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Saturday, July 1, 2017


4 stars out of 5

In the end, I enjoyed this book - but it was the plot, not the characters, that turned the tide. For much of the first half, all I did was mutter to myself how much I detested main character Josie Buhrman (and to a slightly lesser extent, her twin sister Lanie). The latter sister struck me as the "evil" twin, just as apparently she did to the characters in the book who knew her. Josie was another story; she spent most of her time berating other people for their lying ways when she was arguably the biggest liar of them all.

To be fair, the now-estranged Josie and Lanie had it tough growing up. Their mother had some kind of mental illness, their father was murdered 13 years earlier, and not long thereafter, the mother ran off to join a hippy-dippy cult. If there was a saving grace, it was that their father's killer was caught and convicted - identified by Lanie, who claimed to have seen him do the dastardly deed. Throughout his years in jail, though, he's insisted that he's innocent.

Not long after their mother abandoned them, Josie left home, ending up in New York with her partner, Caleb, and zero intentions of ever going back to visit once-treasured relatives. But then, a self-described "investigative" reporter named Poppy Parnell reveals a podcast which she claims will shed new light on the twins' father's murder. Was a man wrongly convicted? Did Lanie, who changed her original story that she'd seen nothing, lie on the witness stand? And if those things are true, who is the real murderer and what was the motivation?

The podcast, downloaded by thousands including Josie, opens up old family wounds - especially, it seems, for the twins' mother; not long after the first one appears, she is found dead on the cult's property, clearly a suicide. Now, Josie feels compelled to return home for the funeral of the mother she loved, hoping to avoid interaction with anyone else. She also doesn't want to interact with Caleb, who's ready and willing to accompany her. Why? Simply because everything she's told him about herself is a big fat lie, including her last name - which she changed to rid herself of the stigmas of her past and live in relative anominity.

Although she was given ample opportunity and good reason to 'fess up, Josie refuses to come clean - reasoning that her beloved Caleb just wouldn't understand and would exit stage left. Instead, she manages to convince him to stay put while she heads home alone. If I didn't already dislike her, that sealed the deal for sure.

From then on, much of the story focuses on Josie's encounters with family members, most notably her sister, interspersed with text of the podcasts and readers' reactions as they are released. As tensions begin to heat up, Josie gets a surprise visitor; and from that time forward, the story starts to move quickly, capturing my attention to the somewhat-of-a-twist ending.

My conclusion? If you can stand neurotic, sometimes totally unhinged females, this is a very good, intriguing book with a plot that's a bit different (and thus welcome, especially given all the recent books featuring neurotic females). Many thanks to the publisher, via NetGalley, for providing me with an advance copy in exchange for an honest review.

Are You Sleeping? by Kathleen Barber (Gallery Books, August 2017); 336 pp.

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