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.
“This powerful debut . . . is a suspenseful and haunting tale . . . [and] is particularly unsettling as it mirrors the headlines found in newspapers and court cases everywhere.”
—Library Journal, starred review for Center of Gravity
|Publisher:||Nelson, Thomas, Inc.|
|Product dimensions:||8.20(w) x 5.40(h) x 1.20(d)|
About the Author
Laura McNeil 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.
Read an Excerpt
By Laura McNeill
Thomas NelsonCopyright © 2016 Laura McNeill
All rights reserved.
In her final minutes as an inmate at Arrendale State Prison, Allie Marshall's body pulsed with tension. Eyes averted, managing any movements with robotic precision, she remained on guard.
Only moments to go.
A sliver of time. Not even a quarter hour. An unremarkable measurement, when held up against the billion other moments in any person's natural life. But after a decade inside, those last twelve minutes seemed the longest span in all of eternity.
To her right, rows of monitors blinked and recorded everything across the sprawling campus in Habersham County. Though the angles differed, the subject never changed: women in identical tan-collared shirts and shapeless pants. Inmates on work detail, in the cafeteria, in dormitories.
A corrections officer sat nearby, her pale blue eyes scanning the screens. To this worker, to all of them, Allie was GDC ID, followed by ten numbers. Nothing more. Inside the thick metal bars, Allie's life was suspended, a delicate fossil in amber.
Until now. Ten more minutes.
Her reflection stared back, unblinking, in the shatterproof glass window near the door. Green eyes flecked with gold, dark-blonde hair tucked in a loose ponytail, barely visible brackets at the corners of her lips.
Maybe, Allie thought, she'd forgotten how to smile and laugh. Happiness seemed unreachable, as if the feeling itself existed on the summit of an ice-tipped mountain shrouded by storm clouds. Indeed, the rush of pure, unadulterated joy belonged only to those with freedom. Allie's memories of it — her daughter's birth, Caroline's first smile, first steps — were fleeting and distant.
Instead, the perpetual motion of prison, the waking, sleeping, and sameness, all blended together, like a silent black-and-white movie on a continuous loop.
Until the news of her parole.
At first, the concept of liberty seemed impossible — a hand trying to catch and hold vapor. The judge had sentenced Allie to sixteen years, and she fully anticipated serving each and every one of them. She didn't believe she'd be granted an early release — she couldn't — until she stepped beyond the walls and barbed wire and chain-link fence, barriers that kept her from everyone and everything she'd ever loved.
Allie focused on breathing, stretching her lungs, exhaling to slow her pulse. Her own belongings, a decade old, lay nearby. Keys that wouldn't open doors. A watch with a dead battery. A light khaki jacket with a photo of then five-year-old Caroline tucked in the pocket, one pair of broken-in Levis, and a white cotton shirt. Gingerly, with her fingertips, she reached for the clothing, then gripped the bundle tight to her chest.
A second guard motioned for Allie to change quickly in a holding room. With the door shut, she pulled the shapeless prison garb over her head and picked up the shirt. The material, cool and light, brushed against her skin like gauze. Allie shivered.
For ten years, all she'd known was the rasp of her standard-issue navy jacket, the scrape of her worn white tennis shoes along the sidewalk.
Back in Brunswick, Allie had filled her closet with easy summer shifts and crisp linen pants. Now her body was different too — the soft curves had dissolved, leaving lean muscle behind. The jeans hung loosely around her waist and hips. The top billowed out in waves from her shoulders.
Nothing would fit, she reminded herself. Not much in her past life would.
And that was all right.
When she walked out of Lee Arrendale State Prison, home to thousands of female inmates, Allie didn't want reminders. No indigo tattoo inked down her back or neck. No numbers or symbols etched into her arms or fingers. The only external validation of time served was a faint scar that traced her eyebrow.
The real proof of her internment lay underneath it all. Below the seashell white of Allie's skin, hidden in blood, tendons, and muscle, the experience indelibly marked on her soul. An imprint made by incident, mistake, and tragedy.
Evidence, and lack of it.
"I'm innocent," she'd insisted to everyone who would listen. Her lawyers fought hard, rallied a few times, but in the end, the jury convicted her. Voluntary manslaughter.
A year later, Allie's appeal failed. Then money ran out. Her father turned his attention back to his veterinary practice after his cardiologist warned the stress of another trial might kill him. Her mother did her best to minimize worry while Emma, her tempestuous and fun-loving sister, assumed the role of doting aunt and guardian to Caroline.
And there was Ben. Sweet, thoughtful Ben. The man who'd wanted to marry her, who said he would love her always. Even after her arrest, he'd promised to wait for her if the worst happened. Allie couldn't live with herself if he'd sacrificed everything — his rising political career, his reputation, and his life for a decade or more. She'd broken it off, knowing it would wound him terribly. When he'd finally left, when she saw him for the last time, it was as if the very core of her being had been torn away, leaving a vast, gaping emptiness she couldn't fill, despite how hard she tried. Allie closed her eyes. She'd convinced herself it was the logical thing, what made sense. She had done her best to forget him. It hadn't worked in the least.
The days and months blurred. Entire seasons dissolved, shapeless and gray, like the ink of fine calligraphy smeared by the rain.
The squawk of the prison intercom barely registered in Allie's brain. Sharp insults and threats were routine, eruptions of violence expected. Even along the brown scrub grass and wooden benches of the prison yard, there was no escape. Allie always tried to disappear — pressing her body close to the concrete walls, becoming a chameleon against the barren landscape.
The women in Arrendale weren't afraid of punishment; most had nothing left. Some bonded with other inmates for favors; others paid for protection with cigarettes, food, and stamps. For those prisoners who had lost everything, inmates with little hope of parole, life was almost unthinkable.
Clutching her hands in her lap to keep from shaking, Allie watched as a woman collapsed in the cafeteria, stabbed in the jugular with a plastic fork. The next week, a fellow inmate in her dormitory was choked to death, purple fingerprints visible on the woman's throat when the guards discovered her body. Allie was haunted with grief for weeks after a young girl, only four years older than Caroline, tried to hang herself with a scrap of fabric.
Despite it all, despite the desperation that seemed to permeate the very air she breathed, Allie had survived.
In another few minutes, her younger sister, Emma, would arrive, as bus service didn't run from Alto to Brunswick. Tomorrow she'd meet her parole officer at noon. And like every parolee, she would receive a check, courtesy of the Georgia Department of Corrections, enough to buy shampoo, a bar of soap, and a comb for her hair.
Allie blinked up at the clock, almost afraid the time might start going backward. She forced her eyes away, squeezed them shut. If she tried hard enough, her mind formed a picture of her grown daughter's face. In her daydreams, she'd imagined their reunion a million times, rehearsed every possible scenario. She worried about the right words to say, how to act, and whether it was all right to cry. The enormity of it was impossible to contain, like holding back the ocean with a single fingertip.
All that mattered now was seeing Caroline.
The buzzer sounded long and loud; its vibration shook the floor. The burly guard sighed and lumbered to her boot-clad feet. She stood inches from Allie's shoulder, her breath hot and rank from a half-eaten roast beef sandwich.
Locks clicked and keys rattled. The barrier, with its heavy bars, groaned under its own weight. An inch at a time, the metal gate heaved open. Soon, there would be nothing but empty space standing between Allie and the rest of the world.
She felt a nudge.
In that moment, Allie heard four words, precious and sweet.
"You're free to go."CHAPTER 2
As the gate closed behind her, Allie blinked, her eyes adjusting to the bright blue midday sky. Heat rose in waves off the blacktop. Sunlight reflected from windows along the campus.
Standing outside the gates of Lee Arrendale was surreal. Allie thought about running, maybe all of the way to Brunswick. She would sprint until her lungs burst and her heart exploded, feeling the rush of wind on her cheeks, putting miles between her and the prison.
Of course, she didn't have to run. Her sister stood there, waiting. Lithe and slender, dark hair catching in the breeze, wrapped in a white dress that hugged her curves, Emma stood out against Arrendale's red clay and gravel.
"Finally!" Her sister opened her arms to offer an awkward embrace. As Emma pulled her closer, Allie caught a whiff of coconut, of the ocean and sun. She smelled like home. "Let's get out of here," Emma said, pulling back with a lopsided smile. "This place gives me the creeps."
Allie sucked in a breath of air. After ten years of following orders, standing at attention, and being counted, the pure silence of the open road sounded like a chorus of angels from heaven. There were no overhead announcements, no inmate complaints, and no scrape of shoes along cement. Just the late model BMW's wheels on asphalt, the steady whoosh of air from bumper to taillight, and the heat through the window warming her arm and hand.
Allie glanced over at her sister. Emma had been the constant in the last decade, her only regular visitor. Morgan Hicks, her best friend, had vanished along with everyone else the moment the police announced the arrest.
Her prison sentence changed everyone. Even living outside the imposing walls and curling barbed wire, Emma morphed into someone else. Someone reliable. Responsible. Allie's rock.
Gone was the boy-crazy teenager who'd sneak out on school nights and drink Boone's Farm on the beach. The girl who took double dares and learned to surf at fourteen. The girl who hadn't ever hesitated to flirt with men twice her age.
Allie had been the safe one, the rule-follower; her sister, the rogue. But every month since her incarceration, Emma drove from Brunswick on Highway 95 to Savannah, then made the remaining trek to Alto. No matter how stilted or strange the visit, Allie was grateful that Emma made the effort. The twelve-hour round-trip took planning, not to mention the cost of an overnight stay.
At first, Allie's parents, Lily and Paul, came on holidays and brought Caroline, who seemed to sprout an inch every few months. The visits, short and uncomfortable, became intolerable for her parents when her daughter developed an uncontrollable phobia to prisons and chain-link fencing. Caroline broke out in hives, the skin on her neck and face getting blotchy and red. According to her mother, she would complain of stomach pain — piercing, stabbing agony — in the hours before a scheduled drive.
It had hurt, but Caroline's aversion didn't surprise anyone. The prison, even on visitation days, was a loud and frightening place. The population, restless and violent, often swelled to collective anger, especially in the summer's heat. Lockdowns were frequent. Shouts reverberated through the walls. Days were filled with the clank of metal on metal, locks clicking into place, the grind of mechanized gates.
When they drove by the turnoff to Commerce, Allie shuddered and turned, tucking her meager belongings behind the seat. The wheels hit a bump in the road and rumbled over deep ruts. The plastic crinkled, then settled into place.
Allie glanced down at her sister's purse, wedged between them. The designer leather satchel, packed full, held Emma's cell phone, an embossed address book, and lipstick. An empty Starbucks mug sat in the cup holder next to an extra pair of Wayfarers.
A long time ago, Allie enjoyed the same indulgences. But for a decade, she had existed without any of it. Maybe, in some ways, she was better off, with all the time in the world to think. She laid her head back and let her gaze drift, absorbing the passing fields, rolling green-and-gold hills, and towering pines.
It was thirty-two miles outside the barbed-wire gates of Arrendale State Prison, in Jackson County, when Allie finally wanted to speak. She wanted to ask about Caroline. She was desperate to know everything, hear every detail. But she swallowed the million questions for just a few moments more, letting the silence envelop the space. Breathe, Allie told herself.
"Like the car?" Emma asked finally, glancing in the rearview mirror. "It's a few years old — snapped it up after one of my friends told me it was sitting on the lot outside town." She winked. "A bit of a step up, don't you think?"
Allie swallowed back the sand-dry roughness in her throat. "Definitely." She tried to smile. "Where's the Chevelle?" Allie asked, thinking back to her sister's first car, a sleek throwback to the seventies. She ran a hand along the seat, supple and firm, thinking back to the shiny vinyl interior of the old vehicle. "I miss it."
"Junkyard." Emma laughed at the comment, pursing her glossed lips into a wry bow.
"Too bad." Allie fiddled with the edge of her shirt. Her own daughter was old enough for a learner's permit. She'd be driving soon, if she wasn't already.
"How is Caroline?" Allie asked, the question bursting from her mouth before she could stop it.
Emma's grip tightened on the wheel. Her sister turned her head slightly, flashing a too-bright smile. "She's doing fine," she said, her voice strained but even. "Everything's really good." But then Emma trained her eyes straight forward, as if she could only see the lines on the empty road ahead. She swallowed, licked her lips, and lifted her chin. "I think Mom and Dad are going to try to bring her by."
Try. It wasn't what Allie wanted to hear, but she had learned to be patient. After ten years inside Arrendale, anticipation, which used to be excruciating, was now a dull ache. She could wait a little longer for Caroline.
After a few minutes, Emma changed the subject, offering details about Caroline's school, a guy named Jake she'd had a crush on this year, the clubs she'd joined. Emma kept talking, filling the space above, in, around, and below, the invisible question hovering in the car between the two of them.
How was Caroline? Really?
Was she okay? Was she safe?
But Allie let her sister talk. She'd waited forever already. They'd be home soon and she would find out for herself.
As with all family matters, Allie knew the truth was complicated — more intricate than a spider's web and just as sticky.CHAPTER 3
Caroline believed there was safety in numbers. A circle of friends, like a pride of lions, offered protection and relief from the torture that was high school. The tiled walls, the endless eyes, the scanning and scrutinizing.
Caroline held her breath to slow her racing heartbeat. In her head, she counted back from ten. She began to perspire and wiped a hand across her damp forehead. She wrinkled her nose. Classroom doors yawned open into the hallway, sending out air scented with dry-erase markers and pencil shavings.
The catcalls and gossip floated in streams above her head. Words bounced off lockers, twisting in midair. And words, Caroline knew, could hurt. Words could kill. Not in a take-your-life kind of way, Caroline thought. More like a reputation-bombing, forever-outcast sort of way.
One shot. Aimed right.
Bang. You were dead.
Caroline swallowed back a quiver of worry. She'd seen it happen. When Mansfield Academy's elite zoned in on a particular target, it was all-out war. The victims were random. A nerd with braces. A girl with thick charcoal eyeliner whose clothes always faintly smelled of curry. An awkward freshman unlucky enough to trip over his own Chuck Taylors.
Worst of all, there was no warning. No flashing lights. No danger sign in the road. By a small miracle, Caroline had been saved. In the seventh grade, Madeline Anderson had plucked her from obscurity and drew her into Mansfield Academy's inner circle. Selected Caroline from hundreds of other girls who drove Range Rovers, had trust funds, and spent spring break in the Caribbean. For Maddie, the girl who lived to shock her mother and her Stepford-wife friends, Caroline's family scandal worked perfectly.
Excerpted from Sister Dear by Laura McNeill. Copyright © 2016 Laura McNeill. Excerpted by permission of Thomas Nelson.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
I was disappointed at how easily I found out who the villain was but still enjoyed it.
Loved the way the story unveiled , I wanted to keep on reading even when I couldn't . Love this book, grate story.
I enjoyed reading this book. It kept my interest from start to finish.
Codi's brother knocked on the door. Today was the day he woud confess his love to his sister. His feelings wouldnt go away, so he decided he must.
Sister Dear is a well written quest to find the real killer to a murder for which Allison went to prison. If I had not received this book to read and review, I might not have finished it. Family discord is something I don't enjoy in a book. The crime was solved, along with other surprising developments.
Sister Dear is the story of a woman wrongly accused and convicted of crime she didn't commit. After being in prison for 10 years, Allison Marshall is finally able to come home. But home is not what it once was. Ostracized by most of the people in town and trying to rebuild her life, she expects to get help from her family. Her sister Emma has spent the last ten years taking care of Allison's daughter, Caroline. Now Caroline is a teen and having her mother back isn't the best news in her opinion. Everyone at school is talking about her and her best friend no longer wants to be around her. This story has twists and turns as each character deals with the past and tries to bring healing to their broken lives. But there is still a question to be answered; who killed Coach Thomas?
Ten years ago Allie Marshall was convicted of a crime and sentenced to prison. For ten years she has been determined to clear her name. She did not do it! Now that she is being released on parole she is determined to do just that, and to reconnect with the daughter she barely knows. Returning home, however, and even more so, trying to uncover the truth, could shatter her life forever. Is it worth the risk? From the first page to the last I was hooked. The author, Laura McNeill, had me glued to the words, the story, the lives of these people. The webs, the twists and turns…. It was a story that surely entertained me and kept me guessing. I had never heard of Laura McNeill before and I am glad I was given this book to read for review. I will definitely be checking out her other works. *I received this book from Fiction Guild and Thomas Nelson free in exchange for my honest review. What I have expressed are entirely my own thoughts*
Such an incredible book! I was rooting for Allie the whole time but there are so many twists and turns in the storyline. I loved the bouncing back and forth between present day and the past until we find out what really happened to the Coach. Laura McNeill is an awesome writer and I can't wait to read more books by her!
Sister Dear is a new suspence realease by Laura McNeill. It's said that blood is thicker than water but what if water could give you everything you ever wanted, everything you thought you could never measure up to with your family. Get ready for a wild ride that will leave you guessing up until the very end. Allie Marshall had it all. A bright future as a med student, a beautiful little girl, a man, Ben, who was desperately in love with her and who loved her daughter, Caroline as his own. Shock reverberated around the communtiy of Brunswick when Allie was charged with murder of the town's beloved coach, Boyd Thomas. Sure she wrote an expose where she all but accused Coach Thomas of giving the football players seteroids and beating them when their performance wasn't up to standards, but a killer? Really? Despite the fact she was found trying to recessitate the body when the sheriff found them, Allie still maintains her innocence, even now all these years later she is convinced that someone else killed him, mainly Sheriff Gaines. Emma Marshall always looked up to her older sister, Allie, and wanted to be just like her. She knew she could never measure up, Allie was perfect, and Emma, well she was the black sheep. A little, ok a lot, permiscuous and not nearly the student Allie was. She was content to waste her life away. Then Allie gets arressted and convicted of murder and Emma sees this as her chance to become the "good sister". She puts aside her rebellious ways and takes full responsibility of Carloline, raising her as if she were her own. She makes sure Caroline has everything she needs and tries to shield her from as much of her mother's oredeal as possible. But, when Allie gets early parole what will become of this happy little family Emma has worked so hard to maintain and control? I wasn't exactly sure what to expect with Sister Dear. I have never read one of Laua McNeill's books, until now, so I wasn't sure how engaging it would be. Let me say, I was thoroughly suprised. Just when I thought things couldn't get anymore intense McNeill would throw another curve ball. There were times I gasped out loud, earning me weird looks from my dog, because I just couldn't beleve things could be so twisted. I love how she took something so common as sibling rivalry and added a few things to take readers on a ride they won't soon forget. I love suspence books because I try to figure out the twist, the who done it if you will, but I could never have expected the conclusion of Sister Dear. I'm hoping they make this into a movie because it is THAT good! If you're a fan of suspense novels or even if you aren't, I highly suggest giving Sister Dear a try.
Sister Dear is a taunt nail biter of a tale - one of those books destined to remove sleep from one’s agenda until well after the book is replaced to the shelf. Allison Marshall has spent the last 10 years locked up in prison for a crime she didn’t commit. Now about to be released, she must return to a all too small town with it’s small mindedness. In those ten years - her daughter has grown up and her own sister is more a mother to Caroline than Allie has ever been. As Allie struggles to return to some kind of normal life - her past comes roaring back into the picture - threatening her new life and any relationship she might hope to rekindle with her daughter. With multiple twists and turns - Sister Dear will hold you spell bound to it’s last page and make us all ask just how strong is the blond of blood?
This is my first Laura McNeill read, and I was not disappointed. She kept me on the edge of my seat, not wanting to put it down, suspensefully awaiting the "who-done-it" revelation. There were two main characters that appeared guilty, one from the get-go and one revealed slowly; but the battle to discovery was back and forth between them the entire time. I couldn't make up my mind for sure on the guilty party. This psychopathic thriller unfolds as Allison Marshal is released from prison after ten years of paying for a crime she did not commit. Her goal, to find out who did, prove herself innocent and win her daughter's affection. Her only ally and friend, her sister Emma, who has been raising Allie's daughter, and is the only one who ever came to see her these past ten years. Allie was always the smart one, who had everything together, and was headed for a successful life, career, marriage. Her dreams have all been suppressed, and she is now starting again from square one. People in town are none too excited that she is back. Especially not when old memories are dredged up again, and things that should be left in the past, don't seem to want to stay there. The truth usually comes out, and that fact has some people scared and acting hasty. Forging through her daughter's rejection of her, fighting to acquire a job, and winning the trust of those she loves again becomes a challenge for Allie - one she will not easily achieve. But Allie has never been a quitter, and those who want her out of town, might as well BEWARE, she is not leaving any time soon. I enjoyed Laura's writing in spite of a few choice words, and a couple of "steamy" scenes. I wouldn't recommend this to a younger audience, though, since the book contains some violence, drug use, and other happenings more suitable to older readers. But overall it will capture the readers attention, and draw you in emotionally as you engage with the characters. As far as being published by a Christian publishing company, I did not feel that it had much of a message to convey in regards to faith. Allie seemed to be pretty much an independent, successful woman of her own making. There may have been a mention or two of faith and morals, but she didn't seem to rely much on God for her strength and achievements, or direction in her life. I received this book from Thomas Nelson Publishers and the Fiction Guild Team in exchange for my honest opinion. Writing a positive review was not required.
Sister Dear is the first of Laura McNeill’s books that I’ve read and she blew my socks off. An amazing story filled with drama and suspense, Sister Dear was a page flippin’ story that I’d easily recommend to anyone who loves suspense books. The characters are so well written and even the bad guys have likability. That, to me, is the sign of a great writer. Nothing is more unjust than a person being punished for a crime they didn’t commit, but that’s exactly what’s happened to Allie Marshall. Determined to prove her innocence and gain back her life, she’s digging up secrets that other people want left buried. Never underestimate the love a mother has for her child and the lengths she’ll go to in order to protect and love her child. Family should be strong and those are the people one should be able to count on. Too often, that’s not the case. When everyone else is against you, when no one else believes you, family should be the ones you can count on. Sister Dear rocks the familial boat and tells the tale of betrayal to the nth degree. I received this book from Thomas Nelson Publishers and the Fiction Guild in exchange for my honest opinion which I’ve provided here. https://wordynerdyblog.wordpress.com/2016-book-reviews/sister-dear-by-laura-mcneill/
Allie Marshall just served ten years in prison for a murder she did not commit. When she finally gets free all she wants to do is connect with her now fifteen year old daughter and find the one that really committed the murder to clear her name. There are those in town that do not want her digging and searching for information about what really happened. This book held me "captive" until I could read all the way through. I had to see what was going to happen next. There was an abundance of mystery and suspense. A big part of the story was the relationship between two sisters. One always felt extremely inferior and unloved up next to the other one. Jealousy can cause one to do things they might not otherwise do. And throw in a town that loves its football team. How far will the coach go to insure a winning season? This actually plays a big part in the story. I highly recommend this book to those that really enjoy a good mystery. I received this book from the publisher through the Fiction Guild for my honest opinion which I have given.
Though the thriller aspect of the plot wasn't quite as strong as I had hoped, there were still enough question marks around the characters to keep me turning pages. I think my main disappointment with the thriller element was that the build up was good and showed potential but there was some dropping the ball when it came to the follow-through. I also felt that sometimes the flashback scenes, mainly the way the reader was only given small snippets at a time, was dragged out throughout the plot a little longer than necessary. It brought down the overall pace of the story a bit. I will say though, I found the ending to be a strong one with a satisfying epilogue. The one thing I would've liked a better conclusion to is what happened with the relationship between Caroline and Russell, since Russell was actually one of my favorite characters in the whole book. Sister Dear is a strong candidate when choosing potential titles for your next book club round up. It offers topics for meaty discussions such as the treatment of convicted felons after their release, or the glorification of sports players or coaches, even to the point of being willing to overlook highly unethical, even illegal behavior in favor of maintaining fanhood. It also looks at sibling rivalries turned twisted, which is bound to get club members talking!
This book has some positive points and some negative points. First the positive. 1) I thought the story itself was good. 2) I liked some of the characters a lot. 3) It had a good amount of suspense-made you want to keep reading to find out what would happen next, but not SO much that you couldn't stand it! :) 4) I liked the theme of forgiveness, especially at the end. Now the negative. 1) This is not a "Christian" book, though it was sent as a new release to the Christian bookstore I work in. 2) There are a few "sex scenes", one reason I would not feel comfortable recommending it in the Christian bookstore. 3) I felt like some things were not explained as well as they could have been... Overall, I think it's a pretty good story. If what I listed as negative doesn't bother you, you may really like this book! :)
I was really excited to read this book because of all the publicity it got before it was published. I have to admit that I was disappointed that it did not live up to the hype, at least for me. The story is very well-written, but there was not, in my opinion, any nail-biting suspense. The plot is overdone and far too predictable. It took almost no time at all to figure out who the real killer had been and why they had killed the person and allowed Allie to take the blame. I really liked the character of Caroline, Allie's daughter. The things she had to go through, and the choices she had to make, were very well written and developed. For me, she was the most sympathetic character of the book. **I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. All thoughts and opinions are entirely my own.**
I’m sure all of you word lovers know how it feels when you try a new author, crack open that book, and get swept up right from the get go. I have a list of must read authors. They’re the ones I follow closely, watching for their next new release. Laura McNeill easily added herself to that list. From the opening, the author put me in Allie’s shoes. As she took me back into the past and forward to the present, I could only feel badly for Allie. All she was trying to do was protect the innocent and expose the one doing selfish, terrible things. Instead, someone winds up dead and she’s lost ten years, locked up for a murder she didn’t commit. Released from prison, she has much to adjust to. Her parents handle her with kid gloves and make themselves scarce. Her sister, Emma, looks at her like she’s come back to ruin her life. To take away what she holds most dear. That being Caroline, Allie’s daughter. Emma took her in when Allie was sent to prison. Raised her. Loved her. And now she may be asked to let her go. And poor Caroline. Scared of what will happen to her life now. Will her friends stand by her after learning her mother’s returned? It’s one thing to have a parent locked up, far away. It’s another thing altogether when that person reenters your life. How many teens are tough enough to stand up to peer pressure, to ignore the petty prejudices, to be the friend Caroline needs? This author sure knows how to build up the suspense and excitement. As she maneuvers her characters, brings them together, you’ll get a taste of that talent. Her characters are large as life, no cardboard figures here. You’ll feel some sympathy for all of them, good and bad. Told in multiple points of view and different time periods, the author makes the transitions smooth and easy to comprehend. It works great for this plot. I’ve never cheated and skipped ahead in a book to get answers. What’s the fun in that? I would rather deal with the anticipation and crow when I finally get to the finish. But, boy, I was sorely temped to read ahead with this book. Even the mundane becomes suspenseful. You know it won’t be calm for long. The suspense at 25% into the book had me on edge, especially trying to figure out who had hidden agendas. 50% in, the manipulations were fascinating and disturbing. There were shining moments followed by dips into ugliness. At 75%, it was a free for all. I was rooting for some characters, a few were still questionable, and some I wanted to drop kick. At 100%, the end finally let my mind stop whirring with questions. I got plenty of surprising answers. Couldn’t have asked for a better finale. If you like some psychological suspense along with your mystery and a not as obvious as you think plot, you’ll love Sister Dear. Oh, I almost forgot! There’s some fun discussion questions at the end. I enjoyed answering them and thinking more about the characters. One question had me thinking for quite some time. I surprised myself by how I answered it. I won this book in a giveaway and can't think of a better gift than a thrilling book and new author to follow!
Sister Dear was a real page turner for me! I was actually surprised that I liked it so much even though there is not really a romantic thread running through the story. I definitely gravitate toward novels that have at least a bit of romance tied in with the suspense. Sister Dear is really not that type of book! I thought that this novel was set up very well. I loved the way the reader was able to view the story and flashbacks that occurred through the viewpoints of several characters. This allowed me to either relate to what the person was enduring, as was the case with Allie and Caroline, or alternatively get an inside look at the motives to keep the past hidden, as was the case with Sheriff Gaines and Emma. Although some readers may figure out more quickly than I did who the real villain was, I fluctuated back and forth on my conclusion about exactly what happened until late into the book. The flashbacks provided great clues and I felt such anger toward those who allowed Allie to serve time for a crime she didn’t commit. Although Sister Dear was published by a Christian publisher, I did not truly feel that there was a Christian thread running through this story. It was relatively clean and a good moral lesson about forgiveness and honesty ran through the book, however, there were some rather heated, intimate flashbacks that could be considered “edgy” to some readers. I personally felt that those scenes were useful to the direction of the story and painted a full picture of one of the characters, but it is worth mentioning for some readers to take into consideration. I really enjoyed Sister Dear and the method by which the author unfolded this story. It captured my attention from start to finish and I truly felt anger and frustration for Allie and a desperation for the truth to be brought to light. I received a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.
Allie Marshall was convicted of a crime she didn't commit, but after 10 long years she's out on parole. She's determined to prove her innocence. Her return turns everyone's world upside down, especially her daughter's. Will she be able to mend her relationship with her daughter and prove once and for all she didn't murder the coach? I enjoyed this suspense. It was full of unexpected twists and turns all the way to the end. It keeps you enthralled the whole time. While I loved this book I wouldn't call this Christian fiction as there's no mention of God at all. It's fairly clean, however, there are a few instances of cursing and there were a couple racy spots (more than I prefer). Minus those spots the storyline was great and kept me on my toes. **I received this book free from the publisher for review through Book Look Bloggers. I was not required to write a positive review; all thoughts and opinions are my own.
This was a unique story. While it was a bit predictable in parts, I still was intrigued by the storyline. Although it's from a Christian publisher, I would consider this more of a clean read. One of the main characters is involved in an affair and there's a bit of mild language that I wouldn't expect to see even in a clean read. The story had potential for some inspirational themes, but the author chose not to go that route. I liked that it was more focused on the suspense side of the story and had some great twists. While a love interest was there, it really didn't start to develop. Plot: Allie has just been released from prison on parole after serving 10 years and returns to her hometown to try to get her life back. Her teenage daughter, Caroline has been under the care of Allie's sister, Emma, and Caroline's not ready to have the mother she barely knows come back into her life. Allie's trying to reconcile with her family while also trying to figure out what really happened the night Coach Thomas died. Characters: The story is told through multiple points of view and also uses flashbacks, making it well-rounded. Allie is a very sympathetic character, serving time in prison while she's innocent, then she must fight to get back her reputation and earn her daughter's love and trust. The characters were all well-written. Even the 'bad guys' had some redeeming qualities in them, and seeing their backgrounds shows you why they are the way they are. Recommendation: I'd recommend this book to those who are looking for a great suspense without romance or inspirational threads. If you prefer squeaky clean reads, this may not be to your liking. Rating: 3.5/5 stars I received a free copy of this book from the Thomas Nelson Fiction Guild in exchange for an honest review.
Sister Dear by Laura McNeill Convicted of a crime she didn’t commit, Allie Marshall watches a decade of her life disappear. Now she is out on parole, back in her home town. All she wants is a fresh start … and a chance to prove her innocence. McNeill writes a story which jumps forward and backward in time, allowing the reader to see the events that lead up to the present. Not necessarily a nail-biter, but more like a step by step revelation of the plot keeps the reader somewhat engaged. I can’t say this story held any great surprises, nor did it make a great impression on me. It was a pleasant read, but not a compelling one. I found the sisters’ relationship to be interesting. Emma seemed to be the “good” sister who held the family together during Allie’s absence. As the story continued, Emma’s character was revealed and I was horrified by the secret life she lead. Although published by Thomas Nelson, this story has very few elements of Christian fiction, which surprised me. This has been true of a few of the books I have read from them lately. There is a clear sense of good and evil, but no mention of God or Jesus. It is a fairly clean book, but not one I would recommend for anyone other than adults due to some of the content. I am grateful to Thomas Nelson, who gave me this free copy to read for my honest review, however, it did not give me the desire to read any more of McNeill’s work.
Sisters, Allie and Emma, are nothing alike. Emma perceives that Allie is favored and has it all. Allie is sent to prison for 10 years for a murder she didn't commit. Emma steps in and becomes a mother to Allie's young daughter. Allie is released and returns to her hometown to claim her daughter, learn the truth and clear her name. She isn't well received by anyone. She uncovers terrible secrets.
Allie Marshall is released from prison after serving 10 years for a murder she insists she didn’t commit. Allie’s younger sister Emma has been caring for Allie’s daughter, Caroline, during her incarceration. Now that Allie is free she is determined to discover the truth of what really happened all those years ago. And what is Emma hiding? This is the first book I have read by Laura McNeill and only her second book to date. Laura’s writing style drew me in from the beginning. I liked the extra insight into each of the characters with the alternating chapters from each of their perspectives.The story flowed well and kept me intrigued until the end. The characters were well developed and I really felt myself pulling for Allie, hoping she would find the answers she sought. It is nearly impossible to imagine how hard it would be to put the pieces of your former life back together after being imprisoned for a decade. How would your children and family feel, what would other people think? How do you adjust to a life of freedom after a decade of imprisonment? It is at times excruciating to imagine Allie’s struggle to readjust and Caroline’s struggle to accept her mom back into her life. This is not a book that is full of huge surprises along the way, but rather more like a puzzle that you enjoy piecing together until you complete the big picture. I look forward to reading more books by Laura. I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.
** “People accepted the stories they were told.” ** Allie Marshall has spent the past 10 years in prison for a murder she swears she didn’t do. But thanks to an early parole, she can try to reclaim her life, including getting reacquainted with her daughter, Caroline, who’s been raised by Allie’s younger sister, Emma. Wanting to prove her innocence, she sets her sights on Sheriff Lee Gaines. The sheriff was close to murder victim Coach Boyd Thomas — the man Allie accused of abusing the high school’s football players, and supplying them with steroids. As Allie rebuilds her new life with a job at her father’s old veterinary practice, she must regain trust in both herself and from others. Laura McNeill’s “Sister Dear” is filled with shocking moments and, with a character that spirals into manipulation and obsession, an ending you’ll never see coming. It represents a tale of fighting for your innocence and freedom, and overcoming the preconceived notions of those around you. “Sister Dear” deals with relationships, especially familial relationships, and learning who you can turn to in times of trials — whom can you trust? The characters must learn how to overcome mistakes and that everyone has crosses to bear. McNeill’s latest offering is a great, keep-you-guessing thriller with a major dash of family drama. It does, however, have a couple of mild sensual scenes, as well as slight alcohol and language use. Five stars out of five. Thomas Nelson provided this complimentary copy for my honest, unbiased review.
This is my first book by Laura McNeill and I am a new fan. This is a book that I didn't want to put down. Allie returns home after spending a decade in prison for a crime she didn't commit and from then on it is a roller coaster ride that is emotionally charged. You can feel her pain at her daughters rejection and a town that has turned its back on her. This is well worth your time to uncover who the real killer is and why. I received a copy from Thomas Nelson & Zondervan Fiction Guild in exchange for an honest review and I have done that.