The Half Sister
Sandie Jones
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Buy *The Half Sister* by Sandie Jones online

The Half Sister
Sandie Jones
Minotaur Books
336 pages
June 2020
rated 4 of 5 possible stars

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A compelling melodrama with its flagrant infidelities and families at war, Jones' drama is a tasty treat you'll want to binge in one solid go. It's also a compact setup with obvious dramatic potential. Sisters Lauren and Kate discover they have another, long-lost sister. Lauren thinks this would be the perfect antidote to the situation that the two find themselves in. Lauren herself has three children, while Kate is desperate for a baby with the husband she loves more than anything in the world. While Kate has a last chance to conceive, Lauren is struggling in her marriage. Her husband, Simon, is a misogynist with definite views about wifely duties and motherhood.

Though it's been a year since Harry, the sisters' father, died, Kate can still hear him. Now without her long-term, loyal ally, the family dynamics have shifted. The once-lighthearted and evenly matched pairings of her and her father versus Lauren and their mother, Rose, is now heavily weighted in Lauren's favor. Rose has no idea her who Jess, her new visitor, actually is: "The girl's got her wires crossed. It's as simple as that. There's no other explanation." Over the years, Kate has fallen into the trap of gauging everyone's good fortune. But something about this young woman claiming to be her father's daughter sets Kate on edge. Harry was devoted to his family and to Kate. What if he wasn't the distinguished man Kate knew him to be?

Narrated in Kate and Lauren's dueling voices, Jones creates a sense of distrust. For Lauren, these past few months have felt like a war zone where she's had to judiciously avoid the "grenades" that Simon constantly throws at her. Lauren thinks about her father and can't help but wonder of Simon was right. Was her father's incessant need to help everyone who crossed his path just a pretense? She thought she loved him--or had at least convinced herself that she could.

Building on the mystery of Jess's mysterious past, Jones' novel echoes with raised voices and a palpable sense of betrayal. Whether the voices are coming from the ghost of Harry, Rose or Kate's imagination are not clear. Kate is furious at this woman who turns up out of nowhere at their family home claiming to be her father's daughter: "I trusted Dad with all my heart, and I will continue to do so until my dying day." Kate can't forgive Lauren's clumsy attempt at tracing their family tree and ending up with a woman who claims to be related to them.

Lauren is incensed, saying "She has a right to know her family." Kate seethes at Lauren's naivety and at Rose's reluctance to stand up for their father. Jones gets to the heart of this question of who gets to share in life-changing revelations and what this pursuit does to people and their relationships.

Lauren is haunted by the pain of losing Justin, her one true love. With "Jess turning up," it feels as if Lauren's life is about to be unpicked again. Lauren feels outside of herself looking onto the same scene some 22 years ago. The realization that Lauren is forging a strong bond with Jess, that she's trying to "cut loose," sends Kate adrift. Lauren has it all wrong: "Dad would never have done what she's accused him of." You should never judge a book by its cover, yet what happens when it's the other way around?

The arrival of Jess, "the half-sister," is the catalyst for a reimagining of the family dynamics. What happens when you're possibly being taken in by a wolf in sheep's clothing? Lauren presumes it will largely fall to her to tell Rose about the past secrets that could destroy all the memories of their beloved but duplicitous father.

Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book at Michael Leonard, 2020

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