Book Review: Just Like Mother by Anne Heltzel
I received a review copy from the publisher. This does not affect the contents of my review and all opinions are my own.
Mogsy’s Rating: 4 of 5 stars
Series: Stand Alone
Publisher: Nightfire (May 17, 2022)
Length: 320 pages
On the surface, our protagonist Maeve appears to be living her best life. She has a job as an editor at a publisher, doing what she loves. She’s also romantically involved with a guy she really likes, and things seem to be going well there too. Sometimes, even Maeve finds it hard to believe how well-adjusted she’s turned out, considering her traumatic childhood raised among a cult called the Mother Collective. It took a long time, but once she was rescued and adopted into a stable loving family, Maeve was able to learn what it means to feel safe and happy.
But there was one person Maeve could never forget—her cousin and closest childhood Andrea, with whom she lost contact with after the Collective was raided and disbanded by the police. Years ago, on a whim, Maeve decided to send her DNA to an ancestry site, never expecting to find anything, but lo and behold, once day her account inbox alerts her to a match. They had found and connected her with Andrea, who has apparently become rather successful herself. Now a CEO of an up-and-coming tech company called NewLife, Andrea works to produce realistic AI programmed baby dolls to help women prepare for motherhood. After reuniting with Maeve, Andrea confesses that the dolls have also helped her and her husband grieve the loss of their own child.
At first, Maeve is thrilled to have found Andrea again. The two of them spend a lot of time catching up, with Andrea inviting Maeve to stay at her mansion nestled in the Catskills. There, Maeve meets Rob, her cousin’s husband, as well as a couple of their wealthy friends. But then, things suddenly take a turn for the eerie and weird. Maeve discovers a darker side to NewLife, and is horrified when Andrea approaches her with a weighty request—one that she could never agree to, even knowing how much it would upset her cousin.
Just Like Mother is a horror, mystery, and thriller, all rolled into one. Most of the time it’s more disturbing than scary, which is something to keep in mind if you are sensitive to topics such as nonconsensual sex, child abuse, child death, miscarriage, abortion, graphic sex and violence, and whole host of other issues. That said, I didn’t feel as though any of it was done gratuitously or needlessly; they all had their place in the plot, but it’s definitely something to keep in mind.
The things I liked about this book include the story, which was fast-paced and intriguing even if it bordered on absurdity in some places. The background with the Mother Collective was one of the highlights for me, and the trauma that Maeve was subjected to makes her behavior as an adult convincing and believable. But once our protagonist gets involved with Andrea and NewLife, that’s when the plot gets really wild. And yes, there were even some moments that plain don’t make sense. Nevertheless, the suspense was almost unbearable at times, and admittedly the crazier the story got, the more I just wanted to keep reading.
As for negatives, I wish we’d gotten more on the background of the AI dolls, and at the same time I also don’t—dolls creep me the hell out! Every time I see the book cover, I can’t help but shudder. Still, the dolls were a big part of the mystery, but ultimately they probably weren’t as integrated as they could have or should have been. There were also moments where I thought the author was a bit heavy-handed with the messaging around motherhood, and the ending was also a bit farfetched and rushed, but to be clear, I did like how the book wrapped up overall.
At the end of the day, I enjoyed Just Like Mother, flaws and all—though the flaws might not even be considered flaws at all, depending on the individual reader. It’s definitely not a book for everyone, though if you have a strong constitution and are willing to suspense your disbelief, it could work. I highly recommend this for fans of suspenseful dark stories with a cult thriller bent, and would definitely be interested in any future projects by Anne Heltzel.