A disgraced chef rediscovers her passion for food and her roots in this stunning novel rich in culture and full of delectable recipes.
French-born American chef Sophie Valroux had one dream: to be part of the 1% of female chefs running a Michelin-starred restaurant. From spending summers with her grandmother, who taught her the power of cooking and food, to attending the Culinary Institute of America, Sophie finds herself on the cusp of getting everything she’s dreamed of.
Until her career goes up in flames.
Sabotaged by a fellow chef, Sophie is fired, leaving her reputation ruined and confidence shaken. To add fuel to the fire, Sophie learns that her grandmother has suffered a stroke and takes the red-eye to France. There, Sophie discovers the simple home she remembers from her childhood is now a luxurious château, complete with two restaurants and a vineyard. As Sophie tries to reestablish herself in the kitchen, she comes to understand the lengths people will go to for success and love, and how dreams can change.
I love a good foodie book. I love a book about a woman who is struggling to achieve her goals in life and has to reevaluate her plans. I love a good recipe or two. This book had all three of these things and it didn’t disappoint. It was a touching story of a young women who tries to figure out her next steps in life by getting in touch with her past and her original love of cooking.
The writing was smooth and easy to devour. I loved the story and the fact that Sophie had to fight with herself in order to move forward. The family dynamic was equally as beautiful if not traditional.
The #1 New York Times bestselling author of The Sinner brings another hot adventure of true love and ultimate sacrifice in the Black Dagger Brotherhood world.
The location of the glymera’s notorious prison camp was lost after the raids. When a freak accident provides Nyx clues to where her sister may still be doing time, she becomes determined to find the secret subterranean labyrinth. Embarking on a journey under the earth, she learns a terrible truth—and meets a male who changes everything forever.
The Jackal has been in the camp for so long he cannot recall anything of the freedom he once knew. Trapped by circumstances out of his control, he helps Nyx because he cannot help himself. After she discovers what happened to her sister, getting her back out becomes a deadly mission for them both.
United by a passion they can’t deny, they work together on an escape plan for Nyx—even though their destiny is to be forever apart. And as the Black Dagger Brotherhood is called upon for help, and Rhage discovers he has a half-brother who’s falsely imprisoned, a devious warden plots the deaths of them all…even the Brothers.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
J.R. Ward is the author of more than thirty novels, including those in her #1 New York Times bestselling Black Dagger Brotherhood series. There are more than fifteen million copies of her novels in print worldwide, and they have been published in twenty-six different countries around the world. She lives in the South with her family.
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Sneak Peek at THE JACKAL:
Western New York State, Present Day
The whole “life is a highway” metaphor was so ubiquitous, so overused, so threadbare and torn-patched, that as Nyx sat in the passenger side of a ten-year-old station wagon, and stared at the moonlit asphalt trail cutting through brush and bramble in west-ern New York State, she wasn’t thinking a damn thing about how sim-ilar the course of roads and lives could be: You could get sweet-sailing easy declines of coasting. Bad, bumpy, rough patches that rattled your teeth. Uphill hauls that you thought would never end. Bored stretches between far-apart exits.
And then there were the obstacles, the ones that came from out of nowhere and carried you so far off your planned trip that you ended up in a completely different place.
Some of these, both in the analogy and in fact, had four legs and a kid named Bambi.
“Watch out!” she yelled as she clapped a hand on the steering wheel and took control.
Too late. Over the screeching of tires, the impact was sickeningly soft, the kind of thing that happened when steel hit flesh, and her sister’s response was to cover her eyes and tuck in her knees.
Not helpful considering Posie was the one with the access to the brake pedal. But also completely in character.
The station wagon, being an inanimate object set into motion, had no brain of its own, but plenty of motivation from the sixty-two miles an hour they’d been going. As such, the old Volvo went bucking bronco as they left the rural byway, its stiff, cumbersome body heaving into a series of hill-and-dale dance moves that had Nyx hitting her head on the padded roof even though she was belted in.
The headlights strobed what was in front of the car, the beams point-and-shooting in whatever direction and angle the front grille hap-pened to be thrown in. For the most part, there was just a leafy morass of bushes, the green, spongy territory a far better outcome than she would have predicted.
That all changed.
Like a creature rising out of the depths of a lake, something brown, thick, and vertical was teased in the verdant light show, disappearing and reappearing as the shafts of illumination willy’d-their-nilly around.
Oh, shit. It was a tree. And not only was the arboreal hard-stop an immovable object, it was as if a steel crank-chain ran between its thick trunk and the undercarriage of the station wagon.
If you’d steered for a collision course, you couldn’t have done a better job.
Inevitable covered it.
Nyx’s only thought was for her sister. Posie was braced in the driv-er’s seat, her arms straight out, fingers splayed, like she was going to try to push the tree away—
The impact was like being punched all over the body, and there must have been a crunch of metal meeting wood, but with the airbags deploy-ing and the ringing in Nyx’s ears, she couldn’t hear much. Couldn’t breathe well. Couldn’t seem to see.
Hissing. Dripping. Burned rubber and something chemical.
Someone was coughing. Her? She couldn’t be sure.
“I’m okay, I’m okay . . .”
Nyx rubbed her stinging eyes and coughed. Fumbling for the door, she popped the release and shoved hard against some kind of resistance. “I’m coming around to help you.”
Assuming she could get out of the damn car.
Putting her shoulder into the effort, she forced the door through something fluffy and green, and the payback was that the bush barged in, expanding into the car like a dog that wanted to sniff around.
She fell out of her seat and rolled onto the scruff. All-four’ing it for a spell, she managed to get up on to her feet and steady herself on the roof as she went around to the driver’s side. Peeling open Posie’s door, she released the seat belt.
“I got you,” she grunted as she dragged her sister out.
Propping Posie against the car, she cleared the blond hair back from those soft features. No blood. No glass in the perfect skin. Nose was still straight as a pin.
“You’re okay,” Nyx announced.
“What about the deer?”
Nyx kept the curses to herself. They were about ten miles from home, and what mattered was whether the car was drivable. No offense to Mother Nature and animal-lovers anywhere, but that four-legged scourge of the interstate was low on her list of priorities.
Stumbling to the front, she shook her head at the damage. A good two feet of the hood—and, therefore, engine—was compressed around a trunk that had all the flexibility of an I beam, and she was hardly an automotive expert, but that had to be incompatible with vroom-vroom, home safe.
“Shit,” she breathed.
“What about the deer?”
Closing her eyes, she reminded herself about the birth order. She was the older, responsible one, black-haired and brusque like their father had been. Posie was the blond, good-hearted youngest, who had all the warmth and sunny nature that their mahmen had possessed.
And the middle?
She couldn’t go down the Janelle rabbit hole right now.
Back over at her open door, Nyx leaned in and moved the deflated airbag out of the way. Where was her phone? She’d put it in a cupholder after she’d texted their grandfather as they’d left Hannaford. Great. Nowhere to be found—
Bracing her hand on the seat, she went down into the wheel well. And got a palm full of bad news.
The screen was cracked and the unit dark. When she tried to fire the thing up, it was a no go. Straightening, she looked over the ruined hood. “Posie, where is your—”
“What?” Her sister was focused on the road that was a good fifty yards away, her stick-straight hair tangled down her back. “Huh?”
“Your phone. Where is it?”
Posie glanced over her shoulder. “I left it at home. You had yours, so I just, you know.”
“You need to dematerialize back to the farmhouse. Tell grandfather to bring the tow truck and-”
“I’m not leaving here until we take care of that deer.”
“Posie, there are too many humans around here and—”
“It’s suffering!” Tears glistened. “And just because it’s an animal doesn’t mean its life doesn’t matter.”
“Fuck the deer.” Nyx glared across the steaming mess. “We need to solve this problem now—”
“I’m not leaving until—”
“—because we have two hundred dollars of groceries melting in the back. We can’t afford to lose a week’s worth of—”
“—we take care of that poor animal.”
Nyx swung her eyes away from her sister, the crash, the crap she had to fix so goddamn Posie could continue to give her heart out to the world and worry about things other than how to pay the rent, keep food on the table, and make sure they had such exotic luxuries as electricity and running water.
When she trusted herself to look back without hurling a bunch of be-practical f-bombs at her fricking sister, she saw absolutely no change in Posie’s resolve. And this was the problem. A sweet nature, yes. That annoying, bleeding-heart, emphatic bullcrap, yes. Iron will? When it came it down to it, boatloads.
That female was not budging on the deer thing.
Nyx threw up her hands and cursed—loudly.
Back in the car. Opening the glove box. Taking out the nine milli-meter handgun she kept there for emergencies.
As she came around the rear of the station wagon, she eyed the re-usable grocery bags. They were crammed up against the bench seat as a result of the crash, and it was a good news/bad news situation. Any-thing breakable was done for, but at least the cold items were clois-tered together, united in a fight against the eighty-degree August night.
“Oh, thank you, Nyx.” Posie clasped her hands under her chin like she was doing a devotional. “We’ll help the—wait, what are you doing with the gun?”
Nyx didn’t stop as she passed by, so Posie grabbed her arm. “Why do you have the gun?”
“What do you think I’m going to do to the damn thing? Give it CPR?”
“No! We need to help it—”
Nyx put her face into her sister’s and spoke in a dead tone. “If it’s suffering, I’m going to put it down. It’s the right thing to do. That is the way I will help that animal.”
Posie’s hands went to her face, pressing into cheeks that had gone pale. “It’s my fault. I hit the deer.”
“It was an accident.” Nyx turned her sister around to face the station wagon. “Stay here and don’t look. I’ll take care of it.”
“I didn’t mean to hurt the—”
“You’re the last person on the planet who’d intentionally hurt any-thing. Now stay the hell here.”
The sound of Posie softly crying escorted Nyx back toward the road. Following the tire gouges in the dirt and the ruined foliage, she found the deer about fifteen feet away from where they’d veered off—
Nyx stopped dead in her tracks. Blinked a couple of times. Considered vomiting.
It wasn’t a deer.
Those were arms. And legs. Thin ones, granted, and covered with mud-colored clothes that were in rags. But nothing about what had been struck was animal in nature. Worse? The scent of the blood that had been spilled was not human.
It was a vampire.
They’d hit one of their own.
Nyx ran over to the body, put the gun away, and knelt down. “Are you okay?”
Dumbass question. But the sound of her voice roused the injured, a horrific and horrified face turning up to her.
It was a male. A pretrans male. And oh, God, the whites of both his eyes had gone red, although she couldn’t tell whether it was because of the blood running down his face or some kind of internal brain injury. What was clear? He was dying.
“Help . . . me . . .” The thin reedy voice was, interrupted by weak coughing. “Out of . . . prison . . . hide me . . .”
“Nyx?” Posie called out. “What’s happening?”
For a split second, Nyx couldn’t think. No, that was a lie. She was thinking, just not about the car, the groceries, the kid who was dying, or her hysterical sister.
“Where,” Nyx said urgently. “Where’s the camp?”
Maybe after all these years . . . she could find out where Janelle had been taken.
“Daisy Edgar-Jones and Alison Steadman team up as a fun, quirky grandmother and granddaughter pair in this lively narration…The two narrators, each portraying her respective character’s point of view, are a perfect match.” —AudioFile Magazine This program is read by British actors Alison Steadman and Daisy Edgar-Jones, star of Hulu’s Normal People.
A grandmother and granddaughter swap lives in The Switch, a charming, romantic novel by Beth O’Leary, who has been hailed as “the new Jojo Moyes” (Cosmopolitan UK)…
When overachiever Leena Cotton is ordered to take a two-month sabbatical after blowing a big presentation at work, she escapes to her grandmother Eileen’s house for some long-overdue rest.
Eileen is newly single and about to turn eighty. She’d like a second chance at love, but her tiny Yorkshire village doesn’t offer many eligible gentlemen.
So they decide to try a two-month swap.
Eileen will live in London and look for love. She’ll take Leena’s flat, and learn all about casual dating, swiping right, and city neighbors. Meanwhile Leena will look after everything in rural Yorkshire: Eileen’s sweet cottage and garden, her idyllic, quiet village, and her little neighborhood projects.
But stepping into one another’s shoes proves more difficult than either of them expected. Will swapping lives help Eileen and Leena find themselves…and maybe even find true love? In Beth O’Leary’s The Switch, it’s never too late to change everything….or to find yourself.
A Macmillan Audio production from Flatiron Books
“The Switch brilliantly encompasses all the humor and whimsy of The Flatshare while delving into emotional topics like grief and the importance of watching out for neighbors.” — Booklist, starred review
“A cozy, hopeful escape that will make readers laugh, cry, and feel inspired.” — Kirkus, starred review
This was such a fun book to listen to. I love audio books but haven’t been listening to them as often as I usually do. When Netgalley released audio books for review on their platform, I jumped at the chance.
The narrators, Alison Steadman and Daisy Edgar-Jones, were phenomenally casted as the grandmother and granddaughter duo of this book. I know that listening to a book at 1x the speed is good for some people, but that was very slow for this book. Depending on where I was and how I was listening to this, I listened at 1.75x or 2.0x the speed. This is the norm for me.
The story line was wonderful. I love the idea of taking a break to figure out your life, no matter what your age. The fact that these two women jumped into the lives and routines of the other was just superb.
I highly recommend listening to this book if not reading it.
Do not hesitate to grab this book now or on its’ release day. I love Catherine McKenzie’s books and this was perfection. I found it amazing how quickly I can read a book when I am enjoying it and absorbed in the story.
I am not sure if i even knew the plot of this and I recommend that you go into without knowing too much. I have changed the format of this post for that reason. I was hooked from page one and gasped my way to the end.
I gave this book 5 crowns.
Description from the Publishers through Netgalley
A riveting new novel of suspense about a disgraced young journalist caught up in a grifter’s game, and the trail of identically named victims she uncovers, from the instant bestselling author of I’ll Never Tell and The Good Liar.
Assumed identities. A con game. Unwitting victims.
After being fired from her investigative journalism job for plagiarism, Jessica Williams is looking for a break from the constant press coverage. She decides to escape for a week to a resort in Mexico boasting no connections to the outside world. While waiting at the airport for her flight, she encounters a woman with the exact same name, who she dubs Jessica Two. Drawn together by the coincidence, they play a game of twenty questions to see what other similarities they share, and exchange contact information.
A week later, Jessica returns home and discover that large cash withdrawals have been made from her bank account. Security footage from the bank confirms her suspicions—Jessica Two has stolen her money. She goes to the police, only to be told that the crime is a low priority. Frustrated, she meets up with a trusted old friend, Liam, who is an investigator. When the two Google “Jessica Williams,” they get thousands of hits—Jessica was the most popular girl’s name in 1990 and Williams is almost as ubiquitous as Smith. Convinced that this isn’t the first time this scam has been run, Jessica is determined to catch the imposter, and writes a Facebook post hoping to chase down some of Jessica Two’s other victims. When she gets a number of responses, she sets a plan in motion to catch the thief, encountering a string of identically named victims along the way.
Then, the threatening messages start arriving.
Filled with incredible twists and turns, You Can’t Catch Me is a tantalizing, character-driven exploration of how far people will go to get revenge.
In The Night Swim, a new thriller from Megan Goldin, author of the “gripping and unforgettable” (Harlen Coben) The Escape Room, a true crime podcast host covering a controversial trial finds herself drawn deep into a small town’s dark past and a brutal crime that took place there years before.
Ever since her true-crime podcast became an overnight sensation and set an innocent man free, Rachel Krall has become a household name—and the last hope for people seeking justice. But she’s used to being recognized for her voice, not her face. Which makes it all the more unsettling when she finds a note on her car windshield, addressed to her, begging for help.
The new season of Rachel’s podcast has brought her to a small town being torn apart by a devastating rape trial. A local golden boy, a swimmer destined for Olympic greatness, has been accused of raping the beloved granddaughter of the police chief. Under pressure to make Season 3 a success, Rachel throws herself into her investigation—but the mysterious letters keep coming. Someone is following her, and she won’t stop until Rachel finds out what happened to her sister twenty-five years ago. Officially, Jenny Stills tragically drowned, but the letters insist she was murdered—and when Rachel starts asking questions, nobody in town wants to answer. The past and present start to collide as Rachel uncovers startling connections between the two cases—and a revelation that will change the course of the trial and the lives of everyone involved.
Electrifying and propulsive, The Night Swim asks: What is the price of a reputation? Can a small town ever right the wrongs of its past? And what really happened to Jenny?
I could not put this book down! It was fantastic. Yes, the subject matter was dark and uncomfortable to read but this was the perfect suspenseful, mystery/ thriller. I loved the podcast aspect of this book; it was so well done. The rave reviews that Sadie received for the YA genre that utilized podcasts in its’ story line, I would give 100 fold to this book! As soon as I finished the book, I wanted to listen to the podcast (non-existent) and see what the next season would be about (Megan Goldin, could you please write a follow up about Rachel and the next season of her podcast?)
I gave this book 5 crowns.
About the Author
About the Author
MEGAN GOLDIN worked as a correspondent for Reuters and other media outlets where she covered war, peace, international terrorism and financial meltdowns in the Middle East and Asia. She is now based in Melbourne, Australia where she raises three sons and is a foster mum to Labrador puppies learning to be guide dogs. The Escape Room was her debut novel.
Q & A with the Author
Q&A with Megan Goldin
THE NIGHT SWIM
1. Your previous novel, The Escape Room, was set in the world of Wall Street high stakes investment banking. How did you decide to set your next book in a seaside resort community?
For me, part of the pleasure of writing is to explore characters, places, issues and even writing styles. When I finished writing The Escape Room, I was interested in expanding my horizons as a writer rather than embarking on a new novel that would tread similar ground to The Escape Room. I’d been reading about several sexual assault cases going through the courts and I was interested in exploring some of the issues in my fiction. Not just about sexual assault itself but about the judicial process and the effects of it on families. As for my choice of location, my process is that I sit down and start writing, and let the story unravel in a very organic way. So when I started writing The Night Swim, the setting sort of chose itself!
2. Rachel, the main character in The Night Swim, hosts a true crime podcast. Are you a fan of those types of podcasts yourself? Why do you think they’re so popular these days?
I love podcasts and I listen to them often, while exercising, cooking and driving. Of course among the podcasts that I enjoy most are true crime podcasts although I also enjoy history podcasts and current affairs podcasts as well. True crime podcasts are popular because people are fascinated by the dark side of human nature. Like many podcast listeners, I became a fan after listening to Serial. I quickly became addicted to other podcasts as well. The biggest problem right now with true crime podcasts, and podcasts in general, is that there are so many fantastic ones around. I wish I had more time to listen to them all.
3. What made you decide to write the book from a dual point of view? Did that make it easier or more challenging to explore the parallel storylines?
It’s actually quite challenging writing from multiple points-of-view as each narrative has its own ‘voice’ and style so it’s quite a complicated process. I often start my writing day by spending the first couple of hours just reading back on the previous chapters of that particular point-of-view so that I can get the ‘voice’ back of the character before I start writing.
4. Are courtroom scenes difficult to write? How do you keep the energy or tension up?
I’ve read novels and watched movies with terrific courtroom scenes over the years. When done well, powerful courtroom scenes are among the most memorable scenes in films and books. So I have to admit that I rubbed my hands with glee when I had the opportunity to write the courtroom chapters. It’s almost as if I’d been working towards writing those chapters my entire life!
5. The tight-knit town in the story is torn apart over charges that the town’s “golden boy” brutally attacked a young woman. Were there any real-life cases you drew from to tell this story?
There wasn’t any specific cases that I based the novel on but there were many sexual assault cases that had been in the news over the years that I had read about. Many of them left a deep impression. When I started writing The Night Swim, I went back and read courtroom transcripts from some of these cases as well as other cases that came up in my research. I also read, watched and spoke with as many people as I could in order to get an insider view of what happens when these cases are brought to court.
6. The parallel storyline involves someone (Hannah) leaving mysterious notes for Rachel, begging her to investigate their sister’s death from decades ago. Why was their approach so secretive, and at first, vaguely threatening?
Hannah had a traumatic childhood because of what happened to her mother and sister. She never really recovered from those childhood traumas so she was understandably wary about whether her story would be taken seriously. She was a fan of Rachel’s podcast and she truly believed that Rachel would get justice for her sister if she only knew what had happened, but she also knew that she needed to find a way to connect with Rachel and get her attention. Following Rachel, and leaving messages for her was her way of connecting. Hannah was so focused on getting to the truth about what happened to her sister that she didn’t realize that it might be perceived as threatening.
7. The Night Swim looks at how sexual assault victims who come forward often face an equally traumatic ordeal with the investigation and publicity. How did you portray this with sympathy and care, while still keeping the pages turning?
I tend to put myself in my characters shoes when I write so I found it emotionally gruelling to write some of the chapters related to sexual assault in The Night Swim. I felt an enormous obligation to be as accurate as possible about what sexual assault survivors and their families go through. So I did as much research as possible and wrote, rewrote, edited and re-edited those scenes many times over. I did my very best to write it with the respect and sympathy that the subject matter deserves as it’s a truly harrowing trauma that affects people for the rest of their lives.
8. A nightingale makes regular appearances throughout the book. Are you a bird lover yourself? What made you include that in the story?
As part of my research, I’d read about the Greek myth of Philomela. She was raped and then silenced when her tongue was cut out and eventually turned into a nightingale. There are various interpretations of the story but some suggest that the silencing of Philomela symbolises the silencing of women over the centuries. So that’s how the nightingale found its way into the book. As for whether I’m a bird lover: I’m living in Australia right now and we have magnificent wild parrots and rainbow lorikeets which are the most stunning rainbow colored birds that live in the trees by my house. We’re currently locked down due to coronavirus so it’s somewhat liberating watching the beautiful Australian birds fly around freely even if we are stuck at home.
9. I hear you just got a new puppy to help you and your family get through the lockdown in Melbourne. Tell us about her!
I jokingly call her our lockdown puppy but in truth we’d been thinking of getting a puppy for a long time. She is a Labrador puppy and we were lucky to get her because in Australia there is such a demand for dogs right now that there are few rescue dogs available and pedigree breeders have multi-year waiting lists. My beloved Lab cross died of cancer a few years ago and I’d been waiting until my kids were old enough to get a new puppy. I volunteer to care for temporary guide dog puppies so our new puppy was always going to be a Lab of some description. They are beautifully natured dogs although they spend the first year tearing the house apart as they chew everything in sight. My last Lab ate books from cover to cover. With the pressures of the lockdown and the effect it has on kids, it’s a welcome distraction for my kids to have a puppy to help raise.
Excerpt from The Night Swim by Megan Goldin
It was Jenny’s death that killed my mother. Killed her as good as if she’d been shot in the chest with a twelve-gauge shotgun. The doctor said it was the cancer. But I saw the will to live drain out of her the moment the policeman knocked on our screen door.
“It’s Jenny, isn’t it?” Mom rasped, clutching the lapel of her faded dressing gown.
“Ma’am, I don’t know how to tell you other than to say it straight.” The policeman spoke in the low-pitched melancholic tone he’d used moments earlier when he’d pulled up and told me to wait in the patrol car as its siren lights painted our house streaks of red and blue.
Despite his request, I’d slipped out of the back seat and rushed to Mom’s side as she turned on the front porch light and stepped onto the stoop, dazed from being woken late at night. I hugged her withered waist as he told her what he had to say. Her body shuddered at each word.
His jaw was tight under strawberry blond stubble and his light eyes were watery by the time he was done. He was a young cop. Visibly inexperienced in dealing with tragedy. He ran his knuckles across the corners of his glistening eyes and swallowed hard.
“I’m s-s-sorry for your loss, ma’am,” he stammered when there was nothing left to say. The finality of those words would reverberate through the years that followed.
But at that moment, as the platitudes still hung in the air, we stood on the stoop, staring at each other, uncertain what to do as we contemplated the etiquette of death.
I tightened my small, girlish arms around Mom’s waist as she lurched blindly into the house. Overcome by grief. I moved along with her. My arms locked around her. My face pressed against her hollow stomach. I wouldn’t let go. I was certain that I was all that was holding her up.
She collapsed into the lumpy cushion of the armchair. Her face hidden in her clawed-up hands and her shoulders shaking from soundless sobs.
I limped to the kitchen and poured her a glass of lemonade. It was all I could think to do. In our family, lemonade was the Band-Aid to fix life’s troubles. Mom’s teeth chattered against the glass as she tilted it to her mouth. She took a sip and left the glass teetering on the worn upholstery of her armchair as she wrapped her arms around herself.
I grabbed the glass before it fell and stumbled toward the kitchen. Halfway there, I realized the policeman was still standing at the doorway. He was staring at the floor. I followed his gaze. A track of bloody footprints in the shape of my small feet was smeared across the linoleum floor.
He looked at me expectantly. It was time for me to go to the hospital like I’d agreed when I’d begged him to take me home first so that I could be with Mom when she found out about Jenny. I glared at him defiantly. I would not leave my mother alone that night. Not even to get medical treatment for the cuts on my feet. He was about to argue the point when a garbled message came through on his patrol car radio. He squatted down so that he was at the level of my eyes and told me that he’d arrange for a nurse to come to the house as soon as possible to attend to my injured feet. I watched through the mesh of the screen door as he sped away. The blare of his police siren echoed long after his car disappeared in the dark.
The nurse arrived the following morning. She wore hospital scrubs and carried an oversized medical bag. She apologized for the delay, telling me that the ER had been overwhelmed by an emergency the previous night and nobody could get away to attend to me. She sewed me up with black sutures and wrapped thick bandages around my feet. Before she left, she warned me not to walk, because the sutures would pop. She was right. They did.
Jenny was barely sixteen when she died. I was five weeks short of my tenth birthday. Old enough to know that my life would never be the same. Too young to understand why.
I never told my mother that I’d held Jenny’s cold body in my arms until police officers swarmed over her like buzzards and pulled me away. I never told her a single thing about that night. Even if I had, I doubt she would have heard. Her mind was in another place.
We buried my sister in a private funeral. The two of us and a local minister, and a couple of Mom’s old colleagues who came during their lunch break, wearing their supermarket cashier uniforms. At least they’re the ones that I remember. Maybe there were others. I can’t recall. I was so young.
The only part of the funeral that I remember clearly was Jenny’s simple coffin resting on a patch of grass alongside a freshly dug grave. I took off my hand-knitted sweater and laid it out on top of the polished casket. “Jenny will need it,” I told Mom. “It’ll be cold for her in the ground.”
We both knew how much Jenny hated the cold. On winter days when bitter drafts tore through gaps in the patched-up walls of our house, Jenny would beg Mom to move us to a place where summer never ended.
A few days after Jenny’s funeral, a stone-faced man from the police department arrived in a creased gabardine suit. He pulled a flip-top notebook from his jacket and asked me if I knew what had happened the night that Jenny died.
My eyes were downcast while I studied each errant thread in the soiled bandages wrapped around my feet. I sensed his relief when after going through the motions of asking more questions and getting no response he tucked his empty notebook into his jacket pocket and headed back to his car.
I hated myself for my stubborn silence as he drove away. Sometimes when the guilt overwhelms me, I remind myself that it was not my fault. He didn’t ask the right questions and I didn’t know how to explain things that I was too young to understand.
This year we mark a milestone. Twenty-five years since Jenny died. A quarter of a century and nothing has changed. Her death is as raw as it was the day we buried her. The only difference is that I won’t be silent anymore.
A single streak of white cloud marred an otherwise perfect blue sky as Rachel Krall drove her silver SUV on a flat stretch of highway toward the Atlantic Ocean. Dead ahead on the horizon was a thin blue line. It widened as she drove closer until Rachel knew for certain that it was the sea.
Rachel glanced uneasily at the fluttering pages of the letter resting on the front passenger seat next to her as she zoomed along the right lane of the highway. She was deeply troubled by the letter. Not so much by the contents, but instead by the strange, almost sinister way the letter had been delivered earlier that morning.
After hours on the road, she’d pulled into a twenty-four-hour diner where she ordered a mug of coffee and pancakes that came covered with half-thawed blueberries and two scoops of vanilla ice cream, which she pushed to the side of her plate. The coffee was bitter, but she drank it anyway. She needed it for the caffeine, not the taste. When she finished her meal, she ordered an extra-strong iced coffee and a muffin to go in case her energy flagged on the final leg of the drive.
While waiting for her takeout order, Rachel applied eye drops to revive her tired green eyes and twisted up her shoulder-length auburn hair to get it out of her face. Rachel was tying her hair into a topknot when the waitress brought her order in a white paper bag before rushing off to serve a truck driver who was gesticulating angrily for his bill.
Rachel left a larger than necessary tip for the waitress, mostly because she felt bad at the way customers hounded the poor woman over the slow service. Not her fault, thought Rachel. She’d waitressed through college and knew how tough it was to be the only person serving tables during an unexpected rush.
By the time she pushed open the swinging doors of the restaurant, Rachel was feeling full and slightly queasy. It was bright outside and she had to shield her eyes from the sun as she headed to her car. Even before she reached it, she saw something shoved under her windshield wiper. Assuming it was an advertising flyer, Rachel abruptly pulled it off her windshield. She was about to crumple it up unread when she noticed her name had been neatly written in bold lettering: Rachel Krall (from the Guilty or Not Guilty podcast).
Rachel received thousands of emails and social media messages every week. Most were charming and friendly. Letters from fans. A few scared the hell out of her. Rachel had no idea which category the letter would fall into, but the mere fact that a stranger had recognized her and left a note addressed to her on her car made her decidedly uncomfortable.
Rachel looked around in case the person who’d left the letter was still there. Waiting. Watching her reaction. Truck drivers stood around smoking and shooting the breeze. Others checked the rigging of the loads on their trucks. Car doors slammed as motorists arrived. Engines rumbled to life as others left. Nobody paid Rachel any attention, although that did little to ease the eerie feeling she was being watched.
It was rare for Rachel to feel vulnerable. She’d been in plenty of hairy situations over the years. A month earlier, she’d spent the best part of an afternoon locked in a high-security prison cell talking to an uncuffed serial killer while police marksmen pointed automatic rifles through a hole in the ceiling in case the prisoner lunged at her during the interview. Rachel hadn’t so much as broken into a sweat the entire time. Rachel felt ridiculous that a letter left on her car had unnerved her more than a face-to-face meeting with a killer.
Deep down, Rachel knew the reason for her discomfort. She had been recognized. In public. By a stranger. That had never happened before. Rachel had worked hard to maintain her anonymity after being catapulted to fame when the first season of her podcast became a cultural sensation, spurring a wave of imitation podcasts and a national obsession with true crime.
In that first season, Rachel had uncovered fresh evidence that proved that a high school teacher had been wrongly convicted for the murder of his wife on their second honeymoon. Season 2 was even more successful when Rachel had solved a previously unsolvable cold case of a single mother of two who was bashed to death in her hair salon. By the time the season had ended, Rachel Krall had become a household name.
Despite her sudden fame, or rather because of it, she deliberately kept a low profile. Rachel’s name and broadcast voice were instantly recognizable, but people had no idea what she looked like or who she was when she went to the gym, or drank coffee at her favorite cafe, or pushed a shopping cart through her local supermarket.
The only public photos of Rachel were a series of black-and-white shots taken by her ex-husband during their short-lived marriage when she was at grad school. The photos barely resembled her anymore, maybe because of the camera angle, or the monochrome hues, or perhaps because her face had become more defined as she entered her thirties.
In the early days, before the podcast had taken off, they’d received their first media request for a photograph of Rachel to run alongside an article on the podcast’s then-cult following. It was her producer Pete’s idea to use those dated photographs. He had pointed out that reporting on true crime often attracted cranks and kooks, and even the occasional psychopath. Anonymity, they’d agreed, was Rachel’s protection. Ever since then she’d cultivated it obsessively, purposely avoiding public-speaking events and TV show appearances so that she wouldn’t be recognized in her private life.
That was why it was unfathomable to Rachel that a random stranger had recognized her well enough to leave her a personalized note at a remote highway rest area where she’d stopped on a whim. Glancing once more over her shoulder, she ripped open the envelope to read the letter inside:
I hope you don’t mind me calling you by your first name. I feel that I know you so well.
She recoiled at the presumed intimacy of the letter. The last time she’d received fan mail in that sort of familiar tone, it was from a sexual sadist inviting her to pay a conjugal visit at his maximum-security prison.
Rachel climbed into the driver’s seat of her car and continued reading the note, which was written on paper torn from a spiral notebook.
I’m a huge fan, Rachel. I listened to every episode of your podcast. I truly believe that you are the only person who can help me. My sister Jenny was killed a long time ago. She was only sixteen. I’ve written to you twice to ask you to help me. I don’t know what I’ll do if you say no again.
Rachel turned to the last page. The letter was signed: Hannah. She had no recollection of getting Hannah’s letters, but that didn’t mean much. If letters had been sent, they would have gone to Pete or their intern, both of who vetted the flood of correspondence sent to the podcast email address. Occasionally Pete would forward a letter to Rachel to review personally.
In the early days of the podcast, Rachel had personally read all the requests for help that came from either family or friends frustrated at the lack of progress in their loved ones’ homicide investigations, or prisoners claiming innocence and begging Rachel to clear their names. She’d made a point of personally responding to each letter, usually after doing preliminary research, and often by including referrals to not-for-profit organizations that might help.
But as the requests grew exponentially, the emotional toll of desperate people begging Rachel for help overwhelmed her. She’d become the last hope of anyone who’d ever been let down by the justice system. Rachel discovered firsthand that there were a lot of them and they all wanted the same thing. They wanted Rachel to make their case the subject of the next season of her podcast, or at the very least, to use her considerable investigative skills to right their wrong.
Rachel hated that most of the time she could do nothing other than send empty words of consolation to desperate, broken people. The burden of their expectations became so crushing that Rachel almost abandoned the podcast. In the end, Pete took over reviewing all correspondence to protect Rachel and to give her time to research and report on her podcast stories.
The letter left on her windshield was the first to make it through Pete’s human firewall. This piqued Rachel’s interest, despite the nagging worry that made her double-lock her car door as she continued reading from behind the steering wheel.
It was Jenny’s death that killed my mother [the letter went on]. Killed her as good as if she’d been shot in the chest with a twelve-gauge shotgun.
Though it was late morning on a hot summer’s day and her car was heating up like an oven, Rachel felt a chill run through her.
I’ve spent my life running away from the memories. Hurting myself. And others. It took the trial in Neapolis to make me face up to my past. That is why I am writing to you, Rachel. Jenny’s killer will be there. In that town. Maybe in that courtroom. It’s time for justice to be done. You’re the only one who can help me deliver it.
The metallic crash of a minibus door being pushed open startled Rachel. She tossed the pages on the front passenger seat and hastily reversed out of the parking spot.
She was so engrossed in thinking about the letter and the mysterious way that it was delivered that she didn’t notice she had merged onto the highway and was speeding until she came out of her trancelike state and saw metal barricades whizzing past in a blur. She’d driven more than ten miles and couldn’t remember any of it. Rachel slowed down, and dialed Pete.
No answer. She put him on auto redial but gave up after the fourth attempt when he still hadn’t picked up. Ahead of her, the widening band of blue ocean on the horizon beckoned at the end of the long, flat stretch of highway. She was getting close to her destination.
Rachel looked into her rearview mirror and noticed a silver sedan on the road behind her. The license plate number looked familiar. Rachel could have sworn that she’d seen the same car before over the course of her long drive. She changed lanes. The sedan changed lanes and moved directly behind her. Rachel sped up. The car sped up. When she braked, the car did, too. Rachel dialed Pete again. Still no answer.
“Damn it, Pete.” She slammed her hands on the steering wheel.
The sedan pulled out and drove alongside her. Rachel turned her head to see the driver. The window was tinted and reflected the glare of the sun as the car sped ahead, weaving between lanes until it was lost in a sea of vehicles. Rachel slowed down as she entered traffic near a giant billboard on a grassy embankment that read: WELCOME TO NEAPOLIS. YOUR GATEWAY TO THE CRYSTAL COAST.
Neapolis was a three-hour drive north of Wilmington and well off the main interstate highway route. Rachel had never heard of the place until she’d chosen the upcoming trial there as the subject of the hotly anticipated third season of Guilty or Not Guilty.
She pulled to a stop at a red traffic light and turned on the car radio. It automatically tuned into a local station running a talkback slot in between playing old tracks of country music on a lazy Saturday morning. She surveyed the town through the glass of her dusty windshield. It had a charmless grit that she’d seen in a hundred other small towns she’d passed through over her thirty-two years. The same ubiquitous gas station signs. Fast-food stores with grimy windows. Tired shopping strips of run-down stores that had long ago lost the war with the malls.
“We have a caller on the line,” the radio host said, after the final notes of acoustic guitar had faded away. “What’s your name?”
“What do you want to talk about today, Dean?”
“Everyone is so politically correct these days that nobody calls it as they see it. So I’m going to say it straight out. That trial next week is a disgrace.”
“Why do you say that?” asked the radio announcer.
“Because what the heck was that girl thinking!”
“You’re blaming the girl?”
“Hell yeah. It’s not right. A kid’s life is being ruined because a girl got drunk and did something dumb that she regretted afterward. We all regret stuff. Except we don’t try to get someone put in prison for our screw-ups.”
“The police and district attorney obviously think a crime has been committed if they’re bringing it to trial,” interrupted the host testily.
“Don’t get me wrong. I feel bad for her and all. Hell, I feel bad for everyone in this messed-up situation. But I especially feel bad for that Blair boy. Everything he worked for has gone up in smoke. And he ain’t even been found guilty yet. Fact is, this trial is a waste. It’s a waste of time. And it’s a waste of our taxes.”
“Jury selection might be over, but the trial hasn’t begun, Dean,” snapped the radio announcer. “There’s a jury of twelve fine citizens who will decide his guilt or innocence. It’s not up to us, or you, to decide.”
“Well, I sure hope that jury has their heads screwed on right, because there’s no way that anyone with a shred of good old-fashioned common sense will reach a guilty verdict. No way.”
The caller’s voice dropped out as the first notes of a hit country-western song hit the airwaves. The announcer’s voice rose over the music. “It’s just after eleven A.M. on what’s turning out to be a very humid Saturday morning in Neapolis. Everyone in town is talking about the Blair trial that starts next week. We’ll take more callers after this little tune.”
Charlotte spotted the letter as soon as she stepped into her office. There was no reason it should have caught her eye. The desk was littered with papers and envelopes. Stacks of manuscripts and books filled the shelves of the small cubicle and spilled over onto the two chairs. Certainly the airmail envelope didn’t make it stand out. Most of the books she published were American editions of European works, and a good deal of her mail arrived in those tissue-thin blue envelopes. The only explanation for its attracting her attention was that she’d already gone through her morning mail and the afternoon delivery hadn’t yet arrived. Perhaps the letter had gone to another editor by mistake, and he or she had left it on Charlotte’s
desk while she was upstairs in the art department. Or perhaps the mailroom had overlooked it in the morning sorting.
Gibbon & Field was a prestigious publishing house, but a certain loucheness lurked behind the scenes. That was the fault of Horace Field, the publisher. He was too forgiving, or perhaps only cannily manipulative. She’d had her earliest inkling of the trait the first Christmas after she’d come to work at the house. Leaving the office one evening at the same time, she and Horace had entered the elevator together to find a young man from the production depart- ment struggling to balance two or three oversize art books and several of a more conventional trim size. When he saw Horace, he colored an unhappy Christmas red.
“I see you’ve taken our ads to heart, Seth,” Horace said. “‘There’s a book for everyone on your Christmas list.’”
The young man turned a deeper red and shot out of the elevator as soon as the doors opened. That was un- usual. The staff usually deferred to Horace getting on and off elevators, and everywhere else.
“Are you going to take the books out of his salary?” she’d asked as they’d followed him across the lobby.
“Not on your life.”
“It would teach him a lesson.”
“The only lesson I want to teach him, Charlie, is to work his tail off for the greater glory of G&F.”
Paris Never Leaves You
“And you think encouraging him to walk out the door with an armful of purloined books will do that?”
“I think the next time he asks for a raise and doesn’t get it, he’ll remember all the books he’s filched and feel guilty, or at least compensated. Same with the expense accounts the editors and travelers turn in. They think they’re stealing me blind, but a guilty conscience breeds contrition. Maybe even loyalty. They feel they owe the house something in return. That’s why I worry about you. Those expense accounts you file are a travesty. If the other editors get wind of them, they’ll never forgive you for spoiling the game.”
Horace’s philosophy permeated the entire publishing house from the grand larceny of the production depart- ment, run by a man rumored to have ties to the Mafia, to the petty pilfering and general slacking off of the mail- room. That must be why the letter had been delivered late. And the timing was the only reason she noticed it. It had nothing to do with a sixth sense, in which she defi- nitely did not believe.
She sat behind the desk and picked up the envelope. Her name and the G&F address were written, not typed. The handwriting wasn’t familiar. There was no return ad- dress on the upper left-hand corner. She turned it over. As soon as she saw the name, she realized why she hadn’t recognized the handwriting. When had they put anything
in writing? No, that wasn’t true. He’d written her once, a year or so after the end of the war. The letter had taken months to wind its way through the Drancy records and the various agencies to reach her in New York. She’d taken solace in that. He didn’t know where she was, and he was still in Germany. She’d never answered that letter. The return address on this one was Bogotá, Colombia. So he’d got out after all. She was glad. She was also relieved. South America was still a long distance away.
What troubled her was not where he was but that now he knew where she was. She’d thought she’d been so careful. Neither her address nor her telephone num- ber was listed in the book. The people who had tried to help her settle into her new life—social workers and do- gooders from various refugee organizations; her colleagues here and at other publishing houses; Horace Field’s wife, Hannah—had found the omission foolish and antisocial. “How do you expect to make a life for yourself in a new country,” Hannah had asked, “if no one can find you?” Charlotte hadn’t argued with her. She’d merely gone on paying the small fee to be unlisted. Gradually Hannah and everyone else had stopped asking and chalked it up to what she’d been through. No one, including Hannah, knew what that was, but that didn’t stop them from spec- ulating.
She wasn’t much easier to find in the office, though
Paris Never Leaves You
apparently he’d managed. Her name didn’t appear in the list of editors that ran down the left-hand side of the company stationery. Most publishing houses didn’t list editors on the stationery but that was another of Horace Field’s peculiar indulgences. A year after she’d come to work at G&F, he’d asked if she wanted to be included.
“Think of it as a sop,” he’d said.
“A sop?” She spoke four languages, could read two others, and had taken her degree at the Sorbonne in English literature, but in those days she was still having trouble with some American slang.
“Compensation for the slave wages we pay you.”
“At least you didn’t suggest I make up the difference by stealing books,” she’d said, and added that she didn’t want her name on the stationery but thanked him all the same. Nonetheless, despite her absence in the phone book and on the company stationery, her name did occasion- ally turn up in acknowledgments in the books she worked on. And my gratitude to Charlotte Foret for steering my vessel safely through the turbulent waters of American publishing. My thanks to Charlotte Foret, who first saw that a book about the Dutch Golden Age written by a Dutchman would appeal to American audiences. The question was how he’d managed to get his hands on a US edition in Europe, or now South America. The various consulates had libraries to spread the American gospel among the local populations, but the books she published rarely spread the American gospel. Nonetheless, he must have found one. Or else he’d tracked her down through a refugee agency. Once in America, she’d distanced herself from the émigré or immigrant or refugee—choose your term—groups, but she’d had to file the usual papers and obtain the necessary documents to get here. She was traceable.
This is an interesting take on a World War II story and the aftermath for a mother and daughter. This has alternating timelines between Paris during the War and American after. The setting for the novel is mainly in a bookshop or a publishing house although that isn’t really the focus of the book.
The main plot is really built around the relationship between a mother and her daughter. How far will a mother go to protect her child and what secrets will she keep from her?
There were some situations that I found out of place but overall, it was a good read.