by Jamie Beck
Potomac Point - Book 1
Publisher: Montlake Romance
Release Date: June 1, 2020
Reviewed by PJ
The sisters are content leading separate but happy lives in their hometown of Potomac Point until everything is upended by lies that force them to confront unsettling truths about their family, themselves, and each other. For sisters as different as these two, building trust doesn’t come easily—especially with one secret still between them—but it may be the only way to save their family.
Once I began reading this book I was unable to put it down. In fact, I didn't finish it until almost 3:00 AM. Beck draws readers into the heart of a family that has been fractured but still has love at its core. I found the dynamic between sisters Amanda and Erin to be most compelling but each sister's relationship with their mother was also filled with peaks and valleys as were the lingering effects of their relationships with their late father. With unexpected revelations and challenges in each woman's life creating chaos, not to mention intense sibling rivalry, it was anybody's guess if mother and daughters would find a way to mend the wounds that separated them or if they would break them apart for good.
Beck does a beautiful job of creating multi-layered characters who angered and frustrated me at various points during the book while, at others, I found myself empathizing with them and cheering them on. They are well-formed, realistic, and kept me engaged from start to finish. They've all accepted (even reveled in) their roles within the family. Beck uses the unexpected changes in their circumstances to foster introspection and growth which in turn fosters the evolution of their relationships with one another.
This is women's fiction, not romance, though both sisters have romantic relationships, one on the upswing and one headed for disaster. Woven skillfully into the overall story, those relationships do have an impact on who each sister is, who she has been, and who she has the potential to become. It's fascinating to watch how each of them handles chaos and betrayal (not surprisingly, they have very different reactions) and the ultimate impact each situation has on the relationship, or lack thereof, between sisters.
If you're looking for a story filled with fascinating characters, family relationships, a bit of a mystery, and a hopeful ending, tuck a copy of If You Must Know onto your summer reading list. I highly recommend it.
I rolled onto my side with a groan, coming face-to-face with one of my favorite family photos. We’d taken our annual family summer trip to Hilton Head—the one real splurge my dad had made sure we enjoyed every year. We had a tradition of having lunch at a little open-air cabana bar and restaurant called Coco’s on the Beach.
Between the deck and the volleyball court in the sand stood a tall pole with colorful arrow-shaped signs pointing in different directions. Each one was painted with the name of a different city somewhere on the globe, along with the mileage to get there. We’d dream about all the places we might go, and after high school I’d had the chance to see many. In this picture, our whole family is standing around that sign, smiling at the camera. My dad has his hand on my shoulder, and if you look closely, you can see Amanda holding my hand. I must’ve been only five or six—young enough that she hadn’t given up trying to be my second mother. At the time, I’d felt smothered by her attention, but looking back, I’d also felt loved.
I grabbed my phone and called my sister, but it went to voice mail. A heaviness pressed on me, but I couldn’t tell if it was from looking at that picture of our family that would never again be whole or from the fact that I’d disappointed my mom and sister today.
They loved me in their way even if they couldn’t love and accept me as I am. My dad had, though, and to honor his memory and wishes for our family, I couldn’t continue to drift out of their lives as I’d been doing.
After the beep, I said, “Hey, it’s moi. Surprise! My plans have changed and I’ve got a little time. If you get this message, let me know where you are and I’ll try to catch up.”
I hit “End,” my feet restlessly kicking the foot of my bed. The small bedroom seemed claustrophobic, but I didn’t want to talk to Max. Not that I could avoid him in here, either, where his dirty laundry, sandals, and other items lay about. Rather than take a match to it all, I decided to organize some of his things to help with his packing. Hauling myself off the bed, I then went to the armoire to get to the vintage albums my dad had left me in his will.
Some were fairly valuable, like the Beatles collection box set from 1982, valued at roughly a thousand bucks. Or the Led Zeppelin first pressing with the turquoise label, which should net around eight hundred or so dollars. U2’s Joshua Tree collection box set from 1987—maybe worth six or seven hundred. Then there were others worth less than one hundred dollars. But each one had infinite sentimental value.
Every song resurrected a specific memory of time spent with my father playing cards, washing cars, grilling hot dogs … anything. Whatever he’d wanted to do, I’d done with him, and he’d always chosen the perfect background soundtrack for every activity. Those stolen moments had also been a great way to escape my mom’s endless lectures and demands. She’d never yelled at me for skipping out on chores or being messy when I’d been spending that time with him. Probably because he wouldn’t let her.
At present, my restlessness matched the mood of a typical Bob Seger song, so I grabbed Beautiful Loser and slipped the record from its sleeve, resisting the urge to hug it as if it were my dad. I set it on the old turntable he’d also left me. As the few first drumbeats clangored, my heart kicked an extra beat or two—partly happy, partly sad. I glanced toward the bedroom door, picturing Max on the sofa, and then got to work.
It didn’t matter where life led me next. I had faith because my own personal angel was looking out for me now.
Que será, será.
Q&A with Jamie Beck
How do you describe your newest novel If You Must Know?
This book is a “beach book” in the best sense. It’s not angsty, yet it has a page-turning plot and a bunch of interesting, relatable characters. I think it’s entertaining and heartfelt at the same time, which is exactly what many enjoy reading while on vacation.
What inspired the novel?
The external plot came to me as a result of the influence of two people in my life. My dear friend’s husband is a forensic accountant, so some of his stories about how people hide money and flee their families provided one point of inspiration. The second is my mother’s best friend who, in her seventies, sold her house and bought a boat, which she and her husband live on full-time. The impetus for the oil-and-water sisters was to provide myself an opportunity to explore the sibling-rivalry dynamic.
Tell us about the two main characters in the story—sisters Amanda and Erin.
Amanda is the middle child. She’s diligent, earnest, hard-working, and generous. She wants the people she loves to be happy and feel her love. Her weakness is a deep-seated insecurity—a sense that she is not interesting enough to be lovable. This leads her to overlook when she is being taken for granted because her need to be pleasing is omnipresent.
Erin is the baby of the family and her late-father’s pet. She is outgoing, fun-loving, and views her average intelligence as a blessing (rather than lamenting that her siblings are smarter). She is willful and has her own way of moving through the world. The big weakness she has is her impulsiveness, whether with jobs or relationships. As she approaches her 30th birthday, she’s looking to mature and create a more stable life for herself.
What kind of relationship do the sisters have?
I think they share a typical relationship insofar as their differences cause many misunderstandings and instill in each a sense of being judged by the other, and yet they do care about and love each other, too. They simply do not know how to be true friends and trust the other—at least not at the outset of this tale.
This book focused on the main female characters growing and learning about themselves. What prompted this ‘women’s fiction’ approach to the story?
Partly market forces and partly my own need to stretch. At 53, it was becoming more difficult to write a 20-something woman facing the challenges of dating. The shift to women’s fiction allows me to write late-30 and early 40-something characters, which comes more naturally to me. I also enjoy exploring family and friendship dynamics, and absolutely love having endless options for story arcs (as opposed to having to follow a traditional romance arc).
What does your new Potomac Point series have in common with your previous books?
All my books to date have focused on critical relationships and some type of redemption theme. I find damaged people to be very interesting and believe that there is good in most everyone, so I prefer to populate my stories with flawed people who must confront their inner demons in order to be happy. My new books will also focus on relationships and redemption, but the non-romantic relationships (or even the relationship with one’s self) will be more central.
Website - https://jamiebeck.com/
Facebook - https://www.facebook.com/
Twitter - https://twitter.com/