The Divining Wand

Discovering authors beyond their pages…

Meg Mitchell Moore and The Arrivals

May 23, 2011 By: larramiefg Category: Book Presentations, Books

In her debut novel, The Arrivals available this Wednesday, May 25, 2011, Meg Mitchell Moore writes in the genre of a “quiet little novel” focused on everyday people leading everyday lives. Except if that book is based on a three generation family all living together in one household for the summer — and this book is –, then the storyline may not be that quiet.

Ironically the idea for The Arrivals came from the upheaval of the first novel Meg began to write. Halfway through that work-in-progress, realizing it wasn’t working for her at all, she salvaged some characters and their relationships to use in an entirely new book that would become the debut. However the themes of grandparents, and adult children leaning on their parents remained — albeit with a fresh tone and more relevant problems consistent with each generation.

Mother and first-born daughter, along with her own three-year old daughter and infant son, formed the initial relationships and then the rest of the family joined the fray that evolved into this synopsis for The Arrivals:

It’s early summer when Ginny and William’s peaceful life in Burlington, Vermont, comes to an abrupt halt.

First, their daughter Lillian arrives, two children in tow, to escape her crumbling marriage. Next, their son Stephen and his pregnant wife Jane show up for a weekend visit, which extends indefinitely. When their youngest daughter Rachel appears, fleeing her difficult life in New York, Ginny and William find themselves consumed again by the chaos of parenthood—only this time around, their children are facing adult problems.

By summer’s end, the family gains new ideas of loyalty and responsibility, exposing the challenges of surviving the modern family — and the old adage, once a parent, always a parent, has never rung so true.

While the adage rings true, so does the Praise.

One of the reasons for Meg Mitchell Moore’s success with this novel is in her ability to show, rather than tell. The family members — introduced with good pacing — are defined/described/identified primarily by their dialogue and behavior. Yes, for each character’s present problem, there is a backstory as explanation, yet not a detailed one. There’s just enough information given to pique readers’ curiosity to wonder what will they do next? And, because there are five adults and two small children living in the house, the struggles, reactions and dynamics are constantly changing. As a result, this is a natural page-turner exploring how individual crises affect the family as a whole.

However don’t expect The Arrivals to feature a dysfunctional family — i.e. one that implodes in ager and blame at the dinner table. For the most part, the adult children keep their problems private until they need to ask for help. Coming home is their safe haven, a place of comfort, temporary escape and where they know their parents will care for them.

As parents Ginny and William are loving and accepting, even avoiding prying into their childrens’ problems. But they do have their limits and feeling overwhelmed by the disorder that their children and grandchildren create inevitably tries their patience. So, in addition to the obvious theme of once a parent always a parent, there’s also: Coming home reverts even an adult to his/her childhood self. The author, agreeing with this observation, says:

“It’s so true! I recently wrote a guest blog post about things NOT to do when bringing your young children to your parents’ home, and most of the items on the list are things I have done. I leave things lying around at my parents’ house that I would never leave around at my own house. It’s completely obnoxious of me, and I think it’s very common too: you go home, you want to be taken care of, no matter how old you are.”

On the other hand, Meg’s description of family/home also holds the book’s message:

“Home is a rest stop on the highway of life. It shouldn’t be the final destination.”

She proves this with an insightful clarity to variations of timeless family problems, including the question of how best to raise children. Stay-at-home Mom, stay-at-home Dad, or something to accommodate both parents’ careers? Nurturing/caring with love is essential, but so is the need to foster independence and allow the children to one day be able to leave home for good.

When asked, though, what would she like readers to know most about The Arrivals, Meg Mitchell Moore said:

“I love these characters. I know they are flawed, and I know they’ve made mistakes. (They wouldn’t be very interesting if they were perfect.) The cover of the Australian edition, which is a fantastic depiction of a crowded toothbrush holder, says that the book will make you “’laugh, cry…and want to phone home.’” I think that’s very apt. I hope at least some readers feel that way when they close the book.”

And what this Fairy Godmother would like readers to know most about The Arrivals: It is a lovingly honest, and engagingly thoughtful story of how a family — of all ages — comes together with universal love.

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Book Giveaway: The Divining Wand is giving away one copy of The Arrivals by Meg Mitchell Moore 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 25, 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.

Chandra Hoffman and Chosen

November 08, 2010 By: larramiefg Category: Book Presentations, Books

Having been an orphanage relief worker in Romania, and the director of a US adoption program in Portland, Oregon, Chandra Hoffman writes what she knows in her debut novel, Chosen. However as the author says, “The story is fiction–but the themes are real, from my own life, from the message boards, from those I have been privileged to witness, and, maybe, even from yours….”

With the domestic adoption scene of Portland as a backdrop — and also taking on a character role of its own –, Chosen focuses on the two complex questions of What happens when you get what you thought you wanted and How far would you go if it might not be what you want anymore? Rather than the musings of “what if”s?” these questions can only be answered by actions and, to do this, Chandra introduces the reader to characters with multiple points of view. In fact being able to hear divergent voices is a major part of her writing as she explains:

“It’s critical to be able to tune into your characters’ unique voices and the easiest way for me to do that is to figure out how they sound out loud. Dialogue is the most natural part of writing to me; once I know how someone sounds, I can get inside their heads and hear how they speak to themselves, eavesdrop on the thoughts tumbling around in their mind before they fall asleep.”

As a result the book offers many sides of the adoption story from a green, idealistic social worker, a grieving birth father, one potential adoptive father, and a nervous single mother. What they want, or think they want, evolve and come together to create the Chosen storyline and following synopsis:

In the spirit of Jodi Picoult and Anna Quindlen, CHOSEN features a young caseworker increasingly entangled in the lives of the adoptive and birth parents she represents, and who faces life-altering choices when an extortion attempt goes horribly wrong.

It all begins with a fantasy: the caseworker in her “signing paperwork” charcoal suit, paired with beaming parents cradling their adopted newborn, against a fluorescent-lit delivery room backdrop. It’s this blissful picture that keeps Chloe Pinter, director of The Chosen Child’s domestic adoption program, happy juggling the high demands of her boss and the incessant needs of parents on both sides.

But the job that offers Chloe refuge from her turbulent personal life and Portland’s winter rains soon becomes a battleground itself involving three very different couples: the Novas, college sweethearts who suffered fertility problems but are now expecting their own baby; the McAdoos, a wealthy husband and desperate wife for whom adoption is a last chance; and Jason and Penny, an impoverished couple who have nothing-except the baby everyone wants. When a child goes missing, dreams dissolve into nightmares, and everyone is forced to examine what they really want and where it all went wrong.

Told from alternating points of view, Chosen reveals the desperate nature of desire across social backgrounds and how far people will go to get the one thing they think will be the answer.

Now please take a minute to view the haunting CHOSEN Book Trailer.

From this critical trade review:

“Gripping. . . . A heartfelt story well told.” (Kirkus Reviews)

To a fellow author’s praise:

“Chandra Hoffman’s CHOSEN is a finely tuned page-turner. With unwavering clarity and genuine empathy born of experience, Hoffman turns the spotlight on her so-real characters, exposing the raw edges of their love and longing and fears. There is no perfect happiness here; instead, there is the unexpected grace of discovering that getting what we want is so often less ideal than wanting what we get. This is an outstanding debut.” – Therese Fowler, author of REUNION AND SOUVENIR

The above opinions confirm that Chandra has captured the human, flawed, and sympathetic side of adoption, along with the darker business aspect of it as well. For in truth, with every adoptive birth, there will be someone going home empty-handed. Like the author’s personal goal while working in the adoption field, the novel’s social worker Chloe Pinter works to create families and happy endings. Yet is that realistically possible? Since adoption is not always the perfect or even correct solution for the adults involved, where does this leave the baby?

Reading Chosen was a reminder of how wanting something too much never quite fulfills expectations whenever it comes one’s way. Nor can happiness be bought, and parenthood is anything but a cooing, sweet baby. Although this work is fiction, it’s based on the reality of Chandra’s experiences and that knowledge is discomforting at best even in minor revelations. For example hopeful, potential adoptive parents are attached to their phones 24/7, either waiting for the phone call that a birth mother has chosen to give them her baby or a call to get to the hospital because their baby is being born. Then there’s another possible call — the one that says the birth mother has changed her mind.

While the adoption issues alone are compelling, Chandra added an extortion storyline to drive the plot and create what has been described as a thriller. Still she believes that “the heart of Chosen is new parenthood, and how people resolve that disparity between perception and reality.” Whether giving birth to or adopting a baby, there’s unbridled joy mixed with disillusionment when confronting the challenges another life holds. It’s not easy either way and, knowing this, the author brings forth the questions of: How does parenthood change you? What happens when your expectations of parenthood are so far from the reality? What makes a good parent? A good person? And what happens when you get what you thought you wanted (but it’s not what you signed up for)?

Chandra Hoffman’s Chosen is a brilliantly written tale that offers fairness to all parts of this emotional equation and may leave a reader wondering just who is being “chosen?” For adoption is complicated and it takes courage to choose….whatever is best for everyone involved.

Book Giveaway: The Divining Wand is giving away a copy of Chandra Hoffman’s Chosen 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, November 10, 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.


Announcement: The winners of a signed copy of Thaisa Frank’s Heidegger’s Glasses are Suzanne and Sue Kaliski. Congratulations!

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

Leah Stewart and Husband and Wife

September 13, 2010 By: larramiefg Category: Book Presentations, Books

As both a writer and a reader Leah Stewart (The Myth of You and Me, Body of a Girl) requires that a book offers engagement on an emotional level and, in her third novel — Husband and Wife, released in May — she provides cause for such a response.

The fact that this story is based on detailed, personal emotions undoubtedly led to the interview question, “…is your work autobiographical?” in LEAH LETS LOOSE on SHEKNOWS Entertainment. There the author answered:

“I’m a believer in writing from emotional truth but not necessarily literal truth. In other words I have to put my characters in situations where I’ll understand what they feel, and to do that I mix elements of my own life with details from other people’s lives and add a healthy dose of stuff I made up.”

Leah began writing Husband and Wife when her daughter was three and her son was seven months old. Motherhood, and how it affects your self, and your marriage were the subjects on her mind yet the daily mothering routine isn’t very interesting without a conflict. That’s when she chose infidelity to throw her husband and wife characters into crisis mode. According to the author’s belief, “Nothing causes you to examine a bond like a betrayal of it.”

And, though infidelity/adultery may be one of the oldest stories, this novel takes a more contemporary, insightful look at it by asking how people change when they become adults, mates and eventually parents. Here is the synopsis:

Sarah Price is thirty-five years old. She doesn’t feel as though she’s getting older, but there are some noticeable changes: a hangover after two beers, the stray gray hair, and, most of all, she’s called “Mom” by two small children. Always responsible, Sarah traded her MFA for a steady job, which allows her husband, Nathan, to write fiction. But Sarah is happy and she believes Nathan is too, until a truth is revealed: Nathan’s upcoming novel, Infidelity, is based in fact.

Suddenly Sarah’s world is turned upside down. Adding to her confusion, Nathan abdicates responsibility for the fate of their relationship and of his novel’s publication—a financial lifesaver they have been depending upon—leaving both in Sarah’s hands. Reeling from his betrayal, she is plagued by dark questions. How well does she really know Nathan? And, more important, how well does she know herself?

For answers, Sarah looks back to her artistic twenty-something self to try to understand what happened to her dreams. When did it all seem to change? Pushed from her complacent plateau, Sarah begins to act—for the first time not so responsibly—on all the things she has let go of for so long: her blank computer screen; her best friend, Helen; the volumes of Proust on her bookshelf. And then there is that e-mail in her inbox: a note from Rajiv, a beautiful man from her past who once tempted her to stray. The struggle to find which version of herself is the essential one—artist, wife, or mother—takes Sarah hundreds of miles away from her marriage on a surprising journey.

Wise, funny, and sharply drawn, Leah Stewart’s Husband and Wife probes our deepest relationships, the promises we make and break, and the consequences they hold for our lives, revealing that it’s never too late to step back and start over.

Thanks to HarperCollins Chapters 1 – 4 are available for reading from the Browse Inside site. By taking advantage of this reading opportunity, you’ll discover that the author wastes no time in presenting the crisis. On page 6 Nathan implies his transgression and, on the following page, he tells Sarah: “I cheated on you.” There’s no hedging, he was unfaithful and so begins the story of “what now?” rather than “what if?” for husband and wife.

However, despite the “couple” title, the book is Sarah’s story of her journey to stay in the marriage or go off on her own. Not only does Leah Stewart explore the devastating effects of marital betrayal, she also focuses on the modern woman, complete with career, who has not been raised to believe in preserving a marriage at all costs. On the other hand, there is more than being financially capable of letting go. There are the perceptions of how others will regard/judge her ultimate choice.

As a result of the crisis in her marriage comes a crisis of self. Interestingly enough this isn’t based on Sarah’s physical attractiveness (though there’s mention of a need to shed more pounds of baby fat), but the real concern focuses on her artistic, intellectual attractiveness. Her identity as a poet and Nathan, the aspiring novelist, brought them together in grad school where — in truth — dreams feel as though they’re out there waiting. Except, of course, not everyone grabs the brass ring of success. After being together for ten years, and married for the last four, Nathan’s success and Sarah’s role of working mother has shifted the dynamics of their relationship. Is Sarah aware of how much they’ve changed? Is she consciously jealous of Nathan? Does she still care enough about artistic dreams to seek time to work for them?

The irony of this literary husband and wife is their failure at communicating with each other. Or does being writers limit them to expressing themselves only on paper? Even Nathan’s admission of guilt has Sarah refusing to talk to her husband, instead telling him to leave without any thought of how to live/cope without him. Impulsive, eyebrow-raising action given there are young children to care for. And while the overwhelming pain of lost trust — perhaps even lost love — is understood, irresponsibility is not.

Leah Stewart writes an all-to-honest portrait of a couple who, despite having a family, easily grow apart. Her characters are flawed, selfish and not always likable, yet are they merely victims of a modern society that encourages whims of personal gratification? Can their marriage and family be saved?

In Husband and Wife, the future lies in the wife’s hands. After all she has come-of-age as an adult and must now face the responsibility of her ever-changing roles, including “To have and to hold, for better – for worse….”

Book Giveaway: The Divining Wand is giving away a copy of Leah Stewart’s Husband and Wife in a random drawing of comments left only on this specific post. Comments left on other posts during the week will not be eligible. The deadline is Wednesday, September 15, 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 see if you’re a winner.

Julie Buxbaum and After You

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.