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Laura Dave and The First Husband

May 09, 2011 By: larramiefg Category: Book Presentations, Books


With witty, wise, storytelling regarding the complexities of modern love — complemented by her elegantly honest prose –, Laura Dave (The Divorce Party, London Is the Best City in America) offfers readers her third novel, The First Husband, available Thursday, May 12, 2011.

How good is it really? In its May 2011 issue, Marie Claire designated The First Husband as a “NEED TO READ” decadent novel noting: “What distinguishes Dave from her peers are her keen observations about the difficulty of creating lasting love in a freedom-obsesses society, and her willingness to follow her characters into the grayest areas of their emotional lives…”

The author accomplishes just that by first introducing Annie Adams, a thirtysomething travel columnist, who watches her five-year committed relationship dissolve within an hour. After five years with someone she loved and thought would be her life partner, what does Annie do? Well that was the question that inspired the novel — how do we not live our lives in reaction? Also how do we operate from a place of agency?

As for the title, Laura explains: “In today’s age, I feel like many of my friends have such serious relationships before marriage (decade long relationships) that in some ways this person they end up parting with is a first husband. I liked that the title could speak to that a bit.”

Indeed it does and the storyline evolved into the following synopsis:

A savvy, page-turning novel about a woman torn between her husband and the man she thought she’d marry.

Annie Adams is days away from her thirty-second birthday and thinks she has finally found some happiness. She visits the world’s most interesting places for her syndicated travel column and she’s happily cohabiting with her movie director boyfriend Nick in Los Angeles. But when Nick comes home from a meeting with his therapist (aka “futures counselor”) and announces that he’s taking a break from their relationship so he can pursue a woman from his past, the place Annie had come to call home is shattered. Reeling, Annie stumbles into her neighborhood bar and finds Griffin-a grounded, charming chef who seems to be everything Annie didn’t know she was looking for. Within three months, Griffin is Annie’s husband and Annie finds herself trying to restart her life in rural Massachusetts.

A wry observer of modern love, Laura Dave “steers clear of easy answers to explore the romantic choices we make” (USA Today). Her third novel is packed with humor, empathy, and psychological insight about the power of love and home.

After three months Annie is married and starting over in rural Massachusetts?! Granted, Griffin seems to be wonderful and his small town, though isolated, is quaint and charming, albeit a bit off the beaten path. But is Annie being impulsive or reactive to finding “a ready made life” there? Because the truth is that this world travel columnist has a lack of self-worth baggage that she’s been dragging around though her mother’s numerous marriages and divorces. In other words, Annie has never had the stability to prove to herself that she deserved stability. This is one of the major themes of the novel and it’s also an issue that Laura Dave shows a brilliant take on as she says:

“I think she was deeply scared to even hope for it or ask for it — because then she would have to acknowledge how much she had longed for it. Watching Annie start to trust herself and gain a sense of self-worth (and choose a man who honored who she truly was) was a great joy for me as a writer.”

Perhaps the simple fact that Annie realizes she enjoys being with someone completely different than she’s used to –even loves him enough to marry him — makes The First Husband both insightful, delightful, and fresh. And all that likely comes from the author’s writing process. Because, when writing, Laura doesn’t know what’s going to happen….at times. Although she doesn’t follow a major outline, there are mental ideas as to where her characters are headed. However how they get there is both poignant and fun, creating a naturally human flawed storyline.

Without giving away *spoilers*, The Divining Wand asked the writer if she knew when, where, and how Annie would meet Griffin? And Laura admitted:

“I knew Annie was going to meet someone that night, and at some point I decided certain things about Griffin. But the joy for me is letting the characters talk to each other and say crazy things and be surprised myself as that meeting transpires on the page. When I feel surprised myself, I know my readers will feel that surprise too.”

Not only will there be that feeling of surprise, there will be “Aha,” and even “too close for comfort” feelings as well. For Laura Dave’s goal is to present her best possible writing by putting it first, the story second. Believing that good writing is rewriting, after the first draft, she often writes a dozen more. It’s in these drafts that the author finds what puzzle pieces are missing, what changes are needed, and what interesting bits of the story deserve more attention.

During the past decade, hundreds of novels have been written about twenty/thirtysomething women searching for happiness in quest of “Mr. Right.” TRUTH: The First Husband is not one of those novels. Instead it’s a tale of a thirtysomething woman searching for love within herself and the happiness that comes from learning where she can grow and belong. Modern love may throw in complications but it remains a universal story of self-acceptance. Which is why The First Husbandis a stunning, thoughtful, hopeful read for all ages because loving oneself is a lifelong journey. Enjoy!

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Book Giveaway: The Divining Wand is giving away one copy of The First Husband by Laura Dave in a random drawing of comments left only on this specific post. Comments left on other posts during the week will not be eligible. The deadline is Wednesday, May 11, 2011 at 7:00 p.m. EDT with the winners to be announced here in Thursday’s post. If you enter, please return Thursday to see if you’re a winner.

Therese Fowler and Exposure

May 02, 2011 By: larramiefg Category: Book Presentations, Books


As easily as Therese Fowler (Souvenir, Reunion) accepts the fact that her third novel, Exposure — in bookstores tomorrow, May 3, 2011 –, was meant to be, she also shrugs off early reviews that describe her writing as brave.

Every fictional story begins with an idea of truth and, while the author’s truth came from her son’s arrest for what the media dubbed a sexting crime, Exposure is entirely fictional. However Therese is a Mother, sociologist, and novelist who knows the power of words and what books can do. Writing this cautionary tale was necessary not only to address human mistakes but to hopefully make a difference in what happens afterwards. Also she wanted to provide hours of good reading.

Randy Susan Meyers’ quote describes how well the novelist succeeded: “Headlines rarely reveal the truth. Exposure does. I couldn’t put it down.”

Here’s the synopsis for Exposure:

In Exposure, Therese Fowler has written her most gripping novel to date—a ripped-from-the-headlines story of ardent young love and a nightmarish legal maelstrom that threatens to destroy two families.

Amelia Wilkes’s strict father does not allow her to date, but that doesn’t stop the talented, winsome high school senior from carrying on a secret romance with her classmate Anthony Winter. Desperately in love, the two envision a life together and plan to tell Amelia’s parents only after she turns eighteen and is legally an adult. Anthony’s mother, Kim, who teaches at their school, knows—and keeps—their secret. But the couple’s passion is exposed sooner than planned: Amelia’s father, Harlan, is shocked and infuriated to find naked pictures of Anthony on his daughter’s computer. Just hours later, Anthony is arrested.

Despite Amelia’s frantic protests, Harlan uses his wealth and influence with local law enforcement and the media to label Anthony a deviant who preyed on his innocent daughter. Spearheaded by a zealous prosecutor anxious to turn the case into a public crusade against “sexting,” the investigation soon takes an even more disturbing and destructive turn.

As events spiral wildly out of control and the scandalous story makes national news, Amelia and Anthony risk everything in a bold and dangerous attempt to clear their names and end the madness once and for all. 
 
A captivating page-turner, Therese Fowler’s Exposure is also a deftly crafted, provocative, and timely novel that serves as a haunting reminder of the consequences of love in the modern age.

Now an Excerpt — The first three chapters of the novel.

A love story, a coming-of-age story in the 21st century, Exposure works because Therese created two honest-to-goodness adolescents who — though anything but average — are still in the developing stage of life. In other words, they have a great deal to learn. Anthony has a slight chip on his shoulder but his kindness and determination to succeed prevail. And Amelia, for all she has, hides her own background flaws. Both are real, likable, and even understandable. But where did they come from? The Divining Wand asked the author and she said:

“The teens were inspired first by a good friend’s daughter who lives in Amelia’s world of dance and drama, combined with my own past (community) theater experience. Because I love Shakespeare and because I knew this would be a story about young love, I used a Romeo and Juliet framework, and that helped shape the parents’ roles. But the particulars of each character–Anthony’s chip, Amelia’s stutter, Harlan and Kim’s pasts and occupations and beliefs–arrived organically.”

Another significant characteristic is the shared individual passion/dream that both teens have for life. This energy and goal-oriented perspective makes them a bit different from their classmates and inevitably attracts them to each other. It’s an essential message to note, explaining why the book is about the powerful bond of pure, first love rather than sex. In fact sex, except for the criminal charges of sexting, is neither steamy nor seamy. There is no reason it needs to be.

Instead the compelling elements of Exposure focus on Amelia and Anthony’s love, parental (over)reaction, others’ assumptions, and the law’s interpretation. When these things collide, the plot takes on an out-of-control force of its own. And, to the author’s credit, she guides the events that follow without getting in the way. For the truth is that this author’s Fairy Godmother was stunned when, with merely fifty pages left to read, there appeared to be no resolution in sight.

While Therese admits that the book almost flowed by itself, she also says:

“I should note that in some ways the teens were also responsible for how dire the situation became–their youth and naivete led them in a direction that made sense to them but may not have been so wise. We think we know so much at that age…”

Adolescents think they know as do parents, educators, and the legal system. However, in this brave new world, do any of us know how to maintain privacy and protect ourselves from blurred lines?

Indeed it requires caution, yet is there a solution when caution isn’t taken?

According to the author, “Every situation will demand its own solution. Foremost, I would say everyone involved should take a step back and look at what’s really going on. The consequences of overreaction from any quarter are potentially huge.”

“Huge” is also THE word to describe Exposure. With perfect timing of telling life behind sensational headlines, Therese Fowler has written her BEST novel yet. Remember this “must read” is fiction, yet oh too true!

[For those who may not know, Therese and Exposure were featured/reviewed -- Fowler gives 'Exposure' to dangers of teen sexting -- in USA Today last Thursday, April 28, 2011.]

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Book Giveaway: The Divining Wand is giving away one copy of Exposure by Therese Fowler in a random drawing of comments left only on this specific post. Comments left on other posts during the week will not be eligible. The deadline is Wednesday, May 4, 2011 at 7:00 p.m. EDT with the winners to be announced here in Thursday’s post. If you enter, please return Thursday to see if you’re a winner.

Presenting Debutante Sarah Jio and
The Violets of March

April 25, 2011 By: larramiefg Category: Book Presentations, Books


Lovely, dreamy, calming, and hopeful are all words that best describe Debutante Sarah Jio’s first novel, The Violets of March, being released tomorrow, April 26, 2011.

Although a love story, the romance of the book is first found in a diary revealing a mystery of star-crossed lovers from 1943. Rather than time travel, the novel follows a time-bending exploration until the past and present convene to answer where the characters came from, who they are now, and what they will be. In fact those are similar questions that gave the author her idea for the book. Writing in the February 10, 2011 Debutante Ball post, Deb Sarah on the 1940’s Print That (Partially) Inspired Her Novel, she explained:

“I’d been mulling novel ideas for a while, but nothing had jumped out at me. My eyes darted around the room until they stopped at an iconic photograph my sister had hanging on her wall—the one of a sailor and his lady locked in a kiss after the second world war. Everyone’s seen this image, of course, and it certainly wasn’t anything new to me, and yet on that pre-Christmas afternoon, I let my mind consider what the real story might be behind the photo. Who was the sailor? The young woman? What was their story? And while my novel didn’t end up having anything to do with a sailor and his lover or their fated kiss, it did set my brain on an interesting trajectory of thinking about the 1940s, the war, interrupted love, second chances and more.”

One major part of the “more” was including the mystery/diary. It was simply where Sarah’s mind went with this story, though she admits: “I love books with a mysterious element, and I knew that to grab readers (and me, as I wrote) the book needed mystery to solve.”

And then the author added the final element of Bainbridge Island. It’s a special place for Sarah who grew up just a few miles away, over the bridge, in Poulsbo, Washington, and spent happy times on the shores of Bainbridge. Believing the island has a mystical, alluring quality, she knew it was the perfect setting for the novel.

And after watching this video you’ll likely agree.

(If the video doesn’t appear on your monitor, please view it here.)

Is the island beckoning, along with the praise?

Here’s a synopsis for The Violets of March:

A heartbroken woman stumbles upon a diary and steps into the life of its anonymous author.

In her twenties, Emily Wilson was on top of the world: she had a bestselling novel, a husband plucked from the pages of GQ, and a one-way ticket to happily ever after.

Ten years later, the tide has turned on Emily’s good fortune. So when her great-aunt Bee invites her to spend the month of March on Bainbridge Island in Washington State, Emily accepts, longing to be healed by the sea. Researching her next book, Emily discovers a red velvet diary, dated 1943, whose contents reveal startling connections to her own life.

A mesmerizing debut with an idyllic setting and intriguing dual story line, The Violets of March announces Sarah Jio as a writer to watch.

Now for an Excerpt? Actually there is only a brief tease that can be found in The Debutante Ball’s February 17, 2011 post, Deb Sarah Shares a Love Letter from The Violets of March.

Sarah Jio’s natural talent is being able to infuse chemistry into her writing and her main character, Emily, is the most notable example. Although newly divorced, Emily is more shell-shocked than whiny and possesses enough common sense to realize that something has been missing in her life. In other words, though emotionally devastated, she comes across as an adult who knows healing must take place before moving forward. Also there’s not a “blame game” to wade through as Emily’s unfortunate circumstances rally her to leave the past behind by growing and challenging herself in new ways.

However the irony is that to leave her past behind Emily feels compelled to delve into the lives of those found within the diary’s pages. Were they real or fiction? If real, what happened to them? And are they connected to Emily and her family?

Readers are once again reminded of how much of the present is shaped by the past and how resolving such issues comes through reconciliation. Sarah further explains:

“Without giving away too much of the story, I, myself, am really fascinated with the concept of reconciliation. So many of us have people—friends, family, co-workers from the past—who we need to reconcile with to move forward and to bring peace to our lives. And I used the humble wood violets in the story as a symbol of reconciliation and redemption.”

Indeed, when the Bainbridge Island violets bloom out of season, their mystical presence is meant to heal. That is their power and that is the beauty this debut author captures in her tale. With only words, Sarah transports readers to this island of the past and the present that offers compelling hope for the future. Why? Because of the book’s message: Love is timeless.

Redbook magazine declares Violets “engrossing” and chooses as a must-read in their May issue!

This literary Fairy Godmother declares: I am not a true love story fan/reader, nor do I often cry. But Sarah Jio casts a spell in her novel (the only explanation) and The Violets of March not only captured my heart, I cried….for joy.

Now listen to the island calling you.

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Book Giveaway: The Divining Wand is giving away two copies of The Violets of March by Sarah Jio in a random drawing of comments left only on this specific post. Comments left on other posts during the week will not be eligible. The deadline is Wednesday, April 27, 2011 at 7:00 p.m. EDT with the winners to be announced here in Thursday’s post. If you enter, please return Thursday to see if you’re a winner.

Meg Waite Clayton and The Four Ms. Bradwells

April 18, 2011 By: larramiefg Category: Book Presentations, Books


National bestselling author Meg Waite Clayton (The Wednesday Sisters) had a dream of becoming a novelist but — not knowing how to achieve that career — she went to college to become a doctor and emerged from academia seven years later as a corporate lawyer. Truth and dreams have a way of being recognized though. They did for Meg and they also did for her characters in The Four Ms. Bradwells.

Intelligent, insightful, and issue-complicated, the story is an ode to the author’s law school friends and the University of Michigan Law School itself. The combination of the two helped her discover and explore the strengths she needed to face the challenges of being a women in a restricted, male-dominated professional world thirty years ago. Have things changed? Well that’s the basis for the novel which asks the intriguing question: What would happen if four women told the truth about their lives?

These women/friends answer as the storyline evolves into the novel’s synopsis:

Mia, Laney, Betts, and Ginger, best friends since law school, have reunited for a long weekend as Betts awaits Senate confirmation of her appointment to the Supreme Court. Nicknamed “the Ms. Bradwells” during their first class at the University of Michigan Law School in 1979—when only three women had ever served full Senate terms and none had been appointed to the Court—the four have supported one another through life’s challenges: marriages and divorces, births and deaths, career setbacks and triumphs large and small. Betts was, and still is, the Funny One. Ginger, the Rebel. Laney, the Good Girl. And Mia, the Savant.

But when the Senate hearings uncover a deeply buried skeleton in the friends’ collective closet, the Ms. Bradwells retreat to a summer house on the Chesapeake Bay, where they find themselves reliving a much darker period in their past—one that stirs up secrets they’ve kept for, and from, one another, and could change their lives forever.

Once again, Meg Waite Clayton writes inspiringly about the complex circumstances facing women and the heartfelt friendships that hold them together. Insightful and affecting, The Four Ms. Bradwells is also a captivating tale of how far people will go to protect the ones they love.

There is critical and popular Praise for the Literary Guild Book Club Fiction Selection
/Mystery Guild Selection as well as an Excerpt of Part I, introducing Mia and her perspective of the present.

Alternating the narration from the first person voices of Mia, Betts, Ginger, and Laney, their personal stories are told in flashbacks colored by the individual’s truths. Some are secrets, guilty evasions, and personal jealousies harbored over the decades. In other words, exactly what one would expect from real life friendships that holds together by a silent bond of loyalty, trust, and love.

The author acknowledges that secrets are a central theme of the novel and she further explains:

“I suppose the thing about secrets is that we often keep them out of shame. And the things that shame us often shouldn’t. They’re often things that are not our fault—and yet they’re also often things that we will be judged for, consciously or not. Or failures that we and others can learn from if we’re willing to examine what happened. Is there a message in that? I suppose that if more of us shared our secrets we might see how common life’s challenges are. But it takes a brave person to come forward.”

Are all the four Ms. Bradwells brave enough to disclose their secrets from thirty years ago in order to save Betts’ Supreme Court Nomination from the skeleton of their past? They buried it back then, however — as the adage promises: The truth will out.

Although Meg Waite Clayton’s characters are strong, independent, and seemingly successful — a journalist, a lawyer turned poet, a senator, a potential Supreme Court Justice — they share the same vulnerabilities as anyone else. For example, each one has had issues with their mother and, now, with their daughters. And, while these friends have survived and succeeded, there remains a nagging doubt if they have achieved what was expected of them.

Complete with storylines of sexual harassment, unreported rape, gay ex-husbands, fellow woman-envy, and even Anita Hill versus Clarence Thomas, The Four Ms. Bradwells is a thought-provoking novel with heart. Yes there is also a mysterious death (no spoilers here) but its suspicious cause serves as a means to tighten the present friendships. The four Ms. Bradwells do tell their truth and, if you’re looking for an honest, reflective book about what it means to be a friend, Meg Waite Clayton has written a “must read.” Enjoy!

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Book Giveaway: The Divining Wand is giving away a copy of The Four Ms. Bradwells by Meg Waite Clayton in a random drawing of comments left only on this specific post. Comments left on other posts during the week will not be eligible. The deadline is Wednesday, April 20, 2011 at 7:00 p.m. EDT with the winners to be announced here in Thursday’s post. If you enter, please return Thursday to see if you’re a winner.

Jael McHenry and The Kitchen Daughter

April 11, 2011 By: larramiefg Category: Book Presentations, Books

Jael McHenry’s passion for cooking and writing combine together in the most unique blend of sweet and bittersweet for her debut novel, The Kitchen Daughter in bookstores tomorrow, April 12, 2011. And, let it be noted, the clever, quirky cover art is the perfect appetizer for the feast spread within the pages.

The idea for the book began with the author creating a character who loves food, loves cooking, but is closed off from the rest of the world. Even though food is such a natural way to connect with people, it’s a conundrum that the young woman has never used her cooking to connect. But why? Jael realized that there had to be a reason/obstacle that prevented her protagonist from being able to reach out and that’s when she added Asperger’s syndrome to the mix. Ironically Ginny — the main character — had already been formed with many traits of an individual on the autism spectrum and, after more extensive research on Asperger’s, it became part of her identity as well as her story.

In fact, according to its synopsis, The Kitchen Daughter

is about a woman who discovers she can invoke ghosts by cooking from dead people’s recipes.
 


Julie & Julia meets Jodi Picoult in this poignant and delectable novel with recipes, chronicling one woman’s journey of self-discovery at the stove.



After the unexpected death of her parents, shy and sheltered Ginny Selvaggio, a young woman with Asperger’s Syndrome, seeks comfort in family recipes. But the rich, peppery scent of her Nonna’s soup draws an unexpected visitor into the kitchen: the ghost of Nonna herself, dead for twenty years, who appears with a cryptic warning—before vanishing like steam from a cooling dish.



A haunted kitchen isn’t Ginny’s only challenge. Her domineering sister Amanda insists on selling their parents’ house in Philadelphia, the only home Ginny has ever known. As she packs up her parents’ belongings, Ginny finds evidence of family secrets she isn’t sure how to unravel. She knows how to turn milk into cheese and cream into butter, but she doesn’t know why her mother hid a letter in the bedroom chimney, or the identity of the woman in her father’s photographs. The more she learns, the more she realizes the keys to these riddles lie with the dead, and there’s only one way to get answers: cook from her parents’ recipes, raise their ghosts, and ask them.



Offering a fascinating glimpse into the unique mind of a woman struggling with Asperger’s and featuring evocative and mouth-watering descriptions of food, this lyrical novel is as delicious and joyful as a warm brownie.


Of course there are recipes, including the brownie recipe that goes so well with the HOT Chocolate Jael serves up in this video:

(If the video does not appear on your monitor, please watch it here.)

Now also read the early Praise for the book and the Excerpt of Chapter One Bread Soup.

Creating the kitchen daughter character to be likable to readers, even with her seemingly anti-social behavior, might have been the author’s greatest challenge. But, by introducing Ginny at her parents’ funeral where she is surrounded by grief and struggling to control her emotions, well what could be more universal and relatable? As might be expected, Ginny is at her worst there. She’s scared, feeling abandoned, and her thinking fragmented. Her speech and actions reflect those feelings but isn’t that normal?

Ah, yet what is normal? That question is not only the message of the novel, it’s also Ginny’s personal need to be. Over the years this young woman has compiled The Normal Book filled with advice columns on what is normal. It’s a secret “security blanket,” a touchstone, to reassure her — despite what others might think — that she is normal. After all normal has a wide-range definition. Jael concedes that she’s always been interested in how people describe their own situations and how often they want an outside opinion on what they should do. And this becomes Ginny’s logic, as the author further explains:

“If people write in saying “‘Here’s what’s going on in my life, is this normal?”” a lot of times the columnists will say “‘You’re asking the wrong question.’” And I agree. Whether it’s “‘normal’” or not doesn’t mean it’s right for you. You have to figure things out for yourself, not by some made-up standard.”

What’s right and works for Ginny is cooking. By following a recipe, step-by-step, she’s soothed and feels in control. Even during anxious moments — when not in the kitchen — she can think about food as a distracting comfort. The fact is food not only is Ginny’s world, it becomes the way she views the real world. For example, because the character isn’t comfortable around people, she tends to describe most of them in food-related terms. Her intrusive, over-bearing/over-protective sister, Amanda, has “an orange juice voice,” while her father’s was “tomato juice.” And, through that type of thinking, Ginny is better able to relate.

There’s no question that the kitchen daughter has experienced a sudden, devastating trauma for which she is unprepared. Yet what’s important to remember is that this twentysomething young woman, who happens to have the added challenge of Asperger’s, is not inclined to give up. Instead Ginny seeks to take control for who she is and where she belongs. Simply put, it’s a variation on a young woman searching for happiness and “Mr. Right.” But Jael McHenry has upped the stakes with an insightfully original, poignant, and triumphant tale.

The Kitchen Daughter — given a glorious review in the May edition of O, The Oprah Magazine — is a delicious literary treat. It’s rich in lush description and delicious thought-provoking dilemmas stirred up by a truly heartwarming heroine. Please savor and enjoy!

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Book Giveaway: The Divining Wand is giving away a copy of Jael McHenry’s The Kitchen Daughter in a random drawing of comments left only on this specific post. Comments left on other posts during the week will not be eligible. The deadline is Wednesday, April 13, 2011 at 7:00 p.m. EDT with the winners to be announced here in Thursday’s post. If you enter, please return Thursday to see if you’re a winner.

Darien Gee and Friendship Bread

April 04, 2011 By: larramiefg Category: Book Presentations, Books


How appropriate for Darien Gee aka Mia King (Good Things, Sweet Life, Table Manners) to write the novel, Friendship Bread, with her given name. For the truth is — as Darien’s guest post, The Book That Inspired a Novel, — explains this story is a personal gift, literally growing out of an Amish Friendship Bread starter kit from her daughter.

And, like the division of the starter kits, the novel took on a life of its own. Darien recalls: “As I was finishing the last piece [of the bread], I saw a woman in my mind who was reluctantly holding up a bag of the starter, regarding it with a frown. I didn’t know where she had gotten the starter but one thing was clear—she was enveloped in sadness, stuck in the day-to-day motions that mimicked life when in fact she hadn’t felt alive in years. I knew right then that I wanted to find out more, and I started writing that night.”

As the main character of Julia appeared to tell her story so, too, did all the other characters/residents of small town Avalon. In fact, when the author began writing, she didn’t know the cause of her character’s sadness. But as the story unfolded Darien realized that Julia and her sister were estranged, and that her son’s death was the reason why. Her reaction? “I felt a shock and sadness as if I were hearing the news from a friend—I experienced a kind of disbelief, a how-could-this-happen sort of response. I did think about my kids during this time, but as a writer I had to keep writing and follow the story to the end because I wanted to know if Julia would be okay.”

The author discovered more secrets and answers that evolved into the Friendship Bread synopsis:

An anonymous gift sends a woman on a journey she never could have anticipated.

One afternoon, Julia Evarts and her five-year-old daughter, Gracie, arrive home to find an unexpected gift on the front porch: a homemade loaf of Amish Friendship Bread and a simple note: I hope you enjoy it. Also included are a bag of starter, instructions on how to make the bread herself, and a request to share it with others.

Still reeling from a personal tragedy that left her estranged from the sister who was once her best friend, Julia remains at a loss as to how to move on with her life. She’d just as soon toss the anonymous gift, but to make Gracie happy, she agrees to bake the bread.

When Julia meets two newcomers to the small town of Avalon, Illinois, she sparks a connection by offering them her extra bread starter. Widow Madeline Davis is laboring to keep her tea salon afloat while Hannah Wang de Brisay, a famed concert cellist, is at a crossroads, her career and marriage having come to an abrupt end. In the warm kitchen of Madeline’s tea salon, the three women forge a friendship that will change their lives forever.

In no time, everyone in Avalon is baking Amish Friendship Bread. But even as the town unites for a benevolent cause and Julia becomes ever closer to her new friends, she realizes the profound necessity of confronting the painful past she shares with her sister.

About life and loss, friendship and community, food and family, Friendship Bread tells the uplifting story of what endures when even the unthinkable happens.

Please read The Prologue and Chapter One. Then discover what Amish Friendship Bread is, complete with a starter recipe.

Perhaps it’s been noticed that many of the winter/spring books presented here during the past months have centered on family and friends. With that in mind, Friendship Bread might be considered the literary equivalent of a welcome mat, telling the tales of an entire town. For Darien Gee (even when writing as Mia King) has the remarkable talent to transport readers into whatever world she’s created — in this novel, it’s Avalon, Illinois. The details describing the residents, their homes, streets, and landmarks are not intrusive yet combine to convey a strong sense of community. And the sharing of Friendship Bread bag starter kits only creates a stronger bond.

Populated by a multigenerational cast of characters who must cope with a range of sadness and problems, Avalon is refreshing in its sprit of hope. Hope that comes alive by the introduction of bread. Simple? Yes, except most major challenges are resolved by simple solutions. And, in truth, the novel’s message is that a single act’s ripple effect can make anything possible.

In this age of technology each one of us can choose to become connected. Cyberspace isn’t friendly Avalon, Illinois but it can promote the desire and power to reach out to share. A perfect, current example is being able to donate to the Read Cross for Japan Relief. After all bread comes in forms.

And that’s the beauty and truth of Darien Gee’s novel. Through her writing, the author took a bag of ingredients, squeezed it, added more individuals to the mix then turned it all into an enormously positive phenomenon. Warmth, genuine caring, and the fact that people need people transcends fiction, spilling out and into the Friendship Bread Kitchen. How does Darien feel about both her creations?

“We’re having fun in the Kitchen sharing Amish Friendship Bread recipes and community, and the Kitchen has taken a life of its own that includes the book but is not only about the book. I hadn’t expected it to go one way or another — I just thought it would be a fun thing to do and (like the starter) it kept growing. Amish Friendship Bread has changed my life in ways both big and small, and I know I’m not alone in saying that. I think Julia sums it up best when she tries the bread for the first time:

“’It hits the spot, as unexpected kindness often does.’”

For deliciously honest, comfort food for thought, Friendship Bread is a reading treat available tomorrow at local bookstores and online retailers. Enjoy, savor, and be sure to share it by gifting a copy to a friend!

Book Giveaway: The Divining Wand is giving away a copy of Darien Gee’s Friendship Bread in a random drawing of comments left only on this specific post. Comments left on other posts during the week will not be eligible. The deadline is Wednesday, April 6, 2011 at 7:00 p.m. EDT with the winners to be announced here in Thursday’s post. If you enter, please return Thursday to see if you’re a winner.

Rebecca Rasmussen and The Bird Sisters

March 28, 2011 By: larramiefg Category: Book Presentations, Books


Acclaimed as magical, graceful, and poetic, Rebecca Rasmussen makes a spring debut with her novel, The Bird Sisters on Tuesday, April 12, 2011. And, with birds on the wing to our homes, what perfect timing!

Lyrical in her writing, the author is also precise and clear about the focus of her story. The book’s idea came from two questions: Rebecca’s curiosity about her grandmother’s family history, and what does it mean to be home and to stay there?

For Rebecca, this is deeply personal. Since her parents divorced when she was a baby, her life was split — growing up in Spring Green, Wisconsin and Northfield, Illinois — and it caused her to feel that she didn’t belong in either place. As a result this writer draws on the experience, saying: “I suppose that’s why in my fiction, I pay very close attention to place; I’m constantly searching for a way to make home feel like home.”

As for The Bird Sisters, it was born from the Emily Dickinson poem:

“These are the days birds come back, a very few, a Bird or two, to take a backward look.”

Then the author created two elderly sisters who had spent their lives caring for injured birds — allowing them the freedom to someday fly away — and the storyline evolved into the following synopsis:

When a bird flies into a window in Spring Green, Wisconsin, sisters Milly and Twiss get a visit. Twiss listens to the birds’ heartbeats, assessing what she can fix and what she can’t, while Milly listens to the heartaches of the people who’ve brought them. These spinster sisters have spent their lives nursing people and birds back to health.
 


But back in the summer of 1947, Milly and Twiss knew nothing about trying to mend what had been accidentally broken. Milly was known as a great beauty with emerald eyes and Twiss was a brazen wild child who never wore a dress or did what she was told. That was the summer their golf pro father got into an accident that cost him both his swing and his charm, and their mother, the daughter of a wealthy jeweler, finally admitted their hardscrabble lives wouldn’t change. It was the summer their priest, Father Rice, announced that God didn’t exist and ran off to Mexico, and a boy named Asa finally caught Milly’s eye. And, most unforgettably, it was the summer their cousin Bett came down from a town called Deadwater and changed the course of their lives forever.
 


Rebecca Rasmussen’s masterfully written debut novel is full of hope and beauty, heartbreak and sacrifice, love and the power of sisterhood, and offers wonderful surprises at every turn.

Now enjoy this stunning visual that also tells the tale:

(If the video doesn’t appear on your monitor, please view it here.)

Also read the wonderful Praise and, of course, an Excerpt from Chapter 1.

Gentle, yet so honestly perceptive in her storytelling, Rebecca shares both heart and soul in creating immediate intimacy with Milly and Twiss. In the book, the time frame is only from breakfast to the evening meal — less than twelve hours — but during that day the sisters’ background and basic life is told in flashback memories. While each go their separate ways, doing daily chores they have done forever, thoughts and feelings explain what happened to keep them at home. Yes, the time frame kept everything neat and focused, but what was the specific reason for its use?

The author explained: “I wanted to slow down the present action of the story and really focus in on the pace of the sisters’ lives when they are older, and I thought what better way to do that than to showcase a single day in their lives.”

Poignant and bittersweet, The Bird Sisters is built on the factual theme that our backgrounds shape our future. Which is enormously sad since Milly and Twiss barely had a chance for personal dreams. Their parents did but — when their dreams went unfulfilled — their daughters paid the price for adult disappointment. And, yet, it is their bravery in the face of betrayal and dreams denied that bind them together in strong sisterly love.

In her guest post, Semper Fi, Rebecca Rasmussen proved that even when faced with difficulty and disappointment, the joy of hope remains. Why? Because she has a gift of taking states of loneliness and despair and, in elegant prose, write of their consequences as truly beautiful. Milly and Twiss could have lived much more and still their story is what it is — a tale of a magical world. Admitting that sacrifice can be incredibly sad, the author believes it can be incredibly beautiful at the same time. For her sisters Rebecca says, “I wanted to depict loneliness but not in place of the love of the sisters. They do what they do almost entirely for each other, and to me that is admirable.”

TRUTH: The result is beautiful! After all, what readers hopefully will take away from The Bird Sisters (debuting in two weeks) is Rebecca’s message of: “Love is timeless, first. And so are dreams.”

The Divining Wand’s message: The Bird Sisters soars and then nests in one’s heart.”

Book Giveaway: The Divining Wand is giving away one copy of Rebecca Rasmussen’s The Bird Sisters in a random drawing of comments left only on this specific post. Comments left on other posts during the week will not be eligible. The deadline is Wednesday, March 30, 2011 at 7:00 p.m. EDT with the winners to be announced here in Thursday’s post. If you enter, please return Thursday to see if you’re a winner.

Lori Roy and Bent Road

March 21, 2011 By: larramiefg Category: Book Presentations, Books

Lori Roy’s spellbinding voice tells the suspenseful tale of her debut novel, Bent Road, coming to online retailers and your local bookstore on Thursday, March 31, 2011. And, although Bent Road runs through a small town in Kansas, this is far from the Kansas which Dorothy and Toto wished to return to.

Ironically, though, location has everything to do with the story. In fact the idea for the novel came to the author as a setting, explained and illustrated in the January 24, 2011 blog post, Never a Good Answer. Please take a look because Lori writes:

“One of the questions I am often asked, for which I really have no good answer is…Where did you get the idea for BENT ROAD? It would be simple if I could point to a single newspaper article or recount an old family story passed through the generations. But I can’t. The truth is, I don’t know where the idea came from, but I do know where it began. It began with setting. So today, I thought I’d share a few pictures taken from the setting that inspired BENT ROAD.”

Next came the cast of characters — the Scott family, their extended family, and neighbors. The young children, Eve-ie and Daniel, appeared to the author first with Arthur, their father, the slowest to develop. Eventually all the characters became clearly defined as their personal story unfolded with the plot. And that storyline evolved into the book’s synopsis:

For twenty years, Celia Scott has watched her husband, Arthur, hide from the secrets surrounding his sister Eve’s death. As a young man, Arthur fled his small Kansas hometown, moved to Detroit, married Celia, and never looked back. But when the 1967 riots frighten him even more than his past, he convinces Celia to pack up their family and return to the road he grew up on, Bent Road, and that same small town where Eve mysteriously died.

While Arthur and their oldest daughter slip easily into rural life, Celia and the two younger children struggle to fit in. Daniel, the only son, is counting on Kansas to make a man of him since Detroit damn sure didn’t. Eve-ee, the youngest and small for her age, hopes that in Kansas she will finally grow. Celia grapples with loneliness and the brutality of life and death on a farm.

And then a local girl disappears, catapulting the family headlong into a dead man’s curve. . . .

On Bent Road, a battered red truck cruises ominously along the prairie; a lonely little girl dresses in her dead aunt’s clothes; a boy hefts his father’s rifle in search of a target; a mother realizes she no longer knows how to protect her children. It is a place where people learn: Sometimes killing is the kindest way.

This Book Trailer is worth well more than a thousand words:

(If the video doesn’t appear on your monitor, please view it here).

The outstanding Praise and Reviews are worthy of attention. And there is also a brief Excerpt of Chapter 1 to begin your travels on Bent Road.

Have any goosebumps or is your heartbeat a bit faster? Indeed this remarkable novel causes those side effects without any trickery. For Lori Roy, with taut and exact prose, tells of normal and mundane life on a farm. There is baking and cooking, snow being cleared, and children forgetting to lock the cow within a gated enclosure. It’s real and believable, including Arthur’s reluctance to share what he knows of his sister’s death. But there are many other secrets being kept by those on Bent Road and — whether true or merely rumors — they lurk in the shadows and seep into the reader’s imagination. With each page turned, one anticipates the horror that is certain to appear.

However, when the frightening moments come, they are more stunning revelations than actual terror. With brilliant pacing — including the ebb and flow of tension –, The Divining Wand wondered how much the author actually knew what was going to happen. To avoid any *spoilers” no character names will be mentioned here but Lori admitted that even she had a “surprise” and a “shock” about a why as well as a who did what! And she further explains:

“Yet the bottom line was that everything made sense given the circumstances. I did not plot out the entire novel, but worked to integrate the plot and the arch of each character as events unfolded. The backstory and what happened twenty-five years earlier developed along with the front story, and after many rewrites, I wove the two together.”

Of course the title, Bent Road, is purposeful too since it suggests both of the book’s themes. The first is a reminder that one never knows what life holds around the corner, while the second substantiates how all individuals are shaped/influenced — positively and negatively — by past experiences. Embedded in those experiences are the secrets and rumors, both harmful and capable of impacting lives forever.

A literary suspense novel, a psychological thriller, a mystery, whatever Bent Road is categorized as it’s achingly beautiful and breathlessly solid. Lori Roy has taken an ordinary family to tell an extraordinary tale prepared to consume them all. Simply put, Bent Road (available next Thursday, March 31, 2011) is an excellent “must read!”

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Book Giveaway: The Divining Wand is giving away one copy of Lori Roy’s Bent Road in a random drawing of comments left only on this specific post. Comments left on other posts during the week will not be eligible. The deadline is Wednesday, March 23, 2011 at 7:00 p.m. EDT with the winners to be announced here in Thursday’s post. If you enter, please return Thursday to see if you’re a winner.

Suzanne Anderson and
Mrs. Tuesday’s Departure

March 14, 2011 By: larramiefg Category: Book Presentations, Books

The lovely, idyllic cover of Suzanne Anderson’s ebook debut, Mrs. Tuesday’s Departure [Kindle Edition], holds the promise of a children’s story filled with adventure. And, on one level, that hold true even though the other story told in this book within a book format provides a dramatically opposite tale.

In her ambitious, action-packed, suspenseful first novel, the author combined the following two thoughts:

1. A brilliant, talented person knowing she suffered from Alzheimer’s and would slowly lose her mind.

2. Being 1/4 Jewish in Nazi Germany was a sentence to a death camp.

And then added her personal interest in reading about WWII, particularly the city of Budapest — her maternal grandparents’ home.

The result, according to Suzanne:

“Mrs. Tuesday’s Departure originally started as a story about a family caught up in the terrors of World War II Budapest. However, I changed the particulars of the story, choosing to refer to the Nazis as the ‘Black and Reds’, and never naming the actual city but simply alluding to the fact that it was a European city. I made these changes because I wanted the story to focus on the relationships within the story, because to me that was the real point. How do the dynamics of relationships between siblings change in the face of illness? How do we react under the ultimate stressful situations? How do we express our loyalty? How far are we willing to go to save those we love?”

In answering those questions, the story evolved and is described in this synopsis:

On a cold winter morning, twin sisters race to a train station to save the life of a child who has been abandoned by her parents. Seventy years in the future, an old woman finds a package that reveals the key to the child’s safety.

So begins a race against time. Set against the backdrop of war, Mrs. Tuesday’s Departure is a tale of undying love and a mother’s betrayal. In order to survive, those left behind must make their way through a frightening landscape where the rules are constantly changing even as one sister’s loosening grip on reality threatens them all. Is their only means of escape real or a flight of one writer’s creative fantasy?

Yes, even as the other questions play out in the novel, one question remains for readers to decide. Intentionally choosing this option, Suzanne Anderson used the literary device of a book within a book not to confuse but rather offer the possibility of a hopeful ending.

Fast-paced and vividly descriptive, there is also a genuine warmth to Mrs. Tuesday’s Departure that comes from the family bond that holds the twin sisters — Kate and Lily — and their 12-year old niece, Mila, together. Through the use of flashbacks the sisters’ background and consequential sibling rivalry is told and explained. In fact, it is here that the author truly shines as she describes their father, a master of manipulation, who likely sealed their personalities and fate in adolescence. Jealousy, anger, and mistrust exist between the two now grown adults yet, despite all, the bond of love remains.

In this fluidly written book, the main message is that there are times when we are willing to risk everything for the ones we love. And Suzanne’s themes of fear, loyalty, and impossible choices — woven throughout the story — highlight that message in a believable light. The characters’ tension and terror feel as real as a successful escape appears hopeless. Still it’s the humanity of war that tends to bring forth surprising heroes.

Mrs. Tuesday’s Departure [Kindle Edition] is an exciting, entertaining, and impressive first novel with its story’s unique perspective as original as the book’s cover. Suzanne Anderson took control over her lifetime dream of writing and publishing a book by self-publishing an ebook. Its reviews have earned 4 1/2 stars and readers are (pleasantly) surprised at its universal appeal. The truth is they would like to read more. If you own a Kindle, do download this emotionally haunting story.

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[While Eleanor Brown’s The Weird Sisters remains on The New York Times Bestseller List, another TDW author’s novel is being popularly acclaimed. Sarah Pekkanen’s (The Opposite of Me) latest book, Skipping a Beat, garnered a lovely review in People Magazine (the Oscar issue) and in The Washington Post. In addition, it’s an O Magazine pick for April and Harper’s Bazaar magazine put Skipping a Beat on it’s “hot list” for March. Sarah’s novel is also a Doubleday Book Club pick. And Foreign Rights have sold in Italy and Australia. Since it went into a second printing before publication, could a third and fourth run be far behind?

Ah, there’s nothing better than a good news Monday!

Book Giveaway: For those readers who have Kindles, The Divining Wand will honor the first 10 comments left only on this specific post — until Wednesday, March 16, 2011 at 7:00 p.m. EDT. — with a download of Suzanne Anderson’s Mrs. Tuesday’s Departure. Please include the email address used to download and the ebook will be gifted to you promptly.

Catherine McKenzie and Arranged

March 07, 2011 By: larramiefg Category: Book Presentations, Books

Although not the book’s subtitle, the question of WHAT’S LOVE GOT TO DO WITH IT? appears on the front cover of Catherine McKenzie’s (Spin) second novel Arranged. And its answer is told within the pages.

With an insightful and wry perspective on modern romance, the author puts a twist on those thirtysomethings — or any age groups — looking for a home, family and marriage. Because, after all, it is finding someone/anyone to share that ultimate relationship that presents a challenge.

“Aha?!” No, Catherine admits that the idea for the novel didn’t come to her as a full-blown storyline. Instead it followed her normal creative process of gathering bits of pieces from here and there. For example she did know a few couples who had arranged marriages and, of course, what facts had been gleaned from watching The Bachelor. This information, combined with wondering who would participate in either, whirled around in her mind until it became Arranged:

Anne Blythe has a great life: a good job, good friends and a potential book deal for her first novel. When it comes to finding someone to share it with, however, she just can’t seem to get it right.

After yet another relationship ends, Anne comes across a business card for what she thinks is a dating service, and she pockets it just in case. When her best friend, Sarah, announces she’s engaged, Anne can’t help feeling envious. On an impulse, she decides to give the service a try because maybe she could use a little assistance in finding the right man. But Anne soon discovers the company isn’t a dating service; it’s an exclusive, and pricey, arranged marriage service. She initially rejects the idea, but the more she thinks about it – and the company’s success rate – the more it appeals to her. After all, arranged marriages are the norm for millions of women around the world, so why wouldn’t it work for her?

A few months later, Anne is travelling to a Mexican resort where in one short weekend she will meet and marry Jack. And against all odds, it seems to be working out – until Anne learns that Jack and the company that arranged their marriage are not what they seem at all.

Of course there is Praise for Arranged, but the real proof of what a relevant, clever, and refreshing tale this is can be found at the HarperCollinsCanada site where you’re invited to Browse Inside. Please take advantage of the publisher’s generosity for there is more to read than merely browse here.

Anne, Jack and the supporting cast of vivid characters — including friends AND family members — have a good sense of themselves and an even better sense of Anne. They’re witty, wise and believable as they try to shed light on Anne’s dating/relationship failures. However one must realize the truth for herself and this protagonist is no exception. The revelations she makes though, along the way, are both charming and confusing, supporting Catherine McKenzie’s message.

For, within the fantasy world of fiction, the author’s hope is to convey how limiting it can be to believe that there is only one person out in the world for everyone — a soulmate. Instead of predestination there are romantic choices and, for her character of Anne Blythe, there may even be an alternative method to discover that choice.

Catherine’s writing is a combination of light, funny, and profound as she tells the story of how a single woman thinks love should be as easy as a fairy tale. In other words it’s all magic, there’s no need to work at love. Except when faced with the invitation of an arranged marriage where, based on a compatibility quotient, there is allegedly no need for love. Common interests, respect, and friendship statistically create successful bonds, so what’s love got to do with it and does it even belong?

The unexpected twists of this novel are brilliant yet not surprising considering the flawed, very human characters. And — with prominent themes of loneliness, loyalty, trust, and friendship at its core — the reader can expect a tale of truth as well.

Taking on a modern day dilemma with a possible solution from an age old tradition, Catherine McKenzie offers readers a delightful experience of exploring what real love is and means. Arranged can be purchased through Amazon.ca, please do so….you will more than enjoy!

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[Eleanor Brown’s The Weird Sisters is at #14 this week on The New York Times Bestseller List. And on March 21st Eleanor begins her West Coast book tour, please check her website’s Events for details.

Book Giveaway: The Divining Wand is giving away two copies of Catherine McKenzie’s Arranged in a random drawing of comments left only on this specific post, . Comments left on other posts during the week will not be eligible. The deadline is Wednesday, March 9, 2011 at 7:00 p.m. EST with the winners to be announced here in Thursday’s post. If you enter, please return Thursday to see if you’re a winner.