The Divining Wand

Discovering authors beyond their pages…
Subscribe

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.

* * * * *

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.

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.

Rebecca Rasmussen and The Bird Sisters

March 28, 2011 By: larramiefg Category: Book Presentations, Books


Acclaimed as magical, graceful, and poetic, Rebecca Rasmussen makes a spring debut with her novel, The Bird Sisters on Tuesday, April 12, 2011. And, with birds on the wing to our homes, what perfect timing!

Lyrical in her writing, the author is also precise and clear about the focus of her story. The book’s idea came from two questions: Rebecca’s curiosity about her grandmother’s family history, and what does it mean to be home and to stay there?

For Rebecca, this is deeply personal. Since her parents divorced when she was a baby, her life was split — growing up in Spring Green, Wisconsin and Northfield, Illinois — and it caused her to feel that she didn’t belong in either place. As a result this writer draws on the experience, saying: “I suppose that’s why in my fiction, I pay very close attention to place; I’m constantly searching for a way to make home feel like home.”

As for The Bird Sisters, it was born from the Emily Dickinson poem:

“These are the days birds come back, a very few, a Bird or two, to take a backward look.”

Then the author created two elderly sisters who had spent their lives caring for injured birds — allowing them the freedom to someday fly away — and the storyline evolved into the following synopsis:

When a bird flies into a window in Spring Green, Wisconsin, sisters Milly and Twiss get a visit. Twiss listens to the birds’ heartbeats, assessing what she can fix and what she can’t, while Milly listens to the heartaches of the people who’ve brought them. These spinster sisters have spent their lives nursing people and birds back to health.
 


But back in the summer of 1947, Milly and Twiss knew nothing about trying to mend what had been accidentally broken. Milly was known as a great beauty with emerald eyes and Twiss was a brazen wild child who never wore a dress or did what she was told. That was the summer their golf pro father got into an accident that cost him both his swing and his charm, and their mother, the daughter of a wealthy jeweler, finally admitted their hardscrabble lives wouldn’t change. It was the summer their priest, Father Rice, announced that God didn’t exist and ran off to Mexico, and a boy named Asa finally caught Milly’s eye. And, most unforgettably, it was the summer their cousin Bett came down from a town called Deadwater and changed the course of their lives forever.
 


Rebecca Rasmussen’s masterfully written debut novel is full of hope and beauty, heartbreak and sacrifice, love and the power of sisterhood, and offers wonderful surprises at every turn.

Now enjoy this stunning visual that also tells the tale:

(If the video doesn’t appear on your monitor, please view it here.)

Also read the wonderful Praise and, of course, an Excerpt from Chapter 1.

Gentle, yet so honestly perceptive in her storytelling, Rebecca shares both heart and soul in creating immediate intimacy with Milly and Twiss. In the book, the time frame is only from breakfast to the evening meal — less than twelve hours — but during that day the sisters’ background and basic life is told in flashback memories. While each go their separate ways, doing daily chores they have done forever, thoughts and feelings explain what happened to keep them at home. Yes, the time frame kept everything neat and focused, but what was the specific reason for its use?

The author explained: “I wanted to slow down the present action of the story and really focus in on the pace of the sisters’ lives when they are older, and I thought what better way to do that than to showcase a single day in their lives.”

Poignant and bittersweet, The Bird Sisters is built on the factual theme that our backgrounds shape our future. Which is enormously sad since Milly and Twiss barely had a chance for personal dreams. Their parents did but — when their dreams went unfulfilled — their daughters paid the price for adult disappointment. And, yet, it is their bravery in the face of betrayal and dreams denied that bind them together in strong sisterly love.

In her guest post, Semper Fi, Rebecca Rasmussen proved that even when faced with difficulty and disappointment, the joy of hope remains. Why? Because she has a gift of taking states of loneliness and despair and, in elegant prose, write of their consequences as truly beautiful. Milly and Twiss could have lived much more and still their story is what it is — a tale of a magical world. Admitting that sacrifice can be incredibly sad, the author believes it can be incredibly beautiful at the same time. For her sisters Rebecca says, “I wanted to depict loneliness but not in place of the love of the sisters. They do what they do almost entirely for each other, and to me that is admirable.”

TRUTH: The result is beautiful! After all, what readers hopefully will take away from The Bird Sisters (debuting in two weeks) is Rebecca’s message of: “Love is timeless, first. And so are dreams.”

The Divining Wand’s message: The Bird Sisters soars and then nests in one’s heart.”

Book Giveaway: The Divining Wand is giving away one copy of Rebecca Rasmussen’s The Bird Sisters 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, March 30, 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.

Sarah Pekkanen and Skipping a Beat

February 14, 2011 By: larramiefg Category: Book Presentations, Books

From the book’s front cover:

“Original, engaging, and soulful.” –EMILY GIFFIN, New York Times Bestselling author of Heart of the Matter

When Sarah Pekkanen debuted with The Opposite of Me last March, she did so by telling a story of twins — undoubtedly the most intense of sibling relationships. For her second novel, Skipping a Beat in bookstores next Tuesday, February 22, 2011, the author chose to examine an even more complicated relationship — marriage.

Of course the storyline is not about just any marriage. Sarah’s idea for the book began with her desire to write about a married couple forced to reexamine their relationship after the husband’s near-death experience. Change is a constant in life, yet in this urgent crisis mode the couple must decide to accept almost immediate changes if their marriage is to survive. That means before moving forward they must look back at the big and small decisions that turned a marriage of love into somewhat of a business partnership. As already mentioned, it’s complicated. However, for a bit of clarification, here’s the synopsis for Skipping a Beat:

What would you do if your husband wanted to rewrite the rules of your relationship?

Julia Dunhill, a thirty-something party planner, seems to have it all: Married to her high school sweetheart and living in a gorgeous home in Washington D.C., she imagines her future unfolding very much as it has for the past few years, since she and her husband Michael successfully launched their companies. There will be dinner parties to attend, operas to dress up for, and weddings and benefits to organize for her growing list of clients. There will be shopping sprees with her best friend, Isabelle, and inevitably those last five pounds to shed. In her darker moments, she worries that her marriage has dissolved from a true partnership into a façade, but she convinces herself it’s due to the intensity of their careers and fast-paced lifestyle.

So as she arranges the molten chocolate cupcakes for the annual Opera benefit, how can she know that her carefully-constructed world is about to fall apart? That her husband will stand up from the head of the table in his company’s boardroom, open his mouth to speak, and crash to the carpeted floor… all in the amount of time it will take her to walk across a ballroom floor just a few miles away. Four minutes and eight seconds after his cardiac arrest, a portable defibrillator jump-starts Michael’s heart. But in those lost minutes he becomes a different man, with an altered perspective on the rarified life they’ve been living and a determination to regain the true intimacy they once shared. Now it is up to Julia to decide — is it worth upending her comfortable world to try to find her way back to the husband she once adored, or should she walk away from this new Michael, who truthfully became a stranger to her long before his change of heart?

The early Praise (see left sidebar) for this novel is wonderful and Emily Giffin’s “Original, engaging, and soulful,” description is spot-on.

Also there is an immediacy, an intimacy to Skipping a Beat that offers a universal appeal to everyone no matter what their relationship status. In fact experience this for yourself by reading an Excerpt of Chapter 1.

That sneak preview alone indicates that Sarah Pekkanen has taken the traditional storyline of a protagonist struggling to grab the brass ring of great job, great love, great home and literally flipped the premise over to a read about someone who already has it all and wonders about now what? Not only is this refreshing but as the author says, “I do like the sense of coming full circle, and of looking at the issue of what we want versus what we need from different perspectives.”

That sentence could well account for the truth that this is much more than Julia’s story, it is also Michael’s. Attracted to and firmly intertwined by their dysfunctional family backgrounds, the young couple dream big and leave home after high school to achieve success. Although only in their mid-30’s at the beginning of the book, their young love appears to have been replaced by the demands of excess and success. Sarah confirms this shift by explaining:

“I definitely wanted to convey that Julia and Michael’s love had been bulldozed by their ambition. Their reasons for craving success and security were understandable, but they took it to an extreme – and their relationship couldn’t survive in the face of their skewed priorities.”

Unless, of course, something enormously overwhelming would shake up their world, forcing them both to reconsider those priorities. Obviously this is the main theme of the book, though not the only one. Understanding one’s own background and how it shapes our decisions and behavior; the powerful influence of friendship, and the healing effects of forgiving someone — all three are relevant and necessary in the telling of Skipping a Beat.

Even more thought-provoking though is that as dramatic and intense as the novel might feel, these themes apply to us all as does the author’s message: “…that love is the most important thing in this world. At a time when there are so many competing demands for our attention, and so many external stressors in life, it’s easy to lose sight of that.”

Sarah Pekkanen had great expectations to live up to after her popular debut. And so she put her heart into effortless, flowing writing and created something very personal. Not that this is Sarah’s story, but all the emotions — sprinkled with wit and humor — resonate with her and she hopes with readers. TRUTH: Skipping a Beat is a Valentine from and about the heart….a book that you’ll love!

* * * * *

[The Divining Wand sends out heartfelt congratulations to Eleanor Brown (The Weird Sisters) and Caroline Leavtitt (Pictures of You) who made the New York Times Bestseller List for the second consecutive week in a row as of February 13, 2011. Brava, ladies!!!]

Book Giveaway: The Divining Wand is giving away two copies of Sarah Pekkanen’s Skipping a Beat 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 16, 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.

Melissa Senate and
The Love Goddess’ Cooking School

October 18, 2010 By: larramiefg Category: Book Presentations, Books


From the book’s front cover:
There’s no recipe to
follow when it comes
to love. . . .

Bestselling author Melissa Senate (The Secret of Joy, The Mosts YA, the rest in Bibliography) will have her latest book, The Love Goddess’ Cooking School, released next Tuesday, October 26, 2010, and its title alone is certain to categorize it as a romance novel. However, in the author’s guest post — Motherhood, Julia Child, and “please can I have a mouse, rat, hamster or rabbit” made a cook out of me –, Melissa reveals that the idea for the book came from having her 6 year old son cooking (and wishing) beside her. Romantic? Actually this novel can best be described as a multi-generational, universal love story of discovering where one belongs in the world.

Selected as an Indie Next List Notable for November, The Love Goddess’ Cooking School first and foremost explores how deeply one’s past affects their present. Often taken for granted, Melissa explains how much her heritage means to her and the novel:

“A big part of the inspiration for Camilla, Holly’s grandmother, was my own grandmother, who died several years ago. I spent many weekends of my childhood in her tiny Queens, New York, apartment, in the kitchen, where I found she did most of her talking. She didn’t love talking about herself, but I was so interested in her not-so-easy early life on Manhattan’s Lower East Side and her two marriages and I got an earful at the sink while scrubbing potatoes. I have this vivid memory of her funeral, of standing at the grave and holding my then toddler son in my arms, and something about that incredible stretch of generations stuck with me. What can your grandmother’s long life teach you about yourself, teach you want to want to know? How does your grandmother’s and your mother’s life affect who you are, your path? I had a lot of questions and found myself poking at that in all the family relationships in the book.”

As those questions were answered, the tale evolved into the following synopsis:

Camilla’s Cucinotta: Italian Cooking Classes. Fresh take-home pastas & sauces daily. Benvenuti! (Welcome!)

Holly Maguire’s grandmother Camilla was the Love Goddess of Blue Crab Island, Maine—a Milanese fortune-teller who could predict the right man for you, and whose Italian cooking was rumored to save marriages. Holly has been waiting years for her unlikely fortune: her true love will like sa cordula, an unappetizing old-world delicacy. But Holly can’t make a decent marinara sauce, let alone sa cordula. Maybe that’s why the man she hopes to marry breaks her heart. So when Holly inherits Camilla’s Cucinotta, she’s determined to forget about fortunes and love and become an Italian cooking teacher worthy of her grandmother’s legacy.

But Holly’s four students are seeking much more than how to make Camilla’s chicken alla Milanese. Simon, a single father, hopes to cook his way back into his daughter’s heart. Juliet, Holly’s childhood friend, hides a painful secret. Tamara, a serial dater, can’t find the love she longs for. And twelve-year-old Mia thinks learning to cook will stop her dad, Liam, from marrying his phony lasagna-queen girlfriend. As the class gathers each week, adding Camilla’s essential ingredients of wishes and memories in every pot and pan, unexpected friendships and romances are formed—and tested. Especially when Holly falls hard for Liam . . . and learns a thing or two about finding her own recipe for happiness.

Also Simon and Schuster offers a taste sampling of The Love Goddess’ Cooking School by providing an Excerpt: Chapter 1.

Although the novel may initially feel reminiscent of other chick lit books about a single young woman trying to find Mr. Right, it’s not. Instead — and in addition to the already mentioned issues that comprise the storyline — the romance is adult, mature, and complicated. For example, male characters with a past of failed marriages, divorce and shared parenthood are realistically showcased, juggling what’s best for their daughters as well as for themselves. Yes, here the children come first and that’s very important as Melissa says:

“The relationship between parent and daughter is such a huge part of the book, from Liam’s and Simon’s relationship as single fathers with their young daughters, to Tamara’s relationship as single woman with an overbearing mother, to Holly’s with her mother, and her mother with her grandmother, and Juliet’s with her grief. I’ve found I like to explore the effect of loss and divorce—and I like to write about fathers, single or otherwise, who’d go to the ends of the earth for their kids.”

Yet even caring, sensitive parents cannot protect their children from “mean girls” and bullying that range as far back to affect Holly’s mother. For the author will agree that what the novel is truly about is pressure. No matter what one’s age or whether it’s peer or family pressure, the consequences of pressure need to be confronted and dealt with.

Of course The Love Goddess’ Cooking School is also a most savory read filled with romance, pasta, and chicken alla Milanese. But, while spending months perfecting the recipes for the cooking class scenes, the author thought about what would make Holly feel like she belonged in her own life. Was it her own self-identity or other people’s expectations and acceptance?

With insightful clarity, Melissa found that the answer came down to having enough inner strength to hold one’s own against outside pressure, as she says:

“The character of Camilla, Holly’s grandmother, didn’t belong, and yet she made herself belong whether anyone liked it or not. I wanted to explore that strength. And I wanted Holly to find it for herself. I wanted everyone to find it. Then you get to choose; you get to decide.”

TRUTH: Sign-up for The Love Goddess’ Cooking School by pre-ordering or purchasing the book next week Tuesday and you’ll discover the best recipe for life and love is entirely up to the real you.

Book Giveaway: The Divining Wand is giving away two copies of Melissa Senate’s The Love Goddess’ Cooking School 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, October 20, 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 see if you’re a winner.

Stacey Ballis and Good Enough to Eat

October 04, 2010 By: larramiefg Category: Book Presentations, Books


Whatever storyline Stacey Ballis (The Spinster Sisters, Room for Improvement, the rest in Bibliography) writes it’s always about the character and, in her most recent novel — Good Enough to Eat –, she proves this once again.

Following her own guidelines described in the guest post, What a Character!, the author introduces Melanie Hoffman’s voice, flaws, and emotional baggage within the book’s first pages. For this is a multi-layered, fascinating woman whose story was inspired by a few of Stacey’s friends who lost weight through gastric bypass surgery and then discovered it was difficult “to date after they lost the weight…harder to trust people, to know who they were in their new body.”

In a Philadelphia Examiner interview, the author explains:

“There is such a misconception that larger people are not the object of attraction, or that the people who are with them are with them “‘in spite”‘ of their size, so I wanted to acknowledge that there are people for whom that is actually the preference. And an equally large misconception that losing the weight brings happiness, when in fact losing a lot of weight can often bring self-doubt, depression, and identity crises. I always love the idea of putting a spin on themes, so starting the book with a woman whose husband has just left her for a woman twice her size after she struggled to lose that much weight seemed to be an interesting place to begin.”

The writing began and evolved into the following synopsis:

The last thing Melanie expected to lose when she went on a diet was her husband.

Former lawyer Melanie Hoffman lost half her body weight and opened a gourmet take-out café specializing in healthy and delicious food. Then her husband left her-for a woman twice her size. Immediately afterwards, she’s blindsided by a financial crisis. Melanie reaches out to a quirky roommate with a ton of baggage and becomes involved in a budding romance with a local documentary filmmaker.

In this warm and often laugh-out-loud novel, Melanie discovers that she still has a lot to learn about her friends, her relationships with men, and herself-and that her weight loss was just the beginning of an amazing journey that will transform her life from the inside out..

And enjoy watching Stacey talk more about the book, while cooking her Roasty Tomato Soup, on Lunchbreak WGN.

To truly appreciate this novel, consider how something as quick and easy as a change in hair style or hair color can affect a personality or even lifestyle, yet both are transformations that result from working solely on one’s outward appearance. On the other hand, dramatic weight loss begins within the inner self — complete with personal emotional issues — and, while pounds may melt away over months/years, the heavy inner baggage is apt to remain…possibly forever. And that’s merely one reason Good Enough to Eat gives readers food for thought.

True-to-life Melanie carries around internal baggage and the author includes this insight by titling each chapter with a food — the first being Mashed Potatoes –, then elaborating on what the food dish means to Mel through an excerpt from her diet journal. Not only is this a clever method of revealing the character’s background, it also serves as realistic motivation for her behavior in the storyline as Stacey explains:

“A lot of nutritionist and diet support groups focus on keeping a diet journal of what you are eating now. But for people with compulsive overeating disorders, it is as much about what the food represents as what you are eating, finding out what the food means to you is half the battle of gaining control over your impulses with it. So I imagined a diet journal for Melanie that was about deconstructing her cravings.”

Certain foods — such as mashed potatoes — are triggers of memories and negative consequences that Melanie could fall back on. However the author continues:

“But maybe if she addresses the trigger, the craving itself will go away. The old adage about ‘“it’s not what you’re eating, it’s what’s eating you”’ is very true for emotional eaters. By allowing Mel to explore her food memories with her most major trigger foods, it helps her in her battle. And also gives the reader some insight as to where the disorder gets its psychological foundation.”

Hmm, and you thought Good Enough to Eat sounded like another easy, enjoyable read, complemented with savory descriptions of food and the inclusion of forty recipes (all of which are Stacey’s unless otherwise noted). Of course it still can be read for fun but, when given the opportunity to better understand others — maybe even yourself –, why not take it?

The theme of transformation and reinvention is currently quite popular in women’s fiction. For just when twentysomething choices have been made and things feel settled….life happens and we’re forced to face a new reality filled with change.

Stacey Ballis is a delicious storyteller who stirs in changes resulting from significant weight loss, divorce, entrepreneurial success, financial problems, trust issues, and new relationships, sautes, and serves a hearty comfort food dish that would go well with any fine wine. By offering up the tale of Good Enough to Eat as a healthy perspective to accepting ourselves, flaws and all, she wishes Bon Appetit for the rest of our journey. Indeed this is a book to truly savor!

Book Giveaway: The Divining Wand is giving away two copies of Stacey Ballis’s Good Enough to Eat 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, October 6, 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 see if you’re a winner.

Karen McQuestion and A Scattered Life

September 27, 2010 By: larramiefg Category: Book Presentations, Books


Although much has been written about Karen McQuestion’s extraordinary journey to publishing success (including Guest Karen McQuestion on Keeping the Faith), the most important story remains between the covers of her debut novel, A Scattered Life. After all that was the Kindle book optioned for film, adored by ebook readers, and put Karen — not only on the literary map — but in The Wall Street Journal as well.

So what’s it all about? Simply put, the novel’s story is based on a friendship triangle between three women and explores the author’s fascination with the idea of feeling like an outsider in your own family.

Acknowledging that her fiction is basically character-driven and the plot evolves from the characters’ actions, Karen began writing A Scattered Life with the following scene in mind:

“A shy man has a crush on a waitress who works at a Mexican restaurant. He’s thirtyish and conservative, almost nerdy, and she’s much younger, a free spirit who is at loose ends in the world. He’s been coming in to the restaurant to watch her, never quite getting up the nerve to talk to her until something unexpected happens.”

Now add the details that the scene takes place in a Wisconsin small town with the Green Bay Packers playing on Monday Night Football and the reader is likely to take a leap of faith and be drawn into the action too.

To share a bit more, here is the synopsis:

When free-spirited Skyla marries proper and predictable Thomas Plinka, she finally finds the love and stability she’s craved since childhood. She also acquires a new family: mother-in-law Audrey, disapproving and suspicious of Skyla’s nomadic past; father-in-law Walt, gruff but kind; and Thomas’s brothers, sofa-bound Jeffrey, and Dennis, who moved across the country seemingly to avoid the family.

Skyla settles into marriage and motherhood, but quiet life in small-town Wisconsin can’t quell feelings of restlessness. Then into her life comes Madame Picard, the local psychic from the disreputable bookstore, Mystic Books, and new neighbor, Roxanne, whose goal in life is to have twelve kids even though she can’t manage the five she has. Despite her family’s objections, Skyla befriends Roxanne and gets a job at the bookstore, and life gets fuller and more complicated than she ever imagined.

Next enjoy a lovely Video for A Scattered Life.

If the video reminds you of a quiet, somewhat simpler life, settle into Skyla’s neighborhood. It is there that the author has created a place reminiscent of the way people used to connect — on a one-on-one basis — and care about each other. However, despite the comfort zone feeling, this story of three women and their daily routines is not without problems.

Funny, poignant and incredibly honest, The Divining Wand wondered if the characters told Karen their stories or if the tales were written around them? And she said:

“I have heard other writers say that characters “speak” to them, but I’ve never had that experience. I usually have an impression of who my characters are, and a situation, and I work from there. On several occasions, I’ve tried to plot things out ahead of time. It seems the most sensible way to do things, but I’ve never been able to make plotting or outlining work. Once I know the whole storyline, I find that I don’t want to write it because it feels like homework. The fun of writing is finding out what happens next. For me, writing fiction feels more like discovering than creating, and I’ll often have eureka moments–oh, now I know why she was acting that way! I always aim for a happy (or at least hopeful) ending, but I never really know how it’s going to go until I get there.”

TRUST: The above explanation could be the most telling of the author’s success in writing genuine and appealing novels. For Karen McQuestion focuses on what intrigues her about universal human truths — those that are likely our own truths. A Scattered Life highlights this fact by presenting three unforgettable women who actually are Everywomen at some point in life. And, while their personalities and immediate situations differ, they all know (or have known) how it feels to be left out. Whether it’s the young wife, the next door neighbor with five sons, or the mother-in-law, these women share the desire to belong and feel needed.

Independence, strength, and accepting others for who they are go a long way towards belonging. Or it could be as simple as applying the wise words of “Open your heart.” In A Scattered Life, the reader will undoubtedly recognize at least one character as someone she knows and then realize the extent to which lives are intertwined. Karen McQuestion’s novel also reminds how important daily lives are, no matter how mundane they may seem because even small details make a difference later.

Author (The Dogs of Babal, Lost and Found, and The Nobodies Album) Carolyn Parkhurst Reviews “A Scattered Life” and concludes with the following:

McQuestion writes with a sharp eye and a sure voice, and as a reader, I was willing to go wherever she wanted to take me. After I finished the book, I thought about how I might describe it to a friend, and I settled on a phrase that says a lot without saying very much at all. It’s the way these conversations usually end: “You should read this. It’s good.”

Yes you should read this book. It’s much better than good!

Book Giveaway: The Divining Wand is giving away two copies of Karen McQuestion’s A Scattered Life 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 29, 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 see if you’re a winner.

Jenny Nelson and Georgia’s Kitchen

September 20, 2010 By: larramiefg Category: Book Presentations, Books


According to Jenny Nelson, the best advice she ever received on writing a novel was, “to write the book I wanted to read.” It took years to complete but when the author debuted with Georgia’s Kitchen on August 3, 2010, she had told a story that also appealed to countless readers. The proof: Five star reviews at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Borders!

Ah reviews, the author’s main character Georgia Gray knows them well. From the novel’s title one would expect the storyline to be character driven and Jenny confirms this by saying:

“When I started writing what would eventually become Georgia’s Kitchen, I had already decided: I wanted to read about a chef. A successful, funny, savvy, thirty-something chef who’s arrived at her position with some difficulty, but who clearly belongs where she is. Someone who’s both tough and vulnerable, who doesn’t disappear into the wallpaper, who rises to the occasion (except when she doesn’t – and there are definitely a few of these moments in Georgia’s Kitchen!) and who wouldn’t even consider giving up without a fight.”

Of course Georgia had to earn her reputation in the best of locations to be believable and the debut novelist went for the brass rings:

‘The setting was never in question: New York City, the big-time for chefs and one of my favorite places in the world. And because I’m a huge Italiaphile who loves all things Italy (food, wine, people, architecture, film, clothing, design), I decided to send Georgia to Italy, mecca for chefs. ”

On the other hand, Jenny did not want her first book to be merely, entertaining, occasionally glamorous, and even humorous. Instead she wanted: “Georgia to deal with real emotions and conflict, to be pushed outside her comfort zone and, ultimately, to triumph. I wanted a heroine I could root for until the very last page.”

The bottom line: Georgia was created to be a woman of substance and her story evolved into this synopsis:

Getting burned—in and out of the kitchen—might be the best thing that ever happened to Georgia Gray.

At 33, talented chef Georgia Gray has everything a woman could want—the top job at one of Manhattan’s best restaurants, a posse of smart and savvy gal pals who never let her down, and a platinum-set, cushion-cut diamond engagement ring courtesy of Glenn, the handsome entertainment lawyer who Georgia’s overbearing mother can’t wait for her to marry. The table is set for the ambitious bride-to-be until a scathing restaurant review destroys her reputation. To add salt to her wounds, Glenn suddenly calls off the wedding.

Brokenhearted, Georgia escapes to the Italian countryside, where she sharpens her skills at a trattoria run by a world-class chef who seems to have it all—a devoted lover, a magnificent villa, and most importantly, a kitchen of her own. Georgia quells her longings with Italy’s delectable offerings: fine wine, luscious cheeses, cerulean blue skies, and irresistible Gianni, an expert in the vineyard and the bedroom. So when Gianni tempts Georgia to stay in Italy with an offer no sane top chef could refuse, why can’t she say yes?

An appetite for something more looms large in Georgia’s heart – the desire to run her own restaurant in the city she loves. But having left New York with her career in flames, she’ll need to stir up more than just courage if she’s to realize her dreams and find her way home.

In addition to readers’ raves, there’s professional Praise AND the Excerpt of Chapter One.

Also view the video for an opportunity to Step Inside Georgia’s Kitchen with Jenny Nelson.

However the actual behind-the-scenes look into Georgia’s life and the restaurants that she finds herself working in are flawlessly described by the author’s writing. This book is a sensory feast that allows the reader to smell, taste, see, hear, and touch everything from fresh fruits and vegetables, to the crowded streets of Manhattan, and finally a peaceful garden villa in the Italian countryside. The breathtaking depth of description flows, reading as a natural (and necessary) complement to Georgia’s tale. How was Jenny able to weave the two together so effortlessly? The Divining Wand asked and the author replied:

“I really focus on what I see in my head and jot down first impressions, usually very long-winded first impressions, and then edit that down to its essence so that I’m saying as little as I can while being as evocative as possible. Does that make sense? I love description, especially as a counter balance to dialogue, so it was very important to me to get it right”

Right? Let’s say the author nailed it! But to write from the perspective of restaurant chef — complete with daily kitchen procedure and business operations –, how did Jenny manage that?

“I interviewed tons of chefs (I’m friendly with several and most are all too happy to talk about themselves!), but never observed a kitchen in a formal way.”

And for what was probably the best part of her research, the author says:

“I ate a lot! I studied menus and recipes and ate in as many restaurants as my waistline and my wallet could afford. It was a blast.”

All of the above, of course, is fun, enlightening, and showcases the world in which Georgia Gray works and lives. An independent young woman with determined ambition, she’s on track personally and professionally….but lacks happiness. The reason? Perhaps it’s because other people’s expectations for what she should be doing don’t fit into her personal timeline. Or perhaps she only thinks she knows her wants and needs….at the moment.

Refreshingly honest, this character accepts what is beyond her control and bounces back to try again. Indeed she’s vulnerable but the lack of whining and/or playing the blame game will have — as Jenny wanted — readers rooting her on until the last page. Besides Georgia has learned through her life experiences that settling for anything other than your dream does not offer happiness.

In time somehow the path to one’s dreams is found and, if still looking for yours, its inspired direction might be discovered somewhere within the pages of Georgia’s Kitchen. Enjoy!

Book Giveaway: The Divining Wand is giving away two copies of Jenny Nelson’s Georgia’s Kitchen 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 22, 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 see if you’re a winner.

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.

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.