Wednesday, January 8, 2020

Showcase Girls with No Names by Serena Burdick Park Row Books

Those who know me well know I absolutely love Harlequin and every one of their imprints, Park Row Books is their latest and they have some fantastic releases. If you love literary historical fiction this is a novel you have to check out.

Publisher: Park Row Books

Release Date: 1-7-2020



A beautiful tale of hope, courage, and sisterhood—inspired by the real House of Mercy and the girls confined there for daring to break the rules.

Growing up in New York City in the 1910s, Luella and Effie Tildon realize that even as wealthy young women, their freedoms come with limits. But when the sisters discover a shocking secret about their father, Luella, the brazen elder sister, becomes emboldened to do as she pleases. Her rebellion comes with consequences, and one morning Luella is mysteriously gone.

Effie suspects her father has sent Luella to the House of Mercy and hatches a plan to get herself committed to save her sister. But she made a miscalculation, and with no one to believe her story, Effie’s own escape seems impossible—unless she can trust an enigmatic girl named Mable. As their fates entwine, Mable and Effie must rely on their tenuous friendship to survive.

Home for Unwanted Girls meets The Dollhouse in this atmospheric, heartwarming story that explores not only the historical House of Mercy, but the lives—and secrets—of the girls who stayed there.

Read an excerpt:

Chapter One
Luella and I carved our place in the world together. More accurately, my sister carved and I followed, my notches secured inside the boundary of hers. She was older, courageous and unpredictable, which made it a natural mistake.

“Luella?” I called, afraid my sister would lose me.
“I’m right here,” I heard, only I couldn’t see her.
A moonless night had swallowed the woods of the upper Manhattan isle that we knew so well in daylight. Now we were stumbling, running blindly, bumping into one tree, turning and bumping into another, our hands held out in front of us, everything foreign and out of shape.
From the depths of my blindness, my sister grabbed my arm and yanked me to a halt. I gasped for breath, my heart rattling my whole 
body. There wasn’t a star in the sky. My sister’s hand on my arm was the only proof I had that she stood next to me.
“Are you all right? Can you breathe?” she asked.
“I’m fine, but I hear the creek.”
“I know,” Luella groaned.
It meant we’d gone in the wrong direction. We should have gone directly over the hill to Bolton Road. Now we were near Spuyten Duyvil Creek and farther from our house than when we’d started.
“We should find the road and follow it home,” I said. At least on the road there would be lights from houses.
“That will take twice as long. Mama and Daddy will have the police out looking for us by then.”
Our parents were worriers—Daddy for our physical well-being, Mama for our souls. I still wanted to take the road because, either way, they’d be searching soon. “It’s better than not getting home at all,” I pleaded.
Luella moved forward, pulling me with her until she stopped abruptly. “I feel something.” She took another step. “It’s a woodpile. There must be a house around here.”
“We’d see a light,” I whispered, the ground squishy under my feet and pungent with the smell of manure.
“It’s worth finding out.” Luella let go of me. “I’m going on ahead. Follow the woodpile.”
I traced my gloved hands over the rough, rounded logs until they ended and I dropped a step into empty space, the darkness like a blindfold I wanted to rip off. I could hear the rush of the creek nearby. What if we walked straight into it? A few steps more and my shoulder grazed a tree. I stretched out my arm. The trunk was massive. I followed it, my gloves snagging over the dips and grooves in the calloused bark until I suddenly knew where we were.
“Lu!” I gasped. “We’re at the Tulip Tree.”
Her footsteps halted. Luella and I were staunch believers in ghost tales, and everyone knew the story of the oysterman who hung himself in the rickety house next to the Tulip Tree. We’d never dared come this close to the house; not even in the light of day had we found the courage to do more than peek from the hilltop.
There was a hiss of air through Luella’s teeth, and her tone grew sturdy. “Even if it is haunted, someone lives here. At least it’s too dark to see the oysterman’s ghost dangling from a rope in the window.”
This was not reassuring. My throat constricted, and my breath caught in my lungs. Luella had always been braver than me. Even in normal situations I panicked with shyness. Now I was frozen solid, and as always when afraid, my imagination took over.

When day breaks, the girls are nowhere to be found. The sun rises and warms the hill where they last stood. The river swells in the distance under the boat of an early rising fisherman who pulls up his net, the light catching the silver fish as they writhe in protest. He dumps them on his deck and catches sight of something floating in the water—a back, curved, buoyed to the surface by a skirt that bubbles up like a bloated fish. The girl’s face is in the water, her dark hair trailing from her head like seaweed caught on a rock.

I shook the image from my head. The ground beneath my boots, the tree under my hands, the smell of rotting fish and manure were not my imagination. The twigs snapping under Luella’s feet were real, the rapid knock on wood, silence, then the sound of a heavy bolt sliding back and the click of a latch. A light flared and the ghastly face of a man appeared, bearded, with red-rimmed eyes and gnarled teeth exposed in a mouth wide with surprise. I screamed. The man jumped and made as if to slam the door when he saw my sister.
“What the devil?” His voice boomed and the lantern in his hand swung, splintering light across the trees.
I was about to scream again when I heard my sister say, honey-sweet, “I apologize for the disturbance, sir, but it appears we’ve gotten waylaid in the dark. If we could trouble you for your lantern, 
just to get us home, we’d be ever grateful. I’ll have it returned first thing in the morning.”
The man held up the light and stepped forward, peering into my sister’s face, and then glanced down her dress. “We?” he said. It disgusted me the way he looked at her. I’d seen men look at my sister like that before, but we’d never been unchaperoned and alone in the dark.
“My sister is just behind me.” Luella took a step back, closer to me, but still out of reach.
“The screamer?” The man barked a laugh.
“If you can’t spare a light, we’ll simply take the road.” There was a quiver to Luella’s voice as she retreated.
“Hang on, now.” The man caught her by the arm.
A ghost would have been better than this solid man of flesh and blood. I thought of crying out for help, but there was no one to hear us. Maybe I could lunge out of the darkness and take him by surprise, knock the light from his hand, then grab my sister and run.
I did none of these things, standing paralyzed with fear as my sister took a step closer to the man, the hem of her skirt brushing his leg.
“Oh, you dear, sweet thing.” She placed her hand over his that gripped her arm, the affection startling him enough to ease his hold. “Aren’t you kind to be concerned. Your chivalry will not be over
looked.” In a flash she kissed his pocked cheek, at the same time slipping her arm free and plucking the lantern from his hand. Turning swiftly with two long strides, she caught me by the hand and rushed us up the hill as fast as she could.
Plunged into darkness, the man stood dumbfounded on his doorstep, knocked so far off balance by that kiss that I was sure for years to come he would think we were the ghosts who had come to haunt him.
We didn’t slow down until we reached our front door where the fear of facing our parents replaced my fear of the dark and the ghost of hanging oystermen.
Out of breath, I pitched forward with my head between my knees.
“You’re not going to have a blue fit, are you?” Luella sounded unsympathetic. If I had a fit, our parents would blame her, since she was older and therefore responsible for me. I was not allowed to run; it was a simple rule to follow.
I shook my head no, unable to speak as I took slow steady breaths, regaining my equilibrium.
“Good.” She blew out the lantern, grinning at me as she stowed it behind the abelia bush, proud of her cunning to obtain it and not at all bothered at the idea of being in trouble for missing curfew. Daddy would get angry. Mama would scold. Luella would look appropriately regretful. She’d apologize, kiss Mama, throw her arms around Daddy and it would be as if she’d never done any wrong because, for all of my sister’s rebelliousness, she was adored.
Tonight, however, we had no need to worry. Neala was dusting the glass panel on the grandfather clock as we stepped into the hall. It gave a resonant tick tock announcing our lateness. “I’m not even going to ask,” she said in her Irish brogue. Neala, our household maid, was young and “spirited,” as Mama called her. Maybe that’s why she never tattled on us. “Your parents are out, and Velma’s been kind enough to leave your dinner in the kitchen. No use setting the dining room for the likes of you two.” She swatted the dust cloth at me as I passed, shaking her fiery-red head in mock disapproval.
The only person we had to look out for now was Mama’s French maid, Margot, who had come with Mama from Paris. She was a solid, handsome woman, with dark hair that refused to gray and eyes the color of steel. Loyal only to her mistress, she reported our every misstep. Tonight, Margot’s room off the kitchen was empty and Luella and I ate quickly, escaping to our rooms before she had a chance to return.
I was too tired to bother brushing my hair before crawling into bed with my notebook, where I would embellish our adventure into a story worthy of our tardiness. It was Daddy who encouraged my storytelling. As a child, my mind froze when people asked me questions. I’d stare at them, reaching for what they might want me to say, never finding the right words. When I was six years old Daddy gave me a notebook and a shiny black pen and said, “Your eyes are full of mystery. I love a good mystery. Why not write one for me?” After that, at least in my imagination, words flowed.
When my hand began to cramp, I slipped the book under my pillow and turned out the lamp to wait for Luella, who religiously brushed her hair one hundred times before bed. She’d read in Vogueit thickened limp strands.
Despite our separate rooms, we still slept together. When we were little our beds were so far apart in the nursery that one of us would creep across the room to climb in with the other. When Luella turned thirteen she got her own room and the nursery became mine. My twin bed was replaced with a double oak canopy, my child’s wardrobe swapped out for a lovely, large one fit to accommodate all the womanly dresses I would grow into. I was only ten at the time and had high hopes for my future figure.
At thirteen it was becoming harder to pretend I’d ever grow into a dress meant to hang in that wardrobe. I had always been small for my age, but as the girls around me filled out and inched their way upward into the world of womanhood, I remained short and thin with no figure to speak of. Luella had long since left me behind. 
Her breasts filled out a chest that had once been as scrawny as mine, and her straight waist curved over enviable hips. Even her face had rounded out, her dimples sinking into full cheeks. But it was her fingernails I envied the most. Smooth and flat, her white cuticles like upside-down smiles, or tiny cresting moons. My cuticles were invisible under the murky lumps that grew like pebbles from my nail beds, bulbous and round as if I’d dipped my fingertips into melted wax.
Jumping into bed, Luella wriggled next to me whispering, “Wasn’t it absolutely marvelous? I keep hearing the fiddles and that voice. I’ve never heard anything like it. It was wildly sinful, wasn’t it?”
It was.
Our toes had been inches above the icy spring water at the base of the Indian caves when the music interrupted us. We had peeled off stockings for our pre-spring ritual of numbing our feet when fiddle notes pierced the air. Bewitched by a euphonious voice sailing through the trees we forgot about our mission to will the buds of flowers open, snatched our shoes and socks and scrambled up the grassy slope, halting at the tree line. The normally empty meadow was ringed with tents and brightly painted house wagons. Tethered horses munched on grass while dogs lay with heads in their paws, watching a group of people encircle a woman dancing with her 
hands above her head, her floral skirt swelling like the surf, voices and fiddles singing around her in circles.
Luella had wrapped her arm around my waist. I felt her body quivering. “Look at her. She’s marvelous. It makes me want to move in ways I’ve never dared,” she whispered, her desire beating off her like heat.
Since the age of five, my sister had trained as a ballerina under a Russian choreographer. The French are good dancers, our very French mother informed us, her voice lilting with her accent, but the Russians are great dancers. The Americans, she scoffed, do not know the meaning of ballet.
This gypsy dancer was something altogether different. I’d never seen anything like it. She was mesmerizing, her movements seamless and indefatigable. My sister and I stood for so long that we didn’t notice the air cooling around us as the sun slipped behind the trees, leaving us in a darkness that twisted our sense of direction.
Safe now in our warm bed, with our parents none the wiser, we both agreed it had been worth it.
“What if we’d never made it home?” Luella wrapped her leg over mine.
“What if the oysterman got us?”
“And yanked me inside with his clammy ghost claw.”
“And slit your throat.”
“What?” I could be as brave as anyone in my own fantasies.
“You don’t have to be so gruesome. He could just smother me with a pillow.”
“Okay, he smothers you and takes you as his spirit-wife. Meanwhile, I wander the empty house, hearing you, but unable to reach you.”
“Mama and Daddy put out a search party.”
“And I drown myself in the Hudson out of misery and fly up to Heaven, never to see you again because you’re stuck on earth with the oysterman.”
“You’d sink into hell for committing suicide.” Luella was the least pious person I knew, and yet she still corrected me.
“Then the oysterman would be in hell too. Which means we’d be together, wandering in hell for all of eternity. A happy ending.”
“I’m afraid you’ve got it all wrong.” Luella twisted a piece of my hair around her finger and gave a gentle tug. “I’d never let you kill yourself for me, not even as a ghost, so the story is bunk. You’ll have to start a new one.”
Which, if I was going to be accurate—even in fantasies, I tried to be as accurate as possible—was true. Luella would never let anything happen to me.
When something did happen, it was Daddy who was to blame.



Burdick (Girl in the Afternoon) will break hearts with this exquisitely wrought, meticulously researched historical reflection on an American version of the infamous Magdalene laundries of Ireland. In the first years of the 20th century, free-spirited sisters Luella and Effie Tildon live in New York City, near the House of Mercy, a home for wayward girls that is anything but merciful. Effie can’t conceive of a time when she and Luella won’t be living happily ever after—until Luella disappears, setting in motion a devastating series of events. Believing that her sister has been committed by their father to the House of Mercy, Effie hatches a plan to get committed—and when she discovers she’s wrong, she becomes a prisoner, largely dependent on another resident, Mable. Effie’s parents, meanwhile, have no idea where she is, believe she’s been kidnapped, and are moving heaven and earth to find her. Told from the alternating points of view of Effie; her mother, Jeanne; and Mable, the narrative combines lush prose with a quick and riveting plot. Readers will be intensely moved by this historical. Agent: Stephanie Delman, Sanford J. Greenburger Associates. (Jan.)

Publishers Weekly

"I'm shocked I'd never heard of The House of Mercy, the asylum for fallen women at the center of Serena Burdick's beautiful novel. Burdick expertly weaves together the stories of women affected by the asylum, telling a mesmerizing tale of strength, subterfuge, and the unbreakable bond between sisters." – Whitney Scharer, author of The Age of Light

"Filled with true historical details about life inside a work house for wayward girls in the 1910s, The Girls with No Names is a beautifully written, haunting novel. Burdick gorgeously portrays womanhood and coming-of-age set against the backdrop of the real House of Mercy, but above all, she weaves a stunning story of sisters, friendship, secrets, and ultimately survival. I fell in love with the courageous Effie and Mabel and will not soon forget their stories." – Jillian Cantor, USA Today bestselling author of The Lost Letter and In Another TimeFrom the Publisher

In the early 1910s, the House of Mercy, a home for wayward girls, looms over the posh Tildon estate in upper Manhattan. Will the Tildon daughters fall into its clutches?

Born with a heart condition that should have ended her life in infancy, 13-year-old Effie Tildon adores her older sister, Luella. When they discover a band of Roma camping near their home, their curiosity is sparked, and the two sisters begin sneaking out to sing, dance, and have their fortunes told. Even though their parents would be shocked, Effie and Luella know they are simply having some fun, exploring a new world. But discovering that their father, Emory, has a shameful secret drives Luella from home. Convinced that her parents have had Luella incarcerated in the House of Mercy (an American version of the notorious Magdalene laundries that plagued unfortunate Irish girls), Effie contrives to rescue her. Once inside the House of Mercy, she meets Mable Winter, who has plenty of secrets of her own to hide. Yet Effie has grossly miscalculated, and her rescue mission quickly sets in motion a series of fateful events that imperil her life. The bleak lives of women in early-20th-century New York spring to life through Burdick's (Girl in the Afternoon, 2016) deft sketching. Whether born to privilege, as the Tildon girls are, or tossed into the tenement slums, as Mable is, each girl must fight bitterly for any kind of freedom. As for the House of Mercy itself, Burdick shrewdly lets it loom in the background for a bit before pulling it to the foreground, like an urban legend suddenly brought to life. Burdick is especially adept at slowly revealing the motivation of the ominous figures around Effie and Mable while ratcheting up both the girls' vulnerability and courage.

A spellbinding thriller for fans of Gilded Age fiction.Kirkus Reviews

Serena's debut won the 2017 International Book Award Winner in the Historical Fiction category!

About the author:
Serena Burdick Graduated from The American Academy of Dramatic Arts in California before moving to New York City to pursue a degree in English Literature at Brooklyn College. Author of GIRL IN THE AFTERNOON, she lives in Western Massachusetts with her husband and two sons.


  1. I don't read a lot of books in this genre anymore but this does sound like it would be a good read.

  2. Oh this sounds good, I also know it will tug at my heartstrings.

  3. I think I noticed this on NetGalley and thought to myself it really sounded like a good read.

    1. oh I hope you got yours Kathryn I think you'd really like it

  4. Replies
    1. I know but there are still parents like this today!

  5. Sounds really interesting. I love when authors use actual places and history to tell their stories. I feel like I learn as I'm being entertained.

    Melanie @ Hot Listens & Books of My Heart

  6. This sounds like an intriguing and emotional story! Thanks for sharing Debbie :)

    Lindy@ A Bookish Escape