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.

* * * * *

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.

Alice Eve Cohen and What I Thought I Knew

December 06, 2010 By: larramiefg Category: Book Presentations, Books

As a playwright, solo theater artist, writer for Nickelodeon and PBS, multi-talented Alice Eve Cohen has been honored with fellowships and grants from the New York State Council on the Arts and the National Endowment for the Arts. She also teaches at The New School in New York City and one would believe Alice knows a lot. And that was true until 1999 when her body turned everything she thought she knew to be true into falsehoods and unknowns. Seven years later Alice was finally able to apply her creative talent to sharing this very personal journey in What I Thought I Knew: A Memoir.

Anne Lamott, Salon.com BEST BOOKS OF 2009: “Everything we love in a book — profound, honest, hilarious, humane, surprising.”

Here is a brief introduction/description to What I Thought I Knew:

A personal and medical odyssey beyond anything most women would believe possible

At age forty-four, Alice Eve Cohen was happy for the first time in years. After a difficult divorce, she was engaged to an inspiring man, joyfully raising her adopted daughter, and her career was blossoming. Alice tells her fiancé that she’s never been happier. And then the stomach pains begin.

In her unflinchingly honest and ruefully witty voice, Alice nimbly carries us through her metamorphosis from a woman who has come to terms with infertility to one who struggles to love a heartbeat found in her womb – six months into a high-risk pregnancy.

In What I Thought I Knew, Cohen has applied her theatrical sensibility to create a page turning thriller of a memoir. Cohen’s journey through a broken healthcare system and the farthest reaches of her own spiritual faith is laden with memorable characters and surprising twists and turns. A powerful story with an endearingly honest heroine, and rich insights into family relationships, What I Thought I Knew is timely, compelling, and utterly unforgettable.

Timely? The memoir debuted in Summer 2009 when Alice appeared on CBS’ The Early Show, detailing more of her story while answering Harry Smith’s questions. Please watch this interview:(If the video does not appear on your monitor, please watch the video here.)

Now it’s your time to read a brief Excerpt from What I Thought I Knew, courtesy NYT Books.

The element of time — its pressures and consequences — play a major character role in this remarkable story. Writing in a November 11, 2010 Guest Post: Infertil-i(denti)ty by Alice Eve Cohen for Bless Their Hearts Mom blog, the author explains:

“My crazy quilt journey with infertility began before I was born. When I was twenty, I learned that I might be infertile, a result of my exposure to DES—the anti-miscarriage drug my mother took when she was pregnant with me. Uncertainty about my fertility became part of my identity.

In my early thirties, I wanted to have a baby, but my fertility doctor confirmed my fears. “’Your estrogen level is so low that you couldn’t possibly get pregnant. And you should NEVER attempt to become pregnant with fertility drugs! With your small, deformed uterus, there’s no way you could carry a baby past six months.’” He added, “The good news, Alice—You’ll never have to use birth control again!’”

No garden-variety infertility, mine was super-deluxe, intervention-proof, and absolute. My identity as an infertile woman was lodged impermeably in my consciousness. On the bright side, this level of certainty made it easy to decide to adopt.”

Less than tactful as well as wrong, this doctor is the first of many the reader meets while accompanying Alice through her journey to find medical truths. Yes, the names have been changed to protect them all for as Alice says:

“There are good guys and bad guys in my story, from all corners of the healthcare system. My health insurance company was woefully inadequate, and some doctors made idiotic mistakes. But I also encountered brilliant doctors and therapists who were selflessly dedicated to their patients.”

Of course it took time for the author to rationally reflect on what happened to her and this writing of What I Thought I Knew helped to sort out and work through a period of life that was both confusing and troubling. And, although staging the story (as a major performance) in her theater artist role was unthinkable, the playwright did structure her memoir by writing it in three acts with each act divided into scenes. The dialogue reveals action in the scenes, and the reflective narration throughout the book works much the same as solo theater monologue. The result is an intimacy and immediacy to literally everything Alice endures. However, since its similar to theater, the experience is absolutely entertaining.

In other words there’s nothing to fear about this story. Reading it will prove fascinating, frustrating, startling, poignant, sweet, bittersweet, and humorous. That’s correct, be prepared to laugh out loud at the ridiculous absurdity of it all. And, not to worry, about laughing at Alice’s troubles and trials for now she even encourages others to laugh as well as ponder.

What I Thought I Knew Video:

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

What Alice Eve Cohen knows now is that her book holds a universal message for anybody who’s experienced difficult times, and that includes almost everyone. She also knows:

“I’m fortunate that our family crisis and our new understandings that came out of it did ultimately make us stronger. There were times in my journey when I feared for my daughter’s life and for my own. Somehow, my family, my marriage, my children and I all survived and thrived, despite (or maybe because of) the storm we weathered together.”

What The Divining Wand knows about What I Thought I Knew: A Memoir is that it’s a timely book for the season. After all, in this holiday season of miracles, could there be a better, more triumphant story than this miracle of eleven years ago? Yes Elianna celebrates her eleventh birthday next Monday, December 13th. Celebrate that joy by reading — as well as gifting — her journey to birth and beyond told through her mother’s despair, confusion, hope, and everlasting love!

Book Giveaway: The Divining Wand is giving away two copies of Alice Eve Cohen’s What I Thought I Knew: A Memoir 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, December 8, 2010 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.

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.

Kristina Riggle and The Life You’ve Imagined

August 16, 2010 By: larramiefg Category: Book Presentations, Books


In the follow up to her successful debut of Real Life & Liars, Kristina Riggle presents us with another thoughtful, touching, bittersweet read — The Life You’ve Imagined, releasing tomorrow, August 17, 2010. This second book also proves that the author’s natural gift is her talent to write a quiet little novel that whispers, nudges, and reminds how much of life is filled with hope.

However the irony is that the idea for this storyline came out of Kristina’s seemingly lack of hope, as she explains:

“Really the story was inspired by my eroding naivete about how the world works. I used to believe — as I think many young National Honor Society types do — that the world is a meritocracy and if I just work hard enough, rewards and happiness will automatically come to me. This is definitely true for the Anna character, who can’t quite believe that she’s at the cusp of achieving everything she’s ever wanted, yet the envisioned happiness is not there.”

As for the title, it’s a line taken from the following quote:

Go confidently in the direction of your dreams! Live the live you’ve imagined. As you simplify your life, the laws of the universe will be simpler. __Henry David Thoreau

Yet, according to the author, “the quote was almost an afterthought, just a piece of scenery. As the novel evolved, the notion of an imagined life being sharply different from reality came into focus and I realized that was the perfect title.”

The quote and its dream for future happiness also provides the link to three childhood friends unexpectedly reunited one summer, all still searching for their dream of happiness.

Here’s the novel’s Synopsis:

Are you living the life you imagined? Is there anything you’d have done differently if you could? Those are the questions asked in Kristina Riggle’s unforgettable new novel.

In high school, Cami and Anna were as close as they could be…now, years later, both have returned to their hometown to face the people they had once left behind. Anna must confront her mother, still distraught over the abandonment of her husband, and come to terms with choices she had made years before. While Cami returns home to stay with her alcoholic father, she uncovers a secret he sought to keep which could change her life and salvage her future. They reconnect with their classmate, Amy, who can’t understand why achieving the thin body and handsome man of her dreams hasn’t given her the happily-ever-after she desired. This is a novel that digs deep and touches the heart of the issues so many women face-the quest for perfection, the hope of love, the value of family and importance of always striving for your dream.

Selected by independent booksellers as an IndieNext “Notable” Pick for September 2010 The Life You’ve Imagined has also earned Praise from the author’s notable peers.

And HarperCollins offers a special bonus to those readers who Browse Inside the book. There are 54 pages available for your reading pleasure….certainly much more than one would imagine!

Kristina writes in the same format she used in Real Life & Liars, rotating first person narrators to place the reader into the mindset and physical space of her four main characters. Bound by their small town background of growing up in fictional Haven, Michigan, the personal issues that each must resolve in order to achieve her dreams are universal problems for anyone, anywhere.

These women have dreams that they’ve tried to achieve, but their efforts have not necessarily lead to happiness. Instead such personal control has created more stress and disappointment, blurring the truth of what they really desire. After all wishes made during adolescence usually change with maturity, opportunity, and the confidence to let go, allowing life to happen.

Perhaps it’s that confidence these characters seek from their hometown reunion. The author’s description/depiction of fictional Haven, Michigan is truly stunning. And the Nee Nance Store, the dying family business that connects them all (see Guest Kristina Riggle on All in the Family), could not be a better example of the confidence needed to know when to let go of a dying dream and then move on.

But what about the author, is she living the life she imagined?

Kristina says, “No! And I’m glad. I imagined myself by this point sailing along in my career as a newspaper reporter, well on my way to becoming editor of a large urban daily. Novel writing was a vague aspiration for some undefined “‘someday.'” I always envisioned myself a hardcore career woman who would “‘do it all.'” I’m still a career woman, but the career is different, and my definition of success more fluid and flexible. I no longer try to predict my life many years ahead, and when I do imagine the future, it’s more in terms of family and home rather than jobs and money. Also, the older I get the more aware I am that it’s all so fragile. I’m happy that my family and I are healthy right now, today. And I’m awfully glad that my “‘someday novel'” came sooner rather than later, because who knows what later will bring?”

Readers/fans of Kristina Riggle are also glad her life didn’t turn out as imagined since The Life You’ve Imagined — the second “someday novel” — is available now, tomorrow, rather than later. Enjoy!

Book Giveaway: The Divining Wand is giving away two copies of Kristina Riggle’s The Life You’ve Imagined 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, August 18, 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 possibly claim your book.