Initial reaction: Leave it to Brenda Novak to keep me up during a late night glued to one of her stories. "The Secret Sister" falls quite firmly in the romantic suspense category - revolving around a family with many complications in their relationships and a mystery that threatens to tear them apart for purported events. I found myself drawn into the carefully developed characters and the overarching mystery, though I'll admit I was still left with questions that were either loosely expounded upon or had some flaws in the progression to where they weren't entirely answered. It still came across as a solid read for me - 4 stars.
"The Secret Sister" had my attention from the very beginning on the strength of its premise. Maisey returns home after a series of horrible events in her life, but returning home isn't exactly a welcome homecoming. Considering her family history, it's little wonder. Her brother Keith is a recovering -on again, off again - drug addict. Her father had passed away many years ago, and her mother, Josephine, is a controlling matriarch who will use every bit of her money and power (a given with the family name and presence in the community) to undermine those who cross her, including Maisey.
Maisey finds a bit of refuge with Rafe and his 5-year-old daughter Laney. Maisey has a bit of awkward history with Rafe, but their chemistry is very strong and believable in its alternating waves of push and pull. When Rafe finds a hidden box in a wall of what he thinks are Maisey's baby pictures, it starts a tense mystery and huge rift in the family as secrets and doubts float to the surface. Maisey's determined to get to the bottom of events, and she meets some notable resistance in her journey to do that.
I definitely liked the focus on the strong characters in this narrative. It cycles between different POVs (Maisey's, Rafe's and Josephine's) and all three characters are strongly asserted for their motivations and emotions. Novak's prose is spot on for its intimacies, and I felt invested in both the development of the relationships here as well as the mystery. I did feel that as the book went on, certain plot points felt a bit thin in their drawing, particularly in the push to the end where some threads were left untied, but I still found the conclusion satisfying even when I had an idea of the direction it would go.
This is the first in a series, so I'm looking forward to seeing more of the events on Fairham Island.
Overall score: 4/5 stars.
Note: I received this as an ARC from NetGalley from the publisher Harlequin Mira.