Fine Thoughts and Opinions
For the Love of Reading Book Review
Barbara Forte Abate has such a gift for bringing to life real relationships between ordinary people that she creates an ongoing challenge to her readers by beginning her book with the lowest point of her character’s life: being drawn to run away and face her inner demons alone. The reader accepts Stephanie, or Stevie, as a real girl who grows up to be a real woman: her desperate act runs counter to the usual (and expected) female response to life, which is to passively endure the outcome of events. It is the author’s task to make sense of this act and to reveal it for what it is: a brief trough in the progression of life. Her message is feminine. It isn’t easy growing up female. Cut us some slack, and we’ll make things right. We need to make an active response, especially to such a threatening emotion as guilt.
Amidst all the disturbing events of her life, narrated with subtle honesty by Stevie herself, we see the fragile but warm interactions of her life. Stevie’s focus is herself, not the other party; it is a limitation that causes her to stumble through life missing the signs and details that would broaden her understanding of others. Lacking intuition, she must learn through experience. Stevie and her sister are close but far apart in temperament. Stevie’s mother and father come to life as caring and distinct individuals, unlike her aunt and uncle who are immersed in their own little world. Stevie’s promising relationship to a deaf boy is abruptly ended by circumstances, but her multifaceted relationship with Ash comes to life in all its playful stages.
In drawing her plot line, the author shows a respect for the complexity and fragility of marriage itself. There are many obstacles to be overcome before Stevie can open herself to love and even more before she can allow Ash to fully share in her life. In the meantime, Stevie’s withdrawal seems to him another personal rejection. The author leaves the reader with hope that, over time, the couple will move beyond their pain and build a solid life together.
At the heart of the novel is the age gap between sisters at the pivotal summer of l957 when Stevie lashes out with a torrent of words fueled by shock and disgust. There is a two year age gap between Stevie and her older sister. Such a gap would ordinarily fade in significance over a period of time, but instead the tragedy of death freezes it into permanence in Stevie’s mind. For sisters growing up in the fifties, as presented in this novel, the gap might well be substantial when one sister is fifteen and the other seventeen. What a difference in perspective, especially in a changing and contradictory society! The author focuses on that barrier between girls who are, in truth, hovering between childhood and adulthood. The younger child still looks at life with the eyes of a child, demanding that the world be as it should be. The older sister, engulfed in a whirlwind of change and experience, tries to understand and fit into the adult world. At times, using the brief advantage of experience and the inherent openness of conversation between siblings, the older sister tries to explain the complications of the adult world to the younger sister, but it is all in vain. We only listen to words that we understand and accept. When the older sister is growing up too fast, lacking guideposts and accepted limits, the world spins out of control for everyone. The younger child stands back, aware of but not sharing her older sister’s interests and focus. Lives separate and go in different directions. The result is a painful drama that, if told in the circumstances of this novel, must be gently conveyed with insistent honesty; in this novel, told through the voice of the younger child, the unfolding of an unwholesome relationship makes a compelling beginning to a story about the unraveling of the threads of a life.
Barbara Forte Abate is a sensitive writer who knows that there are no neutral observers in a dysfunctional family, even if the family is an extended one of aunt, uncle, and nieces, gathered only for the summer. An outbreak of discord, replacing harmony, is bad enough, but it is all too easy for visitors to take sides in a marital quarrel that should be kept between husband and wife: all it takes is sympathy and a feeling of understanding. Whether or not the visitors take sides, they are sure to feel uncomfortable and disturbed by the battle of bitter words raging around them. Worse still, such a battle may remain unacknowledged under a curtain of pretense. The picturesque setting of an seaside house, ideal for the languid days of a summer vacation, takes on ominous, stormy possibilities when a happy marriage turns sour.
The author clearly recreates her shoreline setting, giving it the tangible quality that draws Stevie back to bring closure to her past. The author conveys the expressiveness of the fifties and sixties that lingers in the memory, easily brought to recall by the music and gyrations of Elvis. Revealingly, it is just that music that triggers Stevie’s memories. Stevie is part of a generation free to enjoy the rock ‘n’ roll that their parents distrust. In writing this book, the author focuses on that aspect of a generation, leaving out the background of idealism that focused on John F. Kennedy and his dreams for America. That idealism isn’t very relevant to Stephanie as she changes from an uncertain girl of thirteen into a young woman trying to embrace life. Hers is a difficult life to follow in the pages of a book, but the rewards of doing so are great. We delve into the human condition as we focus on the feminine perspective, and that is the great reward of reading a novel like this one. Seeing a character wound up as tightly as Stephanie emerge from her shackles is both revealing and rewarding. We as readers must hope that this gifted writer will continue her writing career and imagine other characters who succeed in the difficult task of coming to terms with who they are. There are difficult issues here, but acknowledging them is a step toward gaining ascendancy. This book calls out for discussion as Stephanie senses the force of sexuality in her own life. With Ash and his life experiences, she has a chance to grow and control her own life. She can go beyond the desperate secrets that she was forced to keep by an adult world oblivious to her needs. She can forget the undeserved guilt that Ash rightfully calls the chip on her shoulder.
Kimba the Caffeinated Book Reviewer
The Secret of Lies by Barbara Forte Abate has to be one of the best novels I have ever had the pleasure to read. I was shocked to learn this is Abate’s first published work. Her writing style brings to mind such authors as Harper Lee and John Steinbeck. She writes with such detail, bringing images to life with the stroke of her pen. In her debut novel, she delivers a touching tale about, love, innocence, betrayal, loss and lies.
Secret of Lies reflects back on events that occurred off the Atlantic coast during the summer of 1957. The story unfolds through the voice of protagonist Stevie Burke. When the tale begins, Stevie is sneaking out of her home and leaving her husband. She is driving aimlessly and ends up in a dark musty hotel room three days later. We can tell that she is deeply troubled by something. It is here, as an Elvis song plays on the radio, that she reflects back on the summers, she and her sister spent at the shore home of their Aunt Smyrna and Uncle Cal.
Abate writes with a paint brush, bringing the seaside, storms, and fields to life. I could feel the wind and smell the sea air. She has a gift for beautifully expressing the emotions and feelings of a first kiss, a betrayal and loss. She unfolds the tale allowing the reader to put the pieces together before Stevie, giving us a sense of foreboding. While the subject matter is dark, Abate also shows us the light. We experience the joy of first love, childhood, and innocence.
Abates creates characters that you will love, pity and loathe. The character of Stevie is beautifully portrayed and you cannot help but like her. The way in which Abate shows the interaction between Stevie and her sister Eleanor reminded me of my own childhood. After the tragedy of 1957, we see firsthand how this affects Stevie. She struggles with the secrets and her memories. Years later,she meets Ash Waterman; through him she may finally find peace and happiness. I found myself rooting for this young man as he struggles to understand Stevie. The romance that develops between them is sweet, witty and romantic.
The story, the circumstances, and the impact it has on the characters is believable and touching. The events that occurred in the summer of '57 could have happened to any family. The ending is not wrapped up in a pretty little bow, but instead allows the reader to determine the outcome. While some may not like it, I feel it was appropriate. After all, life and family drama, do not come in neat little boxes.
Title: The Secret of Lies
The Secret of Lies is a character driven novel, which gave the reader insight into the internal struggle of the main character. Stephanie Burke, was trying to regain some happiness in her life after being dragged through the lies of her family. This young woman, who had been forced to grow up in a web of lies, was attempting to make a life for herself.
The novel began with a prologue before the first chapter. The reader is drawn into the feelings of the main character. You realize her state of mind, the turmoil she has endured and the emotional struggle that has her torn apart by what has happened in her life. Within the first chapter, the reader is brought to the beginning of how it all happened...
Barbara Forte Abate resolves the conflict and does not leave the readers hanging. She brought us through an exciting story through the efforts of her main character. To the detriment of Stephanie’s own relationship, she tries to solve her problems alone...
The characters jump out at you. They are animated and relatable. Barbara does an amazing job in describing the characters; the setting, Stephanie’s hometown, the people she interacts with, her own family and making it all come together in one satisfying story...
Barbara Forte Abate has written a creative, entertaining story in The Secret of Lies, which makes any reader understand the hidden secrets in any family. Your heart goes out to lovable characters and an appreciation for what is important.
Freelance Writer and Book Reviewer
Quirky Girl Media
Sometimes a book is so richly woven that it takes on a life of it's own, projecting itself in vivid technicolor upon the inner walls of ones mind. Asleep Without Dreaming is one such novel.Sometimes a book is so richly woven that it takes on a life of it's own, projecting itself in vivid technicolor upon the inner walls of ones mind. Asleep Without Dreaming is one such novel.
The poignant tale Abate weaves unfolds like a slow, hot southern afternoon. This is a heartwarming tale with characters you become invested in. Glimpses into Willa's mind, hear heart and thoughts was so surreal. While the pace is slow, the journey and its moments are enthralling as you read what transpires over this long lazy summer. With her pen, Abate paints the landscape surrounding the Moonglow. I could see the decay of the small town, the neglected flowerbeds, and the overgrown weeds. I could smell the fouled lake and feel the sun beating down on Willa's face. Everything from the buildings to the people had a feel of being forgotten and used up. I was captivated by the mystery surrounded the escaped convict, the arsonist and Jesse. It was amazing seeing how all the different threads wove together in this beautiful, heartbreaking novel.
Kimba Caffeinated Reviewer
...captivating and dramatic.
Stunning in both its depth and simplicity...
Star@The Bibliophilic Book Blog
"This book takes a giant leap towards deserving to be on the main stage among women’s literature..."
"The first word that comes to mind in describing this book is “vivid.” Each scene and each character is painted with such exquisitely perfect words ..."
"The writing is filled with imagery and elegant prose. Barbara Forte Abate has her own style, you'll either embrace it and lose yourself in the chapters or resist it if you're eager to just fly through any book. Take your time with this book and you'll be rewarded by a gifted writer. I loved the twists and turns, nuances and the ending. The characters are very vivid and I found Cate, Gray and Rance compelling."
"The imagery in her prose would be annoying and cloying in the hands of a less talented writer but here it is delicate and weaves beauty through a story with so much ugliness. Cat is finely drawn, real, flawed and fragile."
"The author constructed this story by beautifully crafting words Into vibrant pictures. Descriptions of concrete and abstract scenes...of scenery and emotions....draw the reader in and make the reader want to stay."
"The hard-to-put-down reason to stay up all night with the joy of this story and the shattering heartbreak of it places it among the best novels I've read. Barbara Forte Abate has a way with words -- lots of them -- that compels and propels us though her book."