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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.

Kristina McMorris and Letters from Home

February 21, 2011 By: larramiefg Category: Book Presentations, Books


From the age of nine, Kristina McMorris has been a successful actress, TV show host, entrepreneur, and public relations expert but tomorrow she embraces the role of debut novelist with the launch of her historical fiction, WWII saga, Letters From Home.

Inspired by the discovery of her grandfather’s courtship letters to Grandma Jean during WWII (see Tales of the Past), Kristina soon began to ask “what if?” the couple’s relationship through their correspondence had been based on deceit. And, simply put, that is the backstory for the novel which honors the author’s grandparents as well as all the other brave, unsung heroes of the Greatest Generation.

Here is the synopsis of Letters from Home:

Chicago, 1944. Liz Stephens has little interest in attending a USO club dance with her friends Betty and Julia. She doesn’t need a flirtation with a lonely serviceman when she’s set to marry her childhood sweetheart. Yet something happens the moment Liz glimpses Morgan McClain. They share only a brief conversation – cut short by the soldier’s evident interest in Betty – but Liz can’t forget him. Thus, when Betty asks her to ghostwrite a letter to Morgan, stationed overseas, Liz reluctantly agrees.

Thousands of miles away, Morgan struggles to adjust to the brutality of war. His letters from “Betty” are a comfort, their soul-baring correspondence a revelation to them both. While Liz is torn by her feelings for a man who doesn’t know her true identity, Betty and Julia each become immersed in their own romantic entanglements. And as the war draws to a close, all three will face heart-wrenching choices, painful losses, and the bittersweet joy of new beginnings.

Now watch and listen to Kristina explain and describe her storyline:

In addition to providing an Excerpt from Letters from Home Chapter One, the author also shares a few of her grandfather’s original letters in Mail Call.

The Raves & Reviews have been wonderful and include:

“Ambitious and compelling…[a] sweeping debut.”__Publishers Weekly

Yet the true testament to this book’s advance success can be viewed by its growing sales of global rights, book club rights sold to Doubleday and Reader’s Digest, film rights being shopped by the prestigious Creative Artists Agency of Los Angeles, and the book’s spotlight in the current issue of Woman’s Day magazine.

What is it about this novel that offers a universal appeal? Perhaps the love story depicted through intimate correspondence, the human triumphs and tragedies of a war fought to end all wars, a connection to what most of our grandparents lived through, the consequences of deceit, and the stirrings of women’s independence on the homefront and even close to the frontlines.

Of course more than likely it’s a combination of all these storyline elements bound together by the author’s distinctive and elegant writing style. The word “lovely” has been used often to describe Letters from Home and Kristina’s choice of words/phrasing are quite lovely. Her style lends itself, in its measured tones, to the characters’ voices, emotions, and behavior. After all much more privacy prevailed then than it does now in casual, contemporary times. Also the mere fact that this debut novelist is paying homage to a generation, being lost to attrition and barely mentioned in public school history classes, is a love letter of its own.

Admitting she previously had not been an avid fiction reader, The Divining Wand asked the author how she became a fiction writer? And she explained:

“I’ve learned the most from simply writing and revising. Fellow authors were kind enough to offer critiques, as well as many contest judges. And, of course, I discovered the magic of reading. I also applied a great deal of what I learned from years of acting, including character arcs, scene elements, and plot points. When it comes to developing goals, motivation, and conflict, there is very little difference between a scene on stage and one in a book.”

Interesting how two creative processes are similar, isn’t it? And why it’s not surprising to discover that, since Kristina initially envisioned the story as a movie, the storyline played out in her head and she wrote from there. In fact she details the experience:

“The story came to me like a movie while I was walking on the treadmill one day. Once I hopped off, I jotted down an outline, describing the scenes/chapters in a sentence or two, from beginning to end. Additional story lines for the secondary characters, namely Julia and Betty, evolved in later drafts, but the final scene I first envisioned–even one of the last dialogue lines–remains the same in the finished book.”

While loss of innocence is a major theme of the novel, so too are sacrifice, the search for inner strength, and the journey toward a woman’s ability to make her own choices. The reality of war causes the novel to have less than an “happily ever after” ending for all the characters, however these characters do share the book’s message — appearances can be deceiving. And, from the first page to the last, the reader discovers that every character is not who they first seemed to be.

Of course, as has been noted, this is also a tribute to all the men and women of the World War II generation, and — on a personal level — Kristina’s Grandma Jean. The Divining Wand asked the author if she had achieved “favorite grandchild” status for writing the book and Kristina said:

“Grandma Jean is definitely tickled, but I admit, she tends to be very even keeled about anything you toss her way. She did, after all, survive the rigors of a childhood on the farm, the Great Depression, and a world war. That said, she’s one of the sweetest, strongest, most loving, and most gracious women I’ve ever known. I absolutely adore her, and am honored to call her my grandmother. So I’m especially excited that she’ll be attending my official book launch event at Barnes & Noble to meet attendees and even sign some copies.” 🙂

How lovely! And how generous is the fact that a portion of sales proceeds will benefit United Through Reading®, a nonprofit organization that video records deployed U.S. military personnel reading bedtime stories for their children.

Letters From Home will be available in bookstores and through online retailers tomorrow. A multi-generational read, it’s a remembrance of gratitude owed to the past — a most lovely, entertaining reminder.

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[For the third consecutive week in a row Eleanor Brown (The Weird Sisters) and Caroline Leavtitt (Pictures of You) are on The New York Times Bestseller List. To meet these authors when they hit the road again in early March and throughout the spring, please check Eleanor’s Events and Caroline’s Appearances (scroll down the page). ]

Book Giveaway: The Divining Wand is giving away two copies of Kristina McMorris’s Letters from Home 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 23, 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.

Eileen Cook and
The Education of Hailey Kendrick

January 03, 2011 By: larramiefg Category: Book Presentations, Books


If one subscribes to the adage that “a picture is worth a thousand words,” then the cover of Eileen Cook’s (Unpredictable, What Would Emma Do? YA, Getting Revenge on Lauren Wood YA, and Fourth Grade Fairy ages 9 – 11 coming April 19, 2011) latest YA novel, The Education of Hailey Kendrick, releasing tomorrow January 4, 2010, says it all. Cover girl Hailey’s bubble is about to burst!

In a most engaging and relevant storyline, the author found inspiration in the classic novel The Scarlet Letter and its question of what happens when ostracized from your community you are forced to stand alone to discover who you really are? Of course there would be widespread repercussions as Eileen noted, “…how common it is for us to describe ourselves in relationship to other people. “‘I’m so-and-so’s daughter/sister/wife/friend'” and how our view of self can go through huge change when the people in our lives change.

“I wanted to write about a character who believed in playing it safe and felt she knew her place in the world and then suddenly finds that world turned upside down. How far would she go to get that life back and would she even want it back?”

In other words, as the tagline on the front cover states: Sometimes what you don’t know is everything.

This becomes Hailey Kendrick’s education and personal journey as the novel’s synopsis explains:

Hailey Kendrick always does exactly what’s expected of her. She has the right friends, dates the perfect boy, gets good grades, and follows all the rules. But one night, Hailey risks everything by breaking a very big rule in a very public way…and with a very unexpected partner in crime. Hailey gets caught, but her accomplice does not, and Hailey takes the fall for both of them.

Suddenly, Hailey’s perfect life — and her reputation–are blowing up in her face. Her friends are all avoiding her. Her teachers don’t trust her. Her boyfriend won’t even speak to her for long enough to tell her that she’s been dumped.

They say honesty is the best policy–but some secrets are worth keeping, no matter the cost. Or are they?

Hailey is the “perfect” character to root for, just read how the literary trade reviews sing her praises:

“.. enormously appealing and great company throughout this breezy read…..the highest quality—like a gourmet truffle. Cook has whipped up a real treat.” Kirkus Starred Review

“Cook coaxes considerable empathy for the otherwise privileged Hailey as she abandons the achievement treadmill to explore her independence.” Publishers Weekly

Now here’s your opportunity to meet Hailey through an Excerpt of Chapter 1.

Without question Eileen is loved by many (see My Christmas Greeting to Eileen Cook) and respected by even more because of her warmth, generosity and basic, universal values. While the latter may not sound exciting or alluring, the author’s talent makes it so. For example The Education of Hailey Kendrick offers up themes and messages galore, including accepting responsibility for mistakes. That’s a life lesson for anyone, at any age, to learn and The Divining Wand asked the author how important it was to showcase that in Hailey’s education? And Eileen said:

“Character and integrity were a big issues in my family growing up. There were few things you could do that were worse than giving your word to someone and then breaking it. I wanted to write about a character who had a clearly defined sense of right and wrong. Hailey does something wrong in the beginning of the novel, regrets it and spends a good portion of the rest of the book trying to figure out how to make things right- versus making the situation worse.

“There are no easy answers to difficult questions. Like most of us Hailey wants to do the right thing, but isn’t always sure what that would be. Doing the right thing isn’t a one time choice- it is a lifetime of choosing and when you fail, choosing better the next time.”

Adults would naturally agree with this, but what about YA readers?

Well here is part of a November 23, 2010 Review posted by YA Book Nuts, Lori and Melissa:

“It also seemed that every time that Hailey tried to do the right thing somehow it always backfired on her and she would add to her problems instead of solving them. (I think I identified with this so much because I do it all of the time.)

“Needless to say, I really liked this book! It is the perfect choice for a quick read that makes you laugh and think at the same time. I can’t wait to see when Eileen Cook’s next book comes out…”

Aha, what lovely words and even better insight into teens who do indeed identify with Hailey’s predicament. Also there’s the acknowledgement of laughing and thinking at the same time. It’s a wining combination yet one I puzzled over, questioning how Eileen managed to raise major issues, successfully deal with them, and move the storyline forward while keeping “Hailey” fun as well as profound. And, may it be noted, there is not a whiff of preachy involved.

So what is this author’s secret, how does she write about serious matters and still entertain? According to Eileen, most writers have a gift in a particular area by either writing amazing description, dialogue, pacing and action, or bringing out emotions. However her personal gift is, “being the class clown.” As she further explains:

“I’ve always been “‘the funny one.'” (And I mean funny as in ha-ha versus funny weird.) When I write I have a hard time keeping the funny out. What I want to do as a writer is to meld the funny with serious and make a book that can both make someone laugh and think at the same time. I believe that many difficult issues are easier to consider if they are served up with a sense of humour. Humour can take the edge off and allow you to get closer. I think with each book I write I’m getting better at blending the funny with the serious. Writing really is a craft, I feel there is still so much for me to learn.

Yet within the pages of The Education of Hailey Kendrick, the author — in her very best book yet — provides wisdom for fans of all ages. Please join Hailey in her life’s education, share the book with a teen, and together you’re likely to discover/remember how delightful and good each day can be!

Book Giveaway: The Divining Wand is giving away two copies of Eileen Cook’s The Education of Hailey Kendrick 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, January 5, 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.