Behind Every Lie, by Christina McDonald (Review)

46407837. sy475
Behind Every Lie
by Christina McDonald

Genre: Thriller

Length: 336 Pages

Release date: February 4, 2020

Publisher: Gallery Books

Synopsis: 

If you can’t remember it, how do you prove you didn’t do it?

Eva Hansen wakes in the hospital after being struck by lightning and discovers her mother, Kat, has been murdered. Eva was found unconscious down the street. She can’t remember what happened but the police are highly suspicious of her.

Determined to clear her name, Eva heads from Seattle to London—Kat’s former home—for answers. But as she unravels her mother’s carefully held secrets, Eva soon realizes that someone doesn’t want her to know the truth. And with violent memories beginning to emerge, Eva doesn’t know who to trust. Least of all herself.

Told in alternating perspectives from Eva’s search for answers and Kat’s mysterious past, Christina McDonald has crafted another “complex, emotionally intense” (Publishers Weekly) domestic thriller. Behind Every Lie explores the complicated nature of mother-daughter relationships, family trauma, and the danger behind long-held secrets.

ratingtwo

My thanks to Gallery Books and NetGalley for sending me an advance copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own and are not influenced by the publisher. 

This is yet another review that I must preface by saying I’m in the minority opinion when it comes to this book. At the time of this writing, it has a perfectly respectable 4.16 average on Goodreads, so maybe I was just the wrong reader for this book. I read McDonald’s last novel, The Night Olivia Fell, and had a pretty mediocre experience with that book. I thought I’d give her writing a second chance, because a big part of my problem with The Night Olivia Fell was that it bore a pretty stunning similarity to another book I’d already read, leaving the whole book feeling like watching a rerun of a crime drama. After reading Behind Every Lie, however, I think it’s clear that this author’s work just isn’t for me. Soooo, take this review with a grain of salt, I guess.

For starters, the novel felt like a bit of a jumble of over-used tropes. I’ll omit discussing some of them here to avoid getting into spoiler territory, but I can talk freely about the amnesia as that’s discussed in the synopsis. We have a protagonist in a thriller suspected of murder who can’t defend herself because she has no memory of the night in question. Familiar tropes like this can be fun and offer a great way to subvert the reader’s expectations by doing something new and fresh with it. McDonald really didn’t do that (unless you count the novelty of amnesia brought on by a lightning strike, I guess. Bonus points for that?)

This is also yet another thriller with a middle class, white, female protagonist whose boyfriend/husband is clearly terrible, hyper-controlling, and suspect from the very beginning of the story. Whether the significant other is actually guilty of anything (and in 90% of these thrillers, he is) this dynamic has just gotten terribly boring. I feel like I’ve read about the same couple over and over and over, existing in slightly diverging parallel universes.

Finally, there is a sub-plot which emerges in the flashback scenes (told from her mother’s point of view) which is too predictable to every hold any tension. I really wanted to like this book. If you’ve read this author’s other work and enjoyed it, don’t let me dissuade you, but I think it’s safe to say this will be my last Christina McDonald novel. buy

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Book Depository | IndieBound

Do you have any tropes specific to mystery/thriller books that are major pet peeves for you? Tell me about them in the comments!

jennabookish

Other places to follow me…
Tumblr | Facebook | Instagram | GoodReads

 

Review – The Night Olivia Fell, by Christina McDonald

The Night Olivia Fell
by Christina McDonald

Genre: Mystery

Length: 320 Pages

Release date: February 5, 2019

Publisher: Gallery Books

Synopsis: 

In the vein of Big Little Lies and Reconstructing Amelia comes an emotionally charged domestic suspense novel about a mother unraveling the truth behind how her daughter became brain dead. And pregnant.

A search for the truth. A lifetime of lies.

In the small hours of the morning, Abi Knight is startled awake by the phone call no mother ever wants to get: her teenage daughter Olivia has fallen off a bridge. Not only is Olivia brain dead, she’s pregnant and must remain on life support to keep her baby alive. And then Abi sees the angry bruises circling Olivia’s wrists.

When the police unexpectedly rule Olivia’s fall an accident, Abi decides to find out what really happened that night. Heartbroken and grieving, she unravels the threads of her daughter’s life. Was Olivia’s fall an accident? Or something far more sinister?

Christina McDonald weaves a suspenseful and heartwrenching tale of hidden relationships, devastating lies, and the power of a mother’s love. With flashbacks of Olivia’s own resolve to uncover family secrets, this taut and emotional novel asks: how well do you know your children? And how well do they know you?

rating

three

Disclaimer: I received a free copy of this book as a BookSparks Winter Reading Challenge official ambassador. All opinions are my own and are not influenced by the publisher. 

I struggled a lot with how to rate this novel. I settled on a middle-of-the-road rating because, while it seems most readers really enjoyed it, it didn’t work very well for me, for reasons that aren’t necessarily the fault of the author. The main thing that held this book back for me is that it bears a lot of similarities to another book I’ve read, Reconstructing Amelia. (I will go over this in detail later in the review, with a spoiler warning before that section.) I want to be clear that I’m not alleging plagiarism; similar ideas can surely occur independently, but there was enough in common between the stories that this felt like a reread for me.

This book is marketed as a mystery thriller, but I think emotional angle was the main strength of the novel, as opposed to the twists and turns. After Olivia’s fall, Abi learns that she is on life support and will not recover. She is kept on life support to keep her developing fetus alive long enough to perform a C-section. Abi has to grapple with the conflicting emotions surrounding knowing that getting her grandchild will mean losing her daughter. As she counts down the days, it’s obvious how heart-wrenching this is for her. I seriously felt for Abi and the months she spent in limbo, with her daughter not truly alive, but still breathing.

Olivia, who we get to know through flashbacks, was likable, but not always believable as a teenage girl. Her mother is relatively strict and over-protective. Olivia rarely balks at this, and when she does, has a habit of immediately mentally reminding herself that it’s only because her mother wants what’s best for her. I’m not trying to say she needs to be a total brat to be a realistic teenager, but Abi’s habits as a mother would honestly lead me to expect more frustration out of Olivia than she shows. She read less as a genuine teenager and more as a teenager as seen through a thin layer of wishful thinking from an overprotective parent. On a similar note, I would have liked to see a bit more of a distinction between Olivia and Abi’s voices in their respective chapters.

Spoilers for the bullet points ahead!

As discussed, on to the similarities to Reconstructing Amelia. Here are the characteristics in common between the two. (Apologies if I’ve mis-remembered anything, as it’s been a number of months since I read Reconstructing Amelia, but I feel like I remember it pretty well.)

  • Workaholic single mother’s teenage daughter dies, or in Olivia’s case, becomes brain-dead
  • Death / injury is the result of a fall which is initially dismissed as a potential suicide
  • Teenage daughter’s recent falling out with her best friend
  • Mystery surrounding paternity of the daughter provides a suspect for a potential killer
  • Mother has to work to solve the case on her own because the police aren’t taking it seriously
  • Plot unfolds in alternating chapters; flashbacks from the daughter’s perspective leading up to the night of the fall, current timeline from the mother’s perspective as she tries to solve the mystery
  • Killer turns out to be someone who cared for the girl, who lashed out in a moment of anger, and didn’t actually mean to kill her

Olivia’s pregnancy does provide a divergence from that structure, but the similarities are still too much to ignore. I wanted to like this novel, and it seems other readers generally liked it, but I unfortunately spent the whole book feeling like I was watching a rerun of a crime drama. If you haven’t read Reconstructing Amelia, odds are you’ll enjoy this book; otherwise, prepare for déjà vu.

Purchase links

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Book Depository | IndieBound

Thank you for reading! Have you read The Night Olivia Fell and/or Reconstructing Amelia? Please share your thoughts in the comments.

Capture2

Other places to follow me…
Tumblr | Facebook | Instagram | GoodReads