The Divining Wand

Discovering authors beyond their pages…

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.

Katharine Davis and A Slender Thread

August 30, 2010 By: larramiefg Category: Book Presentations, Books

Katharine Davis (East Hope, Capturing Paris), a self-described “late bloomer,” postponed her writing career until the age of fifty. And then — after teaching French in the Washington, D.C. area, working at the National Gallery of Art, and raising two children — she decided what she wanted next in life. Writing novels won hands down and with her third book, A Slender Thread, having recently been released on August 3, 2010, there’s no question that Katharine (Winner of the Maine Writers and Publishers Alliance 2010 Award for Fiction) chose the perfect pursuit.

How did the author succeed? What was her secret? According to Katharine, it was rather straightforward: “The odd thing was I had started to tell people I was writing a novel, and how could I quit after that? I didn’t want to be one of those people who always talk about writing one day and then never do it.”

Also, when deciding on the type of novel to write, Katharine showcased her life experiences by acknowledging most first time novelists, in their twenties or thirties, often write a coming of adulthood story. Instead, her books focus on the challenges one encounters at mid-life.

For example, by reading Guest Katharine Davis on Where Novels Come From, it’s learned that the seed of A Slender Thread was planted by a chance social encounter with a vibrant, seemingly healthy women in her fifties. However, having been diagnosed with Progressive Primary Aphasia, this woman had already lost her ability to speak and this rare brain disease would eventually take away the rest of her physical/mental abilities.

How does one find the strength to cope with such adversity? That was only one of many questions the author wondered as she crafted a story about two sisters, the elder one having Progressive Primary Aphasia.

Here’s a brief introduction to A Slender Thread:

As a girl swimming in the waters of Bow Lake, where she and her family spent every summer, Margot Winkler knew her big sister, Lacey, would keep her safe. Decades later, Lacey’s home in a small New Hampshire town is often Margot’s refuge from her less settled situation with her live-in lover, Oliver, in Manhattan. But everything changes just before Thanksgiving, when Lacey meets Margot’s arrival for the holiday with devastating news. . .

Yet the novel never tells the story from Lacey’s point of view. While her actions and words communicate what she might be feeling and thinking, the tale is told by those who love Lacey most — her husband and her sister Margot. They are, or believe they are, as affected by the disease as is Lacey, thereby knowing what’s best for her. And that’s how the theme of communication threads its way through the entire book. As Katharine notes:

“Communication is in our power — by our actions, by what we say, or don’t. Art is another way of communicating and that is why I brought the making of art into the book. The message is that the human spirit is strong and if we open ourselves up to others, we can grow even stronger and survive all kinds of difficulties.”

On the other hand when communication falters, is misunderstood, or completely shuts down, then come the problems. Since any serious and/or life-threatening disease to a family member or close friend changes one’s life, it’s not unexpected to have fear creep into the relationship. Too often the diagnosis labels that person, causing many to either smother or flee. How unfortunate, because that family member or close friend is still likely to be the same person you’ve always loved. The sole difference now is their need to be treated for who they still are, rather than what they now have. So how do Lacey’s husband and her sister choose to treat her? Ah, there are no spoilers here!

Art is another form of communication — as the author mentioned above — and it figures prominently in the lives of the two sisters. Lacey is a talented weaver, while Margot works at regaining her painting skill and passion. Each slender thread woven into a scarf, blanket or tapestry becomes more of Lacey’s physical voice. It’s her true expression, just as each of Margot’s brush strokes reveal her feelings as well.

To be understood, to be accepted, and to share openly with others are vital needs for all the characters in A Slender Thread. It may be fiction but what Katharine Davis has written reminds us that in reality these elements are vital to every human spirit for whatever the future holds….at any age.

Book Giveaway: The Divining Wand is giving away two copies of Katharine Davis’s A Slender Thread 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 1, 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.