‘Once upon a time, when her dad married Sage’s mom, Daisy was thrilled to get a bright and shiny new sister. But Sage was beautiful and popular, everything Daisy was not, and she made sure Daisy knew it.
Sage didn’t have Daisy’s smarts–she had to go back a grade to enroll in the fancy rich-kid school. So she used her popularity as a weapon, putting Daisy down to elevate herself. After the divorce, the stepsisters’ rivalry continued until the final, improbable straw: Daisy married Sage’s first love, and Sage fled California.
Eighteen years, two kids and one troubled marriage later, Daisy never expects–or wants–to see Sage again. But when the little sister they have in common needs them both, they put aside their differences to care for Cassidy. As long-buried truths are revealed, no one is more surprised than they when friendship blossoms.
Their fragile truce is threatened by one careless act that could have devastating consequences. They could turn their backs on each other again… or they could learn to forgive once and for all and finally become true sisters of the heart.’
Today is my stop on the blog tour for The Stepsisters by Susan Mallery! I really enjoyed this book and its look at family dynamics and the relationship between sisters, and how it isn’t up to marriage, blood or otherwise to define what sisters mean to each other.
The Stepsisters first introduces the reader to Daisy, who is married (before husband, Jordan, decides to suggest otherwise), has two young children, and an inheritance from her late mother that means she is able to live a comfortable life in a large home and employ a housekeeper to look after things when she’s at work or otherwise can’t be at home. This is quite the contrast to the life of her stepsister, Sage, who she meets again after many years apart, and who has a string of divorces and her savings all tied up in expensive designer handbags (for a good reason). Then there’s Cassidy, the youngest of the three, who actively hates Daisy and finds herself forced to live with her to recuperate from serious injuries gained when trying to retreat from human feelings. Having been thrown together as children when Daisy’s father married Sage’s mother, the two have never got along, and while Cassidy – the result of said marriage – is sister to them both, the machinations of some of the adults in their lives has led to her being a real friend to neither.
As the book progresses, it becomes very clear that the damage done to the relationship between Daisy, Sage and Cassidy hasn’t been done by them, but by the adults in their lives who should have known better. In various ways, they have been blaming themselves and each other for the breakdown of their parents’ marriage, and unable to have any sort of relationship with each other because those who should have been more responsible and ultimately better parents were more focused on their own needs and feelings. Daisy’s father seems the more passively responsible for various issues, though this is not to say that he is not manipulative, for even now he continues to try and turn Daisy into the daughter he wants her to be. I could write a lot more about Joanne than I already have a little further on, but, frankly, her treatment of Daisy, Sage and Cassidy is despicable and if there were to be a real villain of the piece, I would say it was her. That the adults in their lives were unable and unwilling to communicate when they were children has had a huge impact on each of the women, particularly in Sage and Cassidy’s inability to deal with emotions and their lack of confidence in themselves in any professional capacity, and it is perhaps their closer proximity to Joanne that has resulted in what read like deeper wounds. This is not to say that Daisy has escaped the situation without harm, as she too likes to sidestep her feelings and constantly compares her physical appears to Sage’s, believing she is less than she is. Combined with a need to serve others, it seems that Daisy is trying to avoid the mistakes of the past with her own children and make up for the breakdown in her relationship with Cassidy when she tried to play mother to her.
I found Jordan’s behaviour towards Daisy incredibly manipulative in what seems like a very deliberate manner from the beginning. He refuses to communicate with his wife and makes decisions based solely on his needs, while blaming her for the choices that he is making. It appears apparent very early on that he is determined to make their inevitable divorce her fault in the eyes of others and is intent on provoking her through a series of accusations, ‘changes of heart’ and trying to tear her down. Rather than address his own feelings and failings, he pushes them onto her, claiming that she should fully understand why he feels as he does without giving her any actual information or explaining himself. Though he claims to care for his children, he has absolutely no problem with hurting their mother and playing games with her state of emotional and mental health, seemingly unable to understand (or too selfish to care) that, by doing so, he also stands to hurt them. His selfishness is echoed in Joanne’s treatment of both her daughters, as she too is unable to put them – or anyone else – first. From the way the story unfolds, it’s easy to forget that Cassidy is her daughter, as there is next to no evidence that she cares for her at all, seeing her perhaps only as a reminder of a marriage that she is still bitterly angry about the breakdown of. She is willing to use Sage as a way to hurt Daisy and her own ex-husband, and is uninterested in the lives of her children, only really paying attention when there might be something that she can gain from their respective situations.
It was lovely to see Daisy, Sage and Cassidy gradually unravel all that happened to them as children and begin to see past their misconceptions of each other (and themselves). Daisy is the most responsible and the one who I would suggest holds the three together, but is also the one who feels that her child self failed and that she is the cause of the divorce of their parents, feelings that have been capitalised on by Sage and Cassidy’s mother. Each of them is envious of the others in more ways than one, whether it be for perceived intellect, lifestyle or appearance, and while I do wish that Daisy had stopped comparing herself to Sage in this last respect, they eventually begin to realise that much of what they think of each other has more to do with what they have been told to think and childhood misunderstandings and immaturities than the truth. Sage’s journey to realising what she wants for herself and who she wants to be feels particularly satisfying, especially as she seems ignorant of her talents for much of the book. To see the sisters becoming sisters by choice and despite the meddling of others is the best feature of the story.
The Stepsisters was published on May 25th and is available now in a variety of formats! Thank you to Mills & Boon for my copies of the book and for the opportunity to be part of the blog tour!