2019 Book 122: THE BETTER SISTER by Alafair Burke

The Better Sister by Alafair Burke
ISBN: 9780062853370 (hardcover)
ISBN: 9780062853356 (ebook)
ISBN: 9780062895264 (audiobook)
ASIN: B078R4J4SY (Kindle edition)
Publication date: April 16, 2019 
Publisher: Harper Books


From Alafair Burke—New York Times bestselling author of the runaway hit, The Wife—comes another twisty tale of domestic noir. When a prominent Manhattan lawyer is murdered, two estranged sisters—one the dead man’s widow, the other his ex—must set aside mistrust and old resentments . . . but can they escape their past?

Though Chloe was the younger of the two Taylor sisters, she always seemed to be in charge. She was the honor roll student with big dreams and an even bigger work ethic. Nicky was always restless . . . and more than a little reckless—the opposite of her ambitious little sister. She floated from job to job and man to man, and stayed close to home in Cleveland.

For a while, it seemed like both sisters had found happiness. Chloe earned a scholarship to an Ivy League school and moved to New York City, where she landed a coveted publishing job. Nicky married promising young attorney Adam Macintosh, and gave birth to a baby boy they named Ethan. The Taylor sisters became virtual strangers.

Now, more than fifteen years later, their lives are drastically different—and Chloe is married to Adam. When he’s murdered by an intruder at the couple’s East Hampton beach house, Chloe reluctantly allows her teenaged stepson’s biological mother—her estranged sister, Nicky—back into her life. But when the police begin to treat Ethan as a suspect in his father’s death, the two sisters are forced to unite . . . and to confront the truth behind family secrets they have tried to bury in the past.



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Chloe Taylor might have been the younger Taylor sister, but she’s also the one that seemed to have more drive and ambition. She’s also the sister that went to college, moved away from home, and became a successful journalist. Her older sister, Nicky, always seemed to struggle with relationships and following through with pretty much everything including jobs. It wasn’t until Nicky began her relationship with Adam Macintosh that she began to settle down. She married and quickly had a child. Then her life began to unravel and Adam turned to Chloe for assistance. Although Chloe lived several hundred miles away, she wanted to be there for her sister and her brother-in-law, but when tragedy struck everyone felt that Ethan’s best interest had to come first. Adam wound up divorcing Nicky, obtaining sole custody, and staying in Ohio for several years afterward before relocating to New York. It wasn’t until Adam and Ethan moved to New York that Chloe became a central part of their lives and before you knew it, Chloe was married to her ex-brother-in-law and stepmother to her biological nephew. 

Fast forward a dozen years and Chloe is now a successful journalist and publisher with a book deal. She is well-respected in her industry and is considered to be an integral media spokesperson for the #MeToo and #ThemToo movements. Her marriage to Adam seems idyllic. She has a husband she loves, a child she adores, and a job that is incredibly rewarding. Shortly after receiving an industry award, Chloe, Adam, and Ethan plan to spend a weekend away from New York City and go to their second home in East Hampton. Ethan spends the night with a friend. Chloe spends the evening at a party to celebrate her award and Adam opts to spend a quiet night at home. Sadly, that quiet night at home ends with Chloe finding Adam’s murdered body. The police investigate and quickly turn their sights to Chloe and then to Ethan. It seems the idyllic family that Chloe liked to portray in public wasn’t so idyllic. Chloe may not know much, but she knows she didn’t kill her husband and she also knows that Ethan didn’t murder his father, but who did? Since Chloe is only Ethan’s stepmother and aunt, she has no legal rights and Nicky returns to the picture. Amazingly, she provides support to both Ethan and Chloe while they wait for the trial to begin and during the trial. Can these two sisters repair their relationship while fighting for the life and freedom of their shared son? Will they ever uncover the real identity of Adam’s murderer?

I found The Better Sister to be a riveting psychological suspense thriller. In addition to the murder, there is adultery, emotional and physical abuse, gaslighting, illegal corporate shenanigans, and tons of family angst and drama. Yes, there are several twists and turns in the story and the author keeps you guessing as to whodunit until the final reveal. Are there bad guys? Yes and no. (Trust me, that answer makes a lot of sense once you read the book.) None of the primary characters are what they appear to be initially. Chloe is not as laid back and easy going as she would have everyone believe. Her marriage to Adam is nowhere near perfect. Adam wasn’t happy in his job and had severe anger and control issues (still not an excuse to be murdered). Ethan is caught not just between two parents, but between three and is struggling to hang tough and please them all as best he can and ends up arrested and on trial accused of murdering his own father because of his desire to please everyone. Nicky isn’t quite the trainwreck she was thought to be. The Better Sister seems to go out of its way in letting the reader know there are often more than two sides to a story and just because one side seems more plausible than another doesn’t make it the right side. Truth is often stranger than fiction and Chloe, Nicky, and Ethan seem to have a lot of difficulty in dealing with the truth until their backs are pushed against the proverbial wall. Although there is a lot going on in this story, the three main characters are inextricably linked together and it’s only when they realize that together they are stronger that they rise above their problems and begin to survive. Does Ethan get out of jail? Do they ever find the real murderer? What exactly are the corporate shenanigans? Who was committing adultery? Who was the abuser and who was getting abused? Who was gaslighting whom? Which sister is The Better Sister? Read the book to find out for yourself!

Disclaimer: I received a free digital review copy of this book from the publisher via Edelweiss+. I was not paid, required, or otherwise obligated to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”




Read an excerpt from The Better Sister here. 




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2018 Book 76: SPEAK NO EVIL by Uzodinma Iweala

Speak No Evil by Uzodinma Iweala
ISBN: 9780061284922 (hardcover)
ISBN: 9780062199096 (ebook)
ISBN: 9780062798961 (audiobook)
ASIN: B071YRW88J (Kindle edition)
Publication date: March 6, 2018 
Publisher: Harper Books


In the long-anticipated novel from the author of the critically acclaimed Beasts of No Nation, a revelation shared between two privileged teenagers from very different backgrounds sets off a chain of events with devastating consequences

On the surface, Niru leads a charmed life. Raised by two attentive parents in Washington, D.C., he’s a top student and a track star at his prestigious private high school. Bound for Harvard in the fall, his prospects are bright. But Niru has a painful secret: he is queer—an abominable sin to his conservative Nigerian parents. No one knows except Meredith, his best friend, the daughter of prominent Washington insiders—and the one person who seems not to judge him.

When his father accidentally discovers Niru is gay, the fallout is brutal and swift. Coping with troubles of her own, however, Meredith finds that she has little left emotionally to offer him. As the two friends struggle to reconcile their desires against the expectations and institutions that seek to define them, they find themselves speeding toward a future more violent and senseless than they can imagine. Neither will escape unscathed.

In the tradition of Junot Diaz’s The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Americanah, Speak No Evil explores what it means to be different in a fundamentally conformist society and how that difference plays out in our inner and outer struggles. It is a novel about the power of words and self-identification, about who gets to speak and who has the power to speak for other people. As heart-wrenching and timely as his breakout debut, Beasts of No Nation, Uzodinma Iweala’s new novel cuts to the core of our humanity and leaves us reeling in its wake.


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Being a teenager is difficult enough without being the child of immigrant parents with high expectations, being one of the few minorities in an exclusive school, following behind a popular and over-achieving sibling, and being gay. These are exactly the circumstances that Niru finds himself in and he’s unsure of how to handle it all. Niru is introverted whereas his older brother was extroverted and quite popular. Niru is a better athlete, but his brother was captain of his team. Niru has received an early acceptance to Harvard University so his post-high school academic career is set. The only problems are that Niru is attracted to boys and that is taboo in Nigerian culture. When his parents learn of his so-called aberrant predilections, his father beats him, takes him to church for counseling, then takes him back to Nigerian for intensive prayer. Niru knows that he’s a disappointment to his family, so he tries really hard to be what they want when he returns to the US, but it just doesn’t feel right. The only friend he had, Meredith, he pushed away and he’s struggling to find where he belongs. Just when it seems like all hope is lost for Niru, he rekindles his friendship with Meredith. And then tragedy strikes. Meredith is the only true witness to what happened in that alley that horrible night, but will she be allowed to tell the truth? Will it make a difference if she does?

Speak No Evil by Uzodinma Iweala is an amazing read and one that I finished in just a few short hours. The author pulled me into the story after only a few pages and I refused to get up until I finished the story. Although I read this story a few days ago, it took me awhile to sit down and write this review. Not because this wasn’t a good story, but because it was an amazing story and one that packed a powerful punch. It’s been many, many years since I was a teenager, but I empathized with Niru and Meredith’s pain and angst of being a teen. Niru had to deal with impossible cultural standards to live up to and Meredith had to deal with being an only child that was left to her own devices by her parents all too often. The first half of the book is told from the teenage Niru’s perspective and the second half is told from Meredith’s adult perspective. Both stories are emotionally powerful. Speak No Evil touches on current topics that seem to never have any resolution such as #BlackLivesMatter and #MeToo. There are a lot of things happening in this story and if I touched on them all, I’d be revealing too much. What I can say is that this is a phenomenal story and one that I strongly encourage everyone to read. It isn’t often that a book takes my breath away and leaves me speechless, but Speak No Evil is definitely in that category, so I once again simply say read this book.


Read an excerpt from Speak No Evil here.

Disclaimer: I received a free digital review copy of this book from the publisher via Edelweiss+. I was not paid, required, or otherwise obligated to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”



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2017 Book 91: A SIMPLE FAVOR by Darcey Bell

A Simple Favor by Darcey Bell
ISBN: 9780062497772 (hardcover)
ISBN: 9780062666338 (paperback)
ISBN: 9780062497796 (ebook)
ISBN: 9780062658234 (audiobook)
ASIN: B01ER6LIZI (Kindle edition)
Publisher: Harper 
Publication Date: March 21, 2017

She’s your best friend.

She knows all your secrets.

That’s why she’s so dangerous.

A single mother’s life is turned upside down when her best friend vanishes in this chilling debut thriller in the vein of Gone Girl and The Girl on the Train

It starts with a simple favor—an ordinary kindness mothers do for one another. When her best friend, Emily, asks Stephanie to pick up her son Nicky after school, she happily says yes. Nicky and her son, Miles, are classmates and best friends, and the five-year-olds love being together—just like she and Emily. A widow and stay-at-home mommy blogger living in woodsy suburban Connecticut, Stephanie was lonely until she met Emily, a sophisticated PR executive whose job in Manhattan demands so much of her time. 

But Emily doesn’t come back. She doesn’t answer calls or return texts. Stephanie knows something is terribly wrong—Emily would never leave Nicky, no matter what the police say. Terrified, she reaches out to her blog readers for help. She also reaches out to Emily’s husband, the handsome, reticent Sean, offering emotional support. It’s the least she can do for her best friend. Then, she and Sean receive shocking news. Emily is dead. The nightmare of her disappearance is over.

Or is it? Because soon, Stephanie will begin to see that nothing—not friendship, love, or even an ordinary favor—is as simple as it seems. 

A Simple Favor is a remarkable tale of psychological suspense—a clever and twisting free-fall of a ride filled with betrayals and reversals, twists and turns, secrets and revelations, love and loyalty, murder and revenge. Darcey Bell masterfully ratchets up the tension in a taut, unsettling, and completely absorbing story that holds you in its grip until the final page.



Stephanie is a stay-at-home, mommy blogger, and widow. She’s become good friends with Emily Nelson, a public relations executive for a fashion house. Stephanie and Emily’s sons, Miles and Nicky, are best friends and attend the local school. Stephanie and Emily spend hours together with their sons and because Stephanie is usually at home, Emily doesn’t think twice about asking her to pick up her son from school if she’s running late. But Emily is more than running late, she’s disappeared. Stephanie was sure that Emily would pick-up Nicky later that evening, but it’s been days and she’s not responding to calls. Frantic, Stephanie reaches out to Emily’s job and even her husband to find out more information. When Emily’s husband, Sean, returns from an overseas trip and Emily hasn’t returned, even he begins to get a little concerned. As Stephanie and Sean sit and wonder what has happened to Emily, they work together to care for their sons. Weeks go by and then a body is found and it’s Emily. After grieving the death of her friend, Stephanie and Sean seem to get closer and their two separate families become one melded family. Is this a second chance to grab happiness for Stephanie and Sean or is it something much worse? 

A Simple Favor begins with the premise that stay-at-home-mom Stephanie will take care of her friend’s son for a few hours. Those few hours turn into days, weeks, and then months while the friend is missing and then declared dead. The story is initially told by Stephanie via her blog posts about her missing friend along with her recollections of her relationship with Emily, as well as her past family life. Just when the reader thinks are back to normal, things begin to go awry (great word don’t you think and no I won’t tell you what goes awry…read the book!). Stephanie reveals parts of herself in her recollections that present a darker side than we could ever possibly imagine. Just when we are getting acclimated to Stephanie’s darker side, we get to hear things from Emily’s perspective (trust me, there’s dark and there’s DARK). The simple favor that Stephanie provides is far from simple and changes the lives of more than one of the primary characters. One of the themes in A Simple Favor is that everyone has secrets and a dark side, and that holds true for Stephanie, Emily, and Sean. All three are not what they appear to be and the secrets they have aren’t ones they’d want revealed to anyone. These characters might appear as the nice, naive stay-at-home mom, the highly successful working mom, and the workaholic dad, but they are so much more than that. I don’t know what it says about me as a reader, but I enjoy dark, twisted stories and A Simple Favor is one that held me in its grips from beginning to end. Just when you think you know where the story is going, Ms. Bell provides a nice little twist to shake things up (and there are quite a few twists in this story). A Simple Favor is anything but predictable and none of the major characters are very likable once you get to know them. If you enjoy reading psychological thrillers or stories with twisted characters and storylines, then you’ll definitely want to read A Simple Favor. If you enjoy reading good writing and want something a little bit different to read, again A Simple Favor might be just the story for you. This is the first book by Ms. Bell and I look forward to reading more from her in the future. Just in case you couldn’t tell, I thoroughly enjoyed reading A Simple Favor


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Disclaimer: I received a free digital review copy of this book from the publisher via Edelweiss for review purposes. I was not paid, required, or otherwise obligated to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”



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