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By: Laura McNeill
Publisher:Thomas Nelson Fiction
Publication Date: 4/19/2016
My Rating: 5 Stars +
A special thank you to Thomas Nelson--FICTION and NetGalley for an ARC in exchange for an honest review.
Talented storyteller, Laura McNeill returns following her sensational debut, Center of Gravity, landing on my Top 50 Books of 2015 “Best Southern Domestic Psycho-Suspense" with a strong followup, SISTER DEAR, an edge of your seat (nail-biter), tension-filled, psychological suspense thriller Top Books of 2016.
From jealousy, greed, betrayal, family, revenge, murder, and highly charged topics of steroid use in high school sports-football; mixed with brilliant writing and clever plotting; A mind-blowing whodunit mystery!
As the book opens Allie Marshall is finally getting out of prison. She has been an inmate at Arrendale State Prison for a crime she did not commit. Someone murdered the high school football coach. Who set her up? She thinks it may have been the Sheriff; however, she needs proof.
She has lost her life, her promising medical career, her reputation, and her daughter. The judge had sentenced Allie to sixteen years. She had been granted an early release—ten years behind bars.
"An imprint made by incident, mistake and tragedy. Evidence and lack of it." Appeals failed. She was innocent. The wrong place at the wrong time. And the killer still out there.
Caroline, her daughter was only five- years- old, when Allie was convicted. Caroline is now a teen, living with her Aunt Emma, Allie's sister. She does not even know her. The joyous reunion she had imagined for years, did not happen.
Allie is returning to Brunswick, Georgia a small historic southeastern town on the coast, in South Georgia, near northeast Florida. Her father has sold his veterinary practice, from the stress of the trial (Allie worked there as a vet tech).
She had it all before prison, a college education, and an acceptance to medical school—she was leaving the following week. She was almost there- living her dream. From college honor societies and her charity work, to her job—destroyed by one night long ago. She was the good girl, the responsible studious daughter.
Her sister, Emma was the one always in trouble. One night before leaving for school, she wanted to celebrate with her sister Emma. A quiet girls night in with movies, dinner and some wine. Emma led a secretive life. Dangerous secrets. She had everyone fooled. One trip to the pharmacy, had led Allie to go after her. The one night which changed Allie’s life. The wrong place, the wrong time—trying to rescue her sister.
Emma was the only one who came to see Allie when she was in prison. Was she really a supporter? She has been raising her daughter Caroline. She was the one constant in her life.
Allie, also lost Ben, the guy who wanted to marry her; however, with his political career, he even wanted to sacrifice—she could not allow this and broke it off. Her best friend Morgan was long gone. At first Lily, her mother, and Paul, her dad came to visit at the prison. Then their visits stopped as well as Caroline. Her prison sentence changed everyone and everything.
She had survived. Her mission is to get her daughter back, find a job, and try and find the real killer. She wants justice. She was free. She will go to the new veterinarian owners and get a job, doing anything. Hopefully, the new owners will give her a chance to start over.
Carolina was not speaking to her. Old friends ignored her, and her own parents were keeping a safe distance.
The author skillfully unravels the events leading up to the tragic murder, the past, and the present. Flashing back and forth from 2006-2016; through the years, we hear from perspectives: Allie, Emma, Caroline, and Sheriff Gaines. The secrets of a town.
Emma is overly protective of Caroline. She wants to adopt Caroline. She needs Allie gone.
Before prison, Allie was dating Ben. Living in a small town ruled by football, Allie discovered Coach Thomas was abusing the football players—one being Ben’s brother. There were many. Outrages, tempers, personality changes. Everyone turned a blind eye. The coach wanted to win and the use of drugs and steroids was suspected. He wanted to make a name for himself—wins, college football scholarships, and NFL recruits. He would use whatever tactics he could. Allie submitted an editorial about it ten years earlier. No one else was concerned or believed her.
When the coach was murdered and Allie was the first on the scene, she was quickly convicted, without a lot of evidence. Allie does not trust Sheriff Gaines. She needs proof. Coach Thomas’ family was in the pharmaceutical business. However, it is hard attaining proof, when she was being watched--her every move. Everyone was judging Allie, waiting for her to screw up so they could send her back to prison. A daughter and a town which wants nothing to do with her. Wrongly accused, and now having served her time--she is an outcast.
Caroline, a teen is losing all her friends at school since her mom has returned. She felt like her life was a Stephen King movie. Everywhere she went, tension built. It was the anticipation, the beats leading up to the moment when tragedy struck the main character. Things start happening to remind everyone of the murder. Everything attached to her is being attacked. From her boyfriend to her best friend—now gone from her life.
Interestingly, Sheriff Gaines' wife June, is in a nursing home where Caroline works part-time. Her mind is not right, after an accident, but she recalls things from the past. Mysteriously, she thinks Caroline is Emma.
There is also a boy Russell, working at the nursing home—his parents now own the local vet, and Allie’s new boss. He befriends Caroline. Natalie gives Allie a job. Between Natalie, Allie, Caroline, and Russell---will they figure out the pieces of the mystery before it is too late. What really happened that night? What kind of monster is Emma? What about Sheriff Gaines--how is he connected?
WOW, Emma is one sick character. On the exterior Allie thinks she is the best sister, supportive and caring. However, she is her worst enemy. She is out to steal her daughter and ruin her life. She is manipulative, obsessive, and conniving to the tune of: A Fatal Attraction, The Hand That Rocks the Cradle, and the Boy Next Door. .
The suspense is chilling, mind-blowing—keeping you guessing as what went down. Until after the 50% -80% readers do not know what went down and how it all happened until the very end. Readers get bits and pieces, keeping you glued to the pages.
Loved, Loved!!! "Un-put-down able" a read in one sitting. Twists and turns you do not see coming. Emma is pure evil—two faces. Ideal for the big screen---Predict, a New York Times Bestseller. Laura McNeill has written two back to back winners---quickly becoming one of my favorite psychological suspense authors.
On a personal note: Enjoyed familiar places, having lived in Buckhead and weekends in Dahlonega (North Georgia, Lake Lanier) as well as Southern coastal Brunswick and Jekyll Island. If you have ever lived in Atlanta, you know their obsession with football.
The twists with Sheriff Gaines and June were brilliant—and wow, loved Natalie and Russell’s character. Heart-pounding intensity. Everything about this crime thriller was top-notch. You will root for Allie from page one to the end. From the excellent character development, the pacing, and the explosive ending.
A riveting Southern mystery! Dealing with highly charged topics of steroids, drugs, and abuse in the sports industry. Readers will be truly invested in the story, its characters, and the vivid settings. For fans of Mary Kubica --McNeill's lyrical writing shines -Tops on my list!
SISTER DEAR has all the ingredients I look for in an engaging psychological thriller – Highly Recommend!