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Family Secrets

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Overview

After their father's death, sisters Vanessa, Ellie, and Georgiana are stunned to learn a well-kept family secret. A yellowed letter tucked away in a family Bible reveals that the woman who gave birth to their late father had not died when he was born, as they had always believed. Their paternal grandmother gave up her son shortly after his birth, leaving this note with instructions to never reveal her name or background to him. The letter is signed, simply, Hattie.

The sisters ...

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Family Secrets: A Novel

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Overview

After their father's death, sisters Vanessa, Ellie, and Georgiana are stunned to learn a well-kept family secret. A yellowed letter tucked away in a family Bible reveals that the woman who gave birth to their late father had not died when he was born, as they had always believed. Their paternal grandmother gave up her son shortly after his birth, leaving this note with instructions to never reveal her name or background to him. The letter is signed, simply, Hattie.

The sisters are each at a turning point -- Vanessa is feeling stifled in a stale marriage and career; Ellie is perpetually single but desperately wants marriage and motherhood; and baby sister Georgiana is a successful model but longs to do something more serious with her life. Seizing upon the idea of finding their long-lost grandmother, the women set out on a trip to Montana, where they hope not only to find their father's birth mother but also to rekindle their bonds of sisterhood and possibly even find their true selves.

But they have no idea of the consequences of their quest. If the sisters find Hattie and live to tell their story, everything Hattie has worked and dreamed for will be destroyed. Will she allow the sisters to uncover the family secret and escape alive?

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Revenge, murder and identity feature big in this 11th novel by the author of The Girlfriends Club. Two bombshells fall on Vanessa, Ellie and Georgiana the night of their mother's 60th birthday: widowed mom Penelope is moving to France with a man they've never met, and they learn their paternal grandmother did not die in childbirth as they'd been told all their lives. Vanessa, unhappy with her marriage and career, takes the news about their mother with the most difficulty, and the ensuing rift between siblings prompts Penelope to finance an early summer getaway for the three. Ellie and Georgiana persuade Vanessa to take a trip to Montana, where they might learn more about Hattie, the woman who gave up their father shortly after his birth. It turns out Hattie is alive and kicking, and with good reason to keep her history secret. The story takes a dangerous turn when Hattie-now the wealthy mother of a gubernatorial candidate-learns about the sisters' quest to find her. The transition from family saga to women-in-jeopardy thriller happens quickly and convincingly, but builds to an unsatisfying resolution. The sisterly bond of Vanessa, Ellie and Georgiana is sweet, but Hattie's sensational tale steals the show. (June)

Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780743297059
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster
  • Publication date: 6/26/2007
  • Edition description: Original
  • Pages: 320
  • Product dimensions: 5.90 (w) x 9.20 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Meet the Author

Judith Henry Wall is the author of several previous novels, including The Girlfriends Club, My Mother's Daughter, If Love Were All, Blood Sisters, and Love and Duty. She lives in Norman, Oklahoma.

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Read an Excerpt

Prologue

Eagles Nest, Colorado

As was her custom, Myrna had deliberately kept her visitor waiting for half an hour — a practice that established hierarchy. And the visitor would have had plenty of time to admire and be intimidated by her office with its sleek décor and the view from a spacious deck that jutted out over a veritable abyss and took one's breath away.

The man was on the deck when she entered the room, his hands on the railing, the wind lifting his longish hair as he took in the breathtaking view of Colorado's Elkhead Mountains. She watched him for a time, imagining the firm, youthful body beneath the well-tailored sport coat, and found herself regretting the vast difference in their ages. Not that she would have tried to seduce him, but a little sexual tension was to a business meeting what seasoning was to food; it made the experience more pleasant.

Of course, there had been a time in her life when a pleasant business encounter sometimes led to other things. It had been years, however, since she'd had a man in her arms and life, and probably she never would again. She'd always assumed that a time would arrive when she stopped having sexual thoughts, but they still came unbidden. In the night, they came. Or sometimes in the presence of an appealing man.

She cleared away such thoughts with a shake of her head and crossed the room to the open French doors. "Mr. Farris?"

He turned and smiled. His teeth were white and perfect. "You have the most incredible home I have ever seen," he said.

She accepted his compliment with a nod, then headed toward her desk with Mr. Farris following. She was still tall and erect and carried herself in a manner that belied her age, but she knew that he saw her as a person made all but genderless by advancing years.

Even if he were willing, she had too much pride.

Once they both were seated on their respective sides of her large, highly polished, and absolutely bare desk, he handed her a thick manila folder.

She placed it in front of her and folded her hands on top of it. "Tell me what's inside."

"Basically I discovered nothing about any family member that would cause insurmountable problems in your son's upcoming gubernatorial campaign," he said with his elbows resting on the arms of his chair, his body leaning slightly forward. "Other than Randall's DUIs, your children and their spouses and your grandchildren have been extremely circumspect in conducting their personal lives."

He waited for her to comment. When she remained silent, he said, "Your son has already acknowledged his DUIs in previous campaigns, and they seem to have been written off by voters as youthful indiscretions. His long-standing second marriage to the daughter of a noted architect is certainly in his favor. And Randall has an impressive military record, has been a reasonably effective congressman during his three terms, and is popular with the media."

Again he paused. When she didn't comment, he drew in his breath and slowly let it out.

She suppressed the smile that was playing with her lips. He was either feeling intimidation or frustration. Or both. Poor baby.

"As for your own background," he said with a bit of a stammer, "it is a bit more problematic. While it's not unheard of for birth records to be destroyed in courthouse fires and for an individual to apply for and receive a new birth certificate based on affidavits from relatives, baptismal and school records, and the like, the only documentation provided when you applied for a new birth certificate was an affidavit signed by two 'cousins' who have no paper trail at all, which could make one wonder if these two individuals ever existed."

He squared his shoulders as though expecting her to refute his statement. When she did not, he continued, "And this most likely fraudulent birth certificate is the only sort of documentation I was able to find on you until your second marriage. In fact, the first two decades of your life are devoid of any verifiable information. This absence of a paper trail is unusual at best, and if I were the suspicious sort, I would wonder if you hadn't created a new identity for yourself in young adulthood. According to the brief bio used by your company, you came from a mining family and were raised in Montana, but it would help if I knew something about your parents and your childhood."

"That was a very difficult time in my life," she said, "and I prefer not to make it public."

He regarded her, his head tilted to one side, as though he was trying to decide how insistent he should be. "Ordinarily," he said, "the media might not take much interest in the widowed mother of a potential candidate for high office. Since you are not the usual candidate's mother, however, there will likely be some snooping. Actually I predict there will be a great deal of snooping."

"It's your job to see that such 'snooping' goes no place," she said.

"Yes, of course." He leaned forward and placed his hands on the desk. "As a diversionary tactic, I suggest we clandestinely hire someone to write an 'unauthorized' biography on your life that will put forth a version of your difficult childhood and young adulthood that you can live with. The book will highlight your courage in overcoming adversity, your dedication to your family, your contributions to the mining industry, your generous support of numerous worthy philanthropies, and your incredible success in building one of the nation's largest family-owned companies from the ground up. However, the biography should also include a few salacious and apparently embarrassing details that in reality only serve to make you more interesting and colorful and make the book more believable but will cause no real damage to you or your family's reputation. You will make a public show of trying — unsuccessfully, of course — to stop publication of the book, which guarantees that it will be widely read and be used as a seemingly valid source of information for journalists."

She wanted to tell him no. Up to this point, she had led an exceedingly private life. But ironically the last decades of her life were a lead-up to one very public moment that would be played out in front of the Capitol in Washington, D.C. The governor's chair was but a stepping-stone to the presidency.

"The book is an intriguing idea," she said. "I will read your report and get back to you."

Copyright © 2007 by Judith Henry Wall, Inc.

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Introduction

Family Secrets

By Judith Henry Wall

The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for discussion of Family Secrets. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.

Many fine books from Simon & Schuster feature Readers Club Guides. For a complete listing, or to read the Guides online, visit http://www.BookClubReader.com

Discussion Points:

1. At the opening of the novel, Matthew Wentworth, father of the Wentworth sisters, has been dead almost a year. Which sister is struggling the most with his death? Do you think this affects their relationships with the men in their lives? If so, how?

2. Myrna reflects on her days as Hattie, and remembers her father after the mine accident, dying a slow death, with the scars on his back from the beatings he received at the hands of his father, and not a nickel to his name. She recalls the time her father sang the Christmas carol as a "moment of pure love, the sort of which does not come often in a lifetime, the sort of which one buries away because remembering is too painful." (p.65) How did the death of Hattie's father impact her? How did her difficult childhood mold the adult she became?

3. Why do you think the girls, Vanessa in particular, had such a difficult time adjusting to their mother's news about renting the family apartment and moving to the south of France with her new boyfriend? Do you think that Penelope could have done a better job of informing her daughters about her decision?

4. From the very first sentence, we get a glimpse into Myrna's mercurial character: "As was hercustom, Myrna had deliberately kept her visitor waiting for half an hour—a practice that established hierarchy." (p. 1) Why do you think Myrna chose to handle the arrival of her long-lost granddaughters in the manner that she did? What does this say about her character? What were her other options for dealing with her new-found family?

5. After Vanessa meets Randall Cunningham, Myrna's congressman son, he confides in her: "Mother never talked about her early life, and she had no photographs or keepsakes or mementos from her childhood. Not a one. We never made a trip back to her home town, never visited her family's graves. My mother was the most private person I have ever known, and I find it extremely difficult to believe that she would tell total strangers things that she never told her own children." (p.284) Were you surprised by Randall's reaction when he learns the truth about his mother from Vanessa? Do you get the sense that Randall was completely oblivious to his driven mother's ways? He then tells Vanessa that the door to the mine was open. Do you think Myrna came back to free them or did Willy escape to exact revenge on her employer?

6. Myrna reflects on her relationship with Willy: "Willy's entire life revolved around pleasing Myrna and her devotion to Myrna was absolute?Already loneliness was seeping into Myrna's bones and being as she realized how adrift she was going to be without her Willy. Willy had cared more about her than anyone else in the entire world. More than her own children." (p. 254) Discuss Willy and Myrna's relationship. Do you think it ran deeper than just employer and friend? Was it reciprocal?

7. At the end, how has each of the sisters changed? How do you think they will approach relationships in the future? How will each sister take this incredible ordeal and relate it to their lives?

8. Family Secrets combines a touching family saga with thrilling action and intrigue. Were you surprised when the story took such a dangerous turn?

9. At the end, Vanessa has an emotional visit with her mother in France, where she breaks down in tears and realizes, "She needed to cry a bit before her sister and daughter reached the top. Good tears?Tears because she was loved and loved in return, which is the greatest gift that life has to offer." (p.297) Love is a major theme in the novel. Discuss the different ways it is carried throughout. What are some of the other themes?

Enhance Your Book Club:

1) Deer Lodge is an actual town in Montana known for its two largest contributions—mining and prisons. Deer Lodge was home to the Old Montana Prison, which is now a museum, and currently houses the main corrections facility in the state. You can learn more about the town here: http://www.bigskyfishing.com/Montana-Info/city-galleries/deer-lodge-mt.shtm

2) If your book club meets for dinner, why not assign a character to each member and have them bring a dish that their character would make or enjoy? For example, Ellie is sure to bring something elegant, sparse and chic, whereas Vanessa might opt for comfort food.

3) Learn more about the author Judith Henry Wall by visiting her official site: www.judithhenrywall.com

Judith Henry Wall is the author of several previous novels, including The Girlfriends Club, My Mother's Daughter, If Love Were All, Blood Sisters, and Love and Duty. She lives in Norman, Oklahoma.

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Reading Group Guide

Family Secrets

By Judith Henry Wall

The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for discussion of Family Secrets. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.

Many fine books from Simon & Schuster feature Readers Club Guides. For a complete listing, or to read the Guides online, visit http://www.BookClubReader.com

Discussion Points:

1. At the opening of the novel, Matthew Wentworth, father of the Wentworth sisters, has been dead almost a year. Which sister is struggling the most with his death? Do you think this affects their relationships with the men in their lives? If so, how?

2. Myrna reflects on her days as Hattie, and remembers her father after the mine accident, dying a slow death, with the scars on his back from the beatings he received at the hands of his father, and not a nickel to his name. She recalls the time her father sang the Christmas carol as a "moment of pure love, the sort of which does not come often in a lifetime, the sort of which one buries away because remembering is too painful." (p.65) How did the death of Hattie's father impact her? How did her difficult childhood mold the adult she became?

3. Why do you think the girls, Vanessa in particular, had such a difficult time adjusting to their mother's news about renting the family apartment and moving to the south of France with her new boyfriend? Do you think that Penelope could have done a better job of informing her daughters about her decision?

4. From the very first sentence, we get a glimpse into Myrna's mercurial character: "As was her custom, Myrna had deliberately kept her visitor waiting for half an hour—a practice that established hierarchy." (p. 1) Why do you think Myrna chose to handle the arrival of her long-lost granddaughters in the manner that she did? What does this say about her character? What were her other options for dealing with her new-found family?

5. After Vanessa meets Randall Cunningham, Myrna's congressman son, he confides in her: "Mother never talked about her early life, and she had no photographs or keepsakes or mementos from her childhood. Not a one. We never made a trip back to her home town, never visited her family's graves. My mother was the most private person I have ever known, and I find it extremely difficult to believe that she would tell total strangers things that she never told her own children." (p.284) Were you surprised by Randall's reaction when he learns the truth about his mother from Vanessa? Do you get the sense that Randall was completely oblivious to his driven mother's ways? He then tells Vanessa that the door to the mine was open. Do you think Myrna came back to free them or did Willy escape to exact revenge on her employer?

6. Myrna reflects on her relationship with Willy: "Willy's entire life revolved around pleasing Myrna and her devotion to Myrna was absolute—Already loneliness was seeping into Myrna's bones and being as she realized how adrift she was going to be without her Willy. Willy had cared more about her than anyone else in the entire world. More than her own children." (p. 254) Discuss Willy and Myrna's relationship. Do you think it ran deeper than just employer and friend? Was it reciprocal?

7. At the end, how has each of the sisters changed? How do you think they will approach relationships in the future? How will each sister take this incredible ordeal and relate it to their lives?

8. Family Secrets combines a touching family saga with thrilling action and intrigue. Were you surprised when the story took such a dangerous turn?

9. At the end, Vanessa has an emotional visit with her mother in France, where she breaks down in tears and realizes, "She needed to cry a bit before her sister and daughter reached the top. Good tears—Tears because she was loved and loved in return, which is the greatest gift that life has to offer." (p.297) Love is a major theme in the novel. Discuss the different ways it is carried throughout. What are some of the other themes?

Enhance Your Book Club:

1) Deer Lodge is an actual town in Montana known for its two largest contributions—mining and prisons. Deer Lodge was home to the Old Montana Prison, which is now a museum, and currently houses the main corrections facility in the state. You can learn more about the town here: http://www.bigskyfishing.com/Montana-Info/city-galleries/deer-lodge-mt.shtm

2) If your book club meets for dinner, why not assign a character to each member and have them bring a dish that their character would make or enjoy? For example, Ellie is sure to bring something elegant, sparse and chic, whereas Vanessa might opt for comfort food.

3) Learn more about the author Judith Henry Wall by visiting her official site: www.judithhenrywall.com

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 3.5
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Sort by: Showing all of 3 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted January 21, 2012

    Couldn't put the book down!

    Read the book in one day...I couldn't put it down.

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  • Posted December 9, 2008

    more from this reviewer

    A reviewer

    On her sixtieth birthday, Widow Penelope informs her three daughters that she moving to France to be with a man Jean Claude none of them met. Additionally they learn that their paternal grandmother did not die in childbirth as they were told.---------------- After the first earthquake shocks pass, the three siblings react differently to the revelations. Mother of two Vanessa, who has marital troubles and hates her job and suburban lifestyle, cannot cope with her mom running off with some interloper. This leads to a family feud with her sisters, associate editor of Stiletto magazine Ellie and hand and foot supermodel Georgiana. Penelope wants her daughters happy so she offers to pay for a retreat. The trio takes her up on her offer, but decides to go to Montana to learn what they can about their grandmother Hattie, whom they assumed died in childbirth but recently found proof that she gave her son (their father) away. Instead Hattie is alive and so is another offspring, the uncle of the three sisters, who is running for governor Hattie needs the story of the one she gave away to her Aunt Vera remain concealed.------------------ This family drama starts off with a simple premise of the adult daughters battling over their widow mother¿s plans to remarry and relocate, but effortlessly converts into three women in danger. The story line picks up the pace once the siblings choose to ¿vacation¿ in Montana in order to meet their apteral grandmother and never slows down until the final confrontation inside a cave. Although the ending seems simply off kilter, fans will appreciate the three sisters meeting ¿grandmommy¿ dearest.-------------- Harriet Klausner

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 23, 2009

    No text was provided for this review.

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