With more than 25 million books sold worldwide, New York Times bestselling author Susan Mallery is known for creating characters who feel as real as the folks next door, and for putting them into emotional, often funny situations readers recognize from their own lives. Susan’s books have made Booklist’s Top 10 Romances list in four out of five consecutive years. RT Book Reviews says, “When it comes to heartfelt contemporary romance, Mallery is in a class by herself.” With her popular, ongoing Fool’s Gold series, Susan has reached new heights on the bestsellers lists and has won the hearts of countless new fans.
Susan grew up in southern California, moved so many times that her friends stopped writing her address in pen, and now has settled in Seattle with her husband and the most delightfully spoiled little dog who ever lived. Connect with Susan at these sites:
Q&A with Susan Mallery
Tell us about your newest novel, Evening Stars.
Essentially, Evening Stars is the story of two sisters who have to learn to let go of others’ expectations in order to claim the life they each want. Nina practically raised Averil because their mom took “flaky” to a whole new level. Nina gave up her dream of going to medical school—breaking up with her first love in the process—so she could put Averil through college. But now Averil’s back home, dissatisfied with her career and her marriage. How can Averil be unhappy, Nina wonders, after everything Nina did for her?
Then Nina’s first love moves home to Blackberry Island, and he wants her back. Suddenly, she has the chance to reclaim the life she thought she wanted all those years ago, but at the same time, she’s being tempted by a much younger fighter pilot who also has his eye on her.
Evening Stars is a sometimes painful, often humorous story of moving past regret and reaching for your dreams. My hope is that readers will finish the book with a happy sigh of satisfaction and a new determination to play an active role in their own lives.
2. What inspired you to begin writing women’s fiction stories, after focusing on your popular contemporary romance novels?
Romances are relationship stories, and so are my women’s fiction novels—they’re simply about different relationships. The relationships between sisters, mothers and daughters, husbands and wives… I consider my women’s fiction novels, such as Evening Stars, to be a natural extension of the books I’ve written for years. And because I think love is essential, romance still plays a big role in each of my women’s fiction books.
3. In Evening Stars, who is your favorite character and why?
The character I identify with most strongly is Nina because I share her sense of responsibility for the people I love. As women, we often put a burden on ourselves to take care of everyone in our lives, whether they want us to or not. We want them to make choices that we think will make them happy, and it’s physically painful to us when they behave in what we perceive as self-destructive ways. The lesson that Nina had to learn—and one with which I still sometimes struggle—is that she can’t make choices for anyone but herself. And ultimately, the choices she makes will determine the life she lives.
4. Tell us a little bit about younger sister Averil.
Averil is a good person who has found herself in the uncomfortable position of living someone else’s dream for her life. She went to school where Nina thought she should go. She lives where Nina thought she should live. She likes her job as a magazine writer but isn’t fulfilled by it. She loves her husband but finds herself lying to him about being ready to try for children. She isn’t happy, but she doesn’t know why, and she doesn’t know what she wants. Averil has to go backward—move home to Blackberry Island—before she can move forward.
5. The bonds of sisterhood and family are strong themes featured in Evening Stars. Do you have any siblings, and in what ways are your own family relationships similar or different to the Wentworth’s?
I’m an only child of only children, so not only do I not have any siblings, I don’t have any cousins. I think this is a big part of the reason why “finding family” is a theme that recurs in many of my books. I’ve created my own family through marriage and by developing close, lifelong friendships. Many of my characters are in similar circumstances, building a family by choice, rather than by birth.
Nina and Averil’s relationship was very interesting to me. They are sisters, yes, but in a very real way, they also have a mother/daughter relationship. They’re only four years apart, but when Nina was twelve and Averil was eight, their mother began to leave them alone for weeks at a time while she traveled. So Nina was the one who was responsible for paying the bills, getting dinner on the table. And Nina is the person against whom Averil feels compelled to rebel. They love each other, but they have to restructure their relationship.
6. Your descriptions of Blackberry Island are beautiful and inviting, both in the book and at www.BlackberryIsland.com. What was your inspiration behind the setting?
I live in Seattle, and there are several picturesque islands in the Puget Sound nearby. Blackberry Island isn’t modeled after any of them specifically, but it certainly was inspired by them. Blackberry Island is within commuting distance of Seattle, but in terms of pace of life, it’s a world away. Most people travel to Blackberry Island via ferry, though there is a bridge to the mainland, as well. The island is dotted with wineries and fields of daisies. Readers who want to learn more about Blackberry Island’s history or see pictures can visit the website.
ABOUT THE BOOK
Small-town nurse Nina Wentworth has made a career out of being a caretaker. More “Mom” than their mother ever was, she sacrificed medical school—and her first love—so her sister could break free. Which is why she isn’t exactly thrilled to see Averil back on Blackberry Island, especially when Nina’s life has suddenly become complicated.
Nina unexpectedly finds herself juggling two men—her high school sweetheart and a younger maverick pilot who also wants to claim her heart. But as fun as all this romance is, Nina has real life to deal with. Averil doesn’t seem to want the great guy she’s married to, and doesn’t seem to be making headway writing her first book; their mom is living life just as recklessly as she always has; and Nina’s starting to realize that the control she once had is slipping out of her fingers. Her hopes of getting off the island seem to be stretching further away until her mother makes a discovery that could change everything forever.
But before Nina and Averil can reach for the stars, they have to decide what they want. Will Averil stay? Will Nina leave? And what about the men who claim to love them? Does love heal, or will finding their happy ending mean giving up all they’ve ever wanted?
Read an excerpt
In a battle between Betty Boop and multicolored hearts, Nina Wentworth decided it was going to be a Betty Boop kind of day. She pulled the short-sleeved scrub shirt over her head and was already moving toward the bathroom before the fabric settled over her hips.
“Don’t be snug, don’t be snug,” she chanted as she came to a stop in front of the mirror and reached for her brush.
The shirt settled as it should, with a couple of inches to spare. Nina breathed a sigh of relief. Last night’s incident with three brownies and a rather large glass of red wine hadn’t made a lasting impression on her hips. She was grateful, and she would repent later on an elliptical. Or at least vow to eat her brownies one at a time.
Ten seconds of brushing, one minute of braiding and her blond hair was neat and tidy. She dashed out into the hall, toward the kitchen where she grabbed her car keys and nearly made it to the back door. Just as she was reaching for the knob, the house phone rang.
Nina glanced from the clock to the phone. Everyone in her world—friends, family, work—had her cell. Very few calls came on the antiquated landline, and none of them were good news. Nina retraced her steps and braced herself for disaster.
“Hey, Nina. It’s Jerry down at Too Good To Be True. I just opened, and there’s a lady here trying to sell a box of crap, ah, stuff. I think it’s from the store.”
Nina closed her eyes as she held in a groan. “Let me guess. Early twenties, red hair with purple streaks and a tattoo of a weird bird on her neck?”
“That’s her. She’s glaring at me something fierce. You think she’s armed?”
“I hope not.”
“Me, too.” Jerry didn’t sound especially concerned. “What’s her name?”
If Nina had more time, she would have collapsed right there on the floor. But she had a real job to get to. A job unrelated to the disaster that was the family’s antique store.
“You let your mom hire her, huh?” Jerry asked.
“You know better.”
“That I do. I’ll call the police and ask them to pick up Tanya. Can you keep her there until they get there?”
“Sure thing, kid.”
“Great. And I’ll be by after work to pick up the stuff.”
“I’ll hold it for you,” Jerry promised.
Nina hung up and hurried to her car. After her cell connected to the Bluetooth, she called the local sheriff’s department and explained what happened.
“Again?” Deputy Sam Payton asked, his voice thick with amusement. “Did you let your mom hire this employee?”
Nina carefully backed out of the driveway. Jerry’s humor she could handle. He’d lived here all his life—he was allowed to tease her. But Sam was relatively new. He hadn’t earned mocking rights.
“Hey, tax-paying citizen here, reporting a crime,” she said.
“Yeah, yeah. I’m writing it down. What’d she take?”
“I didn’t ask. She’s at the pawn shop. Too Good To Be True.”
“I know it,” Deputy Sam told her. “I’ll head out and see what’s what.”
She hung up before he could offer advice on hiring policies and turned up the hill. The morning was clear—odd for early spring in the Pacific Northwest. Normally the good weather didn’t kick in until closer to summer. To the west, blue water sparkled. To the east was western Washington.
As she climbed higher and higher, the view got better, but when she parked across from the three Queen Anne houses at the very top of the hill, pausing to enjoy the spectacular combination of sky and ocean was the last thing on her mind.
She hurried up the steps to the front porch that was both her boss’s home and her office. Dr. Andi, as she was known, was a popular pediatrician on the island. Make that the only pediatrician. She’d moved here a year ago, opened her practice in September and had been thriving ever since. She was also a newlywed and, as of two months ago, pregnant.
Nina unlocked the front door and stepped inside. She flipped on lights as she went, confirmed the temperature on the thermostat and then started the three computers in the front office.
After storing her purse in her locker, she logged in to the scheduling program and saw that the first appointment of the day had canceled. Andi would appreciate the extra time to get herself moving. She was still battling morning sickness.
Nina did a quick check of her email, forwarded several items to the bookkeeper/office manager, then walked to the break room for coffee. Less than five minutes after she’d arrived, she was climbing the stairs to her boss’s private quarters.
Nina knocked once before entering. She found Andi, a tall, pretty brunette with curly hair, sitting at the table in the kitchen. Her arms cradled her head.
“Still bad?” Nina asked, walking to the cupboard.
“Hi and yes. It’s not that I throw up, it’s that I feel like I’m going to every single second.” She raised her head and drew in a breath. “Are you drinking coffee?”
“I miss coffee. I’m a wreck. I need to talk to my parents about my ancestors. Obviously I don’t come from hardy stock.”
Nina took down a mug, filled it with water and put it in the microwave. Then she collected a tea bag from the pantry.
“Not ginger tea,” Andi said with a moan. “Please. I hate it.”
“But it helps.”
“I’d rather feel sick.”
Nina raised her eyebrows.
Andi slumped in her seat. “I’m such a failure. Look at me. I’m carrying around a child the size of a lima bean and I’m throwing a hissy fit. It’s embarrassing.”
“And yet the need to act mature doesn’t seem to be kicking in.”
Andi smiled. “Funny how that works.”
The microwaved dinged. Nina dropped the tea bag into the steaming water and crossed to the table.
The eat-in kitchen was open, with painted cabinets and lots of granite. The big window by the table took advantage of the east-facing views in the old house. The mainland shimmered only a few miles away.
Andi had bought the house—one of three up on the hill—when she’d moved to Blackberry Island. Undeterred by the broken windows and outdated plumbing, she’d had the house restored from the framework out. During the process, she’d fallen in love with her contractor. Which had led to her current tummy problems.
“Your first appointment canceled,” Nina told her.
“Thank God.” Andi sniffed the tea, then wrinkled her nose and took a sip. “It’s the ginger. If I could have tea without ginger I think I could get it down.”
“The thing is, the ginger is the part that settles your stomach.”
“Life is perverse like that.” Andi took another sip, then smiled. “I like the shirt.”
Nina glanced down at the pattern. “Betty and I go way back.”
One of the advantages of working for a pediatrician was that cheerful attire was encouraged. She had a collection of brightly colored fun shirts in her closet. It wasn’t high fashion, but it helped the kids smile and that was what mattered.
“I need to get back downstairs,” she said. “Your first appointment is now at eight-thirty.”
Nina rose and started toward the stairs.
“Are you busy after work?” Andi asked.
Nina thought about the fact that she was going to have to go by the pawn shop and pick up what Tanya had tried to sell, then spend several hours at Blackberry Preserves, her family’s antique store, figuring out what had been stolen, then tell her mother what had happened and possibly lecture her on the importance of actually following up on a potential employee’s references. Only she’d been lecturing her mother for as long as she could remember, and the lessons never seemed to stick. No matter how many times Bonnie promised to do better, she never did. Which left Nina picking up the pieces.
“I kind of am. Why?”
“I haven’t been to Pilates in a week,” Andi said. “It’s important I keep exercising. Would you go with me? It’s more fun when you’re along.”
“I can’t tonight, but Monday’s good.”
Andi smiled. “Thanks, Nina. You’re the best.”
“Give me a plaque and I’ll believe it.”
“I’ll order one today.”
Series: Blackberry Island Number of Pages: 368 pages Publisher: Harlequin MIRA Publication Date: February 25, 2014 ISBN-10: 0778316130 ISBN-13: 978-0778316138
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