Brenda Novak is a name you’ll have seen on my blog before, I’m a huge fan of her Evelyn Talbot chronicles, so I jumped at the chance to read her latest standalone novel, Before We Were Strangers, which is publishing on 4th December.
Something happened to her mother that night. Something no one wants to talk about. But she’s determined to uncover her family’s dark secrets, even if they bury her.
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’d been 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 that 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?
Having read the Evelyn Talbot chronicles, I knew Novak could write a captivating series; having now read Before We Were Strangers, it’s clear Novak can write a captivating standalone novel too! I read this book over the course of a day, it was so suspenseful, there was no way I could put it down part way through!
Let’s look firstly at the mystery in this novel – Sloane returns to her home town to find out what really happened to her mother. Sloane was only five when her mother left, she had a difficult childhood growing up with her father, as the blurb states, she fears her father wasn’t just difficult, but deadly! Let’s focus on that on that word, deadly, did her father kill her mother? That’s one hell of a mystery to solve, made all the more difficult by the strained relationship she has with her father and brother.
This mystery will have you back-and-forthing on Sloane’s father’s guilt, one minute, you’re sure he’s a murderer, the next minute you’re supporting his innocence, but what never goes away is your dislike for him – what a horrid man! He was a great character, as was Sloane’s brother, Randy, these two really gave you a focus for your dislike! As much as you disliked them was as much as you liked Sloane, she’s the kind of character who is instantly likeable, she may make a few unwise decisions, inadvertently putting herself in danger, but you root for her the whole time, and hope she can find her closure.
This plot oozes tension, especially as it’s set in a small-town, so not only does everyone know everyone, but rumours spread like wildfire. If you love the claustrophobia novels set in small-towns bring, the dark, tense atmosphere, then you absolutely need to read this novel.
Also, if you enjoy romantic suspense/thrillers, you absolutely need to read this novel. There is a strong romance element to this novel; when I think romance books, I shy away from them, but when Novak writes romance in her plots, I find them addictive and thrilling – there’s always a threat hanging over the romance and that danger element makes it exciting. If the plot’s dark, the romance isn’t ‘fluffy, they’re so cute’ romance, it’s more like ‘ride or die’ romance, as in ‘I’m coming with you because you could die if you go alone!’ The point I’m making, don’t let the word ‘romantic’ scare you off! Crime fiction, psychological thriller, women’s fiction, whatever your preference, I still recommend this book! Anyway, Sloane is super likeable, you go girl, go get your man, just don’t die before you get your happily ever after!
The plot is twisted, you’ll meet some twisted characters, rife with suspense and tension, you’ll be gripped until the very last page! The complex conflicts and the heightened emotions will ensure you stay hooked, family-ties and friendships are pushed to breaking point. In this small-town, Sloane must fight through the betrayal and lies to find the truth about what happened to her mother.