The Divining Wand

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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.

James King and Bill Warrington’s Last Chance

November 22, 2010 By: larramiefg Category: Book Presentations, Books


Although his journey to publication took more than 30 years, James King reached his destination — not only by becoming an Amazon Breakthrough Winner — but by writing his debut novel Bill Warrington’s Last Chance about the journey of life.

The author, a corporate communications writer by day and aspiring novelist by night, had three unpublished novels in his desk drawer when he was inspired to write the character of Bill Warrington based on a neighbor/friend who had passed away ten years earlier. As James says:

“He was a nice man, but in a gruff, New England-Yankee sort of way. My wife and I had just moved into our house two weeks after his wife of some fifty years had died. And over the years, the house that he had built for her started to fall apart around him. He wanted no help. In fact, when I complained to him that he should let me help him, let me be a good neighbor, he said, “’You are a good neighbor; you mind your own damned business.’”

What a great character with a lifetime of experiences but what does the author do with such a solitary man? The genius idea of pairing a failing grandfather with his “dreaming big dreams” granddaughter fell into place when, according to James, “April showed up one day, knocked on the creative block I was dealing with at the time, and demanded to be put into the story. I have no idea where she came from, but I’m grateful she came around.”

And the storyline evolved into the novel and this synopsis:

With a new diagnosis that threatens his mind and most cherished memories, Bill Warrington is determined to patch up his differences with his three children before it’s too late. But when all three grown siblings greet Bill’s overtures with wary indifference, he improvises a scheme to skip town with his fifteen-year-old granddaughter, April, whose twin ambitions to learn how to drive and to find rock stardom on the West Coast make her his perfect–and perfectly willing–abductee. But Bill’s plan soon veers dangerously off course, leaving April behind the wheel of his beloved Chevy Impala, dealing with situations no fifteen-year-old should face. A rich multigenerational saga, Bill Warrington’s Last Chance soars with humor, compassion, and unflinching insight into the pain and joy of all family life, while the promise of a new generation shines bright against the ravages of aging in a man who does not go gently… anywhere.

No Bill Warrington does not go gently at all as this video shows:

And the critics agree:

“The spirited interplay between the gruff but wounded Bill and the perhaps too precocious April provides the most sensitive scenes in this enjoyable first novel.” Publisher’s Weekly

“A moving tale.” People Magazine. Selected as a “Great Read.”

“Part road odyssey, part coming-of-age tale, King’s novel achieves the exact right balance of humor, redemption, and reconciliation.” Deborah Donovan, Booklist

In a beautifully written tale of reality James King explores the universal themes of grief and forgiveness, aging and death, the desire for freedom and the need for connection. A story literally for all ages, the author has provided characters — young, middle age, and elderly — who have yet to learn life’s lessons and continue holding on to their errant behavior until, as in Bill’s case, it’s almost too late.

Yes the characters are flawed but not unlikeable. They have their issues as well as redeeming qualities to which almost every reader can relate. And, in addition to the drama, there is the humor for Bill Warrington does not go gently.

Although Alzheimer’s is implied, it’s also never stated that Bill has been diagnosed with the disease. In fact he rationalizes his forgetfulness during his lucid moments and hours of storytelling. Still, when the author places the reader in Bill’s mind as his memory fades in and out, the experience feels remarkably accurate. So much so that The Divining Wand asked James to explain how he managed to create the believable mental confusion? And he replied:

“I’m not sure I can. My research into dementia was limited primarily to its symptoms. Beyond that, I just put myself in Bill’s shoes and tried to imagine what it was like, for example, to reach for a doorknob and suddenly realize that you have no idea where you are, or who or what is on the other side of that door.”

A frightening, sad thought yet even more disturbing might be the disconnection from family and friends. How ironic is it that we now live in a world where there are phone companies and Internet providers that offer friends and family plans to keep us electronically connected 24/7, yet an in-person smile or nod of understanding is probably what’s needed?

And how appropriate is it that Bill Warrington’s Last Chance is being presented/reviewed during Thanksgiving week? This novel provides hope and possibly even encouragement to reconnect with family members. In fact, since the novel’s debut in late August, James King has been flattered to receive a number of emails and letters from readers who have said that the story has not only “struck home,” but has also reminded them of what’s important in life.

This is truly a good book, a wonderful read, and a lovely gift. Enjoy!

Book Giveaway: The Divining Wand is giving away a copy of James King’s Bill Warrington’s Last Chance in a random drawing of comments left only on this specific post. Comments left on other posts during the week will not be eligible. Because of the shortened holiday week the deadline is tomorrow, Tuesday, November 23, 2010 at 7:00 p.m. EST with the winners to be announced here in Wednesday’s post. If you enter, please return Wednesday 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.