A fun book event at the Summer Reading Soiree

On Thursday night, the downstairs of Labyrinth Books was filled with the feelings of summer. Surrounded by walls of paperbacks, local book lovers dipped in from the 95-degree day to sip on prosecco, enjoy mango sorbet and get a taste of two enticing summer reads.

“This is the first time we did this,” Princeton Public Library’s Janie Hermann said of the evening’s “Summer Reading Soiree,” part of the ongoing series Library Live at Labyrinth. “And, judging by the success of it, I don’t think it will be our last.”

The two female authors, Sarah Pekkanen and Hannah McKinnon, met for the first time at the reading and yet seemed like longtime friends.

“I’m beginning to think we were separated at birth,” Pekkanen said smiling as the two toasted glasses of bubbly and shared with the audiences their inspirations for becoming novelists.

Both had known from a young age they wanted to be writers. While Pekkanen was sending off her manuscripts bound in colorful ribbon to big publishing houses in New York at age 9, McKinnon was writing westerns about her hamster Pippi in Mrs. Meyer’s third-grade class and submitting it to contests. Both balance their writing careers with motherhood – writing first between naps and at Chuck E. Cheese’s and now between school drop-offs and at soccer games.

“The Perfect Neighbors” is Pekkanen’s seventh book in six years and was released July 5. Recently featured in US Weekly and People Magazine, the story follows four women living idyllic suburbia and the unseen secrets hiding behind their perfect facades. The style has been compared to “Desperate Housewives;” Pekkanen has been called a “Mistress of Women’s Fiction” by Kirkus Reviews.

Pekkanen said her writing process is usually one that evolves over time – a culmination of ideas she lets marinate before diving into a book. However, the premise for “untold secrets” came from a frightening encounter she had one foggy November morning at the zoo with her two eldest sons. With one in a baby carrier and the other with her hand, they strolled down a long exhibit alone. Pekkanen noticed a man coming toward her and, though her societal urge to be polite, was told her he was just coming to ask the time, when he was feet away she grabbed both children, put her arms out and shouted. The man darted.

When Pekkanen got in her car and thought about why she acted so outwardly against “normal” behavior, she realized the man had been staring only at her as he walked, not noticing any exhibits and looked behind him just as he got to her. This inspired her to write what’s behind our polite routines and exteriors.

McKinnon’s novel, “Mystic Summer,” released June 7, follows the story of a young woman whose perfect life working in Boston is thrown out the window when she returns home to Mystic, Conn. A run-in with a college ex-boyfriend with a tragic secret challenges the protagonist, Maggie Griffin’s, perspective and makes her question what she really wants in life.

McKinnon became a novelist after teaching for 10 years. She now has two daughters, two dogs and a bunch of chickens. While teaching was something she loved, McKinnon discovered writing was something she needed to do. One day in her class, she was reading a book out loud about a girl and a lost dog. As the dismissal bell rang, the kids did not flee the room but remained seated.

“One boy named Joe was really tough to reach all year,” McKinnon said. “He didn’t like school, he didn’t like reading and I was pretty sure he didn’t like me. When I looked up from reading, Joe had tears streaming down his cheeks. ‘Keep going,’ he said.”

For more information on McKinnon and Pekkanen’s summer reads, visit their websites at HannahMcKinnon.com and SarahPekkanen.com.

About Erica Chayes Wida

Erica Chayes Wida is a writer, mom, and complete zealot when it comes to poetry, paella and globe collections. After graduating with a degree in Anthropology from UCLA, Erica moved to Italy where the seasons and old architecture inspired her journey back to the East Coast. Since then, she and her husband have created a nest egg locally and, over time, developed a rather grand love affair with the town of Princeton. Erica is senior editor at The Princeton Sun and enjoys fulfilling her Princeton affections on a daily basis. | View all posts by Erica Chayes Wida