Member Reviews

This book sucked me in and I could not stop reading. I love a dual timeline and this was done perfectly, framing the stories of three best friends in 2008, the summer after high school and the aftermath ten years later.
Bess, Joni and Evangeline had it all. They were headed off to college, had their close knit friendship, a charmed life in California and a summer to spend in Greece. When Evangeline ends up dead the other two girls become the poster children for bad behavior. They became infamous, but never convicted. Returning to their lives Bess hides away but Joni makes a name for herself as a personality. Everyone knows Joni’s name, but soon it’s for the wrong reason again when her fiancé goes missing and once again she pulls Bess back into her orbit.
This is one I’m still thinking about after finishing. Compulsive, soapy and a perfect vacation read! This one is out now.

Huge thank you to @berkleypub @berittalksbooks @thephdivabooks @dg_reads @prhaudio and @netgalley for an advanced copy in exchange for an honest review.

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Before We Were Innocent is a tale of three teenage girls that experience a tragic end to a summer trip in Greece. The story is told in dual timelines as we relive the night the incident happened as well as 10 years later when we are exploring the two survivors in their adulthood. I thoroughly enjoyed the mystery aspect of this story it was twisty and I love it when I can't figure out what is going to happen. The characters might have not been the most likable people, but you couldn't help rooting for them and wanting the best outcome (even though you know it isn't going to happen). I loved how everything worked together and connected the future to the past this is one of my favorite types of storylines. I also wanted to add I have personally experienced toxic friendships in the past so this aspect drew me in and helped me connect personally to the characters and the situations they were getting themselves into. I think this was a well-written story that held my attention and kept me picking the book back up whenever I could. This was my first book by this author, and I definitely enjoyed it I would pick up another book by Ella Berman in the future for sure.
Many thanks to the author #EllaBerman and #NetGalley for gracing me with and ARC of this book.

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Before We Were Innocent by Ella Berman was an interesting and enjoyable slow burn read.

This is a story of the friendship of Bess and Joni. 10 years ago Bess and Joni went on a trip to Greece with their friends Evangeline, who ended up dying in a tragic accident on the trip. Unfortunately for Bess and Joni, they were accused of murder and the media went crazy. Joni embraced the spotlight and Bess retreated to a life of solitude. Now 10 years later, when Joni’s fiancé Willa goes missing, Joni shows up and Bess’s door to rekindle their friendship and Bess finds herself back in watchful eye of the media after hiding for so long. Will the friends be able to navigate this tragedy? And can Joni really be trusted? Only time will tell.

Overall, this was a slow burn for me. I expected this to be more of a thriller, but it really wasn’t. I did enjoy the story being told from only Bess’s perspective, it really helped me get to know the complexities of her character and appreciate her journey from the past to the present.

I also thought the ending was very interesting. It definitely left things open to interpretation and I was left with more questions than answers.

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Three best friends spend a summer in Greece before life changes and they head off in different directions for college. The summer ends in tragedy and Bess and Joni are accused of a heinous crime. While the girls are never convicted, the reprecussions change their lives.
A shockingly similar crime brings them back together and has Bess questioning how much she really trusts Joni. I read this one in one day!

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Ten years ago, three friends spend the summer in Greece, only two return home.
This was a slow burn friendship drama/coming of age story with some suspense, not a thriller at all. Told via two time periods of the present and 10 years ago (the summer spent in Greece). In the present a similar situation is occurring just like in Greece and now finally the truth and lies are revealed.

It was an okay read, but I was expecting a thriller. It was just a little too slow and the suspense was lacking. The characters were complex and their friendship was very unhealthy. Unfortunately it was a little too repetitive and too long for me.

I would recommend this one to those that enjoy character driven coming of age books.

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Before heading off to different colleges in the Fall, best friends Ev, Joni, and Bess are spending two months on a Greek island at Ev’s family’s cottage. The vacation isn’t the paradise they expect, and, tragically, Ev dies. The Greek police arrest Joni and Bess. The media pick up the case, scrutinizing Joni and Bess and mining the girls’ social media, even hacking their DMs, presenting them to the public in the worst possible light.

When they are released, Joni uses the experience to launch a personal self-help brand, but Bess turned inward, moving to the desert and working from home. The two women have no contact until ten years later when Joni shows up at Bess’s door needing help. Her fiancée, Willa, is missing, and she needs Bess’s help. The request plunges Bess into memories of the trip to Greece, both who she was at the time and the relationship amongst the teen girls.

The book is told in two timelines, 2008, during the fateful trip, and 2018, both from Bess’s perspective. While reading the book, I kept thinking about two things: 1) the new Investigative Discovery show “Mean Girl Murders” and 2) the Amanda Knox case and how she was vilified for her actions after her roommate’s death and how her social media trail was used against her.

In terms of the first, the book excellently (and disturbingly) depicts the complicated and messy, often toxic and jealous, ties among teen girls. Regarding the second, everyone connected to the Ev’s death and the subsequent media exposure is forever changed, not just Joni and Bess, but also the people around them. It’s a fascinating study of how the media creates characters out of public figures that may have little or nothing to do with who they actually are. Ten years later, Joni and Bess are still caught in the slipstream to varying effect.

If you enjoy character-driven books about friendship, add BEFORE WE WERE INNOCENT to your reading list! Things you should know: this book is not a thriller and some of the ending is ambiguous.

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Ten years ago, Bess and Joni were thrust into the tabloid spotlight when their friend Evangeline fell to her death and they were accused of murdering her. Bess becomes a recluse, but Joni embarks on a public career as an influencer and motivational speaker. When Joni's girlfriend goes missing, she turns to Bess for support, and their messy past is dragged back into the limelight.

I went into this expecting a twisty thriller., which it was not, but that was ok. There were a few little surprises, but this was mostly a coming of age story about the all-consuming intensity of toxic friendships. This was my first book by Berman, and I'd happily read more by her in the future.

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I was eager to read 𝗕𝗘𝗙𝗢𝗥𝗘 𝗪𝗘 𝗪𝗘𝗥𝗘 𝗜𝗡𝗡𝗢𝗖𝗘𝗡𝗧 by Ella Berman because I was a fan of her debut, 𝘛𝘩𝘦 𝘊𝘰𝘮𝘦𝘣𝘢𝘤𝘬. Let me say up front, “I was NOT disappointed!” Her sophomore novel had me engrossed throughout. The story follows Bess, alternating between the summer she was 18, and ten years later. Just after high school graduation, Bess and her two best friends went to Greece for the summer. Tragedy struck there when one of her friends was killed. Bess and Joni were charged with her death. I’m giving nothing away when I tell you they were eventually cleared. The focus is really on how the whole thing made Bess and Joni pariahs in the public eye and how each handled that in very different ways.⁣⁣
Ten years later, Bess still hasn’t gotten over it, living a very insular, solitary life. When Joni comes knocking at her door one night, Bess is pulled back into a world she’s spent the last decade avoiding. As with many dual timeline stories, I liked one more than the other, but as a whole the stories wove together very neatly and had me turning pages at a rapid rate. There’s a good deal of suspense in this novel and I liked how hints were dropped along the way, keeping me wondering about the outcomes of both storylines. I think 𝘉𝘦𝘧𝘰𝘳𝘦 𝘞𝘦 𝘞𝘦𝘳𝘦 𝘐𝘯𝘯𝘰𝘤𝘦𝘯𝘵 is a great book to add to your beach bag this summer!⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⁣⁣
Thanks to @berklypub for an ARC of #BeforeWeWereInnocent.

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**Many thanks to Shelf Awareness, NetGalley, Berkley, and Ella Berman for an ARC of this book!**

"Make as many friends as you can, but don't build your life on them alone. It's an unstable foundation." -Sean Covey

Elizabeth 'Bess', Joni, and Evangeline: three vastly different girls who would forge a watertight bond...until a fateful night in Greece, where one of them is lost forever. At 19 years old, the girls have a lot to learn...and when rich girl Evangeline offers to bring her two friends to Mykonos, they jump at the opportunity. There is plenty of fun in the sun and an escape from some of the drama from back home...and even a possible romance blooming between Bess and a certain dreamy brother who just happens to be on the island too. But when Evangeline finds out after a night of drinking and debauchery with her besties, a fight breaks out...and within an hour Evangeline is at the bottom of a cliff...dead.

Bess and Joni struggle to clear their names, but over time, they manage to sweep their scandalous teenage exploits under the carpet and start fresh. Joni is a motivational speaker now, with a book on the way, and Bess is simply trying to lead a quiet life and leave her past firmly in the past. But when Joni makes a passionate plea to Bess to provide an alibi for her after Joni's lover, Willa, disappears, it feels a little bit TOO much like deja vu...and Bess starts to question just how much she can trust her friend...or trust her own heart. Could the past simply be repeating itself...or has something even MORE devastating happened to Willa? And is her mysterious disappearance as FAR from a mystery as could be?

Ella Berman's The Comeback dealt with some heavy and timely topics (namely the #MeToo movement) and although I was underwhelmed by the book itself, I felt that with some time and growth, I might enjoy her next novel. The premise of this book is intriguing enough, even without too much originality, and I figured this would read as a sort of coming-of-age suspense novel, with a heady dose of nostalgia to top it off. What I got instead was a long, meandering look at territory that probably could have been covered in far fewer pages...and could have benefited heavily from some TRUE emotional depth, since it was sorely lacking in thrills.

This is certainly a novel full of rich girls doing bad things, a trope that has sort of been overused in the genre as of late, and what I hoped would set this novel apart (the push and pull of a toxic friendship, the wistful longing for the past) got lost in the overly verbose (and at times repetitive feeling) prose. There are two timelines, but in some ways, I think focusing the story ONLY on the present timeline with FLASHES of the past would have been far more effective. Instead of feeling like I knew these characters inside and out with all of the sordid details of their past, I just felt bored.

I think the length of this book might have been its weakest attribute. I can't even count the number of times I glanced down at my Kindle, feeling like I must have read more than I actually did. Although it took me just under a week to complete, it felt more like a month. I got so irked after a while by the LONG sentences that I actually took the time to count the words in a couple of them...and when I hit 70+, it started to feel like maybe it wasn't just me. It feels like Berman was trying to make this a literary fiction tale, but the plot didn't lend itself well to this idea, and Bess' romance plotline in particular was far more cringe worthy than it was compelling.

Though there were relatable moments of both teenage silliness and heartache buried amidst lengthy descriptions of Greece and 'should or shouldn't I trust my best friend' soul searching, much like a toxic friendship itself, the most important thing about it is to know exactly when to just cut it off.

3 stars, rounded up from 2.5

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This was a little too slow for me…. It was my book club pick but I wouldnt have finished otherwise. It just started too slow- I liked the 2008 timeline much better. I do think the commentary on female friendships, especially at a young age, was so spot on. A very slow burn character study with a slight mystery.

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Before We Were Innocent is told through dual timelines. Bouncing between current day in California and 10 years ago in Greece, we learn about friends Bess, Joni and Evangeline. The three friends traveled unaccompanied to Greece the summer after high school graduation. Nearing the end of their trip, a tragic accident occurred and Evangeline died. An investigation into her death had both Bess and Joni in the hotseat, though neither were convicted. Taking two different approaches, Bess took to the desert to hide out and avoid any more publicity; while Joni decided to take advantage of the publicity and became a public speaker.

As the 10-year anniversary of Evangeline's death approaches, Joni shows up on Bess's doorstep seeking assistance for an alibi when her fiancée goes missing. Bess reluctantly agrees, but questions why she does so. The circumstances are too similar and point directly to Joni's wrongdoing.

This started out a little slow for me, but I enjoyed it overall. I think it might make for a better audiobook.

4 out of 5 stars.

I received a free ARC from the author and NetGalley; and I am voluntarily leaving an unbiased review.

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This is definitely the type of thriller-suspense for people who love those toxic friend groups and "well what really did happen?" I enjoyed the alternating timelines as I wanted to get to the bottom of the past as it related to how the characters "ended up this way" in the present and I was not disappointed.

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𝘼 𝙨𝙪𝙢𝙢𝙚𝙧 𝙞𝙣 𝙂𝙧𝙚𝙚𝙘𝙚 𝙛𝙤𝙧 𝙩𝙝𝙧𝙚𝙚 𝙗𝙚𝙨𝙩 𝙛𝙧𝙞𝙚𝙣𝙙𝙨 𝙚𝙣𝙙𝙨 𝙞𝙣 𝙩𝙝𝙚 𝙪𝙣𝙩𝙝𝙞𝙣𝙠𝙖𝙗𝙡𝙚 𝙬𝙝𝙚𝙣 𝙤𝙣𝙡𝙮 𝙩𝙬𝙤 𝙧𝙚𝙩𝙪𝙧𝙣 𝙝𝙤𝙢𝙚 . . .

📍 Read if you like:
• Literary Mysteries
• Character Driven Stories
• Dual Timelines
• Coming Of Age

I went into this book with a different mindset, I was expecting it to be a thriller - it’s not, it’s a literary mystery. I’m not sure if that took away from my enjoyment - maybe a bit - but I probably should’ve known beforehand - oops.

I have mixed feelings about this book. The beginning and ending had me somewhat intrigued, but the middle felt like it dragged. I would’ve liked a bit more action.

The book itself is mainly a coming-of-age story and is more focused on the characters. Bess and Joni were both enjoyable and entertaining characters to read about. Also, the whole story focusing on what happened in Greece had me intrigued.

I will say this book does explain the significance of friendship and grief.

Don’t go into this book expecting a thriller because you will be majorly disappointed. It is a literary mystery, but honestly, there were so many moments where I just sat there waiting for something to happen. The story itself was good, it just took a while to get there.

Thank you Berkley and NetGalley for the gifted e-ARC and PRH Audio for the ALC in exchange for my honest review, all thoughts are my own!

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Joni, Bess and Evangeline are best friends who are about to go off to college. They decide to spend the summer after high school in Greece at Evangeline’s family cottage. Only two of the girls return home after a tragic incident.

Told in alternating timelines, this is more of a mystery than thriller and is character driven. It’s a coming of age story with toxic female friendships and how to go on, or not, after something terrible happens. The characters are not terribly likable but relatable in some ways. We’ve all made stupid decisions as a teenager:)

It was a little slow for me but overall I enjoyed it. There were a few surprises in the end I didn’t guess. Thanks to @berkleypub and @letstalkbookspromo for an arc for review. Available now!

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I’ll start by saying that this book taps into a deeply rooted and highly specific paranoia shared by many people who are about my age because we all saw the movie Brokedown Palace in high school and thus developed an intense fear of being thrown into a foreign prison for a crime we didn’t commit while just trying to have a fun vacation abroad.

Greece is of course not Thailand, particularly with regard to the justice system and how it might work for foreigners, but this book still provides a chilling reminder that one needs to be extra careful when not in one’s home country, no matter how innocent our intentions may be.

Berman does a good job of creating the subtle creeping dread of this situation as the story unfolds, but the book is much more than that. More character study than thriller, this book at its heart is more about the complications of female friendship than it is about being accused of a crime.

Which of course makes even this sort of bonkers story feel relatable, because who among us hasn’t had a friend who we loved dearly but also loathed because they were competitive, manipulative, or controlling?

To an extent this kind of stuff always gives me the icks (why do women put up with this stuff in friendship? I would prefer to have very few or even no friends than to be treated this way and pretend it’s what friends do). But Berman handles the subject well, and despite my personal aversion at all costs to this, she’s certainly right that it’s quite common, especially when it comes to the dreaded Group of Three.

Well written and well paced, and guaranteed to make you think.

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Bess Winter leads a fairly solitary life, living away from her family and friends and working from home as a moderator for a dating site. Her quiet life is upended when she receives an unexpected visit from a former friend she hasn’t seen in ten years. Joni Le Bon is now a successful motivational speaker and self-help guru and has come to ask Bess a favor. Seeing Joni again brings back painful memories for Bess of the trip to Greece she, Joni, and their friend Evangeline took almost a decade before. The trip ended in tragedy, and although their lives went in completely different directions, neither Bess nor Joni was ever the same again.

Before We Were Innocent is an entertaining, literary suspense novel told in two different timelines, all from Bess’s point-of-view. Who each woman is and was in the past is key to the novel. I enjoyed getting to know Bess and both her positive and negative qualities. I never quite got a handle on Bess’s relationship with her family, but I liked her brother and his fiancée. Joni was harder to read, and I never felt like I was seeing the real Joni. This was part of her character, though, since she was all about appearances for her online fans and followers. Sometimes I felt like Joni was trying to be a good friend to Bess, and other times I felt she was lying to protect herself at Bess’s expense. When the timeline switches to the past, we also get to know Evangeline, who was the victim of a tragic event in Greece. Although she had the reputation of being sweet and impressionable, I found her to be manipulative and not always sympathetic. She loved her brother, Theo, but I feel she took advantage of his instinct to keep her happy.

Much of the book shows how people can be judged based on outward appearances and hearsay by people who don’t know them or the situations they’re in. Bess reacts to the unwanted attention and judgment by trying to hide from the world, but Joni lives her life boldly, refusing to be defined by her past or what other people think. Ironically, each woman judges the others for the way she’s chosen to live her life after the death of their friend in Greece. I was very engaged in the story even when I didn’t care for the choices the main characters made. There is a lot of drama and some ambiguity in this entertaining novel, but for the most part, I liked how everything wrapped up at the end.

~ Christine

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Moody and atmospheric, with knocked me out ending: Before We Were Innocent is a solid character suspense mystery, a blend of Cline's The Girls, Tartt's Secret History, and some recent reads such as Other People's Clothes and The Things We Do to Our Friends. What did happen on the trip in Greece? Is is repeating itself in present day? Why is Bess seemingly thriving, Joni hiding, and who is actually driving their "friendship"?

This was a welcome examination of one of my favorite themes, the messy enmeshment at times toxic nature of female adolescent friendships and the uncertainty underlying a lot of behaviors embedded in adolescence and young adulthood. I found the pacing effective, the mood tight, and I loved the character driven style of the narrative.

With appreciation to once again Berkley for the kindness of a much hoped for review copy via NetGalley. Thank you!

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I Loved this book and I want everyone else to read and love it too. This is a mystery book with a coming of age subplot that keeps the pages turning. The story is told in an alternating timeline fashion bouncing between 2008 and 2018. In 2008 three best friends, Bess, Ev and Joni travel to Greece for one last hoorah together before they start college in the fall. Things don't exactly go as planned for the girls and one of them ends up dead. This mysterious and tragic death throws Bess and Joni into the spotlight, watching as their lives are dissected out of context, by complete strangers in the media. 10 years later we see reclusive Bess avoiding any and all attention and Joni living in the spotlight as a wellness/empowerment guru. The two have not seen each other in years until Joni shows back up in her life asking for one small lie. Aside from knowing what is on the blurb for the book the reader is still compelled to devour the book to find out the how, why and what happened of it all. This book takes an honest and reflective look at the power, both good and bad, of friendships and the toxic nature of teenagers. Even though this book has a "ripped from the headlines" feel to it, it proves to be more than just a thriller of the week. This book has heart and is filled with lessons in living, friendship and trust.

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Before We Were Innocent is the story of 3 girlfriends who travel to Greece the summer before college and it ends in the death of the one of the girls. The chapters alternate between then and now and how the remaining two women’s lives have been forever affected. This is a slow burn suspense novel where little details and clues are carefully doled out so you have no real idea where it is all going. I wish it moved a bit quicker but I really liked seeing how it unfolded and I liked seeing how the women dealt with everything as adults. I loved the LA details and the vacation scenes made me want to go to Greece. But what I really loved was seeing what these women would do in the face of friendship and how strong those bonds are. It is intensely character driven and emotional.

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Before We Were Innocent is a dual-timeline coming of age literary mystery.

In 2008, Bess, Joni, and Evangeline are celebrating their high school graduation with a summer in Greece. In 2018, only two of them are still alive.

Bess is the protagonist, and she alternates between her life as a damaged twenty-something in 2018 and her experience as she struggled to find her newly adult self in 2008. Both storylines are equally compelling as Bess learns how to become herself while having relationships with other people.

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