Book Review: His Secret Family, Ali Mercer

Author: Ali Mercer
Book Name: His Secret Family
Release Date: September 11, 2019 (ARC)
Series: *
Order: *
Genre: Women’s Fiction/Family Life/Mystery
Overall SPA: 2.5 Stars
2.5 Stars

 

 

Blurb: It’s a beautiful day for a wedding. White roses scent the air and the summer sunlight streams in. A spoon chimes against a champagne flute and the room falls silent. And there he is – my husband – getting to his feet to propose a toast. He’s still handsome. His new wife is next to him, gazing upwards, oblivious.

I’m not supposed to be here. All these years in the same town and I had no idea until I saw his name on the seating plan. He lived with me, once. Loved me. Small-town memories are long, but the people in this room don’t want to remember.

They say the healing is in letting go, but after what he did, he needs to know we haven’t gone away just because he’s shut his eyes.

So I take Daisy by the hand and step forward from the shadows. He notices us and his eyes widen. The champagne glass falls from his hand and smashes. Then he sags forward, making a terrible sound – a sort of strangled scream…

Main SPA Evaluation Areas:

Characters: 2.5/5 Stars
Blurb: 2.5/5 Stars

Peeve Factor: 3/5 Stars
Personal Opinion: 2/5 Stars

*Potential Spoilers*

Looking at the name of this book. Reading the blurb and the first piece in the book (noted as the foreword in my copy) and you get the impression that you are going to get a pretty intense and potentially emotional book. I was really excited about this when I read the blurb. Getting it and reading that first section, which is sort of an expansion on the blurb, made me feel like I’d made a really good choice.

Once you get into the book, you get chapters that cycle through 4 different character perspectives. Ellie, Ava, Jenny, and Paula. None of which are the one name that was noted in that first piece that drew you in. I can see how this may create a deep sense of mystery for some readers, but for me, it was more frustrating trying to understand what that first bit had to do with anything at all as it seems completely unconnected to what is going on immediately after that.

I don’t mind the alternating character perspectives. That is something I normally enjoy, but with the 4 you get in this book it felt a bit too much. Ellie, Ava and Jenny’s timelines all run mostly concurrently with tiny bits of overlap in events here and there. Paula’s is more fluid and doesn’t run in line with the others, creating an additional level of confusion for the reader when attempting to make connections because you don’t know that her timeline isn’t running the same as the other characters. It takes a very long time before you see that and any of the pieces begin to fall in place.

There is this small thread through the story that runs more along the lines of paranormal. I really enjoy paranormal stories, but that isn’t what this story is about and it feels out of place.

Ellie and Paula’s characters were probably the most well rounded and interesting. Their perspectives were the pieces I liked the most throughout the story. I did not like Mark at all as he was a self-absorbed narcissist to the core and I have issues with characters like this (yes, they are realistic and human, but this is a personal thing for me). I didn’t see him as redeemable in any way. Getting his perspective for the final chapter bumped into one of my peeves as I’m not a fan of that kind of perspective inconsistency in a book. When you already have 4, you really, really don’t need one more at the very end. Ava wasn’t too far behind Mark in being the self-absorbed, often bratty teenager. The teenager thing being the only reason I was willing to overlook some of her personality, but she seemed to get worse as the book went along. Jenny was a character that I just couldn’t find much of interest in. While she wasn’t entirely selfish, she did seem to be the type that was easily blinded by materialistic things.

Overall, I didn’t feel like the book really lived up to the dramatic, intense blurb or the title. I love situational drama. I love emotional drama. I do not love manufactured drama and that is where most of the drama is derived from in this book, through those differing timelines and the dragging out of events followed by a 10 year time jump towards the end. The actual events weren’t that dramatic. The big secret isn’t really a secret, either to the reader or to the characters. What little bit you do get at the end feels anticlimactic because, as the reader, you see it all unfold. The character reactions to it compound that feeling as it ends up not being any kind of an issue for them either. The pieces of this story that should have been sort of emotional volcanoes for me, just weren’t. I don’t know if it was because of a lack of connection to the characters or if it was the way those pieces were written, but it sort of felt like even the characters were experiencing the events they were going through from a distance rather than directly.

I do think it should be noted that some readers may find they have problems with how some issues were presented and dealt with in this book. If you have problems with cheating, you may have issues with this book. If you have problems with how people on the Autism spectrum are sometimes viewed and treated, you may have issues with this book. If you have problems with how mental illness is sometimes viewed by some people or some of the ways it was treated historically, you may have issues with this book. These aren’t normally things that stick out for me, but I found I really disliked many of the situations surrounding these issues and how they were presented in this book.

*I received a copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

 

 

Book Review: The Place on Dalhousie – Melina Marchetta

Author: Melanie Marchetta
Book Name: The Place on Dalhousie
Release Date: June 6, 2019
Series: *
Order: *
Genre: Women’s Fiction/Family Life
Overall SPA: 2.5 Stars
2.5 Stars

 

 

Blurb: ‘You look the type to break your father’s heart.’
‘Yeah, but he broke mine first.’

When Rosie Gennaro first meets Jimmy Hailler, she has walked away from life in Sydney, leaving behind the place on Dalhousie that her father, Seb, painstakingly rebuilt for his family but never saw completed. Two years later, Rosie returns to the house and living there is Martha, whom Seb Gennaro married less than a year after the death of Rosie’s mother. Martha is struggling to fulfil Seb’s dream, while Rosie is coming to terms with new responsibilities. And so begins a stand-off between two women who refuse to move out of the home they both lay claim to.

As the battle lines are drawn, Jimmy Hailler re-enters Rosie’s life. Having always watched other families from the perimeters, he’s now grappling, heartbreakingly, with forming one of his own . . .

An unforgettable story about losing love and finding love; about the interconnectedness of lives and the true nature of belonging.

Main SPA Evaluation Areas:

Characters: 3/5 Stars
Believability: 2.5/5 Stars
Personal Opinion: 2.5/5 Stars

How do you write a review for a book when you aren’t entirely sure how you feel about it?

The characters were okay, but I don’t feel as though I learned enough about them to care one way or another about their story, though I feel I learned more about Jimmy than any of them. The story had an interesting premise and I wanted to read more about it, but… overall the entire thing kind of just felt… placid. That it was slightly interesting, but didn’t really go anywhere or do much of anything. I wanted to love this, but I didn’t.

When it comes to books in this genre I really want a strong emotional reaction and/or connection and I didn’t get that at all with this book. The characters are emotional, but those emotions never really spill over onto the reader. There is a slight vagueness to the writing style here that sort of acted like an emotional filter for me.

The weird part for me is that normally those things would trip a peeve button and irritate me. I didn’t dislike this book. Instead it is just… there. There is a book. It has a decent story. I read it. The end. Placid.

 

 

 

Book Review: Sister Dear – Laura McNeill

Author: Laura McNeill
Book Name: Sister Dear
Release Date: April 19, 2016
Series: *
Order: *
Genre: Mystery/Suspense/Family Drama
Overall SPA: 2.5 Stars
2.5 Stars

 

 

Blurb: Convicted of a crime she didn’t commit, Allie watched a decade of her life vanish – time that can never be recovered. Now, out on parole, Allie is determined to clear her name, rebuild her life, and reconnect with the daughter she barely knows.

But Allie’s return home shatters the quaint, coastal community of Brunswick, Georgia. Even her own daughter Caroline, now a teenager, bristles at Allie’s claims of innocence. Refusing defeat, a stronger, smarter Allie launches a battle for the truth, digging deeply into the past even if it threatens her parole status, personal safety, and the already-fragile bond with family.

As her commitment to finding the truth intensifies, what Allie ultimately uncovers is far worse than she imagined. Her own sister has been hiding a dark secret—one that holds the key to Allie’s freedom.

Main SPA Evaluation Areas:

Characters: 2/5 Stars
Believability: 2/5 Stars

Personal Opinion: 3/5 Stars
The overall storyline in this is good, but I really struggled with both the lack of depth in the characters and with believability. Probably because the two are pretty closely tied together.

One of my biggest issues with believability comes into play with the utter lack of support that Allie has from her family. Supposedly a young woman who really plays by the rules and doesn’t rock the boat, with one exception and that exception does not translate into someone capable of or willing to commit murder. It just feels like every single person in her life just washed their hands of her as soon as she was convicted; friends, family, the entire community; with the exception of Emma and the rare moment with her parents. This does not work for me at all.

Allie herself is someone I struggle to connect with. With her history, you’d think it would be easy to create some emotional investment from the reader, but you never get that. For me it was partly because she is so willing to just accept the lines people are feeding her with regards to that lack of support. The fact that she just swallowed whole that her 5 year old daughter couldn’t visit her because she broke out in hives and had major panic attacks (which is later in the story somewhat contradicted) really bugged me. Same with every single time her daughter came up after she got home and it was always some sort of an excuse to keep Allie from working on rebuilding their relationship. This is exacerbated by her own parents not doing everything they could to keep that relationship in tact.

And why in the world would any loving, caring, intelligent parent be willing to turn over a 5 year old child to the care of the kid (adult or not) that was ALWAYS the one breaking the rules, getting into trouble and making pretty heavy mistakes? There is no discussion at all as to why Caroline ended up being taken care of by her aunt, Emma, and it is really a pretty huge hole in the story.

Emma’s character is nearly a cliche with the jealous, hateful sibling thing. The problem with this is that it just isn’t sold all that well. She comes across as lacking enough intelligence and too full of self interest to pull off the whole relationship with Caroline. That level of narcissism is rarely capable of making the supposed sacrifices she made.

The details of the crime Allie was convicted of along with all the reasons why a jury looked at that information and were able to come back with a guilty verdict are extremely thin, which was just one more mark against being able to fall into this story.

All of these character and plot issues could have been developed in ways that made at least some sense. ie: The adult parents weren’t actually loving and caring, but were very much absent. Emma having some specific, definable motivation for making the sacrifices she did. Or something, anything, that made the pieces of this story more believable or just work better, but those things are missing.

The ending was overly convenient and overblown. Couple that with the fact that you don’t get any hint at all of any kind of reparations to Allie for being wrongly convicted, not even a single line stating that her conviction has been overturned, just that the real bad guy was going to be prosecuted, and the story utterly fizzled out for me.