The Best Of Summer Suspense

Today’s post by our very own Marybeth Whalen | @MarybethWhalen

If you love a good page-turner, then these new releases might be just the thing to read during the last days of summer. So grab a copy and find a nice spot beside the pool.

Those GirlsTHOSE GIRLS by Chevy Stevens

Life has never been easy for the three Campbell sisters. Jess, Courtney, and Dani live on a remote ranch in Western Canada where they work hard and try to stay out of the way of their father’s temper. One night, a fight gets out of hand and the sisters are forced to go on the run, only to get caught in an even worse nightmare when their truck breaks down in a small town. As events spiral out of control they find themselves in a horrifying situation and are left with no choice but to change their names and create new lives.

Eighteen years later, they are still trying to forget what happened that summer. But when one of the sisters goes missing, followed closely by her niece, they are pulled back into the past. And this time there’s nowhere left to run.

With Those Girls Chevy Stevens presents her most visceral thriller yet: an unforgettable portrait of desperation, loyalty, and evil. A story of survival…and revenge.

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The Wrong ManTHE WRONG MAN by Kate White

New York Times bestselling author of Eyes on You and The Sixes delivers a compelling thriller of mistaken identity and psychological suspense about an accomplished career woman who thinks she’s met the man of her dreams—but instead he turns out to be her worst nightmare.

Bold and adventurous in her work as one of Manhattan’s hottest interior decorators, Kit Finn couldn’t be tamer in her personal life. So, while on vacation in the Florida Keys, Kit resolves to do something risky for once. Flirting with Matt Healy—the rugged stranger she literally bumps into at her hotel—is one thing. Going back to his room after their date is another.

Instead, Matt offers to cook her dinner when they’re both back in the city. But when Kit arrives at his luxury apartment ready for the date of a lifetime, who is the man who opens the door?

Kit’s usually so good at reading people. How could she have been taken in by the deceptions of a con man? And why has he targeted her? Piece by piece, Kit realizes that this treachery goes a lot deeper, and gets a lot deadlier. Now the only way out is to expose the vicious puppet master who’s turned her life upside-down.

Adrenaline-charged and filled with harrowing twists at every turn, The Wrong Man will leave readers guessing until the final page.

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The UninvitedTHE UNINVITED by Cat Winters

From the award-winning author of In the Shadow of Blackbirds comes a stunning new novel—a masterfully crafted story of love, loss, and second chances. Set during the fear and panic of the Great Influenza of 1918, The Uninvited is part gothic ghost-story, part psychological thriller, perfect for those who loved The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield or The Vanishing by Wendy Webb.

Twenty-five year old Ivy Rowan rises from her bed after being struck by the flu, only to discover the world has been torn apart in just a few short days.

But Ivy’s life-long gift—or curse—remains.  For she sees the uninvited ones—ghosts of loved ones who appear to her, unasked, unwelcomed, for they always herald impending death. On that October evening in 1918 she sees the spirit of her grandmother, rocking in her mother’s chair. An hour later, she learns her younger brother and father have killed a young German out of retaliation for the death of Ivy’s older brother Billy in the Great War.

Horrified, she leaves home, to discover the flu has caused utter panic and the rules governing society have broken down. Ivy is drawn into this new world of jazz, passion, and freedom, where people live for the day, because they could be stricken by nightfall. But as her ‘uninvited guests’ begin to appear to her more often, she knows her life will be torn apart once more, but Ivy has no inkling of the other-worldly revelations about to unfold.

The Uninvited is an atmospheric, haunting, and utterly compelling novel.

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The Night SisterTHE NIGHT SISTER by Jennifer McMahon

The latest novel from New York Times best-selling author Jennifer McMahon is an atmospheric, gripping, and suspenseful tale that probes the bond between sisters and the peril of keeping secrets.

Once the thriving attraction of rural Vermont, the Tower Motel now stands in disrepair, alive only in the memories of Amy, Piper, and Piper’s kid sister, Margot. The three played there as girls until the day that their games uncovered something dark and twisted in the motel’s past, something that ruined their friendship forever.
Now adult, Piper and Margot have tried to forget what they found that fateful summer, but their lives are upended when Piper receives a panicked midnight call from Margot, with news of a horrific crime for which Amy stands accused. Suddenly, Margot and Piper are forced to relive the time that they found the suitcase that once belonged to Silvie Slater, the aunt that Amy claimed had run away to Hollywood to live out her dream of becoming Hitchcock’s next blonde bombshell leading lady. As Margot and Piper investigate, a cleverly woven plot unfolds—revealing the story of Sylvie and Rose, two other sisters who lived at the motel during its 1950s heyday. Each believed the other to be something truly monstrous, but only one carries the secret that would haunt the generations to come.

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The BarterTHE BARTER by Siobhan Adcock

“Eerie and atmospheric, this psychological thriller will twist its way into readers’ psyches.” —Booklist 

In today’s “lean in” era, debut novelist Siobhan Adcock casts the issue of whether women can ever “have it all” into a superbly written novel that will have readers everywhere talking. Bridget has given up her career to raise her daughter, but now a terrifying presence has entered their Texas home—and only Bridget can feel it. In 1902, motherhood spurs Rebecca to turn her back on her husband, despite her own misgivings.

As Adcock crosscuts these two women’s stories with mounting tension, each arrives at a terrible ordeal of her own making.

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What Has Become of You

WHAT HAS BECOME OF YOU by Jan Elizabeth Watson

What Has Become of You asks: What if a teacher’s most promising pupil is also her most dangerous?

Aspiring writer Vera Lundy hasn’t entirely overcome her own adolescence when she agrees to teach at a tiny private school. A recent murder has already put their small New England town on edge when Vera bonds with a student who’s eerily reminiscent of her younger self. Amid a growing sense of menace, Vera finds herself in the vortex of danger—and suspicion.

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Book Trailer Of The Day: In A Dark, Dark Wood

There has been much discussion about whether or not book trailers work. Do readers like them? Are they effective? Do they sell books? While I can’t answer those questions for anyone else, I can tell you what I think: YES. On all counts. And I found his one so compelling that I’ll be buying a copy of Ruth Ware’s novel, IN A DARK, DARK WOOD the moment I can get to my  local indie bookstore (Parnassus Books, which I love wholeheartedly).

*Email readers can click here to watch the video.

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In A Dark, Dark WoodWhat should be a cozy and fun-filled weekend deep in the English countryside takes a sinister turn in Ruth Ware’s suspenseful, compulsive, and darkly twisted psychological thriller.

Leonora, known to some as Lee and others as Nora, is a reclusive crime writer, unwilling to leave her “nest” of an apartment unless it is absolutely necessary. When a friend she hasn’t seen or spoken to in years unexpectedly invites Nora (Lee?) to a weekend away in an eerie glass house deep in the English countryside, she reluctantly agrees to make the trip. Forty-eight hours later, she wakes up in a hospital bed injured but alive, with the knowledge that someone is dead. Wondering not “what happened?” but “what have I done?”, Nora (Lee?) tries to piece together the events of the past weekend. Working to uncover secrets, reveal motives, and find answers, Nora (Lee?) must revisit parts of herself that she would much rather leave buried where they belong: in the past.

In the tradition of Paula Hawkins’s instant New York Times bestseller The Girl On the Train and S. J. Watson’s riveting national sensation Before I Go To Sleep, this gripping literary debut from UK novelist Ruth Ware will leave you on the edge of your seat through the very last page.

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Author to Author: Mary Kubica and Holly Brown, Part 2

Today’s post by authors Mary Kubica and Holly Brown | @MaryKubica

We’re so happy to be back with part two of our interview between Mary Kubica and Holly Brown. If you missed part one you can read it here. Regardless, make sure you add both novels to your summer reading list. We found the similarities in these novels compelling and we’re certain you will too.

Kubica Brown Collage

Mary: I love reading stories about mothers and motherhood, and this is certainly one of them: the tale of a man and wife unable to have their own children, who decide to bring a baby into their life through adoption. Adrienne craves motherhood. She wants it more than anything else in the world, to the point that her decisions are sometimes rash, and her judgment askew. How did being a mother yourself help you create the character of Adrienne? Did you relate personally to one of the women more than the other: Adrienne or Leah?

Holly: I didn’t always want to have a child, but once that desire kicked in, it was voracious and consuming. I was 35 at the time, and suddenly bombarded by messages about my dwindling fertility. So I tried to draw on what it feels like to want something so badly and to be afraid it’ll never be yours. Then I transposed that to a woman with a rather unique moral compass, and voila, I had Adrienne. I don’t personally relate much to either Adrienne or Leah, but I loved creating their psychologies and motivations.

Mary: Similarly, I’ve read that you’re a marriage and family therapist, and can’t help but wonder what impact, if any, this has on your novels. The characters in A NECESSARY END are certainly not without fault, and they each come with heavy baggage, from the death of parents and siblings, to feelings of abandonment and abuse. Not to imply that your characters are based on patients, but I’m curious as to whether you find inspiration for your novels through your role as a therapist?

Holly: As a therapist, I see people at their best and their worst. They’re at their most vulnerable, and that inspires a lot of empathy, even if they’re behaving badly. So I try to bring that kind of empathy to my novels. I feel for these characters. Because even as they behave badly, I can see the vulnerability underneath.

Mary: I truly enjoyed the distinctive voices in A NECESSARY END – from the serious, pensive moments about motherhood and infertility, to these really smart and hysterical quips (one of my personal favorites: “In a couple of weeks, she’s going to eject a person out of her body.”). It’s terrific and certainly appeals to every one of the reader’s emotions. Is there a style of writing you prefer to write: the serious, heartfelt streams of consciousness, or those witty, sarcastic remarks that had me laughing out loud from time to time? (as a reader, I enjoyed them both immensely!)

Holly: I’m so glad you enjoyed both aspects of the writing! Adrienne really amused me as I wrote her, particularly her initial level of hubris (she gets somewhat humbled throughout the novel.) So I’d say that inhabiting Adrienne when she’s her sassiest was some of my favorite writing, ever.

Mary: Nearly all of these characters are master manipulators seeking a self-serving end result. Was it hard to create these types of personas, while still holding the reader under their spell (which you do brilliantly)?

Holly: I hold a mental health view of manipulation: It’s when people don’t see any direct way to meet their needs and have to resort to the indirect. They might not even know they’re doing it, it’s so underground in their subconscious. My characters just didn’t see any other way to get what they felt they needed. By believing that myself, I sought to make them understandable to the reader (and if not understandable, then compelling nonetheless.)

Mary: About three-fourths of the way through the novel you reveal a huge bombshell of a story-within-the-story, which left me completely stunned. I never saw it coming. You lay the groundwork for this reveal masterfully, and I’m wondering as an author, what is your writing style: do you outline abundantly, or make it up as you go?

Holly: I’m somewhere in between. I have an overall sense of the arc and the plot points, and then I have to figure out chapter by chapter how to get there. My trick is to never look at a blank page. I always make notes at least a few chapters out.

Mary: Without giving too much away, A NECESSARY END certainly has one of those GONE GIRL-type endings that will both shock and appall. Did you know all along how this story would end or did it come as a surprise to even you?

Holly: I knew they were hurtling toward disaster the whole time, but I probably realized about halfway through what the precise nature of that disaster would be. It came to me in a Eureka moment, and I just felt it was intuitively right for this trio.

Mary: What’s next for your writing career? Are you working on another novel? (please say yes!)

Holly: I’m always working on another novel, so yes! (This is my cliffhanger ending.)

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A Necessary EndHow far would you go to get what you wanted? The author of Don’t Try to Find Me returns with a taut, riveting novel of psychological suspense—a domestic drama full of secrets and twists—about a woman determined to have a child, her ambivalent husband, and a pregnant teenager with a secret agenda of her own.

“I know now that there was no other way things could have turned out. Tragedies are inevitable, just like the great love stories, like us.”

Thirty-nine-year-old Adrienne is desperate to be a mother. And this time, nothing is going to get in her way.

Sure, her husband, Gabe, is ambivalent about fatherhood. But she knows that once he holds their baby, he’ll come around. He’s just feeling a little threatened, that’s all. Because once upon a time, it was Gabe that Adrienne wanted more than anything; she was willing to do anything. . . . But that was half a lifetime ago. She’s a different person now, and so is Gabe. There are lines she wouldn’t cross, not without extreme provocation.

And sure, she was bitten once before by another birth mother—clear to the bone—and for most people, it’s once bitten, twice shy. But Adrienne isn’t exactly the retiring type.

At nineteen, Leah bears a remarkable resemblance to the young woman Adrienne once was. Which is why Adrienne knows the baby Leah is carrying is meant to be hers. But Leah’s got ideas of her own: Her baby’s going to get a life in California; why shouldn’t she? All she wants is to live in Adrienne’s house for a year after the baby’s born, and get a fresh start.

It seems like a small price for Adrienne to pay to get their baby. And with Gabe suddenly on board, what could possibly go wrong?

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Author to Author: Mary Kubica and Holly Brown

Today’s post by authors Mary Kubica and Holly Brown | @MaryKubica

We’re delighted to welcome Mary Kubica and Holly Brown to the blog today as part of our “Author to Author” series. Both have gripping new novels out that center around teenage mothers and the families pulled into sway. Mary and Holly have each written domestic dramas that grab you by the throat. So it made perfect sense to have them sit down together and compare notes. Up first Holly Brown interviews Mary Kubica about her second novel, PRETTY BABY.

Kubica Brown Collage

HOLLY: Hi, Mary. Congratulations on your second novel! It is a true page-turner and has some of my favorite elements: delusions, denial, and unreliable narrators. What inspired you?

MARY: Thanks so much, Holly. I’m absolutely thrilled to get the chance to chat with you and to read A NECESSARY END. I truly loved and devoured your novel. It’s such a terrific book, and I’m certain it will be a huge success. Congratulations to you!

The inspiration for PRETTY BABY was really one of necessity, strange as that may sound. I owed my editor a proposal for my second novel, and I had to dig deep to come up with a unique and compelling storyline. After a few unsuccessful ideas and my increasing frustration, out of nowhere it came to me: this image of a homeless teenage girl waiting beside the Chicago L with a baby. I didn’t know what her story would be, but I knew for certain she was the focal point of PRETTY BABY. At once I sat down and crafted what’s now the opening chapter of the novel. From there, the rest of the characters and plotlines came slowly together and I was elated with the way it all worked out. 

HOLLY: In Heidi and Chris’ marriage, they both seem to believe in their defined roles: Heidi is the good person, the concerned citizen, while Chris is about making money; even he seems to think he’s selfish. Was this a false dichotomy in their marriage, in any marriage?

MARY: Heidi and Chris are very different people. She is focused on helping those in need, while Chris obsesses with money: he wants all the money for himself. That said, they are fundamentally good people. They’re also quite complex characters, and their purposes and aspirations change as the novel progresses and they’re faced with difficulties in their life and marriage. I think that most people are generally this way, and that we are more multi-dimensional than we may first lead others to believe.

HOLLY: Heidi thought she had come to terms with having only one child, but when she comes face to face with Willow and baby Ruby, that’s called into question. What does she see in Willow and Ruby? How does it fuel obsession?

MARY: Without giving too much away, Willow and Ruby need Heidi in a way that her own daughter no longer needs her. Heidi is a wonderful mother, who goes over and beyond to make the best decisions for her family. She researches motherhood and her daughter’s emerging adolescence; she worries about the stages of life her Zoe is going through. That said, twelve-year-old Zoe doesn’t want a thing to do with Heidi, and so when suddenly there is a helpless teenage girl and her baby living in Heidi’s home, she becomes quite consumed with their daily care. Here are two people who need Heidi to provide food, clothing, shelter and, in time, emotional support, and this changes Heidi’s life on a dime.

HOLLY: Willow seems both older and younger than sixteen. Do you think that’s the abuse, or her temperament/personality, or an interaction of the two? How did you begin to create the character of Willow?

MARY: I loved creating the character of Willow. She is one who has stuck with me for a long time after finishing the novel. Initially, I set out to make PRETTY BABY solely Heidi and her husband, Chris’s story, but then knew Willow needed a chance to tell her own side of the tale. Willow has a dark past, cycling between loss and abuse, which has left her worse-for-the-wear, so to speak. She doesn’t put her trust in many people, and she has seen much more than any sixteen-year-old child should see. This absolutely makes Willow seem older than her age, and yet there’s a naivety to her that is slowly revealed as we get to know her past: because of her upbringing, Willow lacks much real life experience and has a callowness that is due to the way she was raised and the people in her life.

HOLLY: Because of her childhood experiences, Willow initially appears to see the world as good people and bad people, the abusers and the saviors, but she begins to question whether it’s really so bifurcated. And you’ve created fairly ambiguous characters (for example, without giving too much away, a number of the characters can rationalize that they’re doing something good when others could perceive their actions in a different light.) What’s your take on good, evil, and the in-between?

MARY: Personally, I feel that most people walk a line somewhere in between good and evil. No matter how good we are, we all make bad choices from time to time, or are tempted to do something wrong. That said, the vast majority of people could certainly be classified as good, though it would take a dogged persona to never give in to those cravings and desires at times. Willow does see the world as good and bad with no in-between, and this is absolutely as a result of the way she was raised. It takes some time for her to see that world isn’t quite as simple as that. Good people make bad choices sometimes, and those that are thought of as bad, can also do good things. This is a lesson Willow must learn in PRETTY BABY.  

HOLLY: Money is an implicit theme in the book: the haves and the have nots, the homeless and the privileged. Chris is admittedly very driven by money, which allows Heidi the luxury of not thinking about it much while reaping the benefits. Is money the root of evil, is it power, or is it something else, in the context of this novel?

MARY: In PRETTY BABY, I’d have to say that power is more the root of evil than money. There is certainly a distinction in this novel between the haves and the have-nots, but the most evil of all comes not from Heidi or Chris, but from those who use their authority and the power of manipulation to bring harm to others.

Thank you so much for these intriguing questions, Holly, and to the ladies of She Reads for bringing Holly and me together for this chat! I’ve loved every minute of it.

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Pretty BabyA chance encounter sparks an unrelenting web of lies in this stunning new psychological thriller from national bestselling author Mary Kubica 

She sees the teenage girl on the train platform, standing in the pouring rain, clutching an infant in her arms. She boards a train and is whisked away. But she can’t get the girl out of her head…

Heidi Wood has always been a charitable woman: she works for a nonprofit, takes in stray cats. Still, her husband and daughter are horrified when Heidi returns home one day with a young woman named Willow and her four-month-old baby in tow. Disheveled and apparently homeless, this girl could be a criminal—or worse. But despite her family’s objections, Heidi invites Willow and the baby to take refuge in their home.

Heidi spends the next few days helping Willow get back on her feet, but as clues into Willow’s past begin to surface, Heidi is forced to decide how far she’s willing to go to help a stranger. What starts as an act of kindness quickly spirals into a story far more twisted than anyone could have anticipated.

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Book Trailer of the Day

If you’ve not yet heard of Erika Swyler’s debut novel, THE BOOK OF SPECULATION, you might just be alone. It has been the “it” book this summer and we have no doubt it will hold that title into the fall. And when we ran across this clever book trailer for the novel we couldn’t help but share.

The Book of SpeculationSimon Watson, a young librarian, lives alone in a house that is slowly crumbling toward the Long Island Sound. His parents are long dead. His mother, a circus mermaid who made her living by holding her breath, drowned in the very water his house overlooks. His younger sister, Enola, ran off six years ago and now reads tarot cards for a traveling carnival.

One June day, an old book arrives on Simon’s doorstep, sent by an antiquarian bookseller who purchased it on speculation. Fragile and water damaged, the book is a log from the owner of a traveling carnival in the 1700s, who reports strange and magical things, including the drowning death of a circus mermaid. Since then, generations of “mermaids” in Simon’s family have drowned–always on July 24, which is only weeks away.

As his friend Alice looks on with alarm, Simon becomes increasingly worried about his sister. Could there be a curse on Simon’s family? What does it have to do with the book, and can he get to the heart of the mystery in time to save Enola?

In the tradition of Sara Gruen’s Water for Elephants, Erin Morgenstern’s The Night Circus, and Elizabeth Kostova’s The Historian, The Book of Speculation–with two-color illustrations by the author–is Erika Swyler’s moving debut novel about the power of books, family, and magic.

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Author to Author: The Storms Edition, Part Two

Today’s post by Tiffany Quay Tyson and Vanessa LaFaye | @tqtyson and @VanessaLaFaye

Welcome back to part two of our “storms” interview series with Tiffany Quay Tyson and Vanessa LaFaye. If you missed part one, you can read it here. Up today, Tiffany interviews Vanessa about her novel UNDER A DARK SUMMER SKY. If you haven’t already, don’t forget to add both novels to your “to read” list.

Storms Collage

Vanessa says: I didn’t know what to expect from this exercise, but it’s been so interesting and enjoyable. Tiffany’s book and mine share so many elements, it’s spooky, although they’re different genres and time periods. It’s been fascinating to talk to another author about choices and background. Her questions made me think about things in new ways and reading her book gave me new insights into my own. What a great format!

Tiffany: Your novel takes place during a terrible hurricane in Florida in 1935 and it’s based on an actual event. Racial injustice and class divisions are magnified as the storm hits. I’d like to imagine things would be different today, but I couldn’t help but see parallels to the situation in New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina some 70 years later. Was that something you thought about while you were writing this book?

Vanessa: One of the attractions for me was the relevance of the ‘historical’ events of 1935 to today. Even with all the advances in hurricane tracking technology, a storm like Katrina can still pound the life out of one of our major cities. It’s still the case that survival depends as much on human decision-making as technology. Complacency is deadly in these situations, but the storms behave erratically and evacuations are difficult and costly. Equally, we’d like to think that there has been progress in the rehabilitation of veterans, and there has. Despite this, every day in America approximately 22 former service personnel commit suicide. And when we come to look at improvements in race relations, recent events show how much progress is still to be made. So although I was telling a story from 80 years ago, in many ways it felt very current.

Tiffany: Your book has a large cast of characters, which you manage beautifully. I grew to love many of the characters in your story—Missy the nanny, Henry the war hero, and Doc the traumatized medic, for sure—and I grew to hate a few, as well. But more than just knowing the individual characters, I learned the character of Heron Key, the fictional town where the story takes place. Did you set out to write a novel with a strong sense of place or was it a function of this particular story?

Vanessa: I wouldn’t say that I set out with that intention. I never imagined that I would write a novel set in Florida. My two books of women’s fiction were set in Britain! But once I started writing, it was like finding a huge time capsule in a dusty attic. All my childhood memories came pouring out, straight from my brain to the page, all the sights, smells, tastes, and sounds of Florida. The book turned into a kind of love letter to my home state, much to my surprise. I haven’t lived there for 35 years, but I guess it’s still home, in some ways. But I really believe that I could not have written the book without the perspective and clarity gained from living far away all these years.

Tiffany: In addition to the hurricane, your characters encounter all kinds of violence. A terrifying incident with an alligator early in the book lets us know this is a dangerous place. Yet the worst violence comes at the hands of people. It seems to me the difference between violence in nature and violence in men is that men act with motivation. Nature just is. I found myself thinking about the motivations of the characters who set violent acts in motion in your novel. Some characters were careless, others malicious, others just ignorant. Do you feel like indifference is worse than hatred or better? Is it the same?

Vanessa: Very interesting question. You have to care deeply about someone to hate them. Hatred requires a big commitment of emotion, whereas indifference is the opposite. Just like cold and hot can be mistaken for each other at the extremes, so love and hate can be confused. You hear sometimes that intense love affairs can almost feel like hatred of the other person because the emotion is so consuming. Hatred is a bond, even if it’s malign. Indifference is nothing, it’s a vacuum of emotion, it’s the emptiness, the void. Indifference makes the other person invisible. So I guess that I would say, yes, it is worse than hatred because there is no connection at all. And without that connection, unspeakable things can become normal.

Tiffany: Your book ends with an Epilogue that takes place some time after the main events of the story. I don’t want to offer any spoilers, but I wonder if you could talk about your decision to write the ending that way. I was fully prepared to be left with a lot more questions, and found myself so grateful that you addressed the fates of some of the larger characters. Was that something you’d always planned to do? Or was it something you came to after writing the main story?

Vanessa: Endings are so hard! Although I had decided on all the fates of the characters, when I got to the final scene of destruction it seemed wrong to leave it there. Most readers have shared your opinion, that they were glad to have the Epilogue. I didn’t decide to write it until I had finished writing the main story. I had a lot of factual material about the clean-up after the storm, but it was so grim, and there had been enough grimness already. So I decided to skip to a point in time where the town was getting back on its feet, but still with a long way to go. Maybe it’s sentimental, but I wanted to end on a hopeful note. And it mirrors the opening of the book. At the beginning, we see all the characters preparing for the barbecue. In the Epilogue, they are preparing for the unveiling of the monument. I liked the symmetry of that. And, having asked the reader to invest time in caring about the characters, I felt an obligation to show what happened to them.

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Under A Dark Summer SkyUnder a Dark Summer Sky is a stunning debut novel, at once a love story set in a time of great turmoil and a vivid depiction of a major natural disaster.

Florida, 1935. In Heron Key, relationships are as tangled as the swamp’s mangrove roots. It’s been eighteen long years since Henry went away to war. Still, Missy has waited, cleaning the Kincaids’ house and counting the stars. Now he’s back, but she barely recognizes the desperate, destitute veteran he’s become ― unsure of his future, ashamed of his past. When a white woman is found beaten nearly to death after the Fourth of July barbecue, suspicion falls on him immediately. As tensions rise in the small community, the barometer starts to plummet ― a massive hurricane is on its way.

Based on real historical events,Under a Dark Summer Sky evokes what happens when people, sweating under the weight of their pasts, are tested to the absolute limits of their endurance.

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Author to Author: The Storms Edition, Part One

Today’s post by Tiffany Quay Tyson and Vanessa LaFaye | @tqtyson and @VanessaLaFaye

We’re thrilled to have Tiffany Quay Tyson and Vanessa LaFaye on the blog today as they discuss their novels, THREE RIVERS and UNDER A DARK SUMMER SKY. Both books take place in the South and center around storms that dramatically change the lives of their characters. Enjoy the interview because we’re certain you’ll enjoy the books!

Storms Collage

Tiffany says: I’m gobsmacked by the similarities between Vanessa’s book and my own. The stories are completely different, but there are so many common details. In talking with Vanessa, the reasons for that became clearer. We both grew up in the South, but neither of us wanted to live out our lives there and we haven’t. Even so, we both have a complicated affection for the South. Probably that has something to do with the fruit cobbler, which makes an appearance in both our novels. You cannot turn your back on a place that offers up such good food. Here’s hoping Vanessa and I will trade stories over a hot, bubbling cobbler someday soon. I’ll bring ice cream.

Vanessa: Melody, your main character, has the most bad blood with her mother, Geneva, who is a piece of work!  We see a lot of tenderness with her father, who was no Boy Scout either, but only memories of Geneva.  Do you feel that there is hope for her and Geneva?  Were you tempted to show us the big confrontation between them?  Or is that for us to imagine?

Tiffany: I think there is always hope, but I don’t imagine Geneva and Melody ever having a very warm relationship. By the end of the story, they understand each other a little better. There is more compassion. As for a big confrontation, I think the content of any potential confrontation was revealed over the course of the book and I didn’t want to revisit it in dialogue. I do believe the reader can imagine how such a confrontation might go in the future, but it didn’t feel like part of this story.

Vanessa: Would you describe yourself as a Southern writer, or someone who writes about the South?  And do you intend to set other books there, or was it more about the story than the setting? Do you feel part of the ‘Southern novel’ tradition (whatever that is)?

Tiffany: I left Mississippi when I was just 21, but I can’t seem to stop writing about it. In some ways, I think it’s easier to write about a place when you’ve left it behind. Distance provides perspective. The South is a place with such a fraught history, but also a place with tremendous pride in things like tradition and heritage. Southerners like to put forth this image of being pious and genteel, but there’s an awful lot of violence and corruption and coarseness on display. Those contradictions are interesting and make for good storytelling. Ultimately, though, I don’t think about any of that when I sit down to write. The stories I have to tell just seem to spring up in Southern settings and characters. Maybe that’s what makes a Southern writer. If so, I’d definitely consider myself part of that tradition.

Vanessa: I get asked a lot about my experience of hurricanes, so I’m going to ask you about floods. Have you ever experienced a major natural disaster?  How much of the flood was drawn from life, and how much from research?

Tiffany: Yes, though the flood in the book is purely fictional and is much, much worse than anything I’ve experienced first-hand. Bad weather and terrible storms are a fact of life in Mississippi and in the South in general. Hurricane Camille hit Mississippi the year I was born. Tornadoes destroyed a shopping center and numerous homes in our neighborhood in Jackson. There was tremendous wind and water damage. My mother said she sat in the hallway of our home holding her brand new baby (me!) and willing it to be over. When I was about 10, the Pearl River flooded Jackson on Easter weekend. My cousins were in the path of the worst flooding and so they came to our house to ride out the storm. We hunted eggs indoors that year. It was weirdly festive.

When I was about 20 and working as a reporter for the local paper in Greenwood, Mississippi, there was a terrible flood in the Delta. I was out of town covering a change-of-venue trial. By the time I got back to Greenwood, the roads were mostly clear, but there was still standing water in the fields. I went straight from sitting in a courthouse all day to traipsing around in floodwaters shooting photos of half-submerged churches. Some scenes in the book are pulled from those memories.

Vanessa: I like that you don’t tidy up all the story lines at the end.  I kept wondering about what would happen next with Melody and Obi, the drifter on the run, and Melody and Geneva.  Did you leave the door open for a sequel?  Or is this just because life isn’t tidy and we don’t get all the answers we want?

Tiffany: I’m not planning a sequel. Life isn’t tidy, and I don’t think every question can or should be answered in the course of a novel. However, I did work to answer the big questions, the truly fateful ones. I didn’t want the reader wondering about whether someone lived or died, but I’m okay if they are left to wonder about someone’s ultimate happiness. This story really takes place over the course of three days. There are plenty of memories on the page; the past is revealed, but the future is uncertain. Life is like that, I think.

Vanessa: What is the significance of 1990 for the setting of the book?  Does it have a special meaning for you, or the characters?  It seems like a very specific choice.

Tiffany: It was important for the reader to know we were in a world before cell phones were ubiquitous, before everyone had computers in their homes. My characters don’t have access to the Internet. They aren’t getting storm alerts from gadgets in their pockets. Really, it was not so long ago that someone might be surprised by the weather. It seems impossible today. I chose 1990 specifically because that’s the year I lived in the particular area where the novel is set. That year resonates with me in this setting.

* * *

Three RiversA massive storm was coming straight for Mama’s little plot of land in the Mississippi Delta and there was no way any of them could outrun the weather.

For three years Melody Mahaffey has been on the road, touring as a keyboardist with a terrible Christian pop band she can hardly stand. So when her mother calls, full of her usual dire news and dramatic pronouncements, Melody is relieved to pack her bags and call it quits. But at the sprawling, defunct Three Rivers Farm her family calls home, Melody is shocked to discover her father is dying. Even worse, her mother has abandoned the family, leaving Melody the sole caretaker of her father and brain-damaged brother. Sure that her daughter will do the right thing, Geneva leaves to seek spiritual guidance and break things off with her long-time lover.

Rain begins to fall and an epic flood threatens the Mississippi Delta. While Melody tries to get a handle on the chaos at home, a man and his little boy squat on her land, escaping their own nightmare. Obi is on the run from a horrific mistake, and he’s intent on keeping his son with him at any cost. When the storm arrives, though, they have no choice but to take shelter in Melody’s house. And the waters just keep rising.

A lifetime of lies, misunderstandings and dark secrets bubble to the surface as the flood destroys the land and threatens their lives. Set against the fertile but dangerous landscape of the rural south near the fictional town of White Forest, Mississippi, Three Rivers beautifully weaves together three parallel stories, told over three days, as each character is propelled headlong into the storm.

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Foodie Fiction Roundup

Today’s post by our own Marybeth Whalen | @MarybethWhalen

Are you hungry for a good story? (Sorry… couldn’t resist.) We’ve got some novels that are sure to fill you right up!

The Coincidence of Coconut CakeTHE COINCIDENCE OF COCONUT CAKE by Amy E Reichert

You’ve Got Mail meets How to Eat a Cupcake in this delightful novel about a talented chef and the food critic who brings down her restaurant—whose chance meeting turns into a delectable romance of mistaken identities.

In downtown Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Lou works tirelessly to build her beloved yet struggling French restaurant, Luella’s, into a success. She cheerfully balances her demanding business and even more demanding fiancé…until the morning she discovers him in the buff—with an intern.

Witty yet gruff British transplant Al is keeping himself employed and entertained by writing scathing reviews of local restaurants in the Milwaukee newspaper under a pseudonym. When an anonymous tip sends him to Luella’s, little does he know he’s arrived on the worst day of the chef’s life. The review practically writes itself: underdone fish, scorched sauce, distracted service—he unleashes his worst.

The day that Al’s mean-spirited review of Luella’s runs, the two cross paths in a pub: Lou drowning her sorrows, and Al celebrating his latest publication. As they chat, Al playfully challenges Lou to show him the best of Milwaukee and she’s game—but only if they never discuss work, which Al readily agrees to. As they explore the city’s local delicacies and their mutual attraction, Lou’s restaurant faces closure, while Al’s column gains popularity. It’s only a matter of time before the two fall in love…but when the truth comes out, can Lou overlook the past to chase her future?

Set in the lovely, quirky heart of Wisconsin, The Coincidence of Coconut Cake is a charming love story of misunderstandings, mistaken identity, and the power of food to bring two people together.

The Art of Baking BlindTHE ART OF BAKING BLIND by Sarah Vaughan

There are many reasons to bake: to feed; to create; to impress; to nourish; to define ourselves; and, sometimes, it has to be said, to perfect. But often we bake to fill a hunger that would be better filled by a simple gesture from a dear one. We bake to love and be loved. 

In 1966, Kathleen Eaden, cookbook writer and wife of a supermarket magnate, published The Art of Baking, her guide to nurturing a family by creating the most exquisite pastries, biscuits and cakes. Now, five amateur bakers are competing to become the New Mrs. Eaden. There’s Jenny, facing an empty nest now that her family has flown; Claire, who has sacrificed her dreams for her daughter; Mike, trying to parent his two kids after his wife’s death; Vicki, who has dropped everything to be at home with her baby boy; and Karen, perfect Karen, who knows what it’s like to have nothing and is determined her facade shouldn’t slip.

As unlikely alliances are forged and secrets rise to the surface, making the choicest pastry seems the least of the contestants’ problems. For they will learn–as as Mrs. Eaden did before them–that while perfection is possible in the kitchen, it’s very much harder in life.

Reservations for TwoRESERVATIONS FOR TWO by Hillary Manton Lodge

Food writer-turned-restaurateur Juliette D’Alisa has more than enough on her plate. While her trip to Provence might have unlocked new answers to her grandmother’s past, it’s also provided new complications in the form of Neil McLaren, the man she can’t give up.

Juliette and Neil find romance simple as they travel through Provence and Tuscany together, but life back home presents a different set of challenges. Juliette has a restaurant to open, a mother combating serious illness, and a family legacy of secrets to untangle – how does Neil, living so far away in Memphis, fit into to her life?

As she confronts an uncertain future, Juliette can’t help but wish that life could be as straightforward as her chocolate chip cookie recipe. Can her French grandmother’s letters from the 1940’s provide wisdom to guide her present? Or will every new insight create a fresh batch of mysteries?

The Cake TherapistTHE CAKE THERAPIST by Judith Fertig

Claire “Neely” O’Neil is a pastry chef of extraordinary talent. Every great chef can taste shimmering, elusive flavors that most of us miss, but Neely can “taste” feelings—cinnamon makes you remember; plum is pleased with itself; orange is a wake-up call. When flavor and feeling give Neely a glimpse of someone’s inner self, she can customize her creations to help that person celebrate love, overcome fear, even mourn a devastating loss.

Maybe that’s why she feels the need to go home to Millcreek Valley at a time when her life seems about to fall apart. The bakery she opens in her hometown is perfect, intimate, just what she’s always dreamed of—and yet, as she meets her new customers, Neely has a sense of secrets, some dark, some perhaps with tempting possibilities. A recurring flavor of alarming intensity signals to her perfect palate a long-ago story that must be told.

Neely has always been able to help everyone else. Getting to the end of this story may be just what she needs to help herself.

Recipe for DiasasterRECIPE FOR DISASTER by Stacey Ballis

To an outside observer, Anneke Stroudt is a mess—her shirts are stained, her fingernails stubby, her language colorful. But, despite her flaws, Anneke’s life is close to perfect. She has a beautiful historic house to restore and a loving fiancé who cooks like a dream.
Until Anneke’s charmed existence falls apart when she loses both her job and her future husband in one terrible day. In need of a new start, she packs up her disgruntled schnauzer and moves into her half-finished home, where she throws her pent-up frustration—and what little savings she has—into finishing the renovation.

But at the first step into the house’s overhaul, Anneke is sidetracked when she discovers a mysterious leather-bound book, long hidden away, filled with tempting recipes and steamy secrets from Gemma Ditmore-Smythe, the cook for the house’s original owners. Slowly, with the help of some delicious food and Emma’s life lessons, Anneke begins to realize that, just like a flawless recipe, she’s been waiting for the right ingredients to cook up a perfect life all along…

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Summer Reading Series: Marybeth Whalen

Today’s post by our very own Marybeth Whalen | @MarybethWhalen

Though my TBR list is oh so much longer than this, I didn’t want to overwhelm you, dear readers. So I randomly chose some titles that stood out to me as ones I’m particularly looking forward to reading by the pool, lake, or ocean this summer.

Pretty Baby by Mary Kubica:

I loved The Good Girl, and I expect to love this one too. Nothing fills a day by the water faster than a good page turner.

IMG_0406She sees the teenage girl on the train platform, standing in the pouring rain, clutching an infant in her arms. She boards a train and is whisked away. But she can’t get the girl out of her head…

Heidi Wood has always been a charitable woman: she works for a nonprofit, takes in stray cats. Still, her husband and daughter are horrified when Heidi returns home one day with a young woman named Willow and her four-month-old baby in tow. Disheveled and apparently homeless, this girl could be a criminal—or worse. But despite her family’s objections, Heidi invites Willow and the baby to take refuge in their home.

Heidi spends the next few days helping Willow get back on her feet, but as clues into Willow’s past begin to surface, Heidi is forced to decide how far she’s willing to go to help a stranger. What starts as an act of kindness quickly spirals into a story far more twisted than anyone could have anticipated.

The Truth According to Us by Annie Barrows:

There is just something sweet about the premise of this novel– something that makes me think this story will go down as smooth as a nice cold glass of lemonade on a hot summer day.

IMG_0407In the summer of 1938, Layla Beck’s father, a United States senator, cuts off her allowance and demands that she find employment on the Federal Writers’ Project, a New Deal jobs program. Within days, Layla finds herself far from her accustomed social whirl, assigned to cover the history of the remote mill town of Macedonia, West Virginia, and destined, in her opinion, to go completely mad with boredom. But once she secures a room in the home of the unconventional Romeyn family, she is drawn into their complex world and soon discovers that the truth of the town is entangled in the thorny past of the Romeyn dynasty.

At the Romeyn house, twelve-year-old Willa is desperate to learn everything in her quest to acquire her favorite virtues of ferocity and devotion—a search that leads her into a thicket of mysteries, including the questionable business that occupies her charismatic father and the reason her adored aunt Jottie remains unmarried. Layla’s arrival strikes a match to the family veneer, bringing to light buried secrets that will tell a new tale about the Romeyns. As Willa peels back the layers of her family’s past, and Layla delves deeper into town legend, everyone involved is transformed—and their personal histories completely rewritten.

A Window Opens by Elisabeth Egan:

I am a huge fan of stories that involve a main character learning to balance family life. Perhaps it is because that’s what I try to do every day and these stories make me see I’m not the only one?? Whatever the reason, I look forward to diving into this one.

IMG_0408In A Window Opens, Elisabeth Egan brings us Alice Pearse, a compulsively honest, longing-to-have-it-all, sandwich generation heroine for our social-media-obsessed, lean in (or opt out) age. Like her fictional forebears Kate Reddy and Bridget Jones, Alice plays many roles (which she never refers to as “wearing many hats” and wishes you wouldn’t, either). She is a mostly-happily married mother of three, an attentive daughter, an ambivalent dog-owner, a part-time editor, a loyal neighbor, and a Zen commuter. She is not: a cook, a craftswoman, a decorator, an active PTA member, a natural caretaker, or the breadwinner. But when her husband makes a radical career change, Alice is ready to lean in—and she knows exactly how lucky she is to land a job at Scroll, a hip young start-up which promises to be the future of reading, with its chain of chic literary lounges and dedication to beloved classics. The Holy Grail of working mothers—an intellectually satisfying job and a happy personal life—seems suddenly within reach.

Despite the disapproval of her best friend, who owns the local bookstore, Alice is proud of her new “balancing act” (which is more like a three-ring circus) until her dad gets sick, her marriage flounders, her babysitter gets fed up, her kids start to grow up, and her work takes an unexpected turn. Fans of I Don’t Know How She Does It, Where’d You Go Bernadette, and The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry will cheer as Alice realizes the question is not whether it’s possible to have it all, but what does she—Alice Pearse—really want?

The Summer of Good Intentions by Wendy Francis:

You have to have your requisite beach read in the pile, and this is the one that’s beckoning to me the loudest this summer.

IMG_0405Cape Cod summers are supposed to remain reassuringly the same, but everything falls apart when three sisters and their families come together for their annual summer vacation—and they are carrying more secrets than suitcases.

Maggie is the oldest. She feels responsible for managing the summer house and making sure everything is as it always has been. But she’s hurt that her parents’ recent divorce has destroyed the family’s comfortable summer routines, and her own kids seem to be growing up at high speed. Is it too late to have another baby?

Jess is the middle sister. She loves her job but isn’t as passionate about her marriage. She’s not sure she can find the courage to tell Maggie what she’s done—much less talk to her husband about it.

Virgie is the youngest, her dad’s favorite. She’s always been the career girl, but now there’s a man in her life. Her television job on the west coast is beyond stressful, and it’s taking its toll on her—emotionally and physically. She’s counting on this vacation to erase the symptoms she’s not talking about.

The Herington girls are together again, with their husbands and kids, for another summer in the family’s old Cape Cod house. When their mother, Gloria, announces she’s coming for an unscheduled visit—with her new boyfriend—no one is more surprised than their father, Arthur, who has not quite gotten over his divorce. Still, everyone manages to navigate the challenges of living grown-up lives in close quarters, until an accident reveals a new secret that brings everyone together in heartbreak…and then healing.

The Rumor by Elin Hilderbrand:

It’s just not summer without an Elin Hilderbrand inspired mental vacation to Nantucket. I’m hoping to actually get there one of these days, but for now I will satisfy myself with her enthralling “almost as good as the real thing” books.

IMG_0404Nantucket writer Madeline King couldn’t have picked a worse time to have writer’s block. Her deadline is looming, her bills are piling up, and inspiration is in short supply. Madeline’s best friend Grace, is hard at work transforming her garden into the envy of the island with the help of a ruggedly handsome landscape architect. Before she realizes it, Grace is on the verge of a decision that will irrevocably change her life. Could Grace’s crisis be Madeline’s salvation? As the gossip escalates, and the summer’s explosive events come to a head, Grace and Madeline try desperately to set the record straight–but the truth might be even worse than rumor has it.




* * *

About Marybeth’s novels:

Marybeth Collage

Marybeth’s most recent novel is THE BRIDGE TENDER, a surprising love story set in her favorite location, Sunset Beach, North Carolina.

A surprise gift from her late husband will give a young widow the chance to do the hardest thing in the world . . . move on.

On their honeymoon, the new Mr. & Mrs. Ryan Shaw made a pact: No matter the sacrifices along the way, one day they would return to Sunset Beach, North Carolina―this time to buy their own home.

But that dream was not to be. Seven years into a beautiful marriage, Emily is left a widow, heartbroken, and way past caring about anything.

Until a man approaches her, claiming to have something left to her from Ryan. Something secret.

Unsure if she can ever embrace a new life without her husband, but even less sure about continuing to stay where she is, Emily heads to the coast to keep her end of the promise she once made.

Without delay, she becomes immersed in the lives of the locals, including the reclusive bridge tender with an unexpected past. As the community debates over building a new bridge, Emily must decide whether she will build a bridge of her own, one that will take her out of a painful past and into the new life―and new love―that her lost love made possible.


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Summer Reading Series: Pamela Moses

Today’s post by Pamela Moses

Today’s guest is Pamela Moses, author of THE APPETITES OF GIRLS. We think her theory on the power of summer reading (as well as her summer reading list) is rather profound. There is nothing like a novel you fall in love with during a warm dreamy days afternoon we hope you find at least one book this summer that you will love for the rest of your life.

Summer Reading Series

When the honeysuckle blooms near my house in early June, I am ten years old again, having lost myself completely in ON THE BANKS OF PLUM CREEK, by Laura Ingalls Wilder, one of my favorite books of girlhood. I can still hear the neighbor’s mower buzzing in the distance and the lazy insects tapping against my window screens. I can feel the humid air that has settled over me like a blanket as I sprawl across my bed. A great book, no matter where or when we read it, draws us into the imagined world it creates, but the books I have read during the long, languorous days of summer often stay with me in a different way: I remember not only the book itself but the very experience of reading it. Perhaps something opens in us in summertime: the cares of busier seasons diminish, allowing everything that is magical in this world—the chatter of birds in early morning, the dance of moonlight on the ocean, the ache of reaching the final chapters of a beloved book—to fill us more completely.

This summer Harper Lee’s GO SET A WATCHMAN will be released. I remember first reading TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD in the summer after seventh grade, most of it in our backyard hammock under the shade of two large oaks. I was captivated by Scout and by Lee’s writing, so what a treat it will be to fall under Lee’s spell once again in this pseudo-sequel to TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD.

I also look forward, this summer, to reading Alyson Richman’s novella, A SPLENDID GIFT. I have always loved THE LITTLE PRINCE, so this imagined tale of its author and his romantic affair intrigues me. Besides, summer reading should always include a good love story!

Recently I began Anthony Doerr’s gorgeously written ALL THE LIGHT WE CANNOT SEE, and in the coming weeks I will be savoring the remainder of this novel set during World War II. There is so much any writer of fiction can learn from Doerr’s brilliant storytelling, so the unhurried days of summer are the perfect time for making my way slowly through this book, allowing myself to linger over sentences and reread sections as I go.

I will likely return to Thornton Wilder’s OUR TOWN before summer’s end. It is a play I adore and revisit again and again. The earnestness of its characters and the play’s reminder to cherish what is beautiful and ephemeral in this life always makes me a little teary. And life as it is lived in Grover’s Corners in the early 1900’s seems a bit closer to home with the slower rhythm of summertime.

These books and others will be packed with me for the beach or read under the shady limbs of a good tree. In some way, they will become a part of me, and perhaps the memories of reading them in the warm months of summer will stay with me for years to come.

* * *

The Appetites of GirlsFor the audience that made Commencement a New York Times bestseller comes a novel about women making their way in the world.

Four young women are thrown together as roommates freshman year in college: Ruth, Francesca, Opal, and Setsu. Each is striving to overcome struggles from childhood and find her true self.

Tormented by self-doubt, Ruth is coddled by her immigrant mother, who uses food to soothe and control her. Defiant Francesca believes her heavy frame shames her Park Avenue family; to provoke them, and to protect herself, she consumes everything in sight. Opal longs to be included in her glamorous, adventure-seeking mother’s dinner dates—until a disturbing encounter forever changes her desires. Finally, Setsu, a promising violinist, staves off conflict with her jealous older brother by allowing him to take away the choicest morsels from her plate—and from her future.

As their stories and appetites collide, these women make a pact to maintain their friendships into adulthood—but each must first find strength and her way in the world.

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