The Divining Wand

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Eileen Cook Takes Pleasure in Unraveling Isobel

January 10, 2012 By: larramiefg Category: Books, Recommendations

In pushing The Divining Wand’s restart button, one has to smile at how comforting it is to be greeted by Eileen Cook’s (The Education of Hailey Kendrick YA, Unpredictable, What Would Emma Do? YA, Getting Revenge on Lauren Wood YA, and Fourth Grade Fairy, Gnome Invasion, and Wishes for Beginners ages 9 -11) “almost” annual new release. And what a NEW release it is.

Described as: “A darkly comic novel that blends paranormal mystery and romance with humor,” Unraveling Isobel has charmed the literary critics:

“Isobel, all snark and sharp edges covering some intense vulnerability as she continuously checks in to see if she has crossed into mental illness (as her father did when she was young), is a compelling narrator.” —The Horn Book, January/February 2012

“Spine-tingling setting….Isobel’s sass and her steamy romance with her new stepbrother will help readers race toward the dramatic conclusion.” —Publishers Weekly

“This blend of paranormal romance, murder mystery and quirky, coming-of-age narrative offers tasty moments….Cook gives readers a fast-paced plot, a likable narrator, and interesting characters.” —Kirkus

Here’s what it’s all about:

Isobel’s life is falling apart. Her mom just married some guy she met on the internet only three months before, and is moving them to his sprawling, gothic mansion off the coast of nowhere. Goodbye, best friend. Goodbye, social life. Hello, icky new stepfather, crunchy granola town, and unbelievably good-looking, officially off-limits stepbrother.

But on her first night in her new home, Isobel starts to fear that it isn’t only her life that’s unraveling—her sanity might be giving way too. Because either Isobel is losing her mind, just like her artist father did before her, or she’s seeing ghosts. Either way, Isobel’s fast on her way to being the talk of the town for all the wrong reasons.

Eileen takes a walk on the dark comedic side of storytelling and emerges with a winner. Her writing has never been better, more current while also unique for this genre.

Unraveling Isobel is highly recommended for fun, lessons learned, and Eileen Cook’s snarkily lovable imagination.

Want a sneak peek? Read Chapter One.

[Please note that there is also a Kindle Edition.]

Lauren Baratz-Logsted and
The Twin’s Daughter, Petal’s Problems

February 07, 2011 By: larramiefg Category: Book Presentations, Books


Twins, particularly identical ones, are a story unto themselves and for Lauren Baratz-Logsted (The Education of Bet YA, Crazy Beautiful YA, Sisters 8 series Book 5: Marcia’s Madness) they became the inspiration of her most recent YA novel, The Twin’s Daughter. As the author explained:

“I love anything to do with twins and I wanted to write a story about a side of the story I’d never seen: that of someone who’s a child of an identical twin.”

The child/teenager is 13 year old Lucy Sexton, who would rather be educated than waste her time doing needlepoint and other proper, “ladylike” activities of England’s Victorian period. And it’s through Lucy’s sensibly curious, yet ultimately horrified mind that readers watch the story unfold.

Synopsis of The Twin’s Daughter:

Lucy Sexton is stunned when her mother’s identical twin sister shows up at the family’s front door one day. Separated at birth, the two sisters have had dramatically different upbringings — and have never known of the other’s existence. Lucy’s mother soon becomes determined to transform her sister Helen into the kind of lady that all of society will admire. And the change in Aunt Helen is indeed remarkable. But is it just Lucy’s imagination, or does Aunt Helen seem to delight in being mistaken for Lucy’s mother….especially where Lucy’s father is concerned? Then one day Lucy is horrified to stumble upon the scene of a brutal murder in her own house. Who is behind the vicious slaying — and who has been left alive?

The murder victim is one of the twins, however which one is it – Lucy’s mother or her aunt? In a December 2010 Red Room blog post, The Twin’s Daughter as it Was, Lauren writes:

“That question – “‘WHICH ONE?'” – drives the rest of the story.”

Of course the author thought she knew “which one” but points out that a major difficulty in writing a suspense novel is not knowing when the reader will figure things out. If the “Aha” moment comes too early, does it spoil the suspense?

Lauren called in outside readers to determine at what point they guessed “which one” and was the story suspenseful? All agreed it was suspenseful and the timing of their “knowing guess” didn’t deter from their reading. The manuscript was fine as it was, nothing had to be changed until the author began thinking, “What if I switched things around so that the ending was now a surprise even to me?”

And that’s exactly what she did, thereby turning The Twin’s Daughter into one of the most puzzling, second guessing mysteries one could ever hope to read!

As a book for all ages, this is more than a thrilling mystery. Lauren Baratz-Logsted shines in portraying Lucy as an adolescent who possesses strength and independence, while still being naive to the details of the world. Readers will watch her grow, mature, fall in love, and face a hard truth that molds the rest of life. She’s a believable character — a great role model — who bravely faces her bittersweet reality and comes to terms with it.

The Twin’s Daughter, complete with its murder mystery, is filled with lessons learned. The Gothic tale has a charm all its own, one that will linger with wonder at how Lauren fooled us all!

* * * * *

For readers/visitors unfamiliar with the Sisters 8 Series, the presentation/review of Lauren Baratz-Logsted and Marcia’s Madness is the perfect place to fill in the background.

Written by the Logsted family, about a family of eight sisters, Lauren explains what she, Greg, and Jackie wanted to create:

“One thing we have strived to do with The Sisters 8, since all three of us our huge fans of Roald Dahl, we’ve tried to emulate him to the extent that we do the best to make the quirky humor work for readers of all ages in addition to the targeted audience of 6- to 10-year-olds. We hope we have succeeded.”

With the introduction of a new book featuring another sister, every six months or so, The Sisters Eight Book 6: Petal’s Problems was released in October 2010 with this synopsis

Oh, no. Oh, no. Oh, no. Oh, no! May is almost over and that means only one thing: Petal’s month is about to begin. For most people, this would be a good thing. They would look forward to discovering their gift and their power. But not our dear Petal. As far as Petal is concerned, it could stay May forever.

At least the sisters have some excitement in their future: The wedding of Aunt Martha and Uncle George will bring them, the Petes, and the cats to Paris, where fun—and a little bit of danger—will come as surely as the changing of the month.

Rather than spoil the story, let it simply be noted that Petal is one sister reluctant to receive her “power.” Of course she can’t escape it….ah, yet that’s the story which, according to Kirkus Readers, is filled with “thrills, suspense and hijinks [that] should satisfy adventure-seeking young readers.”

The Sisters Eight Book 6: Petal’s Problems — it’s a must to either begin or add to the Sisters 8 Series!

Book Giveaway: The Divining Wand is giving away two copies of Lauren Baratz-Logsted’s The Twin’s Daughter AND the entire Sisters 8 Series, including Petal’s Problems in a random drawing of comments left only on this specific post. PLEASE indicate which book(s) you prefer. As always, comments left on other posts during the week will not be eligible. The deadline is Wednesday, February 9, 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.

Eileen Cook and
The Education of Hailey Kendrick

January 03, 2011 By: larramiefg Category: Book Presentations, Books


If one subscribes to the adage that “a picture is worth a thousand words,” then the cover of Eileen Cook’s (Unpredictable, What Would Emma Do? YA, Getting Revenge on Lauren Wood YA, and Fourth Grade Fairy ages 9 – 11 coming April 19, 2011) latest YA novel, The Education of Hailey Kendrick, releasing tomorrow January 4, 2010, says it all. Cover girl Hailey’s bubble is about to burst!

In a most engaging and relevant storyline, the author found inspiration in the classic novel The Scarlet Letter and its question of what happens when ostracized from your community you are forced to stand alone to discover who you really are? Of course there would be widespread repercussions as Eileen noted, “…how common it is for us to describe ourselves in relationship to other people. “‘I’m so-and-so’s daughter/sister/wife/friend'” and how our view of self can go through huge change when the people in our lives change.

“I wanted to write about a character who believed in playing it safe and felt she knew her place in the world and then suddenly finds that world turned upside down. How far would she go to get that life back and would she even want it back?”

In other words, as the tagline on the front cover states: Sometimes what you don’t know is everything.

This becomes Hailey Kendrick’s education and personal journey as the novel’s synopsis explains:

Hailey Kendrick always does exactly what’s expected of her. She has the right friends, dates the perfect boy, gets good grades, and follows all the rules. But one night, Hailey risks everything by breaking a very big rule in a very public way…and with a very unexpected partner in crime. Hailey gets caught, but her accomplice does not, and Hailey takes the fall for both of them.

Suddenly, Hailey’s perfect life — and her reputation–are blowing up in her face. Her friends are all avoiding her. Her teachers don’t trust her. Her boyfriend won’t even speak to her for long enough to tell her that she’s been dumped.

They say honesty is the best policy–but some secrets are worth keeping, no matter the cost. Or are they?

Hailey is the “perfect” character to root for, just read how the literary trade reviews sing her praises:

“.. enormously appealing and great company throughout this breezy read…..the highest quality—like a gourmet truffle. Cook has whipped up a real treat.” Kirkus Starred Review

“Cook coaxes considerable empathy for the otherwise privileged Hailey as she abandons the achievement treadmill to explore her independence.” Publishers Weekly

Now here’s your opportunity to meet Hailey through an Excerpt of Chapter 1.

Without question Eileen is loved by many (see My Christmas Greeting to Eileen Cook) and respected by even more because of her warmth, generosity and basic, universal values. While the latter may not sound exciting or alluring, the author’s talent makes it so. For example The Education of Hailey Kendrick offers up themes and messages galore, including accepting responsibility for mistakes. That’s a life lesson for anyone, at any age, to learn and The Divining Wand asked the author how important it was to showcase that in Hailey’s education? And Eileen said:

“Character and integrity were a big issues in my family growing up. There were few things you could do that were worse than giving your word to someone and then breaking it. I wanted to write about a character who had a clearly defined sense of right and wrong. Hailey does something wrong in the beginning of the novel, regrets it and spends a good portion of the rest of the book trying to figure out how to make things right- versus making the situation worse.

“There are no easy answers to difficult questions. Like most of us Hailey wants to do the right thing, but isn’t always sure what that would be. Doing the right thing isn’t a one time choice- it is a lifetime of choosing and when you fail, choosing better the next time.”

Adults would naturally agree with this, but what about YA readers?

Well here is part of a November 23, 2010 Review posted by YA Book Nuts, Lori and Melissa:

“It also seemed that every time that Hailey tried to do the right thing somehow it always backfired on her and she would add to her problems instead of solving them. (I think I identified with this so much because I do it all of the time.)

“Needless to say, I really liked this book! It is the perfect choice for a quick read that makes you laugh and think at the same time. I can’t wait to see when Eileen Cook’s next book comes out…”

Aha, what lovely words and even better insight into teens who do indeed identify with Hailey’s predicament. Also there’s the acknowledgement of laughing and thinking at the same time. It’s a wining combination yet one I puzzled over, questioning how Eileen managed to raise major issues, successfully deal with them, and move the storyline forward while keeping “Hailey” fun as well as profound. And, may it be noted, there is not a whiff of preachy involved.

So what is this author’s secret, how does she write about serious matters and still entertain? According to Eileen, most writers have a gift in a particular area by either writing amazing description, dialogue, pacing and action, or bringing out emotions. However her personal gift is, “being the class clown.” As she further explains:

“I’ve always been “‘the funny one.'” (And I mean funny as in ha-ha versus funny weird.) When I write I have a hard time keeping the funny out. What I want to do as a writer is to meld the funny with serious and make a book that can both make someone laugh and think at the same time. I believe that many difficult issues are easier to consider if they are served up with a sense of humour. Humour can take the edge off and allow you to get closer. I think with each book I write I’m getting better at blending the funny with the serious. Writing really is a craft, I feel there is still so much for me to learn.

Yet within the pages of The Education of Hailey Kendrick, the author — in her very best book yet — provides wisdom for fans of all ages. Please join Hailey in her life’s education, share the book with a teen, and together you’re likely to discover/remember how delightful and good each day can be!

Book Giveaway: The Divining Wand is giving away two copies of Eileen Cook’s The Education of Hailey Kendrick 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 5, 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.

Matthew Quick and SORTA LIKE A ROCK STAR

April 26, 2010 By: larramiefg Category: Book Presentations, Books

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The fact that Matthew Quick earned both popular and critical success with his debut adult novel, The Silver Linings Playbook (now in Paperback), one might wonder why he would choose to switch genres and debut as a YA author of SORTA LIKE A ROCK STAR, officially being released tomorrow?

The business answer is simple. Having already had written a second adult manuscript before The Silver Linings Playbook was published, Matt discovered that his adult-market editor was swamped and unable to read/work on the new book immediately. Rather than waste time in waiting, “Q’s” agent suggested he return to his high school English teaching experiences and reach out to teenagers by writing about them. And that led to the personal reason when the author realized, “I can do that.”

Indeed he did! For Matthew Quick’s perspective on young adults is a positive one, acknowledging that when at their best they still have “a beautiful innocence” about them. He also believes that though caught in between the desire to be thought of as adults and yet wanting to hold on to being kids, they are capable of doing amazing things while coming into their own. And those thoughts created the novel’s backstory as Matt says: “The teen years are sort of like a beautiful sunset. Brief, but powerful. I wanted Amber to represent this.”

SORTA LIKE A ROCK STAR synopsis:

Amber Appleton lives in a bus. Ever since her mom’s boyfriend kicked them out, Amber, her mom, and her totally loyal dog, Bobby Big Boy (aka Thrice B) have been camped out in the back of Hello Yellow (the school bus her mom drives). But Amber, the self-proclaimed princess of hope and girl of unyielding optimism, refuses to sweat the bad stuff. Instead, she focuses on bettering the lives of her alcoholic mother and her quirky circle of friends: a glass-ceiling-breaking single mother raising a son diagnosed with autism; Father Chee and The Korean Divas for Christ (soul-singing ESL students); a nihilist octogenarian; a video-game-playing gang of outcasts; and a haiku-writing war vet. But then a fatal tragedy threatens Amber’s optimism—and her way of life. Can Amber continue to be the princess of hope?

With his zany cast of characters and a heartwarming, inspiring story, debut YA author Matthew Quick builds a beautifully beaten-up world of laughs, loyalty, and hard-earned hope. This world is Amber’s stage, and Amber is, well…she’s sorta like a rock star.

Of course Amber lives up to her title by being powerful, positive, and facing most challenges head-on, yet it is through the strong voice-driven storyline that the reader accepts, believes, and embraces her. TRUTH: Amber’s distinctive voice will fill readers’ minds, causing an almost instant connection from page one. The fact that the thoughts and feelings of a 17-year old girl could be expressed with such believability by a male writer is also fascinating.

However Matthew Quick has a simple explanation for this ability. First, the author notes that he’s counseled many teenage young women and listened to them. Then, with a bit of empathy and a good ear, he believes it’s possible to capture anyone’s voice.

On the other hand, Matt admits how much his writing needs that ability: “I write voice-driven stuff so I need to find a voice before I can write a novel. Amber’s voice just sort of popped into my head one day. I loved writing in her voice. It was a very emotional experience. I’m sort of an emotional guy, which people don’t get by looking at me. But I’m actually very intuitive and sensitive. True.”

TRUST: Simply read these Reviews and you’ll sense the critically high emotional feeling for this book. Please also read the 6 Comments to “Matthew Quick Shines A Writer’s Light”, giving special attention to:

Kent says:

“Sorta Like A Rock Star is considered a YA book. However, its message and story is so universal that even this 34-year-old male with a penchant for horror movies and punk rock records was left in awe. It leaves you wanting to be a better person.”

Yes Kent is Kent Green of Emerald Productions — one of “Q’s” friends and the filmmaker of the Book Trailer video — BUT his reaction and feeling are based on sincere truth.

Have you viewed the SORTA LIKE A ROCK STAR Book Trailer yet? If not, do enjoy now.

After receiving the SORTA LIKE A ROCK STAR Advanced Reading Copy from Little Brown to review, I fell under Amber’s spell as well. Her voice, her spirit, her hope and her faith are 100% contagious. She’s a teenaged girl in dire need and, though well aware of that reality, Amber chooses to help and buoy others rather than wallow in any type of pity. Why? Because she believes in the good of the world despite having experienced the bad. And, also, because she believes in God — JC, the ultimate sorta like a rock star.

Amber talks to God, prays to him and believes he’s listening to her most of the time. Her hope comes from this faith — a trusting belief. Matthew Quick’s writing is pure, realistic, and captivating as he manages to project Amber’s strength and optimism without a hint of Pollyanna. However this teenager did feel reminiscent of someone from my childhood tales…who?

The Pied Piper initially came to mind, only to be rejected. It wasn’t until the day after finishing the book that the answer came: Amber Appleton spread seeds of hope everywhere she went and, in time, those seeds grew and yielded much more than hope. Amber Appleton = Johnny Appleseed. Word.

What Matt has written could well become modern day folklore. And, if Amber Appleton is SORTA LIKE A ROCK STAR then “Q” must be KINDA LIKE A GENIUS MANAGER! True? Please, whatever your age, read SORTA LIKE A ROCK STAR and discover how true this is!

[Book Giveaway:] The Divining Wand is giving away two copies of SORTA LIKE A ROCK STAR in a random drawing of all comments left on this post. The deadline is Wednesday, April 28, 2010 at 7:00 p.m. EDT with the winners to be announced here in Thursday’s post. If you enter, please visit on Thursday to possibly claim your book. Good luck!

Here’s to Alibi Junior High

June 25, 2009 By: larramiefg Category: Books

On Monday, at her Red Room Blog, Lauren Lise Baratz-Logsted’s posted her Book of the Week: Alibi Junior High. Although this middle grade book is her husband Greg Logsted’s second novel, Lauren wasn’t showing favoritism as she noted: “And so you don’t think it’s just me thinking the book is wonderful, here’s what the critics say:

~ “Funny and fast paced, this fits right in with the beach-read crowd.” (Fiction. 10-14) – Kirkus Review

And this Tuesday, June 23, 2009, Alibi Junior High was released.

Since The Divining Wand lists only a few male authors — let alone those who write children/middle grade/YA novels — so far, it’s a real pleasure to direct you to Greg Logsted’s Website where you can be charmed in learning About him. His hometown is likely to capture readers’ (of all ages) imaginations yet, in that telling last paragraph, this thoughtful writer becomes one terrific role model:

“I spend my nights and weekends writing. I’m constructing a ladder with words. I’m just going to keep climbing it as high as I can.”

In those three brief sentences Greg offers a work ethic, a plan, and a goal. And, if he can provide such wisdom on a website page, don’t you wonder what fills his book pages?

Here’s a sample in the Alibi Junior High Synopsis:

Thirteen-year-old Cody Saron has never lived in one place longer than a few weeks, and has never attended a regular school. Growing up on the run with his father, an undercover agent for the CIA, Cody has traveled the entire globe; he speaks five languages, and he has two black belts. What Cody isn’t prepared for is…junior high.

When the danger surrounding Cody’s dad heats up, Cody is sent to stay with the aunt he’s never known, Jenny, in her small Connecticut suburb. Cody has no idea how to fit in with other kids, how to handle his first crush, or how to make it through a day of classes.

As Cody struggles to adapt to the one thing he’s never experienced — a normal life — he starts to fear that his father’s world has followed him and no one he loves is safe. Greg Logsted weaves together action, humor, and heart, building to a surprising revelation about what Cody has always believed to be true.

*****

Greg, author of Something Happened (YA), has also co-written The Sisters Eight (children) series with his wife Lauren and their daughter Jackie. Being true to his word, even when writing, Greg Logsted likes having a “crew” and not a “staff.”

Enjoy your weekend…hopefully relaxing with a good book.

Presenting Debutante Katie Alender and Bad Girls Don’t Die

April 20, 2009 By: larramiefg Category: Book Presentations

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Having been a daily guest at The Debutante Ball for its first two seasons, Katie Alender
shared the joy and excitement of other authors’ debuts. Yet this season Katie is a Deb and tomorrow — April 21, 2009 — will be her turn to take a bow and be celebrated when her Young Adult novel, Bad Girls Don’t Die, hits bookstore shelves or ships from your favorite online retailer.

Imagine what an added thrill this Debutante must feel by following in the tradition and legacy of the Ball’s Founders! In fact in her first post, My dog ate my pearls, by Deb Katie, she acknowledges Mia King’s Good Things and Sweet Life even before introducing herself as a “…hopeless homebody.” But please do not be fooled by Deb Katie’s self-effacing description for, in truth, she’s a multi-talented and ever-curious dynamo who brings passion to every one of her eclectic interests/loves.

Consider, for example, that she began the first draft of Bad Girls Don’t Die in 2002 and, over the next couple of years, she revised it when there was time or when inspiration hit. In 2006 Deb Katie was ready to make her statement and ended up selling the book by the end of the year. As she notes: “A lot of people say they have two “‘practice'” books hidden in a drawer. For me, this was the practice book! I just kept hammering away it it until it was good enough.”

What was so important about this story to keep Deb Katie writing? Well, although the tale has certainly evolved from its original “evil ghost” action thriller, the message has remained constant. 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.

Here a Synopsis of Bad Girls Don’t Die:

“When 15-year-old Alexis Warren suspects that her younger sister Kasey’s strange behavior is more than just angst, she thinks she can handle it on her own. But creepy parlor tricks are just the beginning, and it soon seems that Kasey may actually be living out the violent legacy of the Warrens’ gothic home. Alexis is forced to seek out the help of her arch-rival, cheerleader queen, Megan Wiley. Working together, they’re the only ones who can save Kasey. But what if the green-eyed girl isn’t even Kasey anymore?”

And here is a sensational Bad Girls Don’t Die Book Trailer

If THAT scared you, wait until you read the book! 😉 Seriously though, having read an Advanced Reader Copy, I’ll tell you that Deb Katie’s writing creates as much realistic magic as that video does, with her words conjuring up mental images that reel into scene after scene. When reading a book, especially a novel, I usually read word-by-word since that’s how the author painstakingly wrote it. But that was impossible to do with Bad Girls Don’t Die. Simply put, the book is a visual, rollercoaster ride that you cannot stop…nor do you want to!

In subtle and not so subtle ways, the plot revolves around how everyone has a personal battle to conquer. For Alexis the battle was loneliness and she convinced herself she simply didn’t belong. Does that sound like teenage angst? It might have been except the author doesn’t allow her heroine to wallow. Instead Alexis rationalizes that the reasons she had to act out were good enough to justify her actions. No this is not a bad girl, but she is defensive and judgmental. And confronting that underlying issue provides her with greater strength, understanding as well as — most importantly –trust.

Ironically, Deb Katie accepts and embraces the fact that readers will judge her book from their own POV and she addresses this in the January 20, 2009 post, The magic of someone else’s eyes, by Deb Katie. What a terrific, optimistic perspective! And what a smart move to seek out her target audience online, provide them with ARCS, and have them review the novel. Visit the writer’s Reviews page to read Praise for Bad Girls Don’t Die, most from teen literary sites!

While delighted with these reviews, this writer has been surprised that readers have literally been scared by the story and “consider the ending to be a bit of a twist.” After all it was never her intention to write a mystery. What Deb Katie did want her writing to do was…remind people that things aren’t always what they seem. And if knowing that makes one teen be nice to another teen somewhere on the other side of the country, what a difference for those two young adults and possibly their futures.

Also Bad Girls Don’t Die is rated PG — a conscious commitment on the author’s part to avoid the issues of sex, drugs, and cell phone tapes. She knows that a lot of teens are dealing with these subjects, but there may be just as many who don’t deal with those things every single day. Why then add to the media hype, especially when Alexis has more than enough to contend with?

Layered with honest and revealing intimacy, this “ghost story” novel exposes one teen’s demon(s). Yet as innocent as it is scary, the author’s empathetic writing comes down to trusting and protecting the people we care about most. Of course you can gift Bad Girls Don’t Die to your daughter, niece, babysitter AND don’t forget yourself. For you will not only be entertained by Debutante Katie Alender, you also will likely remember the importance of listening to young adults — something to cherish and enjoy!