(Scroll down to read an excerpt and find book club questions.)
“As intoxicating as a seat at the top of the Ferris wheel. Reading Claire Cook might be the most fun you have all summer.”—Elin Hilderbrand
“Charming, engagingly quirky, and full of fun, Claire Cook just gets it. Summer Blowout is irresistible!”—Meg Cabot
“As refreshing as an icy drink on a sultry day.” —Family Circle
Bella Shaughnessy is addicted to lipstick with names like My Chihuahua Bites and Kiss My Lips, an occupational hazard, since she works as a stylist and makeup artist for her family’s small chain of beauty salons in Marshbury, Massachusetts, along with her four half-brothers and -sisters. The owner is her father, Lucky Shaughnessy, a gregarious, three-times-divorced charmer with Donald Trump hair, who is obsessed with all things Italian and still carries a torch for his first wife, Bella’s mother. After Bella’s own marriage flames out spectacularly when her half-sister runs off with her husband, Bella decides she has seen enough of the damage love can do. She makes a vow: no more men.
Then Bella meets a cute entrepreneur at a college fair, and despite their bickering, they can’t seem to stay away from each other. He also gives her a brilliant business idea, one that just might allow her to share her makeup expertise with the world. A small, well-tressed dog finds her way into her life, and her heart, and she decides to chance that, too. When the whole clan heads to Atlanta for a big Southern wedding, sparks fly—in a summer blowout no one will ever forget.
This hilarious, rambunctious novel is pure Claire Cook: full of juicy conflict and unconditional love.
“Lipstick rules in this sunny romance tucked inside a Boston family’s chain of beauty salons…Snap this one up and enjoy the makeup advice.”—Library Journal
“Summer Blowout is every bit as much fun as Must Love Dogs and Life’s a Beach.”—The Times-Picayune
“Laugh out loud.”—Good Housekeeping
“Summer Blowout is primed, like Cook’s previous novel Must Love Dogs, to become a big-screen romantic comedy.”—Booklist
“Nobody does the easy-breezy beach book with a lighter hand than Claire Cook.”—Hartford Courant
Excerpted from Summer Blowout by Claire Cook
Copyright © Claire Cook. All rights reserved.
Lipstick is my drug of choice. I grabbed a tube of Nars Catfight, a rich, semi-matte nude mauve, on my way out of the salon. Easy access to beauty products is one of the perks of the business.
There were lots of cars in the parking lot, but I saw him almost as soon as I pushed the door open. He was sitting in the driver’s seat, leaning back with his eyes closed. I was surprised I couldn’t hear that big fat snore of his all the way from here.
I was across the parking lot before I knew it. I had a large chocolate brown shoulder bag with me, and I swung it sideways to gain some momentum. Then I picked up speed and hurled it at the windshield as hard as I could.
My ex-husband jumped like he’d been shot and crashed his head into the window beside him. In that instant I understood every wronged woman who had ever run over her husband. Or cut off his penis. I could have killed him. Easily. And then gone back for seconds.
Craig was looking at me with real fear in his eyes. I liked it. He looked down at the ignition, maybe calculating his chances for escape. He reached for the button and lowered the window about two inches. “What the hell was that?” he asked through the crack.
“What the hell was that? What the hell are you doing here?”
“Sophia’s car’s in the shop,” he actually said. “She needed a ride.”
If there was a gene for getting it, my former husband had clearly been born without it. “You’re pond scum,” I said. “No, you’re lower than pond scum. If there’s anything lower than pond scum, you’re it.” I stretched forward and started picking up the contents of my shoulder bag, which were scattered all over the hood of Craig’s stupid Lexus. He didn’t even own it. It was leased. I hoped he got completely screwed when it was time to pay for the scratches.
My Nars Catfight, which had somehow ended up on the hood, too, twinkled up at me. I reached for it and covered my lips in slow, soothing strokes. A round hairbrush rolled to the pavement. I bent down and picked it up, then stood and pointed the sharp end at him. “Get off my father’s property. Now.”
Craig shook his head, like I was the one with the problem. “Bella, it’s Sophia’s father’s property, too.”
“Great,” I said. “Let me go find him for you. Then he can be the one to kill you.”
That did it. Even before he’d left one of my father’s daughters for another one of his daughters, my father hadn’t been too crazy about Craig, and he knew it. He started up the ear. “Just tell Sophia I’m waiting down the street for her, okay?”
“Sure,” I said. “I’m all over it.”
Up until then, he’d been looking over my head or off to the side of my face. Now he looked me right in the eyes, just for a second. Despite myself, I felt a little jolt of something, possibly insanity. Embarrassing as it would be to admit it, I had this sudden crazy urge to keep him from driving away.
I rested one hand on the hood of the car. Craig flinched. “How’re the kids?” I asked.
He put the car into drive. “They’re not your kids, Bells,” he said. “Forget about them.”
* * *
I made it to my first gig in record time, possibly propelled by the smoke coming out of my ears. Then I waited. And waited.
I couldn’t take it anymore. I fumbled in my makeup kit so I could sneak another quick fix. After some consideration, I decided Revlon Super Lustrous in Pink Afterglow was a good choice for a recently divorced brunette with green eyes and ivory skin who’d just attacked her ex-husband’s car and had lips that were a lot dryer than they used to be.
The housekeeper came in again. “He’s on the telephone right now,” she said.
I rolled down my lipstick fast. I popped the top back on and tossed it into my makeup kit.
“Thanks,” I said. I tried to be discreet, but I couldn’t resist running my tongue along my lower lip, savoring the rush as the emollients kicked in. The thing about lipstick is that, unlike the rest of life, it never lets you down. At least for the first five minutes. And even when it wears off, there’s still the never-ending quest for a better, longer-lasting shade to keep you going.
“Can I get you anything?” she asked.
I knew it wouldn’t be polite to say, Yeah, my client, so I just shook my head. When the housekeeper turned to walk away, I could see that the seam in her panty hose was crooked beneath her tight khaki skirt. A black skirt might have been more forgiving, but with khaki it really ruined the whole effect. Who even wore panty hose anymore, and the extra points she should have gained for the effort were more than canceled out by the appearance of a crooked crack. Or a possible buttocks imbalance. Apparently she didn’t have any friends working in the house. A good friend tells you when your crack looks crooked.
I looked at my watch again. If the governor-running-for senator actually showed his face during the next five minutes or so, I’d just about make it to my next job. No wonder they’d pawned him off on me. Sophia, who was his regular makeup artist, was also the regular makeup artist for the senator running for reelection against him. Since they were having a preseason televised brunch debate at Faneuil Hall at eleven, they both needed makeup at the same time. I would have picked the other guy, too.
I grabbed a round black Studio Tech foundation compact and opened it. Yup, it was still MAC NW25. Partly to kill time, and partly just in case he turned out to be lighter or darker than he looked in the newspapers and on television, I reached into my kit and pulled out NW23 and NW30. I should have checked in with Sophia, but we weren’t exactly speaking.
I’d commandeered one of the bay windows in the library to arrange my makeup, and then I’d pulled a wing chair over in front of it. It was my best shot at getting some decent light in this mausoleum. The gold and maroon velvet drapes appeared to have been there since the Boston Tea Party. The dark, leathery books on the floor-to-ceiling shelves didn’t look much newer either.
My cell phone vibrated and danced around inside my purse. I wouldn’t normally answer it while I was on a job, but because the client wasn’t there yet, I reached in and picked it up. “Hello,” I whispered.
“He’s off the phone now,” the housekeeper’s voice whispered back.
I held out my cell phone and looked at it, then put it back to my ear. “Great,” I said.
“Can I get you some coffee?”
“Nope,” I said. “But thanks for asking.'”
My stomach growled. Mario had brought in breakfast sandwiches for everybody this morning, but I’d forgotten to grab one on my way out of the salon. Craig’s Lexus would probably have ended up wearing it anyway, so I supposed it didn’t really matter.
Off and on for the last hour, I’d been eyeing a huge library ladder on rollers that hooked over a brass track way up near the ceiling. I walked over to it. I put one foot up on the second rung, gave a little push, and lifted my other foot off the floor. It was kind of like riding a very tall scooter. Maybe I could at least find a decent book to flip through while I waited. I wondered if Governor What’s His Name had actually read any of these, or if a decorator had found them for him. Massachusetts didn’t have a governor’s mansion, so this was probably just an overpriced rental.
I was halfway down one wall and picking up speed, when the housekeeper cleared her throat behind me. I figured it would be undignified to say Oops, so I just braked with my free foot and climbed off. I pulled my periwinkle tank top down to meet my chocolate brown capris. “Nice to see you again,” I said. Not for the first time I noticed that her upper lip could use a good waxing.
“He’s almost here,” the housekeeper said. “‘He said to tell you it only takes him four minutes.”
I wasn’t sure that was something he should be calling attention to in an election year, but I knew my place, so I didn’t say anything.
“He’s eating his eggs, then he’ll brush. Then he’ll have me call for the car. And then he’ll be in.” She looked over at the window where my stuff had been camped out almost as long as the dust in the drapes. “Are you sure you’re all set for him?”
A man poked his head through the heavy wooden doorway. He took a minute to look me up and down, in that creepy way at least one teacher in every high school in America has been checking out his students since the beginning of time. I glared at him. He was shorter and paler than the governor, or at least the way I imagined the governor, probably only an NW15. His lips were chapped, and his skin looked a little flaky, too. Moisture starts from the inside, so upping his water intake and adding some fish oil capsules would be his best bet. Of course, class starts from the inside, too, and as far as I could see, he didn’t have a prayer in that department.
He finally finished ogling me and put his hands in his pockets. “And what are you pretty gals up to in here?” he asked.
The housekeeper tugged at the waistband of her khaki skirt in a fruitless attempt to realign things behind her. “We’re just waiting to give the governor a little touch of makeup before his interview,” she said.
The man shook his head. “Makeup,” he said. “Better him than me, I guess.” He leaned back into the hallway. “Gals,” he yelled. “Free makeup in the library. Any takers?”
The look I gave him should have curled his eyelashes, but he didn’t appear to notice. An anorexic blond with the wrong shade of hair for her complexion strolled in, gave me a bored look, then walked back out. The man followed her. The housekeeper followed the man.
I stood alone.
Sometimes the makeup artist is like a rock star. She’s the guru you’ve been searching for. She can help you change your looks and maybe even your life. Other times, the makeup artist is like a maid. The toughest part is that you never know which one it’s going to be when you walk through the door. Clearly, I was not having a rock star kind of day so far.
I walked over to a shelf, closed my eyes, and grabbed a book. I was hoping for a good one, but it turned out to be something boring about torts. Whatever they are. For lack of a better idea, I balanced the book on top of my head and took a couple of long, gliding steps. In health class back in sixth grade, we’d actually had to practice this to improve our posture. In hindsight, it wasn’t a bad idea. It’s not makeup, but good posture can go a long way toward creating the illusion of beauty.
And not to be depressing, but aren’t some of the best parts of life really just an illusion?
Book Club Conversation Starters
1. Which character in Summer Blowout did you most identify with, and why? How much do you think Claire Cook’s first person narration influenced your choice?
2. What needs are driving the affair between Sophia and Craig? (Okay, besides lust.)
3. Do you think it’s harder or easier to forgive a family member for a big betrayal than it is a friend? How do the rules of family and friendship differ?
4. How important is it in our contemporary lives to remain connected to our families?
5. Have you ever seen “PITA” written in the appointment book at YOUR hair salon? Has reading Summer Blowout made you more observant while you’re getting your own cut and blow dry?
6. Do you know a guy with a comb-over like Lucky’s? (Other than The Donald, of course.)
7. How have escalating property taxes and changes in building trends and codes affected your community?
8. How do you think the perceptions of Northerners by Southerners, and vice versa, are true and not true? And if you don’t live in either geographical location, how do the people in your neck of the woods perceive both regions?
9. Even though he’s of Irish decent, Lucky Shaughessy, the father in Summer Blowout, is a huge Italiophile. Do you think it’s common for someone of one ethnicity to think another culture is more glamorous?
10. What’s your favorite shade of lipstick? Do you think it’s possible to have an actual lipstick addiction?
11. How worried were you about the fate of Precious/Cannoli? Why do you think Bella fell so hard for the little pooch? Do you believe in canine love at first sight?
12. Sean Ryan gives Bella the business idea of a lifetime. If you had to start a business tomorrow, what would it be? What’s stopping you?
13. Which scenes in Summer Blowout made you laugh the hardest? Brought a tear to your eye? Could have happened in your family?