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Camille Noe Pagán and The Art of Forgetting

May 30, 2011 By: larramiefg Category: Book Presentations, Books

Camille Noe Pagán’s debut novel The Art of Forgetting — with its stunning cover and intriguing title — bows down from bookstore shelves next Thursday, June 9, 2011.

The book, based on a seemingly simple premise of forever friends, is actually a complex, multi-layered tale that both fascinates, frustrates, and fills a reader with questions to what it means to be or who is a friend?

The idea for the storyline came first from the author’s desire to write a book about the nitty-gritty of female friendships and then combine aspects of what she had learned from writing a magazine article about brain injuries. For example, brain injuries are very common — yet very overlooked — in young women and even a relatively minor trauma can have a drastic impact on one’s personality.

Of course what makes Camille’s novel ring true are the well-defined characters that she’s created. Her two main friends, including every one of the supporting cast, are believable in their intentions and motivations….in other words, they’re humanly flawed. Here’s the synopsis for The Art of Forgetting:

Forgive and forget—but not necessarily in that order.

Marissa Rogers never wanted to be an alpha; beta suited her just fine, thank you very much. After all, taking charge without taking credit had always paid off: vaulting her to senior editor at a glossy diet magazine; allowing her to keep the peace with her critical, weight-obsessed mother; and enjoying the benefits that came with being best friends with gorgeous, charismatic Julia Ferrar.

Sure, coming up with 15 different ways to lose five pounds month after month could be mind-numbing. And yes, Julia was a walking, talking reminder that Marissa would never be the type to turn heads. So what? There was no reason to upend her perfect-on-paper life.

But when Julia is hit by a cab and suffers a personality-altering brain injury, Marissa has no choice but step into the role of alpha friend. As Julia struggles to regain her memory—dredging up things Marissa would rather forget, including the fact that Julia asked her to abandon the love of her life 10 years ago—and to return to the sharp, magnetic woman she once was, their friendship is shaken to the core.

With the help of 12 girls she reluctantly agrees to coach in an after-school running program, Marissa will uncover an inner confidence she never knew she possessed and find the courage to reexamine her past and take control of her future.

The Art of Forgetting is a story about the power of friendship, the memories and self-created myths that hold us back from our true potential, and most of all, the delicate balance between forgiving and forgetting.

The Praise is here and a highly recommended Excerpt — Chapter One. Although a brief chapter, this is the introduction and set-up to the tale.

For it’s in those first few pages that the accident occurs and the lives of both friends change forever. Also, by jumping right into the action, the author makes certain that Julia is only known and described primarily through Marissa’s perspective. Camille intentionally did this because she believed, “[it] would help readers understand both Marissa’s loyalty and frustration towards Julia as a person.”

And learning the truth about this friendship is at the heart of this story. With major kudos to the author, The Art of Forgetting is not a tear-jerker, not at all. While Marissa feels/displays genuine empathy and a sadness that Julia will never be the same again, the accident loosens their bond enough to allow Marissa to see her friend objectively. She grieves the loss, accepts what was, and hesitantly moves on. What friendships give — or what we let them take — is not always for the best. Without *spoilers*, it can be told that Marissa forgave her friend and herself, forgot what hurt had been done, and forged a new equal friendship with Julia.

Because, yes, Julia — pre/post-injury — is a controversial character, even a dangerous one at times. However, since she still needed to be somewhat likable, how did Camille handle that fine line? She says:

“A few (early) readers have said they wished Julia had been more likable, but for me, it was crucial to show just how dangerous and reckless her charisma—the very thing that made her likable to others!—could be. I do think that those closest to Marissa were most able to see Julia’s flaws, because they were looking out for Marissa’s best interests. In my mind, the outside world, including Julia’s colleagues and circle of friends, weren’t really privy to her dangerous, unlikable side until after her accident.”

The themes of forgiving, forgetting, friendship, and embracing one’s own self-worth are interwoven with each other throughout the novel. Yet what is its message? According to this debut author, “the novel’s message is that friendship is an ongoing choice with participation of both people involved. Even in an uneven friendship…. ”

The Art of Forgetting is a gorgeous novel telling a story of individuals who are who they are — real people as imperfect as we all are. And it felt appropriate for The Divining Wand to ask Camille Noe Pagán what she would like readers to know first and foremost about her debut?

“I think that readers, even those who don’t know me, will assume that I am Marissa. She and I share many things in common—our professional backgrounds, of course, and to some degree, our insecurities. Yet writing Forgetting led me to the realization that I’ve got a dose of Julia in me, too; I think most of us do. I’ve had a few friendships fall apart (who hasn’t?!) and I often blamed the other person for one reason rather than looking at my own role. Forgetting gave me a better understanding of just how complex friendships are. Just like marriage, both parties are almost always involved in damaging or disintegrating the relationship.

Writing Forgetting also made me a better friend. As a writer, I examined the motivation of every single one of my characters, which gave me a great deal of empathy for each of them–even my villains. No surprise, I began looking at the real people in my life with more empathy, too.”

The Art of Forgetting — truly beautiful inside and out — can be yours next week. Enjoy!

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Announcement: The winners of Fourth Grade Fairy by Eileen Cook are Kate Ledger, Dee, and Tiffany D.. Congratulations!

Please email diviningwand (at) gmail (dot) com with your mailing address and your book will be sent out promptly.

Book Giveaway: The Divining Wand is giving away one copy of The Art of Forgetting by Camille Noe Pagán 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, June 1, 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.

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.

Sarah Pekkanen and Skipping a Beat

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

From the book’s front cover:

“Original, engaging, and soulful.” –EMILY GIFFIN, New York Times Bestselling author of Heart of the Matter

When Sarah Pekkanen debuted with The Opposite of Me last March, she did so by telling a story of twins — undoubtedly the most intense of sibling relationships. For her second novel, Skipping a Beat in bookstores next Tuesday, February 22, 2011, the author chose to examine an even more complicated relationship — marriage.

Of course the storyline is not about just any marriage. Sarah’s idea for the book began with her desire to write about a married couple forced to reexamine their relationship after the husband’s near-death experience. Change is a constant in life, yet in this urgent crisis mode the couple must decide to accept almost immediate changes if their marriage is to survive. That means before moving forward they must look back at the big and small decisions that turned a marriage of love into somewhat of a business partnership. As already mentioned, it’s complicated. However, for a bit of clarification, here’s the synopsis for Skipping a Beat:

What would you do if your husband wanted to rewrite the rules of your relationship?

Julia Dunhill, a thirty-something party planner, seems to have it all: Married to her high school sweetheart and living in a gorgeous home in Washington D.C., she imagines her future unfolding very much as it has for the past few years, since she and her husband Michael successfully launched their companies. There will be dinner parties to attend, operas to dress up for, and weddings and benefits to organize for her growing list of clients. There will be shopping sprees with her best friend, Isabelle, and inevitably those last five pounds to shed. In her darker moments, she worries that her marriage has dissolved from a true partnership into a façade, but she convinces herself it’s due to the intensity of their careers and fast-paced lifestyle.

So as she arranges the molten chocolate cupcakes for the annual Opera benefit, how can she know that her carefully-constructed world is about to fall apart? That her husband will stand up from the head of the table in his company’s boardroom, open his mouth to speak, and crash to the carpeted floor… all in the amount of time it will take her to walk across a ballroom floor just a few miles away. Four minutes and eight seconds after his cardiac arrest, a portable defibrillator jump-starts Michael’s heart. But in those lost minutes he becomes a different man, with an altered perspective on the rarified life they’ve been living and a determination to regain the true intimacy they once shared. Now it is up to Julia to decide — is it worth upending her comfortable world to try to find her way back to the husband she once adored, or should she walk away from this new Michael, who truthfully became a stranger to her long before his change of heart?

The early Praise (see left sidebar) for this novel is wonderful and Emily Giffin’s “Original, engaging, and soulful,” description is spot-on.

Also there is an immediacy, an intimacy to Skipping a Beat that offers a universal appeal to everyone no matter what their relationship status. In fact experience this for yourself by reading an Excerpt of Chapter 1.

That sneak preview alone indicates that Sarah Pekkanen has taken the traditional storyline of a protagonist struggling to grab the brass ring of great job, great love, great home and literally flipped the premise over to a read about someone who already has it all and wonders about now what? Not only is this refreshing but as the author says, “I do like the sense of coming full circle, and of looking at the issue of what we want versus what we need from different perspectives.”

That sentence could well account for the truth that this is much more than Julia’s story, it is also Michael’s. Attracted to and firmly intertwined by their dysfunctional family backgrounds, the young couple dream big and leave home after high school to achieve success. Although only in their mid-30’s at the beginning of the book, their young love appears to have been replaced by the demands of excess and success. Sarah confirms this shift by explaining:

“I definitely wanted to convey that Julia and Michael’s love had been bulldozed by their ambition. Their reasons for craving success and security were understandable, but they took it to an extreme – and their relationship couldn’t survive in the face of their skewed priorities.”

Unless, of course, something enormously overwhelming would shake up their world, forcing them both to reconsider those priorities. Obviously this is the main theme of the book, though not the only one. Understanding one’s own background and how it shapes our decisions and behavior; the powerful influence of friendship, and the healing effects of forgiving someone — all three are relevant and necessary in the telling of Skipping a Beat.

Even more thought-provoking though is that as dramatic and intense as the novel might feel, these themes apply to us all as does the author’s message: “…that love is the most important thing in this world. At a time when there are so many competing demands for our attention, and so many external stressors in life, it’s easy to lose sight of that.”

Sarah Pekkanen had great expectations to live up to after her popular debut. And so she put her heart into effortless, flowing writing and created something very personal. Not that this is Sarah’s story, but all the emotions — sprinkled with wit and humor — resonate with her and she hopes with readers. TRUTH: Skipping a Beat is a Valentine from and about the heart….a book that you’ll love!

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[The Divining Wand sends out heartfelt congratulations to Eleanor Brown (The Weird Sisters) and Caroline Leavtitt (Pictures of You) who made the New York Times Bestseller List for the second consecutive week in a row as of February 13, 2011. Brava, ladies!!!]

Book Giveaway: The Divining Wand is giving away two copies of Sarah Pekkanen’s Skipping a Beat 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 16, 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.

Beth Hoffman and
Saving CeeCee Honeycutt

October 25, 2010 By: larramiefg Category: Book Presentations, Books


On January 12, 2010 Beth Hoffman’s debut novel, Saving CeeCee Honeycutt, was published and — only twelve days later — the book became a New York Times bestseller. Now one wonders how quickly it will take the Trade Paperback edition, releasing tomorrow (October 26, 2010) to take its place on that list as well.

The book described as, “Exemplifying Southern storytelling at its best…” received the ultimate ★ Starred Review from LIBRARY JOURNAL and endless Raves and Reviews have followed. And they’re all for a simple story that is both wise and profound.

The original idea for the novel came from when Beth, at age nine, visited her Great Aunt in Danville, Kentucky as she told bookreporter.com:

“From the moment of my arrival it was culture shock of the best kind. There I was, a shy little farm girl suddenly in the midst of a world I could have never imagined. I was in awe of the massive old homes, the towering trees, and the lush flower gardens, and I was enthralled by the Southern dialect. 

My great aunt Mildred was an accomplished, highly educated woman, and she was a true Southern lady. I’ve never met anyone more gracious, and I suspect I never will. Everyone was welcome in her home, and she greeted people with a smile that was as warm as it was genuine.

Added to that experience is my fascination with the complexities of mother/daughter relationships, so all those things became seeds for my idea. And I adore eccentric personalities and the architecture of the American South. Each of those elements built the framework of my story.”

Please click the Author Video link to listen to why and visually enjoy how important the sense of place was in defining the story. But, of course, the character of CeeCee was most important and, while outlining the novel, the author suddenly heard Cecelia Honeycutt loud and clear. In fact Beth confirms that she also heard the wise cook/housekeeper:

“Yes, CeeCee told me her story, and I was amazed by how clearly I heard her voice. The same is true for Oletta. In fact, Oletta was so real to me that I wept when I typed THE END. I knew I would miss her terribly. And I do.”

From their personal tales the storyline evolved into the following back-of-the-Hardcover-book synopsis:

Back-of-the-book blurb: Twelve-year-old CeeCee Honeycutt is in trouble. For years, she has been the caretaker of her psychotic mother, Camille-the tiara-toting, lipstick-smeared laughingstock of an entire town-a woman trapped in her long-ago moment of glory as the 1951 Vidalia Onion Queen. But when disaster strikes, CeeCee is left to fend for herself. To the rescue comes her previously unknown great-aunt, Tootie Caldwell who whisks CeeCee away to Savannah’s perfumed world of prosperity and Southern eccentricity, a world that seems to be run entirely by women. From the exotic Miz Thelma Rae Goodpepper, who bathes in her backyard bathtub and uses garden slugs as her secret weapons, to Tootie’s all-knowing housekeeper, Oletta Jones, to Violene Hobbs, who entertains a local police officer in her canary-yellow peignoir, the women of Gaston Street keep CeeCee entertained and enthralled for an entire summer.

Now read an Excerpt from Saving CeeCee Honeycutt.

As might be expected, there are reviews galore on this bestselling debut, with one blog writer even likening CeeCee to Cinderella. Hmm, if this charming — albeit occasional bittersweet — story feels like a fairy tale at all, then it’s reminiscent of Alice in Wonderland. Interestingly enough, though CeeCee is a voracious reader, she never once mentions a favorite fairy tale. Perhaps it’s her age or the reality of her life that leads her to read and reread Nancy Drew books for, after all, didn’t Nancy always solve the mysteries(problems) in her world? Also books are CeeCee’s only friends until she’s whisked away and rides by the sign that proclaims: Welcome to Savannah.

The lush, detailed descriptions of her new home, the women who surround her, and the experiences that change her all flow effortlessly through this 12 year old’s voice. Whether heartbreaking or joyous, there is emotional enchantment present on every page as well as more than a few messages/lessons for all of us to learn. As Great Aunt Tootie relates the importance of “Finding your fire” and Miz Goodpepper reflects on the power of Karma, The Divining Wand asked the author which message saved CeeCee? And Beth said:

“I believe all the messages melded together–each one helping CeeCee to heal and be able to move forward. But the one message in particular that CeeCee took to heart was when Oletta said, “’People is wise ’cause they get out in the world and live. Wisdom comes from experience—from knowin’ each day is a gift and accepting it with gladness. You read a whole lot of books, and readin’ sure has made you smart, but ain’t no book in the world gonna make you wise.’”

Beth Hoffman was wise. Wise enough to walk away from her successful interior design business and move forward to her dream of writing a book that echoed what she had heard from her own grandmother and Great Aunt. That power of women’s friendship had impacted her more than she realized and, after four years of writing, she had her novel.

The author insists, “All I wanted to do was write a story with characters that I loved and believed in–characters who, individually and collectively, had something important to give a little girl who had a rough start in life.” In Saving CeeCee Honeycutt, Beth has accomplished that and much more. Refreshingly kind, and enchanting, “CeeCee” offers an open heart to women of all ages. If you have yet to read it, oh please do. And, if you have already read it, consider this edition as a special gift for anyone…..young adult to your grandmother. Because this bestseller is truly THAT good!

Book Giveaway: The Divining Wand is giving away two copies of Beth Hoffman’s Saving CeeCee Honeycutt 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 27, 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.

Karen McQuestion and A Scattered Life

September 27, 2010 By: larramiefg Category: Book Presentations, Books


Although much has been written about Karen McQuestion’s extraordinary journey to publishing success (including Guest Karen McQuestion on Keeping the Faith), the most important story remains between the covers of her debut novel, A Scattered Life. After all that was the Kindle book optioned for film, adored by ebook readers, and put Karen — not only on the literary map — but in The Wall Street Journal as well.

So what’s it all about? Simply put, the novel’s story is based on a friendship triangle between three women and explores the author’s fascination with the idea of feeling like an outsider in your own family.

Acknowledging that her fiction is basically character-driven and the plot evolves from the characters’ actions, Karen began writing A Scattered Life with the following scene in mind:

“A shy man has a crush on a waitress who works at a Mexican restaurant. He’s thirtyish and conservative, almost nerdy, and she’s much younger, a free spirit who is at loose ends in the world. He’s been coming in to the restaurant to watch her, never quite getting up the nerve to talk to her until something unexpected happens.”

Now add the details that the scene takes place in a Wisconsin small town with the Green Bay Packers playing on Monday Night Football and the reader is likely to take a leap of faith and be drawn into the action too.

To share a bit more, here is the synopsis:

When free-spirited Skyla marries proper and predictable Thomas Plinka, she finally finds the love and stability she’s craved since childhood. She also acquires a new family: mother-in-law Audrey, disapproving and suspicious of Skyla’s nomadic past; father-in-law Walt, gruff but kind; and Thomas’s brothers, sofa-bound Jeffrey, and Dennis, who moved across the country seemingly to avoid the family.

Skyla settles into marriage and motherhood, but quiet life in small-town Wisconsin can’t quell feelings of restlessness. Then into her life comes Madame Picard, the local psychic from the disreputable bookstore, Mystic Books, and new neighbor, Roxanne, whose goal in life is to have twelve kids even though she can’t manage the five she has. Despite her family’s objections, Skyla befriends Roxanne and gets a job at the bookstore, and life gets fuller and more complicated than she ever imagined.

Next enjoy a lovely Video for A Scattered Life.

If the video reminds you of a quiet, somewhat simpler life, settle into Skyla’s neighborhood. It is there that the author has created a place reminiscent of the way people used to connect — on a one-on-one basis — and care about each other. However, despite the comfort zone feeling, this story of three women and their daily routines is not without problems.

Funny, poignant and incredibly honest, The Divining Wand wondered if the characters told Karen their stories or if the tales were written around them? And she said:

“I have heard other writers say that characters “speak” to them, but I’ve never had that experience. I usually have an impression of who my characters are, and a situation, and I work from there. On several occasions, I’ve tried to plot things out ahead of time. It seems the most sensible way to do things, but I’ve never been able to make plotting or outlining work. Once I know the whole storyline, I find that I don’t want to write it because it feels like homework. The fun of writing is finding out what happens next. For me, writing fiction feels more like discovering than creating, and I’ll often have eureka moments–oh, now I know why she was acting that way! I always aim for a happy (or at least hopeful) ending, but I never really know how it’s going to go until I get there.”

TRUST: The above explanation could be the most telling of the author’s success in writing genuine and appealing novels. For Karen McQuestion focuses on what intrigues her about universal human truths — those that are likely our own truths. A Scattered Life highlights this fact by presenting three unforgettable women who actually are Everywomen at some point in life. And, while their personalities and immediate situations differ, they all know (or have known) how it feels to be left out. Whether it’s the young wife, the next door neighbor with five sons, or the mother-in-law, these women share the desire to belong and feel needed.

Independence, strength, and accepting others for who they are go a long way towards belonging. Or it could be as simple as applying the wise words of “Open your heart.” In A Scattered Life, the reader will undoubtedly recognize at least one character as someone she knows and then realize the extent to which lives are intertwined. Karen McQuestion’s novel also reminds how important daily lives are, no matter how mundane they may seem because even small details make a difference later.

Author (The Dogs of Babal, Lost and Found, and The Nobodies Album) Carolyn Parkhurst Reviews “A Scattered Life” and concludes with the following:

McQuestion writes with a sharp eye and a sure voice, and as a reader, I was willing to go wherever she wanted to take me. After I finished the book, I thought about how I might describe it to a friend, and I settled on a phrase that says a lot without saying very much at all. It’s the way these conversations usually end: “You should read this. It’s good.”

Yes you should read this book. It’s much better than good!

Book Giveaway: The Divining Wand is giving away two copies of Karen McQuestion’s A Scattered Life 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, September 29, 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.

Julie Buxbaum and After You

August 09, 2010 By: larramiefg Category: Book Presentations, Books


There is a priceless, poetic irony in the fact that Julie Buxbaum (The Opposite of Love, After You) long feared writing her thoughts down on paper (see The Terror of the Blank Page) since, in both her novels, she delves deeply into the most personal of human emotions to reveal life’s heartbreaking pains and comforting truths. While her debut novel tackled the struggles of figuring out, “Who am I going to be when I grow up?”, After You is based on the author having grown up and now wondering about the challenges our adult selves must face whether we want to or not.

With human relationships on her mind — having recently become engaged at the time –, Julie questioned: How well do we actually know the people we love? Because the bottom line is that in any type of relationship it’s impossible to know for certain what someone else is thinking. Ah, but what if she created a storyline in which one character is allowed — even lovingly forced — to step into the shoes of her best friend?

After You provides that rare opportunity. Here is the Synopsis:

The complexities of friendship. The unraveling of a neglected marriage. And the redemptive power of literature…Julie Buxbaum, the acclaimed author of The Opposite of Love, delivers a powerful, gloriously written novel about love, family, and the secrets we hide from each other, and ourselves.

On a cobblestone street in Notting Hill, Ellie Lerner’s life-long best friend, Lucy, is stabbed to death in front of her eight-year-old daughter. Ellie, of course, drops everything – her job, her marriage, her life in the Boston suburbs – and travels to London to pick up the pieces of the life Lucy has left behind. While Lucy’s husband, Greg copes with his grief by retreating to the pub, eight-year-old Sophie has simply stopped speaking.

Desperate to help Sophie, Ellie turns to a book that gave her comfort as a child, The Secret Garden. As the two spend hours exploring the novel, its story of hurt, magic and healing blooms around them. But so, too, do the secrets Lucy kept hidden, even from her best friend. As Ellie peels back the layers of her friend’s life, she’s forced to confront her own as well – the marriage she left behind, the loss she’d hoped to escape, and the elusiveness of the place we choose to call home.

A novel that will resonate in the heart of anyone who’s had a best friend, a love lost, or a past full of regrets, AFTER YOU proves once again the unique and compelling talent of Julie Buxbaum.

Glowing praise came with publication of the Hardcover edition in September 2009:

“Buxbaum skillfully handles this tale of grief and growing, resonant with realistic emotional stakes and hard-won wisdom.”
—Publishers Weekly

“Buxbaum keeps the story as smart as the writing…The author keeps it real and works out optimistic rather than happy endings for her sharply focused and honestly sympathetic characters.”
—Kirkus

And now on the Trade Paperback’s front cover:

After You highlights—beautifully and compellingly—the truth that sometimes we have to lose the people closest to us to find ourselves.”—Jodi Picoult, #1 New York Times Bestselling author

To sample After You, please take a look at Excerpt: Chapter 1.

The beauty of this multi-layered novel is that it begins simply enough with Ellie devastated by the death of her friend yet trying, as best she can, to comfort an eight- year-old, motherless child. Yet soon there are more personal issues revealed and challenges to be met. For Ellie — who lost an unborn baby two years prior, drifted emotionally/physically away from her husband, and could care less about her career — must come to terms with what she believes is the loss of her identity. If not a best friend, mother, or devoted partner/wife….who is she and where does she belong?

Indeed, in the author interview on her website’s Q&A page (click on Synopsis), Julie says: “As the novel unfolds, the reader learns that there is more going on in Ellie’s old life in Boston than originally suspected (and in Lucy’s in London, too, for that matter). AFTER YOU then becomes less a story about a woman comforting a grieving child and very much a story about a woman running away.”

Or perhaps Ellie merely chooses to escape with Sophie by reading the magical tale of the classic children’s novel, The Secret Garden. In addition to being the writer’s all-time favorite book, its story of redemption and self-healing mirrors the raw loss and loneliness both of her characters feel….while dealing with the discovery of hidden secrets.

After You is simple in its premise of loss, heartbreaking in its honesty of grief, and profound in its insights into the mistakes made in relationships. It’s sad, yet never maudlin. After all the truth is the truth — another challenge to be faced and accepted by adults.

This novel is also stunning, breathtaking, optimistic and — dare I say — comforting? Julie Buxbaum’s writing “voice” draws the reader in with a soothing calmness even amidst the confusion of sorrow, indecision, and mistaken assumptions. There’s no reason to fear for these characters but there is hope to cheer for them. And, oh, the lessons one can learn.

Please, After You is a “must reading” experience. “Must read” because the words Julie Buxbaum used to write only in her mind now fill blank pages and, without question, come straight from her heart.

Book Giveaway: This week Julie Buxbaum has graciously offered two “signed” copies of After You to the winners of a random drawing from comments left on this specific post. A comment left on any other post during the week will not be eligible. The deadline for this contest is Wednesday, August 11, 2010 at 7:00 p.m. EDT and the winners will be announced here in Thursday’s post. IF you do enter, please return Thursday to possibly claim your book.

Carey Goldberg, Beth Jones, and
Pamela Ferdinand with Three Wishes

June 14, 2010 By: larramiefg Category: Book Presentations, Books


Although its title and description may sound like a fairy tale, the collaborative memoir, Three Wishes:A True Story of Good Friends, Crushing Heartbreak, and Astonishing Luck on Our Way to Love and Motherhood by Carey Goldberg, Beth Jones, and Pamela Ferdinand, is a 21st century non-fiction account of how anything is possible through traditional hope and love.

Once upon a time — ten years ago — these three successful, connected, savvy journalists began to realize a personal deadline was looming. Their careers had made headlines while relationships had been “cut” for limited time/space/interest. Although single and approaching forty, they still dreamed of “having it all”….or, at least, one baby.

Three Wishes tells the story of of these three friends who transformed their lives when they decided to take control in making motherhood happen.

Here, in Video form, is the book’s backstory:

Then the Three Wishes synopsis:

Carey, Beth, and Pam had succeeded at work but failed at romance, and each resolved to have a baby before time ran out. Just one problem: no men.

Carey took the first bold step towards single motherhood, searching anonymous donor banks until she found the perfect match. What she found was not a father in a vial, but a sort of magic potion. She met a man, fell in love, and got pregnant the old-fashioned way.

She passed the vials to Beth, and it happened again. Beth met man, Beth got pregnant. Beth passed the vials to Pam, and the magic struck again. There were setbacks and disappointments, but three women became three families, reveling in the shared joy of love, friendship, and never losing hope.

The Reviews are glowing and Three Wishes was selected as a “TOME OF THE BRAVE” Pick for the June issue of Oprah’s O! Magazine.

When Pamela Ferdinand contacted me to offer a Q&A interview or the opportunity to review this triple memoir, how could I resist what sounded perfect for The Divining Wand? Yet ARCS were piled high and the site’s posts booked solid with new releases/debuts. So before even reading the book, I was introduced to Carey, Beth, and Pamela (live) during their April 21st interview on TODAY. Please take this opportunity to meet them, too, by Launching the Video.

Would you like to browse through the book? That wish can be granted as well:

What good fortune all this information is available about the authors and their book, yet what about actual storytelling?

With each author having her own compelling and complicated experiences to tell, they take turns in sharing their journeys to motherhood in alternating chapters. Carey leads off by being the first to seek wish fulfillment by purchasing the vials of donor sperm, Beth follows, and then Pamela. Each voice is as unique as their personal circumstances along with their individual timelines. For, remember, Carey has already made her decision to opt for single parenthood via medical technology or has she?

Because when Carey meets the man who will eventually become the father of her children and her husband, that’s when wishing only for a child turns into wanting much more. True, she does use one vial of donor sperm, but the procedure is unsuccessful. Seven vials remain but now there’s a man in her life and, even if he doesn’t want to commit to being a father…perhaps a donor?

Yes all three women meet their match but even the best relationships are messy and oh so vulnerable. In fact it’s the sheer candidness of sharing everything the authors and their mates live through that makes Three Wishes most impressive. How did they manage to reveal such personal and intimate details of their lives? I asked Pamela and she replied: “It wasn’t easy to share all those details, but we felt an obligation to do so — as journalists who asked such personal details of other people; as women who want to encourage other women to be able to share their experiences; and as authors who feel the most interesting stories are the most honest ones.”

Three Wishes is much more than a book about choosing motherhood as a single woman. Instead it relates what can happen when a wish becomes a goal in life as opposed to an unspoken breath blowing out birthday candles. If by definition “a dream is a wish your heart makes,” then — in order to make it real — you need to share it with others. By opening your heart, you’ll be opening that wish to possibilities, suggestions, support, alternatives, and the unexpected. As Pamela wrote in her post, Guest Pamela Ferdinand Makes A Wish?:

“I fell in love only when my heart was open wider than ever because, in accepting the sperm, I had accepted the possibilities of a non-traditional route to motherhood and family. Of a non-linear life, when anything could happen, in any order.”

Three Wishes:A True Story of Good Friends, Crushing Heartbreak, and Astonishing Luck on Our Way to Love and Motherhood is for anyone who believes that, while miracles do happen and wishes are granted, most of what one yearns for requires time, extreme effort, and heartfelt strength. If you want to be reminded, inspired, or simply awed by those truths, please read how Carey Goldberg, Beth Jones, and Pamela Ferdinand created their own magic to produce three wishes.

Book Giveaway: The Divining Wand is giving away a copy of the triple memoir Three Wishes by Carey Goldberg, Beth Jones, and Pamela Ferdinand in a random drawing to anyone who comments only on this specific post. Comments left on other posts during the week are not entered into the contest. The deadline is Wednesday, June 16, 2010 at 7:00 p.m. EDT with the winner to be announced here in Thursday’s post. If you enter, please return Thursday to possibly claim your book.

Allie Larkin and Stay

June 08, 2010 By: larramiefg Category: Book Presentations, Books, Debuts


On Thursday June 10, 2010, Allie Larkin becomes a debut author when her women’s fiction novel, STAY, appears in bookstores and ships from online retailers.

However this book and its author hold many surprises, the first of which is: Allie didn’t always want to be a writer. It’s true that she has always been a reader, even while struggling with Attention Deficit Disorder that went undiagnosed until she was eighteen. Being a writer felt too big of a “focus” challenge and instead Allie chose to study theater in college, leaving after two years to “find herself.” When she returned to school ten years ago to study Communications, her professors noticed her writing talent and it was only then that Allie started writing fiction.

Another revelation is that Stay began as a writing exercise for an advanced fiction class in 2002. From there, it turned into a 50-page short story about two best friends, Van and Janie, having a conversation about Van’s messy love life over coffee at Starbucks. Sent out to a prestigious literary magazine, it was rejected, filed away, and dragged out a few years later for a writing group Allie had been invited to join. Taking a fresh look at her work, she wondered: “How did this start?” “What happened five years before this?” And, about six months later, Allie Larkin realized she was writing a novel. In her own words:

“There’s only about one page of material from the original story that made it into STAY. But Van and Janie are still there, and through the writing and revising process, they evolved into characters I love like old friends. It turned into a puzzle. I wanted to tell the right story for my characters, and the fact that the characters mattered so much to me kept me going.”

As for the identity of that adorable “book cover dog,” he IS Allie’s own beloved Argo, although she is quick to note that wasn’t the original plan. But when finding a stock photo of a black German Shepherd didn’t prove easy, over 1,000 pictures of Argo were taken and sent off to Dutton for the art designer to work her magic. And the novelist’s reaction:

“Since Argo was such a huge part of writing STAY, having him on the cover just feels perfect. Not only was he the inspiration for Van’s dog, Joe, but he was my writing buddy.”

Now that you’re well-informed on the backstory and side stories of Stay, here is the synopsis:

Savannah “Van” Leone has loved Peter since the day they met. The problem is, Peter has loved Van’s best friend, Janie, since the moment they met. And now they’re walking down the aisle, with Van standing nearby in a Halloween orange bridesmaid dress, her smile as hollow as a jack-o-lantern. After the wedding, Van drowns her sorrows in Kool Aid-vodka cocktails and reruns of Rin-Tin-Tin, and does what any woman in her situation would do: She buys a German Shepherd over the internet.

The pocket-sized puppy Van is expecting turns out to be a clumsy, hundred-pound beast that only responds to Slovakian. Van is at the end of her rope—until she realizes that this quirky giant may be the only living being who will always be loyal to her, no matter what. And thus begins a friendship that will alter Van’s life in ways she never imagined.

Joe leads Van to Dr. Alex Brandt, a rugged vet with floppy blond hair and winning smile. But just as things are starting to heat up, the newlyweds return from their honeymoon, forcing Van to decide just how much she’s willing to sacrifice in order to have everything she ever wanted. Warm and witty, poignant and funny, Stay marks the arrival of an irresistible new voice.

Read the “irresistible new voice” in the excerpt of Stay: Chapter One.

And view its charming Book Trailer:

With words of praise from literary critics and spotlighted in the June 7th issue of People Magazine Great Reads for Animal Lovers section, the real surprise of Allie’s novel is that it’s NOT even close to the standard chicklit fare. And, while all the differences could be listed, the “clincher” is that Van isn’t looking for a man…rather she’ll be happy with “man’s best friend.”

There’s a special place in my heart for debut authors and — during as well as after reading the Advanced Uncorrected Proofs sent by Dutton — Allie Larkin had more than staked her claim. As a gifted storyteller who writes of the serious and amusing facts of life, she delivers both with a realistic wallop. With her voice unique, her writing flawless, and her themes profound, how — I wondered — can this be her first novel?

What I do know, though, is the prestigious literary magazine that rejected Allie’s short story included a personal note saying she had “something special” here and “to keep working on it.” She eventually took that advice, creating an insightful, genuinely bittersweet look at the messiness of life.

Much of that messiness comes from love and this debut author explains her feelings on the subject and how she incorporated it into the book:

“I am fascinated by the complicated ways people love each other and how that affects the choices they make. That’s what I set out to explore in STAY. We can love without being in love. We can be in love without having the ability to act on it. We can love our friends like family, and we can love our dogs like family too. And the feelings that aren’t clear cut or easily understood are just as valid and important as the ones that are.

“Joe’s love is relatively uncomplicated compared to all of Van’s other relationships. Dogs are amazing, because their sense of loyalty, their enthusiasm for the simplest of things, and their ability to love unconditionally is inspiring and contagious. The spark of the idea to give Van a dog came to me while I was raking leaves in the backyard, but the overall concept comes from the way Argo has changed my life. Argo has made me a better, happier, more open person, and I knew giving Van a German Shepherd would do the same.”

Clever, fresh (in language too), endearingly complicated, enjoy the fun of STAY, available everywhere this Thursday.

Book Giveaway: The Divining Wand is giving away a copy of Allie Larkin’s Stay in a random drawing to anyone who comments only on this specific post. Comments left on other posts during the week are not entered into the contest. The deadline is Wednesday, June 9, 2010 at 7:00 p.m. EDT with the winner to be announced here in Thursday’s post. If you enter, please return Thursday to possibly claim your book.

AND

Book Giveaway: The Divining Wand is giving away two copies of Tish Cohen’s The Truth About Delilah Blue in a random drawing to anyone who comments only on this specific post, Tish Cohen and The Truth About Delilah Blue. Comments left on other posts during the week are not entered into the contest. The deadline is Wednesday, June 9, 2010 at 7:00 p.m. EDT with the winner to be announced here in Thursday’s post. If you enter, please return Thursday to possibly claim your book.

Guest Pamela Ferdinand Makes A Wish?

June 03, 2010 By: larramiefg Category: Guest Posts

[Pamela Ferdinand is a co-author with Beth Jones and Carey Goldberg of the triple memoir Three Wishes: A True Story of Good Friends, Crushing Heartbreak, and Astonishing Luck on Our Way to Love and Motherhood. This amazing account of real life magic already has been seen on and in: The Today Show, The New York Times, Publisher’s Weekly, WGN Chicago, WGBH Boston Greater Boston, WNYC The Takeaway, iVillage, The Boston Globe…. Yet, in today’s guest post, Pamela writes about taking control of life, rather than merely wishing for what she desired.]

Wish. So often that word conjures the idea of a genie in a bottle instead of taking destiny into one’s own hands. As a single working woman nearing 40 who wanted both love and family, I could have used a genie. I felt like I was running out of time after falling for men who either couldn’t or wouldn’t commit to me. But as much as I hoped one would show up before my biology gave out, I couldn’t count on it. I couldn’t just close my eyes and wish.

Instead, I discovered a different kind of magic in the process of transforming my life by accepting it as it was, figuring out what I truly wanted, and allowing my friends to support me, as I had supported them. It was a moment when wishes became actions, when desires became decisions, and when I stopped waiting for life to happen to me and tried to create what I wanted my life to be.

My path to wish fulfillment began when my friend Carey, alone at age 39, had purchased vials of anonymous donor sperm but never used them. She met her future husband and father of her children the very day those vials arrived at her clinic. She passed them on to our friend Beth, also on the verge of 40. Beth had expected she would have a family with her husband, but they divorced, and she decided to become a single mother. As she prepared to use Donor 8282’s sperm, Beth met her match, and together they had a child.

By the time Beth offered me the vials, I also was fully prepared to be a single mother, one way or another. I had considered the necessary resources, role models, and emotional support I thought my child and I would need. I had seen my gynecologist and spoken to my family. No sooner had I accepted the sperm from my friend than I met my love on an observatory rooftop. Today my fiance and I have a daughter.

I didn’t jump into this romantic relationship like a lifeboat because I was suddenly scared to enter single motherhood. Having a child on my own was not necessarily my first choice, but that does not mean I considered it a lesser choice. As a woman journalist who once assumed I could Have It All, and then didn’t, I took the time to think about what I really, truly desired. What I could not live without. To other women, it could be so many things that are meaningful in life, things too numerous to mention. But for me, it was a child.

I fell in love only when my heart was open wider than ever because, in accepting the sperm, I had accepted the possibilities of a non-traditional route to motherhood and family. Of a non-linear life, when anything could happen, in any order. For me, having the sperm not only severed the ties between romance and reproduction, and all the pressures that entailed, but it also represented taking control of my life. Even if there were no guarantees.

Being offered the sperm also reminded me of the power of friendship in making wishes come true. It’s far easier to create the life you want if the people around you genuinely want you to succeed and provide the emotional and psychological succor — and in this case, the actual means — to pursue it. With Carey’s help, then Beth’s, I did more than make a wish. I granted it.

* * * * *

Announcement: The winner of Allison Winn Scotch’s The One That I Want is Heather Larson. Congratulations! Please email: diviningwand (at) gmail (dot) com with your mailing address and the book will be sent out promptly.