Fearne Hill’s Cloud White, third book in her Nailed It! series, is an angsty, emotional friends-to-lovers romance featuring long-time besties, Milo and Mungo, who, thanks to a combination of insecurities and bad timing have been dancing around each other for years. When we met them in the other books in the series, their connection leapt off the page and it was clear that Mungo was in unrequited love with Milo, who, we learn, had turned him down over five years ago, and has remained either deliberately oblivious or is simply not interested in confining his fabulousness to just one man.
But around a year before Cloud White begins, Milo finally realises he’s ready to change all that, that Mungo is it for him and he wants to cross that line they’ve never crossed, and stay there, with Mungo, forever. But when, after a night out, Milo finally makes his move, he’s too late. Mungo has met someone else.
Fast forward a year. It’s Saturday night and Milo is out on the pull. With all his best friends now happily coupled up, the loneliness staring him in the face is terrifying; he’s known for some time that this life is not one he wants any more, but, well… it’s what he’s got. He does find a guy to take home – Danny – who is, admittedly, a bit younger than the guys he normally goes for, but what the hell. His pick-up lines might leave a lot to be desired, but he’s good-looking, he’s keen and he’s energetic. He’s also still there the next morning – which was not the plan. Seeing him in the light of day, however, means Milo realises Danny is a LOT younger than he’d thought he was. When Danny said he was a student, Milo had assumed ‘university’ rather than ‘sixth form’. Oops.
But Milo doesn’t have time to worry about that right now because has a brunch date with Frankie, Lysander and the gang to get ready for and he’s already going to be late. When Danny tells him he can’t go home – he’s lost his keys and his phone, and his churchgoing parents won’t be home to let him in – Milo, knowing Mungo and his stuck-up boyfriend Cav will be at the pub as well, says Danny can tag along to brunch – and not to act surprised if he, er, exaggerates, the extent of their relationship.
If you’ve read the previous books in the series, then you’ll realise fairly quickly that the Mungo we meet here is somewhat different from the grounded, warm, open-hearted guy we’ve met before. He’s been with Cav for a year and they’ve lived together for the past three months, having bought a house with help from Cav’s wealthy parents, and although there are things Mungo wishes were different – Cav doesn’t like his friends much and is especially critical of Milo – he and Cav are a good fit, they have similar tastes and outlook and he’s happy. And if his stomach still does flip-flops when Milo appears, well, that’s just habit and a response he’s learned to ignore.
Fearne Hill is incredibly good at balancing the dark and light in her books, and here, the genuinely funny humour, the warmth of the friendships and the depth of the characterisation act as a beautiful counterpoint to the angst, the hurt and the soul-deep pining in the story. Domestic abuse – physical and emotional – plays a major part in the narrative, and Ms. Hill paints a very realistic picture of what happens and how it happens – the gradual isolation, the undermining of self-confidence, the gaslighting so that the victim begins to feel as though they deserve what’s happening and the growing belief that ‘if I could be better, then they won’t lash out’. It’s incredibly astute and superbly written – but it can be very hard to read, and may be triggering for some readers. She handles the aftermath incredibly well, too, as Mungo, with Milo’s unconditional love and support, begins to unpick what happened and start to find his way back to being Mungo again.
There are also a couple of secondary plots skilfully interwoven throughout the main storyline – one dealing with Milo’s relationship with his truly awful family, who are forever sponging off him, and another about Danny, whom Milo quickly recognises as a fellow sufferer/victim of abusive family dynamics. He offers Danny his spare room for a few months – when he’s eighteen, he can go to live with his brother, Simon – and Mungo, who had his suspicions from the moment he saw the pair of them together, realises Danny is not Milo’s boy-toy, but is one of his “collection of waifs and strays” – someone he’s trying to help. Danny is a wise head on young shoulders and the relationship that develops between him and Milo is incredibly sweet and full of snarky affection. One of the best, most insightful and poignant moments in the book appears in one of their conversations in the later part of the story when Milo, not wanting to be too specific but needing to say something about Mungo’s situation says simply – “He’s become one of us, Danny.” It’s heart-rending and perfect.
Cloud White is one of Fearne Hill’s best books to date, right up there with last year’s Two Tribes, which made my Best of 2022 list. It was great to catch up with the Carter triplets and their other halves, and to experience the very real warmth and affection that underpins their relationships and interactions, and although I wish that Frankie or Tristan had seen what was going on with Mungo sooner, the fact that they don’t is testament to the fact that abusers like Cav are extremely good at what they do and know how to hide it. But the beating heart of the book is the beautiful, frustrating and heartfelt romance between Milo and Mungo, a relationship that positively oozes with longing between two people who love each other to bits but have to get their heads out of their arses to see and embrace the soul-deep connection that has always been there. Mungo has always been an intensely loveable character, and my heart broke for him over and over as he slowly morphs into someone almost unrecognisable – and Milo is a revelation; learning his backstory made it easier to understand why he turned Mungo down all those years ago, and I loved his fierce protectiveness of those he cares for – razor-sharp, abrasive and absolutely no-fucks-to-give, he’s definitely someone you’d want in your corner.
Insightful, honest, emotional, warm and funny, Cloud White may not be an easy read, but it’s an incredibly good one that will break your heart, make you laugh and make you want to throw things, sometimes all at once! On to the keeper shelf it goes.
Note for non-UK readers: sixth-form students are 16-19 years old.
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