Chick Lit Cafe’s Pick of the Month: Sister Dear

27191173Since my big sissy’s turning the BIG FOUR-0 in just a few days, it’s only fitting for me to dedicate this one to her…not that she’s evil or nothing. Well…there was that time when I noshed on all the pizza at her slumber party and she tried to throw me out,  but that’s besides the point! In all honesty, my sister is pretty great and now I’m appreciating her even more. But I should note that I was the life of the party and she was just jelly that her friends were digging my vibe.

Moving on! Imagine, if you will, being on top of the world. You’re young, beautiful, privileged and ready to jump into medical school at a top university. Then, in one ill-fated night, that charmed life morphs into a nightmare. Someone frames you for murder and you’re suddenly in a hideous orange jumpsuit scrapping with real killers in a high-security prison. Enter Allie’s world. It’s not a good place to be.

The story begins when she gets out on bail and is immediately ostracized by her entire hometown, including her daughter. Everybody—maybe even her own parents—believe she killed the town’s beloved football coach. It’s up to Allie to clear her name. Not an easy task for someone who’s out on parole and under the scrutiny of the shady town sheriff.  There’s a lot of skeletons in that guy’s closet, and she’s determined to dig them out.

As she pieces together the clues—with a tiny bit of help from her former flame—she finds herself in a whirlwind of lies, deceit, conspiracy and drugs. To make matters worse, her sister—the one person who should be helping her fight for justice—is mysteriously out of the picture. But is she really? Us readers get in on her nasty little secrets because the  chapters are told through multiple perspectives. We learn early on that sister Emma was perfectly happy letting Allie rot in jail. It gave her the perfect opportunity to be a helicopter mom to her troubled niece. Boy this sounds like a Lifetime movie waiting to happen! Although we’re not sure who exactly orchestrated the perfect crime, it’s clear that Emma is one manipulative bitch, and I wanted more than anything to see her taken down and shipped away to the land of orange jumpsuits.

I’ve been reading Laura McNeil’s books ever since she published her debut novel Stay Tuned. I’ve always liked her lighter stories of romance and self-discovery, but I especially enjoyed her past two suspense novels. She’s taking a walk down the dark side and I like it! She does a fine job crafting some truly despicable monsters, making me wonder if she’s ever encountered people like this in real life…jeez, I hope not! Another art she has mastered is the cliffhanger chapters. The alternating POVs keep the story moving at a supersonic clip.   This is a pretty tricky maneuver for authors. Sometimes it works and sometimes it’s about as annoying as trying to watch TV with some jerk-0 constantly flipping the channels.

If I had to get nitpicky, my only piece of criticism is to take the characters to an even darker place. There’s no doubt that Emma is a twisted sister. Clearly that darkness has been there all her life, and I’d like the author to linger a little longer on the deep-seated evil that drives her to do such wicked things. As for the other antagonists, it’s clear that they are just weak-willed people who are only looking after themselves. But Emma is kind of a fascinating specimen—a bad seed I’d like to get to know a little more. That’s the kind of stuff that gets under my skin, keeping me up all night.

Either way, this book is definitely worth your time if you enjoy thrillers. There’s even a touch of romance for chick lit fans. The author really set the bar with Center of Gravity (read my review here), but boy did she deliver with her sophomore suspense novel. It’s safe to say that Laura McNeill is one to watch!

Center of Gravity by Laura McNeill

11228115_702423596553110_601395082403558625_nWhenever I’m in the mood for something light and fun, I’ll pick up one of Laura McNeill’s books. Sometimes I wonder if she and my other favorite light romance author Lisa Wingate are secret cousins. I can always feel my blood pressure dip down a few notches when I read their tender tales filled with love, hope and small Southern town charm.  This book, however, had the opposite effect.

I figured this would be another easy breezy beach read, so I took it along on my trip to the Texas coast. Two hours after cracking it open at the pool, I found myself shouting “Just two more chapters!” when my husband came to retrieve me for dinner.  Needless to say, it’s a pretty fast read.

The genius of the story is that it’s narrated by several characters who are in the throes of the world’s worst custody battle: Ava, the wronged, tormented wife; Mitchell, the Machiavellian child-stealing husband; and Jack, the little boy caught in the middle.  There’s also a few other narratives thrown in the chaos including Ava’s lawyer, Mitchell’s concerned housekeeper and a very perceptive child psychiatrist.

The ebb and flow of the multiple narratives really moved the story along at lightning speed. I was constantly chasing that dangling carrot as the story flitted from one character’s perspective to the next. I grew to hate Mitchell more and more with every chapter as he continued to torment and sabotage his wife. The angrier I got, the faster I zipped through the pages until poor Ava could finally get some justice.

Laura clearly did her research on all that bureaucratic nonsense that goes down in custody battles. It’s amazing how people can be so easily stripped of their fundamental rights when they’re dealing with evil manipulators who know just how to play the game.

Lucky for Ava, she found herself a hot motorcycle-riding lawyer. Together, they hunted down the missing pieces of Mitchell’s mysterious life—and boy did they come across some doozies! It was fun watching them unravel the mystery and build up some serious ammunition for taking that repugnant man down piece by piece.

At first, I was a little angry with Ava for marrying such a bastard and letting him stomp all over her. But when I learned about her backstory, it all kind of made sense. Anyone who had to grow up with such an overbearing witch of a mother gets my sympathies.

As you can see this is a very character-driven book—and the author does a remarkable job bringing their personalities to life. I highly recommend this one to anyone who enjoys a good suspense novel that moves along at a supersonic clip. Now as books like Girl on a Train and Gone Girl are making big waves with the masses, Lauren timed this book just right.