book reviews, general fiction & women's fiction
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Book Review: Friends & Other Liars by Kaela Coble

here’s the US Cover…

The title was rather kindly made available to me by the publishers, Sourcebooks Landmark. This review is also being published to NetGalley, GoodReads, LinkedIn, and my social media accounts.

About the novel Friends and Other Liars:

Sometimes the secrets we keep are more dangerous than the ones we reveal…

When Ruby St. James returns to her hometown of Chatwick, Vermont, it’s under the worst circumstances.

It’s been ten years since she’s been home, and she tells herself the solitary life she’s built in New York City suits her just fine—at least well enough to avoid slicing open the scars left by her first love, Murphy, or her bipolar, recovering alcoholic mother.

But when one of her estranged childhood friends commits suicide and another compels her to attend the funeral, guilt draws her right back into the tumultuous world she escaped from a decade ago.

…and here’s the UK Cover!

Her plan—to hightail it out of town the minute the last rose hits Danny’s coffin—is delayed when her former friends are called together for a reading of Danny’s last words. Their hopes to gain some sense of closure are quickly dashed when the note drips with bitterness, accusing them of abandoning both him and the promise they once made to always love and trust one another.

As punishment, they are each handed an envelope containing their darkest secret and told they can either reveal them or keep quiet, risking the secrets coming out publicly in a trap Danny left behind.

As the secrets begin to trickle out, Ruby struggles between the pull to reconnect with the friends who once meant so much to her and the desperate need to keep the secret that changed her life.

Told from alternating viewpoints and flashbacks, Friends and Other Liars is the story of five friends coming to terms with what it means to betray the ones who love you most.

first, then, the book review:

Ruby is returning to her hometown after ten years of absence, and not for the best of reasons. Danny, one of the youngsters that used to be a part of her group of tight-knit friends, has committed suicide, and Ruby is, however reluctantly, returning for his funeral. She knows that, the very moment she sets foot in her old town, the past will come barging back in on her life, threatening to destabilise her and upset the hard-fought future she’s somehow managed to build for herself.

However much Ruby has loved her childhood and youth friends, and she has loved them dearly in all their bits of glory and their many imperfections, she is not so sure that her present stability and peace of mind, and maybe even her future, is a price worth paying for attendance to the funeral of somebody she hasn’t seen in over a decade. What’s more, her parting terms with Danny were hardly what she would call friendly. What’s more, as Ruby looks back on her end-of-highschool days, she seems to remember only how much it all, the group and the friendships, and seemingly life at large, had already begun to crumble, under the weight of everybody’s, so many secrets.

And then, there’s everything else: returning home will also mean Ruby having to face up to her problematic relationship with her mother, a recovering alcoholic and bipolar sufferer. And, last but by no means least, it means she’ll have to face her first love, Murphy. She knows that those are scars she took a long time to heal over — just as she knows that reopening them is the last thing she needs.

However, Ruby is unable to ignore — or resist — Ally’s powerful-as-usual summons. She tells herself that she’ll be able to allay her guilt and to just zoom in and out of town, thus fulfilling her duty of once-friend to Danny and “the crew”. But things are never as easy as they’re supposed to be and, for Ruby and the other members of the crew, they are about to get considerably complicated… if not completely out of hand.

The funeral finally out of the way, the five friends and their partners are told that they should attend a reading of Danny’s last words, in the form of a bitter letter where he accuses them of not caring, of abandoning him and the promise they had once made to always love and be there for one another, and to always be truthful to each other. They have been, Danny tells them, keeping secrets and telling lies, and it was about time somebody put a stop to all that.

He, Danny, will be the person to do that, even from beyond the grave. And the way he proposes to do it is by leaving a series of blackmail letters to be delivered to each of his estranged friends, threatening to out their biggest secret if they don’t confide in each other. But not even Danny is as perfect and infallible as he seems to have thought he was, and his little from-the-grave caper threatens to derail everybody else’s life, as he himself lies (or gets confused, we will never really know) about one of the secrets (was he trying to exact yet another revenge on another of his long lost friends?), messing up what he had perhaps wished would be a perfect plan.

the verdict:

I really enjoyed reading Friends & Other Liars. I don’t read women’s fiction very often, though I do try to keep a toe in the genre, as I do with most. This title strikes me as a little safe. Ms Coble could have made it into a full-blown, atmospherically dark and psychologically charged, near-noir plot — but then it would have been a different book altogether. Did I expect it to be darker? Or did I merely expect it to be something else? I’m not sure, at this point.

I’ve just been through a spell of reading quite dark thrillers, and even though I initially jarred with this title because it was obviously so different to what I had been reading, I soon got into it and was hooked. What I now know, a few days after having read it, is that as it is, Friends & Other Liars is a nice, very well written, balanced little book, a bit mystery, a bit love story, a bit coming-of-age, even a bit Young Adult, and a whole lot of story.

The characters are just fleshy enough to feel real and to trigger, in the readers, feelings of identification, sympathy or animosity. We recognise them all, can almost see them walk, alive and fully formed, out from our tweens and teens memories.

Ruby is a bit of the girl we all were, feisty and dependable but also insecure and already a bit messed up by life; Ally is a bit of the girl we all wished we had been, taking charge, always seemingly there and on it. Danny is the wreck we all knew at least one example of, whom we hated to love because, well, he was one of us but it was just so messy in every way possible. And Murphy is the absolute cad our grandmothers warned us about, the a-little-despicable-but-lovable rogue, a bit loose on the morals, self-centred and egotistical, sex-on-legs, “committophobic” bad boy who uses and discards women, and who can only mean heartache of the most serious kind if we ever get entangled with them.

True to form, Murphy treats Ruby appallingly. And even though I understand why Ruby still lingers in his shade, I hate it that she takes it from him. I wanted her to be a stronger woman already upon her return to Chatwick, and to realise that relationships do not change men. But how can she, when she’s still so broken and so young?

Plot-wise, this book is nothing new or that groundbreaking, but it is still an interesting and well-developed plot, based on the interplay between secrets, disclosure and privacy, and lies and omissions, oscillating between the ‘then’ and the ‘now’ and told from the perspectives of the various friends of ‘the crew’. The ‘then’ chapters tell, quite obviously, the story of how the group came about and how the relationships were forged and evolved over the years; and though there are flashbacks, the ‘now’ mostly tells the story of Danny’s suicide, his funeral and aftermath, and then developing the blackmail plot.

Perhaps because it is so simple in execution, and because it tells a story that speaks to most of us making us revisit a particular time of our past that seems to remain significantly embedded in the tissues of our personalities, the story and the characters of Friends  & Other Liars acquire a quite vivid and memorable dimension, and seem to stay with us long after we’re done turning the pages. I know it stayed with me: I’ve read quite a few titles since, and I can honestly say I’m struggling to remember a few — but Friends & Other Liars is still fresh with me, as if I was still reading it, and that is, surely, one of the things that matter most in a book.

I feel that if it had been marketed as a Literary Fiction book, Friends & Other Liars would not attract that high a rating, competing as it would be with much more accomplished and groundbreaking novels. On the other hand, Young Adult would have been a far too wide category for it, and may even have risen some eyebrows. Cleverly marketed as it is as General/Women’s Fiction title, I feel it deservedly garners every single one of its four little stars.

Genre pegging: Women’s Fiction; Mystery
Verdict: A very good read
Rating: ♥♥♥♥
Women’s Fiction; General Fiction; Mystery

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