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Before She Was Helen

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Author: Caroline B. Cooney

Published: May 5th 2020 by Poisoned Pen Press

Format: Hardcover , 336 pages

Isbn: 9781728205120

Language: English


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Her life didn't turn out the way she expected ― so she made herself a new one When Clemmie goes next door to check on her difficult and unlikeable neighbor Dom, he isn't there. But something else is. Something stunning, beautiful and inexplicable. Clemmie photographs the wondrous object on her cell phone and makes the irrevocable error of forwarding it. As the picture swirl Her life didn't turn out the way she expected ― so she made herself a new one When Clemmie goes next door to check on her difficult and unlikeable neighbor Dom, he isn't there. But something else is. Something stunning, beautiful and inexplicable. Clemmie photographs the wondrous object on her cell phone and makes the irrevocable error of forwarding it. As the picture swirls over the internet, Clemmie tries desperately to keep a grip on her own personal network of secrets. Can fifty years of careful hiding under names not her own be ruined by one careless picture? And although what Clemmie finds is a work of art, what the police find is a body. . . in a place where Clemmie wasn't supposed to be, and where she left her fingerprints. Suddenly, the bland, quiet life Clemmie has built for herself in her sleepy South Carolina retirement community comes crashing down as her dark past surges into the present.

30 review for Before She Was Helen

  1. 4 out of 5

    Dita

    When I started reading this quirky book, set in a retirement community, I thought it was going to be a cozy mystery and therefore perhaps not my style. As I continued to turn the pages, however, I was pulled further and further into the mystery of Clemmie/Helen and her story and I really wanted to know which one of her neighbors was a killer. I ended up loving gritty Clemmie and rooting so hard for this little overcomer who gets pulled into neighborhood shenanigans quite against her will, always When I started reading this quirky book, set in a retirement community, I thought it was going to be a cozy mystery and therefore perhaps not my style. As I continued to turn the pages, however, I was pulled further and further into the mystery of Clemmie/Helen and her story and I really wanted to know which one of her neighbors was a killer. I ended up loving gritty Clemmie and rooting so hard for this little overcomer who gets pulled into neighborhood shenanigans quite against her will, always fearing her story, which is revealed to us over time, will be exposed. The murders were just a bonus! Thank you to Caroline B. Cooney, Poisoned Pen Press and NetGalley for giving me this ARC in exchange for an honest review.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Jannelies

    What an absolutely entertaining story and what wonderful characters! The story is more complicated than you would think and I just loved all those complications turning up. Needless to say that I really felt for poor Clemmie, and I admire her for the clever and unexpected ways she tries to solve the problems that are not even hers... I must be getting old though, because the author explains how a Rolodex worked... something I used extensively in earlier days. It made me smile! It was really good What an absolutely entertaining story and what wonderful characters! The story is more complicated than you would think and I just loved all those complications turning up. Needless to say that I really felt for poor Clemmie, and I admire her for the clever and unexpected ways she tries to solve the problems that are not even hers... I must be getting old though, because the author explains how a Rolodex worked... something I used extensively in earlier days. It made me smile! It was really good to read a book with elderly people being portretted the way the author does. We do tend to forget that no matter what age, inside you'll be yourself your whole life. And I just loved the ending, with some people none the wiser and others a lot. Thanks to Netgalley for this digital review copy.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Joy E Perry

    #NetGalley #CarolineBClooney #PoisonedPenPress Clemmie lives in a quiet retirement community. Her neighbor Dom texts her everyday to let her know he's ok,until one day he doesn't. Worried, Clemmie !uses her key to his place to go check on him and he's not there, but she discovers a door in his garage leading to the third unit of her triplex. What she finds is something so beautiful she takes a picture and sends to her Grand niece and nephew. She is not prepared for the consequences of her actions #NetGalley #CarolineBClooney #PoisonedPenPress Clemmie lives in a quiet retirement community. Her neighbor Dom texts her everyday to let her know he's ok,until one day he doesn't. Worried, Clemmie !uses her key to his place to go check on him and he's not there, but she discovers a door in his garage leading to the third unit of her triplex. What she finds is something so beautiful she takes a picture and sends to her Grand niece and nephew. She is not prepared for the consequences of her actions. Before she knows it she finds herself in the grips of a drug dealer and a body is found in her neighbors garage. Long buried secrets are threatened exposure. What follows are fast paced events that nobody will see coming. Clemmie struggles to keep her secrets while the police try to piece together the case. This book is a wildly fast paced story with so many things unfolding it is hard for the reader to keep up. I thoroughly enjoyed this book and I devoured it, hungry for more as the events unfolded. I would definitely recommend this book! If you like a good mystery, you are definitely in for a treat!

  4. 4 out of 5

    Bonnie DeMoss

    Before she was Helen is the story of a woman leading two lives. Helen is a Latin teacher who lives in a retirement community and plays a lot of cards with her neighbors. Clemmie is a teenager in the 50s who is raped and stalked by a popular teacher. This story flashes back and forth between Clemmie and Helen until the two stories become one. Helen, whose family calls her Clemmie, becomes involved in the investigation of a murder in the apartment next door. Dealing with a missing neighbor, an enr Before she was Helen is the story of a woman leading two lives. Helen is a Latin teacher who lives in a retirement community and plays a lot of cards with her neighbors. Clemmie is a teenager in the 50s who is raped and stalked by a popular teacher. This story flashes back and forth between Clemmie and Helen until the two stories become one. Helen, whose family calls her Clemmie, becomes involved in the investigation of a murder in the apartment next door. Dealing with a missing neighbor, an enraged drug dealer, and friends who are all keeping secrets, Helen is terrified that her true identity, her past, and the person she will do anything to protect will all be discovered. This book was a wild ride that I could not put down. There is nonstop action and intrigue and even a little comedy. It flashes seamlessly between the past and present. Clemmie’s teenage. story will make you cry. Her actions as an older woman will make you laugh at times. And throughout the book you will cheer Clemmie on as she faces the worst with absolute strength. I received a free copy of this book from the publishers via Netgalley. My review is voluntary.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Paula Phillips

    When I saw that Caroline B. Cooney had written a new book, I requested to read it immediately as I had grown up on her Face on the Milk Carton series and absolutely adored the books and the movies. It still is one of my favorites to this day and I watch the movie once every now and again. Before she was Helen was a book that I wasn't sure what it would be about and I went in blind. I have to admit it was an odd sort of reading and it had a thriller aspect to it but not at the same time which is When I saw that Caroline B. Cooney had written a new book, I requested to read it immediately as I had grown up on her Face on the Milk Carton series and absolutely adored the books and the movies. It still is one of my favorites to this day and I watch the movie once every now and again. Before she was Helen was a book that I wasn't sure what it would be about and I went in blind. I have to admit it was an odd sort of reading and it had a thriller aspect to it but not at the same time which is why I've put it under women's fiction as a category as it was hard to explain. The book starts off with a lady we know as Clementine living in a retirement village yet the women there called her Helen which I have to admit I found confusing as at first, I thought it might have been her middle name - but then it wasn't. Clem's neighbor Dom didn't text her this morning as he normally does and she gets worried he is dead, she heads next door and there is no sign of him. The strange thing though as she goes into the garage is that there is a door built there that connects Dom's and the Corgan's houses together. Clem peeks in and sees a strange vase sitting on the table and takes a photo to send to her grand-nephew and niece. Turns out the vase is actually a weed rig and was stolen from a drug dealer who will do anything to get it back. So we have that storyline beginning, then Clem is sent an article about an old murder case re-opening. The guy who was murdered is why Clementine changed her name and we are taken back in the past to the first time she met Mr. Creek at High School to the present time. We also catch glimpses of how Clementine became Helen and about the son she gave up for adoption - Billy Boone and his family to present times. Before She was Helen was quite a jam-packed novel and had so many different storylines running through and lots of characters and I felt the latter part of the book became a bit too busy for my liking as it was confusing trying to keep up with everyone involved in the book. Before She was Helen is one of those reads that if you haven't got anything else to read, then pick this book up otherwise you may want to move along unless you enjoy busy novels and can keep up with what's happening unlike myself. Before She was Helen by Caroline B. Cooney is coming soon - May 2020.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Lisa Aiello

    3.5 stars. This is a quirky and fun mystery. Not only a who-dunnit, but a "what actually happened here" kinda story. Clemmie is quite the enigma herself. She has her own very tragic past with lots of secrets. Now somewhat retired, but still teaching Latin part-time, and living in a Sun City retirement community, she finds herself embroiled with murder, shady neighbors, stolen goods and money, and other elderly residents with too much time on their hands. If you like a good quick mystery read, pi 3.5 stars. This is a quirky and fun mystery. Not only a who-dunnit, but a "what actually happened here" kinda story. Clemmie is quite the enigma herself. She has her own very tragic past with lots of secrets. Now somewhat retired, but still teaching Latin part-time, and living in a Sun City retirement community, she finds herself embroiled with murder, shady neighbors, stolen goods and money, and other elderly residents with too much time on their hands. If you like a good quick mystery read, pick this one up.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Cindy Lauren

    The horrible things about secrets is that they always want to come out. No matter how desperately you want to keep things quiet, all it takes is one quick, impulsive action to start pulling the thread that will unravel the whole thing. One good deed by one neighbor looking out for another begins a chain of events that races out of control and threatens to reveal secrets that had been kept for many years. Fast read, give it a chance.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Christine

    I did not enjoy this book as I thought I would. All the characters were one-dimensional and the story structure was very scattered. While some parts of the story were well done, other parts were just a chore to read. First, there was absolutely no diversity in the book. The story takes place in a retirement community that they mention is predominantly white. The only “ethnic” characters were the Hispanic landscapers and the possibly Italian neighbor. The main character even said of the neighbor, I did not enjoy this book as I thought I would. All the characters were one-dimensional and the story structure was very scattered. While some parts of the story were well done, other parts were just a chore to read. First, there was absolutely no diversity in the book. The story takes place in a retirement community that they mention is predominantly white. The only “ethnic” characters were the Hispanic landscapers and the possibly Italian neighbor. The main character even said of the neighbor, “Dominic Spesante had always sounded to Clemmie like a mob name. A name for somebody who offed people and abandoned their bodies on Jersey swamps”. She didn’t know his background at all yet assumed because his name sounded Italian, he’s in the mob. Later in the story, the neighbors didn’t even know how to pronounce his last name and even complained of people with weird last names. Oh and about the Hispanic landscapers, of course, they didn’t speak English. The book’s story line was divided into the 50 years in the past and the present. The past, for the most part, was very well done. My only critique is that every other paragraph began with “in the 1950s we did/didn’t do” a certain thing. I understand mentioning once or twice, but it was over used. The present day was not well written, in my opinion. At times it felt like I was listening to Grandpa Simpson tell a story. It would begin with one topic, switch to another in the next paragraph, then another and then go back to the original topic. I was very difficult to follow. Finally, I saw no character growth for the any of the characters. The story seemed to just happen around the characters and they learned nothing from it. It felt like this was just a weird day for them and once it’s over, they’ll go back to who they were at the beginning of the story.

  9. 4 out of 5

    CLM

    Caroline Cooney is writing for adults now - with the same blend of suspense and humor! https://perfectretort.blogspot.com/20... Caroline Cooney is writing for adults now - with the same blend of suspense and humor! https://perfectretort.blogspot.com/20...

  10. 5 out of 5

    AC

    Solid four stars out of five. Warning: there is discussion of rape and a serial rapist, although not graphic. Clemmie - or, as her neighbors know her, Helen - lives in a sleepy, sort-of retirement community called Sun City. Her next door neighbor Dom texts her every morning to let her know he's ok. Except today: no text. Clemmie has a key to Dom's place - in case of emergency, and something her friends and neighbors do not know. She heads next door into Dom's place, calling out for him. She doesn' Solid four stars out of five. Warning: there is discussion of rape and a serial rapist, although not graphic. Clemmie - or, as her neighbors know her, Helen - lives in a sleepy, sort-of retirement community called Sun City. Her next door neighbor Dom texts her every morning to let her know he's ok. Except today: no text. Clemmie has a key to Dom's place - in case of emergency, and something her friends and neighbors do not know. She heads next door into Dom's place, calling out for him. She doesn't find him, but she does find a door in the garage that leads to the other attached villa, presumably owned by neighbors who are rarely seen. Telling herself that she's just checking for Dom, she enters the third (very empty, almost unlived-in) villa and sees a glass dragon sculpture that she thinks is so beautiful that she takes a picture and texts it to her nephew. So begins Before She Was Helen, a character-driven mystery set in a limited community area. Her text puts into a motion a grand mystery: the creator of the dragon is hunting for money stolen from him and tracks down Clemmie/Helen, Dom is missing, no one knows much of anything about the ghost neighbors, Clemmie's friend Joyce is kicking out her boyfriend (who has been taking money from her checking account in bits and pieces), and all the other neighbors join in the fun when a body is found in Dom's golf cart, in his garage. There's another story as well: Clemmie's life before she became Helen, as the title suggests, in the 50s. It involves Clemmie being stalked and raped repeatedly by a man, her becoming pregnant tanks to her rapist, and giving up the child to an adoptive couple. When she moves from place to place, trying to escape him, he always finds where she is living and shows up. At one point, he rapes her roommate when he turns up but doesn't find Clemmie. The rapist is later found dead. The case went cold in the past, and in the present, Clemmie's nephew texts her that the case is being reopened, adding another worry to her pile. The book moves fairly seamlessly between the present and the past, both eras containing complex mysteries to be solved: in the present, who among Clemmie's neighbors are involved in drugs/dealing, and who killed the young man found in Dom's garage? In the past, how did Clemmie finally escape, and who killed the stalker/rapist? While none of the characters are very deeply presented beyond Clemmie, I still found it an enjoyable read and was wondering how all the pieces would be tied together, or indeed, if they could be. Answer: yes, they could be, and were. As noted, this is a character-driven novel: there are no big action sequences or gory scenes beyond some blood in a knife fight that involves the artist and one of Clemmie's neighbors. If you are looking or gunfights and foot (or golf cart) chases, you won't find that here. But if you're looking for a good read of how one woman reinvented herself and how she manages to get through the webs small town communities can weave, this is the book for you. Thanks to NetGalley and Poisoned Pen Press for the advance reading copy.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Rajiv

    [BLOG]::[YOUTUBE]::[TWITTER] A BIG Thank You to Netgalley and Poisoned Pen Press for providing me with an advanced reader’s copy of “Before She Was Helen” for my review. I thought this book started off really well. I really enjoyed the parallel story-lines between the present and the past, and how a murder takes place in both. There are a lot of twists and turns so you really don’t know how things will turn out. I loved Clemmie as the main character, irrespective of how old or young s [BLOG]::[YOUTUBE]::[TWITTER] A BIG Thank You to Netgalley and Poisoned Pen Press for providing me with an advanced reader’s copy of “Before She Was Helen” for my review. I thought this book started off really well. I really enjoyed the parallel story-lines between the present and the past, and how a murder takes place in both. There are a lot of twists and turns so you really don’t know how things will turn out. I loved Clemmie as the main character, irrespective of how old or young she is. The plot and setting is also very unique and unlike anything I had read earlier. There was a lot of potential for this book being an amazing page turner. Moreover, I thought the author wrote Rudyard very well and was a terrifying negative character. He is truly insane and unpredictable, and I could sense Clemmie’s fear in confronting him. However, I felt solely disappointed after completing this book! I felt frustrated to see so many questions left open-ended. For example, I still don’t know who the Coglands are and why their apartment was empty. I also don’t know who and why placed the priceless dragon artifact there. Also, while I liked how the killer turned out to be someone whom I would have never expected, the reason behind their kill was convoluted and didn’t make much sense. There were also a lot of unnecessary dialogue with unwanted characters from the cul-de-sac which didn’t add anything to the plot. For example, pages wasted on dialogues from gossip women on what happened. The present day murder story-line turned out to be a complete disappointment. After a point, I was only looking forward to the flashbacks of Clemmie’s earlier days. Overall, I expected a more polished story. The only season I didn’t give it a negative rating is because I enjoyed the flashback story-line between Clemmie and Rudyard.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Margaret (Maggie)

    Why I chose to request this book: I requested to read this book because I love Caroline B. Cooney’s books! My favorite series of hers is “The Jamie Series,” otherwise known as “The Face on the Milk Carton.” There’s also a movie about the first book in that series (there are 3 books in “The Janie Series.”) You should check it out! Synopsis: In this Cooney book, “Before She Was Helen,” Clemmie (now “Helen”) is living it up in a retirement community. She decides to check on Dominic, a neighbor of he Why I chose to request this book: I requested to read this book because I love Caroline B. Cooney’s books! My favorite series of hers is “The Jamie Series,” otherwise known as “The Face on the Milk Carton.” There’s also a movie about the first book in that series (there are 3 books in “The Janie Series.”) You should check it out! Synopsis: In this Cooney book, “Before She Was Helen,” Clemmie (now “Helen”) is living it up in a retirement community. She decides to check on Dominic, a neighbor of hers, after not hearing from him for some time. However, Dominic isn’t there. Also, while searching”Dom’s” apartment, Clemmie discovers a secret door between “Dom’s” apartment and the one next door to him. The apartment next door looks like it has been swept clean, and it turns out that it may be full of stolen goods! What is going on here? Take this journey with Clemmie to find out. My take: I’m disappointed with this book by Ms. Cooney. Part of it is that I can’t relate to the character (an elderly woman, which I am not). I know fully that this is not Ms. Cooney’s fault. However, the writing style that Caroline B. Cooney used to have is no more — I feel that this book is not as detailed or well-written as the previous books that this author has written. Her writing missed the mark for me in this book.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Nan Williams

    What an absolute delight this book was!! The story was set in a retirement village in South Carolina, just over the state line from Charlotte, NC. However there was ample back story about Clemmie and how Clemmie became Helen. Clemmie/Helen was born in the 40s as was the author. I particularly liked the way this senior-citizen-author spoke of life growing up in the 50s. She told it like it was – like I experienced it and not like so many moderns want to believe that it was. Yes, there were many op What an absolute delight this book was!! The story was set in a retirement village in South Carolina, just over the state line from Charlotte, NC. However there was ample back story about Clemmie and how Clemmie became Helen. Clemmie/Helen was born in the 40s as was the author. I particularly liked the way this senior-citizen-author spoke of life growing up in the 50s. She told it like it was – like I experienced it and not like so many moderns want to believe that it was. Yes, there were many opportunities and avenues denied girls/women, but that merely caused them (us) to become smarter and more wily in the way they addressed problems they encountered from societal norms of the day. It was delightful to see how this same shrewdness was utilized in the various adventures in the retirement village. Characterization was excellent as were all the elements that go into making a great read! I highly recommend this to everyone. I’m thankful to NetGalley and the publisher, Poisoned Pen Press, for this early release in exchange for an honest review. I’m particularly thankful for introducing me to this new author.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Maya

    Did I pick this up because I was 100% obsessed with The Face on the Milk Carton and all of Caroline B. Cooney's books in middle school? Why, yes I did. This really brought me back to everything that I loved about that series and Cooney's writing style. This was a quick read with enough twists and turns to keep me guessing and interested throughout. There are several story lines that all come together but I enjoyed that the story kept shifting between them. I did find that the last portion of the Did I pick this up because I was 100% obsessed with The Face on the Milk Carton and all of Caroline B. Cooney's books in middle school? Why, yes I did. This really brought me back to everything that I loved about that series and Cooney's writing style. This was a quick read with enough twists and turns to keep me guessing and interested throughout. There are several story lines that all come together but I enjoyed that the story kept shifting between them. I did find that the last portion of the book came together a little too quickly for me after all of the build up but it was definitely worth the read. I enjoyed the characters and the story was fast paced enough to hold my attention to finish this in one sitting. If you are looking for a hardcore mystery/thriller, you should look elsewhere but if you want something that is intriguing and will keep you on your toes, definitely pick this up!

  15. 4 out of 5

    Rick

    Just OK but fun book; a bunch of retired folks with way too much time on their hands so they start to do silly/illegal things. Hope I'll never be like that. You had to admire Clemmie/Helen since she had a raw deal from the very start and she made the most of it. The other characters, not so much. Thanks to Net Galley and to Goodreads for allowing me an early read on Kindle in exchange for an honest review.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Charlotte

    I was initially drawn to this book as the Face on the Milk Carton was one of my favorites growing up. This book is fun and quirky, and follows Helen, a 70-something woman who lives in a retirement community and has found herself involved in a drug deal, a murder and an cold-case. 3.5 stars. Thanks to NetGalley and Poisoned Pen Press for the ARC.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Emily

    I was desperately excited to read this book due to my middle school obsession with Caroline B Cooney and The Face on the Milk Carton. And it totally lived up to what I hoped it would be... Mixed up identities, excitement, twists, and plenty of drama. I received an ARC in exchange for an honest review.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Tessa (Talks Books)

    Before she was Helen, her name was Clementine or Clemmie for short, and this is her story. Many mysteries abound in Clemmie's world - who killed her next-door neighbor, how did a drug dealer's beautiful glass drug paraphernalia, that looked like artwork, get in the empty bungalow nearby, where's the million dollars that belongs to the drug dealer, and who killed Rudyard Creek fifty years ago. And the solving of those many mysteries creates a story that is fast-paced, full of suspense, and at tim Before she was Helen, her name was Clementine or Clemmie for short, and this is her story. Many mysteries abound in Clemmie's world - who killed her next-door neighbor, how did a drug dealer's beautiful glass drug paraphernalia, that looked like artwork, get in the empty bungalow nearby, where's the million dollars that belongs to the drug dealer, and who killed Rudyard Creek fifty years ago. And the solving of those many mysteries creates a story that is fast-paced, full of suspense, and at times, jaw-dropping. There are two main elements of this novel – the modern-day mystery and the life of Clementine Lakefield, aka Clementine Murray, aka Helen Stephens. The modern-day mystery is very much a plot-driven tale about who killed Clemmie's neighbor and stole a drug dealer's prized possession along with 1 million of his illegally earned dollars. Borobasq is suave and cocky, living in a world that bends to his will. When he learns that his stolen goods are in a retirement village outside of Charlotte, NC, he doesn't hesitate to get on a plane and investigate. He is not above hurting senior citizens, which is very easy to do when you don't understand the medications they may take or the physical limitations that come with aging. His dastardly determination creates much of the suspense that keeps the pages turning quickly. He quickly finds all that doesn't add up in this neighborhood of senior citizens – things that most people wouldn't ever think possible much less probable because he doesn't look at them like senior citizens. He suspects everybody in an ingenious drug trafficking business in the middle of an unassuming retirement village. The focus on a retirement community does not limit this story's accessibility to younger (as in more youthful than 55 years old) readers, since a good percentage of the story is about Clemmie and her life, starting in her teen years. While the current day mystery brings in all the action and suspense, I expected from a mystery, Clemmie's story brings in a tragic, even poignant, element that is as unexpected as it is moving. Clemmie's life story is character-driven and even more impactful than murder and a drug dealer running amok in a retirement community. We learn early on that her brother's coach rapes her, and since it is the fifties, she is unable to tell anyone or bring him to justice. She felt no one would believe her, and considering her parents' reaction to the subsequent pregnancy, it seems as though she is right about their probable response. The rest of her story is one that is defined by those tragic and criminal events. She is never able to process what happened to her and to move on to a full life – one where she enjoyed the love and companionship that she always wanted. And it goes on to frame her reaction to current day events. These reactions caused me a great deal of frustration with Clemmie. I just wanted to take her by the hand and walk her through what she needed to do as the mystery unfolded, and the drug dealer hid out in her home. Clemmie is an exciting mix of fantastic strength and learned helplessness. Though this is a frustrating element in the novel, it did succeed in holding me in the stories' grip and not letting go until the last page. The conclusion is a surprising twist, and I love unexpected twists. I will say that there is a lot more than card games going on in Sun City, which is an actual retirement neighborhood in Fort Mill, SC, right outside of Charlotte, NC. I live north of Charlotte, so it was bizarre for me to read about a setting that is… well… home. There is part of me that wants to drive down to Sun City to see what's going on. Thank you to NetGalley and the publisher for providing me with a copy of the book in exchange for an honest review.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Ms. Yingling

    E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus Clemmie lives a careful and circumspect life in a retirement village in the South. She teaches Latin part time, plays cards, and checks on her neighbors. She also has two cell phones, one for her family, and one for everyone else, to whom she is Helen. When her next door neighbor, the unpleasant Dom, doesn't check in with her, she does to his house to investigate. She doesn't find him, but does find an odd door that goes to a connecting unit, rarely inhabited by c E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus Clemmie lives a careful and circumspect life in a retirement village in the South. She teaches Latin part time, plays cards, and checks on her neighbors. She also has two cell phones, one for her family, and one for everyone else, to whom she is Helen. When her next door neighbor, the unpleasant Dom, doesn't check in with her, she does to his house to investigate. She doesn't find him, but does find an odd door that goes to a connecting unit, rarely inhabited by couple who keep to themselves. She takes a picture of an interesting glass sculpture to send to her niece and nephew, but doesn't worry too much about Dom, since his golf cart is gone. Things, however, escalate. Her nephew does an image search for the glass, and finds out it is stolen drug paraphernalia worth a lot of money, and manages to let the creator and owner, Boro, know his great-aunt has it. Boro is determined to get it back, and hunts Clemmie down. Clemmie worries, because her own back story has been very complicated, and she has been living under an assumed identity since college. As the drug related mystery evolves, so does a fifty year old cold case from Connecticut that is all too familiar to Clemmie. The coach of her brother's team, Rudyard Creek, was killed in a highway picnic area, and the murderer was never found. In flashbacks, we find out what her connection to this case was as the events surrounding Boro and Dom, as well as her neighbors, unfold at the retirement village. Clemmie has always been careful, but will this one misstep disarray all of her careful plans? Trigger warnings: Rape, drug use, stalking. Strengths: This was an utterly captivating and intense novel; I had to take a break halfway through it because I just needed to breathe! The details about both the present problems and the past ones were so well thought out and intricately arranged that I found myself almost holding my breath on several occasions. I was completely amazed by Clemmie's resiliency and resourcefulness in the face of horrible things that happened to her and kept happening to her, and by how she was able to create a new identity because of the lack of paper trails in the past. I don't want to spoil the twists and turns by saying too much. This was an excellent read, and I appreciated that the character was an older woman with a past! Weaknesses: As a former Latin teacher from Ohio, I just really wanted an entire book about Clemmie's career in the last several decades of the 1900s. What I Really Think: This was just exquisite. Cooney has an impressive range, from picture books to historical fiction to medical mysteries, but this was by far her best book. Not only that, but even though it has several disturbing topics, the story is delivered with discretion for those of us who are used to the profanity and detail free books of middle grade. I sort of want a follow up about how Clemmie's life proceeds after the book ends, but it's not really need it. We are given the hints we need to imagine her new life.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Luisa

    At one point in her past, Clemmie decided to become Helen – because it would probably save her life. When a murder happens next door, that decision severely limits and impacts Clemmie’s scope of action – and seems to threaten the prospect of a tranquil retirement. Caroline B. Cooney’s thriller has a wonderfully engaging plot and a very interesting protagonist, who does her very best to appear as boring as possible. I especially loved the idea of the thriller, choosing a retirement settlement as t At one point in her past, Clemmie decided to become Helen – because it would probably save her life. When a murder happens next door, that decision severely limits and impacts Clemmie’s scope of action – and seems to threaten the prospect of a tranquil retirement. Caroline B. Cooney’s thriller has a wonderfully engaging plot and a very interesting protagonist, who does her very best to appear as boring as possible. I especially loved the idea of the thriller, choosing a retirement settlement as the setting and having characters who are all best agers. The life in Clemmie’s community as described by Cooney is exactly as I would picture it and it also offers a rather positive outlook on retired life (apart from the murder and the other shenanigans, of course). I also liked the description of Clemmie’s relationship with her relatives and the depiction of the havoc an ill-advised usage of social media can create. The other time level, that is essential to Clemmie’s development and her story, is the 1950s. I enjoyed the passages that outlined Clemmie’s past very much, especially the constricting rules for women and the outrageously unfair perspective that society endorsed when it came to rape or teenage mothers. Still, I sometimes found the 1950s parts sometimes a little tedious as Cooney continually used phrases akin to “that was different then”. That is a circumstance that we are all aware of, it would have sufficed to mention that once, but not over and over again. The merit of the historical fiction parts is to show that it was different, it is not necessary to tell the reader that repeatedly. Apart from Clemmie, who is a very likable and sufficiently mysterious character, the most impressive character is certainly Rudyard Creek, but not because he is so complex, but because he is so very diabolical. In the end, I would have liked to see an even closer connection between the two time levels and between the Rudyard plot and today’s action. Before She Was Helen is good entertainment, a thriller in an unexpected environment with an unlikely heroine, that I would recommend to all readers who like stories with multiple time levels.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Jennifer

    I have kind of a love/hate relationship with Caroline B Cooney. In third grade when I discovered "The Face on the Milk Carton," I loved her. I read several of her YA thrillers when I was younger and enjoyed a lot of them. Then I read some of the others, the supernatural ones, the romance ones, and I was NOT IMPRESSED. But then I got older and moved on to different books and for the most part forgot about Caroline B Cooney. Then one day I was on Netgalley looking around at the many choices availa I have kind of a love/hate relationship with Caroline B Cooney. In third grade when I discovered "The Face on the Milk Carton," I loved her. I read several of her YA thrillers when I was younger and enjoyed a lot of them. Then I read some of the others, the supernatural ones, the romance ones, and I was NOT IMPRESSED. But then I got older and moved on to different books and for the most part forgot about Caroline B Cooney. Then one day I was on Netgalley looking around at the many choices available to request and I found a new Caroline B Cooney. I was expecting it to be the same YA thriller of my youth but instead found it to be set entirely in a retirement community with a cast made up of elderly people. Clemmie's got a nice life in her retirement community. She's got friends and activities. She communicates with her niece and her "grands" (her nieces children) and she's hidden her past well enough that no one would ever suspect her dark secrets. It all begins to crumble while checking on a neighbor and discovering a glass sculpture which she sends a picture of to the grands. From there, Clemmie's life becomes significantly more difficult. And then comes the body. Can Clemmie save herself and keep her secret safe? I actually liked this book. The setting was interesting. I don't believe I've read a lot of books set in a retirement community. Told in the present with snippets of the past peppered in, I was intrigued by both mysteries and honestly a little horrified about her past. Clemmie is a scrappy old broad. I did have a couple of problems though. My main problem was at the end. A man straight up pulled Clemmie on his lap and stroked her like a baby or a frightened pet. She's in her 70s. That felt gross to me. And her grand nephew. I'm not sure what he was actually thinking when he sold Clemmie out. Some details that I found important were left out, such as what he thought he'd gain from this. But all in all, it wasn't bad. *I received this book from Netgalley in exchange for my review

  22. 5 out of 5

    Aubree

    This is my kind of mystery novel. It was just suspenseful and scary enough to give me the creeps, but not traumatizing at all. It is the author’s first adult novel (rather than YA) so it would of course be more intense. But she was able to create a great story with two mysteries in it without using foul language or having graphic scenes which I much appreciated. The story is about an elderly woman named Clemmie who is living a double life as Helen because she is hiding from something in her past This is my kind of mystery novel. It was just suspenseful and scary enough to give me the creeps, but not traumatizing at all. It is the author’s first adult novel (rather than YA) so it would of course be more intense. But she was able to create a great story with two mysteries in it without using foul language or having graphic scenes which I much appreciated. The story is about an elderly woman named Clemmie who is living a double life as Helen because she is hiding from something in her past. Her identities threaten to unravel from a misstep taken in the present. The story does alternate between time periods, but in a way that moves the story along. It was refreshing to read about someone in an older demographic, since most of the books I am drawn to are about much younger people. I really liked the way that the author told the story of the 1950s, explaining why the characters didn’t make the choices we would expect them to in 2020- times were just different. It was a good reminder that we cannot judge people of the past using the cultural standards of today. Things were different “back then” and that influenced people’s choices. My favorite genre is actually historical fiction so I liked that this one went back in time. However, this was one of those stories that makes me glad to live in the time I do. So many people suffered in the past from mental illness and all kinds of abuse because those subjects were so taboo. And even though there is more work to be done, I am so grateful for the strides made in women’s rights and how women’s issues are handled now. I was just going to give this 4 stars but after writing this review and realizing that not only was it a stellar mystery story (not that the ending was that shocking), but it really made me think about some things, I am going to give it a solid 5 stars. Content warning: rape and murder are both in the book but there are no graphic descriptions. There is some knife violence with some bleeding described.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Lori White

    Before She was Helen by Caroline B. Cooney is a charmingly written story filled with wonderful twists, engaging characters and a clever storyline that pulls out all the stops. Even better, the setting is a veritable Peyton Place - a Sun City retirement village, My grandparents were some of the first homeowners in the original Sun City outside Phoenix, and I spent many Christmases with them riding around in their golf cart and eavesdropping in on more gossip than my young mind could process. The Before She was Helen by Caroline B. Cooney is a charmingly written story filled with wonderful twists, engaging characters and a clever storyline that pulls out all the stops. Even better, the setting is a veritable Peyton Place - a Sun City retirement village, My grandparents were some of the first homeowners in the original Sun City outside Phoenix, and I spent many Christmases with them riding around in their golf cart and eavesdropping in on more gossip than my young mind could process. The author brought me back to that place and those people. The characterizations, relationships and conversations are spot on and so much fun. Clemmie is the main character, and - like a lot of women in their 70s - there's more to her than meets the eyes. She is a woman with both a past and a great story, and the author does a wonderful job of unraveling both with perfect timing. And timing really matters in a story like Clemmie's. Without it, there is no mystery and no delight in discovery - Before She was Helen is rich with both! The supporting cast and their stories are equally entertaining, .which just adds to the enjoyment of this book. The writing is light and airy, with a consistent voice and a flow that is perfect for the storyline and the genre. I literally read this book in one sitting, stopping only to share the funny parts and plot twists with my accommodating husband ;) If you're looking for a fun, quick read with engaging characters and a well-crafted and layered plot pick up a copy of Before She was Helen. I can totally see this book as a movie at some point. If you're in search of a hardcore mystery, however, you might be disappointed. Think Murder She Wrote not Homeland. This review was based on an advance copy read.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Jilly

    Before She Was Helen is Caroline B. Cooney's new thriller for an adult audience. The book follows Helen, a retiree in living in a relatively upscale retirement community in South Carolina. Helen has an agreement to check in on an immediate neighbor after he had an accident and wasn't found until much later. When the neighbor doesn't respond to Helen's text messages she enters his townhouse to make sure he's okay. What she finds there sends her down a dark path that involves dealing with own past Before She Was Helen is Caroline B. Cooney's new thriller for an adult audience. The book follows Helen, a retiree in living in a relatively upscale retirement community in South Carolina. Helen has an agreement to check in on an immediate neighbor after he had an accident and wasn't found until much later. When the neighbor doesn't respond to Helen's text messages she enters his townhouse to make sure he's okay. What she finds there sends her down a dark path that involves dealing with own past while trying to prevent it from catching up with her today. The first part of the book was pretty fast paced and interesting, but the plot seemed to go off the railes the longer the book went on. The repeated confrontations with Clemmie and the coach just seemed to get sadistic after a while and seemed to fall into the trap of sexual assault as a way of moving the plot forward. Without spoiling the ending, I'm still not entirely sure I understand the motivations of each character in the present timeline--particularly with the final confrontation. I did really like the the protagonist with a retiree, which was a nice twist on the thriller genre right now, but one of the things that stuck out to me as old fashioned and kind of tone deaf was an pretty gross anti-abortion comment by the narrator. She makes a throw away comment about not killing the victim that made me go "Yikes" while reading it and then never addresses it again. It made Clemmie less sympathetic and made Cooney seem really judgmental. For a book that repeatedly shows the trauma of sexual assault, the comment was exceptionally uncalled for. Thank you Poisoned Pen Press & NetGalley for a digital ARC in exchange for an honest review.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Vickie

    I was very happy to see that the author of THE FACE ON THE MILK CARTON had written this new book. When I started it, I was a little confused about the name of the protagonist since she called herself Clemmie but her friends at the retirement village called her Helen. One storyline is what happened in her life to make her change her identity. There was also the storyline of Clemmie having a baby and giving Billy up for adoption. The third storyline was about a strange object d’art that Clemmie fi I was very happy to see that the author of THE FACE ON THE MILK CARTON had written this new book. When I started it, I was a little confused about the name of the protagonist since she called herself Clemmie but her friends at the retirement village called her Helen. One storyline is what happened in her life to make her change her identity. There was also the storyline of Clemmie having a baby and giving Billy up for adoption. The third storyline was about a strange object d’art that Clemmie finds in her neighbor’s condo. When she sends the photo to her grandniece and grandnephew, danger seems to come quickly into her life. The final storyline is about this strange glass object and the murder that occurs next door. There are LOTS of characters in this book, including most of Clemmie’s friends in the retirement village plus the people from her past. The story is told in the present and in the past, so that is something else that I had to get used to. I enjoyed the story, but I’m not sure how to classify it. It’s part thriller, part mystery and also could be read and enjoyed equally by adults and young adults. This is a fast-paced book with a lot to remember as you read it, seeming somehow disjointed at times, but it comes all together at the end. Disclaimer Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher via Netgalley. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255, “Guides Concerning the Use of Testimonials and Endorsements in Advertising.”

  26. 5 out of 5

    Aanandika

    What would you think of a book that is set up in a retirement village and features a heroine who is well past her prime? Meet Clemmie or Helen who will dispense all your preconceived notions about who can do what and at what age. Helen had a tragic past and to escape it she changes everything about herself and her life. She chooses to become Clementine and we meet her at a retirement village called Sun City where she is now living in her old age. She has keys to the house of her next door neighb What would you think of a book that is set up in a retirement village and features a heroine who is well past her prime? Meet Clemmie or Helen who will dispense all your preconceived notions about who can do what and at what age. Helen had a tragic past and to escape it she changes everything about herself and her life. She chooses to become Clementine and we meet her at a retirement village called Sun City where she is now living in her old age. She has keys to the house of her next door neighbour Dom- for emergencies. Not having seen him for a day or so,Clemmie goes to investigate about his welfare. She finds the villa almost as if no one has ever lived in there and also finds a glass dragon whose picture she clicks on her phone and shares with her nephew. And like they say all hell breaks loose. The glass piece apparently belongs to a drug dealer who will go to any length to get it back. As he arrives in Sun City, we begin too know more about Clemmie's past- how she was raped and stalked by a man in the 50s, who was later found dead. Why she chose to become Clemmie from being Helen. We also are told about her teenage pregnancy and the fact that she had to give-up the child for adoption. The book tries to do just too much at times juggling the past, present and the characters inhabiting these spaces. Interesting in places and somewhat slow in some, pick up Before she was Helen for the story of the woman who reinvents herself an her life to escape a horrible past. A septuagenarian heroine....I would have never even thought that it was possible to weave a whodunnit with a heroine this special. Thanks NetGalley for the copy.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Sharon C

    This is the first novel I've read by Caroline Cooney, and it was a delight. It's hard to write a review for Before She Was Helen because it's quite a complex novel. First, in answer to the title, before she was Helen, she was Clemmie. Clemmie was a teenager in the 50s; Helen is a Latin teacher living in a retirement village in South Carolina. The novel is written from those two POVs until the two stories come together. In brief, Helen is a good neighbor, so when she hasn't seen her somewhat cree This is the first novel I've read by Caroline Cooney, and it was a delight. It's hard to write a review for Before She Was Helen because it's quite a complex novel. First, in answer to the title, before she was Helen, she was Clemmie. Clemmie was a teenager in the 50s; Helen is a Latin teacher living in a retirement village in South Carolina. The novel is written from those two POVs until the two stories come together. In brief, Helen is a good neighbor, so when she hasn't seen her somewhat creepy neighbor Dom in several days, she uses the emergency key he has given her to check on him. He's not in the house, but during her investigation, Helen discovers an unexpected door in his garage that leads into another neighbor's house.. That neighbor only comes to the retirement village very rarely, so being naturally curious, Helen enters the house to see what it looks like. It's rather stark, but Helen spies what she takes to be a beautiful work of glass art. She takes a picture with her phone, and once home, she sends the picture to her niece and nephew. That begins a twisty tale of murder and drug dealing in her sleepy little retirement village where everybody is in everybody else's business. I loved Clemmie/Helen. She's smart and she suffered some horrible things in her younger years. Her neighbors are also a delightful bunch of busybodies, and a lot of them are keeping some big secrets. Thanks to NetGalley and Poisoned Pen Press for providing me a digital ARC in exchange for an honest review. I thoroughly enjoyed Before She Was Helen, which will be published in May 2020. Thumbs up from me.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Tonstant Weader

    Before She Was Helen is an unmitigated delight. Clemmie has an agreement with her next-door neighbor to check on him every day to avoid an “I’ve fallen and I can’t get up” moment. Dom does not respond to her calls and texts, so she takes the key he gave her and enters his apartment and since his garage leads to the often-absent third household in their triplex, she checks there as well. There she sees an incredibly sparkling sculpture that in her naivete she does not recognize as a bong. She tak Before She Was Helen is an unmitigated delight. Clemmie has an agreement with her next-door neighbor to check on him every day to avoid an “I’ve fallen and I can’t get up” moment. Dom does not respond to her calls and texts, so she takes the key he gave her and enters his apartment and since his garage leads to the often-absent third household in their triplex, she checks there as well. There she sees an incredibly sparkling sculpture that in her naivete she does not recognize as a bong. She takes a picture and shares it with family, unfortunately, since her nephew posts it, discovers it’s been stolen, and she soon has a criminal on her trail. However, there is more to Clemmie than her doting family knows. For instance, her neighbors call her Helen. Is she in witness protection? Is she on the run? What is her story? I could not wait to find out. I loved Before She Was Helen because I love Clemmie. She’s a feisty determined woman who has overcome so much. It’s such an original story. Somehow Cooney is able to make a mystery that has this light cozy feeling despite a seriously grim back story and the very real jeopardy of organized crime in the present. There is the madcap feeling with the golf carts and card games and all the rest of the senior living setting juxtaposed with drug smuggling and murder. Before She Was Helen will be released on September 4th. I received an e-galley from the publisher through NetGalley. Before She Was Helen at Poisoned Pen Press Caroline B. Cooney author site https://tonstantweaderreviews.wordpre...

  29. 4 out of 5

    Kelly-Jo Sweeney

    When this book starts, you could be forgiven for thinking that it's a light-hearted and somewhat fluffy mystery story. You would be wrong. There is a mystery here, in fact, more than one, there's also a cast of interesting characters who all live in some sort of sheltered housing. But that's not all that's going on. I have to admit that the story of Clemmie's life, of what happened to her before she became Helen is really quite sad. In much the same way that the retirement village gives the impre When this book starts, you could be forgiven for thinking that it's a light-hearted and somewhat fluffy mystery story. You would be wrong. There is a mystery here, in fact, more than one, there's also a cast of interesting characters who all live in some sort of sheltered housing. But that's not all that's going on. I have to admit that the story of Clemmie's life, of what happened to her before she became Helen is really quite sad. In much the same way that the retirement village gives the impression that all is nice and happy but that there's much more below the surface, the same can be said for her past. While everyone in the 50's was giving the illusion that all was safe and happy, for some, such as Clemmie, it was far from the case. I really enjoyed this book, both the story of what had been before and what was going on now for Clemmie. It was left so that there could well be a follow on, there's plenty for her still to answer, but whether that will be addressed in a future book or we just assume that it was all forgotten about and swept under the carpet once more, I don't know. Like many reviewers, I had read some of Caroline B. Cooney's books in my early teens. I think that was one of the reasons that I decided to read this one, but I don't know if you should necessarily go into it expecting similar, this is very much for an older reader. Either way, I really enjoyed it. I received a complimentary copy of this book through NetGalley. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Andrea

    More reviews and book-ish content @ Club Book Mobile on FB, Club Book Mobile on IG & Andrea RBK Before She Was Helen is an upcoming release from Caroline Cooney (author of The Girl on the Milk Carton series btw). Clemmie lives in a retirement community. When she hasn't heard from a neighbor in awhile, she goes to check in. He's not home, but she finds this amazing piece of glass art that she shares a picture of with a family member. Doing that sets off a chain of events that she is just not ready More reviews and book-ish content @ Club Book Mobile on FB, Club Book Mobile on IG & Andrea RBK Before She Was Helen is an upcoming release from Caroline Cooney (author of The Girl on the Milk Carton series btw). Clemmie lives in a retirement community. When she hasn't heard from a neighbor in awhile, she goes to check in. He's not home, but she finds this amazing piece of glass art that she shares a picture of with a family member. Doing that sets off a chain of events that she is just not ready for. Clemmie has a past that she's spent a lifetime trying to get away from, and the increased focus on her with this art and missing person is just not what she wants. The story then alternates between what Clemmie has been hiding all these years, as well as what the heck is going on now. This one had a lot of twists and turns, and with those there is some pain. I would give a content warning that part of plot involves sexual assault and stalking. You likely wouldn't know that from the description, and I think it is important to know that going in to make an informed decision on reading. I'll also say that I chose this read I thought it was going to have those "cozy mystery" vibes, but in reality, it had some intense happenings and characters navigating their impacts. The twists did keep me guessing which is what I always dig when reading this genre. Thanks to NetGalley for the early look in exchange for this honest review.

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