For decades, the Hollander Estates winery has been the premier destination for lavish parties and romantic day trips on the North Fork of Long Island. But behind the lush vineyards and majestic estate house, the Hollander family fortunes have suffered and the threat of a sale brings old wounds to the surface. For matriarch Vivian, she fears that this summer season could be their last—and that selling their winery to strangers could expose a dark secret she's harbored for decades. Meanwhile, her daughter, Leah, who was turned away from the business years ago, finds her marriage at a crossroads and returns home for a sorely needed escape. And granddaughter Sadie, grappling with a crisis of her own, runs to the vineyard looking for inspiration.
But when Sadie uncovers journals from Vivian's old book club dedicated to scandalous novels of decades past, she realizes that this might be the distraction they all need. Reviving the "trashy" book club, the Hollander women find that the stories hold the key to their fight not only for the vineyeard, but for the life and love they've wanted all along.
Blush is a bighearted story of love, family, and second chances, and an ode to the blockbuster novels that have shaped generations of women.
Related collections and offers
|Publisher:||Penguin Publishing Group|
|Product dimensions:||5.70(w) x 9.10(h) x 1.50(d)|
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
Prologue – 1985
Cutchogue, New York
It was the time of year known as bud break, that late spring moment when the entire vineyard turned green.
She looked out at the orderly rows of plants as far as the eye could see. The knotty wood trunk of the vines gave way to a lush canopy of leaves that her father tamed with wire, and little nubs of the fruit poked through with the promise of abundance. It was Leah’s favorite season, the moment before everything changed.
The sun began to set but her father showed no sign of slowing down. Her older brother had lost interest and wandered off long ago. Her father patted her head, saying, “At least one of my children is paying attention to what’s important.” The praise thrilled her. “See here, Leah – we don’t need all these shoots,” he said, indicating where he had clipped away at the plant tied to the trellis wire. “This is the primary shoot, and we can’t have others competing for the plant’s resources.”
Her father had been bringing her out into the fields from the time she could walk. The winery was her home, and the acres of surrounding fields were her secret garden. This made her feel special; it made her feel like she had a destiny, and no matter what happened at school or with her friends, she had something bigger to hold onto. Here, she belonged.
A young man emerged from the row of Syrah plants. Javier was her father’s most trusted field hand.
“Javier, tomorrow we’ll start at five-thirty,” her father called out to him.
“Yes, Senõr Hollander.”
Javier had black hair and black eyes and long limbs that made her watch his every move with a fascination she couldn’t contain. When he disappeared into the distance, the fields suddenly felt a little less alive. She was twelve years old, Javier was her first crush, and her feelings made the vineyard seem even more magical.
At dusk, she and her father walked silently back towards the sprawling eighteenth century farmhouse that her parents had converted into a winery. Laughter emanated from the back deck, an assembly of women in which her mother held center court.
It was the last Tuesday of the month, and that meant book club.
Her father walked past the group with a small wave to Leah’s mother, following a path around to the front of the building. Leah lingered, hoping to remain unnoticed even just for a few moments so she could watch them. The women all looked glamorous, in their dresses by Halston, Nolan Miller and Escada, their hair teased and sprayed into style, their lips bright with gloss. But the standout in any crowd was always her mother, with her ash blonde hair, blue eyes, and sharp cheekbones. She looked like the actress who played Krystle Carrington on their favorite television show, Dynasty.
Their glasses bubbled with the sparkling version of Hollander Estate Winery’s pale pink wine, the one called blush. Leah’s brother, Asher, had snuck a sample for them both one day when they were helping out in the bottling room. It was sweeter than she’d expected, better than she’d expected – especially since her father dismissed it as “swill.”
“Then why do you make it?” she’d asked him. Her father was the winemaker, and if it was swill, it was swill he had created on purpose. He was a third generation vintner, a family tradition that had begun in 1910 when her great-great grandfather was gifted a Mendoza, Argentina winery as payment for a debt. Her father had told her the story many times.
“Because it sells,” her father said.
It was a calm, windless evening and a honey-like scent hung in the air, a promise of the summer to come. The women took seats around one of the cherry wood tables, carrying their wine and books. They were already flipping through pages, whispering and pointing at certain passages. Occasionally, one of the women would glance over to make sure Leah didn’t hear what they were saying.
“Leah, time to run along,” her mother said. “We’re going to begin.”
Leah did not want to run along. She yearned to be included in the group, to get dressed up and sit by her mother’s side and talk about books.
“When you’re older,” her mother had said when Leah confessed this to her. What she didn’t confess was that she’d been reading the books with them all along, sneaking her mother’s copy when she wasn’t around. The pages were filled with sex.
Leah had been tempted to admit her secret to the winery’s sales rep, Delphine, who recently joined the book club. She’d spotted Delphine reading Scruples in the tasting room just a few days earlier. Delphine herself seemed to Leah like the heroine of a novel: beautiful, exotic, and endlessly knowledgeable about wine in a way Leah hoped to be when she grew up. Delphine was French. Leah’s parents constantly had to remind Delphine not to smoke in the winery because it would “blunt the palate.”
Now, looking around the veranda, it seemed the entire book club was assembled except for Delphine. She lingered until her mother placed a cool hand on her back.
“Leah, you must go,” her mother said, consulting her diamond Ebel watch. “And where is Delphine? I have half a mind to start without her.”
She looked around but the only new arrival was Leah’s father, breathless and red in the face.
“Vivian, I need to speak to you,” he said.
“Can’t it wait, Leonard? We’re about to begin.”
What could this be about? Her father never went anywhere near the book club, and Leah knew that’s exactly how her mother liked it.
Vivian excused herself from her friends, patted her perfectly coiffed hair in irritation, and followed her husband down the stairs a discreet distance from the deck. Leah followed behind them and ducked behind a flowering shrub.
“Delphine is hysterically crying in the office. I need your help dealing with this.”
“What happened is – she’s been sleeping with our accounts and now one of our biggest is dropping us.”
“Dropping us? Why?”
“Because Delphine broke up with him. This is why women shouldn’t work at a winery!”
He stormed off, leaving her mother clutching the Bulgari necklace at her throat. She spotted Leah, who tried to slink away. “For the last time, get to the house, young lady,” her mother said. “You don’t belong out here.”
Of course she did. No matter what was happening, Leah knew it was the only place she’d ever belong.
PART ONE: Bud Break
“Girls may start out smart but not all girls stay so damned smart.” – Judith Krantz
New York City
“I’m looking for something decadent,” the woman said, leaning over the counter and squinting at the menu board. “Something to impress.”
She was not one of Leah’s regular customers, the ones who stopped in every week to buy cheese for their weekend charcuterie boards or just to stock their fridge. The people Leah had come to know over the years, debating the merits of tossing a good Castelrosso into salad instead of feta.
“Are you looking for a soft or hard cheese?” Leah asked. Typically, she would ask for more information: what other food would be served? If wine would be part of the meal, what varietal? But lately, she was distracted.
“Either one,” the woman said. She had brown hair shimmering with gold highlights and wore a chic, lightweight trench.
“I’m a big fan of the Kunik,” Leah said. “It’s a triple cream cheese. Very silky texture and truly delicious. Try this – like butter,” she said, passing the woman a plastic knife brimming with a sample of the soft white cheese.
The woman tasted it, eyes widening.
“You know what you’re talking about.”
Yes, she did. Leah had opened the cheese shop eighteen years ago, when her daughter was just three years old. The small space on the corner of 79th and First Avenue had stood vacant for a long time. Every day, passing it on her way to buy groceries at Agata & Valentina, she fantasized about turning it into a cheese shop. She even had a name for it: Bailey’s Blue, an ode to her love of blue cheese.
The door opened, and this time it was a regular, a party planner named Roya Lout who had talked more than one hostess into using Bailey’s Blue instead of a larger purveyor. “I like your style,” she had declared, and Leah knew she wasn’t talking about her clothes. Years ago, before it was popular, Leah had made a commitment to feature locally produced cheese and her shop consistently showcased Northeastern artisanal varieties.
There had been a time when she had thought about expanding her space to include the location next door if it became available. She taught wine and cheese classes in the cramped back room of the shop, and she could use a dedicated space for that. At just around 800 square feet, Bailey’s Blue had one long counter, and one display case filled with wheels of creamy Brie, Camembert, Comte, and Gruyere. She also had one case for her beloved Blues: Roquefort, Stilton, Gorgonzola, a few wedges of the classic Maytag, Pur Chevre Bleu from Illinois and Bergere Bleue from upstate. The shelves behind the counter brimmed with jars of assorted olives, figs, chocolate-covered almonds, artisanal crackers, and jam – the accoutrements to tease out the nuanced flavors of fine cheese. Her husband had recently added a mounted display of cheese knives and serving boards for sale.
“It’s getting cluttered in here,” she’d said. But Steven, recently retired and now working beside her in the shop, was eager to make his mark.
As it turned out, there would be no expanding next door: the landlord was selling the entire lot to developers and they would be losing their lease in six months. It was happening all over the Upper East Side neighborhood known as Yorkville, once a haven of mom-and-pop bakeries, hardware stores, boutique pharmacies and beauty shops. Now, entire city blocks were being raised to build high rises, the small businesses replaced by CVS and Citibank.
Steven saw it as an opportunity to start fresh with a bigger, better space.
“Change can be a good thing,” he said.
Leah, who had been in business for nearly two decades now, felt like maybe she needed a moment to catch her breath.