Sisters and Secrets
Secrets and Sisters is gently predictable in the way its title suggests it might be. You’ve seen this set-up before; the sister that moved away returns after great tragedy, meeting once more with her free-spirited younger sister and her harried housewife elder sister; the boy she left behind and a pile of secrets await her. There’s nothing really wrong with Ryan’s work, but it’s not outstanding, and its attempt at pushing the faults of one of its heroines on the shoulders of a dead man won’t endear it to the reader’s heart.
We first meet Sierra Silva in the heart of a raging California wildfire, trying to save herself and her two young sons from the flames. Though she has to drive through it, Sierra, Danny and Oliver survive. But they lose everything – Sierra’s job and their home included. Barely coping with widowhood, Sierra chooses to visit with her mother Dede and sisters Heather and Amy on their family’s ranch and regroup.
We’re introduced to breezy Heather, who is the mother of a young daughter named Hallee whose father she has not and will not identify – to her family’s consternation – and Amy, mother of P.J. and Emma, whose perfect housewife veneer is slowly being chipped away by her frustration with her husband, Rex, and her dissatisfaction with her children’s insubordination.
Stirring up the frustrated emotions of all three sisters is Mason, the guy next door who’s known them since childhood. While he is fondest of Sierra, with whom he forges a tentative relationship, each of the women has wanted him at different points in their lives. Can Sierra learn how to honor her memories of her late husband while beginning a new relationship with Mason? Or will Heather’s big secret blow things apart?
You can guess from the back cover copy what’s going to happen in the book, so yes, be braced for cheating if you read Sisters and Secrets. The answer to the big puzzle here is perhaps a bit too obvious, and the solution to the problem downright insulting – it takes the Pee on the Initially Saintly Dead Spouse So New Boyfriend/Husband/Wife/Girlfriend Shines Brighter trope to new, annoying heights in an attempt at propping up one of the character’s intimate relationships.
It would help if one of Our Heroines were allowed to absorb more of the blame and grow up, but she remains unlikable all the way through to the end of the book, when she’s finally forced to do so. Heather and Sierra’s childish rivalries over men cause a real human toll, but only Sierra seems to see that. And yet this plot twist seems to exist in the book so Sierra can guiltlessly call Mason “her universe”. Their romance is sweet, but it hits every single typical plot point a book about second chance romance can possibly hit.
The rest of the book, with its predictable follies of marital strife in Amy’s plotline and Heather’s struggle to figure out how to put her love for Hallee’s father in its proper place, is predictable but inoffensive, and written well enough but not impressive.
I liked exasperated Dede a lot, but felt like her section of the plot was underwritten. The children characters weren’t offensive plot moppets, but poor Hallee ended up feeling like a personality-free plot point compared to the other four kids.
Sisters and Secrets is, in the end, a pretty bland story, and it’s not good or bad enough to be anything other than an average read.