Review: When We Believed in Mermaids by Barbara O’Neal + Giveaway

Review: When We Believed in Mermaids by Barbara O’Neal + GiveawayWhen We Believed in Mermaids by Barbara O'Neal
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: women's fiction
Pages: 352
Published by Lake Union Publishing on July 16, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleBook Depository
Goodreads

From the author of The Art of Inheriting Secrets comes an emotional new tale of two sisters, an ocean of lies, and a search for the truth.

Her sister has been dead for fifteen years when she sees her on the TV news…

Josie Bianci was killed years ago on a train during a terrorist attack. Gone forever. It’s what her sister, Kit, an ER doctor in Santa Cruz, has always believed. Yet all it takes is a few heart-wrenching seconds to upend Kit’s world. Live coverage of a club fire in Auckland has captured the image of a woman stumbling through the smoke and debris. Her resemblance to Josie is unbelievable. And unmistakable. With it comes a flood of emotions—grief, loss, and anger—that Kit finally has a chance to put to rest: by finding the sister who’s been living a lie.

After arriving in New Zealand, Kit begins her journey with the memories of the past: of days spent on the beach with Josie. Of a lost teenage boy who’d become part of their family. And of a trauma that has haunted Kit and Josie their entire lives.

Now, if two sisters are to reunite, it can only be by unearthing long-buried secrets and facing a devastating truth that has kept them apart far too long. To regain their relationship, they may have to lose everything.

My Review:

This is the story about the deconstruction of a life. Not in the sense that things fall apart, because the lives of both Kit and Josie Bianchi fell apart a long, long time ago. The echoes of what happened in their childhood have rippled like aftershocks through everything that has happened since.

Including, but definitely not limited to, Josie’s death – and the faking thereof.

When We Believed in Mermaids is rather about the examination, in memory, of those long ago events. What begins as a look back at a seemingly perfect childhood that was ripped apart by the Loma Prieta earthquake of 1989 reveals cracks in that perfection – just as the girls’ examination of their cliffside house revealed cracks that made the house’s fall inevitable.

There were plenty of warning signs that a disaster was coming – but the adults were too wrapped up in themselves, and much too damaged themselves, to see it. And the girls were children. It’s only as adults that they are able to look back and see that what went wrong was hardly their fault.

But now they are both adults. And both still scarred. Both, in their own ways, isolated because of it. Kit, whose life has come to be confined to her ER practice, her surfing, and her cat. While Josie, who seemingly has it all, is isolated by her secrets. No one knows her true self. Her past is another country, on another continent, and it happened to someone else.

One brief moment in the background in someone else’s camera frame brings Josie’s worlds into collision. And Kit’s walls come tumbling down.

Escape Rating B+: This is a story that can best be described as quietly charming. It feels like one of those stories where not a lot happens on the surface, but that surface is only 10% of what’s happening. Underneath, Kit and Josie are paddling like crazy.

While the comparison is to an iceberg, there’s nothing cold about the story – including its two settings, the California coast and Auckland, New Zealand. Where it’s a hot and steamy late summer when Kit arrives to investigate that three-second sighting of the sister who has been presumed dead for 15 years.

We begin the story from Kit’s point of view as she believes, disbelieves, questions and investigates a possibility that has haunted her for all of her adult life. What if Josie is still alive?

In alternating chapters we find ourselves looking through the eyes of a woman named Mari. Who seemingly has it all, a rich and handsome husband, two terrific kids, a storied house to investigate – and a gigantic secret.

As both Kit and Mari remember their childhoods, with each dive into the past revealing more cracks in that originally perfect surface, their memories converge. It’s obvious fairly quickly that Mari is Josie, and that she’s rightfully worried that her few seconds in that background shot are going to bring her world crashing down – and she’s right.

But until the crash, it’s Kit’s view that holds the attention. While Mari has found the life she dreamed of, and is afraid of losing it – Kit is very much still seeking, not just Josie, but a life that will not merely sustain her but support her and enrich her spirit. Her search, including her hesitant relationship with the handsome Spanish guitarist Jose Velez, opens her heart and shakes her certainties – even as she hunts down the sister she never expected to find.

Kit’s on a quest, and somewhat ironically, Josie is the macguffin she’s looking for. But all the while, both of them are internally exploring their memories of the life they once shared together. As those memories reach toward the present, Josie and Kit reach towards each other.

And the possibility of a shared – and much brighter – future.

I picked up When We Believed in Mermaids because I enjoyed The Art of Inheriting Secrets by this same author very much, with just a few quibbles. The same is true about When We Believed in Mermaids, including the quibbles. Both are stories where events in the present cause the narrator(s) to search through their own pasts as well as the past of a place that they become involved with in the course of the story, so if you like one you’ll definitely like the other.

In The Art of Inheriting Secrets, I had a couple of issues with the way that the hesitant romance in that book proceeded, but loved the look back into the past of the house she inherits and the mother she discovers that she never really knew. There’s also an old house in Mermaids, and I was hoping for as interesting a reveal of its history as there was in Secrets, but alas, it was not to be. The secrets about Sapphire House, when finally revealed, felt anticlimactic. That was the one part of the story where I really expected more.

Then again, I love stories about research done well and filled with fascinating reveals. And there were plenty of those fascinating reveals in Kit and Josie’s hesitant journeys down memory lane. As I said, this story is quietly charming, and I was certainly charmed. If you’re looking for a beach read this summer all you have to do is believe in these mermaids!

~~~~~~ GIVEAWAY ~~~~~~

I’m giving away a copy of When We Believed in Mermaids to one lucky (US/CAN) commenter on this tour!

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This post is part of a TLC book tour. Click on the logo for more reviews and features.
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11 thoughts on “Review: When We Believed in Mermaids by Barbara O’Neal + Giveaway

  1. I love the comment about the surface only being 10% interest and the rest is where the meat of the story is. Thank you for being on this tour, this might be one of the first I read this winter. Sara @ TLC Book Tours

  2. I haven’t really read anything yet that I would consider an outright beach read simply because our weather hasn’t been all that consistently sunny lately, but it is supposed to be this weekend, so I’m debating between reading something by Morgan Matson, Sarah Morgan, or a middle-grade summer set story told in verse.

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