From New York Times bestselling author Mariah Stewart comes more "catnip for women's fiction fans" (Booklist) in the second novel of the Hudson Sisters series.
Allie, Des, and Cara, each having her own reasons for wanting a share of their father's estate, meet in the grand Victorian home in which he grew up, only to be greeted by another secret he purposely hid from them: his sister Bonnie. The women reluctantly band together to take on Fritz's challenge, working with a local contractor to begin the renovations financed by an account Fritz had set up for the task. While the restoration appears to go smoothly at first, it soon becomes apparent that the work will be more extensive than originally thought, and Des, elected to handle the money, needs to find ways to stretch out the remaining savings while searching for new sources of funding.
As strangers linked only by their DNA try to become a family, the Hudson sisters also try to come to terms with the father they only thought they knew. In the process, each woman discovers her own capacity for understanding, forgiveness, love, and the true meaning of family.
This readers group guide for The Sugarhouse Blues includes an introduction, discussion questions, and ideas for enhancing your book club. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.
In Mariah Stewart’s second novel in the Hudson Sisters series, readers find Allie, Des, and Cara back in Hidden Falls as they continue their work restoring the local Sugarhouse Theater. The women reluctantly band together to take on their father’s challenge—all with the goal of completing the restoration and gaining their inheritances—but soon it becomes apparent that the work will be more extensive than they originally thought. Des, elected to handle the money, needs to find ways to stretch the remaining savings while searching for new sources of funding, with the aid of the town’s local residents.
As the Hudson sisters spend more time in their hometown, they must try to come to terms with the father they only thought they knew and find a way to welcome new friends and embrace the truth of sisterhood.
Topics and Questions for Discussion
1. Discuss the title The Sugarhouse Blues. Why do you think Mariah Stewart selected this title, which follows the first book in the series, The Last Chance Matinee? Given that we know the series is about the sisters rebuilding and renovating the Sugarhouse Theater, what do you think the “blues” in the title represent?
2. The book follows the sisters through the next stage of the restoration. Consider where the three women stand in light of the unexpected delays in repairs due to new water damage to the roof and other surprise expenses. Which, if any, of the sisters seems most comfortable with the idea of staying in Hidden Falls longer? Do you expect any of them to remain in the town after the restoration is complete? Why or why not?
3. Allie tries her best to hide her drinking from her family members. By the book’s end, do you feel she or her sisters have properly addressed her drinking habits? What would you do in this situation if she were a friend or family member? Discuss the ways in which your group believes Allie’s drinking may factor into the next and final book in the series.
4. Des views the time spent on the restoration in Hidden Falls as an opportunity for her to reconnect with her sisters. Discuss the different distances between Des and her sisters. By the book’s end, do you think she has succeeded in reconnecting with Allie? Does she foster a sisterlike relationship with Cara? Discuss your own family relationships. Are there any wounds in your own families that need to be healed?
5. “But I agree that a change might be a good thing. Maybe if we could get her to change her surroundings a little, we could help her to move on in other ways.” (Page 31) Does Des’s comment about her aunt Barney apply to the other characters in the book? Which characters need to move on, physically or mentally, from their pasts? Do you think any of the characters seem to be stuck in old routines or in the past? Why or why not?
6. Cara finally shares with her sisters the box of letters that she found in The Last Chance Matinee. How do Allie, Cara, and Des differ in their reactions to the letters? Discuss Allie’s reaction on page 250 and her view of her parents’ relationship. Can you relate to one of the sisters more than another in this moment? How would you react to discovering news of one of your parent’s infidelities or extramarital affairs?
7. In Chapter 8, Des and Allie have a very tense moment discussing their experiences as actresses on the same television show. Given the recent headlines and current events between men and women in Hollywood, are you surprised Des kept so many secrets from her family for this long? Allie also mentions that she should have known based on Brandon’s history. Do you think she should have intervened then? As a group, discuss how you might handle being in a similar position. How do you lend support when a friend or family member has such a traumatic ordeal? In what ways do you react?
8. There are a lot of secrets in the family that resurface in this series. Discuss what sort of secrets you may have found out about later within your own families. Do you have any long-lost family members or interesting family histories, like a great-great-grandfather who built a historic theater, by any chance? What family history has been shared with you and what will you share with your children?
9. The topic of childhood labor, including that of child actors, is oftentimes a difficult one for people to discuss. How do you think Des’s and Allie’s time in Hollywood shaped their lives? How is this sort of work different from what some children may experience working in factories? Would you ever consider bringing your child in for a casting call? Were you or any of your family members made to work, either in the family business or otherwise, at a young age? Discuss the differences between work like Des’s and Allie’s versus your own childhood experience.
10. As a single mother, Allie admits that most of her time spent with Nikki was just the two of them. Do you think she is an overprotective parent? How does Allie finally find a way to let Nikki get comfortable in her life in Hidden Falls?
11. In the book, Des puts up many boundaries around men. Discuss how she comes to terms with her feelings for Seth and how she moves past her early opinions of him. Discuss the issues of judgment between the characters and how this contributes to many of the characters’ decisions in the book. Do you think Des rejected the possibility of being with Seth because she, or someone else, judged him?
12. The book closes with Des’s birthday and a special movie screening in the theater. As a group, make some predictions about how Mariah Stewart will end the series. Do you think the sisters will all stay in Hidden Falls after the restoration? Who do you think will leave to return home? Of all the couples, which do you think stand a chance to start a serious relationship? Are there any other cliffhangers that you hope to see resolved?
Enhance Your Book Club
1. Bring a copy of Mariah Stewart’s first novel in the Hudson Sisters series, The Last Chance Matinee, to your book group’s meeting. Are there any passages you or your fellow members may have highlighted that you want to revisit?
2. Consider reading Mary Alice Monroe’s Lowcountry Summer series or Kristy Woodson Harvey’s Peachtree Bluff series for your next book. Do you see any similarities between the writing styles, the characters, or the locations? Is there anything else you’d like to consider discussing?
3. Des admits that her favorite romantic movie is Pride and Prejudice, but she says she does not have a favorite version. As a group, consider reading the original novel for your next book club pick, or watch one of the more recent versions of Pride and Prejudice. Is there a particular cinematic version that your group likes best?
Mariah Stewart is the award-winning New York Times and USA TODAY bestselling author of numerous novels and several novellas and short stories. A native of Hightstown, New Jersey, she lives with her husband and two rambunctious rescue dogs amid the rolling hills of Chester County, Pennsylvania, where she savors country life and tends her gardens while she works on her next novel. Visit her website at MariahStewart.com, like her on Facebook at Facebook.com/AuthorMariahStewart, and follow her on Instagram @Mariah_Stewart_Books.