*I received a free copy of The Secret Sister from Harlequin MIRA via Netgalley. This has in no way influenced my voluntary review, which is honest and unbiased *The Secret Sister by Brenda Novak
Series: Fairham Island #1
Published by Harlequin MIRA on 28 July 2015
Genres: Adult, Contemporary, Mystery, Romance
Did she once have a sister? Has her mother lied all these years? Why?
After a painful divorce, Maisey Lazarow returns to Fairham, the small island off the North Carolina coast where she grew up. She goes there to heal—and to help her brother, Keith, a deeply troubled man who's asked her to come home. But she refuses to stay in the family house. The last person she wants to see is the wealthy, controlling mother she escaped years ago.
Instead, she finds herself living next door to someone else she'd prefer to avoid—Rafe Romero, the wild, reckless boy to whom she lost her virginity at sixteen. He's back on the island, and to her surprise, he's raising a young daughter alone. Maisey's still attracted to him, but her heart's too broken to risk…
Then something even more disturbing happens. She discovers a box of photographs that evoke distant memories of a little girl, a child Keith remembers, too. Maisey believes the girl must've been their sister, but their mother claims there was no sister.
Maisey's convinced that child existed. So where is she now?
The Secret Sister is simply fabulous! The mystery unfolds slowly, and the characters are very complex, and Josephine is the kind of mother I’m so happy I didn’t have growing up – and even later.
My The Secret Sister review:
Maisey had never wanted to go back to Fairham Island ever. And especially not to live there, close to her autocratic mother and her broken drug-abusing brother. However, after a nasty divorce she needed a change of scenery, as well as a place where she could stay for while to lick her wounds until writing and illustrating her children’s books became something she felt capable to do again. The Secret Sister has a very melancholy tone, and there are so many secrets in Maisey’s family it’s a wonder she knows anything for sure. Standing up to her mother without running away is not something Maisey has done before, but refusing to live in her mother’s house is something she feels she has to do – to stay sane, and to be able to put the pieces of her life back together.
Finding out that Rafe, a man from her youth, was living in the cabin next door to hers, and that he was the one her mom had hired to repair all the other cabins didn’t make Maisey’s life any easier. She remembered Rafe very well, even if she didn’t want to. Seeing him as an adult made her very aware of the fact that she was a woman and he was a man. Maisey really needed some good in her life though, and I think Rafe was that for her. He didn’t have any hidden agendas, he wasn’t pretending to be someone he wasn’t, and he was genuinely interested in Maisey as a woman, as a person, as a friend and as a lover. When Rafe brought her a box of photographs he had found inside the wall in one of the cabins, Maisey almost had a break-down. Because those photographs didn’t make any sense to her at all, who was that older girl standing next to her brother Keith? She looked like Maisey, but Keith was the older brother. Trying to figure out who this child was became Maisey’s new goal, and she would stop at nothing to figure out who she was, and what had happened to her.
The mystery became intolerable for Maisey, and things became even more difficult for her when Keith showed up at her cabin, wanting to burn the photographs, and looking for clues at her mother’s house was tricky. The more Maisey learned, the more she thought her mother had done something to this child, remembering beatings Keith had suffered made it all to easy for her to imagine that her mother could have maybe gone too far at one point. Little by little, she got some of the story from her mother, but not the full story, and she didn’t fully believe what she was told had happened when she was just a baby. Searching for the truth became important to Maisey, as she finally had something outside of herself and her feelings of failure to put her energy towards.
The Secret Sister is heart-breaking on many levels. Without spoiling anything at all, I can say that Maisey is a very strong heroine, even getting up in the morning must have been a chore, and dealing with her brother, her ex-husband, her mother and her budding relationship with Rafe kept her very busy. Working on the mystery may have saved her in some ways, but it might just tear what little family she had left completely apart.
Written in third person point of view, past tense and from Maisey’s perspective, the tension was so well done in The Secret Sister, because the reader only knew what Maisey knew, and because she was the character I got to know the best, I was really seeing things through her eyes.
Some of my favorite The Secret Sister quotes:
Nostalgia warred with anxiety. So much for her great escape, she thought. She’d just made a perfect circle.
What had she been thinking? She obviously hadn’t been thinking. She’d been reacting to the damage the divorce had done to her self-esteem – and, on a more primitive level, she’d been trying to find the same physical satisfaction she’d known when she was married. It was tough to go without the love, pleasure and comfort she’d enjoyed with Jake.
This couldn’t be an older sister. She and Keith didn’t have a sister. It was always just the two of them. Or had there once been three?
Coyer scavenger hunt item #29: Read a book with no magical or futuristic elements (2 points)
Reading this book contributed to these challenges: