About the Book
For fans of Elin Hilderbrand and Mary Kay Andrews, comes New York Times bestselling author Brenda Novak's newest standalone work of women's fiction, a big, sweeping novel about family and the ties that bind and challenge us. In this novel, three generations of women from the same family share a house and work together at a bookstore in Colonial Beach over the course of a summer.
How do you start a new chapter when you haven’t closed the book on the last one?
Eighteen months ago, Autumn Divac’s husband went missing. Her desperate search has yielded no answers—she still has no idea where he went or why. After being happily married for twenty years, she can’t imagine moving forward without him, but for the sake of their two teenage children, she has to try.
Autumn takes her kids home for the summer to the charming beachside town where she was raised. She seeks comfort by working alongside her mother and aunt at their quaint bookshop, only to learn that her daughter is facing a life change neither of them saw coming and her mother has been hiding a terrible secret for years. And when she runs into Quinn Vanderbilt—the boy who stole her heart in high school—old feelings start to bubble up again. Is she free to love him, or should she hold out hope for her husband’s return? She can only trust her heart…and hope it won’t lead her astray.
About the Author
Brenda Novak, a New York Times and USA Today bestselling author, has penned over sixty novels. She is a five-time nominee for the RITA Award and has won the National Reader's Choice, the Bookseller's Best, the Bookbuyer's Best, and many other awards. She also runs Brenda Novak for the Cure, a charity to raise money for diabetes research (her youngest son has this disease). To date, she’s raised $2.5 million. For more about Brenda, please visit www.brendanovak.com.
Q & A with Author
Did you go to the library when you were in elementary school? If so, do you remember any of your favorite books or series from childhood?
The library in elementary school was where I developed my love of reading. I remember hating to read in the beginning, but once my teacher took us to the library and let us choose any book we wanted, I happened upon a shelf of classics. I picked up JANE EYRE and absolutely devoured it. Then I went back and got THE SECRET GARDEN and moved through that entire shelf within weeks. I remember thinking, “So this is reading!” And I’ve loved it ever since.
What hobbies do you enjoy?
A: I love to play pickleball. My oldest son introduced me to the game and gave me a racquet for Mother’s Day, and I’ve been playing ever since. It’s such a fun/addictive thing to do. I also spend a lot of time with my two grandchildren. They’re not quite a hobby, of course, but if I’m not working that’s where I spend most of my time.
Where would you choose to go on holiday if time and money were not of consideration?
A: Two years ago, I would’ve said Egypt, but I was able to go there the year before the pandemic started, and I absolutely loved it. I’ve always been fascinated by their antiquities. They have an absolute embarrassment of riches when it comes to relics from two thousand or more years ago. Now I would have to say India. I don’t yet know a lot about that, but it seems so exotic and wonderful to me--and I love the food. India is definitely on my bucket list!
Is there a genre that you have not written in that you might like to try some day?
A: I would love to write a long historical saga. I actually have one brewing in my mind, so...who knows? Maybe one day I’ll get around to writing it.
Do you have pets or animals you would like to have as pets?
A: I raised five kids, so I’m taking a break from being responsible for other people--even animals. But I have a grand-dog--a Chow Chow named Simba, and he’s so fluffy and mild tempered. It’s the same as having grandbabies. I get all the fun without the hard work! Ha!
The Bookstore on the Beach by Brenda Novak is a multifaceted novel. Autumn’s husband disappeared eighteen months ago, and she has exhausted every avenue trying to locate him. Autumn along with her two teenage children are heading to her mother’s beachside town for the summer. It will give them a chance to relax, be together, and heal. Autumn’s oldest child, Taylor is having a tough time. Taylor feels emotionally unconnected plus she has a secret she is keeping from her family. Mary, Autumn’s mother, has kept something from Autumn her whole life. Mary is afraid her daughter will learn the truth, but she does not feel it is the right time to share. Autumn reconnects with her high school crush and old feelings resurface. What should happen, though, if her husband returns? The novel contained good writing with realistic characters. The author packed a lot into the book with a missing husband, a teen questioning her sexuality, a woman with cancer, a woman with a hidden past, a second chance romance, a teen pregnancy, a criminal ex-wife, and expansion of the bookstore. It was easy to follow the various storylines once I got into the book. I did feel the ending was abrupt and needed an epilogue to make it feel complete. I enjoyed the descriptions of the bookstore, the beach, and Mary’s cottage. This story allows us to follow one family and the issues they are encountering over the course of a summer. This is a dramatic tale about one family’s drama. The Bookstore on the Beach is a good book to read while sitting beside a pool.
Today her daughter was returning for the summer. Mary Langford gazed eagerly out at the street in front of her small bookstore, looking for a glimpse of Autumn’s car and, when she saw nothing except a large family going into the ice cream parlor at the end of the block, checked her watch. Three-thirty. Autumn had called at lunchtime to say that she and the kids were making good time. They probably wouldn’t be much longer.
“You’ve been quiet today,” Laurie commented from where she sat behind the counter, straightening the pens, tape, stapler and bookmarks.
Mary turned from the large front window she’d recently decorated with posters of the hottest new releases. “I worry when she’s on the road for so long.”
“She’ll make it, and it’ll be great to see her and the kids. They haven’t been back since Christmas, have they?”
“No.” She picked up the feather duster and began cleaning shelves—a never-ending job at Beach Front Books, which she and Laurie owned as 50/50 partners. Autumn lived in Tampa, Florida, far enough away that it wasn’t easy to get together when Taylor and Caden were in school. “And I doubt they’ll come back for the holidays this year.” Fortunately, they were more consistent about returning for the summer—except for last summer, of course, which was understandable. Mary hoped she’d be able to count on that continuing, but with the kids getting older, nothing was certain. Taylor had only one more year of high school before heading off to college. Caden had two. Mary feared this might be the last time, for a while, they’d all be together in Sable Beach.
“You could go visit them,” Laurie pointed out.
Autumn had invited her many times. Remembering the arguments her refusal had sparked over the years caused Mary’s stomach to churn. She wanted to go to Tampa, wanted to make it so that her daughter wouldn’t have to do the traveling. Autumn had been going through so much lately. But the thought of venturing into unfamiliar territory filled Mary with dread. Other than to go to Richmond occasionally, which was the closest big city, she hadn’t left the sleepy Virginia Beach town she called home in thirty-five years. “Yes, but you know me. This is the only place I feel safe.”
Laurie rocked back on the tall stool. “Well, if the fear hasn’t gone away by now, I guess it’s not going to.”
“No. I don’t talk about it anymore, but the past is as real to me now as it’s ever been.”
Although the store had been busy earlier, what with the influx of tourists for the season, foot traffic had slowed. When that happened, they often talked more than they worked. Beach Front Books wasn’t Laurie’s sole source of income. Her husband, Christopher Conklin, was a talented artist. He painted all kinds of seascapes, and while he wasn’t in any prestigious galleries, he sold his paintings in a section they reserved for him in the store as well as online.
But Mary, who’d never been married, had no other support. Beach Front Books didn’t make a large profit, but no one loved the escape that books provided more than she did, and the store garnered enough business that she could eke out a living. That was all that mattered to her.
“Autumn gets so mad that I won’t go out and see the world. Visit. Travel. That sort of thing,” she murmured, wishing she didn’t have the scars and limitations that had, at times, put such a strain on their relationship. “She keeps saying I’m too young to live like an old lady.”
“She has a point.”
Mary sighed. “I’m not young anymore.”
“What are you talking about? You’re nine years younger than me. Fifty-four is not old.”
That was true, but she’d had to grow up far sooner than most people. “I feel ancient.”
“Next year, you should go to Tampa, if they ask you.”
She shook her head. “I can’t.”
“Maybe you’ll prove that you can.”
Mary couldn’t help bristling. She didn’t like it when Laurie pushed her. “No.”
“Autumn doesn’t understand, Mary. That’s what causes almost every fight you have with her.”
“I know. And I feel bad about that. But there’s nothing I can do.”
Laurie lowered her voice. “You could tell her the truth…”
“Absolutely not,” Mary snapped. “Why would I ever do that?”
“There are reasons. And you know it. We’ve talked about this before,” Laurie said, remaining calm, as always. That was one of the many things Mary liked about her—she was steady and patient, and that steadiness somehow helped Mary cope when old feelings and memories began to resurface.
In this instance, Laurie might also be right. Mary could feel the past rising up from its deep slumber. Maybe it time to tell Autumn.
But there were just as many reasons to—compelling reasons. And the thought of revealing the past, seeing it all through her daughter’s eyes, made Mary feel ill. “I can’t broach that subject right now, not with what she’s been dealing with the past year and a half. Besides, it’s been so long it’s almost as if it happened to someone else,” she said, mentally shoving those dark years into the deepest recesses of her mind. “I want to stay as far away from that subject as possible.”
Laurie didn’t call her out on the contradiction her statement created. And Mary was glad. She couldn’t have explained how it could be real and frightening and always present and yet she could feel oddly removed from it at the same time.
“Except that it happen to someone else,” Laurie responded sadly. “It happened to you.”
* * *
The scent of the ocean, more than anything else, told Autumn she was home. She lowered her window as soon as she rolled into town and breathed deeply, letting the salt air fill her lungs.
“What are you doing?” Taylor held her long brown hair in one hand to keep it from whipping across her face as she looked over from the passenger seat.
Autumn smiled, which was something she knew her children hadn’t seen her do enough of lately. “Just getting a little air.”
“You hate it when I roll down window,” Caden grumbled from the backseat.
“I’m hoping I won’t be so irritable anymore.” For the past eighteen months, Autumn had been mired in the nightmare that had overtaken her life. She almost hadn’t come to Sable Beach because of it. But when her children had each pleaded with her, separately, to ask if they could spend the summer with “Mimi” like they used to, she knew they needed some normalcy in their lives—needed to retain at least one of their parents. Her grief and preoccupation with her husband’s disappearance had probably made them feel as though she’d gone missing, too—at least the mother they’d known before. She hoped by returning to the place that held so many wonderful memories for them all, they’d be able to heal and reconnect.
It wasn’t as if she could do anything more for Nick, anyway. That was the ugly reality. She’d exhausted every viable lead and still had no idea where he was. If he was dead, she had to figure out a way to go on without him for the sake of their children.
The second she spotted the bookstore, the nostalgia that welled up—along with memories of a simpler, easier time—nearly brought her to tears. When she was a little girl, she’d spent so many hours following her mother through the narrow aisles of that quaint shop, which looked like something from the crooked, narrow streets of Victorian London, dusting bookshelves or reading in the nook her mother had created for her.
She’d spent just as much time at Beach Front Books when she was a teenager, only then she was stocking shelves, ordering inventory, working the register—and, again, reading, but this time sitting on the stool behind the counter while waiting for her next customer.
God, it was good to be back. As hard as she could be on her mother for her unreasonable fears and idiosyncrasies, she couldn’t wait to see her. Until this moment, she hadn’t realized just how much she missed her mother. So what if Mary was almost agoraphobic with her unwillingness to leave her little bungalow a block away from the sea? She was always there, waiting to welcome Autumn home. Maybe Autumn had never had a father, or the little brother or sister she’d secretly longed for, but she was lucky enough to have the enduring love of a good mother.
“There it is.” She pointed to the bookstore as she slowed to look for a place to park.
“We’re not going to the beach house?” Caden asked, looking up from whatever he’d been doing on his phone.
“Not right now. First, we’re stopping to see Mimi and Aunt Laurie. Then we’ll take our stuff over to the house.”
A glance in the rearview mirror showed her his scowl. “I hope it won’t be too late to go to the beach,” he said.
“I’m sure we can manage to get there before dark,” she responded as she wedged her white Volvo SUV between a red convertible and a gray sedan and grabbed her purse.
Taylor spoke, causing her to pause with her hand on the door latch. “You already seem different.”
“In what way?” Autumn asked.
“Less uptight. Not so sad.”
“Coming here makes me happy,” she admitted.
“Then why were we going to skip it again?” Caden asked.
Autumn twisted around to look at him. “You know why.”
A pained expression claimed her daughter’s face. “Does this mean you’re letting go?”
“Of Dad? Of course she’s letting go,” Caden answered, the hard edge to his voice suggesting he considered the question to be a stupid one. “Dad’s dead.”
“Don’t say that!” Taylor snapped. “We don’t know it’s true. He could be coming back.”
“It’s been eighteen months, Tay,” Caden responded. “He would’ve come back by now if he could.”
“Stop it, both of you.” Autumn didn’t want them getting into an argument right before they saw her mother. They were at each other’s throats so often lately; it drove her crazy to constantly have to play referee. But she could hardly blame them. They’d lost their father, and they didn’t know how or why. And she had no explanation. “Life’s been hard enough lately,” she added. “Let’s not make it any harder.”
“Then tell her,” Caden said. “Dad’s dead, and we have to move on. Right? Isn’t that the truth? Go ahead and say it—you letting go.”
Was she? Is that what this trip signified? If not, how much longer should she hold on? And would holding on be best for them? She couldn’t imagine her kids would want to spend another eighteen months swallowed up by grief and consumed with seeking answers they may never find. Taylor was seventeen, going to be a senior and starting to investigate colleges. Caden was only a year behind her. Surely, they would prefer to look forward and not back.
Regardless, Autumn wasn’t sure she continue to search, not like she had. She was exhausted—mentally and physically. She’d put everything she had into the past year and a half, and it hadn’t made a damn bit of difference. That was the most disheartening part of it.
“I’m continuing to hold out hope,” she said, even though everyone she’d talked to, including the FBI, insisted her husband must be dead. It was difficult to see the idyllic, two-parent upbringing she was trying to give her kids—something she’d never had herself—fall apart that quickly and easily, and the heartbreak, loneliness and frustration of looking for Nick, with no results, created such a downward spiral for her. She knew it had been just as painful for her children. That was why maybe she let go—to provide the best quality of life for them as possible.
“What does that ? Are you going to keep looking for him?” Caden pressed. “Is that how you’re going to spend the summer?”
He could tell something had changed, that coming here signified a difference, and he wanted to reach the bottom line. But Autumn wasn’t ready to admit that she’d failed. Not with as many times as she’d tried to comfort them by promising she’d have answers eventually.
She opened her mouth to try to explain what she was thinking in the gentlest possible way when she spotted her mother. Mary had come out of the store and was waving at them.
“There’s your grandmother,” she said.
Thankfully, her children let the conversation lapse and got out of the car.
“Hi, Mimi.” With his long strides, Caden reached Mary first. Although he wasn’t yet fully grown, he was already six-one. And Taylor was five foot ten. They were both tall, like their father.
Mary gave each of the kids a big hug and exclaimed about how grown-up they both were and how excited she was to see them before turning to Autumn.
“You’ve lost weight,” she murmured gently, a hint of worry belying her smile before they embraced.
“I’m okay, Mom.” Autumn could smell a hint of the bookstore on Mary’s clothes and realized that was another scent she’d never forget. It represented her childhood and all the great stories she’d read growing up. She’d once hoped to read every book in the store. She hadn’t quite made it, thanks to new releases and fluctuating inventory, but she’d read more books than most people. She still considered books to be a big part of her life. “It’s good to be home.”
“Laurie’s dying to see you. Let’s go in and say hello,” Mary said and held the door.
As soon as the bell sounded, Laurie hurried out from behind the register. “There you are! It’s a good thing you came when you did. I was afraid it would drive your mother crazy waiting for you. She’s been so anxious for you to arrive. We both have.”
Taylor allowed her aunt to give her an exuberant squeeze. “I’m glad we got to come this year. Where’s Uncle Chris?”
“Probably on the beach somewhere, painting. You know how he is once the weather warms up—just like a child, eager to get outdoors.”
They took a few minutes to visit the small section of the store dedicated to Christopher’s work so they could admire his latest paintings. Autumn was especially enamored with one he’d done of the bookstore that portrayed a child out front, hanging on to her mother with one hand and carrying a stack of books with the other. That child could’ve been her once upon a time. She almost wondered if his memory of her had inspired it, which was why she decided, if that painting didn’t sell before she left, she’d buy it herself and take it back to Tampa.
Are you ready to read The Bookstore on the Beach? The Bookstore on the Beach is available from Amazon*, Target, Walmart, Book Depository, Books-a-Million, Bookshop.org, Barnes & Noble, Indigo, and IndieBound. Brenda Novak has When I Found You: A Silver Springs Novel releasing June 29. She also has Keep Me Warm at Christmas publishing September 28. You can find Brenda Novak's other books here. Thank you for visiting today. Next time I plan on discussing Deadly Editions by Paige Shelton. It is the 6th A Scottish Bookshop Mystery. I hope you have a bright day. Take care, be kind, and Happy Reading!
The Avid Reader
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