Monday, 20 March 2017

Emma's Review: Our Little Secret by Claudia Carroll

Reviewed by Emma Crowley

Sarah Dee has the perfect life. A high-flying job in a law firm, a beautiful daughter and a house to die for. So how does she find herself looking in through the kitchen window while another woman enjoys it all?

When Sarah takes pity on a struggling young graduate who can’t get a job, she thinks she’s doing the right thing. She’s being kind, generous and helpful to others, as she always is. But as Sarah allows the younger woman into her home, her law firm and even her family, is there more to this pretty youngster than meets the eye? And could this be a good deed that goes further than expected?

Our Little Secret is the 14th novel from Claudia Carroll who had been a very successful actress here in Ireland for many years before she turned her hand to writing. I have loved Claudia's books right from her debut He Loves Me Not, He Loves Me many years ago and it's equally as good follow up-The Last of the Great Romantics. It's stuck in my head for all this time for its laugh out loud moments and great story line. Over the course of writing so many books the feel and tone of Claudia's books has changed and matured as has her writing style. 

With this latest book even from the very brief prologue I could sense the author had gone in a completely new direction. There was a sinister underlying tone throughout which I thought really brought the story to life. At no time could you relax and take everything at face value and it kept the reader on their toes guessing the final outcome. Yet at the same time it didn't stray into mystery/thriller territory which wouldn't have been too realistic considering some of the love stories Claudia has written in the past. It would have ventured too far too soon into unfamiliar territory for her readers used to a romance story with a slight twist. Myself I loved this change of direction and tone and would love to see more of it in future books. I adored this book from start to finish and read it within a couple of hours and cursed the outside distractions that got in the way of me reading this book in one fell swoop.

This new book has a theme of focusing on people who are kind and agreeing and who will bend over backwards for you in an effort to please in any way they can. They do anything that is required without thanks. Then there comes that shocking, hurtful realisation point that you've been used. Your caring nature and generosity has been completely taken for granted and you find yourself left hurt, bewildered and helpless. We've all been there in that situation at one time or another or maybe even more than once in our lives and I think that's why I identified so much with what was going on in this story. OK maybe not to the extent that our main character Sarah Keyes experiences but there are certainly remnants here that I thought yes the same happened to me and by god does it hurt when you come to your senses and see what has been happening to you similar to the way Sarah feels when she uncovers the truth. Within this story the author explores this very issue when Sarah Keyes' life comes crashing down around her on both a personal and professional level. Not only does she realise that she has been played/used in a major way but things have gone more than that little bit too far and as the story develops we observe Sarah as she battles to reclaim the once happy life she had led. Although that in itself is not without problems but they are not insurmountable.

Sarah meets a character Lauren Cunnigham through strange circumstances I must admit and said character comes across as charm personified. It all seemed too good to be true as it was evident Sarah rushed into developing this relationship and offering so much help. I suppose part of her felt such sympathy for the story Lauren had told her and as her kindness and caring nature came to the fore Sarah felt the least she could was help in any way possible. Maybe Sarah should have been focusing more on her job as a lawyer and looking after daughter Darcy who herself was having problems at school and dealing with her parents separation instead of focusing more or less on a virtual stranger? But there does come that point when you think hey hold on a minute in this friendship/relationship it's me doing everything all the toing and froing, the offering of support and providing opportunities. It's all take, take and nothing neither emotionally or physically is given in return. It becomes so draining and when that ultimate realisation hits as to what has been ongoing right under your nose it feels like a heavy burden has been lifted from your shoulders. The only problem for Sarah once this realisation hits it only becomes ever so cumbersome as Lauren has woven a fine web that Sarah has become ensnared in to the point she wonders will normality ever return?

Claudia has written a powerful story one in which I became completely lost in. She has taken the theme of being used and brought it several steps forward to a terrifying point where Sarah feels all control is lost on her life and Lauren is waiting there with a smile on her face to step into her position. She will do this at whatever cost and the more I read the more I despised Lauren who at first seemed so sweet and a do gooder but in fact beneath that veil there was so much else going on. The story is told in alternative chapters from Sarah and Darcy's point of view and I think this really helped shaped the story. It would have been to one sided if we had only heard from Sarah. I liked Darcy's take on things and how she too was sucked in by Lauren.

Through reading Darcy's chapters we were privy to things Sarah hadn't witnessed and we also got to explore how she was dealing with life in general - being a teenager, coping with exams and peer pressure not to mention coming to terms that her parents separation was permanent. Darcy was a typical teenager and I could see why she fell for Lauren's charms. She probably felt left out by her mother considering how busy Sarah was with her job and juggling to keep the household going at the same time. In a way Lauren saw both Sarah and Darcy's vulnerable points and she played on them in a big way. Before the reader knew it Lauren was living at their house and working as an intern in the office Sarah works in. One would think this really wouldn't happen in real life but then on reflection you do read of stories like this in the paper or on the net where something similar has happened. You do question god was the person just so gullible but I think if you are not in the best place emotionally and someone preys on that you kind of just follow along for the ride. It doesn't appear at the time to be too good to be true. It's only when you can manage to take a step back that you understand what has been happening. It also takes an outside force to make you come to your senses and in this case Sarah's best friend Liz was that person. Liz was a brilliant character and every so often chapters from her perspective cropped up and I thoroughly enjoyed them. She was a no nonsense person and in spite of the fog clouding Sarah's judgement Liz was the one who could see exactly what was going on and in no way was she going to take things lying down. She was supportive of Sarah but their period of estrangement was realistic but when push came to shove Liz took the bull by the horns and was determined for the truth to out to preserve everyone's sanity.

I suppose I haven't mentioned much about Lauren and the way she was. There was only one chapter written from her perspective quite later on in the story and I was glad this was the case as such a brilliant picture had been built up of her through the other characters eyes. The reader is left questioning many times if placed in the same situation would they have acted the same way Sarah did? I'm not even sure at this point what my answer would be. A brief mention re Sarah's ex husband Tom I felt he was a little wimpy and gullible more so than Sarah and I could see how things wouldn't have worked out for the pair. There is a little romance slipped into this book and that is my only minor complaint that I felt it was all too rushed and maybe slightly out of place. If it had been absent it would have in no way have detracted from this superb read.

Our Little Secret is a brilliant, riveting book and without doubt it is the best thing that Claudia Carroll has ever written and that is in no way meant to take away from all of her previous books. The characters and story came alive on the page within the first few chapters and never let go until the final pages. It is such an absorbing story that provides plenty of food for thought and in my mind would be ideal for a book club. Long time fans of Claudia's writing will adore this book it provided everything you would want from a good read and much more. New readers will also love this too and I hope people won't be put off by the cover and think this is another average 'chick lit' read because it is not that in any sense and between the covers an intense, emotional roller-coaster of a story is waiting to be devoured.

Many thanks to Harper Collins Ireland for my copy of Our Little Secret to review and to Sharon for having my review on the blog.

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