The Divining Wand

Discovering authors beyond their pages…
Subscribe

Meg Waite Clayton and The Four Ms. Bradwells

April 18, 2011 By: larramiefg Category: Book Presentations, Books


National bestselling author Meg Waite Clayton (The Wednesday Sisters) had a dream of becoming a novelist but — not knowing how to achieve that career — she went to college to become a doctor and emerged from academia seven years later as a corporate lawyer. Truth and dreams have a way of being recognized though. They did for Meg and they also did for her characters in The Four Ms. Bradwells.

Intelligent, insightful, and issue-complicated, the story is an ode to the author’s law school friends and the University of Michigan Law School itself. The combination of the two helped her discover and explore the strengths she needed to face the challenges of being a women in a restricted, male-dominated professional world thirty years ago. Have things changed? Well that’s the basis for the novel which asks the intriguing question: What would happen if four women told the truth about their lives?

These women/friends answer as the storyline evolves into the novel’s synopsis:

Mia, Laney, Betts, and Ginger, best friends since law school, have reunited for a long weekend as Betts awaits Senate confirmation of her appointment to the Supreme Court. Nicknamed “the Ms. Bradwells” during their first class at the University of Michigan Law School in 1979—when only three women had ever served full Senate terms and none had been appointed to the Court—the four have supported one another through life’s challenges: marriages and divorces, births and deaths, career setbacks and triumphs large and small. Betts was, and still is, the Funny One. Ginger, the Rebel. Laney, the Good Girl. And Mia, the Savant.

But when the Senate hearings uncover a deeply buried skeleton in the friends’ collective closet, the Ms. Bradwells retreat to a summer house on the Chesapeake Bay, where they find themselves reliving a much darker period in their past—one that stirs up secrets they’ve kept for, and from, one another, and could change their lives forever.

Once again, Meg Waite Clayton writes inspiringly about the complex circumstances facing women and the heartfelt friendships that hold them together. Insightful and affecting, The Four Ms. Bradwells is also a captivating tale of how far people will go to protect the ones they love.

There is critical and popular Praise for the Literary Guild Book Club Fiction Selection
/Mystery Guild Selection as well as an Excerpt of Part I, introducing Mia and her perspective of the present.

Alternating the narration from the first person voices of Mia, Betts, Ginger, and Laney, their personal stories are told in flashbacks colored by the individual’s truths. Some are secrets, guilty evasions, and personal jealousies harbored over the decades. In other words, exactly what one would expect from real life friendships that holds together by a silent bond of loyalty, trust, and love.

The author acknowledges that secrets are a central theme of the novel and she further explains:

“I suppose the thing about secrets is that we often keep them out of shame. And the things that shame us often shouldn’t. They’re often things that are not our fault—and yet they’re also often things that we will be judged for, consciously or not. Or failures that we and others can learn from if we’re willing to examine what happened. Is there a message in that? I suppose that if more of us shared our secrets we might see how common life’s challenges are. But it takes a brave person to come forward.”

Are all the four Ms. Bradwells brave enough to disclose their secrets from thirty years ago in order to save Betts’ Supreme Court Nomination from the skeleton of their past? They buried it back then, however — as the adage promises: The truth will out.

Although Meg Waite Clayton’s characters are strong, independent, and seemingly successful — a journalist, a lawyer turned poet, a senator, a potential Supreme Court Justice — they share the same vulnerabilities as anyone else. For example, each one has had issues with their mother and, now, with their daughters. And, while these friends have survived and succeeded, there remains a nagging doubt if they have achieved what was expected of them.

Complete with storylines of sexual harassment, unreported rape, gay ex-husbands, fellow woman-envy, and even Anita Hill versus Clarence Thomas, The Four Ms. Bradwells is a thought-provoking novel with heart. Yes there is also a mysterious death (no spoilers here) but its suspicious cause serves as a means to tighten the present friendships. The four Ms. Bradwells do tell their truth and, if you’re looking for an honest, reflective book about what it means to be a friend, Meg Waite Clayton has written a “must read.” Enjoy!

* * * * *

Book Giveaway: The Divining Wand is giving away a copy of The Four Ms. Bradwells by Meg Waite Clayton in a random drawing of comments left only on this specific post. Comments left on other posts during the week will not be eligible. The deadline is Wednesday, April 20, 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.

Lori Roy and Bent Road

March 21, 2011 By: larramiefg Category: Book Presentations, Books

Lori Roy’s spellbinding voice tells the suspenseful tale of her debut novel, Bent Road, coming to online retailers and your local bookstore on Thursday, March 31, 2011. And, although Bent Road runs through a small town in Kansas, this is far from the Kansas which Dorothy and Toto wished to return to.

Ironically, though, location has everything to do with the story. In fact the idea for the novel came to the author as a setting, explained and illustrated in the January 24, 2011 blog post, Never a Good Answer. Please take a look because Lori writes:

“One of the questions I am often asked, for which I really have no good answer is…Where did you get the idea for BENT ROAD? It would be simple if I could point to a single newspaper article or recount an old family story passed through the generations. But I can’t. The truth is, I don’t know where the idea came from, but I do know where it began. It began with setting. So today, I thought I’d share a few pictures taken from the setting that inspired BENT ROAD.”

Next came the cast of characters — the Scott family, their extended family, and neighbors. The young children, Eve-ie and Daniel, appeared to the author first with Arthur, their father, the slowest to develop. Eventually all the characters became clearly defined as their personal story unfolded with the plot. And that storyline evolved into the book’s synopsis:

For twenty years, Celia Scott has watched her husband, Arthur, hide from the secrets surrounding his sister Eve’s death. As a young man, Arthur fled his small Kansas hometown, moved to Detroit, married Celia, and never looked back. But when the 1967 riots frighten him even more than his past, he convinces Celia to pack up their family and return to the road he grew up on, Bent Road, and that same small town where Eve mysteriously died.

While Arthur and their oldest daughter slip easily into rural life, Celia and the two younger children struggle to fit in. Daniel, the only son, is counting on Kansas to make a man of him since Detroit damn sure didn’t. Eve-ee, the youngest and small for her age, hopes that in Kansas she will finally grow. Celia grapples with loneliness and the brutality of life and death on a farm.

And then a local girl disappears, catapulting the family headlong into a dead man’s curve. . . .

On Bent Road, a battered red truck cruises ominously along the prairie; a lonely little girl dresses in her dead aunt’s clothes; a boy hefts his father’s rifle in search of a target; a mother realizes she no longer knows how to protect her children. It is a place where people learn: Sometimes killing is the kindest way.

This Book Trailer is worth well more than a thousand words:

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

The outstanding Praise and Reviews are worthy of attention. And there is also a brief Excerpt of Chapter 1 to begin your travels on Bent Road.

Have any goosebumps or is your heartbeat a bit faster? Indeed this remarkable novel causes those side effects without any trickery. For Lori Roy, with taut and exact prose, tells of normal and mundane life on a farm. There is baking and cooking, snow being cleared, and children forgetting to lock the cow within a gated enclosure. It’s real and believable, including Arthur’s reluctance to share what he knows of his sister’s death. But there are many other secrets being kept by those on Bent Road and — whether true or merely rumors — they lurk in the shadows and seep into the reader’s imagination. With each page turned, one anticipates the horror that is certain to appear.

However, when the frightening moments come, they are more stunning revelations than actual terror. With brilliant pacing — including the ebb and flow of tension –, The Divining Wand wondered how much the author actually knew what was going to happen. To avoid any *spoilers” no character names will be mentioned here but Lori admitted that even she had a “surprise” and a “shock” about a why as well as a who did what! And she further explains:

“Yet the bottom line was that everything made sense given the circumstances. I did not plot out the entire novel, but worked to integrate the plot and the arch of each character as events unfolded. The backstory and what happened twenty-five years earlier developed along with the front story, and after many rewrites, I wove the two together.”

Of course the title, Bent Road, is purposeful too since it suggests both of the book’s themes. The first is a reminder that one never knows what life holds around the corner, while the second substantiates how all individuals are shaped/influenced — positively and negatively — by past experiences. Embedded in those experiences are the secrets and rumors, both harmful and capable of impacting lives forever.

A literary suspense novel, a psychological thriller, a mystery, whatever Bent Road is categorized as it’s achingly beautiful and breathlessly solid. Lori Roy has taken an ordinary family to tell an extraordinary tale prepared to consume them all. Simply put, Bent Road (available next Thursday, March 31, 2011) is an excellent “must read!”

* * * * *

Book Giveaway: The Divining Wand is giving away one copy of Lori Roy’s Bent Road 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 23, 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.

Caroline Leavitt and Pictures of You

January 31, 2011 By: larramiefg Category: Book Presentations, Books


As a writer Caroline Leavtitt is known for her essays, short stories, and book reviews for the Boston Globe and People, as an award-wining author she is known for eight previous novels including — Girls in Trouble, Coming Back to Me, the rest in Bibliography) — , yet it is as a storyteller of her latest book, Pictures of You, that may prove the most enduring/endearing role to readers.

First consider this critical praise:

“An expert storyteller….Leavitt teases suspense out of the greatest mystery of all — the workings of the human heart.” Booklist

And then realize that a major reason for the author’s success is writing about obsession — beginning with her own and turning it into the character’s. Basing Pictures of You on her phobia for driving, she wanted to write about the fear of causing a car crash and killing someone. Could becoming fixated on that car crash and how it affects the people involved cure her?

Although it did not, the idea turned into a novel with its primary theme asking the questions: How well do we really know the ones we love, and how much — or how little — do we choose to see what is going on in our lives?

How appropriate that the life-changing car crash literally takes place in a fog. Here is the synopsis for Pictures of You:

Two women running away from their marriages collide on a foggy highway, killing one of them. The survivor, Isabelle, is left to pick up the pieces, not only of her own life, but of the lives of the devastated husband and fragile son that the other woman, April, has left behind. Together, they try to solve the mystery of where April was running to, and why. As these three lives intersect, the book asks, How well do we really know those we love-and how do we forgive the unforgivable?

There was enough Early Praise to have the publisher (Algonquin) order a second printing before releasing the book a month early.

And, by reading the Excerpt of the first two chapters, you’re certain to be praising its immediate intrigue too.

Fascinating in its depth, Pictures of You is a seemingly “easy read” about how complicated individuals’ lives become when they intersect over a tragic mistake. The author — without “dropping a stitch” on her characters’ insight, behavior, guilt, and grief — offers a multi-layered, complex storyline that never suggests heavy handed, intimidating literature. Instead what she creates is simple, but how?

Caroline laughs at the idea that it’s simple and explains:

“The writer Jonathan Evison told me “‘Easy read means hard writing.'” And he’s right. I wrote about 16 drafts (I’m not kidding~!) of Pictures of You. In every draft, I made charts, outlines, I read things out loud, I tried different fonts. It was a never ending battle to get things right, to try to cut to the core. And it took me four years to do it.”

However, after four years, the novel is eloquent and universally appealing, both literary and commercial.

Of course it fell on the characters to make it so and the authors tells that Isabelle came to her first:

“I knew she was going to enact my deepest fear–getting in a car crash and killing someone. But then I thought, well who was she going to kill? I couldn’t bring myself to have her kill a child, because if I did that, I could never continue to live myself, and I couldn’t have it be her mistake because that also seemed too awful to me, so I had it not be her mistake. Suddenly, I had this image. A woman standing in the middle of the road, her car turned around. A child running into the woods. I wanted to why and how, and I just started writing.”

Aha, the mysterious ways of creativity become the mysteries of the novel and Caroline Leavitt takes readers on an emotional journey of discovering why, how, and then what? While the aftermath of the accident suggests the need for forgiveness, healing, and closure, the truth is that life’s much too complicated for such a straightforward resolution. For, by sorting through the details of “how well do we know the ones we love?” another question arises of “how well do we know ourselves?” If we lie, mislead, or keep secrets from each other, consider how blurred individual perspectives are. Memories, images, and even pictures cannot reveal the entire past.

Then add the ripple effect that spreads into and affects a small town community for years. Well-meaning sentiments, kindness, gossip, finger-pointing, and even bullying mix together to create a chaos theory. Because, as the author agrees, “when something happens in a blink, your whole life changes. And when your whole life changes, it impacts the lives around you.”

Yet as mysterious and thought-provoking as Pictures of You reads, its most compelling aspect is the author’s portrayal of a family torn apart by the loss of a mother/wife. The husband who only saw what he wanted to see in his wife lives in pain, once realizing he did not know her. The young asthmatic son who almost physically cannot survive the guilt and grief he feels for his mother’s death, let alone how much he misses her. And the other woman — the surviving photographer — who tries to sort out her own truths, even though she feels certain it was her mistake that tore apart a happy family portrait.

Caroline Leavitt’s Pictures of You is captivatingly honest and heartfelt. Her storytelling will entertain as well as possibly cause readers to wonder about what they know is true and such truth makes this book a “must read.” Enjoy!

Book Giveaway: The Divining Wand is giving away two copies of Caroline Leavitt’s Pictures of You 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 2, 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.

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.