The Divining Wand

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Julianna Baggott (aka Bridget Asher) and
The Provence Cure for the Brokenhearted

May 16, 2011 By: larramiefg Category: Book Presentations, Books

“This novel is dedicated to the reader.
For this singular moment, it’s just the two of us.”

It is with the above Dedication that Julianna Baggott welcomes the readinbg audience into her latest Bridget Asher novel The Provence Cure for the Brokenhearted. And that singular moment will become hours as the author tells a multi-generational tale of: “Grief is a love story told backwards.” In fact that’s the first line in the book.

According to the author, that sentence captured what she wanted to write in the novel — telling a love story from a place of grief and then moving beyond it. However the physical place, from where the story is told, was an equally important element. Julianna’s love of France made it an obvious choice as well as a six week’s vacation/research destination for herself, her husband, their four children, and a niece. While they had their share of adventures — several of which appear in the book –, the entire experience felt as though they were reawakening their senses.

In a March 22, 2011 interview with Caroline Leavitt, the author explained how her grieving character also needed to to experience a reawakening:

“One of the most important things about living somewhere foreign to you is that you can’t take for granted what you’re seeing, hearing, tasting. It’s how we should always live — no matter where we are — fully awake to the world around us. But sometimes we shut down to that world. I wanted to describe a character opening up to it.”

These ideas developed into a storyline and The Provence Cure for the Brokenhearted synopsis:

“Every good love story has another love hiding within it.”
 


Brokenhearted and still mourning the loss of her husband, Heidi travels with Abbott, her obsessive-compulsive seven-year-old son, and Charlotte, her jaded sixteen-year-old niece, to the small village of Puyloubier in the south of France, where a crumbling stone house may be responsible for mending hearts since before World War II.

There, Charlotte confesses a shocking secret, and Heidi learns the truth about her mother’s “lost summer” when Heidi was a child. As three generations collide with one another, with the neighbor who seems to know all of their family skeletons, and with an enigmatic Frenchman, Heidi, Charlotte, and Abbot journey through love, loss, and healing amid the vineyards, warm winds and delicious food of Provence. Can the magic of the house heal Heidi’s heart, too?

In addition to reading the lovely praise, there is also an Excerpt from the book to be read here.

Both sweet, bittersweet, and touched with the power of love, this is a fascinating novel based on the human emotions of grieving a loss while trying to believe in the hope of what lies ahead. Julianna does indeed convey all this through exquisite sensory description and what a feast she provides. In Provence, alone, there are the tiny white snails on the roadside flowers, the world of Cezanne’s Mont Sainte-Victoire, the lilac fields, vineyards and the magical house of love stories — recently damaged by fire and in need of being restored too. Also there is the food, lusciously described in its preparation, aromas, and mouth-watering tastes. The author admits to eating much of this research — so much so that recipes have been included in the back of the book.

It’s true that Heidi’s sense of taste returns first, allowing her other senses to follow, but still letting go of her grief is difficult. The reader never meets Henry — her love, her husband — alive, yet he appears almost larger than life in every Henry story the brokenhearted widow retells their son. His presence is everywhere in and around their Florida home yet in Provence there are new memories await to be created without him.

While the strong themes of The Provence Cure for the Brokenhearted are grief and loss and the idea of moving forward in order to heal, the author also explores the connections between mothers and daughters and sisters. For once again a storyline is affected by how past secrets haunt the present as is noted by: “Every good love story has another love hiding within it.” Or, in other words, a multi-generational plotline does promise more than one love. However the idea of being able to reopen one’s heart and find love again is what ultimately transforms this story of devastating loss into one of joy and redemption.

Since its release on March 29, 2011, The Provence Cure for the Brokenhearted has had its share of favorable reviews yet, out of curiosity, The Divining Wand wondered if there was anything that a reviewer hadn’t asked or mentioned that Julianna would want readers to know about this story? And she said:

“I love the scene in the boutique. It was actually a scene that was salvaged from 165 pages of a failed novel. The novel wasn’t good but there was something elementally wonderful and vexing and true — in a deep twisted sisterly and motherly way — about that scene. I was so glad to have it. And I love the term getting Briskowitzed. It’d be funny if that one caught on.”

Now, in case all the other elements of this book have not piqued your interest, certainly those two tidbits will. Spend some time in France this May, June, July….with The Provence Cure for the Brokenhearted. This Fairy Godmother guarantees you’ll feel relaxed, rested, and restored with hope.

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Book Giveaway: The Divining Wand is giving away two copies of The Provence Cure for the Brokenhearted by Bridget Asher (aka Julianna Baggott) in a random drawing of comments left only on this specific post. Comments left on other posts during the week will not be eligible. The deadline is Wednesday, May 18, 2011 at 7:00 p.m. EDT with the winners to be announced here in Thursday’s post. If you enter, please return Thursday to see if you’re a winner.

Jael McHenry and The Kitchen Daughter

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

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

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

In fact, according to its synopsis, The Kitchen Daughter

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


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



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



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



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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kate Ledger and Remedies

August 23, 2010 By: larramiefg Category: Book Presentations, Books


From the front cover

“Remedies is an immediately gripping, expertly woven tale of pain and healing.
Ledger is a brilliant writer; the book is dazzling, but more importantly, it is moving.”
– Elin Hilderbrand, New York Times bestselling author of Barefoot

What Kate Ledger has elegantly and eloquently written in her debut novel, Remedies, is a “witty,” “complex,” “humane,” and “intense” story of a marriage/family in crisis. And those are a few reasons why Remedies garnered:

*A Starred Review from Publishhers Weekly
*Being named an Indie Next List Notable Book for August 2010
*Selection as an Ingram Premier Pick recommendation to libraries across the country.

Although more praise can be found on the author’s Press page, a most telling description comes from the novel’s Facebook page where a reader commented on the paperback’s cover: “I love the knot in her hair . . . so symbolic of the character and the story.”

Yes the novel can be rendered almost that simply as long as the “knots” also describe the husband and teenage daughter. For this is a character-driven storyline. Its idea came from Kate’s interest in a doctor who would believe he’s come up with a treatment to relieve, eradicate physical pain from his patients and she explained his character — and his wife’s character — development in Guest Kate Ledger on REMEDIES: A Novel/The Journey of Writing.

And from those characters came this Synopsis:

Simon and Emily Bear look like a couple that has it all. Simon is a respected doctor. His wife, Emily, shines as a partner in a premier public relations firm. But their marriage is scarred by hidden wounds. Even as Simon tends his patients’ ills, and Emily spins away her clients’ mistakes, they can’t seem to do the same for themselves or their relationship.

Simon becomes convinced he’s discovered a cure for chronic pain, a finding that could become a medical breakthrough, yet he is oblivious to the pain that he causes at home. Emily, struggling to move beyond the devastating loss she and Simon suffered fifteen years earlier, realizes she hasn’t felt anything for a long time–that is, until a lover from her past resurfaces and forces her to examine her marriage anew.

In a debut novel on par with today’s top women writers, Remedies explores the complicated facets of pain, in the nerves of the body and the longings of the heart. Depicting modern-day marriage with a razor-sharp eye, Remedies is about what it takes, as an individual and as a couple, to recover from profound loss.

That profound loss was the death of their six-week old infant son and, once Kate identified and addressed this tragedy, her story focused on the crumbling of a marriage. As she says:

“I found the Bear’s marriage exquisitely complex. As I wrote their interactions, I thought a lot about the ways that people communicate, particularly when they don’t address a real problem: The core issue remains present in every interaction. Simon and Emily aren’t simply two people who can’t talk to each other or who’ve moved apart from one another. In fact, they’re constantly straining to have the terrible conversation they’ve never been able to have. Their terrors are simmering under the surface. Simon can’t help but provoke Emily in ways he knows will frustrate her, hoping that they’ll wind up in a confrontation. (He has grandiose plans to surprise her with winemaking in the basement, for instance, a plan that will surely annoy her.) He must know on some level, that in one of those confrontations, she might blame him in the way he’s most afraid of being blamed. Emily retreats from his antagonistic actions, accepting his signs of outward kindness, as she holds onto the story she’s believed all along: Simon isn’t responsible for their loss since every one of the doctors missed the signs that their son was desperately sick. But, of course, as in all relationships, what’s under the surface always eventually emerges.”

Ironically both Simon and Emily professionally deal with helping patients/clients handle physical pain and successfully communicate. In fact Simon enjoys introducing themselves to others as “the doctor and the spin doctor,” yet — in truth — their skills appear to be left at the office.

Still losing a child is devastating and too many couples who experience such grief, guilt, and emptiness do divorce. They simply can’t forget and find a way back to “normal” because their family life isn’t “normal” any longer. The fortunate ones find strength in each other and from family, friends, religion, and counseling. However Simon and Emily had none of these for support and their individual backgrounds allow this to ring true. Why? Because Kate Ledger created her characters with the perfect flaws that would prevent them from asking for help.

These are fascinating characters, outwardly strong while internally too weak to face and then try to find a remedy for fifteen years of pain. But since — according to the author — “the book is very much about the fear of how people will receive you” — it’s only natural that they would create a facade rather than display their true feelings. As a result, neither Simon or Emily are likable yet they are understandable. In fact if Remedies was a theatrical movie it would most likely win the Oscar for “Best Picture of the Year” for the realistic and exquisite depiction of a lost couple.

As a book it is lyrically gorgeous, created with so much care that the reader doesn’t need actors to make the storyline come alive. Kate’s words do that, aiming directly to the heart. And although the novel focuses on sorrow and pain, the author feels: “It’s a hopeful book. The great journey of the novel is for each of these individuals to come to terms with the past—acknowledge it, examine it, maybe even cry about it— in order to set sights on building a new future.”

Remedies, filled with the potential for insightful discussions, would be an excellent book club selection. If you’d like Kate to visit your book group by speakerphone or Skype, please email kate@kateledger.com. Or take pleasure in this debut by reading and reveling in it on your own!

Book Giveaway: This week Kate Ledger has graciously offered two “signed” copies of Remedies 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 25, 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.

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.

Presenting Debutante Alicia Bessette
and Simply from Scratch

August 02, 2010 By: larramiefg Category: Book Presentations, Books


Throughout the year she’s watched, applauded, supported her fellow 2010 Class Members dance across the ballroom floor to launch their books and celebrate with tours/signings. However this Thursday, August 5, 2010 it’s Debutante Alicia Bessette’s turn to take a bow when her first novel, Simply from Scratch, appears in local bookstores and ships from online retailers.

Of course, truth be told, this book is not Alicia’s first published “composition.” As a self-trained musician, she’s been playing the piano since childhood and her original solo piano pieces can be heard on radio stations around the world. Reservoir, the first CD, was released in 2002 and the most recent, Orchard, received a nomination for the 2009 “grassroots grammies.” For more about Alicia’s music please visit, Alicia Bessette pianist/composer.

Yet in her Wednesday posts at The Debutante Ball, Alicia rarely mentioned music except for a brief nod, such as this, in the September 2, 2009 post, In which Ms. Wednesday introduces herself, and her book!. Here’s what she shared in that first post:

1. I’m married to my college sweetheart, novelist Matthew Quick. In 2004, with the shared goal of becoming full-time novelists, we quit our jobs, sold our house, and moved in with my parents. Five years later, Matt and I are on our own, back in the Philly area, publishing novels and doing everything we can to continue living the dream.

2. I can’t wait to be reunited with my piano, which is very quietly waiting in what was my parents’ dining room in Massachusetts. What caused the separation? More on that in future posts.

3. Does it have something (anything) to do with France? Or dogs? Movies? Music, of any kind? Yoga? Travel? If so, I’m probably very interested!

In that same post the new Debutante also offered a brief synopsis of her novel:

I once heard an inspiring piece of writing advice: “Write the book only you can write.”

That was my aim with my debut novel, Simply from Scratch—to create a story that’s bighearted, accessible, and totally, authentically me.

A week after Hurricane Katrina, I was hired at a regional newspaper, The Landmark, in my hometown of Holden, Massachusetts. For months my colleagues and I wrote about volunteers from our area helping the people of New Orleans. That spirit of community outreach inspired Simply from Scratch. I asked myself, What would happen if one of those Massachusetts volunteers didn’t return? And the book grew from that question.

Simply from Scratch is peopled with lively small-town heroes. You’ll meet a chainsaw artist in her seventies. (Because really, isn’t it time American literature boasted a strong, chainsaw-wielding older woman?) And you’ll meet Ingrid, a young girl scheming to get to know world-famous TV chef Polly Pinch, coquettish star of a hit cooking show. You’ll meet other characters too.

Marisa de los Santos, bestselling author of Love Walked In offered early praise:

“This story of a young widow edging warily back into the world is full of vivid characters and grace. Imbued with hope but blessedly lacking in sentimentality, it is a fresh, stirring take on the devastation of grief and the holiness of friendship.”

And the buzz of anticipation for the book began.

While more Praise is offered, the REAL treat is an Excerpt of Simply from Scratch Chapter 1 in its entirety!

That first chapter introduces many of the storyline’s characters, while leaving the reader with a variety of unanswered questions. It’s not meant to confuse but to pique interest as the author deftly withholds telling backstory details all at once. Instead she scatters bits of information like breadcrumbs to keep the reader following and engaged.

On the other hand, there may be one character who “knows” almost everything from the start. In response to an interview question (posed by a chain bookstore in Germany) — What is the role of the non-human character, the greyhound, Captain Ahab? –, Alicia answered in the July 21, 2010 post, Knowing things:

Greyhounds are a little bit odd. They’re different than other dogs. Their affection is subtle; their presence is calm and cool; and they have many quirks (they rarely sit, for example).

Like her dog, the grieving narrator of Simply from Scratch is a little … different! An artist, Zell “feels” the world more intensely than most people. She’s got her fair share of quirks too: talking to Ahab in pirate-speak; composing emails to Nick, her deceased husband. Captain Ahab’s reserved yet quirky personality underscores that of Zell.

Many people who feel a bond with animals will tell you that animals know things. They know when their people are hurting. They know when there’s celebration in the air.

Captain Ahab joins literature’s many animal characters that serve to remind us of intuition, of inner-knowing, of keen perception. In the very first scene of Simply from Scratch, Ahab looks on as Zell discovers a present hidden in her oven, a gift Nick intended to give to her. Not emotionally ready to open it, Zell hides the present away, until the end of the book.

But I think part of her knows all along what’s in that box. Some readers might know it, too.”

Knowing what’s in the box (I didn’t) or any other of these characters’ unspoken truths doesn’t matter. In fact it’s part of the enjoyment of getting to know the town that Alicia has created. A cross between two brilliantly written TV shows, “Northern Exposure” and “Men in Trees,” Simply from Scratch offers a comfort zone despite having grief, guilt, and a general feeling of indecision exist within its pages. Yet even as Zell mourns — as does everyone else –, there is hope. Why? Well they all must deal with the loss of a husband or friend and start over, simply from scratch.

Charming, thoughtful, and heartfelt, this debut novel gathers seemingly unrelated, significant details together to create a tale that’s both tender and true. But how did the author transform fictional quirky characters and events into what could pass for a realistic human interest story? Alicia explains:

I’m not sure how they all came together. When you’re working on a book, you devote so many hours and an unthinkable amount of thought (!) to it. After a while, all the random little pieces of your story — events, details, characters and what they want — all these things start to synthesize, start to make even more sense than you realized. I hesitate to use the word “magic” in conjunction with the writing process, and I don’t want to sound flaky … and yet, I do believe that when you’re writing, you’re in a very receptive state, and at some point, subconscious takes over, or some kind of inner awareness — perhaps the magic of creation? — and it guides you in drawing connections.

Simply from Scratch connects on all levels, including the double entendre of its title. Alicia Bessette’s “magic of creation” is present on every page and in every character, none of whom you will soon forget. Treat yourself to this warm-hearted novel and enjoy!

Book Giveaway: The Divining Wand is giving away one copy of Alicia Bessette’s Simply from Scratch in a random drawing to anyone who comments only on this specific post. Comments left on other posts during the week will not be eligible. The deadline is Wednesday, August 4, 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.