Friday, 1 September 2017

Book Review: ARE YOU SLEEPING by Kathleen Barber

Author: Kathleen Barber
Pan Macmillan
August 2017
My Rating: 🌟🌟🌟1/2

Book Description (Goodreads):

Josie Buhrman has spent the last ten years trying to escape her family’s reputation and with good reason. After her father's murder thirteen years prior, her mother ran away to join a cult and her twin sister Lanie, once Josie’s closest friend and confidant, betrayed her in an unimaginable way. Now, Josie has finally put down roots in New York, settling into domestic life with her partner Caleb, and that’s where she intends to stay. The only problem is that she has lied to Caleb about every detail of her past—starting with her last name.

When investigative reporter Poppy Parnell sets off a media firestorm with a mega-hit podcast that reopens the long-closed case of Josie’s father’s murder, Josie’s world begins to unravel. Meanwhile, the unexpected death of Josie’s long-absent mother forces her to return to her Midwestern hometown where she must confront the demons from her past—and the lies on which she has staked her future.

My musings:

I love mysteries that feature or revolve around strong dysfunctional family dynamics, and Are You Sleeping certainly fits the bill. Two estranged sisters. A father who was murdered when the twins were in their teens. A mother who abandoned her children to join a cult. Wow, that makes my own life look pretty normal!

Out of this cast of dysfunctional characters, Josie – our narrator – is probably the most level headed one, trying to escape her past and the legacy of her father’s murder, for which a (then) teenage neighbour is currently serving time in jail. Having changed her name and dissociated herself from everyone who knew her then, Josie has managed to create a normal life out of the spotlight. Even her boyfriend has no idea who she really is. But as false identities go, Josie’s is about to burn down in flames after her mother’s suicide in Northern California. Returning to her old hometown for the funeral, Josie must not only face her estranged twin Lanie, but also the reasons which drove the sisters apart all those years ago. To make matters worse, the Buhrman twins are being relentlessly pursued by Poppy Parnell, a true-crime reporter who has been questioning the verdict in the twin’s father’s murder case, which hinged solely on Lanie’s testimony at the time.

By including excerpts from Poppy Parnell’s true-crime podcast and social media feeds into the story, Barber not only creates a very contemporary and unique narrative, but also manages to build tension as Josie’s life is once again thrown into the spotlight. I admit that it took me a little while to get engrossed in the story, due to the many different elements in the beginning, but once the whole extent of the mystery was unveiled, I was well and truly hooked.

There are plenty of skeletons in the Buhrman family closet, which were intriguing and unsettling and made for compulsive reading to find out all the gory details. Whilst the main plot held few surprises for me, the general theme of the brutal impact of social media on the victims’ lives was an eye-opener. We know that this happens, but to be honest, I had never given it much thought before. Having to change one’s identity to escape the media spotlight and live a normal life out of the public eye seems like an extreme measure to take! It was unsettling to read the online trolls’ judgments and opinions about the Buhrman family, so brutally and thoughtlessly discussed in public forums, with no feelings spared for the people involved. I really felt for Josie, an innocent victim in the whole sorry saga. The complicated dynamics between the sisters added an irresistible psychological element to the story, even though I thought that some of the darker elements could have been explored a bit more deeply to create extra tension. 


All in all, Are You Sleeping is an original and contemporary psychological thriller focusing on dysfunctional family dynamics and the impact of social media on victims’ lives. Including several different elements into the narrative made for interesting reading and reflection, and I really liked Barber’s engaging writing style. Whilst lacking some of the dark tension some readers may look for in the genre, this slow-burning mystery made up for it in originality and character development. I really enjoyed it and would not hesitate to recommend it to lovers of the genre. I look forward to reading more from this author in future.

Thank you to Netgalley and Pan Macmillan for the free electronic copy of this novel and for giving me the opportunity to provide an honest review.

More mysteries featuring sister relationships:

Click on cover for link to Goodreads

Emma in the Night Don't Close Your Eyes The Girls Sister The Silent Sister (Riley Ma...

What's your favourite book featuring sisters?

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