Author: Brenda Novak
Book Name: Before We Were Strangers
Overall SPA: 2.5
Five-year-old Sloane McBride couldn’t sleep that night. Her parents were arguing again, their harsh words heating the cool autumn air. And then there was that other sound—the ominous thump before all went quiet.
In the morning, her mother was gone.
The official story was that she left. Her loving, devoted mother! That hadn’t sat any better at the time than it did when Sloane moved out at eighteen, anxious to leave her small Texas hometown in search of anywhere else. But not even a fresh start working as a model in New York could keep the nightmares at bay. Or her fears that the domineering father she grew up with wasn’t just difficult—he was deadly.
Now another traumatic loss forces Sloane to realize she owes it to her mother to find out the truth, even if it means returning to a small town full of secrets and lies, a jilted ex-boyfriend, and a father and brother who’d rather see her silenced. But as Sloane starts digging into the past, the question isn’t whether she can uncover what really happened that night…it’s what will remain of her family if she does?
Cover: 3 Stars
One of the things that caught my interest on this book was the cover. I thought it was interesting and pretty. But… I don’t think it really fits the book as far as tone since this book really landed on a darker, uglier side.
Blurb: 4 Stars
The blurb is interesting and fits the story for the most part.
Characters: 2 Stars
Pretty much every single character in this book danced all over my peeve button.
Plot/Themes: 2 Stars
It is really had to separate this out from the character group, because that aspect kind of overwhelms everything else. If you take them out of the equation, the plot is really convoluted.
Uniqueness Factor: 2 Stars
Again, difficult to separate out, but I honestly don’t see much that hasn’t already be done before and what is there isn’t handled in any kind of uniqe way.
Problem Free/Editing: 4 Stars
Nothing jumped out at me for this.
World Building: 3 Stars
This ties in too closely with the Believability group to separate.
Believability: 2 Stars
There was so little I felt realistic and believable in this.
Peeve Factor: 1 Stars
Where to start. Not a single character in this entire book had a single redeeming quality. You get the trope of “true loves” being separated for years, come back together everything between them is exactly the same (more below). Grown adults that come across as hormonal teenagers rather than mature adults. Truly awkward sex scene. Oh and the random kid that is used as a prop and doesn’t actually play a real part.
Personal Opinion: 2 Stars
I really didn’t like this book, which was sad because I was really hoping for something… entirely different than what I got.
Every single character in this book was written in a way that makes them ridiculously impossible and mostly horrible. No, seriously! If there had been a postman, he would have never delivered the mail on time so you’d be late with the bills or a sacker at the grocery store that made sure to sack the bananas on top of the bread after dropping your eggs on the floor, every single time. If a character could be terrible in one way or another, they would, and that would be pretty much all they were.
The two main characters, adults, acted like hormonal teenagers with a maturity level to go along with that. Originally, Sloane wasn’t too bad, but the farther into the book you get, the less adult she seemed. When pared with Micah, there is an attempt to portray them both as the good guys, but this falls flat because they still act like stupid teenagers.
Paige’s character… holy crap! I don’t think I’ve ever truly hoped a bad guy would come along and take out a character that wasn’t the actual bad guy, but her character certainly did just that because she came across as such an ugly, hateful personality. Hell, even the missing mom comes across as somewhat ugly and vengeful when you do get glimpses of her.
I get it. There are bad people and ugly people and crazy selfish people in the world, but every single one of them lived in this town at the same time. Everyone has an agenda. Everyone wants to either do bad things to other people or are willing to do bad things to other people for some pretty lamely selfish reasons. The characters alone killed any ounce of believability for me because they are more caricatures rather than actual people which makes it impossible to get emotionally involved in the story, unless you count despising every character being emotionally involved.
Every bit of what happens in this is also over the top. Sloane just leaves at 18 without a word to anyone. There is no explanation anywhere in the story that gave any justification for why she had to do it that way. She wasn’t in immediate danger. There were no indications that she should have walked away in silence without talking to anyone, especially Micah to explain what she was doing and why she needed to do it. She just up and left, it never made any sense. It was unnecessary drama that could have been written in a way that did make sense, but wasn’t.
Then, because he was so overwrought by her leaving, Micah immediately sleeps with her best friend and they end up married with a kid out of the deal? Something said “friend” orchestrated? Even with all that and the fact that they are divorced by the time Sloane returns, Micah and Sloane are still perfectly in love. Everything is forgiven without even a single honest conversation about everything that happened over 10 years. Apparently neither one of them grew as people and became something different as an adult to what they were at 18. This is kind of a major peeve of mine in writing. People CHANGE. To portray them as having not at all other than in appearance, which is apparently so much better and not worse, is kind of taking the easy way out as a writer because you don’t have to deal with that kind of character growth as an issue you need to overcome.
The fact that Micah and Paige share a kid, but neither one of them ever really interacts with that kid or, at least in Paige’s case, considers that kid in the things they do is another massive peeve of mine. The few times they do, it is to add a little something to a scene rather than to show any kind of actually relationship or character depth. Kids shouldn’t be used as a prop.
The way every single person in town did what Ed said without question, without push back was just straight up messed up and so over the top EVIL VILLAIN level yet he could get any woman in bed with him, no matter how horrible of a person he was. Again, so many ways you may have made this work, but didn’t is astounding.
I need to point out that if you are going to write a sex scene… holy crap! DO NOT make it something completely awkward unless you are attempting to go for humor or to make it clear that the people having sex aren’t actually compatible. The one attempt to bring a semblance of reality to this book and you do it in the sex scene? Talk about yanking a reader out of a story in a really bad way. It was awkward to read and I just wanted it to be over.
I won’t give away the ending, but lets just say… Nope. Convoluted, crazy, so completely unrealistic and unbelievable and tied with so many twists and turns and coincidence that I call BS even though the reader could see at least one part of it a mile away. It was the cherry on top of an unbelievably ridiculous sundae.
SPA Note: If I had to give this an overall rating instead of an SPA, this would have been a solid 2, so I definitely need to figure out a way to tweak the new system.