Brand new review: Who Did You Tell? by Lesley Kara

By Ekta R. Garg

June 24, 2020

Genre: Psychological thriller

Release date: June 16, 2020

Rated: Bookmark it! / 4 stars

A woman struggling with addiction is stalked by someone from her past. As she fights to stay clean, she must also deal with the fallout from the wrongs she’s committed even as she tries to start building a new life for herself. Author Lesley Kara’s newest novel starts slow but picks up steam in her newest novel Who Did You Tell?

Astrid Phelps has hit bottom, and she knows it when she moves from London to the small town of Flinstead. She’s left behind the charms—and temptations—of big city life. As dull as Flinstead is right now, it’s exactly what she needs as a newly-sober alcoholic.

After some apprehension, her mother’s agreed to let her move back home. At first Astrid doesn’t quite know what to do with herself. She’s going to AA meetings, yes, but it’s depressing and disheartening to be surrounded by the sad people who show up. One person in particular, Rosie, has taken a shine to Astrid and keeps trying to convince her that God is the solution to all of her problems. But Rosie’s been sober for eight years, and Astrid doesn’t think she would understand her kinds of problems.

Every day Astrid carries the weight of a secret. That secret makes her think of her ex-boyfriend, Simon, a fellow drunk who used to party it up with Astrid. They loved each other. They were also terrible for each other when it came to their addictions. Until the day Simon decided once and for all to get sober.

Now Astrid is trying to focus on her own future. She’s constantly fighting the urge to drink, and meeting a nice guy helps. Josh is sweet and funny and caring. He even helps Astrid get a job in art, something she thought she’d lost forever.

Everything seems to be turning around…until the messages start. Someone from Astrid’s past is sending her signals, pictures, and menacing messages that tell her they won’t let her forget the horrible mistakes she’s made. Because Astrid has made mistakes that have changed—and ended—lives. She’s determined to free herself from her past, but someone thinks she should be held prisoner to what has gone on before.

Author Lesley Kara takes time in leading readers through the opening chapters of the book, which is where the novel’s one main weakness lies. For the first third, readers follow Astrid as she attends meetings and spends a lot of time taking long walks and pondering her life. It might be tempting to let the book go, yet Kara includes just enough to keep readers engaged.

After that first third, however, with a startling reveal of a key piece of information, the pace picks up. As the stalker comes closer, Astrid’s compulsion to drink grows. Kara doesn’t give Astrid an easy way out, and readers will hold their breaths every time Astrid finds herself within the vicinity of alcohol. The author details with authenticity the immense struggle recovering alcoholics most likely experience every time they face a pressure point that would previously induce them to drink.

Astrid has made errors grave enough to make readers pause, yet her flaws are exactly why the audience will cheer her on. She takes full responsibility for her actions and agonizes over them day and night. She also understands that giving in to the longing to drink won’t erase the past, and as she fights those urges readers will hope for her to win.

The end comes with a satisfying number of twists and turns, and readers will find themselves guessing with glee at the answers to the questions that arise. This is a fun summer book worth the time. I recommend readers Bookmark Who Did You Tell?.

Support your local, independent bookstores! If this book sounds like something you’d like to add to your collection, check it out on Bookshop.org!

*Disclaimer: As a Bookshop.org affiliate, I earn from qualifying purchases.

Latest review: Darling Rose Gold by Stephanie Wrobel

By Ekta R. Garg

April 15, 2020

Genre: Thriller

Release date: March

Rated: Bookmark it! / 4 stars

After her release from prison, a mother squares off with her daughter in a contest of wills. Both women want revenge for the wrongs committed against them, and despite the history that binds them neither are willing to offer the other any solace. Author Stephanie Wrobel traces the causes and effects of a bizarre syndrome in her compelling novel Darling Rose Gold.

Rose Gold Watts spent most of her childhood in hospitals. Often she had to use a wheelchair. She had difficulty keeping down food, and at one point doctors inserted a feeding tube into her body so she could get the nutrients she needed.

Her single mom, Patty, devoted all of her time to Rose Gold, taking her from one physician to another, trying a variety of foods, even homeschooling her when a little boy made fun of her lack of hair. No one doubted Patty’s love for her child or her determination to keep Rose Gold healthy…except Rose Gold herself.

In her late teens, Rose Gold makes a horrifying discovery: she’s not sick. In fact, she’s never been sick, at least not with a real condition. Rose Gold has been throwing up her meals and watching her teeth rot because her mother has been poisoning her.

After Patty is convicted of child abuse and sent to prison, Rose Gold rebuilds her life. At 18, she’s ill equipped to navigate the world around her. Patty made sure Rose Gold was so dependent on her that Rose Gold feels like she’s discovering everything from scratch. In some ways she is.

Still, she manages to get a job, albeit a boring one, and she begins an online relationship with Phil from Colorado. More than anything, though, Rose Gold wants to prepare for the biggest event of her entire life: her mother’s release from prison. After five years in prison, Patty is released and asks Rose Gold if they can live together again. Everyone in the community is stumped when Rose Gold says yes.

Her mother may talk of a change of heart, but Rose Gold knows her mother wants to punish her. With the help of a therapist and her own courage to face the facts, Rose Gold decides to play along with Patty’s “reformation.” After all, if there’s one thing Rose Gold has learned from her mother, it’s how to put on a good show.

Author Stephanie Wrobel takes readers into the minds of people suffering from the inexplicable condition Munchausen Syndrome by Proxy: when caregivers hurt those under their protection and then “save” the people they’re taking care of. In the novel, Wrobel lets both Patty and Rose Gold share their points of view. The intimacy of first person allows readers to see and hear how Patty and Rose Gold approach the world. The result is both discomfiting and fascinating.

At times Patty seems convinced of her innocence: she just wants to take care of her daughter and can’t understand why so many people—former coworkers; former friends; even Rose Gold herself—are standing in her way. She’s devoted her entire life to Rose Gold. In her mind, no one seems to get that.

At other times, Patty’s throwaway comments and her own childhood experiences reveal a deeper intelligence. It looks as though she knows exactly what she’s doing. Some readers might finish the book on the fence about which way Patty leans, a depiction true to real life.

Rose Gold too comes across as a fully developed, realistic character. She battles the mental conditioning of almost 18 years with the proof of her mother’s abuse and her own slow-awakening common sense. Rose Gold craves her mother’s approval, yet she also wants a normal life.

If the book can be faulted anywhere, it’s in the middle where it sags as Rose Gold executes a plan that she shares with no one—not even the reader. Through several chapters, it feels as though both mother and daughter are treading water until an inevitable ending that is also surprising. While Wrobel offers a small bit of hope, she also saddles it with the guilt of the past. It’s a tricky balancing act, but Wrobel gets it mostly right.

Readers who like books about psychological conditions and how they can twist a person’s mind and life will enjoy this one. I recommend readers Bookmark Darling Rose Gold.