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The Diary

The Diary

3.7 33
by Eileen Goudge

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Two sisters discover startling secrets in their mother’s old journal in this “poignant” novel by the New York Times–bestselling author of Garden of Lies (Debbie Macomber).

Emily and Sarah Marshall are cleaning out their dying mother’s attic when Emily finds an old leather diary. Their mother’s


Two sisters discover startling secrets in their mother’s old journal in this “poignant” novel by the New York Times–bestselling author of Garden of Lies (Debbie Macomber).

Emily and Sarah Marshall are cleaning out their dying mother’s attic when Emily finds an old leather diary. Their mother’s handwriting on the yellowed pages takes them back to a small Nebraska town in the summer of 1951, where sheltered, almost-engaged Elizabeth Harvey is swept into a clandestine romance with AJ, her rebellious childhood friend. When AJ becomes the prime suspect in a neighborhood fire, Elizabeth has to make the most difficult decision of her young life and choose between passionate but unpredictable AJ and her stable, longtime beau, Bob.
Shocked to learn that their mother was in love with a man other than their father, Emily and Sarah must confront painful truths about their mother, their father, and ultimately, themselves. Moving and uplifting, with a surprise ending readers won’t see coming, The Diary is a novel about the mysteries of romantic love and the unassailable bond between parents and children.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
As their mother lies dying in a nursing home, two sisters find her diary—and a mother they never knew. Written shortly before their parents' marriage, the diary details their mother's romance with another man, and the sisters are moved to discover the depth of their mother's heartache. Slipping between a nostalgic past and the present, the story is suspenseful and surprising, and the versatile Susan Ericksen gives the characters the life, color and personality they deserve, effortlessly and faithfully conveying the middle-class, Midwestern setting. A Vanguard hardcover. (Apr.)

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Read an Excerpt

The Diary

By Eileen Goudge


Copyright © 2009 Eileen Goudge
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-5040-1564-6


The diary was bound in maroon leather dulled with age, its gilt tooling worn away in spots. Sewn into the binding was a satin bookmarker, once red, now faded to the ashy pink of a dried, pressed rose. The diary seemed to carry the scent of dried roses as well, the merest hint, like the long-forgotten bundles of sachet the two daughters had been finding tucked in the backs of drawers throughout the house all this past week.

As Emily withdrew it from the cardboard carton she'd been rooting through, the small key inserted in its metal clasp fell to the dusty floorboards with a soft plink, disappearing into the gloaming of an attic crammed to the rafters and lit only by the errant rays of sunlight that had managed to slip in under the eaves. The clasp gave easily when she pried at it with her thumbnail, the worn cover falling back with a creak of arthritic spine to reveal an entry penned in handwriting so neatly rounded and girlish, it was a moment before she recognized it as their mother's.

She idly remarked to her sister, "I didn't know Mom kept a diary."

"A diary? Hmmm," Sarah murmured distractedly. She was kneeling on the floor beside Emily, her rear end resting on her sneakered heels, absorbed in sorting through another carton filled with odds and ends. "God, can you believe all this stuff? She must've saved every single card and letter, not to mention all our school report cards." She plucked one from a crumpled manila envelope marked "Sarah." "Oh, Lord. There's that D-plus I got in Mr. Grimaldi's class. All As and Bs except that one stupid D. Remember how mad Mom was? Not at me but at my teacher. She marched straight down there and told him that if a smart girl like me had practically flunked his class, it was because he didn't know how to teach. I was so embarrassed!" She smiled at the memory, eyes gleaming with unshed tears.

"How could I forget?" It hadn't been just that one incident. Their mother had been a tigress when it came to her children, questioning and sometimes berating anyone who dared criticize them when she viewed the criticism as unjust; making sure they got the best education; gently nudging Emily, the shier of the two, into the forefront whenever she appeared in danger of being overshadowed by her more outgoing sister. For Elizabeth, husband and children had always come first.

"I wonder if the old man ever recovered," said Sarah, chuckling softly as she shook her head.

Emily's attention was drawn back to the diary, which had fallen open to about the midway point. She struggled to make out their mother's neat schoolgirl's handwriting in the dim light. Her pulse quickened as a passage jumped out at her. She called urgently to her sister, "Sarah, come quick. You have to see this!"

Sarah crab-walked over to have a look, pushing a scrap of blond hair behind one ear as she leaned to peer over Emily's shoulder. After a moment, she exclaimed softly, "Wow. Looks like this diary wasn't the only secret she kept." She looked up at her sister, her eyes wide and her normally animated face slack with puzzlement. "What do you make of it?"

Sarah was the rounder of the two, anchored to the earth in a way that made her seem sensible and dependable, which she was. Emily, the more excitable one, was built like a rocket poised for lift-off. Sarah had their father's fair hair and blue eyes, while Emily favored their mother: tall and slim-hipped, with dark hair that grew to a widow's peak on her forehead like the point on one of the heart-shaped construction-paper cutouts she'd been unearthing from cardboard cartons all day — various Valentine's Day projects made by her and her sister through the years.

Emily shook her head, equally bewildered. Then a new, troubling thought occurred to her. "Do you think Dad knew?"

Their father had passed away the year before. His ashes were in an urn on the fireplace mantel downstairs, where their mother had been keeping them while purportedly trying to decide where they ought to be scattered.

"Maybe it was before they were a couple," said Sarah.

"No. Look at the date." Emily flipped back to the first entry, where the date was clearly marked: July 3, 1951.

"The year she married Dad." Sarah's voice emerged as a cracked whisper.

Their mother had been twenty-one when she and Bob Marshall had wed in December of 1951, just before he'd shipped out to Korea. Sarah had been born five years later, Emily three years after that.

Emily, seated cross-legged on the floor, stared sightlessly at the jumbled pile she'd unearthed from her box: an old clock missing one of its hands, a manila envelope stuffed full of yellowing receipts, back issues of magazines, tattered paperbacks, a JFK campaign button, and an old sombrero with a hole in its brim — a souvenir from a family trip to Acapulco. "You know how she was always telling us Dad was the only man she ever loved?" she mused aloud before bringing her head sharply round to face Sarah. "Do you think that's just what she wanted us to believe?"

The two sisters sat in silence for a moment.

Finally Sarah replied staunchly, "No. She loved him."

Emily nodded thoughtfully. No one who'd ever seen their parents together could have doubted that. Still ... "According to this, he wasn't the only man she loved." She peered at the diary, frowning.

"If that's the case, it must've been before she and Dad were serious about each other." Sarah found it impossible to envision their churchgoing, pie-baking, S&H Green Stamp — collecting mother involved in something as tawdry as sneaking around behind their father's back, even if it had been before they were married.

"No. Look." Emily brought her sister's attention back to the first entry, where their mother had written that she was expecting a proposal from Bob soon — proof that they'd been deeply involved at the time. Then Emily flipped to the earlier passage she'd bookmarked, dated August 12, 1951, just five weeks later.

"I don't see how it's possible for a human heart to hold all that I feel for AJ. Can a heart burst from too much love? How can it be that Bob hasn't noticed? Whenever I'm with him, I'm sure it's written all over my face."

Sarah shook her head slowly, still struggling to digest it. "What I want to know is who is this AJ character? How come we never heard of him before?" she demanded huffily.

They both knew the answer. Who had there been to tell such tales? Both Bob and Bets had been only children, so there were no aunts or uncles to fill the girls in on family lore. Their parents hadn't been much for telling stories about the past, either. Now Emily thought she understood why: When keeping secrets, it was best to keep the past tucked away.

"I don't know, but I intend to find out." Emily rose with a decisive upward thrust, clutching the diary in one hand.

Sarah struggled to her feet with a bit more difficulty, wincing as her cramped joints popped in release. The days when she'd been head cheerleader in high school seemed distant from the vantage point of her forty-nine years, with the twenty pounds she'd packed onto her small frame with each of her boys. Despite her best efforts, she'd been unable to shed the extra weight.

"Maybe we should wait until we can ask Mom," she said, placing a hand on Emily's arm.

"You're kidding, right?" Emily gave her an incredulous look. "You know what the doctor said. We shouldn't expect a miracle."

"Still ..." Sarah remained troubled.

It was true that their mother's prognosis wasn't encouraging — six months earlier she'd suffered a massive stroke that had left her unable to speak or move, even to feed herself. But Sarah, and to a lesser degree Emily, continued to hold out hope nonetheless. At her bedside, they searched for glimmers of the woman they'd known, just as, when they were children, they'd once searched in vain for arrowheads in the vacant lot behind their house. Meanwhile, the white-haired old lady with the blank eyes and frozen rictus of a mouth who'd once been the vibrant, outspoken Elizabeth Marshall remained suspended in this twilight state, tended to around the clock by the nurses at the Miriam Hastings McDonald extended care facility. The sisters took turns visiting her there, the facility being conveniently located midway between Sarah, who lived with her husband and two sons, and Emily, with her three cats and newly issued divorce decree.

Some of Emily's resolution fled. As she stood in the close atmosphere of the attic, motes of dust dancing in a beam of sunlight angling across the floor at her feet, she felt small and lost. Her narrow shoulders sagged with the weight of all the decisions she and her sister had had to make in a short span of time: where to place their mother after her release from the hospital, whether or not to sell her house — the pink, gabled Victorian they'd grown up in — and what sort of advance funeral arrangements were to be made. Their mother had been the soul of organization in most respects, but about that she'd been maddeningly vague. Whenever one of them would broach the topic, she'd smile and say, "You girls will know what to do when the time comes."

"I know. I hate it, too." Emily sighed. In some ways, it was as though their mother were already gone — all that was left a body of no use to her or anyone, an empty shell washed ashore by the tide. "But I can't just sit on this. I have to know."

Sarah looked unconvinced, and Emily thought she understood why: Reading other people's diaries was what you did after they were dead.

There was also the matter of their father not having been their mother's one and only. This was what Emily found most troubling. Their dad hadn't been one to wear his emotions on his sleeve — a reserve their mother had chalked up to psychological scars sustained in combat — but she didn't doubt that he'd loved them. Emily was certain that after their marriage, he'd never even looked at a woman other than his wife. This was the same man, after all, who'd been deacon of their church, past president of his Masonic Lodge, and a dedicated employee of the same firm for more than forty years. The term "one-woman man" had been invented for Bob Marshall, and for him, that woman had been Elizabeth. How awful, Emily thought, to find out that theirs hadn't been the storybook romance she'd always thought was a given!

But her desire to know the truth was greater than any fear that she'd be opening a Pandora's Box. Her sister, she could see, was leaning in that direction as well. Sarah had a habit of tugging on her lower lip when in the throes of making a decision, and right now it was pulled down so far that Emily could see the bridge where she'd lost a tooth after being hit by a runaway croquet ball as a teenager.

Finally Sarah came to a decision. "All right. I'll phone Jeff and tell him not to wait on me for supper."

"While you do that, I'll go see if there's still some of that wine left in the fridge," said Emily as she headed for the stairs, the diary clutched firmly to her breast. "I have a feeling we're going to need it."


JULY 3, 1951

Dear Diary,

Bob asked me to marry him today. Well, he didn't come right out and ask. That's not his style. He asked what I wanted for my birthday in September, and I told him to surprise me. So he says, with this little twinkle in his eye, "Oh, I already have something picked out. I just hope it's what you want." When I asked for a hint, he said, "All I can tell you is that it comes in a small box." Now, what could that mean other than what I think it means? And wouldn't that be just like Bob, wanting it to be a surprise but not wanting to take any chances, either? As if there could be any doubt, given that we've been together almost four years. Besides, everyone has been talking about it for so long, it feels like we're already engaged. I wouldn't be surprised to find out that Mother has been secretly planning the wedding this whole time.

But nothing's been settled just yet. I have the whole rest of the summer to be Elizabeth Harvey, single girl extraordinaire. Who knows? I may just decide to run away and join the circus. Can't you see me as a trapeze artist, swinging through the air in my itty-bitty costume? Wouldn't Mother have a fit? Which reminds me, the county fair is tomorrow. Afterward there's to be the usual picnic and fireworks. Bob and I are riding over with Mother in her car. At last year's fair, Gunther Willis's prize Brahman bull escaped from its pen and caused quite the ruckus when it tried to mount Missy Carruther's pony. I wonder what excitement is in store this year.

"Go on. Don't be shy."

Elizabeth Harvey cast an imperious eye on the young man who was now motioning for her to have a seat. AJ sat perched on a stool before an easel on which a large sketch pad was propped, surrounded by other artisans hawking their wares — weavers, potters, wood-carvers, and the like. Displayed on another easel beside him was a caricature in pastels of a freckle-faced little girl — quite a skilled one, she noted. He was smiling up at her, knees spread in a pose as impudent as his pitch, fair hair luffing in the welcome breeze that blew through the fairgrounds, carrying the smell of hot dogs and kettle corn and the more fecund waft from the 4-H barn. His fingers were rainbow-hued from the pastels scattered over the easel's tray. His eyes, the color of the faded blue jeans he wore, seemed to mock her in some way.

"I'm not here to get my picture drawn. I only stopped to say hello," she informed him, all at once regretting the impulse that had made her pause at the sight of a familiar face in this unfamiliar setting.

Undeterred, he asked, "What's your hurry?"

"I have to —" She started to reply that she was on her way to the main pavilion to meet her boyfriend, but AJ didn't let her finish.

"Think of it as a souvenir," he went on in the same cocky vein. "One day when you look back on this, you'll remember it as the county fair where you had your caricature done by your old pal AJ."

Her cheeks warmed at the seemingly ironic reference to their childhood friendship, and she felt a twinge of guilt for having allowed that friendship to fade — though was she really to blame? He was the one, after all, who'd spurned every overture since then. And after the incident in high school that had resulted in his being sent away, he'd dropped out of her life altogether. This was the first time she'd seen him in more than three years. "I suppose this is what you call making an honest living?" She injected just the right note of playfulness into her voice so he wouldn't take offense but at the same time would know that she didn't think making eyes at young women and having them pay for the privilege fell into the category of an honest living. Even if he was someone she'd known since kindergarten.

His shoulders rolled in an indolent shrug. "Beats cutting hay."

He had a point. This time of year, nearly every able-bodied man in the county who didn't have a crop of his own to bring in was recruited to work in the neighboring fields. She took a mincing step in his direction, one hand on her straw hat to keep it anchored in place, though the breeze was a mild one, just enough to flutter its ribbons. "How much are you charging?" she inquired.

"Five bucks a pop."

"Isn't that kind of steep?"

He flashed her a lazy grin, somehow all the more appealing because of a crooked eyetooth that had never benefited from orthodontia. Under the snugly fitting white T-shirt he wore with his jeans, the muscles in his arms and chest were clearly defined. He reminded her of a mountain lion, lithe and sinewy and built for speed; he seemed coiled to spring even while sitting perfectly still. "You can always frame it and hang it on your wall," he told her. "Can't put a price on that."

"You seem to have a high opinion of your artistic talent," she observed coolly.

"Oh, I wouldn't say that," he demurred with what she might have deemed modesty if she hadn't known him to be proud to the point of arrogance. "It's just a little parlor trick I picked up along the way."


Excerpted from The Diary by Eileen Goudge. Copyright © 2009 Eileen Goudge. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

Eileen Goudge (b. 1950) is one of the nation’s most successful authors of women’s fiction. She began as a young adult writer, helping to launch the phenomenally successful Sweet Valley High series, and in 1986 she published her first adult novel, the New York Times bestseller Garden of Lies.

She has published fifteen novels in all, including the three-book saga of Carson Springs, Thorns of Truth—a sequel to Gardens of Lies—and 2012’s The Replacement Wife. She lives and works in New York City.

Eileen Goudge (b. 1950) is one of the nation’s most successful authors of women’s fiction. She began as a young adult writer, helping to launch the phenomenally successful Sweet Valley High series, and in 1986 she published her first adult novel, the New York Times bestseller Garden of Lies. She has since published twelve more novels, including the three-book saga of Carson Springs, and Thorns of Truth, a sequel to Gardens of Lies. She lives and works in New York City.

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The Diary 3.7 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 33 reviews.
NatalieTahoe More than 1 year ago
I have to admit, this is not a typical book that I like to pick up and read. But for some reason, I was in the mood for something nice, and well, this is definitely a story that is sweet and touching and to be quite honest, is a story that I could see developed into a great movie. Told from the perspective of two daughters who come across their mother's diary of the time when she had two men to choose for marriage, it is a touching and feel good story that will tug at your heartstrings. A nice book for rainy days, and it has a couple of really good twists that surprise you.
DebsSweet More than 1 year ago
After reading some 'not-so-good' books, it was nice for a change to read something that captured my attention
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I have never read anything by Eileen Goudge before and after reading about this book in People Magazine I decided it interested me enough to purchase the book. I thoroughly enjoyed this book from beginning to end and having just recently lost my father it deeply touched my soul. This is an easy, fast read which will captivate you from beginning to end and will not want to put down. I am now looking for more books written by this amazing author!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Really good story and characters with a great twist at the end. Thoroughly loved it!
wheeze More than 1 year ago
Even though its a short read, there is soo much story and life to this book, also with some twists and turns thrown in. I love the ending, by far. Not to spoil it, but its definitely worth the wait. This book reminds me of a Nicholas Sparks book -- the the Notebook. Eileen Goudge does an amazing job keeping you stucked in and feeling the life of these characters. I would suggest this book to anymore, a young girl looking for life, or even a married couple getting ready to celebrate the 50th wedding anniversary. It's a story that would please all ages. Kudos to Eileen on this one.
jms41 More than 1 year ago
Did not like the book. Was impressed by the cover and inside flap covers detailing information about the book, but did not come to fruition. So returned the book.
Sweetbabyj58 More than 1 year ago
I love Eileen Goudge's books but this one just didn't live up to my expectations and sorry to say I couldn't finish it. Hopefully her next one will be worth reading. The plot was just so-so and the back and forth from the present day to the past wasn't holding my attention.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Not her best
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Linda Hemmo More than 1 year ago
The story did drag alot. The best chapter was the last two and that was not so good.
4nhand More than 1 year ago
I read this book for book club, and it was a fast read. I didn't like the back and forth between the past and present stories and thought it was distracting from the story. It was fun and interesting to read about life with small town gossip and how reputation and behavior were such important traits. I liked the twist at the end, but near the end, the book started to get predictable. It was still a good story though.
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kathy19 More than 1 year ago
I enjoyed reading this for book club and especially liked the twist at the end. That really made it for me. This book takes place in the 50's in a small town with small town gossip alive and well. It's about a woman who is popular, beautiful and has dated the most handsome gentleman through high school. It is expected she will marry him one day except an old childhood friend blows back in town and lights a fire within her!! Great book to take to the beach.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I have read almost all of Eileen Goudge's books and this one is now one of my favorites. The story was very compelling, so much so that I couldn't put it down. In fact I read the entire book in one sitting. I loved this story especially the surprise ending.