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Highlights in the Charts

Between Us by Mhairi McFarlane

Review by Marisha Puk


With a review from Emily Henry stating, “she is so ridiculously talented … consider this recommendation my personal gift to you and your life”, how could anyone not want to check out McFarlane’s latest novel, Between Us?


Beginning with a prologue about her mother’s intimate life and looking at death, we are given a quote which is referenced throughout; “It was slow, but fast at the end”, hooking the reader from the first pages. Over the course of the chapters following, we witness a loving but declining relationship as Roisin’s boyfriend, Joe, falls into workaholism; his famous TV series has been incredibly successful, forcing his new one to be even more so. So, Roisin sits by as the people in her life watch some of her biggest secrets play out, but at least they don’t know the secrets are hers.


Or do they?


Joe also reveals secrets about himself, leading to the beginning of Roisin's relationship with Matt, which is full of fresh love with the true love of an old friendship.


Packed full of romance, it also examines more testing themes of loss through Joe’s character, including medical scares and abortion. McFarlane gently and subtly weaves in these darker topics to culminate in a happy conclusion.


McFarlane addresses whether happy endings are too unrealistic in the novel ending by using the alternative of a happy new beginning.


Overall, this book is more than worth the read; it is truly romantic while keeping oceans of emotional depth, real and personable characters and a mysterious element which is the cherry on top.


The Cat Lady by Dawn O’Porter

Review by Lauren Fardoe


The Cat Lady primarily explores stereotypes, as revealed by the title. O’Porter evokes the typical “cat lady” qualities at multiple points, prompting a fundamental requestioning of everyday judgement.


Mia, a successful businesswoman in control of her life with an apparently established sense of self, is introduced confidentially to the reader through an intimate first-person narrative style. Her life seems fulfilling in all areas, particularly through the special relationship shared with her cat, Pigeon.


Pigeon is Mia’s life – she pours endless love and devotion into her cat’s well-being, immersing herself into the life she has made for the two of them dictated by the presupposed idea of what she “should be.” Interestingly, we do not discover the reasoning behind the powerful connection between them until midway through the book, yet the italicised flashbacks, although slightly cliché, reveal more about Mia’s tumultuous past, in turn building her background.


The routine and control previously established within Mia’s life begins to crack, faltering under various pressures but with a consistent presence holding it together – a pet bereavement support group she attends, despite her cat not having passed away. The assortment of people fit a little too well into archetypes of characters, an overly joyous woman, an angry, insecure, heavily tattooed man and an overdressed, exhausted older lady. However, pre-existing judgements from the initial impressions of the characters provide a basis of prejudice which is later challenged through a beautiful display of character development.


O’Porter proficiently navigates several stereotypes associated with women in their forties, exemplified by the titled segments of the book, such as ‘Wife’ and ‘Career Woman.’ These subdivisions draw attention to the presupposed qualities projected onto women of a certain age, stemming from established ideals of femininity, patriarchy and imposed feminism to an extent. O’Porter’s recognition of the pitfalls of a projection of gender roles, as well as the potentially negative aspects to a push towards an overly business-orientated woman, gives this book an unexpected depth.


Overall, the novel tackles surprisingly sensitive topics in a charming manner, albeit with occasional platitude, yet maintains itself as a thoroughly enjoyable read.


Yellowface by R. F. Kuang

Review by Madeleine McManus


Warning: this book may make you hate the publishing industry… and pancakes.


June Hayward and Athena Liu met at Yale when they were both studying to be writers. Athena leaves college achieving status as a bestselling author, with her debut novel being published by one of the “big five” publishing houses. She goes on to win multiple awards, gets offered TV deals and has captured the hearts of millions of readers. June has much less success and is scathing in her criticism of her publishing house who didn’t give her debut book a paperback run.


Tragedy strikes when Athena dies in a freak accident leaving June traumatised as the only witness, but not traumatised enough to forget to bring Athena’s unpublished manuscript home with her. What begins as a writing exercise quickly spirals into June publishing Athena’s story under the suspiciously ambiguous pen name Juniper Song. Showing the dichotomy with her first book, June’s claimed novel enters a bidding war between the “big five” publishers; she accesses a whole team dedicated to her demands and finally gets to enjoy the achievements she desperately wanted.


Or so she thought.


The steeper the rise, the greater the fall and June’s successful life of lies begins to crumble around her as her fears of being exposed grow. Her readers, and those most critical of her, delight in the unravelling of her deepest secrets which concludes in a messy and wild ending – a perfect reflection of June’s slow and steady descent into maddening paranoia.


This much anticipated and highly marketed book explores greed, white privilege and cancel culture through a narrative that also exposes the racism and seemingly random choosing of which books will succeed in the publishing world. Kuang has masterfully created an unreliable and easily detestable narrator which forces readers to make their own judgement of the sometimes subtle, sometimes obviously racist convictions. Kuang’s writing is addictive and crafts a story that so desperately needed to be shared, especially to those in the publishing industry.


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