Best Behavior by Wendy Francis – Blog Tour

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Publication Date: May 5, 2020

Publisher: Graydon House Books

The drama is hot and the drinks are flying in Wendy Francis’s witty, warm, and quirky family drama, BEST BEHAVIOR (Graydon House; May 5, 2020; $17.99 USD). Heartfelt and relatable, Francis cleverly portrays the nuances of a less-than-perfect but more-than-loving blended family in all its messy glory.

Meredith Parker and her husband Joel have been dreading the weekend of their twins’ college graduation. Not only does it mean that Dawn and Cody are flying out of Meredith’s nest to live in Chicago and North Dakota, but it also means Meredith will have to deal with her insufferable ex-husband, Roger, his pompous parents and his new wife Lily, so young she could be the twins’ sister! But Meredith is willing to be the Jackie O. of college graduations. She can handle that for three days, can’t she?

Meanwhile, Dawn, who has spent a lifetime cleaning up after her ‘golden boy’ brother, discovers a mess even she may not be able to get Cody out of. He’s been acting weird last the few weeks of school; picking up smoking, breaking up with his girlfriend, but this… this is definitely a problem. She needs to figure out what’s going on with her twin before he really ruins his life. 

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Excerpt

Chapter 1

On Thursday morning, the temperature outside is seventy-one degrees and climbing while Meredith Parker considers which of a thousand recommended places she would like to visit before she dies. Not that she’s anticipating dying anytime soon, but she needs a distraction. She figures she has already seen at least a handful—Yosemite (breathtaking, as advertised), Niagara Falls (overrated in her opinion ‒ and cold), and San Francisco (lovely, with a charming hippie vibe). It’s the exotic locales that have eluded her over the past forty-six years, places like Tahiti or Rome or the Swiss Alps. Although, come to think of it, Meredith doesn’t really care for skiing, so she can probably cross the Alps right off her list. But Rome would be nice—all that history and pasta—and wine! A cheap fare must be available on one of those best-deal websites, if she searches long enough. Yes, she’s fairly certain she can persuade her husband, Joel, that Rome should be their first-ever international destination, the new green pin on their Where Have You Been? map that hangs on the wall in the den. That is, of course, once the kids have settled into their new homes.

And with the thought of her children’s imminent departure, Meredith’s throat tightens. What’s the use? she thinks. No number of mental hijinks will make her forget the real purpose of today’s trip. She, Joel, and her mother, Carol, are tracing the familiar route up from New Haven to Boston, as they have dozens of times before, the trees beyond the window zipping by in a curtain of emerald green.

But this weekend will be different.

Because this weekend marks the twins’ college graduation, an event that seemed impossibly far away only a few years ago, even a few months ago. Tomorrow her babies, the ones she used to cradle in each arm, will accept their hard-earned diplomas and officially step out into the great wide beyond, otherwise known as Adult Life.

Last night, when she’d gone to her neighborhood book club, the room had been abuzz with excitement over the upcoming weekend. “You must be bursting with pride!” her friend Lauren exclaimed. “I can’t believe that Cody and Dawn are already graduating. It’s so exciting.” And Meredith had nodded, as if she, too, were in a state of shock over this improbable fact.

It’s true that she couldn’t be prouder of the twins, but the moment is bittersweet. Soon, Cody will be off to Bismarck, North Dakota, to teach high school history, and Dawn is headed to Chicago to work at an advertising firm. Her kids will be so far away, they might as well be moving to Bangkok. Even though she knows it’s irrational, Meredith is racked by the feeling that after this summer she might never see her children again.

Admittedly, she is at a corner, or more specifically, at a crossroads in her life. Images of a two-year-old, chubby Cody racing into her arms or of a young Dawn asking for “one more good-night tuck-in” swim through her mind. She can still feel those small arms wrapped tightly around her, the love so palpable she used to think her heart would leap from her chest to theirs. How is it possible that her babies are graduating from college this weekend?

With Lauren’s comment, Meredith had cast her gaze around the book group (who, truth be told, rarely ever discussed the book at hand) and realized with a start that the difference between her own life and that of her friends’ suddenly stretched before her like a giant yawning chasm: Meredith was about to say goodbye to her kids once and for all, while her neighbors still had years of child-raising ahead of them.

Lauren had offered her an affectionate pat on the shoulder, as if she could read Meredith’s thoughts, and handed over a generous pour of chardonnay, which Meredith accepted gratefully. Maybe, she allowed herself to consider, Lauren was right. Maybe the graduation weekend would be exciting, as pleasing as a perfectly folded fitted sheet. Tuck this person into that corner, that person over there, smooth it, smooth it, and everyone would get along swimmingly.

Given her patched-together, hybrid family, though, Meredith sincerely doubts it. Her ex-husband, Roger, will be bringing Lily, his new wife of six months. And as fine as Meredith is with the idea of Roger’s remarrying after all these years, his new marriage somehow feels forced, as if he has just purchased a new set of golf clubs that he’s eager to show off to the rest of the family.

“I know. It’s crazy, right?” Meredith had managed to get out after swallowing her wine. “The twins are officially all grown up.”

Lauren, a corporate attorney, has two young girls, six and eight, whom Meredith adores and dreams of kidnapping one day (she tells herself it wouldn’t really be kidnapping, though, since they’re all neighbors, and obviously she would do Lauren the courtesy of asking before moving the girls into her own home.). As it is, she helps out with the girls whenever she can, usually after school when Lauren works late and Meredith is already back from her shift in the NICU. The girls have her pegged for a softy and know full well that she will buy them ice cream, bake chocolate chip cookies on a whim, and watch every terrible mermaid movie that’s available for streaming. They call her “Auntie,” which makes her heart swell and break simultaneously.

Some days she wishes she and Joel had tried for their own children way back when, even though the timing was off—they didn’t meet till Meredith was in her late thirties—and there would have been a considerable age gap, more than a decade, between a new baby and the twins. But at least she would still hear young voices in the house, would have someone to ferry to ballet practice or help with a book report. As exhausting as it could be some days (that Taj Mahal built out of marshmallows for fifth grade nearly killed her), she misses the maternal responsibilities she was once counted on for, feels the lack like an unfamiliar brittleness settling into her bones.

Theoretically, she understands that the twins flew the coop four years ago when they left for college. But that was different. The kids continued to call every Sunday night, and she and Joel could drop by on the odd weekend. Luckily, both children had decided on the same college in Boston, making spur-of-the-moment visits ridiculously convenient. But traveling so far away for jobs where she might see them only once or twice a year for Thanksgiving and Christmas? She honestly doesn’t know how—or if—she can handle it.

Thankfully, no matter what faults she and her ex-husband, Roger, might have had as a couple, their kids have turned out all right—better than all right—and Meredith lets herself relax slightly with this thought now. Dawn, hands down her most difficult child during the teenage years, has blossomed into a bright young woman. Gone are the days when Meredith’s every comment would prompt an eye roll from her daughter. And despite an unfortunate hiccup with the Administrative Board last year, Dawn has managed to pull off graduating with honors. Meanwhile, Cody (Meredith’s lips part into a smile when she imagines him striding across the stage in his gown) is graduating Phi Beta Kappa. Not only that, but he set the school record for all-time rushing yards this fall, leading his football team to their best season in fifteen years. Cody has become a rock star on his small New England campus, and as his mother, Meredith can’t help but feel a bit smug. After all, she was the one who whipped up protein shake after protein shake and lugged him to hundreds of high school practices. She was the one who allowed her lovely den to be transformed into a weight room filled with smelly sneakers and barbells for four years.

If she knows one thing deep in her bones, it’s that she is a good mom, one who has raised hardworking, resilient children. She imagines holding her breath as they parade across Bolton’s commencement stage, much as she did when they took their first ungainly steps across the kitchen floor, Cody wheeling ahead in wide, determined strides and Dawn following a few paces behind, her tongue twisted into a tight coil of determination. Meredith is enormously proud of them, and, quite honestly, of herself. She didn’t abandon her kids like Roger did, when he’d seen fit to put his penis where it didn’t belong. But that was nearly ten years ago, water under the bridge—more of a tepid stream wandering through her mind these days than a charging river.

Author Bio

Wendy Francis Author Photo

Wendy Francis is a former book editor and the author of three novels: The Summer Sail, The Summer of Good Intentions, and Three Good Things. Her essays have appeared in Good Housekeeping, The Washington Post, Yahoo Parenting, The Huffington Post, and WBUR’s Cognoscenti. Born and raised in the Midwest, she now lives outside of Boston with her husband and son. Reach out to her here: 

Author Website

Twitter: @wendyfrancis4

Instagram: @wendyfrancisauthor

Facebook: @wendyfrancisauthor

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The KILL CLUB by Wendy Heard Blog Tour

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  • The Kill Club by Wendy Heard
  • On Sale Date: December 17, 2019
  • Fiction / Thrillers / Psychological 

 

Synopsis

A haunting thriller about a woman who attempts to save her brother’s life by making a dangerous pact with a network of vigilantes who’ve been hunting down the predators of Los Angeles.

 

Jazz can’t let her younger brother die.

 

Their foster mother Carol has always been fanatical, but with Jazz grown up and out of the house, Carol takes a dangerous turn that threatens thirteen-year-old Joaquin’s life. Over and over, child services fails to intervene, and Joaquin is running out of time.

 

Then Jazz gets a blocked call from someone offering a solution. There are others like her, people the law has failed. They’ve formed an underground network of “helpers,” each agreeing to murder the abuser of another. They’re taking back their power and leaving a trail of bodies throughout Los Angeles—dubbed the Blackbird Killings. If Jazz joins them, they’ll take care of Carol for good.

 

All she has to do is kill a stranger.

 

Jazz soon learns there’s more to fear than getting caught carrying out her assignment. The leader of the club has a zero tolerance policy for mistakes.

 

And the punishment for disobeying orders is death.

Author Bio

Wendy Heard Author Photo_Credit Courtest MIRA Books.jpg

Wendy Heard, author of Hunting Annabelle, was born in San Francisco and has lived most of her life in Los Angeles. When not writing, she can be found hiking the Griffith Park trails, taking the Metro and then questioning this decision, and haunting local bookstores. Connect with Wendy on her Author website

You can also follow her here:

Twitter: @wendydheard

Instagram: @wendydheard

Facebook: @wendydheard

Excerpt

THE CEILING ABOVE the crowd sparkles with strings of golden lights. They twinkle just bright enough to illuminate the faces. I adjust a microscopic issue with my toms and run my fingers through my bangs, straightening them over my eyes. The guys are tuning up, creating a clatter of discordant notes in the monitors. When they’re done, they approach my kit for our usual last-minute debate about the set list. Dao humps his bass in his ready-to-play dance, black hair swishing around his shoulders. “Dude, stop,” Matt groans and readjusts the cable that connects his Telecaster to his pedal board.

“Your mom loves my dancing,” Dao says.

“You dance like Napoleon Dynamite,” Matt retorts.

“Your mom dances like Napoleon Dynamite.”

Andre raises his hands. “Y’all both dance like Napoleon Dynamite, and so do both your moms, so let’s just—”

I wave a stick at them. “Guys. Focus. The sound guy is watching. We’re three minutes behind.” I have no patience for this shit tonight. This all feels extra and stupid. I should be doing something to help Joaquin. His dwindling supply of insulin sits at the front of my brain like a ticking clock.

The guys get into their spots, the distance between them set by muscle memory. Andre leans forward into the mic and drawls, “Arright DTLA, lez get a little dirty in here.” His New Orleans accent trickles off his tongue like honey.

The room inhales, anticipates, a sphere of silence.

“Two three four,” I yell. I clack my sticks together and we let loose, four on the floor and loud as hell. I’m hitting hard tonight. It feels great. I need to hit things. My heart beats in tempo. My arms fly through the air, the impact of the drums sharp in my joints, in my muscles, the kick drum a pulse keeping the audience alive. This is what I love about drumming, this forcing of myself into the crowd, making their hearts pound in time to my beat.

Dao fucks up the bridge of “Down With Me” and Andre gives him some vicious side-eye. The crowd is pressed tight up against the stage. A pair of hipsters in cowboy hats grabs a corresponding pair of girls and starts dancing with them. I cast Dao an eye-rolling look referring to the cowboy hats and he wiggles his eyebrows at me. I stomp my kick drum harder, pretending it’s Carol’s face.

The crowd surges back. Arms fly. A guy in the front staggers, falls. A pair of hands grips the stage, and a girl tries to pull herself up onto it.

Matt and Dao stop playing. The music screeches to a halt.

“What’s going on?” I yell.

“Something in the pit,” Dao calls back.

Andre drops his mic and hops down into the crowd. Dao and Matt cast their instruments aside and close the distance to the edge of the stage. I get up and join them. Together, we look down into the pit.

A clearing has formed around a brown-haired guy lying on the floor. Andre and the bouncer squat by him as he squirms and thrashes, his arms and legs a tangle of movement. Andre’s got his phone pressed to his ear and is talking into it urgently. The bouncer is trying to hold the flailing man still, but the man’s body is rigid, shuddering out of the bouncer’s grip. He flops onto his back, and I get a good look at his face.

Oh, shit, I know this guy. He’s a regular at our shows. He whines and pants, muffled words gargling from his throat. Some of the bystanders have their phones out and are recording this. Assholes.

The man shrieks like a bird of prey. The crowd sucks its whispers back into itself, and the air hangs heavy and hushed under the ceiling twinkle lights.

Andre is still talking into his phone. The bouncer lifts helpless hands over the seizing man, obviously not sure what to do.

I should see if Andre wants help. I hop down off the stage and push through the crowd. “Excuse me. Can you let me through? Can you stop recording this and let me through?”

I’m suddenly face-to-face with a man who is trying to get out of the crowd as hard as I’m trying to get into it. His face is red and sweaty, his eyes wild. “Move,” he orders me.

Dick. “You fucking move.”

“Bitch, move.” He slams me with his shoulder, knocking me into a pair of girls who cry out in protest. I spin, full of rage, and reverse direction to follow him.

“Hey, fucker,” I scream. He casts a glance over his shoulder. “Yeah, you! Get the fuck back here!”

He escalates his mission to get out of the crowd, elbowing people out of his way twice as fast. I’m smaller and faster, and I slip through the opening he leaves in his wake. Just before he makes it to the side exit, I grab his flannel shirt and give him a hard yank backward. “Get the fuck back here!” I’m loose, all the rage and pain from earlier channeling into my hatred for this entitled, pompous asshole.

I know I should rein it in, but he spins to face me and says, “What is your problem, bitch?” And that’s it. I haul back and punch him full in the jaw.

He stumbles, trips over someone’s foot and lands on his ass on the cement floor. His phone goes clattering out of his hand, skidding to a stop by someone’s foot. “The hell!”

“Oh, shit,” cries a nearby guy in a delighted voice.

“Fucking bitch,” the guy says, and this is the last time he’s calling me a bitch. I go down on top of him, a knee in his chest. I swing wild, hit him in the jaw, the forehead, the neck. He throws an elbow; it catches me in the boob and I flop back off him with a grunt of pain. He sits up, a hand on his face, and opens his mouth to say something, but I launch myself off the ground again, half-conscious of a chorus of whoops and howls around us. I throw a solid punch. His nose cracks. Satisfaction. I almost smile. Blood streams down his face.

“That’s what you get,” I pant. He crab-shuffles back, pushes off the ground and sprints for the exit. I let him go.

My chest is heaving, and I have the guy’s blood on my hand, which is already starting to ache and swell. I wipe my knuckles on my jeans.

His phone lights up and starts buzzing on the floor. I pick it up and turn it over in my hand. It’s an old flip phone, the kind I haven’t seen in years. The bright green display says Blocked.

Back in the pit, the man having a seizure shrieks again, and then his screams gurgle to a stop. I put the phone in my pocket and push through the onlookers. I watch as his back convulses like he’s going to throw up, and then he goes limp. A thin river of blood snakes out of his open mouth and trails along the cement floor.

The room echoes with silence where the screams had been. A trio of girls stands motionless, eyes huge, hands pressed to mouths.

The flip phone in my pocket buzzes. I pull it out, snap it open and press it to my ear. “Hello?”

A pause.

“Hello?” I repeat.

A click. The line goes dead.

A set of paramedics slams the stage door open, stretcher between them. “Coming through!” They kneel down and start prodding at the man curled up on the concrete. His head flops back. His eyes are stretched wide and unseeing, focused on some point far beyond the twinkling ceiling lights.

Next to him on the concrete lies something… What is it? It’s rectangular and has red and—

It’s a playing card.

 

Excerpted from The Kill Club by Wendy Heard, Copyright © 2019 by Wendy Heard. Published by MIRA Books.  

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