The Divining Wand

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Katie Alender and From Bad to Cursed

June 06, 2011 By: larramiefg Category: Book Presentations, Books

When Katie Alender wrote her debut YA novel Bad Girls Don’t Die as a stand alone book, she tied it up with a relatively happy ending. In fact two years ago, this presentation/review — Presenting Debutante Katie Alender and Bad Girls Don’t Die — noted:

It’s a book about strong teenage females who have their own problems and find their own solutions, doing so without being dependent and reliant on males. The author’s heroine, Alexis, figures out that she has the strength and intelligence to not only fight her own battles but to be victorious…not that it’s easy, of course.

And concludes with:

Yet as innocent as it is scary, the author’s empathetic writing comes down to trusting and protecting the people we care about most.

Since those words hold true and always will, how does the author manage to untie the bow of a happy ending and create even greater problems in the second book of the series, Bad Girls Don’t Die: From Bad to Cursed releasing next Tuesday, June 14, 2011?

Actually there was a realistic and simple solution as Katie explains:

“This series is all about Alexis’s arc—who she is at the beginning of the first book, how she transforms, and who she is at the end of the third book. The first book, to me, was about trust and openness.

“This book is about compassion—or the consequences of a lack of compassion. Alexis came out of the first book assuming Kasey [her younger sister] was just kind of weak and maybe a little foolish. In this book, she realizes that everyone can stumble and make mistakes. And she also realizes that people can be stronger than you give them credit for.”

Those thoughts then evolved into this From Bad to Cursed synopsis:

Alexis Warren is totally the last girl you’d expect to sell her soul.

She already has everything she needs—an adorable boyfriend, the perfect best friend, and a little sister who’s finally recovering after being possessed by an evil spirit. She’s is thrilled and relieved when her sister joins a club; new friends are just what Kasey needs.

So, yeah, it’s a little strange how fast the girls in the Sunshine Club go from dorky and antisocial to gorgeous and popular… but playing with the paranormal is what got Kasey locked up last year—she must know better than to mess with the dark side again… right?

Um, not so much. Soon Alexis learns that the girls have pledged an oath to a seemingly benevolent spirit named Aralt. Not trusting Kasey to fix the situation herself, Alexis and her best friend Megan decide to investigate by joining the club. Alexis trades in her pink hair and punky clothes for a mainstream look, and quickly finds herself reveling in her newfound elegance and success.

Faster than you can say “J. Crew,” Alexis has forgotten why she joined in the first place. Surely it wasn’t to destroy Aralt… why would she hurt someone who gives her so much—and asks for so little in return?

Although this novel can be gory and “gooey,” its true horror comes from Aralt’s supernatural curse/blessing. Given the opportunity to be perfect, to be successful, to be golden might tempt anyone at any age, but how acquiescent would a teenage girl be? And, while Alexis still maintains most of the mental strength she possessed in the first book, her emotional convictions falter now.

Even more diabolically delicious is the adult character — also “charmed” by Aralt’s oath. She may, in fact, remind readers of any number of real life people seemingly leading a golden life. Have those “fortunate” ones — who have it all — made a pact? Perhaps. Yet they too do crumble and fall….even harder than most.

Katie understands how self-destructive this can be, saying:

“I think a lot of people sell their souls for success—look at men like Bernie Madoff, whose own son committed suicide out of shame and despair. In every industry you’ll find people willing to trade tiny pieces of their humanity for success and recognition. The sad thing is, they do it of their own accord.”

Which is why she shares her feelings through writings and speech:

“One thing I try to emphasize if I’m talking to teens or aspiring writers is that you can’t go by the world’s definition of success. Look at all of the wealthy, beautiful, famous people whose lives end up in ruins. It’s so easy to be tempted by what someone else has—but often those people are trapped in miserable existences. Money, fame, Oscars, Pulitzers—none of it means anything if you can’t look yourself in the eye every morning.”

Without giving away any *spoilers*, Alexis does find it difficult to look herself in the eye every morning. For, in this book, the character’s healthy self-confidence has been replaced by over-confidence based on building herself up by belittling others. Yes she’s earned success, but she’s a teenager who is still growing and in need of understanding her own weaknesses. Despite Aralt’s “gifts,” Alexis is far from perfect. However, once she recognizes her mistakes, can she be strong enough to correct them to save herself, her sister, and others?

Hmm, that answer may be obvious by knowing there’s a book three. Still that doesn’t diminish the thrill and fun of the heart-pounding From Bad to Cursed and its message of compassion. Alexis must learn to understand what her sister really needs, rather then judging and deciding for her. Next Tuesday, June 14th in bookstores/online retailers, her lonely, frightening, and chillingly profound journey begins. It’s a great, entertaining read. Enjoy….with compassion!

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Book Giveaway: The Divining Wand is giving away two copies of From Bad to Cursed by Katie Alender 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, June 8, 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.

Presenting Debutante Eleanor Brown and
The Weird Sisters

January 17, 2011 By: larramiefg Category: Book Presentations, Books


When Debutante Eleanor Brown began visiting The Debutante Ball during its first Season of 2007, it’s doubtful that she ever imagined being one of the most honored Debs well before her book launched. But this Thursday, January 20, 2011, the author will hopefully stop pinching herself and simply revel in the debut of her novel, The Weird Sisters.

Described by as a major new talent, Deb Eleanor has written a literary/commercial book focusing on the complicated relationship of sisters, the powerful influence of books in our lives, and what we finally come to accept as home. For this, Publishers Weekly has given it a starred review “…bright, literate debut, a punchy delight”. Barnes & Noble has chosen the novel to be part of its Discover Great New Writers program beginning February – May. Amazon.com has selected it as one of the Best Books of the Month, January 2011, and it’s also been mentioned in USA Today. Of course that’s in addition to the other sparkling Praise and Press.

Duly impressed yet still wondering why The Weird Sisters is considered that special? To better understand, please know that there’s nothing weird about the sisters. In fact they even proclaim from the book’s front cover: See, we love each other. We just don’t happen to like each other very much.Now how normal does that sound for three female siblings?

The choice of the title is a logical one since it comes from Macbeth’s three witches, also known as the “weird sisters,” who represent both fate and destiny. And, since the novel focuses on the sisters’ questioning what they thought they were destined to be and struggling against what reality has dealt them, the title is a perfect description.

In writing her October 5, 2010 post, Deb Eleanor on Change and Saturn’s Return, the author explains how important she believes change is for characters:

“I believe good fiction is all about change. If there’s no difference between the characters at the beginning and the end of a novel, a memoir, even a non-fiction screed, I’m likely to end up dissatisfied. I want the characters to go through discomfort and maybe even a little pain, and to come out the other end reborn through the experience.

“Though it’s never mentioned in the book, when I wrote The Weird Sisters, I did a lot of research on Saturn’s Return.

“I call The Weird Sisters a belated coming-of-age novel. There is a reason my characters are 27, 30, and 33- I wanted them to be on the cusp of great change, to be pushed into places where they confront the lives they have created and acknowledge – and change – the pieces that aren’t working.”

Still it’s not only how the three sisters change but where they change as the author writes in her October 19, 2010 post, Deb Eleanor’s Favorite (Fictional) Place:

“….one of the things that I love most about books is their ability to transport you somewhere. In The Weird Sisters, one of my goals was to create a living, breathing town, a place that you felt you had seen before, or might be able to stumble upon, and I hope I’ve done that in the town of Barnwell, Ohio.”

Indeed Deb Eleanor has succeeded in giving the small college town of Barnwell a hometown feeling – a place where readers want to linger, while the sisters want to flee. And the combination of characters and location provides for the novel’s synopsis:

There is no problem that a library card can’t solve.

The Andreas family is one of readers. Their father, a renowned Shakespeare professor who speaks almost entirely in verse, has named his three daughters after famous Shakespearean women. When the sisters return to their childhood home, ostensibly to care for their ailing mother, but really to lick their wounds and bury their secrets, they are horrified to find the others there. See, we love each other. We just don’t happen to like each other very much. But the sisters soon discover that everything they’ve been running from – one another, their small hometown, and themselves – might offer more than they ever expected.

This debut novelist, as the youngest of three sisters, has been frequently asked which of the weird sisters — Rose (Rosalind – As You Like It), Bean (Bianca – The Taming of the Shrew), and Cordy (Cordelia – King Lear) — is she? Her response is that “there’s a little bit of me in each of the characters” and The Divining Wand has exclusive proof of that from three Q&A’s in The Revealing of Eleanor Brown:

Q: What’s your greatest flaw?
A: Complacency.

Q: What’s your best quality?
A: Enthusiasm.

Q: What do you regret most?
A: Hurting other people.

No *spoilers* here, but every one of these three answers describes one of the three sisters. It’s true, the author is delighted to admit. And, oh yes, the major theme of the book is revealed in:

Q: What is your greatest achievement?
A: Having the courage to build a life I want to live.

However what may be the most vital and magical element of The Weird Sisters is the narrator’s omniscient first person plural voice. Using “we” rather than “I,” the voice is privy to all the sisters’ thoughts, feelings, and secrets. It will pull readers into this triangular sisterhood, allowing one to feel as if they too belong…and never want to leave. In other words, it’s highly effective as well as pitch perfect.

As an Amy Einhorn book, the Uncorrected Proof of The Weird Sisters I received had an introductory letter from Ms. Einhorn in which she confesses:

The Weird Sisters is a novel I would shout about from the rooftops and urge everyone to read if I could.”

And, if that were possible, I would be among the first to join Ms. Einhorn. Yet what is possible for me to tell here is that this will be the book you reluctantly bookmark after each reading, muse about the characters as your mind wanders during the day, and rush back to its pages with anticipation only when you have a good chuck of time to spend in Barnwell, Ohio with the charming, weird sisters.

Since The Weird Sisters does not debut until Thursday, Amazon.com is featuring the novel at a Pre-order price — that costs little more than a Trade paperback — for a few more days. If you can, please take advantage of this opportunity. . . .and enjoy!

Book Giveaway: The Divining Wand is giving away one copy of Eleanor Brown’s The Weird 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, January 19, 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.