It seems like people either loved this book or hated it. Me? I really liked it and I also hated it, both for the same reason. And I confess, I could not put it down.

Courtesy: Amazon.com

“Tell Me Lies,” which, by the way, has an amazing cover, chronicles the evolution of a toxic relationship over the years in a classic he-said/she-said format.

Let’s start with the big thing many people are saying. The characters are not all that likable.

Stephen is downright despicable. There are no ifs ands or buts about that. In my opinion. (I’m binging on “The Good Wife” right now, about halfway through season 2. Anyway, if you’ve seen it, you know where that comes from.)

I had sympathy for Lucy at the beginning. A naïve little college co-ed hopelessly in love with a (seemingly) sophisticated an older guy.

Described as “‘The Affair’ meets ‘Animal House’ meets your beach bag,” by The Skimm and named summer’s best book by several publications, “Tell Me Lies” is Carola Lovering’s first novel and I can honestly say I’m looking forward to her next effort.

The thing that makes Lovering’s story so good is that it’s relatable. Because we all have some version of THAT guy (ahem, THAT person) in our history. Some more distant than others.

I never understood how women could stay in or go back to unhealthy relationships until I joined their ranks. Now I get it. My version of Stephen is not a bad guy. He was not bad to me. He was bad FOR me.

That’s why I found myself identifying with Lucy on some level. Granted, I have never done coke. Those parties were not part of my college experience, but I will cop to drinking. Also, I never gave up a dream for my version of Stephen although I did isolate myself a bit.

And like Lucy, I was knowingly the other woman and heard much of the same song and dance – the one about me being the one he loved and wanted – from my Stephen. And I believed it for a long time, despite his actions showing me that it wasn’t true.

I didn’t get a first-hand account of us from the point of view of my Stephen. Not like the reader gets in “Tell Me Lies.” Stephen DeMarco is really quite a loathsome individual. All of the synonyms – contemptible, hateful, reprehensible, abhorrent, heinous, abominable – work, too.

Aside from those green eyes of his, which I can only imagine, and his charm, which is utterly calculated and fake, Stephen really has no redeeming qualities. In my opinion.

He’s a textbook sociopath and delights in it. Adept at saying the right words at the time right times, Stephen is deliberately awful to the women in his life. Convinced of his inherent and unassailable (in his mind) desirability. he’s an all-star sexual predator in a sport nobody likes to admit exists. In my opinion.

Stephen might not have physically abused women, but he certainly beat them up mentally. And enjoyed it.

My version of Stephen is not a sociopath, so that’s a plus. But when I was with him, I, like Lucy, was not my best self. I didn’t make the best choices for myself. In my opinion. (And the opinions of everyone who knows me. Just sayin’.)

So, the story of Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds and Stephen is relatable, if extreme (at least in my case). Like I said, most of us have been with THAT person, to some extent anyway.

Lucy grows in the end. It was a hard-fought battle with a formidable opponent, but she comes out the other with greater maturity. Stephen is the same guy he was at the beginning of the story.

As Lucy points out after what is presumably her last encounter with Stephen, you realize certain things when you’re ready to. It can’t happen before that, and, a la “Wizard of Oz,” people telling you the lesson doesn’t help. You have to figure it out for yourself and once you do, it’s like you’ve been fumbling around in a pitch dark room and you’ve finally found the light switch. Of course, what to do with your new realization is not easy, but figuring shit out is the first step in making thing better for yourself.

I have not graduated to Lucy’s level of what counselor friend Melissa Reese (aka The Pursuit Guru and author of  “The Pursuit of Forgiveness” and the upcoming “The Pursuit of More“) would describe as “I nothing you,” in regard to my version of Stephen. It’s still an active decision to steer clear.

I found myself being proud of Lucy at the end of the book. I guess part of me figures that if she can disentangle herself from the toxicity of Stephen DeMarco and find the way forward that’s best for her, there’s hope the rest of us still working on it.

P.S. Something I neglected to mention — it has nothing to do with my review or feelings about this book — is that there’s a 50-50 chance my version of Stephen is reading or has read this post. He won’t like it. But it’s not about him. It’s about me. Rather it’s about the book and why I both liked it and hated it.

P.P.S. In case you were wondering — I certainly would be — none of what I’ve said here should come as a surprise to my version of Stephen. It’s nothing I haven’t told him — tried to explain — on more than one occasion. He never really understood where I was coming from. In my opinion. But that’s OK. Perhaps in his mind, I’m his version of Stephen. It could be true for all I know. Like I said, we all have one.

As for “Tell Me Lies,” would recommend it? Yes. It’s a little too intense for a beach read, in my opinion. But it’s still a good read.

While Lucy is better after her epiphany, she’s not completely healed. That would not be at all realistic. She’s simply ready to work it. Being ready is the first step, sometimes the hardest one.

But we’re all a work in progress. Most of us, anyway.

And that’s just one more thing that makes Lucy particularly relatable at the end of this story.

Actually, it’s more like the beginning of the next chapter of her story.

Get the book: Amazon.com | Barnes & Noble

Note: I bought the Kindle edition of this book on Amazon.com. The opinions expressed are mine alone.