Book Review: I Don’t Forgive You by Aggie Blum Thompson

Title: I Don’t Forgive You
Author: Aggie Blum Thompson
Publisher: Forge
Publication date: June 8, 2021
Length: 384 pages
Genre: Thriller
Source: Review copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley
Rating:

Rating: 3 out of 5.

An accomplished photographer and the devoted mom of an adorable little boy, Allie Ross has just moved to an upscale DC suburb, the kind of place where parenting feels like a competitive sport. Allie’s desperate to make a good first impression. Then she’s framed for murder.

It all starts at a neighborhood party when a local dad corners Allie and calls her by an old, forgotten nickname from her dark past. The next day, he is found dead.

Soon, the police are knocking at her door, grilling her about a supposed Tinder relationship with the man, and pulling up texts between them. She learns quickly that she’s been hacked and someone is impersonating her online. Her reputation–socially and professionally–is at stake; even her husband starts to doubt her. As the killer closes in, Allie must reach back into a past she vowed to forget in order to learn the shocking truth of who is destroying her life.

Allie is new to the close-knit, overly involved neighborhood when she attends a party that changes everything. The community is full of successful, highly ambitious people whose children all attend the same school. Everyone knows everything about everybody, and it’s cliquey and overwhelming to outsider Allie. After some mild flirting over a glass of wine, Allie finds herself cornered and assaulted in the bathroom, and leaves feeling shaken up and terribly worried about her future in the neighborhood.

Among the neighborhood women, she has few allies, and when she decides to share her terrible experience with her closest neighbor, the word spreads that she’s accused the (now dead) man of assault. The crisis escalates as Allie discovers fake Tinder and Facebook accounts pretending to be her, causing horrible damage to her reputation, and soon leading even her husband to mistrust her.

Meanwhile, an old secret from Allie’s troubled past seems to be resurfacing, and to make matters worse, her mother and sister are entangled in problems as well. As the police start to zero in on Allie as a murder suspect, her panic worsens — there’s no one she can trust, and no one seems to believe that she’s been set up.

I Don’t Forgive You is a fast read, setting up the key conflict quickly and then piling up clues and suspicions left and right. There are lots of possible solutions to the question of who’s setting Allie up and why, and the plot intentionally plays up all the potential misdirections before finally revealing the answers.

The book kept my interest, although I’m not a huge fan of these types of suburban, gossipy neighbor thrillers. I couldn’t feel overly invested in the PTA drama, the judging women treating Allie horribly, or Allie’s own poor decision-making in times of crisis.

My big takeaway from this book is — stay off the internet! It’s like an object lesson in the dangers of identity theft and the value of cyber security. I think Allie’s awareness of online security protocols is probably pretty typical of most people — we assume passwords and firewalls are enough to keep us safe, and we tend to be blind to all the many, many ways people with bad intentions can mess with us.

I Don’t Forgive You is a good entertaining read. It didn’t particularly rise above average for me, but take that with a grain of salt, since thrillers in general aren’t usually my preferred genre. This would make a good summer read, a fun choice for reading in a beach chair or by the pool!

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Book Review: Ask Again, Yes by Mary Beth Keane

Title: Ask Again, Yes
Author: Mary Beth Keane
Publisher: Scribner
Publication date: May 28,2019
Length: 390 pages
Genre: Contemporary fiction
Source: Purchased
Rating:

Rating: 3 out of 5.

How much can a family forgive?

A profoundly moving novel about two neighboring families in a suburban town, the bond between their children, a tragedy that reverberates over four decades, the daily intimacies of marriage, and the power of forgiveness.

Francis Gleeson and Brian Stanhope, two rookie cops in the NYPD, live next door to each other outside the city. What happens behind closed doors in both houses—the loneliness of Francis’s wife, Lena, and the instability of Brian’s wife, Anne—sets the stage for the explosive events to come.

Ask Again, Yes is a deeply affecting exploration of the lifelong friendship and love that blossoms between Francis and Lena’s daughter, Kate, and Brian and Anne’s son, Peter. Luminous, heartbreaking, and redemptive, Ask Again, Yes reveals the way childhood memories change when viewed from the distance of adulthood—villains lose their menace and those who appeared innocent seem less so. Kate and Peter’s love story, while tested by echoes from the past, is marked by tenderness, generosity, and grace.

In Ask Again, Yes, we follow the trajectories of two families over the years, seeing how their connections follow them and affect their entire lives.

Kate and Peter, born within months of each other, grow up as next door neighbors and best friends. Their fathers served on the police force together, and the families’ background are entwined in shared history and parallel origins. For Kate and Peter, they have no memory of life without the other. But a tragic, violent incident when they’re fourteen shatters both families’ lives, and cuts short the romantic relationship just starting to bloom between Kate and Peter.

Ask Again, Yes traces the roots of the family dynamics at play, and then follows Kate and Peter as their lives diverge and then come back together.

There’s a lot to unpack here — themes of mental illness, alcoholism and addiction, infidelity, parenthood and abandonment, the ups and downs of a long marriage — and yet, the story for the most part left me cold.

This story of family and suburban drama covers a lot of years, but feels diffuse somehow. The POV shifts between characters, so we view events through Kate and Peter’s eyes, but also through the experiences of their parents and others. Perhaps as a result, we often don’t stick with one character long enough to see an event through, and there seem to be some odd choices in terms of which events we experience in detail and which only get referred to in passing or in summary.

There are certainly some tragic occurrences, and places where tragedy could possibly have been avoided if appropriate mental health resources had either been available or sought out. I never really bought into the central love story between Kate and Peter, and the troubles they experience later in their marriage felt sort of shoe-horned in for me.

I read Ask Again, Yes as a book group read, and I’m thinking that I probably wouldn’t have picked this one up on my own. That said, the relationships are complex and thought-provoking — it’s simply not my preferred subject matter, and the writing didn’t engage or move me.

Still, I look forward to the book group discussion later this week. Maybe I’ll find more to appreciate once I hear what my book friends have to say about it!