ARC received in exchange for an honest review.
I wasn’t planning on reading this today. I got the email from Brenda early this afternoon and I was so excited. Because I love her. I am totally obsessed with Brenda St. John Brown. If you asked me as a reviewer to tell you what the one book I wish more people were reading is, my answer would be Swimming to Tokyo. It’s SO good. Go read it if you haven’t.
Back to my point, I wasn’t going to get into this today. I had another book on my docket and told Brenda I would get this done by the end of next week at the latest. But I couldn’t let it go. I literally had anxiety over whether or not Brenda would let me down with her follow up to Swimming to Tokyo so I cracked open my kindle, just planning to read the first chapter. I just wanted to get an idea of what it was about and what I could expect. I couldn’t stop reading it.
Let’s start with a little rehash of the synopsis: Ella is on her way to California after her ex-boyfriend sues her for negligence following the still-birth of their child. After stopping to use the bathroom in the little town of Horace, Arkansas, she meets Josh Devereaux, a local golden boy with secrets of his own. So there’s that. It’s obligatory, right?
I love the way this author builds characters- a little at a time. Everyone is peeled back like an onion. They’re complex and real. They act like real people. This isn’t one of those books where the characters fly off the handle over a miscommunication or withheld information and stop speaking. (That’s totally infuriating in a book.) They have reasonable responses to the things that happen to them. At no point during Brenda’s novels do you want to scream, “THAT WOULD NEVER HAPPEN IN REAL LIFE!”
Brenda is a great writer. Some of her descriptions were so spot on that they gave me tingles. E.g. Because, like it or not, he’s there, like a sliver in back of my knee. Poking. Hard to forget.
Additionally, the stab at authors who tell not show was such a great in joke. I was definitely giving Brenda a high five in my mind for that one. Everyone knows adverbs are a crutch.
I want to be totally fair to this book and let you know that if I was rating it against Swimming to Tokyo I wouldn’t have given it 5 stars. Swimming to Tokyo is nearly perfect in my opinion and Lies We Live is not without its flaws. Fortunately, I am the boss of reviews and I can give it 5 stars because it was a fucking compelling novel. I was on the edge of my seat and totally and completely entertained at all times. I wanted to know what happened next. There were several times where I had to start over on a page because I caught myself trying to scan to see what was going to happen. I was glued. I was so into it, that I started to forget that the people mentioned in The Hollywood Reporter weren’t real and actually picked up my phone to google Monica like she was a real person. I was invested. And let’s be real. The books can’t be compared. They’re completely different.
I loved that Lies We Live isn’t a love story straight out of the gate. You kind of worry that it’s going to be, but this first book is really more of a hesitant “I like you, but I don’t totally trust you yet because of ton of crappy stuff has happened in my life” story. Don’t get me wrong: there’s plenty of steam and tender moments. And for as much angst as the book seems to have when you boil it down to its simplest points, the book avoids feeling melodramatic or overblown. The author acknowledges the character’s struggles without letting those things define them.
The formatting of the novel was kind of perplexing though. Some of the chapters had dates AND said “x years earlier” or something similar and some just had a date. Sometimes when the chapter would end and a new one would begin, there would be a date, but no time had passed. It left me extremely confused and unsure of where I was in the timeline until I was able to pick up from context clues what was happening. The random chapters from Josh’s point of view were a little strange, but only because there were so few. They weren’t frequent enough to seem like they served a purpose other than to fill in information that the author thought the reader needed, but couldn’t figure out how to deliver from Ella’s perspective.
The only other complaint I have is that chapter 14 made no sense to me. I couldn’t figure out why Trudi shot Ella daggers during their conversation with Skylar. What was the issue with her not having life experiences? I feel like this was really unclear and could have been elaborated on somehow to clarify.
I lied, I have one more complaint: HOLY CLIFFHANGER. Why did I early review this? I’m not sure I can wait for the next book in the series!
Thank you so much for not letting us down, Brenda! You’re definitely one of my favorites!