Member Reviews

Absolutely stunning novel. I flew through it and really connected with all of the characters. I would highly recommend it to anyone b

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I'd like to thank the publisher for allowing me a chance at reading this book.

I felt like this book had everything lined up - mysterious death, old high school friends, secrets. Drama, drama, drama. But I knew that I was gonna have a rough time after chapter one. I put as one of my statuses on goodreads:

" I swear to god, every fucking chapter ends with something vaguely ominous. I feel the author is building up all this 'mystery' and then when it happens it will be such a let down. I like nobody so far. "

Which is mostly all the book was. The lead up was just really really taking its time and we were already at 30% of the book and I felt that nothing was really pointing me in a path or cluing me in on something that needed to be watched out for to come back around in the future.

Though I am rating the book 1 star here, out of respect for the author I will no rate the book anything on goodreads.

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Books about toxic female friendships are my catnip. While the promise of a glimpse into Bess and her friends' past drew me in, I found that part of the story to be a bit underwhelming. What kept me interested was the lush depictions of Greece, the writing about the rustic house they stayed in, and honestly, information about Bess' odd job as a moderator for a dating website. The main plot didn't do much for me but I loved the writing.

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This pleasantly surprised me, as it was nothing like the Ella Berman book I read previously to this one. The mystery caught my attention and I couldn't put it down.

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I had to binge-read this one 17 hours before my Netgalley Shelf archived it, and I found it worth the rush. Ella Berman expertly presented the mindset of post-high school teen girls, their hopes, anxieties, and fears. While wealthy California suburbia and breathtaking remote Greek islands are beyond my experience, the feelings were universal, the conflicts and tensions palpable.

I enjoyed dissecting each character through the narrator’s descriptions. As the author stated in an interview:
“ Because it’s told in the first person, you were with Bess for the entire time….
…I never wanted the reader to know more about Joni than Bess did. I wanted them to feel as disorientated as she did about Joni and whether she could trust her and how loyal Joni was, what she was getting herself into.”

Some descrptions seemed repeated unnecessarily, and perhaps the telling could have been abbreviated. But I enjoyed the book’s portrayal of raw emotions and vulnerability during the perilous chapter in life between girlhood and adulthood.

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Told through one perspective on present day-ish (2018) and flashbacks this is a twisty mystery perfect for true crime girlies. Not a real fan of true crime myself, it also wasn’t too grisly or upsetting for me. The twists were compelling and I enjoyed the characters if not exactly liking them.

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Before We Were Innocent caught my eye with its cover and then stole my attention completely within the first few chapters. I think it’s important to preface this review by saying that this book is not a thriller. It’s being marketed as one and while it has its thrilling moments, it is very much a work of contemporary fiction with a character-driven focus. 

Berman unravels Bess’ story through her eyes with the timeline alternating between present day and snippets of the events that occurred ten years prior. I loved the way that these timelines wove together, stringing the reader along until the truth was finally ready to be revealed. The story is emotional at times with an in-depth look in on teenage actions, the impact media has on the world, and the intricacies of friendship. I was extremely impressed by Berman’s ability to bring each timeline to life and make me feel invested in both separately. 

Before We Were Innocent has great nods to similarities of true crime cases, such as the Amanda Knox trial, that I think help bind the reader to the story. While it’s wholly unique in what happens throughout the book, it’s that tie to reality that made it feel authentic to me.

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📱Book Review📖

Thank you to @berkleypub and @netgalley for the eARC for Before We Were Innocent. I tried so hard to get this one read before it published this past month, but alas. Reading slumps suck.

This book gave me major Amanda Knox vibes. Anyone remember her?

The summer after their senior year of high school Bess, Joni and Evangeline take a trip to Greece. Evangeline’s family owns a villa and the three girls plan to live an idyllic summer before heading off to three different colleges.

Only Evangeline dies over a cliff. 💀

Only two make it back home. 👭

Joni and Bess were never convicted and have dealt with the tragedy in very different ways. Evangeline’s death remains a mystery with the court of public opinion mixed on Joni and Bess’ innocence.

Fast forward 10 years and Joni is involved in an eerily similar situation. Does lightning ⚡️ ever truly strike twice? Joni turns to Bess, the only person she believes can really understand what she’s going through.

This one was a twisty mess and I thought the ending would be predictable. Nope! I really liked how Berman wrapped this one up!

If you’re in the mood for angsty teenage feelings, twisty storylines and murder vs. tragic accident plots, then pick this one up!

P.S. I will never let me daughter go off to a foreign country alone with two other teenage girls. Teenage girls are the WORST! Death by a thousand cuts doesn’t even begin to describe it!

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A lush portrayal of complex, toxic female friendships with a subtle nod to the infamous media reception to Amanda Knox's reputation in the days following her wrongful imprisonment. I would have loved to see more of the magic between the three friends that kept them together instead of being told however. So much of this story is told, not shown, which drastically slows down the pacing and keeps us disconnected from Bess's emotions and the story. The ending was too ambiguous for me to feel satisfying, though I am glad that Willa's murder was more complex than originally seemed.

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My first Elle German novel turned out to be a very good choice. The story was intriguing. The characters very interesting and enigmatic. The book was full of mysteries.

The three friends are so close. Bess isn't from the wealth that Joni and Evangeline are. Her family seems more functional too. But for a plethora of reasons the three are inseparable. Berman feeds us information about each at a slow but well-timed pace so they we find all is not exactly as it seems. When Evangeline dies on their trip to Greece Joni turns it into a base to launch her career and Bess crawls in a hole. When Joni's girlfriend disappears, she reaches out to Bess. Bess is quickly swept up in Joni's whirlwind and so many questions start to arise. What really happened between these friends, what really happened when Evangeline died? What's happening now?

The story was well paced, interesting and while the characters weren't always likable, they were very deep and multifaceted. There are enough twists and turns to keep the reader wondering WTH. The story was very well crafted and the premise somewhat unusual. I can recommend this book to readers.

Thanks to NetGalley and Berkley for the ARC.

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Before We Were Innocent is a story of friendships and assumptions. Ella Berman takes the reader for a ride through all kinds of suspicions and relationships. We never truly know anyone’s inner workings.

Ten years ago, three friends decide to spend the summer before their first year of college in Greece. It’s a time of change and transition and it’s their last chance to make memories before they all go to different parts of the country in the Fall. When tragedy occurs, only 2 of them survive and are faced with extreme media scrutiny. Ten years later they find themselves in another frighteningly similar situation.

This is told from two time periods, 2008 (when the accident happened) and 2018 (present day). I always like this way of storytelling as you can see the effects of the “before” but the story slowly unravels in the opposing chapters. It’s a great way to keep the story moving. I also really liked the idea of the way the media portrayed these young women and how things can get so twisted.

This is advertised as a suspenseful thriller, but I didn’t find it to really fit into that genre. This is more of a tragedy and the implications to all those caught in its net.

Overall, I’d say a good summer read. It won’t change your life but it’s a fun ride.

Available April 4, 2023.

3.5 stars

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This story follows best friends Bess, Joni and Evangeline. After graduating from high school, the girls spend the summer at Ev's family vacation home on a Greek Island. The story does a good job of capturing the toxic and intense female friendship between the trio which at times was cruel and messy. A tragic accident occurs, and Evangeline falls to her death. Bess and Joni were cleared of having any involvement in their friend Evangeline’s death. But that didn’t stop the media from ripping apart their teenage lives like vultures.

While the girls were never convicted, Joni capitalized on her newfound infamy to become a motivational speaker. Bess, on the other hand, resolved to make her life as small as possible so she wouldn’t risk losing everything all over again.

Now, ten years later, Joni is tangled up in a crime eerily similar to that one fateful night in Greece. And when she asks Bess to come back to LA to support her, Bess has a decision to make.

“We sounded frivolous at best mercenary at worst, and maybe we were. But show me an eighteen-year-old saint, and I’ll show you a liar.”

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The dark, twisted relationship between these girls drew me in immediately. I could feel exactly how it felt to be 18 and desperate for your best friends to stay the people who know you best forever, even though you're spreading around the country for college. And I understood what it meant to be so loyal to someone you would do anything. I was in love for the first 90% and the ending just wasn't as satisfying as I wanted, and maybe that was the point.

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this was the creepiest book I've read in such a long time!! it kept me up at night and if that's something you're into while reading, then pick this one up as soon as possible!!

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Thank you to @berkleypub @netgalley @letstalkbookspromo for the #gifted copy of the book! I enjoyed this #buddyread

Before We Were Innocent by Ella Berman

Genre: Thriller
Publisher: @berkleypub
Pub Date: April 4, 2023

Toxic Friendships, Secrets and death oh my! Bess, Ev and Joni spend the summer before they leave for college in Greece. Ev doesn’t make it home. They are guilt ridden for years over her death. Joni has done well with her life, but Bess has never quite gotten over it. Nearly 10 years later, Bess and Joni are reunited. Joni needs her help once again. Their friendship starts to unravel as she is forced to see the truth she didn't want to see years ago. Can she move past it and begin anew?

This book focuses heavily on friendships. It had a little suspense, but not really a thriller. Overall, it was a solid read and anyone who loves character driven novels will enjoy this read.

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Ella Berman has absolutely cemented her place as one of my auto-buy authors with “Before We Were Innocent.”

I loved Ella’s debut, “The Comeback.” It was one of the first books I ever posted on Bookstagram, and it was a Read With Jenna pick in 2020.

“Before We Were Innocent” has a similar vibe to “The Comeback” — a woman on the other side of a very public trauma trying to make sense of her life and where she goes from here — but a very different storyline.

Ten years ago, Joni and Bess were found innocent of any foul play in the death of their best friend, Evangeline, while the three were summering in Greece.

Joni is a motivational speaker; Bess has a very private life in LA. But then Joni is connected to a crime that’s a little too similar to what happened to Evangeline — and they find themselves back in the media spotlight.

This is a slow burn suspense novel with a lot of powerful commentary on female friendship, true crime obsession and news cycles. I love this author’s voice, and BWWI has sold me: She’s an auto-buy author from here on out.

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This was so slow-paced! I was really looking forward to it so I was quite disappointed that it was dragging so much. Most of the chapters should have been half of their size and I just skimmed through most of them.

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Before We Were Innocent is a character-driven story about toxic friendships and buried secrets. We meet Bess and her two best friends during one summer in Greece and then ten years later when her friend reappears in her life asking for help. The characters are complex and I thought it was really interesting to compare and contrast how each girl dealt with their grief and trauma. Just know that this is more of a literary fiction rather than thriller - even though there were some suspenseful moments. I listened to the audiobook and really enjoyed the storytelling in this format.

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Thank you @berkleypub and @prhaudio for my gifted book and audiobook! My thoughts are my own. #penguinrandomhousepartner

384 pages
11h 1m

Three best friends, Joni, Bess, and Evangeline travel to Greece the summer before they start college. They are expecting to have the time of their lives, but soon they become bored and they start arguing. One night, after arguing with Bess, Evangeline leaves a party and falls off a cliff to her death. Bess and Joni are held for questioning but eventually released.

Ten years later, Bess is still emotionally scarred from the events of that summer when Joni suddenly appears on her doorstep and asks Bess to lie about Joni’s whereabouts earlier that evening. When someone else disappears under mysterious consequences, Bess begins to suspect Joni.

The story, narrated by Bess, alternates between 10 years ago and the present. Bess describes Evangeline as having a strange fixation on her (Evangeline’s) brother. This leads to conflict and jealousy among the friends. Joni is an unlikeable character who is totally out for herself. Bess is too trusting and can’t quite determine what she believes about the past.

This suspenseful tale of relationships and trust reminds me of the Amanda Knox case. Overall, it is a good read with strong character development, though the characters are largely unlikable. The story lags just a bit at the ending and leaves the reader with a couple of questions.

I enjoyed both the print and the audio versions. The audio is well-done. The narrator, Jennifer Jill Araya, has the perfect voice for the young characters.

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Many thanks to NetGalley and Berkley Publishing for gifting me a digital ARC of the new book by Ella Berman - 4 stars!

In 2008, three friends - Bess, Joni, and Evangeline - went to Greece for the summer after high school . Tragedy happened and Evangeline died. Bess and Joni were eventually cleared in her death, but the ensuing press was brutal. Joni ended up writing a book about the situation and became a famous motivational speaker. In contrast, Bess basically lived off the grid by herself. Ten years later, Joni shows up at Bess's house asking Bess to help her after Joni's girlfriend goes missing.

This story unfolds slowly, going between both timeframes. It's less a mystery than a coming-of-age, toxic friendship story. It's well written and the plot unfolds nicely, showing just how trauma affects people differently and how long lasting it can be. To me, it's also another social media cautionary tale and reminded me of the Amanda Knox story.

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