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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!

* * * * *

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.

Darien Gee and Friendship Bread

April 04, 2011 By: larramiefg Category: Book Presentations, Books


How appropriate for Darien Gee aka Mia King (Good Things, Sweet Life, Table Manners) to write the novel, Friendship Bread, with her given name. For the truth is — as Darien’s guest post, The Book That Inspired a Novel, — explains this story is a personal gift, literally growing out of an Amish Friendship Bread starter kit from her daughter.

And, like the division of the starter kits, the novel took on a life of its own. Darien recalls: “As I was finishing the last piece [of the bread], I saw a woman in my mind who was reluctantly holding up a bag of the starter, regarding it with a frown. I didn’t know where she had gotten the starter but one thing was clear—she was enveloped in sadness, stuck in the day-to-day motions that mimicked life when in fact she hadn’t felt alive in years. I knew right then that I wanted to find out more, and I started writing that night.”

As the main character of Julia appeared to tell her story so, too, did all the other characters/residents of small town Avalon. In fact, when the author began writing, she didn’t know the cause of her character’s sadness. But as the story unfolded Darien realized that Julia and her sister were estranged, and that her son’s death was the reason why. Her reaction? “I felt a shock and sadness as if I were hearing the news from a friend—I experienced a kind of disbelief, a how-could-this-happen sort of response. I did think about my kids during this time, but as a writer I had to keep writing and follow the story to the end because I wanted to know if Julia would be okay.”

The author discovered more secrets and answers that evolved into the Friendship Bread synopsis:

An anonymous gift sends a woman on a journey she never could have anticipated.

One afternoon, Julia Evarts and her five-year-old daughter, Gracie, arrive home to find an unexpected gift on the front porch: a homemade loaf of Amish Friendship Bread and a simple note: I hope you enjoy it. Also included are a bag of starter, instructions on how to make the bread herself, and a request to share it with others.

Still reeling from a personal tragedy that left her estranged from the sister who was once her best friend, Julia remains at a loss as to how to move on with her life. She’d just as soon toss the anonymous gift, but to make Gracie happy, she agrees to bake the bread.

When Julia meets two newcomers to the small town of Avalon, Illinois, she sparks a connection by offering them her extra bread starter. Widow Madeline Davis is laboring to keep her tea salon afloat while Hannah Wang de Brisay, a famed concert cellist, is at a crossroads, her career and marriage having come to an abrupt end. In the warm kitchen of Madeline’s tea salon, the three women forge a friendship that will change their lives forever.

In no time, everyone in Avalon is baking Amish Friendship Bread. But even as the town unites for a benevolent cause and Julia becomes ever closer to her new friends, she realizes the profound necessity of confronting the painful past she shares with her sister.

About life and loss, friendship and community, food and family, Friendship Bread tells the uplifting story of what endures when even the unthinkable happens.

Please read The Prologue and Chapter One. Then discover what Amish Friendship Bread is, complete with a starter recipe.

Perhaps it’s been noticed that many of the winter/spring books presented here during the past months have centered on family and friends. With that in mind, Friendship Bread might be considered the literary equivalent of a welcome mat, telling the tales of an entire town. For Darien Gee (even when writing as Mia King) has the remarkable talent to transport readers into whatever world she’s created — in this novel, it’s Avalon, Illinois. The details describing the residents, their homes, streets, and landmarks are not intrusive yet combine to convey a strong sense of community. And the sharing of Friendship Bread bag starter kits only creates a stronger bond.

Populated by a multigenerational cast of characters who must cope with a range of sadness and problems, Avalon is refreshing in its sprit of hope. Hope that comes alive by the introduction of bread. Simple? Yes, except most major challenges are resolved by simple solutions. And, in truth, the novel’s message is that a single act’s ripple effect can make anything possible.

In this age of technology each one of us can choose to become connected. Cyberspace isn’t friendly Avalon, Illinois but it can promote the desire and power to reach out to share. A perfect, current example is being able to donate to the Read Cross for Japan Relief. After all bread comes in forms.

And that’s the beauty and truth of Darien Gee’s novel. Through her writing, the author took a bag of ingredients, squeezed it, added more individuals to the mix then turned it all into an enormously positive phenomenon. Warmth, genuine caring, and the fact that people need people transcends fiction, spilling out and into the Friendship Bread Kitchen. How does Darien feel about both her creations?

“We’re having fun in the Kitchen sharing Amish Friendship Bread recipes and community, and the Kitchen has taken a life of its own that includes the book but is not only about the book. I hadn’t expected it to go one way or another — I just thought it would be a fun thing to do and (like the starter) it kept growing. Amish Friendship Bread has changed my life in ways both big and small, and I know I’m not alone in saying that. I think Julia sums it up best when she tries the bread for the first time:

“’It hits the spot, as unexpected kindness often does.’”

For deliciously honest, comfort food for thought, Friendship Bread is a reading treat available tomorrow at local bookstores and online retailers. Enjoy, savor, and be sure to share it by gifting a copy to a friend!

Book Giveaway: The Divining Wand is giving away a copy of Darien Gee’s Friendship Bread in a random drawing of comments left only on this specific post. Comments left on other posts during the week will not be eligible. The deadline is Wednesday, April 6, 2011 at 7:00 p.m. EDT with the winners to be announced here in Thursday’s post. If you enter, please return Thursday to see if you’re a winner.

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.

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.