The Summer of Good Intentions

A Novel

LIST PRICE $11.99
About The Book

*InStyle Magazine’s “7 New Page-Turners to Read in July”
*Popsugar’s “23 Perfect Poolside Reads”
*Liz and Lisa’s “Best Books of July”
*Bookbub’s “12 Beach Books to Read Before Summer’s End”
*Woman’s World Book Club

Cape Cod summers are supposed to remain reassuringly the same, but everything falls apart when three sisters and their families come together for their annual summer vacation—and they are carrying more secrets than suitcases.

Maggie is the oldest. She feels responsible for managing the summer house and making sure everything is as it always has been. But she’s hurt that her parents’ recent divorce has destroyed the family’s comfortable summer routines, and her own kids seem to be growing up at high speed. Is it too late to have another baby?

Jess is the middle sister. She loves her job but isn’t as passionate about her marriage. She’s not sure she can find the courage to tell Maggie what she’s done—much less talk to her husband about it.

Virgie is the youngest, her dad’s favorite. She’s always been the career girl, but now there’s a man in her life. Her television job on the west coast is beyond stressful, and it’s taking its toll on her—emotionally and physically. She’s counting on this vacation to erase the symptoms she’s not talking about.

The Herington girls are together again, with their husbands and kids, for another summer in the family’s old Cape Cod house. When their mother, Gloria, announces she’s coming for an unscheduled visit—with her new boyfriend—no one is more surprised than their father, Arthur, who has not quite gotten over his divorce. Still, everyone manages to navigate the challenges of living grown-up lives in close quarters, until an accident reveals a new secret that brings everyone together in heartbreak…and then healing.

Poignant, compelling, and so real that you could shake the sand out of the pages, The Summer of Good Intentions is by a rising star who aims her fiction square at the heart of readers who love Elin Hilderbrand, Dorothea Benton Frank, and Mary Kay Andrews.

Reading Group Guide
This reading group guide for The Summer of Good Intentions includes an introduction, discussion questions, ideas for enhancing your book club, and a Q&A with author Wendy Francis. 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.

 

Introduction

The Herington sisters and their families come together for their annual vacation at their Cape Cod summer house. Life there is supposed to remain reassuringly the same, but they quickly realize that their relaxing summer vacation is jeopardized by each sister’s secrets. Through poignant and engaging storytelling, Wendy Francis offers a fresh new summer read that takes readers through the complex and emotional web of family relationships.

 

Topics & Questions for Discussion

1. All the Herington sisters, particularly Maggie, think of their summer house as a place of comfort and relaxation. What does the house symbolize for each sister? Do you have a place where you, too, can escape the routine of everyday life?

2. For Maggie, summer is represented by “sticky fingers. The smell of mosquito repellant. The wind whipping up, then settling down again. Her husband’s arms around her. The sounds of the kids laughing.” Virgie thinks it’s not really summer until she steps into Grouchy Ted’s and breathes in “the familiar scent of beer and peanuts.” What does summer mean to each sister? What makes these memories so significant? What do you think of when you think about the summertime?

3. Describe the relationship between Maggie, Jess, and Virgie. What are their roles in the family? What do they teach you about sisterhood?

4. Jess doesn’t think her relationship with Cole is the reason for her marriage troubles: “She’d read enough self-help books to understand he was a mere symptom of her troubled marriage. That she had allowed herself to fall for him in the first place

and return his kisses was further testament to the fact that her marriage wasn’t working. She wasn’t in love with Cole.” Do you agree with Jess’s assessment of her failing marriage, or do you think she’s making excuses so that she doesn’t have to take responsibility for her affair?

5. How would you characterize Gloria’s role in her daughters’ lives? Does her elusive and carefree personality put a strain on her relationship with them?

6. How does Tim learn to forgive Jess and move forward with their relationship? Can Jess trust that Tim will now change his attitude toward their marriage? Can Tim trust Jess?

7. Why is it so difficult for Maggie to tell Mac she’d like to have another child? How do you think Mac handles the news?

8. How does the fire Arthur accidentally started bring attention to issues he has been keeping under wraps? How do his daughters interpret the accident?

9. Arthur has an epiphany right before his death. “He rubbed his hands together briskly, thinking of Gloria. Always of Gloria. Yes, a dip would be just the thing to mark a fresh start, his resolve to embrace life anew.” Describe the irony of this scene. Why do you think the author included it?

10. “MS was but one melody playing in Virgie’s life at the moment. In fact, it had probably been playing for some time. She just hadn’t been listening.” What does Virgie learn from her MS diagnosis? Why had she been ignoring the signs for so long? How

has her diagnosis offered her a different perspective on both her career and her relationship with Jackson?

11. Do you think there was an active denial of Arthur’s illness in the Herington family? Maggie realizes, “There had been plenty of signs—Arthur’s absentmindedness, the collection of trash he’d started at her house, his overstuffed car—but she’d written them off as typical for a slightly scatterbrained older man.” How did each family member deny the signs? If they had been able to confront Arthur’s illness head-on, would the story have had a different outcome?

12. Arthur’s daughters are shocked to discover that he has been living in squalor. Maggie thinks, “There was something terribly cruel about the juxtaposition of a life filled with so much junk and a life irretrievably lost. Arthur had died drowning, but he’d been drowning long before that.” What was Arthur drowning in? Why did he start hoarding? Why do you think Arthur never told his children about his problem?

13. How does each woman—Maggie, Jess, Virgie, and Gloria—move forward after Arthur’s memorial service? How do their memories of Arthur inspire each of them to do better?

14. The essence of this story is about strengthening family ties and romantic bonds. How does each Herington sister accomplish this?

15. In the beginning of the story, Maggie remembers that Que sera, sera is one of Gloria’s favorite sayings—they even have it on a plaque in the house. What does this saying mean? Is this message as relevant at the end of the book as it was at the beginning?

 

Enhance Your Book Club

1. The Book of Summer was Maggie and her family’s notebook of special memories, funny moments, and important milestones that they collected each summer at their Cape Cod summer house. Create your own notebook to memorialize special times in your life. Write a brief entry, even just a few sentences, for each funny anecdote or exciting moment that you experience with your family.

2. What are your good intentions for the summer? Share with your book club.

3. Visit Cape Cod. The peaceful beauty of the Cape comes to life in the pages of The Summer of Good Intentions. Plan a summer vacation to explore the beaches and the history of one of New England’s most popular vacation destinations.

4. Read Wendy Francis’s first novel, Three Good Things, for your next book club meeting. Filled with love, humor, and the scent of the delectable Danish pastry called kringle, Three Good Things tells the story of two midwestern sisters, each with a secret. You can even bake kringles as a special treat for your group using the recipe on page 233 of the book.

5. Wendy Francis does a wonderful job introducing two important, serious health conditions to readers: multiple sclerosis and hoarding. To learn more about MS, visit the National Multiple Sclerosis Society’s Web site at http://www.nationalmssociety.org/. To learn more about hoarding, visit the Anxiety and Depression Association of America’s Web site at http://www.adaa.org/understanding-anxiety/obsessive-compulsive-disorder-ocd/hoarding-basics.

 

A Conversation With Wendy Francis

Despite being sisters, Maggie, Jess, and Virgie are very different and very dynamic individuals. Which sister do you relate to the most?

Maggie is probably the sister with whom I identify the most. I’m at that age where my six-year-old son is growing up at rapid speed and I’m wondering what’s next. Who else needs nurturing? My husband likes to joke that I’m always trying to fix things for people, and that’s probably not far from the truth. Though I hope I’m not a meddler, per se, there’s still some of that midwestern girl in me, the one who wants to set things right and make sure everyone is happy. Like Maggie, I also love the beach; summertime; and the slower, languid pace that those things suggest.

Was the setting of the story important to you? Why did you decide on Cape Cod?

As much as I love the Midwest (where my first novel was set), I also love the seaside. Even as a young girl in Wisconsin, I would search out whatever pockets of beach I could find, usually just a slice of sand next to a water-filled quarry. Once I moved east and settled closer to the ocean, I felt as if I’d found my second home. I’m also fortunate in that my in-laws have a house near the Cape, which has become a favorite retreat for all of us during the summer. So the rhythm of the waves, the sound of crickets whirring at night—all those things were familiar to me. What’s more, it seemed a summer house would be the perfect setting for the sisters’ emotions to percolate and collide.

Each chapter is told from the point of view of a different member of the Herington family, except Gloria. Why didn’t you write from Gloria’s perspective?

It never really occurred to me to write from Gloria’s perspective. She was always a bit of an outsider in the family, and I thought it should remain that way. Besides, Gloria is such an opinionated, zany character, I’m not sure I could have handled going into her head!

Did you plan how you were going to develop each character’s journey, or did their stories evolve as you wrote the book?

For better or worse, I’m one of those writers who let the characters guide the story. I’ve never been able to map out a novel’s plotline in its entirety (though I wish I could!). All the sisters, I knew, would be dealing with some kind of conundrum, and once I determined that Arthur had a hoarding problem, all the other elements began to fall into place.

The Summer of Good Intentions emphasizes the strong bonds between sisters. Do you have sisters who helped inspire this story?

No, but my mom was my best friend, and in many ways, like a big sister to me. I’m a big believer in the support system that women can provide for one another, whether as sisters, mothers and daughters, grandmothers and granddaughters, aunts and nieces, or good friends.

How was writing this book different from writing your first novel, Three Good Things?

Looking back, I feel as if Three Good Things almost wrote itself. Don’t get me wrong: it took multiple revisions and drafts! But, as my agent likes to say, first novels tend to live inside an author’s heart for a long while. Somehow I felt as if I knew Ellen and Lanie in that book, as if they were my neighbors. I wasn’t sure I could ever feel the same way about another cast of characters. Also, as a former book editor, I was all too familiar with the curse of the second novel, when authors get stuck wondering if they’ll ever write another book—or was the first novel just a fluke? The Summer of Good Intentions had some false starts for sure, but eventually, I found myself falling in love with all these women, and Arthur, too.

You tackle very emotional and complex issues in The Summer of Good Intentions: divorce; infidelity; expanding a family; and health matters such as memory loss, MS, and hoarding. What literary challenges did you face to properly address these subjects in the book?

The challenges in tackling the various health issues here was to reveal them over time, as the characters’ stories played out, and to resist the impulse to infuse the book with research and statistics. I’d done a fair amount of research on MS and hoarding, and at points the book veered into textbook territory—thankfully, those sections were cut! As for the more everyday issues, I really just trusted my own emotional instincts to guide me through the characters’ thoughts and reactions. With luck, they ring true in the book.

As a former book editor, how does writing your own book compare to editing someone else’s? What’s the biggest challenge for you in the writing process?

Oh, my goodness, writing is much, much harder than editing! And I’d had no idea. You think when you’re an editor that you have a fairly good understanding of how a book should be written. But when it’s you staring at the blank page, you realize just how impossible and insurmountable the whole writing thing is. Given that, it’s amazing to me how many great books get written. The biggest challenge in my writing is turning off my editor’s ear so that I can focus on getting the characters and story down on the page. Otherwise, I’d be tempted to revise every sentence as soon as it’s written, and it would take me about ten years to finish a single chapter.

If your readers were to take away only one message from this story, what would it be?

Wow, that’s a tall order. Basically, the epigraph at the beginning of the book by Dani Shapiro sums it up: “The mess is holy. . . . There is beauty in what is.” She was referring to the writing process in her wonderful meditation Still Writing: The Perils and Pleasures of a Creative Life (which, incidentally, every writer should read). When I read those words, they resonated with me on so many levels. My whole life felt like a big mess at the time: my mom was battling leukemia; I was flying back and forth between Wisconsin and Massachusetts, trying to help her and still be a good mom back at home. For me, those words were a potent reminder to live in the moment. Yes, our lives may be messy, and every last good intention we have may get foiled. But remember: there is beauty in our lives right now, as cluttered and out of control and crazy as it might seem. That’s the

conclusion I think Maggie comes to by the book’s end and the one that I hope readers will take away from this novel.

Can you share with us any news of upcoming writing projects? What can we expect from you next?

All I’ll say is that my new novel involves plenty of family drama once again—and a boat. Stay tuned!

 
About The Author
Photograph by Claudia Starkey

Wendy Francis is the author of the novels The Summer Sail, The Summer of Good Intentions, and Three Good Things. She is a former book editor whose work has appeared in the Good Housekeeping, The Washington Post, Yahoo Parenting, The Huffington Post and Congnoscenti. She lives outside of Boston with her husband and son.

Product Details
  • Publisher: Atria Books (July 2015)
  • Length: 320 pages
  • ISBN13: 9781451666434

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Raves and Reviews

"Wendy Francis's book thrilled me like a ride in a race car along the coast with the top down. It is everything a summer read should be."

– Elin Hilderbrand, author of The Rumor

"The Summer of Good Intentions is a tender and vivid portrait of a family by the sea, of three unforgettable sisters and the tidal pull of their love and secrets. Wendy Francis is a wonderful writer. She made me feel the salt air."

– Luanne Rice, author of The Lemon Orchard

"There is much to like in Wendy Francis's The Summer of Good Intentions. Love in all of its messiness is written with convincing thoughtfulness and insight, each flawed character beautifully and realistically portrayed. Feel the sand between your toes as you explore the special bonds of sisterhood and family in what promises to be one of the best books of summer."

– Karen White, author of The Time Between

"I was immediately engrossed by this story of three adult sisters who share their own bonds, heartbreak and challenges. So much more than a beach read, this very real, poignant, and funny novel will make you look at your own family in fresh, new ways."

– Lee Woodruff, author of Those We Love Most

"A lovely summer read. Wendy Francis deftly explores the bonds of sisterhood and the complexity of family relationships."

– Wendy Wax, USA Today bestselling author

"Wendy Francis has created both a family and a story I did not want to leave. These three sisters on a summer vacation display the strong ties that can both hurt and heal a family. Filled with the sweet briny air of Cape Cod, this extraordinary tale shows that, together, we can weather all the seasons of life."

– Patti Callahan Henry, author of The Stories We Tell

"A compassionate and warm family drama filled to the brim with characters who feel like old friends."

– Kirkus Reviews

"It has a pull to it...thanks to the author's skillful writing and realistic dialogue. Maybe this is what's meant by an 'addictive' summer read."

– The Barnstable Patriot

"An ideal summer read."

– Booklist

"Heat Index: What do you get when you mix family, secrets and a mysterious accident? A messy and engrossing scorcher of a story that we couldn’t walk away from even after the sun went down.

Temperature: 95°

– Booktrib

"An especially memorable, enjoyable read about family ties and the highs and lows of relationships between couples."

– The Edge

"You are headed to Cape Cod even if you don't leave your front porch. . . . Watch as the family drama unfolds with lots of laughter, heartache, and healing."

– The Sun Chronicle

"Wendy Francis brings the seaside retreat vibrantly to life and the idyllic setting perfectly balances the characters' weightier issues. The characters are brilliantly developed. . . . A warm and inviting story with a close-knit family whose love is strengthened by crisis."

– Book Reviews and More by Kathy

"Francis weaves a tale of love, loss and repair, offering comforting themes and lessons about avoiding the mistakes of our parents."

– The Improper Bostonian

"A fantastic family story, with the relationship among the three sisters particularly strong and relatable. They face a family crisis with their aging father and it is a heartrending novel."

– Auburn Citizen

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