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In a Book Club Far Away
Table of Contents
About The Book
Regina Castro, Adelaide Wilson-Chang, and Sophie Walden used to be best friends. As Army wives at Fort East, they bonded during their book club and soon became inseparable. But when an unimaginable betrayal happened amongst the group, the friendship abruptly ended, and they haven’t spoken since.
That’s why, eight years later, Regina and Sophie are shocked when they get a call for help from Adelaide. Adelaide’s husband is stationed abroad, and without any friends or family near her new home of Alexandria, Virginia, she has no one to help take care of her young daughter when she has to undergo emergency surgery. For the sake of an innocent child, Regina and Sophie reluctantly put their differences aside to help an old friend.
As the three women reunite, they must overcome past hurts and see if there’s any future for their friendship. Featuring Tif Marcelo’s signature “enchanting prose” (Amy E. Reichert, author of The Coincidence of Coconut Cake) and the books that brought them together in the first place, In a Book Club Far Away honors the immense power of female friendship and how love can defy time, distance, and all old wounds.
Present Day, Saturday
In a commercial kitchen far, far away, in a military town in the middle of Georgia, a caterer named Regina Castro had an online crush. It was ridiculous, really, how often she thought of Henry Just, but when one was a single mom and an entrepreneur who didn’t have the time and the energy to date, an online flirtation was absolutely and positively enough. A heart on a post from Henry sent her spirits soaring. She preened whenever he commented on a photo, which, these days, was often. On the day over a year ago she received her first direct message from Henry—an innocuous note on how to properly grease and flour a cake pan, because he was a baker (and how sexy was that?)—she rushed through the kitchen, arms extended like Fräulein Maria singing “The Hills Are Alive.” Through the screen, Henry Just was sexy and sweet, and safe.
But now, looking down at an open package atop her work desk addressed to her from Henry, she wasn’t sure whether to scream with glee or to pack up and run to the next state.
“Earth to Regina? Hello?”
Regina snapped her gaze up to her catering manager, Alexis McCartney, who had a hand on her hip at the office doorway. “Excuse me?”
“I said that I need to head out to do another round of shopping. We underestimated the flour for the Food for the Gods.” Alexis’s gaze traveled from Regina to the package, and her expression switched from the usual stoic, don’t-give-a-damn nature to mischief. “But it looks like someone got a package.”
Regina shut the flaps, face burning. “It’s nothing.”
“Uh-huh.” Alexis entered the office, dimming the room. The office was closet-sized, and not even the walk-in type. With the two of them, it was a shoebox.
The sleeve of Alexis’s black chef’s jacket brushed against Regina as she flipped one of the box’s flaps. “From Henry Just of Just Cakes in Alexandria, Virginia? Huh. The Henry? The one you’ve been canoodling with online?”
Regina looked up then, shocked, to see Alexis’s raised eyebrow. She gasped. “I’m not canoodling. That’s not even possible.”
“Mm-hmm.” Alexis rolled her eyes. “With the way you’ve been writing each other? You’re practically making out. You can’t deny it—we share the same social media account, and I see all the details and the DMs. But obviously he hasn’t gotten the memo that the way to your heart is through movies, not books.”
“Hey!” Regina objected, though she was partly feigning her defensiveness. There was truth to Alexis’s words. Regina could recite movie lines like some people did the lyrics of their favorite songs but couldn’t remember the plots of many literary classics. But Alexis’s implication was reminiscent of something Regina’s ex-husband had said so long ago and was a poke in the tender parts of her heart. “What about all the bedtime books Miko insisted I read a million times? Not to mention culinary-school textbooks. And cookbooks.”
“That’s all for work or part of parenting. But for fun?” She gestured to the book nestled in the box. “May I?”
“Be my guest.”
Regina thought back to the very last “fun” book she’d undertaken. It hadn’t been for fun at all but for a book club—the only book club she’d ever been a part of—in upstate New York when she was still on active duty in the Army.
“The Sky Is Everywhere. That was the last book I read for fun.” She half smiled at the memory of the chaotic circle of hens—and a couple of roosters—that had comprised the Millersville Book Club, and a pang of regret sliced through her heart. She heaved a breath. “But anyway. Henry and I were DMing about books chefs should read, and I guess he took our conversation to heart.”
Alexis nodded in approval. “Blood, Bones, and Butter: The Inadvertent Education of a Reluctant Chef. Looks older.”
“He said he found it at his local used bookstore.”
“So thoughtful.” Alexis flipped the pages. “And now the pressure’s on. Time to get reading—he might ask at some point if you enjoyed it.”
Regina pressed her lips together. In truth, she didn’t have time to read. Heck, she didn’t have time to stand around to even talk about reading, if she was being honest, because every minute not earning money meant she was losing it. “Or maybe, because we’re so far away, I don’t have to. Two whole states separate Georgia from Virginia. He won’t ever know.”
“Well, I think it’s sweet. Though at some point, maybe you should speak. Like on the phone or video chat. It’s ridiculous how much you’ve flirted without actually communicating in real life.”
“We’re just friends,” Regina said.
“Uh-huh. Online friends with imaginary benefits.” Alexis cackled.
She pretend-flipped an imaginary shirt collar. “That was pretty good, if I say so myself.”
Regina busted out with a laugh; she couldn’t help it.
From behind them, a crash sounded, followed immediately by the clatter of dishes. Regina winced at what she imagined had found its way to the floor, perhaps the tray of vegetables from Pickett Farms, which she had driven two hours for.
But she didn’t move.
“What the hell are you guys doing over there?” Alexis pressed her hand against her blond hair, which was pulled taut into a bun, and went to the doorway. With her back to Regina, Alexis took command of the chaos that had erupted. Both former military, Regina and Alexis had divided up the labor so that it ran like an Army unit, like a chain of command.
Their system had worked, thus far. Regina found comfort in using the rules that had been ground into her since becoming a soldier, and she thought it the right way to do business. Regina was the good cop, and Alexis, the scarier one despite being the smaller of the two, was the bad cop. They both abided by standard operating procedures, by lists, by following orders. Finally, she and Alexis believed in BLUF, bottom line up front, with the overall business mission taking precedence over feelings and emotions.
All truly the Army way, despite Regina having left the Army more than seven years ago.
When Alexis turned back to her, she said, “Okay, back to our business. As I was saying, I’m stepping out for about an hour. Are you due anywhere?”
“Nope. I’m here all afternoon.”
“Great. Because…” Alexis’s shoulders slumped. “We need to do another monthly roundup.” She gestured toward the local Boy Scout troop calendar on the wall, open to the month of March. The picture was of two Scouts whittling down pieces of wood. One of these Scouts, fair-skinned and freckled but with dark brown eyes and hair, was Regina’s son, Miko.
Regina dropped her eyes, and the last bit of warmth she’d felt from her receiving the package shriveled up. The talk. The talk of business finances, and whether The Perfect Day Catering would survive. She stood quickly to walk Alexis out. “Yes, of course.”
Alexis nodded and led the way to the kitchen.
Regina’s eyes swept across the humble starter kitchen, cozy even for her staff of five part-time employees. One hundred percent of her employees had other jobs elsewhere, which made for, sometimes, a hodgepodge of a skeleton crew whose employment loyalties were challenged by their steadier paychecks. Despite its three-year anniversary coming up, The Perfect Day Catering still clamored for purchase in their military town, where there was a limited amount of clientele.
Currently, two employees rolled lumpia, and one skewered marinated pork onto sticks. One was off to the side making batter for Food for the Gods. And their last and newest employee, the culprit of the crash, was at the sink washing vegetables he had, indeed, dropped, now flanked by Alexis.
Soon, all of these parts would come together like an orchestra. The next night was the biggest catering job they’d had yet, an eighteenth-birthday party. The Filipino debutante party, wedding-like in scale, was a departure from their usual promotion party and Army-unit event. The event would boast a coordinated dance, a princess dress worn by the celebrant, and a horse-drawn carriage that would sit in front of the VFW for picture taking.
The event had been a risk to undertake, but it was time to level up. Not only was it the rare occasion that Regina could fix the recipes she’d learned from her own mother—because there weren’t a ton of Filipino cultural events happening in their tiny town—but the company had nothing in the books scheduled for another month. The profit from this debutante party was already earmarked for rent and utilities, leaving little for much else.
Regina’s tummy soured at the thought.
“What are you thinking about?” a voice whispered from behind her, which made Regina jump and spin around.
“Ma! Geesh. I swear you’re always in my shadow.”
Gloria Castro gave Regina a mischievous smile.
Her mother seemed to be everywhere Regina turned, in both good times and in bad, and at the most critical junctures in her life. Much like right then, when Regina’s mind was in a vortex of doubt.
And like a shadow, Gloria was wearing all black, though not as part of the catering staff. This was her perpetual mourning attire. Regina’s lola, the Castro matriarch, had died almost five years ago, but Gloria had never kicked the habit of wearing black to honor her mother. On her most whimsical days, Gloria wore shades of gray and, depending on her mood, might surprise everyone with a pop of color in a statement necklace, a fancy bangle, or pointed, impractical shoes. And despite this outward appearance of gloom, Gloria was as cheerful as ever.
“So?” Gloria asked.
Gloria’s eyes widened.
“I’m not thinking about anything. But wait…” Regina looked at her watch. “Miko’s supposed to be at baseball in fifteen minutes. Is everything okay? And speaking of, you didn’t forget to bring oranges did you?” She ran through the never-ending list in her head. Today was her son’s baseball clinic, and she was the team mom but occasionally delegated her responsibilities to her mother at business crunch times.
“Dios, I know what time it is! Don’t worry, Miko’s outside with Alexis. But the mailman caught me at the door on the way out and this looked important. You know, that Mr. Leong is such a handsome man. Fit, too, carrying that bag and driving his car. So good at parking.”
“I’m ignoring you, Ma.”
Gloria presented her the stack of mail. “Maria Regina. You’re really not allowed to ignore me since I’m your mother. Life cannot just be about work.”
“It’s not just about work. It’s about Miko, our future.”
“That’s still work. You volunteer for everything; you don’t ever take a day off. And I asked Mr. Leong—he doesn’t work Sundays.” She blinked repeatedly, her flirtatious look. “So maybe you shouldn’t work one Sunday so you can have a good time? I already talked to him.”
“You did not.”
“I did. Since you’re so type A about everything except your social life, I thought I would take the initiative.”
“I don’t even know what to say.”
Gloria was right, of course. Regina approached parenting like her business, completely hands-on. Team mom, room mom, PTA mom. All of it. Still, she pretended like she didn’t hear her mother, and instead, flipped through the mail: Credit card bills. A notice for her to re-up her commercial kitchen lease. A note from her accountant to remind her that quarterly taxes were coming up.
“I mean, you could have just saved all this for me to look at later,” Regina said, properly deflated.
“There’s an express envelope in there.”
Regina fished out the official envelope marked for two-day delivery. She tore it open to reveal a kraft envelope with her name and address handwritten in a fancy scrawl in blue ink, complete with curlicues on the first letter of her first and last names. And while the top-left corner of the envelope didn’t bear a return address, Regina knew who it was from. No one had a love for kraft and calligraphy more than her longtime friend Adelaide, who also had an obsession with burlap, lanterns, wreaths, and antiques. While Regina could wax poetic on wine and menu pairings, Adelaide was equally as passionate about interior design. Adelaide was a woman who embraced her Southern roots despite not having lived in the South for years, with a homey and modern style that had preceded Joanna Gaines and the Magnolia empire.
“Adelaide,” she whispered.
“I could tell it was important,” Gloria noted.
Adelaide had only mailed Regina three times: once, to invite her to a book club at her home all those years ago; second, to apologize over their biggest fight; and third, to announce her pregnancy and Regina’s new role as godmother. Even more, Adelaide had her number. There was no reason why she couldn’t have called with news. They followed each other on social media and could have easily DMed.
Regina thought back to the last time they had touched base. It was a random text about six months ago when Adelaide let her know that she and her daughter were PCS’ing, or moving, to the DC area from South Korea. I’m on your side of the world, finally! it had said, though after a couple of back-and-forth texts, their communication had trailed away.
“Thanks for bringing it over.” Regina absentmindedly sidestepped to a barstool in the corner of the kitchen and popped up onto it. Around her, sounds prattled on. She slid a nail under the flap to lift the envelope’s seal.
Under her breath, she read aloud, “‘To my dearest Reggie. I know it’s been a hot second, but I need you…’”
“What is it, iha?” Gloria said, sensing Regina’s rise in panic as she skimmed the rest of the note. Regina didn’t catalog every word or all the details, but the message came through loud and clear.
“Sounds like I’m going to get the vacation you say I need.” She looked up at Gloria. “It’s an SOS.”
- Publisher: Gallery Books (April 6, 2021)
- Length: 400 pages
- ISBN13: 9781982148096
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Raves and Reviews
Praise for In a Book Club Far Away
“Marcelo captivates in this endearing story about the bonds of friendship... Making good use of Army life as the backdrop, Marcelo skillfully layers the narrative with the three women’s points of view, capturing both their singular and collective worlds. Themes of friendship, forgiveness, and women’s independence make this propulsive, feel-good story a gem.”
– Publishers Weekly
“Fans of book clubs will enjoy the discussions of the popular reading that Adelaide’s book club favors…Told in a straightforward style, this story of women’s friendship and commitment to the army lifestyle will appeal to fans of Kristin Hannah, Debbie Macomber, or Sarah Pekkanen.”
– Library Journal
“With a wonderfully diverse cast, tantalizing descriptions of Filipino food, a realistic portrayal of the challenges of being a military spouse, and a hint of romance, Marcelo's latest will charm readers and could lead to a fruitful book discussion.”
"[A] rich, heartwarming tale."
– Woman's World
“We might not be able to choose our family, but we can choose our friends—and the books we read. In a Book Club Far Away celebrates both these blessings through a trio of army wives who, across the span of eleven years, learn hard lessons about true friendship and forgiveness. Adelaide, Sophie, and Regina are unequivocally real, full of foibles, compassion, moxie, and humor; I wanted to shake them, then invite them over for drinks. If you’re like me, you’ll turn the last page then rush to call your friends, and maybe start your own book club. Make this open-hearted charmer your first selection; your friends will thank you.”
– Sonja Yoerg, Washington Post bestselling author of True Places
"Tif Marcelo has a way of writing characters that invite you into their lives from the first page. In a Book Club Far Away finds us traveling through a tumultuous decade with 3 Army wives navigating love and loss and grief and hope and life, against the backdrop of books from various genres and authors. Marcelo takes a deep dive into the crux of female friendship and the result is a story that is equal parts surprising, raw, funny, and delicious. A perfect next choice for your own book club whether it’s comprised of 20 members or one."
– Amy Impellizzeri, award-winning author of I Know How This Ends
“No one writes heartwarming tales of love, family, and friendship quite like Tif Marcelo, and her latest is a standout. The story of three semi-estranged friends who reunite in a time of crisis, In a Book Club Far Away is a wonderful reminder that some bonds—and yes, book clubs—can’t be broken. I loved it.”
– Camille Pagán, bestselling author of This Won’t End Well
“Marcelo relates, with compassion and realism, each character's present struggles: Adelaide's emergency surgery, Sophie's twin teenage girls and Regina's tentative new romance all stand alongside professional challenges for each woman... Marcelo's warmhearted, juicy novel is a compelling portrayal of the fierce bond among military spouses and a sensitive exploration of friends trying their best to right old wrongs.”
– Shelf Awareness
"Touching... The military community setting adds a much-appreciated layer that explores the sacrifices military service requires...and gives a peek at what life in that tight-knit group is like...With fully-developed characters, In a Book Club Far Away is a celebration and testament to the power of female friendship.... After reading this beautiful novel you’ll want to be in a book club right alongside Adelaide, Regina, and Sophie."
"A great choice for a summer book club."
– The Washington Post
Praise for Once Upon a Sunset
"Once Upon a Sunset will sweep readers up in a heartfelt story of long-lost family secrets and bright new beginnings that spans from World War II to today. I always look forward to a new book from Tif Marcelo!"
– Julia Kelly, bestselling author of The Light Over London
“Tif Marcelo does it again. Once Upon a Sunset balances a tragic family secret with a hopeful future, wrapped in an authentic mother-daughter relationship. Grab some sunscreen, dip your toes in the sand, and dive into this sublime beach read.”
– Amy E. Reichert, author of The Coincidence of Coconut Cake
"A richly drawn and poignant tale of finding yourself in unexpected places and connecting with the unlikeliest of allies."
– Amy Impellizzeri, award-winning author of Secrets of Worry Dolls
"The lush backdrop of the Philippines brings new chances at love for both Diana and Margo as the old love letters connect them to a new family.”
Praise for The Key to Happily Ever After
"A charming, fun read. I love these sisters! Clear your calendar--once you start, you won't be able to put down this wonderful story."
– Susan Mallery, # 1 New York Times bestselling author of California Girls
"The de la Rosa sisters are much like the flower in their name: delicate and poised but also fiercely strong. As the trio takes over the family wedding planning business, they will need all those traits and more to transform their careers for a new generation. As they forge their paths both together and separately, these three sisters discover that love—like a wedding—is all about timing. Full of wisdom, wit and, of course, wedding gowns, Tif Marcelo’s latest charmer proves that, sometimes, The Key to Happily Ever After, comes along when you least expect it. This endearing, deeply poignant trip down the aisle(s) is full of romance, unexpected twists and the perfect helping of family drama."
– Kristy Woodson Harvey, author of The Southern Side of Paradise
"The Key to Happily Ever After gave me so many emotions: I loved and cheered for all three sisters, and wanted to shake each of them in turn; I swooned for all of the romance; and I got choked up about their struggles and their victories. But mostly, I loved the de la Rosa sisters so much, and I can’t wait for the whole world to love them."
– Jasmine Guillory, New York Times bestselling author of The Proposal
"Marcelo movingly portrays sisters who love each other to death but also drive each other crazy. Give this to readers who like Susan Mallery's portrayal of complicated sisters, or Jasmine Guillory's sweet, food-focused city settings.”
“Marcelo charms in this feel-good story… The layered plot, which includes a dark period in Mari’s past that places roadblock to finding love in the present, and the cast of colorful supporting characters, particularly sassy shop seamstress Amelia, are a treat. Fans of Jill Shalvis and Jane Green will particularly enjoy this.”
– Publishers Weekly
“A beautiful story about the bonds of family and the challenges of love –I was cheering for all the de la Rosa sisters!”
– Jennifer Probst, New York Times bestselling author of All or Nothing at All
“Devoted sisters, swoony new loves, and wedding drama—what more could you ask for in a perfect summer read? The Key to Happily Ever After delivers it all with Tif Marcelo’s enchanting prose. By the end, you’ll want to be a de la Rosa sister, too!"
– Amy E. Reichert, author of The Coincidence of Coconut Cake
"This is the most aptly titled romance. A true gem filled with heart, laughs and a cast of delightful characters. I read (and adored) The Key to Happily Ever After in one sitting!"
– Nina Bocci, USA Today bestselling author of On the Corner of Love and Hate
“This sweet family story/romance will appeal to fans of Susan Mallery and RaeAnne Thayne. Especially suitable for public libraries looking for more #ownvoices authors.”
– Library Journal
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