The Divining Wand

Discovering authors beyond their pages…

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!

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[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.

Ann Wertz Garvin and On Maggie’s Watch

November 29, 2010 By: larramiefg Category: Book Presentations, Books

After reading The Revealing of Ann Wertz Garvin, and the guest post, Private Parts, it would be safe to expect the unexpected from Ann Wertz Garvin and her debut novel On Maggie’s Watch.

Of course, for this author, the unexpected is a very good thing as Ann confesses: “Writers are observers and I’m the noisiest observer there ever was.”

Noisy? Actually it’s being curious and having the zest for life to explore all types of interests. For example: Ann’s background is in science with a masters in exercise physiology and a PhD in exercise psychology but in between the academics she did theater, backpacked through Europe (twice), swam in Jamaica, Greece, Hawaii, Kuai, and ate her way through Egypt. And being a full professor at the University of Wisconsin Whitewater — where she teaches courses on nutrition and stress management — did not stop her from writing fiction, let alone successfully managing the journey to publication.

Ann is uniquely charming and disarming. Please meet her through this video introduction:

(If the video isn’t visible on your monitor, please view the video here.)

The inspiration for the novel came from the author’s chilling experience of watching a SWAT team arrest a world-class sex offender living in her neighborhood. That’s when she began thinking what if he had lived next door to her? What would she have done and what of the aftermath:

“I would have been so disappointed at my inability to sense or ferret out baddies and would have struggled with the knowledge that this kind of evil walks amongst us. What would/should I do with my fears?

But there are these websites that exist essentially to say…’here are the bad guys in your town. Keep away from these houses and you’ll be fine.’ So now we have this false sense of control and security. Although the websites help…it’s the dangers that can’t be seen that tend to do us in. Often on these websites they “‘offenders'” exist on a continuum. Some are sex offenders in the most terrible of senses and then there is the guy who just slapped the wrong woman’s ass. I wanted to explore the craziness in all of us when we don’t have all the information we need.”

Add Maggie — an 8 1/2 month pregnant woman on high alert for safety — and the storyline evolved into On Maggie’s Watch and this synopsis:

To Do:

Set up Crib
Carve Zucchini Boats
Fight Crime

Maggie Finley has just returned to her beloved Wisconsin hometown, quirky best friend, and eccentric mother. Life should be good, but her marriage to Martin is suffering under the strain of a recent family tragedy and Maggie’s feeling pressed for time. Before the birth of her baby she has to figure out how to fit her high-anxiety-self into a low-anxiety-life.

True to her can do attitude, Maggie hires a compelling handy-man, resurrects a defunct Neighborhood Watch and inadvertently discovers a potential threat to her house and home living just around the corner. Choosing to investigate, despite her best friend’s advice to keep her nose out of it…and despite the risk, Maggie sets her sites on discovering the stranger’s secret. As the mystery of the neighbor’s identity draws Maggie irresistibly in, her ordered life starts to unravel in surprising and hilarious ways.

Unexpectedly compelling and sparkling with wit and intelligence, this debut novel chronicles one woman’s quest for control over her surroundings, and the secrets and surprises that lie hidden in an ordinary suburban landscape.

Having read a bit about the book, let Ann tell you more in this video:

(If the video isn’t visible on your monitor, please view the video here.

Also here’s a preview of the novel with Chapter One.

Indeed there’s much more than presiding over a Neighborhood Watch group for Maggie. With the storyline dealing with the pressure of loss in a marriage, deep affection between friends, and an almost consuming desire to control everything in order to keep those we love safe, the author’s goal was to write about humanity and history then marry them with control and fear. As Ann says;

“People are complex, and happily these themes combine and intertwine until you get judgment. Whenever I judge I know it is about me not “‘them.'” I also know, when I judge something I’m going to get a snoot full of whatever I’m judging so I better just stop it. I’m interested in showing how judgement and fear are partnered.”

Or, in other words, what the consequences can be by jumping to conclusions and critical misconceptions. Maggie appears to be an expert at doing both and one might excuse her antics, dismissing them as an imbalance of hormones due to her pregnancy. Yet the author doesn’t take this easy way out because she created Maggie as “a regular person with regular fears and an over-the-top reaction” just as many would have when confronting their own fears.

Instead Maggie’s pregnancy is cause for another fear — a believable one from her past history. And believability is the true beauty of this book’s writing. The humor, the poignancy, the sweetness and the bittersweet have been measured out in just the right amounts to easily provide readers’ with “Aha” personal moments. For that reason alone On Maggie’s Watch is a novel to savor. Please, don’t take it lightly or gulp it down in one sitting. Because, if you do, Ann Wertz Garvin’s message might be missed:

“Listen to the people who love you. You hired those people as a friend for their unique qualifications to tell you when you are not acting like the people they love (for the reasons they love you). Our friends have a bird’s eye view of us; when we get focused in ways that are not good for us, or humanity, it is our friends’ job to pull our heads from our collective asses and get us off our Sit and Spin.”

The Divining Wand’s message: Get yourself up and out to a bookstore as soon as possible!

Book Giveaway: The Divining Wand is giving away two copies of Ann Wertz Garvin’s On Maggie’s Watch 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, December 1, 2010 at 7:00 p.m. EST with the winners to be announced here in Thursday’s post. If you enter, please return Thursday to see if you’re a winner.

Trish Ryan and A Maze of Grace

June 21, 2010 By: larramiefg Category: Book Presentations, Books

Memoirist/Essayist Trish Ryan took readers along on her quest to find “Mr. Right” in her debut memoir, He Loves Me, He Loves Me Not: A Memoir of Finding Faith, Love, and Happily Ever After, and tomorrow — June 22, 2010 — she continues to share her life’s journey in A Maze of Grace: A Memoir of Second Chances.

The idea for chronicling the continuation of the author’s now five years of married life came at the insistence of a friend who never realized that daily wedded experiences could be “Great!” Yet that’s how things “by some crazy miracle” seemed to end up for Trish and Steve. And so she shares their ups and downs as encouragement, noting in a disclaimer: “I’m under no illusion that Steve and I have mastered some “‘spiritual”‘ right way to do life.” However, by asking for God’s input in places they’ve been stuck has provided ideas, suggestions and alternatives to their personal struggles including: infertility, depression, body image, and sex.

Yes Trish talks to God, even about THAT subject. Now for those unfamiliar with He Loves Me, He Loves Me Not, please don’t raise your eyebrows. Because the first book is “the story of how a new-age dabbler turned to Jesus for relationship advice and ended up with a “‘happily-ever-after'” husband and a newfound Christian faith.” Considering God offered her sound, practical, and miraculous advice back then, it’s only natural for this author to keep asking for and following His guidance.

Yet to share even more of herself… In the Monday, May 17, 2010 blog post, Good News from Publishers Weekly, Trish admits her relief and joy by writing:

“I just saw the Publishers Weekly review for A MAZE OF GRACE. And it’s fabulous!!! I’m shaking right now, all teared up & soggy. I hadn’t realized how nervous I was about this until I read the review (and then re-read it six or seven times). The relief is unbelievable.

“Here’s why: MAZE was a tough book to write. It’s super-personal, even more so than HE LOVES ME, HE LOVES ME NOT. It’s real and raw and (in a few places) heartbreaking, even for me. But it’s also–like me–fun and funny, and a little absurd. Which was a weird balance in the midst of the process. Not to mention that life while I was writing was rather tumultuous, and my editors and I were adding and deleting scenes right up until the very last moment. By the time the book was finalized, I’d sort of lost touch with whether it was “good” or not, in the big-picture sort of way: Was it entertaining and encouraging…and something you’d want to give to all your friends? I hoped (and I certainly prayed) so. I’m tearfully grateful to report that he folks at Publishers Weekly say yes:

Ryan (He Loves Me, He Loves Me Not) returns with another spiritual memoir, bringing back her trademark wit, humor, and honesty. Her first book portrayed her journey toward love after a promise to take Jesus seriously; this sequel chronicles her spiritual and romantic life during the first five years of her marriage. Each chapter focuses on a unique struggle or revelation, from the joys and challenges of marriage to body image and politics; as a result, the book reads more like a compilation of short essays or long blog entries rather than one continuous narrative. Most admirably, Ryan, currently part of the pastoral staff of Vineyard Church, is able to present herself as a believing Christian who recognizes that spirituality can be both simple and complex, a universal experience that can be felt in an infinite number of ways. Ryan does not evangelize, instead humbly and humorously offering her own experience for interpretation. Readers of all faiths can enjoy this memoir for its humanity and its honest exploration of relationships and religion, showing how those two things can often intertwine. __Publishers Weekly

And, of course, there’s this praise:

“Trish Ryan is the rare writer who can range from the deepest questions of the soul to hilarious moments of everyday life…This engaging account of a spiritual journey will resonate with readers of all backgrounds.”
–Gretchen Rubin, #1 New York Times bestselling author of The Happiness Project

Interested? Well now you can Browse Inside This Book.

Having read He Loves Me, He Loves Me Not and then following Trish’s life through her blog posts, I appreciated the Advance Reading Copy that Hachette Book Group sent. A Maze of Grace does not disappoint. In fact Publishers Weekly “got it” so right…and more.

Perhaps the book’s appeal is simply Trish. She is both honest and brave in revealing her faith, confusion, opinions and less than sterling homemaking attempts at cooking and cleaning. Yet she tries to find the right way or method.

Her talks with God are most impressive because — though a gentle, loving Father — He doesn’t allow Trish to whine or take the easy way out of a situation. While you may not believe and agree with His teachings or wonder why an intelligent adult woman — complete with a law degree — would believe and abide by seemingly archaic traditions, the fact IS that the author DOES. And she takes full responsibility for that course of faith.

This memoir begins after Trish and Steve’s wedding reception and follows in chronological order through their first few months of the “Honeymoon period.” After that it is a maze of dealing with “life happens.” However, through it all, there is communication with God and between each other. Also there is love.

In reading the post, Guest Trish Ryan on Your Life, Starring You!, you learn that the author doesn’t see herself as the main character in her books, instead “LOVE is the main character — that urge inside of us that keeps us looking and hoping for romantic partnership….” After reading both books, I disagree. Love could be considered the main characters in Trish’s books however it is SELF LOVE — the need within all of us to like ourselves, to be the best of ourselves, and to accept ourselves…that’s what the writer really finds along her way. And everyone can benefit from a good measure of that love found in A Maze of Grace: A Memoir of Second Chances and in our own lives.

IMPORTANT: Trish Ryan is offering a BOGOF plan until 11:59 p.m. tonight!

Here’s her plan:

“Buy a copy of A Maze of Grace before the official launch date of tomorrow, June 22nd.

Send a copy of your receipt (scanned store receipts count, too) to Trishryanonline AT Include your mailing address (no worries…I won’t use for any other purposes) and I’ll send you a FREE copy of my first book, HE LOVES ME, HE LOVES ME NOT.”

Source: TRISH’S DISHES’ Tuesday, June 15, 2010 post, BOGOF.

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Book Giveaway: The Divining Wand is giving away a copy of Trish Ryan’s latest memoir, A Maze of Grace 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 23, 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.

Guest Trish Ryan on Your Life, Starring You!

June 15, 2010 By: larramiefg Category: Guest Posts

[Trish Ryan (He Loves Me, He Loves Me Not: A Memoir of Finding Faith, Love, and Happily Ever After), — like many recent featured authors — admits to having a messy but interesting life. Ever likable, vulnerable, and oh so human, Trish shares both the joys and blahs of her first five years of marriage in A Maze of Grace: A Memoir of Second Chances to be released on June 22, 2010.]

Your Life, Starring You!
Thoughts on being the main character

Larramie asked if I’d blog about what it’s like to be the main character in my own books. Her question caught me off guard—I’d never thought about it in those terms.

You’d think it would take a surreal combination of determination and hubris to believe that your life is sufficiently unique and wonderful to keep people turning the pages of not just one, but two memoirs. But truth be told, not even I think my story is all that unique and/or wonderful. Just the opposite, in fact. Until fairly recently, it—and I—was a complete disaster. But here’s the thing: In the midst of my struggles, I always knew I wasn’t the only person out there wrestling with big questions: What is love? How do I get it/give it/absorb enough of it to keep going? Does God play a role? How much is my responsibility? How can I make better choices if I can’t think of any options other than what I’ve already tried? What if self-help doesn’t help? My books are about my search for answers.

I spent my twenties and early thirties in a dizzying try/fail cycle of dating that might be unique if only for it’s breadth and scope. I married so badly that I had to run away to escape. The police were involved on more than one occasion. At some level, I had to admit that not only were my strategies not working, I was out of ideas of new things to try.

The answer to this dilemma surprised me. It was spiritual, and way outside my comfort zone. That surprise—with the good results that followed—made up my first book, He Loves Me, He Loves Me Not: A Memoir of Finding Faith, Hope, and Happily Ever After. I thought that other women in my shoes (the ones who hear Stevie Nicks sing, I climbed a mountain and I turned around and think, “That’s the story of my life…”) might find it encouraging to have another option to consider, and comforted that the door hasn’t closed on Happily Ever After…It’s still out there, still possible.

My second book is about looking at these same questions from the other side of the alter, as a newlywed struggling to imagine a marriage better than the warnings I saw in books and magazines. Our culture makes you feel like a special little flower when you’re a bride, but the moment you’re back from your honeymoon, the fantasy wilts. No one tells you how awesome your new life will be; they warn you. You hear the phrase, “The honeymoon is over” muttered in low, dire tones. I didn’t think I was the only wife out there hoping that more was possible, and thus Book #2, A Maze of Grace: A Memoir of Second Chances, came to be.

So perhaps my answer to Larramie’s question is that I don’t see myself as the main character in my books. As hokey as it sounds, I think LOVE is the main character—that urge inside of us that keeps us looking and hoping for romantic partnership far beyond the point when the more reasonable choice would be to give up, buy a cat and a condo, and find a few new hobbies. Most of us want more than pets and hobbies. As the band Sugarland puts it, “From the beginning, we’re all looking for a happy ending…” My books are about this process.

Thanks, Larramie, for getting me thinking about this question! And blog readers, let me ask you: How do you feel about being the main character in YOUR story? Would you re-write the script? Does your plot need a twist? Are you at the place where all hope is lost (which is, according to writing tradition across genres, ALWAYS when the hero arrives…)? Consider sharing in the comments below. You might not be the only one wrestling with these questions.

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Book Giveaway: The Divining Wand is giving away a copy of the triple memoir Three Wishes by Carey Goldberg, Beth Jones, and Pamela Ferdinand in a random drawing to anyone who comments only on this specific post, Carey Goldberg, Beth Jones, and Pamela Ferdinand with Three Wishes. Comments left on other posts during the week are not entered into the contest. The deadline is Wednesday, June 16, 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.

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The Divining Wand celebrates its first anniversary today. After one year and 219 posts, the site has grown, evolved, and is successfully connecting authors and readers beyond book pages.

Thank you authors/friends/readers, all!