Friends and Other Liars by Kaela Coble, published in 2018
When Ruby St. James returns to her hometown, it is to the grave of her old friend Danny, a member of a group that was, ten years ago, Ruby’s whole world. The crew made a pact back then: stay together, stay loyal, and stay honest. But that was before all of the lies.
Because even friends keep secrets. They just don’t stay secret for long.
Now Danny has left behind a letter for each of them, issuing one final ultimatum: share your darkest betrayal to the group, or risk it coming out in a trap he has created. When past mistakes resurface, the lines of friendship blur, and four old friends are left trying to understand what it means to lie to the ones you love best.
When I read a debut novel, I almost always know by the prose. This is not a hit on novice authors, but an observation from my years as a reader. Not only must the author create an enticing world for the reader, but they must develop the world within an acceptable page count (we can’t all be War and Peace) and with the use of clear language. Enticing world is easy enough: if the story lacks creativity, it usually doesn’t make it past the publishing house, let alone onto your desk. An editor can chop down on wordiness but strong writing is really up to the author.
All this is to say that I had absolutely no clue this was Kaela Coble’s first novel. Every sentence was perfectly constructed. I feel like Goldilocks, flipping back through the book and concluding the inevitable: no sentence was too long or too short. This book is just right. Scenes were described enough to give me a visual image without leaving clunky paragraphs of description. I could read every book in her writing style from now on and not complain.
This book features Ruby and her (ex)-best friends (dubbed the crew): Ally, Aaron, Emmett, Danny, and Murphy. Danny has just died from a heroin overdose, which is why Ruby is finally returning to her home after a ten year absence. The book also includes Steph as a somewhat prominent lead (Emmett’s girlfriend).
At Danny’s funeral, Ruby and her friends find out Danny has left them special letters. Each letter reveals a “secret” they have been keeping and Danny promises (in a letter he makes his mother read) that unless the Crew admit the secrets to each other, they should “remember that all things done in the dark have a way of coming to light.”
For me, only a bit. The spook factor was missing in part because not a single character in the room was impressed by Danny’s threat. (To speak to the book as a whole, I wished the threat had played a greater role.) Of course, in horror movies, the characters sometimes wave off the death threat before CUT SCENE AND they’re being chased by a machete wielding maniac, so whatever, right? Well, I should also add that the characters immediately go on to either (a) lie about their secrets or (b) not tell their secrets at all and then wander off. Then a l-o-o-o-n-g while passes before we hear anymore about the secrets.
Does this make the book terrible? Not at all. It just speaks to a larger issue in the book that caused me to reduce my rating: what seemed like such a spooky, threatening concept (“tell your secrets! admit the truth! or else”) is constantly dismissed by the characters. It left me waiting for a punch that never came.
However, the book delivered on other fronts. Now that Ruby is back in town, she must confront the past she tried to forget. Let me say that her secret was certainly interesting. I like how the book incorporated her past and present timelines, allowing the reader to build their own suspicions about what her secret could be. Several times I was sure I knew where the plot was heading and Coble veered another way.
The book features more than one PoV, which I think F&oL could have done without. Danny’s voice (from the other side, or wherever the dead go in Coble’s book world) is featured as a prologue and epilogue. I didn’t really think the two parts were necessary, but I can see how they add to Danny’s character. What I *really* didn’t enjoy were Steph and Ally’s PoVs. Ally’s voice was irritating (very self-absorbed) and Steph’s came across a bit “try hard.” I think both women had two PoVs each, and the book could have survived without their sections. If anything, the book would have gained more mystery if only Ruby narrated — and I preferred her narration anyway.
Lastly, the ending left me sooo conflicted. . . But I’ll say that’s alright. I wish it wasn’t as open-ended as Coble left things, for sure. But considering everything that happened over the course of the novel, I may have ended up a little bit the same way.
Three and a half crowns because I adore the writing style and the concept and pacing in this book is well-done. Also, I really, really liked Nancy’s character. I wish she had gotten more time in the sun in this book (in the present day sequences). But I was uncomfortable with how much cheating is done in this book (like, no one knows what commitment is?) and how little people actually face any of their problems.
I think from now on I’ll do book genres instead of books. It seems to make more sense … this way, if you’re in the mood for a mystery book, you can vote mystery and see if I end up reviewing a book that piques your interest. With that being said, as always, vote in the comments below which genre I should read for next Chooseday!
Vote in the comments below which genre I should read and review next week!