I like Diane Chamberlain – she’s like a slightly less good Jodi Picoult, but filled with the same flavour of human drama that makes Picoult’s books so compelling. I’ve reviewed one other Chamberlain book on this blog, although I’ve read several more. So when I spotted Before the Storm in a bargain bin at the local Co-op, I picked it up, then the followup book, Secrets She Left Behind, not long after. And now it’s time to review them!
Fifteen-year-old Andy Lockwood is special.
Others notice the way he blurts out anything that comes into his mind, how he cannot foresee consequences, that he’s more child than teenager. But his mother sees a boy with a heart as open and wide as the ocean.
Laurel Lockwood lost her son once through neglect. She’s spent the rest of her life determined to make up for her mistakes, and she’s succeeded in becoming a committed, protective parent – maybe even overprotective. Still, she loosens her grip just enough to let Andy attend a local church social – a decision that terrifies her when the church is consumed by fire. But Andy survives…and remarkably, saves other children from the flames. Laurel watches as Andy basks in the role of unlikely hero and the world finally sees her Andy, the sweet boy she knows as well as her own heart.
But when the suspicion of arson is cast upon Andy, Laurel must ask herself how well she really knows her son…and how far she’ll go to keep her promise to protect him forever.
This duology of books was thoroughly enjoyable. Knowing that it was a Chamberlain, I went in expecting a high dose of drama, a misguided decision made in the heat of youth, attempts to protect family members, to put right past wrongs, and a searching investigation of the human condition.
I got everything I was expecting. Angsty teens, first love, arson, familial protection, alcoholism, affairs, revelations about parenthood – it’s all going on. And I loved it! Before the Storm is a part mystery, wondering who set the fire at the church, part love story, and part history of Laurel, which is hugely compelling. Secrets She Left Behind picks up nearly two years after the end of Before the Storm, and focuses on different players in the first book, both going back to the history revealed in Before the Storm, going through the fire from Keith’s point of view, and then following up on what happens in the years following.
Chamberlain books for me would be a guilty pleasure, if I felt in any way guilty about them. The thing is, though, I don’t. They’re over-the-top and melodramatic, and filled with a myriad of issues, as if any one family could have that many secrets and scandals. I absolutely love them for their pure escapism and ridiculousness. These two books are Chamberlain at her best, just realistic enough to be believable, and thoroughly enjoyable. Also, someone was killed by a whale, okay! Magnificent.
Four Stars for both books!