By Laura McNeill
Thomas Nelson, 2016
All Allie Marshall wants is a fresh start. But when dark secrets refuse to stay buried, will her chance at a new life be shattered forever?
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.
What a brilliant and impressive novel! Set in Georgia’s beautiful coastal area, Sister Dear is a solid relationship drama that incorporates the suspense of a psychological thriller, and the result is an attention-grabbing story that never lets go.
I’m always drawn to books that take place in my own state, and Laura McNeill did a wonderful job at conveying the beauty and small-town feel of Brunswick and St. Simons Island. Sister Dear is an impressive story that weaves past and present together in the lives of four main characters: Sisters Allie and Emma, Allie’s daughter Caroline, and Sheriff Lee Gaines. These characters are realistically flawed, even downright messy at times – and the idyllic setting is infused with bitterness, jealousy, betrayal, police corruption, and the supremacy of football at all costs.
Laura writes in such a way that, rather than standing back and observing, I connected with these characters as if I was right there with them. Allie’s ten-year prison experience and the difficulty to re-enter society are vividly conveyed in the beginning pages. During Allie’s imprisonment, Emma had become “the good daughter, the one everyone counted on and respected for her sacrifices.” And Caroline, aging from 5 to 15 during these years, struggled with inner turmoil . . . “Maybe, just maybe, if people could see through her skin, they wouldn’t like what they saw underneath. . . . She was a girl who smiled on the outside while she died a little on the inside. A daughter running away to avoid the past.”
I loved how, rather than being left in the dark until everything is explained at the end, Laura drops strategically-placed clues throughout, allowing readers to glimpse hearts and motives in a story where nothing is quite as it appears at first. As I’m not always a fan of suspense, I was delighted that it was more psychological than scary – even chilling at times. I especially enjoyed the secondary characters of Natalie and Russell, a mother and son who befriended Allie and Caroline.
The spiritual theme of forgiveness that leads to hope and healing is present, but in such a subtle way that this story should have wide mass-market appeal. I am delighted to have discovered Laura McNeill’s writing and look forward to much more from her.
Laura McNeill is a writer, web geek, travel enthusiast, and coffee drinker. In her former life, she was a television news anchor for CBS News affiliates in New York and Alabama. Laura holds a master's degree in journalism from The Ohio State University and is completing a graduate program in interactive technology at the University of Alabama. When she's not writing and doing homework, she enjoys running, yoga, and spending time at the beach. She lives in Mobile, AL with her family.
Thank you to Litfuse Publicity and Thomas Nelson Publishing for providing a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.
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