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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.

Caroline Leavitt and Pictures of You

January 31, 2011 By: larramiefg Category: Book Presentations, Books


As a writer Caroline Leavtitt is known for her essays, short stories, and book reviews for the Boston Globe and People, as an award-wining author she is known for eight previous novels including — Girls in Trouble, Coming Back to Me, the rest in Bibliography) — , yet it is as a storyteller of her latest book, Pictures of You, that may prove the most enduring/endearing role to readers.

First consider this critical praise:

“An expert storyteller….Leavitt teases suspense out of the greatest mystery of all — the workings of the human heart.” Booklist

And then realize that a major reason for the author’s success is writing about obsession — beginning with her own and turning it into the character’s. Basing Pictures of You on her phobia for driving, she wanted to write about the fear of causing a car crash and killing someone. Could becoming fixated on that car crash and how it affects the people involved cure her?

Although it did not, the idea turned into a novel with its primary theme asking the questions: How well do we really know the ones we love, and how much — or how little — do we choose to see what is going on in our lives?

How appropriate that the life-changing car crash literally takes place in a fog. Here is the synopsis for Pictures of You:

Two women running away from their marriages collide on a foggy highway, killing one of them. The survivor, Isabelle, is left to pick up the pieces, not only of her own life, but of the lives of the devastated husband and fragile son that the other woman, April, has left behind. Together, they try to solve the mystery of where April was running to, and why. As these three lives intersect, the book asks, How well do we really know those we love-and how do we forgive the unforgivable?

There was enough Early Praise to have the publisher (Algonquin) order a second printing before releasing the book a month early.

And, by reading the Excerpt of the first two chapters, you’re certain to be praising its immediate intrigue too.

Fascinating in its depth, Pictures of You is a seemingly “easy read” about how complicated individuals’ lives become when they intersect over a tragic mistake. The author — without “dropping a stitch” on her characters’ insight, behavior, guilt, and grief — offers a multi-layered, complex storyline that never suggests heavy handed, intimidating literature. Instead what she creates is simple, but how?

Caroline laughs at the idea that it’s simple and explains:

“The writer Jonathan Evison told me “‘Easy read means hard writing.'” And he’s right. I wrote about 16 drafts (I’m not kidding~!) of Pictures of You. In every draft, I made charts, outlines, I read things out loud, I tried different fonts. It was a never ending battle to get things right, to try to cut to the core. And it took me four years to do it.”

However, after four years, the novel is eloquent and universally appealing, both literary and commercial.

Of course it fell on the characters to make it so and the authors tells that Isabelle came to her first:

“I knew she was going to enact my deepest fear–getting in a car crash and killing someone. But then I thought, well who was she going to kill? I couldn’t bring myself to have her kill a child, because if I did that, I could never continue to live myself, and I couldn’t have it be her mistake because that also seemed too awful to me, so I had it not be her mistake. Suddenly, I had this image. A woman standing in the middle of the road, her car turned around. A child running into the woods. I wanted to why and how, and I just started writing.”

Aha, the mysterious ways of creativity become the mysteries of the novel and Caroline Leavitt takes readers on an emotional journey of discovering why, how, and then what? While the aftermath of the accident suggests the need for forgiveness, healing, and closure, the truth is that life’s much too complicated for such a straightforward resolution. For, by sorting through the details of “how well do we know the ones we love?” another question arises of “how well do we know ourselves?” If we lie, mislead, or keep secrets from each other, consider how blurred individual perspectives are. Memories, images, and even pictures cannot reveal the entire past.

Then add the ripple effect that spreads into and affects a small town community for years. Well-meaning sentiments, kindness, gossip, finger-pointing, and even bullying mix together to create a chaos theory. Because, as the author agrees, “when something happens in a blink, your whole life changes. And when your whole life changes, it impacts the lives around you.”

Yet as mysterious and thought-provoking as Pictures of You reads, its most compelling aspect is the author’s portrayal of a family torn apart by the loss of a mother/wife. The husband who only saw what he wanted to see in his wife lives in pain, once realizing he did not know her. The young asthmatic son who almost physically cannot survive the guilt and grief he feels for his mother’s death, let alone how much he misses her. And the other woman — the surviving photographer — who tries to sort out her own truths, even though she feels certain it was her mistake that tore apart a happy family portrait.

Caroline Leavitt’s Pictures of You is captivatingly honest and heartfelt. Her storytelling will entertain as well as possibly cause readers to wonder about what they know is true and such truth makes this book a “must read.” Enjoy!

Book Giveaway: The Divining Wand is giving away two copies of Caroline Leavitt’s Pictures of You 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, February 2, 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.