Member Reviews

Summers abroad, toxic female friendships, and secrets! This book was such a fun summer thriller that tackles the complexity of teenage friendships particular when things such as wealth and class are involved. I loved the alternating POVs and timelines because it created an aura of suspense as it builds up to what happened that fateful night in Greece to the girls. Overall it was a quick but enjoyable read for me and I can see others liking it as well! Plus... the setting was just such an escape!

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I’m not sure how I feel about this one still. I liked it while I was reading it but I found it very forgettable. I did really like the characters and the story line.

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A fun look at friendships and feuds of a group of friends on the verge of adulthood spanning several years and set in two beautiful spots across the world.

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"Before We Were Innocent" wasn't the book I was hoping for. Though I am sure there is an audience for Berman's book, it was more coming of age than a mystery for this reader. I know that there are elements of a solid suspense book within the pages, but I couldn't connect with the story or the characters.

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thank you for the arc!

This book was moody and had a darkness around it that felt exactly like the darkness of toxic female friendships. The characters were layered and it was hard to know who to root for.

Slower paced complimented by dual timelines. I liked this one!


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Loved this! Kept me up all night wanting to see what happened next. Loved the characters and the writing. Looking forward to more from this author!

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Bess is a bit of a loner who lives in the desert and works as a moderator for a dating site. One day, her former friend Joni shows up, asking her for a favour.
When Bess realises that the influencer’s fiancée Willa has gone missing, she wonders if history might be repeating itself.
You see, when the girls were teenagers, they went on a summer trip to a Greek island with their wealthy friend Evangeline but tragedy struck and the girls became tabloid fodder.
This was a twisty story about rivalry, bad decisions and tested loyalty. A lot of the story revolves around the earlier period in Greece when the toxic friendship and jealousies led to consequences that are still having repercussions today.

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Just as she did so well in her first novel ‘The Comeback’, author Ella Berman examines how public scrutiny and the media can distort reality. In her latest book, three teenage girls travel to Greece for the summer before they leave for college. Bess, Joni and Evangeline live in the privileged bubble of Calabasas CA but from the outset, Bess feels like the interloper in the group.

The girls are staying at the Greek home of Ev’s family and tensions begin to increase as the summer wears on. Only two will return home, facing the public spotlight surrounding their friend’s death.

The story unfolds in flashbacks between the summer of 2008 and present day 2018. Joni has now remade herself into a famous self-help guru and author. Bess, however, has retreated into herself, rarely venturing out from her secluded desert home where she works remotely. She almost seems to be a passive bystander in her own life. (“𝘑𝘰𝘯𝘪 𝘮𝘰𝘷𝘦𝘥 𝘴𝘰 𝘲𝘶𝘪𝘤𝘬𝘭𝘺 𝘵𝘰 𝘴𝘦𝘤𝘶𝘳𝘦 𝘩𝘦𝘳 𝘴𝘵𝘢𝘵𝘶𝘴 𝘢𝘴 𝘵𝘩𝘦 𝘬𝘦𝘦𝘱𝘦𝘳 𝘰𝘧 𝘰𝘶𝘳 𝘴𝘩𝘢𝘳𝘦𝘥 𝘴𝘵𝘰𝘳𝘺 𝘵𝘩𝘢𝘵 𝘐 𝘯𝘦𝘷𝘦𝘳 𝘴𝘵𝘰𝘰𝘥 𝘢 𝘤𝘩𝘢𝘯𝘤𝘦.”)

When Joni shows up out of the blue after ten years asking for help, Bess doesn’t hesitate to say yes. They still share an unbreakable bond created from that long ago summer. Yet the nagging suspicions about Joni are still there. Joni seems to be a skilled liar and Bess must figure out if she is just a pawn in an elaborate scheme or if Joni sincerely needs her assistance.

‘Before We Were Innocent’ is a gripping thriller mixed with contemporary fiction that I could not put down. The author deftly uses the flashbacks to create a depth to each of the characters. The teenage relationships were also perfectly written, especially when held up to the harsh glare of media scrutiny: “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.” I felt a deep sense of foreboding and unease that built throughout the book.

This is a fast paced and compelling story of contemporary female friendships with the tension of a crime thriller. Highly recommend!

Thanks to the publisher for the review copy!

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Ella Berman delivers another raw and complex commentary on the dark side of being in the public spotlight. Her previous book, The Comeback was gripping and gut-wrenching. Her follow up book, Before We Were Innocent has a similar stark portrayal of the public’s obsession with young women at the center of a scandal.

While her first book centered around an actress who spiraled out of control and struggled to take her power back, Before We Were Innocent focuses on the media frenzy around a salacious crime. Echoes of popular true crime cases that have dominated the news cycle lend a haunting realism to this fictional story.

Ten years earlier, three friends spend a dream summer vacation in Greece, soaking up the sun and enjoying their youth and freedom before starting university in the fall. But the death of one of the young women, Evangeline, sends their bliss to a screeching halt. Joni and Bess are left to return home, unable to escape the public eye in the wake of Evangeline’s murder.

Over the next ten years, Joni and Bess take different paths. Bess wants nothing more than to escape the scrutiny of the media and public, while Joni takes advantage of the spotlight focused on the worst moment of her life and becomes a motivational speaker. They remain on these paths until Joni becomes involved in another similar situation and goes to Bess, forcing her to confront things she has long kept buried.

The book is told exclusively from Bess’s point of view and I appreciated that she was a complex character with both positive and negative characteristics. Bess has retreated in the wake of the tragedy they experienced, and has made efforts to make her presence and life as small and contained as she is able to. Joni is the opposite, making social media her life and as a result, she was a character who was hard to parse out what was done for the sake of appearance and who she really is.

The contrast of the two women was effective and kept the story interesting, as the reader (like Bess) can never be sure when Joni is lying to protect herself and when she is telling the truth. I wondered often if she was a friend to Bess or not? At the same time, there was something I admired about Joni. She is a person who refuses to be defined by what the public thinks of her and her past.

Through flashbacks the reader also gets glimpses of Evangeline the person, rather than the public image of a victim that she became following her murder. One element that interested me in regards to Evangeline was the discrepancy between the perfect image of her that formed after losing her life tragically at such a young age compared to who she really was as a person. This speaks to what happens to victims of real life crimes—they tend to become an idealized form of themselves and lose their depth and flaws they had in life. Evangeline the victim is innocent, sweet, and impressionable. Evangeline the person was at times self-absorbed and manipulative, imperfect but human.

As Joni says at one point, this is a story of “three perfectly imperfect women” and Berman contrasts the media and public perception of them versus the people who actually lived the tragedy. Compelling and suspenseful—this is a character-driven mystery that puts the spotlight back on the public who consumes and obsessed over true crime as though it is fiction, forgetting the real people behind the headlines.

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Short synopsis: Three high school friends go on a summer trip to Greece, and only two make it back alive. Now 10 years later Bess is again faced with her past when Joni shows up at her door.

My thoughts: I went into this one blind so I wasn’t sure what to expect, but the cover screamed summer friendships to me! What I didn’t realize was the toxicity these friends showed to each other!

This is not your typical thriller, rather a look inside friendships and pushing the boundaries as these girls approached adulthood. I really enjoyed the past (2008) to present (2018) storyline and how the secrets of the past unraveled slowly, and how Joni and Bess were as adults.

Read if you love:
- Friendships
- Coming of age story
- Greece
- Past/present timeline
- Literary fiction with suspense elements

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I’m surprised I haven’t heard more about this one around bookstagram. I thought it was a really well done novel.

Joanie, Evangeline and Bess are three privileged teenagers from Calabasas who seem to have it all. They take a trip to Evangeline’s home in Greece before they head to college. When tragedy strikes in Greece, the picture painted in the press of the girls is less than flattering. Mattybooks likened it to Amanda Knox vibes and I totally got that sense reading it too.

It’s a dual timeline story that bounces between their time in Greece and ten years later. Suddenly, two of the girls are again wrapped up in something questionable. We’re they protecting each other all along and who’s telling the truth.

I loved how the book had a real literary feel but kept this mystery going. It touches on girlhood, friendship bonds, and the role media can play in crime.

Pick this up if you enjoyed I Have Some Questions for You. I think it’s a similar style but I liked this one a lot more!

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oh this had all the elements to a fantastic story, and it delivered. berman creates a tight and suspenseful narrative centered around two former best friends trying to bury a tragedy that happened ten years ago. the two women are now worlds apart, but something in their present brings them back together.

don't go in expecting a thriller because it's more character study than thriller. i loved it for that very reason—the author does such an excellent job at fleshing out both of the main characters and their personalities and flaws. if anyone enjoys reading about toxic, all consuming female friendships, this is the one to read!

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BEFORE WE WERE INNOCENT is a character driven, literary mystery/suspense that follows three teenaged friends, Evangeline, Bess, and Joni.

Bess and Joni are invited to Evangeline’s family home in Greece, when tragedy strikes.

I enjoyed the writing and thought the pacing was done well, which picks up as the story progresses. The dual timelines, from 2018 and 2008, unfold the mystery that happened.

*many thanks to Netgalley and Berkley for the gifted copy

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This was a powerful book and was at time triggering for me to read.

Overall the story was original and told very well.

Thank you for the advanced copy!

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There was so much that I enjoyed about this book, despite not liking any of the main characters, and struggling with the miscommunication trope bits (personal preferences for sure). The true crime element, capitalizing on all of the fears of being a young woman traveling out of the country and the reminders of the danger of going home with unknown strangers and sharing information about yourself. The exploration of dramatic/toxic friendships and the connection you feel - and maybe the responsibility, too? - towards old friends; that pull to that past despite growing away from each other. Bonus - I LOVED the descriptiveness of the location - definitely made me crave a Greek adventure :)

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This was a really interesting book. The title and the cover made me wanna pick it up immediately. I thought it was a little slow for my personal taste, but I definitely know some people that would really enjoy this based on their reading preferences. It wasn’t quite for me though.

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In every teenage friends group involving more than two people, there’s going to be some power dynamics in play. Often, such as in the case of Ella Berman’s new novel Before We Were Innocent, two of the more carefree, promiscuous friends will turn against the third, cutting her out of the group and trying to make her feel less as they bask in the glow of youth with wild abandon. Many of us have been that jilted friend. Many of us have been the reckless ones. All of us have stories to tell.

Such is how we are introduced to the three friends at the center of Berman’s lush and provocative novel Before We Were Innocent. Three affluent teenagers spend the summer before college lounging on the beaches of Greece and drinking up a storm in its bars. It is a summer to find themselves. It is their last summer together before they head off to their respective universities. It is Evangeline, the wealthiest of the three, who has invited Joni and Bess on this trip of a lifetime, and it is Evangeline who winds up dead.

Although Bess and Joni were eventually cleared of any wrongdoing in Evangeline’s death, Bess still harbors guilt over what happened during that fateful summer and the way that she and Joni treated Evangeline. If the death was ruled an accident, then why does Bess feel so guilty? It doesn’t help that Bess now finds herself in a strangely similar situation to what happened that summer. When Joni shows up at Bess’s home asking for her help in a cover-up, Bess is finally forced to confront the truth of what really happened to Evangeline.

Told in present day with flashbacks to the past, Before We Were Innocent dives deep into that summer in Greece, examining what went wrong to make such a magnificent trip end in death. Glittering and mesmerizing, Before We Were Innocent takes on the toxicities that too often exist in female friendships as three young women come of age against the intoxicating backdrop of Greece. Utterly compulsive and thought-provoking, the friendship dynamics of Before We Were Innocent will resonate with all women who ever struggled with a friendship bordering on toxic of their own.

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Before We Were Innocent is a mystery novel written by Ella Berman that follows a group of three best friends who go on a summer trip to Greece where one of them ends up dead. It is a fitting read for anyone looking for not just a mystery, but also an intriguing portrayal of intense female friendships, loss of innocence, and the unforgiving world that will stop at nothing to turn trauma into entertainment.

The events of the book begin when the protagonist, Bess, is visited by her estranged former best friend Joni, who asks her for an unusual favor—ten years after they were cleared of charges for the death of their best friend, Evangeline. Matters soon escalate when it is revealed that Joni’s girlfriend, Willa, has gone missing. Alternating between past and present, the two mysteries, which are eerily similar to each other, are slowly unraveled with disastrous consequences.

(Full review here:

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Unfortunately, I was bored. The recipe for this book - 3 privileged best friends + a rundown castle on an island in Greece + the ENTIRE summer + alone + a murder mystery - should have made for a very enticing and guilty pleasure of a book. It did not do that for me. Although I expected a book about 3 high school graduates, all coming from money, would be a story about entitlement as they cover some sort of bad behavior, it was a lot more character driven. When the characters are drilled down to their core, their outward appearance might set themselves up for an exciting story, but they are truly just dull characters. This, unfortunately, led to a vapid, unsatisfying story.

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Liked not loved. Reminded me a bit of the Amanda Knox story only with three friends in Greece, with the super rich one mysteriously dying. Flashes between then and 10 years later and I found it difficult to like any of the characters at all. It’s well executed and the writing flows but just a harder one for me to get into.

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