I received this book for free from the Bought, Publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.The Friendship Club by Robyn Carr
Published by Harlequin, MIRA on January 23, 2024
Genres: Fiction / Family Life / Marriage & Divorce, Fiction / Friendship, Fiction / Romance / Contemporary, Fiction / Women
Format: Audiobook, eBook
Source: Bought, Publisher
Buy on Amazon
Four women who work on a popular cooking show band together when they discover the youngest member of their group has an abusive boyfriend. The Barefoot Contessa meets Big Little Lies in this drama-filled novel about the power of female friendships.
Marni McGuire is the host of a popular television cooking show and leads a very happy life. Twice married, she has been widowed and divorced and now, in her mid-fifties, she enjoys being a successful single woman. But Marni's daughter Bella, who is pregnant with her first child, is convinced that Marni is lonely and she is determined to find a new man for her mother. To humor her daughter, Marni goes on a series of terrible dates. Marni's best-friend and colleague from the cooking show, Ellen, is a widow who has no interest in meeting anyone new and the two women have discussed the challenges of marriage and the joys of being single. But, while Ellen is adamant she wants nothing to do with men, Marni has to admit to herself that she would like to be with someone but only if he is the right fit.
As Bella's pregnancy progresses she admits to her mother that she has some concerns about the state of her own marriage, and all three women are concerned that the young intern on the cooking show is caught in a toxic relationship.
Marni and Ellen are determined to guide the two younger women to have the strength, confidence and support to improve their situations and the women gather regularly to talk about the important issues in their lives.
When Marni and Ellen each unexpectedly find themselves falling for new men in their lives the younger women help them navigate the dating world.
Together these four women form a strong bond of family and friendship that will anchor all of them as they navigate the challenges and celebrate the joys of life.
I’ve never read a Robyn Carr book, so I was glad to dive into her latest novel, THE FRIENDSHIP CLUB. Here’s an excerpt from the book and my review of the audiobook follows.
“And that’s a wrap,” the director said. “I think I have everything I need. I’ll do some editing and you can review it.”
“Thanks, Kevin,” Marni said. “My sister and my daughter are coming by for a glass of wine. Would you like to join us for a drink to celebrate finishing another season?”
“Thanks, no. I’m on the timer. New baby on the way,” he said.
“Of course! How’s Sonja feeling?”
“Huge,” he said with a laugh. “But the baby’s still cooking. The midwife says she has a few more weeks. Sonja cried for an hour after hearing that.”
“I remember that feeling,” Marni said. “Like it was yesterday. You better stay close to her. Thanks for everything this season. I think we got some good stuff.” Then Marni turned to her intern, Sophia Garner. “But you’ll stay, right?”
“I wouldn’t miss it,” she said. “It’s going to be an intervention, I think.”
“Oh, fabulous, I love those,” Marni said with a hint of panic. “If you and Ellen clean up, I’ll put out some hors d’oeuvres.”
Of course she was prepared; just a little fixing up and presentation required. Marni Jean McGuire worked every day and took very few breaks from cooking, writing, studying, traveling and experimenting with new recipes but they only filmed the segments of her show sixty days a year. But filming was intense. Twice a year they’d film for thirty days over six weeks—enough for two seasons. She hosted one of the most popular cooking shows on a cable network. Today marked the last day of filming and they always celebrated.
Marni’s kitchen was essentially a set; all their filming was done in her home as opposed to a studio. She smiled as she watched her producer, Ellen, who was busy cleaning up with Sophia. Ellen was a bona fide chef but she had no interest being in front of the camera. Sophia loved the camera and the camera loved her; after being caught on camera accidentally a few times, she had become beloved by the viewers for her quick wit and delicious accent.
Marni Cooks was very popular but hosting a TV show had never been her lifelong goal. Far from it. It fell into her lap like a glorious miracle. When she was a young widowed mother, she did whatever she could to make a dollar and raise her little Bella. She took a job handing out food samples for a chain of grocery stores. With her baby in a carrier on her back, she turned out to be a hit. She sold out her product day after day, probably because Bella was so funny and flirtatious and Marni, despite the fact that life hadn’t been easy, was personable and approachable. Almost immediately after she began, shoppers came looking for her, engaging her in conversation. They gave her good reviews and told store managers how much they liked her.
Once she filled in for a product demonstrator for the same grocery chain, showing interested patrons how to slice, dice, shred, spiral and chop vegetables. Again, Bella rode along; childcare was impossibly expensive. Her sense of humor and ease with being in front of a small audience charmed people—including the producer from a television station. Marni was hired to demonstrate a couple recipes every week on a local morning show. Along with that she did cooking demonstrations at fairs or exhibits, published a couple of small cookbooks, helped out at catering services, began writing a short cooking column for the newspaper and filled in when other chefs were unavailable as a guest on various cooking shows. Then she landed a full-time job as the on-air chef for a cable cooking show. She had been thirty-two. Her viewing audience grew quickly and soon after she hired Ellen, who was an expert in her own right. Marni was syndicated to a handful of affiliates and her popularity continued to grow. She knew she owed as much of her success to Ellen as to her own hard work. Ellen had a knack for delectable creation but she was such an introvert she would never agree to join Marni in front of the camera.
But in Ellen’s hands the food became a living, breathing wonder and she had become the associate producer over time, thanks to Marni. She knew what a gift she had in Ellen and took very good care of her. And Ellen knew what a great opportunity she had with Marni; no one else in the business would let her just cook without taking on any management responsibilities and yet pay her so well. But every time Marni’s fortunes improved, Ellen benefited as well.
A little over twenty years ago Marni had met Jeff, a news anchor for the local affiliate. Since she lost her young husband when Bella was only nine months old, she hadn’t been optimistic she’d ever find another forever man but fate shocked her by delivering up Jeff. It was a great love, filled with promise and passion. They were a team from the start, both of them being in TV and very visible in the community. They worked together, shoring each other up and urging each other on. Jeff was a fantastic stepfather for Bella and proudly walked her down the aisle six years ago.
Shortly after that something changed. Marni was concerned that a woman Jeff worked with had ulterior motives. She’d been stalking him for years, texting him, asking his advice, professing to be his friend and protégé and constant supporter. Marni had warned Jeff many times that he needed to be careful not to encourage this woman and he always said he could handle things. But his behavior changed and Marni grew suspicious. She caught them making out in Jeff’s car in the parking lot of a local park that sat in the shadow of the beautiful Sierras.
When she realized what she was witnessing, she drove very slowly up close to Jeff’s car and laid on the horn. They jumped apart like two heart attacks. It was divine.
She knew in that moment that her marriage, which she had enjoyed a great deal, was over. Clearly Jeff had been lying and leading a double life for years. The pain of that was excruciating. She also instinctively knew that Jeff and the woman had both gotten what they deserved—each other. Neither was honest nor faithful. In an instant she knew, she would not go a second further with a man who could look her in the eye and deceive her. She told him to leave. He didn’t argue or try to save their marriage, but he did hire a good lawyer and fought for a healthy settlement. At that time they both had solid careers, but Marni was edging ahead. Jeff went after a big slice of that success; indeed, he took credit, as he’d given her so much wonderful advice. At least that was his perspective.
At Marni’s insistence, they settled and divorced quickly. Marni had asked herself if she should pause and think it over, maybe try marriage counseling, but a gut instinct said end it fast. When he asked for a percentage of her future earnings, she knew she’d been right. It had to be over as swiftly as possible. She gave him half, though he hadn’t earned half. Since there were no minor children or businesses involved, he couldn’t possibly do better. She cut him a big check, waved goodbye and ran for her life. She learned you can still sprint pretty well with a broken heart.
After a couple of years of hating him, things settled down. Marni had handed over more money than seemed fair to her, certainly more than Jeff deserved, and that angered her but the relationship was over in her heart. And Karma being a vicious soul, Jeff was demoted in his job while Marni’s popularity soared.
Jeff had used his settlement to open a restaurant, hoping to capitalize on Marni’s notoriety as a television chef. But Gretchen, the other woman, was his business partner and Marni refused to endorse the restaurant. While he was busy trying to cash in on her success, Marni just put her head down, worked hard and became even more popular.
Then there was a sea change. Jeff had not married Gretchen, but he had spent a lot of money on her, found her cheating, and she unceremoniously dumped him, leaving Jeff a broken, much poorer man…with a struggling restaurant. Of course he brought his tons of regret to Marni, begging her forgiveness. Telling her that letting her go was the biggest mistake of his life!
“No doubt about it,” Ellen had said.
“Too little, too late,” Bella said. Bella was, if possible, angrier than Marni about Jeff’s betrayal.
“Men are so stupid,” said Sophia when she heard the story.
Marni had long since stopped complaining to her friends. To Jeff she said, “You broke my heart and tore my family to pieces. Don’t expect any sympathy from me.”
“You don’t understand, Marni,” he said. “I think she used me and turned me against you, the only woman who truly loved me.”
“Oh, I believe I understand completely,” she had said. The story was as old as time. He’d succumbed to flattery and been thinking with his dick. No amount of his regret would change the fact that she’d be an idiot to ever trust him again. She was no idiot.
But she did soften her anger slightly and they were now cordial. Every now and then Jeff would call her or text her or stop by, though the locks on the house had long since been changed. Over the past couple of years he had suggested a few times that they go out for dinner and she always declined. He clumsily proposed she might cook something for him. “One of your favorite new recipes… I would love that.”
“Not in your wildest dreams,” she had replied.
Marni heard the dishwasher start and snapped out of her thoughts of the past. She pulled her pesto canapés from the oven, the artichoke dip from the refrigerator and heard Kevin depart.
The door opened again. “Mama?” Bella called.
“Right in here,” Marni said. “How is the bump?” Bella was five months pregnant and cute as a button. It was a pregnancy hard won through wildly expensive in vitro fertilization.
“A little feisty,” she said with a very proud smile.
The door opened again and Marni’s sister, Nettie, came in from the garage.
Marni put down her hors d’oeuvres and transferred the centerpiece from the kitchen island to the long rectangular coffee table in the great room just as Ellen was bringing in a tray of wineglasses. Sophia followed with a large oval-shaped bucket filled with ice and two opened bottles of white wine. She went back for a chilled bottle of sparkling cider in an ice bucket on a tripod stand for Bella since she was off alcohol.
Marni loved watching them enter the room, her colleagues and loved ones. Ellen came into a room with shy demeanor, standing nearly six feet tall, lithe and graceful. She wore her her once blond and now white-gray hair in a simple pageboy. She always bent her head slightly and Marni wasn’t sure if her height made her uncomfortable or if it was her shy nature.
Nettie, ten years younger than Marni and the mother of two sons, was an English professor at the university in Reno.
Marni brought out a couple more plates of hors d’oeuvres, Sophia placed napkins all around, Ellen pushed over an ottoman for Bella to rest her feet upon, and they settled in. First was a toast. “A very good season, I think,” Marni said. “One of our best. I’m sleeping in tomorrow.”
Glasses were clinked in agreement, small plates were filled, napkins unfolded. And Marni looked around with a feeling of warm satisfaction. This was her happy place. This great room with her closest friends and family. And outside, through the patio doors, reflected in the backyard infinity pool was the sight of the Sierra Nevada mountains, still covered with snow, though it was May. They all lived in Breckenridge, Nevada, a picturesque little town nestled into the base of the mountain range just south of Reno and Lake Tahoe. There was a winding road, not exactly a secret but little known, that went switchback up over the mountains and then down into Lake Tahoe. People who grew up in Breckenridge knew it well.
This was an agricultural and ski town, with the mountains so close, and it was beautiful with its million-dollar views of nature at her best. To Marni, it looked similar to Austria.
Marni had overseen every aspect of the construction of this house, the kitchen being the focal point. She and Jeff were married at the time and while he helped by sharing advice and supervising construction, it was her house. She approved the plans and made it part of her business. And she loved it. Knowing it would be caught on camera, it was beautifully decorated in beiges, browns, pinks and mauves. It was redecorated almost annually for the same reason—updating for the viewers. But the most important thing to Marni was that the house felt like a hug to her, making her feel safe and protected.
When Jeff moved out, she filled the empty space he left in no time at all. Filling the empty space in her heart had taken longer. Even though she had stopped loving him and stopped hating him, there was still a hole there. A black cold hole. It frequently reminded her that she had no talent for love.
Excerpted from The Friendship Club by Robyn Carr. Copyright © 2024 by Robyn Carr. Published by arrangement with Harlequin Books S.A.
Being my first foray into a Robyn Carr novel, I felt comfortable and interested in the characters’ space right off the bat. The beginning introduced all the players and kept up a steady, pleasant pace as they all interacted but also got to live their own lives throughout the book. This book is such a positive and heartwarming book.
Marni is a cooking show star for over twenty years, but she doesn’t do it alone. She has a fantastic group of partners, employees, friends, and family that keep everything running smoothly with a lot of fun and hard work on everyone’s parts. She seems to have it all: a wonderful and fulfilling career, a daughter who’s pregnant with Marni’s first grandchild, and a comfortable lifestyle. But she hasn’t had much luck in the romance department, being widowed very young and a divorce in the more recent years. She doesn’t seem to have a problem being alone, but her daughter wants her to start dating.
Marni’s lawyer daughter Bella is having a very difficult pregnancy and her defense attorney husband feels like he can do no right during this difficult time. There’s also Marni’s behind-the-scenes highest ranking employee Ellen who is widowed as well but sour on making a go of it with someone new and winding up being a caregiver all over again. And finally there’s Marni’s college aged intern, who’s finding it hard to shake off a very intense suitor of her own.
I give THE FRIENDSHIP CLUB a four out of five. Listening to the audiobook from Audible was a very pleasant and easy experience. There weren’t a ton of characters to be confusing and the pacing of the book was perfect. All of the characters had their fair amount of hardships and secrets they were hiding. I really do enjoy just jumping right into their lives as things start to get complicated and upheaved right from the get go. Their bonds and friendships carried them all through the tough times, and even tackled some tough topics such as domestic violence, stalking, as well as environmental concerns. It’s nice to see people find love later in life while navigating their careers and goals. This is a great standalone novel, and I greatly enjoyed my time listening.
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About Robyn Carr
Robyn Carr is an award-winning, #1 New York Times bestselling author of more than sixty novels, including highly praised women’s fiction such as Four Friends and The View From Alameda Island and the critically acclaimed Virgin River, Thunder Point and Sullivan’s Crossing series. Virgin River is now a Netflix Original series. Robyn lives in Las Vegas, Nevada. Visit her website at www.RobynCarr.com.
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