The Divining Wand

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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.

Stacey Ballis and Good Enough to Eat

October 04, 2010 By: larramiefg Category: Book Presentations, Books


Whatever storyline Stacey Ballis (The Spinster Sisters, Room for Improvement, the rest in Bibliography) writes it’s always about the character and, in her most recent novel — Good Enough to Eat –, she proves this once again.

Following her own guidelines described in the guest post, What a Character!, the author introduces Melanie Hoffman’s voice, flaws, and emotional baggage within the book’s first pages. For this is a multi-layered, fascinating woman whose story was inspired by a few of Stacey’s friends who lost weight through gastric bypass surgery and then discovered it was difficult “to date after they lost the weight…harder to trust people, to know who they were in their new body.”

In a Philadelphia Examiner interview, the author explains:

“There is such a misconception that larger people are not the object of attraction, or that the people who are with them are with them “‘in spite”‘ of their size, so I wanted to acknowledge that there are people for whom that is actually the preference. And an equally large misconception that losing the weight brings happiness, when in fact losing a lot of weight can often bring self-doubt, depression, and identity crises. I always love the idea of putting a spin on themes, so starting the book with a woman whose husband has just left her for a woman twice her size after she struggled to lose that much weight seemed to be an interesting place to begin.”

The writing began and evolved into the following synopsis:

The last thing Melanie expected to lose when she went on a diet was her husband.

Former lawyer Melanie Hoffman lost half her body weight and opened a gourmet take-out café specializing in healthy and delicious food. Then her husband left her-for a woman twice her size. Immediately afterwards, she’s blindsided by a financial crisis. Melanie reaches out to a quirky roommate with a ton of baggage and becomes involved in a budding romance with a local documentary filmmaker.

In this warm and often laugh-out-loud novel, Melanie discovers that she still has a lot to learn about her friends, her relationships with men, and herself-and that her weight loss was just the beginning of an amazing journey that will transform her life from the inside out..

And enjoy watching Stacey talk more about the book, while cooking her Roasty Tomato Soup, on Lunchbreak WGN.

To truly appreciate this novel, consider how something as quick and easy as a change in hair style or hair color can affect a personality or even lifestyle, yet both are transformations that result from working solely on one’s outward appearance. On the other hand, dramatic weight loss begins within the inner self — complete with personal emotional issues — and, while pounds may melt away over months/years, the heavy inner baggage is apt to remain…possibly forever. And that’s merely one reason Good Enough to Eat gives readers food for thought.

True-to-life Melanie carries around internal baggage and the author includes this insight by titling each chapter with a food — the first being Mashed Potatoes –, then elaborating on what the food dish means to Mel through an excerpt from her diet journal. Not only is this a clever method of revealing the character’s background, it also serves as realistic motivation for her behavior in the storyline as Stacey explains:

“A lot of nutritionist and diet support groups focus on keeping a diet journal of what you are eating now. But for people with compulsive overeating disorders, it is as much about what the food represents as what you are eating, finding out what the food means to you is half the battle of gaining control over your impulses with it. So I imagined a diet journal for Melanie that was about deconstructing her cravings.”

Certain foods — such as mashed potatoes — are triggers of memories and negative consequences that Melanie could fall back on. However the author continues:

“But maybe if she addresses the trigger, the craving itself will go away. The old adage about ‘“it’s not what you’re eating, it’s what’s eating you”’ is very true for emotional eaters. By allowing Mel to explore her food memories with her most major trigger foods, it helps her in her battle. And also gives the reader some insight as to where the disorder gets its psychological foundation.”

Hmm, and you thought Good Enough to Eat sounded like another easy, enjoyable read, complemented with savory descriptions of food and the inclusion of forty recipes (all of which are Stacey’s unless otherwise noted). Of course it still can be read for fun but, when given the opportunity to better understand others — maybe even yourself –, why not take it?

The theme of transformation and reinvention is currently quite popular in women’s fiction. For just when twentysomething choices have been made and things feel settled….life happens and we’re forced to face a new reality filled with change.

Stacey Ballis is a delicious storyteller who stirs in changes resulting from significant weight loss, divorce, entrepreneurial success, financial problems, trust issues, and new relationships, sautes, and serves a hearty comfort food dish that would go well with any fine wine. By offering up the tale of Good Enough to Eat as a healthy perspective to accepting ourselves, flaws and all, she wishes Bon Appetit for the rest of our journey. Indeed this is a book to truly savor!

Book Giveaway: The Divining Wand is giving away two copies of Stacey Ballis’s Good Enough to Eat 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, October 6, 2010 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.

Guest Allie Larkin’s Messy Friends & Messy Characters

June 02, 2010 By: larramiefg Category: Guest Posts

[Today’s guest post features Allie Larkin debut author of Stay coming out next Thursday, June 10, 2010.

The book has earned both literary praise:

“A charming debut…. Smart and with emotional depth, this is a cut above.” Kirkus Reviews

“Larkin debuts with a funny and touching story about love, loss, and dog ownership.” Publishers Weekly

And commercial recognition:

“Feel-good debut novel…” People Magazine

For Stay, as Allie explains, is about unconditional love at its messiest best.]

My friend Lady is my messy friend. She is the person I can call when I’m laughing or crying so hard that no one on the planet would ever be able to understand a single word coming out of my mouth. She’s the friend I can have over without vacuuming and shoving dirty laundry into closets first. She’s seen me when I’m crabby, she’s seen me when I’m sick, she’s talked me through broken hearts, failure, and self-doubt, and she’s celebrated with me through new love, great successes, and total joy. I’ve done the same for her.

Everyone is messy. The type of mess can vary greatly from person to person, but somewhere in every person lurks a big old tangled mess of something. Some people’s internal mess keeps them obsessed about external perfection. If you compulsively need to vacuum your house three times a day, your house might be spotless, but your need to vacuum is your mess. Some people hide it better than others, but hiding the mess comes at the cost of intimacy and connection.

I love Lady even more because of the messy times. I love her because I’ve seen her at her best and at her not so best. I know the nuances of her little quirks and flaws, the same way she knows mine. There’s an intimacy to that kind of honesty in friendship.

I love that kind of honesty in characters, too. Pippi Longstocking is headstrong and sloppy, and has little regard for social convention. Anne from Green Gables was stubborn and had a habit of saying things she should have confined to her thoughts. Bridget Jones won our sympathies over diet failures and costume mishaps. I think these characters stay in our hearts because they are flawed like real people, and they’d make excellent messy friends. Pippi would not be concerned about the dog hair on your couch. Anne would get worked up with you about your latest injustice. And Bridget would cry along, if your heart were breaking. We wouldn’t feel the same way about them if they were perfect girls with perfect houses and perfect clothes and hair that didn’t even frizz in the middle of a monsoon. If Pippi were a well-behaved child who always followed rules and remembered to say please and thank you, there wouldn’t even be a story, and there certainly wouldn’t be a horse on the front porch.

When I wrote STAY, I knew I didn’t want Van to be a perfect girl. I wanted readers to see her disorganized home, her less than stellar eating habits, and the way she runs her mouth a little too much. I didn’t want her to be someone you wished you were. I wanted her to be someone you felt like you were friends with. She’ll let you put your feet on the furniture. She won’t think any less of you for eating an entire carton of ice cream by yourself. She doesn’t have the energy to notice if your shirt has clues as to what you had for lunch down the front of it, because she’s too busy worrying if you’ll notice the coffee stains on her jeans. And she won’t judge you for your drunken indiscretion with that guy you met at that bar, as long as you don’t judge her for accidentally buying a 100 pound German Shepherd from Slovakia off the Internet.

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Book Giveaway: The Divining Wand is giving away one copy of Allison Winn Scotch’s The One That I Want in a random drawing to anyone who comments only on this specific post, Allison Winn Scotch and The One That I Want. Comments left on other posts during the week are not entered into the contest. The deadline is tonight, June 2, 2010 at 7:00 p.m. EDT with the winner to be announced here in tomorrow’s post. If you enter, please return tomorrow to possibly claim your book.