I'm thrilled to be a part of the Indie Book Collective's August Bestseller for a Day. This month, we're be featuring In Leah's Wake, by Terri Giuliano Long. Here's the blurb, to whet your appetite...
While her parents fight to save their daughter from destroying her brilliant future, Leah's younger sister, Justine, must cope with the damage her out-of-control sibling leaves in her wake.
Will this family survive? What happens when love just isn't enough? Jodi Picoult fans will love this beautifully written and absorbing novel.
A long-time fan of Picoult and others in the genre, I'm excited to review In Leah's Wake. As a special treat for readers, I'll also be sharing an excerpt from Long's latest novel, In Leah's Wake.
Bestseller For A Day Giveaway...
Readers- want to win an autographed copy of In Leah's Wake? Simply answer the following question in the Comments section, and you'll be entered to win a signed print edition of this novel! (Don't forget your email address, so we can get in touch with the winner!) Here's the question...
Do you enjoy literary fiction? Why or why not?
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Author Terri Giuliano Long
Indigo Skye Reviews In Leah's Wake, by Terri Giuliano Long
This book is a real page-turner. The story of two sisters, In Leah’s Wake opens with an intriguing prologue that immediately piqued my interest. Will and Zoe, anxious parents awaiting their daughter Leah’s arrival after a soccer game, are on the edge of a fight when the book begins. Financial and career pressures only add to their stress when Leah misses her curfew one night. A protective father, Will heads out to search for his daughter while Zoe remains at home, waiting and worrying.
Long's finely-drawn characters and rich, descriptive prose drew me in right away, and I truly empathized with these frantic parents. When Leah arrives home late in the company of local bad boy Todd Corbett, there’s an ugly scene with her father. Zoe’s attempts to salvage her relationship with her daughter backfire, blowing up in her face and further alienating Leah from the rest of the family.
The narrative expands its scope, showing us the teenaged Leah, who’s up to no good. While her parents worry, she’s getting high, flirting with boys, trying Ecstasy for the first time, and running wild with a bad crowd.
I liked Long’s characters immediately because they are flawed and imperfect- they make bad decisions, lose their tempers, do things they’ll regret in the morning. It makes them seem all the more real- who hasn’t been there? These are people I can relate to.
When Leah’s casual experiments with drugs lead to a blackout, her younger sister Justine is forced to keep a dangerous secret- or risk alienating her sister further. Wanting to prove she’s trustworthy, Justine promises not to tell their parents. What happens next? I'm no spoiler- you'll just have to find out for yourself!
Characters you can relate to, a tight plot, and a story that moves at a whirlwind clip- In Leah’s Wake is definitely a book I’d recommend for your To Be Read list.
Blue Ribbon Day
An excerpt from In Leah’s Wake
By Terri Giuliano Long
It’s late morning, the end of October - the six-week anniversary of Zoe’s abortion. Exhausted, Zoe is dozing, dreaming about the baby boy she has lost. Her head aches when she comes to.
She rubs the sleep from her eyes. Leah stands at her elbow, cuddling her filthy pink blanket, a bright yellow tutu stretched over her playsuit. The elastic legs of the tutu pinch her chubby thighs; her shorts bunched. Her bangs are caught unevenly by blue and yellow plastic barrettes. Leah plugs her thumb in her mouth, brings the blanket’s satin edge to her nose.
The child is four years old, too old for a blanket.
Since the birth of her sister, eight months ago, Leah’s behavior has steadily regressed. Zoe was alarmed, at first, when her four-year-old suddenly began wetting her pants, mangling her once clearly articulated words. This is normal, the pediatrician had assured her. “A new sibling is stressful. She feels displaced. You’ll be surprised, how fast she adjusts.”
“Take your thumb out of your mouth, honey. You’re not a baby anymore. Here—” Zoe curls her fingers. “Give Mommy the blanket.”
“I wanna play wif Hammy,” Leah says, thumb garbling her words.
“Take your thumb out of your mouth.” Zoe extends her hand. “And give me the blanket.”
Leah shakes her head furiously.
Zoe’s neck aches. “Fine,” she says, too tired to argue. “Have it your way.”
The door of the cuckoo clock on the wall in front of the staircase swings open and a bright red rooster springs out. Cuckoo, the bird sings. Cuckoo, cuckoo. Noon.
“How about if you go outside for a while? Play on your swings? Dog’s out there.”
“Don’t wanna go outside,” Leah says, unplugging her mouth. Leah turns the blanket in her hands, twists the blanket into a filthy pink ball. “I wanna play wif Hammy. Hammy likes me, Daddy says.”
The hamster reminds Zoe of a rat. Will brought it home last month, after a trip. In a flash, Zoe sees Leah clinging to her father’s legs, begging him not to go. Their daughter asked for her father over and over, at least a dozen times a day, the entire time he was gone. Where my Daddy? Why he leave? In a time zone three hours earlier than theirs, he phoned them at night, after she’d fallen asleep. Zoe sees him in the doorway, two weeks later, hands behind his back, a guilty grin on his face. Peering around him, she sees the aquarium, a Habitrail, a month’s supply of wood chips. A giant bag of pellets leans against his luggage.
“Where’s my girl?” With a flourish, he produces his gift. “Where’s Leah?”
“For God’s sake. She doesn’t need another pet.” Zoe has her hands full with that puppy he brought home six months ago. The Lab isn’t even housebroken yet. Poor thing—they still call her Dog.
Will pretended Zoe was kidding. This isn’t a joke, she told him. You’ve been gone three weeks this month. She’s starting to forget what you look like. He turned away. He had no choice, he told her. Problem on one of the jobs. A Marriott. Something about the union, the plumbers threatening to strike. His responsibility. He’d negotiated the contract. He’d much rather be home. Didn’t she know that?
She shook her head, listening, not quite believing.
Leah refuses to budge.
This child is her father’s daughter. She inherited his dazzling blue eyes, his height—at four, she reaches her mother’s waist—Will’s sturdy athlete’s build, his silky blond hair. This stubborn streak, too, comes directly from him.
“I wanna play wif Hammy.” Leah paws Zoe’s arm, climbs onto her knee.
Zoe lifts her daughter, sets her back down. “Later, OK? We’ll get him out after lunch.”
Leah huffs. It’s almost comical, how she stands, feet apart, legs braced as though ready to fight, eyes flashing, tiny fists pressed to her hips. A miniature Will, Zoe thinks, picturing her husband in that same stance, the night before he left.
“California?” Zoe said. “And you’re not taking us?”
She and Will lived in California before they married. They met in Berkeley. He was a folk artist then, in his other life, as he calls it. He was playing a gig and she was in the audience, with a group of friends, at a table at the back of the room. Her friends were noisy, rude. Enraged, he’d ended the show early. She looked for him afterward to apologize. They talked for hours that night, and he’d driven her home. Within three months, they were living together. She misses those days, California, the loving, spontaneous couple she and Will used to be.
He’d be on site all day. He laid a starched white shirt in his suitcase. “You and the kids, you’d have nothing to do.”
Sure they would. They could go to the beach, she said, and ticked off a list.
“That’s ridiculous. I have to work. Besides, we don’t have the money.”
Damn it, she said. Why don’t we have the money? Where does it go? Look around. Where it always goes. Where it always goes? Toward your three-piece suits, she wanted to say, your nights on the town. Not here, she did say, into the house, like you promised. They’d made all sorts of plans when they bought the house. They talked about renovating the kitchen. Will promised to raise the ceiling in their bedroom, finish the basement, build a playroom for the kids, none of which he’d done.
“Jesus Christ, Zoe.” He looked at her hard, and turned away.
What? Tell her. Damn it. She wanted to know.
Fine. Look at her. How many more days did she plan on wearing those sweat pants? She’d gained fifteen pounds. Her jeans were too tight. Turning, she felt his eyes on her back. And when, by the way, did she plan to wash her hair? Zoe raked her fingers over her head. “Listen—” He lowered his voice, took hold of her hand, spun her around. “For God’s sake, Zoe.” Would she rather she’d died? The IUD her doctor had inserted after Justine was born was still intact when she discovered she was pregnant again. Her doctor attempted to remove it without surgery and couldn’t. One chance in a thousand, he’d told them. It was possible to continue the pregnancy—the choice was hers—but he did not recommend it. The IUD in situ put her at risk for septicemia. And septic shock could kill her. “I know it takes time,” Will said. “Think of the kids. You’ve got to pull yourself together.”
Leah clambers onto her mother’s lap, places both hands at the base of Zoe’s neck, yanks. She wants to play the kissing game.
“Not now, sweetie.” Zoe pries Leah’s hands from her neck. “Mommy has a headache.”
Leah squinches her eyes. For an instant, Zoe thinks she might hate this child, so like her father.
Yes, it takes time. Of course it takes time.
Her husband, Zoe suddenly realizes, is having an affair. Though she has no tangible proof, she knows, the thought winding forward for weeks. She hasn’t wanted to see.
Leah says something and Zoe blinks, trembling.
Leah gazes up at her. Zoe sees the confusion in her daughter’s eyes and feels bad. “Mommy doesn’t feel good,” Zoe explains. “Check on Justine, sweetie? Make sure she’s OK?”
“I wanna play wif Hammy.”
“Please, Leah. Mommy has work to do. Play with Dog, for now. We’ll get Hammy out of his cage when I’m —”
Before Zoe finishes the sentence, Leah scoots off. Zoe pulls herself up, heads to the playroom, to check on the baby.
Pastry shells are cooling on an aluminum cookie tray, on top of the stove. Zoe’s headache is worse. She took a Percocet tablet fifteen minutes ago and feels woozy. Doctor Marquette prescribed the medication after the surgery. Two weeks later, Zoe was still having cramps and he refilled the prescription. She’s been back a dozen times since, always finagling, working his guilt. Dizzy, she grabs the back of a chair. When she regains her balance, she carries the tray to the counter. The kitchen is warm from the heat of the oven. She pushes the sleeves of her sweater to her elbows, opens the shells, pulls the warm doughy centers, places the bottom halves of the pastries on the sheet. When the shells are cool, she spoons whipped cream into the cavity, replaces the tops, dusts them with sugar.
Zoe put the baby down twenty minutes ago, for her nap.
Leah tugs at her leg.
“Sorry, sweetie. What is it? Mommy wasn’t paying attention.” Zoe sits, spreading her knees, draws her daughter into the empty space between her legs. She takes her daughter’s face in her hands, tips her head back. “My sweet baby,” Zoe murmurs, holding her close. “Momma’s precious little girl.”
Leah pulls away before Zoe is ready. “Do trot, trot?” Leah pleads.
Trot, trot is a baby game, but Zoe goes along anyway. She turns Leah around, so they’re facing one another, slides her daughter backward, takes hold of her hands. “Trot, trot to Boston,” Zoe chants, bouncing Leah on her knees. Trot, trot to Lynn. Better watch out or you’re gonna— Holding Leah’s hands tightly, Zoe opens her legs, dips her daughter, close to the floor. Fall in. Breathless, Leah begs Zoe to do it again. “Again, Mommy. Gain.” Trot, trot to Boston, Zoe repeats. Again and again.
Finally, Leah has had enough.
“Sweetie,” Zoe says, out of breath herself. “Check on your sister? See if she’s asleep?”
Leah nods and hops down.
When Leah returns, Zoe makes her daughter a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Zoe is due for her period. She winces, her uterus contracting, the pain intense, like the phantom pain people feel in an arm or leg after an amputation. When she opens the cabinet to fetch a glass for Leah’s milk, she eyes the bottle of Percocet, wedged in the corner. Her breathing labored, she blinks against the sudden, shooting pain in her womb. Just one more, she thinks. Or two. Two would help a lot. She pours a glass of water to wash down the pills, rinses the glass, fills it with milk, hands it to Leah, takes a seat at the table, across from her daughter, and watches her eat.
When Leah finishes her lunch, she climbs back into Zoe’s lap, twiddles a lock of her mother’s hair. “Your hair is pretty. I wished I had pretty hair like you,” Leah says.
“Your hair is pretty, honey. You have Daddy’s hair. Very pretty.”
Leah grins, pleased to hear she resembles her father, yawns, dropping her head, nuzzles Zoe’s chest. Zoe strokes her daughter’s hair. Leah smells of the outdoors, as Zoe imagines a baby robin might smell—of the trees, of the grass, of the air.
Leah falls asleep in her mother’s arms. Zoe stands, cradling her child, carries Leah to the den, lays her on the sofa, tucks a pillow under her head. Then she settles on the couch, on the end opposite Leah, her daughter’s bare feet tucked between her shins.
Within minutes, Zoe’s asleep.
In the dream, Zoe is rowing a canoe, in the middle of the ocean. The canoe bobs in the waves. A swell washes over her, tipping the boat, and Zoe is treading water. She tries to swim, the current too strong. The tide carries her downstream, through a narrow passageway, to a saltwater river. A party boat passes, so close she can almost reach out and touch it. People in Twenties-style clothing—mustachioed men in crisp white suits, women in short frilly dresses—are crowded on the deck, several men leaning precariously over the rail. The women laugh, sipping martinis. A band, playing on the upper deck, launches into a song, people singing, dancing. Zoe cries out, but no one hears. Suddenly, she spots Leah, floating toward her. Zoe kicks her feet, harder, harder, propelling her body forward. Leah reaches, grabbing her neck. No, Leah. We’ll both drown. Take my hand, baby. My hand.
He’s dead, Momma. He’s dead. Leah tugs Zoe’s hand.
“What?” Zoe says, somewhere between waking and sleep. “Baby, what’s wrong?”
Leah shrieks, her face blotchy, contorted. Zoe pushes to her elbows, her tongue cotton, her ears full of liquid.
A haze has fallen over the house. She searches for the clock.
The room blurs. Zoe thinks she might vomit. Leah tugs harder, trying to pull Zoe—Where? Reaching backward, using the arm of the sofa for leverage, Zoe drags herself up. Rubs her eyes, her skull expanding, her mind numb.
“Mommy, listen,” Leah cries. “You’re not listening, Mommy.”
Zoe floats toward the stairs, Leah zooming ahead. Her joints ache, the soles of her feet burning as she presses, one foot then the other, to the hardwood floor, sheer will propelling her forward. She wishes she could go back to sleep. She could sleep forever, she thinks.
“Mommy,” Leah calls, from the top of the stairs. “Hurry.”
“I’m coming, Leah. I am.”
Zoe holds onto the banister, the stairs moaning under her weight. Leah has drawn stick figures with black magic marker on the walls inside the stairwell. Her temples throb, blood draining from her head to her chest. Mommy. Come, Momma. Hurry.
What has she done? My God, Zoe thinks. What have I done?
“I did it, Mommy,” Leah cries. “I killed him.”
For one horrific moment, the world goes still. Then Zoe is shaking her daughter— “Who, Leah? Who did you kill?”—terrified of the answer.
Suddenly, the baby wails. Zoe blinks, catching her breath.
“I wanted to make him pretty, Mommy. I hadda hold him,” she sobs. “I holded him nice. I did. I tied the ribbon and he stopped breaving.”
She sees the hamster now, in Leah’s open palm, a pale blue ribbon cinching its waist.
Holding Leah’s free hand, Zoe guides her daughter back to the bedroom, removes a shoebox from Leah’s closet, lays the hamster to rest. Taking Leah by the hand, she goes to Justine. After she changes the baby’s diaper, the three of them will take the hamster outside, bury him in the backyard. They’ll say a prayer, sing a song. Afterward, Zoe will read the Genesis story, from Leah’s Bible For Children. She will take her daughter into her arms, tell her she mustn’t blame herself. All creatures die. Death is part of God’s plan. Don’t be afraid, baby, she’ll say. Dying doesn’t hurt. Death, she thinks, afflicts only the living. When Leah looks up, Zoe will read in her daughter’s eyes the faint stirring of comprehension. And she’ll hold her tightly, comforting, protecting her child, while she still can.
Author Terri Giuliano Long
Terri Giuliano Long grew up in the company of stories both of her own making and as written by others. Books offer her a zest for life’s highs and comfort in its lows better than anything else can. She’s all-too-happy to share this love with others as a novelist and as a writing instructor at Boston College. She blogs about writing and the writing life at www.tglong.com/blog . Connect on Twitter: @tglong.
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This month's Bonus Buy Books are...
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