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Sitting in the bar of a posh hotel, Kit Manning-Strasser fumes that the Hawsers, the mega donors she flew into town to wine, dine and hit up for a huge donation to the university where she works, canceled at the last minute. Back at the offices of Aldrich University Charitable Giving, her subordinate Lynn Godfrey is also angry. She’s the one who spent hours and hours grooming the Hawsers for the big kill, but it’s Kit who’ll get the credit when the check arrives.

A text flashes on Lynn’s phone. Get ready, it reads, and as she’s pondering its meaning and who sent it, every computer in the office goes dark. They’ve been hacked and their data stolen. But as disastrous as that is, there’s opportunity as well. For one quick moment a master list containing every file for every employee appears. Does Kit have secrets she might be able to use, Lynn wonders, as she clicks to open her file?

And so begins Sara Shepard’s latest novel, Reputation, a take on modern technology and the old fashioned premise that everybody’s got something to hide.

“Reputation is a book about different members of a university community and how they react to a school-wide email hack — and a subsequent murder,” said Shepard, author of the New York Times best seller "Pretty Little Liars." "There are a lot of different perspectives, a lot of scandals, and a lot of twists, but the crux of the novel deals with two estranged sisters, Willa and Kit, and how they come together again in a time of crisis."

Willa is Kit’s younger sister, who, scarred by an incident in her hometown, took off for California when young. Throughout the years, Willa has avoided returning to her college town or having any semblance of a real relationship with her older sister, who followed the more traditional path, remaining at home. Marrying, Kit had two daughters, and then became a widow. But from the outside, she appears to have upgraded her life to a bigger house, great vacations and a cushy life with her remarriage to a wealthy doctor.

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“But maybe it's not all that it's cracked up to be,” Shepard said. “It's Kit's husband who ends up being murdered because of rumors about him that come out in the hack — and suddenly, all eyes are on Kit, wondering what she might have done. But did Kit kill her husband? And maybe Willa is hiding a dark secret no one in her family knows, too.”

Shepard conceived of this book as the newspapers were filled with stories about the Sony hack.

“I couldn't believe that people's run-of-the-mill emails were suddenly broadcast everywhere for everyone to read,” Shepard said. “It got me thinking about what I'd do if my emails were on a similar server — or emails of people I knew. We all have things we aren't proud of, you know. As for setting the novel in a college town, it seems like colleges are a big target for hackers — and for scandals. Try Googling 'college scandal.' You'll get so many varied results, your head will spin! And terribly, I remember pitching an idea of an unethical coach before the whole Larry Nassar/USA gymnastics scandal broke. It was eerie — and terrible — to see an imagined scenario come true.”

Though she’s never had to deal with the intense scandals her characters have endured, Shepard says she tries to relate to how they feel.

“We've all been betrayed,” she said. “We've all felt watched and judged. We've all felt lost and small and scared. We've all felt the complications of motherhood and marriage and, perhaps, being with a partner we don't entirely trust — or, at the very least, someone who turns out differently than what we imagined.”

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