Member Reviews

Before We Were Innocent by Ella Berman is a character focused mystery. These girls define toxic friendships! The author does a great job of really reflecting how impactful a toxic friendship can be, even years later. That is something I think most readers can relate to in some way. But, also, you will hate these girls. Its so much drama and the way they behave will make you glad they aren't your "friends".  Since it is character focused, they will grow and mature so that you do eventually understand them and I think, despite their insane lives, readers will see parts of themselves in the girls.

As horrible as these girls were at times, I was intrigued. The plot has a dual timeline: the present, where only two of the girls are there, and the past, 10 years ago, during a fateful trip to Greece. This back and forth reveals details slowly and keeps you guessing. In the past, there is an event that changed the girls. In the present, something happens that casts more suspicions. The story really does create a lot of mystery, and it does so without the thriller aspect, which I think is refreshing sometimes!

If you enjoy stories about female friendships, toxic behavior, or thoughtful mysteries, Before We Were Innocent is a stellar read!

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This was a dual timeline story of three best friends spending a summer in Greece after graduation before moving on to their college years which ended in tragedy and then 10 years later as the two remaining are still working through those events and how they faced their lives in totally different ways. To me this wasn’t really a thriller but more a raw examination of young friendships, mistakes in youth, being judged on the outside, and learning to cope with tragedy and forge a life as an adult in the aftermath. I brings to light how there are always more than one truth, and each truth is held in each person and how young girls can love their friends so hard but hurt each other so painfully. I really enjoyed it and found it a very powerful and moving story of coming to terms with a tragic past and reconciling it for hopes of a better future.

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Before We We’re Innocent is an intense, character-driven suspense. Three best friends, on the cusp of womanhood, travel to Greece after graduating from high school, but only two come back. Whether the trip was intended to forge their forever friendship before they traveled in different directions to college or just to say their farewells to childhood friends, nothing about their last summer together was what they expected it to be.

Evangeline and Joni welcomed Bess into their tight circle when she transferred to their school. They became the best of friends even though they had very different backgrounds. What they did have in common was the basic insecurities of adolescence, family drama or dysfunction, and the need to belong. They became chosen sisters and with their closeness came the ability to show great love or deliver great pain.

Author Ella Berman tells Ev, Joni and Bess’ story in dual time periods primarily from Bess’ perspective. Her writing is descriptive enough that I felt emerged in the eras and the locations. Ms. Berman beautifully portrayed the shifting dynamics in the girls’ relationship throughout the story. She also created great plot tension and reader doubt about the two friends who made it home from Greece. I did not anticipate the twist at the story’s zenith, and even though the author gave readers big hints, I was surprised by the ending. My only issue with the book was an article written by Joni soon after her return from Greece; I thought the article sounded like something she would have written at 40, after years of life experiences and much philosophical contemplation about her adolescent friendship with Ev and Bess.

Before We We’re Innocent is about the nature of enduring, close friendship with some suspense thrown in. Although I found the characters both empathetic and sympathetic, I found them to be overall unlikable. Nonetheless, I found it compelling, and I was driven to finish the book and learn the truth of what happened in Greece.

4.5 - 5 stars

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3 best friends, 1 summer in Greece, only 2 return home.

This is definitely a wild ride. All three of these girls are toxic in their own way which gives an unreliable vibe to the whole story. I enjoyed this one and finished it in 2 days! It’s a great read if you love coming-of-age, frienemy, and dual timelines.

Told between alternating dual timelines, the tragedy in 2008 Greece is brought back to the surface when a missing person from Joni’s current life begins to have similarities. Joni and Bess haven’t spoken since they lost Evangeline but Joni drags Bess back into her life as soon as things take a negative turn.

You can tell below the layers of hurt, grief, and guilt, these two friends still care about each other. Their tumultuous relationship is the main focus of the book but I found the two brothers, Theo and Stephen, to be my favorite characters. Their love for their respective sisters runs deep and shows in everything they do.

I received an advanced copy. All thoughts are my own

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4 Friendship Can Be Toxic Stars!

This is my first book by Ms. Berman and it’s a little different than what I was expecting when I read the synopsis. It has moments of suspense, mystery and drama. Underneath all of this though at the core is friendship and what would a person do to protect their best friend. We find out in this novel as we’re pushed into the past while also being in the present with the story of Joni, Bess and Evangeline.

When they were nineteen the three girls went on a trip of a lifetime to Greece to experience all the things before they move into being responsible adults. And while the trip starts out on the best foot, when it ends, everything is different…because three of them went to Greece but only two have returned.

This book opens with one of the girls showing up on the other’s doorstep in a crisis and looking for help. But these two women are diametrically opposite. One is living her best life while the other has basically hidden for the last ten years. I was fascinated by how they react to each other after all these years. It’s very clear there is guilt and anger simmering below the surface…but will it all come to a head before or after we get all the details of what happened that long ago night?

I really liked the way Ms. Berman built this story as I turned each page. I found myself getting antsy to slap someone because they’re being so obtuse! On the converse, my heart hurt for the other friend because she’s really so inside herself. The closer I got to the end the more I was ready for what led to and what actually happened all those years ago. And let me tell you, I was shocked. I thought I understood the events leading to that fateful night, but not so much. Ultimately, this was a great introduction to this author’s storytelling and I’m looking forward to reading her again.

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Before We Were Innocent by Ella Berman is a suspenseful drama novel with a mystery to be solved from the past and one in the current time. This of course means that the story in Before We Were Innocent happens in both timelines.

Ten years ago Bess, Joni and Evangeline had been the best of friends and after high school had chosen to spend the summer abroad. The trio spent the summer in Greece but by the end of the trip only Bess and Joni returned home.

Over the past ten years Joni has lived her life as a motivational speaker while Bess is just the opposite hiding away from the spotlight. Bess never expected after all these years to find Joni on her doorstep caught up in another disappearance and needing an alibi.

Picking up Before We Were Innocent by Ella Berman I wasn’t quite sure what to expect thinking this one may be more of a thriller than it was. The story that I found though was an interesting one with the slow build of what had happened in the past all the while the mystery of just what was happening now. If the pacing had been a bit faster from the start I would have a solid four stars for this one but the slower start left it at three and a half for me with the thought I’d definitely try something from the author again.

I received an advance copy from the publisher via NetGalley.

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I'm not sure how to even start this review. I was INVESTED! From the very first line. It is only from one perspective, but the author expertly weaves a tale with lots of characters. We get one view (the before) and then slowly the after unravels we begin to see things differently, just as Bess does. Nothing was as it seems. I couldn't wait to see where the next turn brought me and what it entailed. Bess seemed a bit unreliable. She had spent 10 years curating this life of invisibility and anonymity. Only to be thrust in the spot light again by Joni. Gah. I want to go reread this already. See what I missed. See if you can see how people were in the "before". Seriously, genius!

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true crime and internationally-themed thriller, the story begins when Bess, Joni, and Evangeline take a trip to Greece. However, things turn for the worst when Evangeline passed away unexpectedly making the two young girls vulnerable to the media culture which rips their lives apart.

Bess and Joni reel from the aftermath of the tragedy in different ways. While Joni capitalized on it by becoming a motivational speaker, Bess protects her life and leads a quiet life. Things change when Joni reaches out to Bess when she is facing a similar situation and asks her to come to Los Angeles to support her.

Told in dual timelines, this coming-of-age novel is not one to miss! It speaks to how we deal with grief. The novel also reminded me of the scandal and intense news coverage of the Amanda Knox case who was imprisoned in Italy following the wrongful conviction in the death of her room mate. Perhaps, what bothered me were two things - how media capitalizes on grief, and the same for Joni who took advantage of the tragedy for personal gain. The novel highlights the complexities of how grief unfolds in various, sometimes uncomfortable and uneasy ways.

Thank you @berkleypub and @letstalkbookspromo for the gifted e-arc of Before We Were Innocent. The novel released April 4th!

#BerkleyWritesStrongWomen #BerkleyBuddyReads #LetsTalkBooksPromo #PenguinRandomHouse

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There are two timelines in this story: 2008 when Ev, Bess and Jodi are in their last year in high school and head to Ev’s family home in Greece to spend their last summer together before college. While on the trip, after a drunken night out, Ev ends up dead and Bess and Jodi will forever be defined by that night.

The other story line is 10 years later. Jodi has become a popular self-help personality on the brink of publishing her first book. Bess has become a recluse who can’t get move past what happened in Greece. They haven’t seen each other in years and then Jodi turns up at Bess’ cabin.

Ella Berman is a skilled writer who wrote these women with such unique voices. I love characters driven books — all of the characters here are so well-developed and detailed— even the supporting characters. I’d call this one a literary slowburn thriller. I must go back and read Berman’s debut THE COMEBACK, which was a Read with Jenna pick.

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Thank you NetGalley and Berkley Publishing for the eARC in exchange for my honest review!

Before We Were Innocent was SO good!!
Bess, Joni, and Evangeline are characters you will love to hate. I was so invested in finding out what happened to Evangeline and what Joni and Bess were hiding. 10 years later, Joni finds Bess living a quiet, secluded life in the desert. Joni wants Bess’s help, and then it seems like history is repeating itself…
Dark, hidden secrets surface and you won’t be able to put this book down!!

4.5 stars / 5 stars

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Unfortunately this book isn't holding my attention. It's taken a week to read a third of it, so it's time to abandon ship. I think I was expecting a psychological thriller, or at least suspense, and instead the book is a slow-moving study of the rather unhealthy friendship between a group of rich, entitled girls. Not enough has happened in the first 35% to entice me to keep reading. There is a mystery element in the background — how did Evangeline die all those years ago? — but it will remain a mystery to me. Many thanks to the publisher and NetGalley for the opportunity to read a digital ARC of this book.

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In Ella Berman's latest novel, the idyllic summer in Greece that three best friends shared a decade ago comes to a tragic end when only two return home.

Despite being cleared of any involvement in their friend Evangeline's death, the media's ruthless scrutiny left Bess and Joni's teenage lives in tatters. Joni seized the opportunity to turn her infamy into a career as a motivational speaker, while Bess shrank her life to avoid risking another loss.

But when Joni becomes entangled in a crime resembling the one from their time in Greece, she calls on Bess for support in LA. Now, Bess must decide whether to confront the events of that night and expose the woman she once was – and still might be. And what if the truth is something she can't face?

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Bess, Joni, and Evangeline are on the cusp of adulthood. At the end of the summer they would all be heading off to college in different directions. They decide to spend their last months together at Evangeline's family home in Greece.

However, by the end of the trip Evangeline is dead, and Joni and Bess's lives are irrevocably changed forever.

After the events of that summer the public scrutiny caused Bess to fold in on herself. She has tried to live as secluded a life as possible.

Joni, on the other hand, capitalized her infamy into a lucrative brand for herself as a self-help guru.

Now, ten years later, Joni shows up on Bess's doorstep and it seems like history is repeating itself.

Joni's fiancée is missing and, with a new book coming out, she cannot risk the bad publicity. So, she turns to Bess. Having Joni back in her life is bringing up the past in a way that causes Bess to reevaluate what happened all those years ago.

I'm always drawn into stories that look at the past with a different lens. The idea that, over time, with growth and experience, you can understand something differently than before.

Before We Were Innocent tackles this very thing. For Bess, it's not just about revisiting the time leading up to Evangeline's death, it's about reevaluating how she sees herself and how she has been publicly depicted by everyone from journalists to true crime aficionados. She has to reconcile with her actions after the fact as compared to Joni.

I'll be honest, there were a few times that I felt like I was going to put down this book not because the story wasn't keeping my attention, but because I didn't think that I could deal with reliving the past with Bess. The tragedy and the heartbreak of it all. I'm happy that I didn't put the book down, that I kept on going even when I would have stopped because by the end, I felt like it was such a bittersweet commentary on girlhood and growing up. About female friendships and the kind of backwards way that society views how women should act in public. The idea that people think that they know who you are from a post on social media or from one text message taken out of context. That's exactly what Bess and Joni suffered through and continue to suffer through.

The story is told from Bess's point of view in the "present day" of 2018 as well as a retelling of the events of the summer of 2008. I thought it was also interesting the idea of having a first person narrator when the thought of trust comes up so often within the story. Trust of your friends, and trust of your own memories. For readers, we have to decide who to trust. Do we trust Bess's feelings about the past? Do we trust her suspicions in the present? Or is she someone who is so desperate to find answers that they seemingly pop up everywhere?

For me, I felt a sympathy toward Bess which made me want things to work out for her. I wanted Bess to get those definitive answers for herself so she could start living again. I won't say anymore in order to keep from spoiling things, but I ended up really enjoying this one and was super happy that I did not put it down because it's been a story that I've been thinking about since I finished.

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This book was different than how I thought it would be. It was more of a mystery than a thriller. A story about friendship, sisterhood, family bonds, manipulation, growing up, fear, murder, and more. Real characters that weren’t exactly likable but had qualities you could like. My favorite characters were actually side characters: the brothers!

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𝘞𝘰𝘮𝘦𝘯 𝘱𝘭𝘢𝘤𝘦 𝘢 𝘱𝘳𝘦𝘮𝘪𝘶𝘮 𝘰𝘯 𝘬𝘯𝘰𝘸𝘪𝘯𝘨 𝘵𝘩𝘦 𝘥𝘦𝘵𝘢𝘪𝘭𝘴 𝘰𝘧 𝘵𝘩𝘦𝘪𝘦 𝘧𝘳𝘪𝘦𝘯𝘥𝘴' 𝘭𝘪𝘷𝘦𝘴, 𝘸𝘩𝘪𝘤𝘩 𝘤𝘢𝘯 𝘮𝘢𝘬𝘦 𝘵𝘩𝘦𝘪𝘳 𝘳𝘦𝘭𝘢𝘵𝘪𝘰𝘯𝘴𝘩𝘪𝘱𝘴 𝘢𝘴 𝘧𝘳𝘢𝘶𝘨𝘩𝘵 𝘢𝘴 𝘵𝘩𝘦𝘺 𝘢𝘳𝘦 𝘨𝘳𝘢𝘵𝘪𝘧𝘺𝘪𝘯𝘨. -Alia Wong

Bess, Joni, and Evangeline were the best of friends until they go on a summer trip and one of them dies which tears the other two apart. This book had me gripped from the beginning and kept a hold on me right through the ending. I love books about toxic friendships as I’m always so intrigued to see what happens to the characters.

I thought it was great the way the book was written in dual timelines with the three girls graduating high school and spending the summer in Greece in 2008, and then 10 years later when something happens to bring the other two back together. Berman definitely knows how to write about female friendships and how destructive they can be. Even though the characters weren’t particularly likable, I was still invested in their story.

From the synopsis, I did think this was going to be a thriller, but it was more of a coming of age story with a mystery thrown in. Don’t get me wrong, there were some great twists, but this book really focused on the toxic relationship of these friends.

Read this book if you like:
- Coming of age stories
- Toxic friendships
- Dual timelines
- Character driven stories
- Literary mysteries

Thank you Berkley Publishing and NetGalley for an advanced copy in exchange for my honest review.

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This slow burning literary thriller has a lot going for it: a gorgeous Greek island setting and spoiled rich girls (one of whom mysteriously dies). But this one stands out to me because the author has done a good job of using these elements without being pretentious. Yes, a Greek island sounds glamorous, but the house they stay in is run down. Yes, the spoiled rich girl trope can be eye rolling, but these three friends have a very natural connection and talk like any teenagers do.

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Three rich southern California teenagers experience a tragic end to a summer trip in Greece. The perils from 10 years ago torment the two survivors in adulthood. Before We Were Innocent is told from duel timelines as the reader gets to relive the night their world changed and the aftermath of the events.

There is also two mysteries presented and they unravel beautifully throughout the story. This characters driven novel focuses on the girls toxic relationships and the consequences of their actions on not only them but others. These characters are some of the most unlikable people, but yet you can't help but to root for them.

This thriller/mystery provides enough ample twists to keep the reader engaged to the end.

Thank you Berkley Publishing for the complimentary copy.

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"It was about the power the three of us had over each other as best friends, as chosen sisters - the power to hurt each other, maybe even to destroy"

This was not quite what I expected, but I still really enjoyed reading it. Instead of a fast-paced thriller, this is more of a literary mystery. Don’t expect a lot of twists, but think of this more as a character driven novel with some suspense.

The story will transport you back to being a teenage girl and all of the insecurity, intense feelings, and overwhelming desire to fit in. My heart ached for the girls in the flashbacks scenes and the way they just wanted to feel wanted. Overall, the story makes you think about what it means to be a woman - how society views you and how that impacts how you view yourself. And that translates into an exploration of female friendships.

The writing is extraordinary and it made me feel so many emotions for these women. At many times during the story, I felt so uneasy - almost like I was in the situations these women find themselves in.

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Before We Were Innocent is a gripping thriller that will keep you on the edge of your seat. Berman's second book is a must-read for anyone who loves a good page-turner. Once you start reading, you won't be able to put it down.

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“You should know better than most that not everything can be solved. Sometimes, your entire fucking life catches on fire for no reason other than to remind you of how fragile it all is. How little control we have over any of it.”

Oomph. I have some feelings.

These characters are awful. Wretched. And I loved every second with them!

So this is not your typical thriller, and is not at all what I was expecting. It is slower paced and heavily character driven, but those characters! Wow. They are unlovable and unreliable and yet..yet…I loved them. Or loved to hate them? Whatever. This is a story that I feel will stay with me for quite some time. It is expertly written and so descriptive, and I feel like I was peeking inside Joni and Bess’s souls at times.

I am still trying to wrap my head around the type of trouble I would be in if my every written word and thought from my teenaged years was splayed out on the internet for strangers to dissect. It is a humbling thought indeed.

“‘Any human can be tamed,’ I say, my voice slicing through the air. ‘If you take enough away from them.’”

I voluntarily read and reviewed an advanced copy of this book. All thoughts and opinions are my own. Thank you to Netgalley, Berkley Publishing, and the author. Available now!

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