In the midst of all the anxiety, confusion and general chaos we’re currently grappling with, I think we could all use a little more good news in our lives, which is why I’m so excited about today’s post: We have a new book to look forward to from author Wendy Heard!
Inspired by The Picture of Dorian Gray, Wendy Heard’s She’s Too Pretty To Burn is a propulsive, irresistible thriller filled with art, attraction, secrets, murder, and much, much more and it’s coming to a book store and library near you March 30th 2021! With an absolutely breathtaking cover designed by Mallory Grigg and accompanying artwork by Max Reed, She’s Too Pretty To Burn is officially one of my most-anticipated 2021 releases and a book I’m honoured to be able to feature on Pop! Goes The Reader.
Please read on to learn more about She’s Too Pretty To Burn, including an exclusive cover reveal and a sneak peek at the first two chapters of the novel!
About Wendy Heard
Wendy Heard was born in San Francisco but has lived most of her life in Los Angeles, which is on fire more than she would honestly prefer. She holds a Bachelor’s degree in Studio Art, emphasizing painting, and a Master’s degree in Education. When not writing, she can be found hiking the Griffith Park trails, taking the Metro and then questioning this decision, and haunting local bookstores. Wendy is a member of Sisters in Crime, International Thriller Writers, and Mystery Writers of America, is a contributor at CrimeReads.com, and co-hosts the Unlikeable Female Characters podcast.
Cover design by Mallory Grigg, Cover illustration by Max Reed
Title She’s Too Pretty To Burn
Author Wendy Heard
Intended Target Audience Young Adult
Publication Date March 30th 2021 by Henry Holt and Co. (BYR)
Find It On Goodreads ● Macmillan ● Target ● Chapters ● IndieBound ● The Book Depository
An electric romance set against a rebel art scene sparks lethal danger for two girls in She’s Too Pretty To Burn, an expertly plotted YA thriller by Wendy Heard.
The summer is winding down in San Diego. Veronica is bored, caustically charismatic, and uninspired in her photography. Nico is insatiable, subversive, and obsessed with chaotic performance art. They’re artists first, best friends second. But that was before Mick. Delicate, lonely, magnetic Mick: the perfect subject, and Veronica’s dream girl. The days are long and hot — full of adventure — and soon they are falling in love. Falling so hard, they never imagine what comes next. One fire. Two murders. Three drowning bodies. One suspect…one stalker. This is a summer they won’t survive.
Inspired by The Picture of Dorian Gray, this sexy psychological thriller explores the intersections of love, art, danger, and power.
The desert sky is hot and bright. Birds flit back and forth, oblivious to the smell of my blood as it soaks the dirt and rocks.
Woozy thoughts snake through my brain. Why did I never notice how many different birds there are? I bet Mick notices birds. She sees all the quiet, important things.
A new wave of pain rampages through me. I think I’m going to black out, but an image seizes me — high above, on the cliff, a silhouette — a thin, slinky shape. Someone is standing there, looking down at me.
He’s watching me die.
Ten Days Earlier
Coach Morris blows her whistle, signaling the end of practice. The team swims to the edge of the pool, Liz beside me. “Are you going home to get ready?” she asks.
“I’ll just shower here. My mom’s picking me up for that dinner thing, remember?” I wriggle up onto the concrete deck, which is hot even though the sun is going down. Liz pops up next to me, and we walk to the bench where we left our towels.
“I can’t wait,” she bubbles. She’s looking forward to tonight’s party, a feeling I cannot relate to.
“Who’s driving us again?” I ask, drying my face.
Liz pulls her swim cap off, and her thick, wavy brown hair tumbles around her shoulders. “Those girls I met from Bonita. We’ll pick you up after your dinner.”
Internally, I shudder.
She reads my expression. “Don’t be weird tonight.”
“I’ll keep a smile plastered onto my face.” I demonstrate, baring my teeth like I’m at the dentist.
“I can’t, like…” She looks up at the darkening sky as though she’s searching it for the right words. “I can’t be your only person. You have to get out there. When was the last time you made a new friend?”
I shrug, stung. This is part of a larger conversation I really don’t feel like having right now. She sighs and heads for the locker room, leaving me behind. I follow, my shoulders heavy. We used to have our own two-person parties, sleeping over at each other’s house every weekend. Now I feel like an intruder into this new and exciting social life she’s organized for herself.
My steps slow, and I stop to look at the sunset glowing red-orange behind the palm trees. I wish I were at the beach right now, or hiking through the forest. I’d rather be doing anything other than what I have planned for tonight.
A huge Cooper’s hawk glides down and settles onto a telephone pole, disrupting a cloud of blackbirds. They scatter, twittering, into the blood-and-fire sky.
Their echoed birdsong sends a chill through me, but I don’t know why.
* * *
I feel my mom’s exasperated eyes on me as I walk across the parking lot under the fluorescent overhead lights toward her leased Nissan Altima. When I get in, she says, “You couldn’t have worn something nicer?”
I look down at my jeans and white T-shirt. “I’m going out with Liz after this. I didn’t want to be too dressed up.”
“You’re going to a party.”
“Don’t remind me.”
“You have incredible legs. You should wear a skirt, or some shorts. Or a crop top; show off those abs. It’s such a waste.”
“Mom, stop, please.”
She digs around in her purse and extracts a cosmetics bag. “At least put some makeup on.” She dumps the bag in my lap and pulls out of the parking lot onto the street.
I hate it when she says things like this. How is my own private human body a waste?
It’s not worth fighting about, so I click on the dome light, flip down the sun visor, and start applying mascara. “Why do you care what I wear for dinner, anyway? Where are we going?”
“We’re meeting Andrew.”
“Your agent? Why?” I put the makeup away.
“He just wants to talk. Don’t forget your eyebrows. They’re super blond right now from the sun. You should go all the way blond with your hair.”
Like you? I want to say. She’s been trying to get me to bleach my hair since it darkened to light brown in middle school.
It doesn’t matter. I only have one more year here. I’m working hard on swimming; I want to get a scholarship and go somewhere far away, far enough that I can barely make it home for Christmas. I’ve already been scouted for a school in New Hampshire. I don’t even know if it’s a good school, but it’s far, and that’s what matters.
I fill in my too-blond eyebrows. She pulls up to a red light and looks me over. “Your lips look dry. Use some of my lip gloss. It’s in the side pocket of my purse.”
“Ughhhh,” I groan, frustrated and hangry. I pull random crap out of the pocket — a bow tie from her catering job, a server’s folio full of receipts, a wine key, a pair of earrings — and yank the lip gloss out.
“Don’t even start with me, Micaela. And you better put all that stuff back in there.”
I glare at her profile, return everything to her purse, and check my phone. No new texts. I don’t know what I’m hoping for; it’s not like Liz is going to cancel and say she’d rather stay in.
Anxiety sits like a cannonball in my gut. I wish I could find a way out of this party. It sounds like it’s going to be a bunch of rich kids drinking beer and —
“Why are you staring at your phone like that?” my mom asks, half laughing. “It’s a blank screen. Are you trying to make someone text you with telekinesis?” She slides into a parking spot. We’re at the restaurant; I hadn’t noticed.
I feel myself flush. “I was just spacing out.” I shove it back in my purse and get out, slamming the car door behind me. The evening air is close and hot, and I suddenly can’t remember if I put on deodorant.
We approach the restaurant. It’s a California Italian place my mom likes for their low-calorie salads. The swinging brass-and-glass door opens, and Andrew steps out. “Look at you gorgeous girls.”
My mom beams. She’s wearing what I call her Real Housewives outfit: designer jeans, flowy boob shirt, and the fake diamond engagement ring she bought so people will think she’s married to a rich guy. Andrew is a good-looking man a decade younger than my mom, with light brown hair and a fake tan. He seems shinier than most people, like he’s been buffed and polished. I fade into the background as she gives him a pair of cheek kisses and he gushes more about how pretty she is. He turns his attention to me after a minute and says the obligatory look-how-beautiful-and-grown-up-your-daughter-is things, and then a hostess my age is leading us to a table in the middle of the room. The air-conditioning is strong, bringing goose bumps up on my arms. Andrew sits to my left, and my mom sits to my right. When the waitress comes, I order an iced tea and pray they bring the bread soon; I’m starving.
A small votive candle sits in the middle of the table. I find myself transfixed by the dancing flame, and I reach out and dip my fingertip in the melted wax. I bring it to my nose and sniff. Vanilla. As my mom and Andrew chat, I make a little wax finger glove, then melt it in the flame. The fire bites at my skin. I like the little stings of heat.
With our food ordered and cocktails in front of my mom and Andrew, they exchange a meaningful look. Andrew says, “Let’s toast. To the two of you.” He lifts his glass.
My mom beams and clinks her wineglass against his tumbler. I’m not sure what we’re toasting.
Andrew says, “Do you want me to tell her? Or do you?”
She grins and says, “You tell her.”
“Tell me what?” I ask, suspicious.
He says, “So, as you know, your mother has been doing work for Sunbrella for years.”
Of course I know what he’s talking about. My mom never shuts up when she lands a modeling job, and she’s been getting steady work from Sunbrella for two years. They always take pictures of her sitting on decks drinking things out of tall glasses.
“Yes. I am aware,” I reply.
“And you know your mom is the most beautiful woman on my list.”
“Stop it,” she protests, but she loves it.
“She doesn’t look a day over thirty,” he continues.
She bats her eyelashes. “Okay fine, go on.”
This whole conversation is making me want to crawl inside my own skin and die. I pull the candle closer to me and stick my fingertip into the wax again.
“So anyway,” Andrew says. “Your mom’s success with Sunbrella has drawn the interest of Inner You, an interior design company in La Jolla.”
“Very upscale,” my mom interjects.
“But what they want is a mother-daughter shoot. They had a list of girls in mind to cast your mom with, but we showed them your picture, and they were so jazzed about the idea of an actual mother-daughter team that they ate it up on the spot. Picture this.” He holds his hands up like he’s visualizing the advertisement. “Poolside. Two California girls enjoying their infinity pool. I’m thinking a boho-inspired string bikini on Mick, and something with a deep V on Mom.” He grins like this is the best news he’s ever delivered.
I freeze. Inside and out, I am frozen. The fire chomps on my finger; I’ve let it drift right into the flame. I yank it back, knocking the candle over.
“Are you kidding me?” I say, shaking my hand out. I look at my mom. Her face tells me she is not kidding. “This has to be a joke, though. Because you know there is nothing on earth that is getting me into a bikini and in front of a camera.”
The waiter arrives with a basket of bread. He sets it on the table with a stack of small plates. “How’s everything?” he purrs. “We still doin’ good over here? You need any refills?”
We stare at him in silence. At last, Andrew says, “We’re fine.”
“Mmmmkay.” The waiter sees the candle, sideways in a puddle of hardening wax, and takes it away with him.
My mom takes a deep breath and blinks at me. This means she’s trying to be patient because we’re in public. “This is a paying job, Micaela.”
“Mom, no.” To Andrew, I say, “I can’t do this. You don’t understand. It’s physically impossible for me to do this.”
Andrew’s tone is warm and comforting. “You don’t have to worry about anything. These are professional photographers. They know how to make you look good. I promise, you’re in excellent hands.”
“You don’t understand. This isn’t me.”
He pats my hand. “Forget the boho bikini. We’ll find something sporty, andro chic, maybe boy short bottoms or something with a racerback — ”
“I’m not asking for the gay version,” I snap, pulling my hand away, fighting the urge to flip the table and fling dishes at the walls. “I’m telling you no. I am an athlete. I don’t train six days a week to prance around in an andro bikini, whatever the hell that is.”
My mom’s cheeks go bright pink under the spray tan and foundation. She gets up and sets her napkin down by her plate, fake diamonds glittering. “Excuse us,” she says to Andrew. She grabs my arm and lifts me from the chair. She’s not strong enough to do it for real, but my other option is to go full UFC with her in the middle of the restaurant, so I grab my purse and let her pull me away.
In the bathroom hallway, she turns on me. I back up to the wall, purse clutched tight at my side, my heart pounding in my throat. She flicks her eyes over me, darts them left and right to make sure no one can hear us, and says, “You know we’re having money problems.”
We’ve talked about how she’s been having a hard time finding modeling work to supplement her catering income. “I mean, yeah, but I’ve just been using the money I make lifeguarding for everything.”
“I’m too old to bartend as much as I used to. My modeling work is drying up. Your dad doesn’t pay child support. This is not the time to take a moral stand.”
“Mom, I’ll take more catering jobs with you, every night if you want. But I can’t do this.”
“You’re not understanding. We don’t need a hundred bucks here or there. We need fast cash, and we need it now.” Her eyes are so intense, I’m crawling with discomfort, but I can’t look away. “You’re going to do this job, and we’re going to use the money to pay the rent for the next six months.”
“But I’m not a model! How many times have you told me that? I’m terrible in front of the camera. I hate it. Mom, I hate it.” Hate isn’t a strong enough word. I loathe it, I dread it; it makes me want to dig a hole and bury myself alive.
“It doesn’t matter! They’ll get body shots. They don’t even have to focus on your face.”
“Oh God.” I want to die. I press my hand to my mouth, my empty stomach roiling. I swallow hard and say, “There has to be another way. Please. I’m begging you.”
She studies me with cold blue eyes. “We could pull rent money out of your savings account. You have thousands in there.”
I’m shocked, winded. “That’s my money. From my jobs that I work. It’s for my club fees and suits and travel fees for meets and — and — ” Without that money, I can’t stay on the club team, and just doing school swim team isn’t enough to get the scholarship I need.
She brushes her hair behind her shoulders. She’s regal with self-righteousness. “Then do the photo shoot.”
I stare at her, emotions pounding inside my head, coming at me from different angles. Betrayal — grief — loneliness. I’m already the only kid on the team who has to pay her own fees and expenses, which I’ve never minded. We can’t all be born wealthy, and it’s not my mom’s fault my dad has been MIA for the last ten years. But now she wants me to help her pay the rent?
Her face is deadly calm. “We’ll talk more later. Right now, I want you to go to the bathroom, fix your face, fix your attitude, then come back to the table and be nice to Andrew.” She spins and click-clacks out into the restaurant.
I can hear the waiters’ muffled voices in the server station around the corner, talking about table numbers and drink orders. Dishes clang and clash in the kitchen at the end of the hallway. The white noise makes me feel invisible, like a ghost haunting the restaurant. I feel that way a lot, like I could scream and no one would hear a thing.
My phone buzzes in my purse. It startles me. With numb, shaking hands, I pull it out.
Liz’s name lights up the screen along with the words You almost done? We’re all waiting for you.
She knows I’m at dinner with my mom. What does she expect me to do? I imagine my mom’s anger if I took off. Do I care?
The image of me on a pool deck surrounded by cameras, trotting around obediently in a bikini while my mom and Andrew simper with glee, makes me want to piss my mom off.
To Liz, I type, Come get me.