By: Mandy Mikulencak
Publication Date: 12/26/2017
My Rating: 5 Stars (ARC)
Featured Friday Read
“A gorgeous novel that finds beauty in the most unlikely of places.” —Susan Wiggs, #1 New York Times bestselling author
Set in 1950s Louisiana, Mandy Mikulencak’s beautifully written and emotionally moving novel evokes both The Help and Dead Man Walking with the story of an unforgettable woman whose quest to provide meals for death row prisoners leads her into the secrets of her own past.
Many children have grown up in the shadow of Louisiana’s Greenmount State Penitentiary. Most of them—sons and daughters of corrections officers and staff—left the place as soon as they could. Yet Ginny Polk chose to come back to work as a prison cook. She knows the harsh reality of life within those walls—the cries of men being beaten, the lines of shuffling inmates chained together. Yet she has never seen them as monsters, not even the ones sentenced to execution. That’s why, among her duties, Ginny has taken on a special responsibility: preparing their last meals.
Pot roast or red beans and rice, coconut cake with seven-minute frosting or pork neck stew . . . whatever the men ask for Ginny prepares, even meeting with their heartbroken relatives to get each recipe just right. It’s her way of honoring their humanity, showing some compassion in their final hours. The prison board frowns upon the ritual, as does Roscoe Simms, Greenmount’s Warden. Her daddy’s best friend before he was murdered, Roscoe has always watched out for Ginny, and their friendship has evolved into something deep and unexpected. But when Ginny stumbles upon information about the man executed for killing her father, it leads to a series of dark and painful revelations.
Truth, justice, mercy—none of these are as simple as Ginny once believed. And the most shocking crimes may not be the ones committed out of anger or greed, but the sacrifices we make for love.
Buy the Book
A beautifully written story, both absorbing and haunting, Mandy Mikulencak delivers a breakout book, THE LAST SUPPERS —a heartbreaking tale of secrets, racism, inequality, the death penalty, and prisoner rights.
A courageous young woman becomes obsessed with the preparation of the last meals for death row inmates, and a lover haunted by his related past.
However, there is a mystery to be unraveled about her own father’s murder and secrets of the past. A strong need for justice.
Part Southern, historical, mystery, and suspense. From the 1920s-1960s, a young woman Ginny works at the fictional Greenmount Penitentiary in Louisiana. Her father was a guard at the same prison years ago and murdered when she was six-years-old.
Ginny Polk currently resides with Roscoe (Warden Simms), who also works at the prison as a warden. He is old enough to be her father.
Her father, Joe (a heavy drinker) and Roscoe were best friends for years. He promised her father he would take care of her and her mother, Miriam. Roscoe and Ginny keep their relationship a secret inside the prison. Warden and cook.
Executions were hard on Ginny. The cruelty and darkness of the prison often overwhelmed her and gave her panic attacks and nightmares. Her mom, Miriam forced her to attend the execution of the man who murdered her dad, when she was only eight-years-old.
His name was Silas Barnes. She recalled his wife and son. She also remembered the horrors of his claim of innocence until the very end. She is haunted by the family he left behind. She always suspected something was not right.
Dot, an African woman, also works in the kitchen with Ginny. She is like a mother to her. (loved her). She has always been there for her to pick up the pieces.
On a side note: Love the show "Queen Sugar." If there is a movie based on this book, would love to see Dot played by Tina Lifford or one of the strong leading ladies. Ginny played by Jessica Elise De Gouw, and Roscoe by Christopher Meloni from "Underground." Love this show and hope it comes back for another season.
No one can understand why Ginny is so concerned about the death row prisoners, and their last meal. Her madness started the day she was forced to witness the execution of her father’s killer.
Ginny is now almost thirty years old. She is unsure she loves Roscoe, but she has feelings for him. She knew she did not want to raise children in this compound.
Currently, Ginny is concerned about the next execution in less than a week. Samuel LeBoux. He will be her nineteenth execution she has witnessed.
She wants to ensure he has his last meal. She would seek out the prisoner, the family, and try to determine their most memorable dish. Ginny would do her best to replicate it, even using her own money.
Some thought a man only hours from dying would not be able to enjoy a meal. He has done horrible things. Does he deserve such a right? Ginny feels differently. It was not the act of eating. It was something memorable the prisoner may have treasured from his past.
Memory and loss, more than hunger and pleasure. She believed it was a sign of respect to offer them a last meal. A prisoner is a human no matter the crimes they have committed. Ginny wanted to do something special for them.
She has fond memories of her dad enjoying a tasty dessert. Even after his death, she would learn how to make a new dessert each week.
Haunted by the families who watched their loved ones die. Her grandmother always said a person’s soul drifted up from his body at the moment of death and some could see it. She still watches.
“Their fear and anger usually surpassed that of the death row inmate’s emotions, and it was a horrible thing to witness.”
The executions. The electric chairs. The families. "Ginny always wondered if taking one life for another— meant justice would be served?"
She volunteered to witness every execution and take down the prisoners’ last words, although all she had to do was drop off a tray of food and leave.
Ginny’s scrapbook of these men included the recipe of the dish he requested as his last supper and the words he uttered seconds before dying in the electric chair.
From rape, murder, and robbery and unspeakable crimes. However, the men had a family. Wives, mothers, children, and friends. What torture did they undergo inside the prison walls?
Roscoe and Ginny’s relationship becomes strained since the board visited often and Roscoe was under a lot of pressure trying to protect inmates.
Roscoe thought Ginny was trying to make up for something as if she believed the family of her dad’s murderer blamed her.
He does not want her getting to close to this current execution. What is he hiding? Roscoe has his demons from the past. Those secrets he has been forced to keep quiet.
Ginny still has nightmares about the family. The worst was the guilt of the family—Taking a father away from his son. She begged his forgiveness.
Only once in all the years had anyone screamed out he was innocent. It was Silas, her dad’s murderer. He did not receive "the last supper. " This incident still haunts her. Why does she remember now? She feels their utter despair.
Joe hadn’t died at the prison, but rather just outside of Baton Rouge. However, Miriam blamed the penitentiary. What was the real reason he died that night?
The secrets of the past surface as Ginny becomes involved with Samuel’s last meal. The real truth about that night so long ago is slowly revealed and the events leading up to the murder.
No matter how many suppers she cooked, she could never undo the pain his family endured. The devastating and lasting memory of Silas Barnes’ death. Was he innocent?
Ginny soon uncovers a shameful part of her daddy’s past. The ugly truths intertwined with Dot’s family history. From the Klan, rape, racial injustice, coverups, and murder. She must make the wrongs, rights.
Filled with sympathy and compassion, as a reader your heart goes out to Ginny. Secrets, truth, lies, despair heartbreak, mercy, hope and redemption.
She finds comfort in food. Food is an ongoing theme throughout the book, as well as the stories of different inmates and their requests for last meals. A sharing of cooking secrets with the writing of a cookbook.
Mikulencak deftly unravels a compelling story of heartache, courage, mercy, and love. The author has put her heart into this novel and reflective throughout. Well-researched, an astounding job with the highly-charged subject material and character-development. Darkness and light. Even though historic, we are faced with similar destructive issues today, decades later.
For fans of Diane Chamberlain, Heather Gudenkauf, Karen White, Vanessa Lafaye, Mary Marcus, Amy Conner, and Kim Richardson. THE LAST SUPPERS is an ideal choice for book clubs and further discussions. (guide included as well as featured recipes).
Thought-provoking fiction that exposes the dark side of our racial past and present and our ongoing corruption within our distressing prison and justice system, yet today.
A special thank you to Kensington/John Scognamiglio Imprint for an advanced reading copy. It was a pleasure meeting this talented author. Look forward to more.
Dec Must Reads
“[The Last Suppers] is a haunting study of race relations, compassion, and mystery. A must read.” —Library Journal (starred review)
“In this novel of compassion, readers will find a humanizing light in a normally dark place.” —Booklist
“The Last Suppers is as timely as it is remarkable. Book groups looking for a book that will touch the heart, provide food for thought and deliver an abundance of points for discussion should consider this novel.”
“The Last Suppers held me riveted from the first page to the last, a gorgeous novel that finds beauty in the most unlikely of places. This story has the social conscience of The Help, the unflinching honesty of The Shawshank Redemption, and a wholly original heroine whose humanity will touch your heart as she cooks her way to redemption.” —Susan Wiggs, # 1 New York Times bestselling author
“A taut page-turner . . . had me in its grips to the shocking end of a well-crafted, gripping story.” —Anna Jean Mayhew, author of The Dry Grass of August
“Filled with heart and reverent solemnity, despair and hope, Mandy Mikulencak’s writing is a sensitive, thoughtful narrative about finding freedom beyond the boundaries of what we believe of ourselves and of our past. With captivating characters, a unique premise, and set in sultry Louisiana, this story is as rich and enticing as the last suppers prepared, one you will want to linger over until the very last page.” —Donna Everhart, author of The Education of Dixie Dupree
About the Author
When I was a teenager, my teachers encouraged me to pursue a writing career. A journalism degree seemed like the right (only?) choice. After a brief stint as a newspaper reporter and editor, I continued to use my writing and editing skills in a variety of communications and PR jobs over the next two decades.
A women’s writing retreat sparked an interest in flash and short fiction. When larger stories demanded to be told, I found a new passion in writing gritty stories that illuminated the dichotomies in the human condition; stories that demonstrate joy and redemption can exist alongside pain and tragedy.
In 2003, my husband, Andy, and I left behind big-city life to make our home in the mountains of southwest Colorado. I’m represented by JL Stermer of New Leaf Literary & Media. Read More