The Divining Wand

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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.

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.