tweets. I can very much relate to her and think I’d like her if I met her in person.

However… her books have traditionally fallen more into the ‘romance’ genre: one I steer clear of as much as possible. As I do with fantasy, science fiction and non-fiction. And really big L literature, written by Russians with complicated names.

Johns’ latest release, The Art of Keeping Secrets, has been receiving praise from a lot of readers and book bloggers; and, as it sounded like it focused less on the happily-ever-after I decided to dive in. And thank god I did.

Book review: The Art of Keeping Secrets by Rachael JohnsThe Art of Keeping Secrets
by Rachael Johns
Published by Harlequin MIRA
on September 19th 2016
Source: NetGalley
Genres: General Fiction
ISBN: 9781489210531
Pages: 464

They’ve been best friends since their sons started high school together, and Felicity, Emma and Neve share everything … or so they thought.

But Flick’s seemingly perfect marriage hides a shocking secret which, with one word, threatens to destroy her and her family’s happiness.

Emma is in denial about a potential custody battle, her financial constraints, the exhaustion she can’t seem to shake off and the inappropriate feelings she has for her boss.

And single mum Neve is harbouring a secret of her own; a secret that might forever damage her close-knit relationship with her son.

When the tight hold they have each kept on their secrets for years begins to slip, they must face the truth. Even if that truth has the power to hurt the ones they love, and each other.

Perhaps some secrets weren’t made to be kept.

I knew I’d love Johns’ writing. There was no question of that. I tend to assume most people’s writing is a reflection of who they are and from stuff I’ve read (interviews and social media updates) I knew Johns’ style was warm and funny. Which came across in the novel. Her writing is very relatable and accessible. And by that I don’t mean ordinary, as not many writers can manage that easy conversational tone without it sounding forced or if they’re trying to be informal.

Initially I thought this book was going to be a bit Maeve Binchy-like… following some characters through several decades and learning of their secrets, but it’s set within a short time period – during a time of crises for all three of our leading characters. Their ‘secrets’ may be long-held ones, but Johns doesn’t draw them out in an agonising fashion. They’re shared early on and not all are immediately understood or receive empathy from the others, which makes the novel and its plot very real.

Their friendship was interesting as I found myself comparing the relationships to my own.  My long-term best friends and I see each other intermittently. Weekly at one point, but once partners and families came along it was harder and sometimes a month or so would pass. Even now I don’t usually see my (local) closest friends that often and I’ve sometimes wondered about those who seem to see their besties every day or several times a week. I don’t think familiarity breeds contempt, but nor do I think it necessarily makes a friendship closer. I now find myself messaging my two local besties every day on Facebook and I kinda like that I know what they’re up to and we can share our thoughts and concerns in a way that feels comfortable.

But of course that’s irrelevant. (Although I’m sure you were enthralled nonetheless!) Neve, Emma and Felicity met five years earlier and – via their sons – have become best friends. In many ways their boys are all they have in common, but they’ve bonded and ‘think’ they’ve shared their secrets and know each other well. But of course that’s never the case.

There’s a contemporary feel to this novel and it’s not just through social media references or popular culture. I can’t say too much without divulging one of the secrets, but Johns doesn’t shy away from a sensitive and complex issue – and handles it very well. In fact, in Flick’s case I initially cringed a little at the issue – as it seemed a bit contrived – but, it works and the ultimate decision Flick needs to make is one which seems almost impossible.

All three lead characters are complex and interesting – with very different personalities and very different problems. They’re independent and strong characters but – like so many women and mothers – struggling to believe they’re doing as well as others and worrying about failing their children. They’ll be very relatable for readers, as even this childless, single reader could relate to some of the dating and confidence issues experienced. And then there’s that sense of regret…. which I could metaphorically taste.

Mostly I was relieved on reading this book, which – incidentally – I read in one long bathtub sitting. Johns did not disappoint. She delivered as I expected and I loved the touches of herself interspersed through her characters and the book. I know she’s a lover of diet coke (as I am – well, Vanilla Diet Coke for me at the moment), and it features strongly. Along with chocolate. And wine.

This is an enjoyable novel, it’s not always cheery and my own tears were a surprise; but ultimately it’s empowering and uplifting. Readers shouldn’t necessarily expect their happily-ever-afters however, because Johns gives us something a bit more real than that.

The Art of Keeping Secrets by Rachael Johns was published in Australia by Harlequin MIRA and is now available.

I received an electronic copy of this book via NetGalley from the publisher for review purposes.

  • Jo
    September 24, 2016

    I’ve never read any Rachael Johns either, but was planning on giving this one a go- it sounds as though I should…

    • Debbish
      September 24, 2016

      Yes definitely Jo. I’m not sure if I mentioned to you that I tried to read a popular Chick Lit author a while ago and I really just couldn’t get through much of the book at all. The writing, the plot… it was all a little disappointing – and surprising.

  • Donna
    September 24, 2016

    Thanks for this review, I will definitely look out for this. I wondered if you’d read ‘Truly Madly Guilty’ yet? I’d be interested in what you thought, timing of secrets being revealed and all that.

  • irusja11
    September 24, 2016

    The post is just fantastic! Have a nice day:)

  • Kanga Rue
    September 24, 2016

    This sounds fab! And I’m glad we chat daily too. Want to see you more, so just let me know when is good. Love you!

  • Leanne @ Deep Fried Fruit
    September 24, 2016

    I saw this in the bookshop yesterday and I almost grabbed it, but then I bought a book for my dad instead. Now if only there was a book club or something I could be part of that would have pushed me to actually buy this gem … 😛

    • Debbish
      September 25, 2016

      Oh… ha ha… I see what you did there. Will need to think more about this online bookclub thing! 😉

  • Makeesha Byl
    September 24, 2016

    Thanks for the review! I have not read her work, but this is going on my ‘to be read’ list! Thanks Deb!

  • Kathryn
    September 25, 2016

    So happy to know you loved it too, I knew you followed her but hadn’t read her up until now. I think she stands up with all the best authors n the USA for this kind of book. She just gets better.

    • Debbish
      September 25, 2016

      Yes… most definitely Kathryn!

  • Book Muster Down Under
    September 25, 2016

    Deborah, I am so glad you enjoyed this one. I absolutely loved it and really am enjoying the deviation Rachael has taken with her writing. Now you need to try The Patterson Girls which I have reviewed previously 🙂

    • Debbish
      September 25, 2016

      It was hugely successful wasn’t it Marcia, I know I heard a lot about it and it won some awards earlier this year!

  • Janet Camilleri (@middleagedmama1)
    September 25, 2016

    Sounds like my kinda book. Although I don’t mind a romantic element to the books I read, there is much more to life than that and I love books that show a wider picture.

    • Debbish
      September 25, 2016

      I think it was nice this book covered the gamut – a married couple, woman whose husband had left for someone else and then a single mother who’d not had a relationship for a long time. Am sure you’d enjoy this!

I'd love to hear your thoughts