Review + Interview + Giveaway: “In Another Life” by Julie Christine Johnson #FranceBT

1 Mar in-another-life-cover

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My Review

In Another Life by Julie Christine Johnson takes a pivotal historical event — the assassination of Archdeacon Pierre de Castelnau on January 15, 1208 — as her inspiration for this speculative mystery and fantasy romance.  The novel opens, however, in the present day when recent widow Lia Carrer returns to Languedoc, France to complete her research in medieval history, specifically the murder of Castelnau. The return is bittersweet: the region’s beauty and rich history stir her soul, as they did when she lived there in her youth, but it is also the site of her husband’s death in a competitive cycling accident. She plans to reconnect and heal with her close friend Rose and Rose’s  husband Domènec who live there, but she has arrived at a liminal time, the winter solstice, when uncanny things are possible.  On her first night in the town of Minerve, she emerges from a restorative bath and sees a ghostly image in a tall window:

In the space between heartbeats, she saw the face of a man.  Moonlight revealed fierce dark eyes and the etched planes of cheekbones. A seeping black streak marred the left side of his face, running from his temple down his cheek to the corner of his mouth.  The palm of a hand came into view, reaching toward her.

She slaps the glass and the image dissolves, becoming a “Bonelli’s eagle,” a rare and portentous bird of prey.  She will not disclose this, even to her friends, right away. Instead she revisits her advisor and confidante, Fr. Jordí Bonafé,  who is archivist at the Cathedral of Saint-Just and Saint-Pasteur in Narbonne. They have a close connection: when she insisted on giving her planned address to a historical meeting at Carcassonne only three days after her husband Gabriel’s death, he was there to console her. Now he has hinted at possible new evidence concerning the death of Pierre de Castelnau, a document that could change the substance of her research and revive her interrupted career.  Castelnau’s murder was the trigger that led to the Cathar, or Albigensian, Crusade, in which the church and the French king both ultimately benefitted by crushing the renegade heretical sect and the independent region where they flourished.

While events unfold in present-day Languedoc, we are also given interspersed scenes from the past, in fact the life-and-death moments in 1208 that began the cruel extermination of the Cathars.  Very early in the story we witness the murder of Archdeacon Castelnau, through the eyes of a shadowy bystander in the church of St. Gilles. History records that Castelnau may have been ambushed while returning from Rome, but his relics are interred in St. Gilles, and Johnson makes good use of the dramatic possibilities by setting the assassination in the church itself. The slain cleric drops a letter to the floor under the altar; partially hidden by the altar cloth, this mysterious letter with its coded message goes unnoticed by the assassin but not by the trembling witness to events, whose actions will safeguard it through the centuries.

 

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West portal of St.-Gilles-du-Gard. JMalik, Wikimedia commons.

 

We learn that one of the heretical tenets of Catharism was a belief that souls would need to be perfected and purified from the  taint of matter through many lives before they could be admitted to heaven.  The hints of reincarnation are dropped early in the novel as we hear the names of present day characters–Lucas, Raoul, Jordí–echoed in the names of the figures glimpsed in scenes from the past.  Lia becomes involved with two men, attractive photographer Lucas Moisset, who helps her with her research and wants to get closer to her, and brooding Raoul Arango, a local farmer and winemaker, who stuns her by his resemblance both to the ghostly face she saw in her window and to a mysterious man she encountered at Carcassonne only two days before.  If you think this disclosure will dull the suspense, have no fear of that because the dramatic tension for the reader is only heightened. Johnson skillfully constructs her mosaic of past and present events to reveal the full picture only at the end. One of the persistent mysteries is how Lia herself fits into the puzzle? Is she herself a reincarnated soul?

At one point after Lia has met Raoul at Rose and Domènec’s house, Le Pèlerin, she lets Rose take her on a visit to Lagrasse and the winery that Raoul is restoring. She does not know their destination until she gets there.

“What is this place?” Lia trailed behind Rose, who walked resolutely to the front door and knocked. Rose held up a finger, listening.

Lia hung back, wandering through the small front garden. Tendrils of newly green wisteria crept up the outside wall—last year’s dead growth had been trimmed away. The first perennials poked through black loam in window boxes, and the flowerbeds had a fresh layer of straw to keep them warm over the chilly, early spring nights. A hopeful heart had foreseen a season of flowers, and gentle hands had prepared the soil.

Unexpectedly, she meets Raoul himself, who has returned to supervise work on his property, and I could not help but be reminded of Elizabeth Bennet’s visit to Pemberley and her surprise encounter with Darcy in Pride and Prejudice.  A nice touch, as readers will sense the romantic implications.

I gladly recommend this impressive book, which combines historical and religious reference, vivid description of setting, careful plotting, and sensitive character development, for a well-paced, satisfying read. The book also includes helpful maps of the Languedoc region and its position in France to help the curious reader follow the sites of the action.

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Interview with Julie Christine Johnson

I am delighted to welcome Julie Christine Johnson, who has kindly agreed to share some thoughts on her novel, her writing process, and the interplay between life and fiction writing.

Bonjour Lucy! And thank you for featuring me, and ‘In Another Life,’ on your beautiful blog! It’s an honor to be here.

Q1.  I see that your education includes degrees in French, psychology, and international affairs.  I came to literature by way of psychology myself, and I know it often influences my perspective on fictional characters, whether directly or indirectly. Your novel seems very sensitive to the kind of trauma Lia has faced before the story opens. Do you feel your psychology training has informed your fiction writing, and in what ways?

What a great question. I think it’s one of those chicken-and-egg things. I may have gravitated to psychology because I have always been a keen observer of the human condition, trying to sort out what drives us, inspires us, why we make the choices we do, what weaknesses and strengths we exploit in ourselves and in others. I’ve always listened carefully to others’ stories and their hearts, and for a time I considered a career in counseling and therapy. Yet, I was keenly interested in psycholinguistics, as well, which led to the degree in French. So, it all ties together to make a writer: an ear and heart tuned to stories and language.

With regards to Lia’s trauma and grief, that comes from within the writer. Colum McCann says, “Sometimes it seems to me that we are writing our lives in advance, but at other times we can only ever look back. In the end, though, every word we write is autobiographical, perhaps most especially when we attempt to avoid the autobiographical.” Although I have not lost my life partner, I have experienced terrible loss, I have mourned. It is that grief I tapped in order to touch Lia’s own.

Q2.  The Cathars and the Albigensian Crusade against them continue to fascinate us after 800 years.  Their suffering seems so extreme, and the means to enforce orthodoxy so harsh and unforgiving. I knew about their rejection of the flesh and the material world, but I wasn’t really aware of the reincarnation aspect. At what point did that become a key driver of your novel? In other words, did you begin with the time shifting in mind, or did it come as a Eureka moment during your clearly extensive research process?  Did it present any special problems or puzzles to solve as you worked out the story?

The Languedoc region and Cathar history have enthralled me for years. Long before I knew I’d be writing a novel of this time and this place, two facts buried themselves in my psyche: history never identified Pierre de Castelnau’s assassin; and the Cathars believed in reincarnation and the transmigration of souls.

This belief in reincarnation became my way into the story—my wings to make the leap from historical fiction into fantasy. Although the story’s foundation is historical—the assassination of a papal emissary which led immediately to the crusade against the Cathars—the very premise of characters who emerge from one era to another by way of reincarnation allowed me to play with the notions of history (what we can prove), of the past (what we can make a reasonable guess at), and of faith as fantasy. By writing a fantasy, I took tremendous license in building a world that is disconcertingly similar to, but fundamentally different from, our own.

Rather than pursue a science fiction approach to the characters’ transition from past to present, where the mechanics of time travel are examined and perhaps explained, I kept to the theme of faith and used Biblical and other religious mythologies as my guide: what must Adam and Eve have felt, awakening to a world they did not know, but somehow understood? They were fully able to use the technology of their time. For me, the interest wasn’t in the how, but in the why, the who, the “what now?”

What I hint at in the narrative, however, is the role memory plays. That there is an understanding of modern life because there have been other passages through time where things were learned and retained by the body and brain, but those passages are not remembered. And that each man has experienced his transitions differently-hence, the fundamentals of reincarnation: that rebirth can occur in many different forms.

Time travel doesn’t interest me as a plot device. It seems too mechanical, too dependent upon logic and processes. My world is the world of faith and religion, where beliefs are held as sacred, upheld by tradition, and it is not for the believer to ask how, but to accept.

Which of course, leaves open all sorts of possibilities for future “past” adventures, doesn’t it?!

Q3.  A Bonelli’s eagle makes an appearance early in the story and seems to be a symbolic portent.  Without giving too much away, can you tell a little bit more about this bird and why you chose to introduce it?

The Cathars also believed in transmigration of human souls into non-human animals. The moment I read this, I imagined birds of prey soaring above the mountains and valleys of Languedoc, great raptors battling the good and evil within their own souls, souls that had at one time been human. And then I learned that the dove had become a symbol of the Cathar people, a tender and tragic reminder of all those souls lost to fire, torture, starvation and disease, eradicated by evil, yet rising above, pure and peaceful. Everything clicked into place: Paloma as the dove, Raoul as the eagle, Lucas as the falcon. In earlier drafts I emphasized the transmigration element to a much greater extent, but I gradually toned it down to make human-bird soul exchange more of a thread in the tapestry of the story, weaving in and out, catching the light or disappearing into the shadows.

Q4.  Apart from their specific roles in the plot, Lucas and Raoul seem to bring out different sides of Lia’s character; both interest her, and neither one is easy for her to dismiss.  How would you describe each one’s appeal for Lia? How did you think about them as you were writing?

In earlier drafts, Lucas was far more sinister, but as I got to know him and fleshed out the story, I realized I wanted a more ambivalent, richer character, someone who had made poor choices, had done terrible things, but who was not inherently evil. One of the major themes of ‘In Another Life’ is redemption and through that I came to develop affection for and a desire to forgive Lucas. For Lia, the first glimpse of Lucas is a reawakening of her desire and he immediately becomes associated with guilt. And of course, he is a man consumed by guilt and regret. As she realizes her desire for him is more of a reflex action and nothing made from love, she is able to reach out to him in compassion.

There is a theme running through this novel that only recently occurs to me, perhaps because I have been too close to it; yet it is something I strive for, and that is acceptance of the now and moving forward with what you hold in your heart at the moment, without looking back or pushing against the future. There is an essential peacefulness in both Raoul and Lia that I admire. I think this is how they were able to find one another, at least this time around—their hearts were capable of and open to wonder. In Lucas, a chance for redemption; in Raoul, a reawakening of her true emotional self and genuine desire, of honor to marriage and true love, and ultimately, selflessness.

Q5.  The Languedoc region of southern France is a place that Lia longs to return to in the story, a place where she feels at home, despite its being the site of some painful events. You have studied and worked abroad, including two years spent in New Zealand. Is there a place that still beckons you? Somewhere you long to revisit or make your home for extended periods?

There is so much of the world I have yet to explore, it takes my breath away. Western, southern, eastern Africa; the Levant, Southeast Asia. But my heart, oh my heart. It is in a vineyard in southern France, close enough to the sea to smell the salt air and be scoured clean by the wind.

Q6.  I hope you will one day write more historical fiction (!), but I am quite interested to know about your next two novels, which have contemporary settings. Can you tell us a little about The Crows of Beara and Tui?

Oh, thank you! I can tell you right now that I am not done with the Cathars and Languedoc. Whether it’s a sequel to ‘In Another Life’ or something else entirely I won’t say, but I will be returning to this world.

My second novel, ‘The Crows of Beara,’ will be published September 2017 (Ashland Creek Press). I’m in the midst of working with my editor on revisions. It takes place in contemporary Co. Cork, southwest Ireland, and weaves together themes of industry vs. the environment, addiction, creativity, and hill walking, with a thread of magical realism woven through (of course, it’s Ireland!).

My third novel, which was ‘Tui,’ but now has the new working title ‘Upside-Down Girl,’ follows the journey of Holly Dawes as she emigrates from Seattle to New Zealand, where she befriends a young Maori girl, and realizes there is more than one way to fulfill her desire to be a mother and more than one way to lose a beloved child. ‘Upside-Down Girl’ is now with my agent and revisions await me as soon as I wrap up ‘The Crows of Beara’ (and breathe!). I lived in New Zealand in the mid-late 2000s, and ‘Upside-Down Girl’ is perhaps the most personal of my stories. At least it started out that way. It became something else entirely by the end. It’s the first time I’ve written a child as one of the main characters.

Lucy, thank you for such an outstanding interview! It’s been a joy connecting with you and your readers.

Thank you, Julie, for such illuminating answers! You speak eloquently of the underpinnings of your writing and of storytelling in general.  Personally, I am very glad that you took the choice to make Lucas a motivationally complex character, as you grew to know him during your writing.  Also, what you say about Lia and Raoul rings very true with me as a reader and deepens my appreciation for them.

I look forward to your two upcoming books and especially to your return to Languedoc and the Cathars for some more mythic fantasy before too long! 

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Julie Christine Johnson

on Tour

March 1-10

with

in-another-life-cover

In Another Life

(Historical Fiction/Contemporary Women’s Fiction/
Fantasy/Romance)

Release date: February 2, 2016
at Sourcebooks

368 pages

ISBN: 9782954168197

Website | Goodreads

SYNOPSIS

Historian Lia Carrer has finally returned to southern France, determined to rebuild her life after the death of her husband. But instead of finding solace in the region’s quiet hills and medieval ruins, she falls in love with Raoul, a man whose very existence challenges everything she knows about life–and about her husband’s death. As Raoul reveals the story of his past to Lia, she becomes entangled in the echoes of an ancient murder, resulting in a haunting and suspenseful journey that reminds Lia that the dead may not be as far from us as we think. Steeped in the rich history and romantic landscape of the Languedoc region, In Another Life is a story of love that conquers time and the lost loves that haunt us all.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

In Another Life- Julie Christine Johnson

Photo by Al Bergstein

Julie Christine Johnson is the author of the novels In Another Life (February 2016, Sourcebooks Landmark) and The Crows of Beara (September 2017, Ashland Creek Press).  Her short stories and essays have appeared in several journals, including Emerge Literary Journal, Mud Season Review;  Cirque: A Literary Journal of the North Pacific Rim; Cobalt, the anthologies Stories for Sendai; Up, Do: Flash Fiction by Women Writers; and Three Minus One: Stories of Love and Loss and featured on the flash fiction podcast, No Extra Words. She holds undergraduate degrees in French and Psychology and a Master’s in International Affairs. A runner, hiker, and wine geek, Julie makes her home on the Olympic Peninsula of northwest Washington state with her husband. In Another Life is her first novel.

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Visit Julie’s website and blog
Follow Julie Christine Johnson on Twitter | on Facebook
Sign up to receive her Newsletter.

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Global giveaway open to US residents only:
5 participants will each win a print copy of this book.

Be sure to follow each participant on Twitter/Facebook,
for more chances to win

Enter here

Visit each blogger on the tour:
tweeting about the giveaway everyday
of the Tour will give you 5 extra entries each time!
[just follow the directions on the entry-form]

***

CLICK ON THE BANNER
TO READ REVIEWS, EXCERPT, INTERVIEW, GUEST-POST

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*Note*: I received an advance electronic copy of this book, in exchange for an honest review.  I did not receive any other compensation, and the views expressed in my review are my own opinions.

#TTWIB MARCH 2016 READALONG–An African in Greenland by Tété-Michel Kpomassie

28 Feb

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Our March Readalong selection is a travel memoir, An African in Greenland by Tété-Michel Kpomassie. He tells an amazing tale of his youth in western Africa and his bold decision to travel on his own to the northern reaches of Greenland, a place he had only read about by happenstance.  This cold country, linked by history to Denmark, and its people, the hardy Greenlandic Inuit, fascinated the young man from Togo. Many of us have experienced such a longing and fascination, but this story is amazing for the initiative Kpomassie took, his resourcefulness in traveling north to Europe on his own and then booking passage to Greenland, and his determination to visit the main outposts on the way to Greenland’s northernmost point. Furthermore, he turned out to be a gifted journal keeper and writer, and his frank and perceptive memoir of his time among the Greenlanders is unforgettable. This book won the Prix Littéraire Francophone in 1981.

Here are pictures of Kpomassie, then (in 1959) and more recently (at a reading in 2011).

 

We will have three Twitter chats, tagged #TTWIB :

  • Wednesday March 9 @ 9 pm EST.  This one will probably touch on Kpomassie’s early life in Togo and his motivation for making the trip to Greenland.
  • Wednesday March 23 @ 9pm EDT. (Daylight Savings Time/US begins March 13.)
  • Sunday March 27 @ at 3 pm EDT. These last two chats (evening or afternoon) will focus on the author’s travels and his time in Greenland, and wrap up our book chat.

Questions for the Discussion Boards will be posted around the time of the first Twitter chat at our Travel the World in Books Reading Challenge group page at Goodreads, and you can post your thoughts there anytime!

If you would like more information about the book, or are just curious, my detailed review appears at my other blog, Northern Lights Reading Project.  I’d love to have visitors there too, since I started that blog in conjunction with my first Travel the World in Books Readathon in 2014. Looking forward to savoring Kpomassie’s wonderfully unique travel memoir again and, especially, hearing (or reading) what you all think about it.

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Review and Giveaway: “Messandrierre” by Angela Wren #FranceBT

26 Feb

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My Review

Sherlock Holmes once remarked to Dr. Watson, as they were taking a train out of London to work on a case at a country house:

“Do you know, Watson,” said he, “that it is one of the curses of a mind with a turn like mine that I must look at everything with reference to my own special subject. You look at these scattered houses, and you are impressed by their beauty. I look at them, and the only thought which comes to me is a feeling of their isolation and of the impunity with which crime may be committed there.”

“Good heavens!” I cried. “Who would associate crime with these dear old homesteads?”

“They always fill me with a certain horror. It is my belief, Watson, founded upon my experience, that the lowest and vilest alleys in London do not present a more dreadful record of sin than does the smiling and beautiful countryside.” (from The Adventure of the Copper Beeches)

Detective Jacques Forêt left his investigative job in Paris to take up a post as gendarme, a regular policeman, in Messandriere, a rural village in the Cévennes region.  He had hopes that this new, less high-powered assignment would help him heal from an injury and traumatic events in Paris (left shadowy) and bring him a measure of peace. Yet it is not working out this way.  Numbers Jacques (as he became known on the Paris force) cannot help noticing the mounting total of strange disappearances in this tiny village. Meeting with his associate Thibault Clergue for lunch, they chew over more than their plate of charcuterie:

“That’s four disappearances in thirteen months, Thibault.”  Deciding to leave the ham until last he took a mouthful of salami instead and chewed on it.  “That’s almost Paris statistics and this is a village a fraction of the size of the city.”

“Ah.” Clergue scraped his fork through a slice of rosette and stuffed it into his mouth. “Numbers Jacques!”

The use of his old nickname from his time in the Judiciaire in Paris made him wince…

Another thing that is making Jacques Forêt wince is the aloofness of his girlfriend, photographer Beth Samuels, who has just returned to Messandrierre but chose not to let him know herself.  It seems they were very close during her last visit, but this time she is pulling away from him. She is overwhelmed with questions surrounding her deceased husband Dan’s curious business dealings and her own concerns about disposing of their property.  She clearly still admires Jacques but doesn’t want to let herself resume their relationship–the very thing Jacques wants above all else.

Beth becomes embroiled in the string of disappearances when a couple of hiking tourists stop for the entire afternoon at her place, and then one of them, Rob Myers, fails to show up to meet his friend Will later that week.  Beth is very concerned about Rob’s whereabouts but she is evasive when Jacques must question her in his capacity as Messandrierre’s gendarme.

“Did they say anything about where they were going?” Jacques noticed that her frown had returned and that she was twisting her wedding ring round and round her finger. He wondered why. “Or, perhaps, they mentioned what their plans were?” Putting his notebook down he observed her as she formed her response.  A moment later, when he recognized that she was avoiding his gaze, he prompted her gently.  “Anything they said could be helpful, Beth.”

“But that’s the point.  Had I known that you would be here today asking me about them I would have paid more attention.  But it was just chitchat, you know.  They said something about working for the summer.”  She looked at the floor.

Her reticence disturbs him, both professionally and personally: what could she be hiding?   The investigation continues and before long, Beth is in real danger of becoming the next missing person.  To me, Beth seems too trusting and takes too many chances; she might benefit from following the old maxim to be careful when talking to strangers!

Messandrierre works very well as a mystery/thriller.  About 10% into the book, I caught myself having forgotten for a few moments that I was reading–surely a good sign–instead, I was completely caught up in the story and its very effective suspense.  The author uses a lot of dramatic irony, in which the reader knows that one character or another is blithely hurtling into danger, and the dénouement is quite chilling.  Sherlock Holmes was right about the “dreadful” crimes that can go unnoticed in the “smiling and beautiful countryside,” unless he and Watson–or Jacques Forêt–are on the case.  I look forward eagerly to the next books in this new mystery series.

Besides the author’s website be sure to visit her blog, James et Moi, to read her illuminating “interviews” with her characters, Jacques and Beth. I loved reading these charming (and rather sly) pieces and seeing the beautiful photos of France she used to illustrate them:

 

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Angela Wren

on tour

February 23-27

with

Messandrierre cover

Messandrierre

(murder mystery/romance)

Release date: December 8, 2015
at Crooked Cat Publishing Ltd

119 pages

ISBN: 978-1910510759

Website | Goodreads

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SYNOPSIS

Sacrificing his job in investigation following an incident in Paris, Jacques Forêt has only a matter of weeks to solve a series of mysterious disappearances as a Gendarme in the rural French village of Messandrierre. But, as the number of missing persons rises, his difficult and hectoring boss puts obstacles in his way. Steely and determined, Jacques won’t give up and, when a new Investigating Magistrate is appointed, he becomes the go-to local policeman for all the work on the case. Will he find the perpetrators before his lover, Beth, becomes a victim? Messandrierre – the first in a new crime series featuring investigator, Jacques Forêt.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Messandrierre Angela Wren

Angela Wren
Having followed a career in Project and Business Change Management, I now work as an Actor and Director at a local theatre. I’ve been writing, in a serious way, for about 5 years. My work in project management has always involved drafting, so writing, in its various forms, has been a significant feature throughout my adult life. I particularly enjoy the challenge of plotting and planning different genres of work. My short stories vary between contemporary romance, memoir, mystery and historical. I also write comic flash-fiction and have drafted two one-act plays that have been recorded for local radio. The majority of my stories are set in France where I like to spend as much time as possible each year.

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Visit her website and her blog. Follow her on Facebook, Google +

Connect with her on LinkedIn

Buy the book on Amazon or on Smashwords

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Global giveaway open internationally:
5 participants will each win a copy of this book:
print or digital for Europe residents
digital otherwise

Be sure to follow each participant on Twitter/Facebook,
for more chances to win

Enter here

Visit each blogger on the tour:
tweeting about the giveaway everyday
of the Tour will give you 5 extra entries each time!
[just follow the directions on the entry-form]

******

CLICK ON THE BANNER
TO READ OTHER REVIEWS AND EXCERPT

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*Note*: I received an advance electronic copy of this book, in exchange for an honest review.  I did not receive any other compensation, and the views expressed in my review are my own opinions.  

Five books: In honor of Book Blogger Appreciation Week #BBAW

18 Feb

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I’m not officially participating in Book Blogger Appreciation Week ‪#‎BBAW‬ but here are five books very important to me, which was the theme for Day 1. I promised Emma of Words and Peace I’d come up with some!  (Follow this link to read her choices!)
1. Merton & Hesychasm: The Prayer of the Heart–The Eastern Church ed. by Bernadette Diecker and Jonathan Montaldo. This book on Thomas Merton’s embrace of the Prayer of the Heart (or prayer of quiet) led me to a wonderful trail of reading on this ancient and still vibrant way of prayer.
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2. Les Miserables by Victor Hugo. Still my favorite “classic” novel, and Jean Valjean is one of my personal favorites on my Fictional 100.
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3. The Mahabharata–one of the two great epics of India, and again a special favorite when I had the chance to write about its multifaceted characters and story.
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4. Novena by Barabara Calamari & Sandra DiPasqua. I keep this book close by, for its beautiful way of prayer, and for the utterly gorgeous images it contains. I became a collector of prayer cards, old and new, after this book touched me.
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5. Daughter of the Forest by Juliet Marillier. This was one of the first fantasy novels I read. This author and this genre are still a regular part of my reading. This novel also represents my great love of fairy tales from all over the world. It’s based on my favorite fairy tale, “The Wild Swans,” and I cry whenever I reread it (the novel, and probably the fairy tale too!)

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Thanks, Emma, for getting me to participate, even a little, in this fun way to learn about our fellow bloggers and friends!

#TTWIB February Readalong: “And the Mountains Echoed” by Khaled Hosseini

31 Jan

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Our February readalong is about to begin! Becca of I’m Lost in Books is hosting a readalong of Khaled Hosseini’s And the Mountains Echoed, and you can find more details on her blog and at our Goodreads group page.

And the Mountains Echoed cover

If you loved The Kite Runner or A Thousand Splendid Suns, you already know about the experience of reading Khaled Hosseini. Or, if you are like me, and haven’t read his novels yet, this is a great place to get started. Becca writes, “Hosseini is a beautiful writer who captures the images and feelings and humanity of Afghanistan like no other writer I have encountered.” This novel of an extended family in Kabul, Afghanistan also ranges to California, Paris, and Tinos, Greece. I am excited to travel with them and enter into their lives through Hosseini’s eyes.

I also look forward to the Twitter chats Becca has set up for people’s convenience on WEDNESDAY February 10th @ 9pm EST and SUNDAY February 28th @ 3pm EST.  Stop by and tweet chat, with hashtags #TTWIB or #TraveltheWorldinBooks! Questions will also be posted on a discussion board at our Goodreads group page as the month goes along, and you can read or add to the discussion there anytime.

This readalong is an event in the ongoing Travel the World in Books Reading Challenge. Visit and check it out!

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#WintersRespite Read-a-thon Wrapup!

24 Jan

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The sounds of snow plows and shovels hitting the pavement fill the air as I sit in my office contemplating this week’s read-a-thon harvest. Being snowbound and reading are a perfect pairing, especially since the power stayed on! I finished the two books I planned on reading–an unusual occurrence since I often end up sampling several books at a time to get future reading underway.  But the entertaining update posts on our Seasons of Reading Facebook group, also thoughtfully hosted by Michelle of True Book Addict,  helped keep me on track as I read about the many books being read and finished.

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First, I read In the Heart of the Sea by Nathaniel Philbrick. This is our January non-fiction read for TuesBookTalk, and I plunged in because of this and because of its connection to Moby-Dick, whose Captain Ahab is a character (ranked 62nd) on The Fictional 100. It is a compelling, well-researched true story, but an emotionally grueling read as one follows the long ordeal of the few survivors of the whaling ship Essex, shipwrecked far out in the Pacific, as they attempt to reach the South American coast. It was tremendously ironic to learn that had they chanced a landing on the mostly unknown “Society Islands,” which were a week’s sail away, they could have recuperated on the now-famous island paradise of Tahiti. Fears of cannibals made the crew overrule their captain’s plan to go there, and instead they became the cannibals themselves. Truly horrible. Captain Ahab is not a simple portrait of any of the men on the Essex, but news of the disaster inspired young Herman Melville to begin work on the greatest novel of his career–to many the greatest in American literature. Philbrick’s account of the whaling industry is unsparing and brutal, and it made me admire all the more the way Melville could convey the same facts but transform them into high literary art.  If Ahab resembles any of the crew, it may be Owen Chase, the First Mate (played by Chris Hemsworth in the recent film adaptation). As one of the survivors who returned to Nantucket, he continued to pursue the giant whales in the Pacific; some said he hoped to find and kill the one who wrecked the Essex.

Second, I read The Keys of the Watchmen by Kathleen C. Perrin. What an enchanting book!  You can see its beautiful cover, which shows the island fortress of Mont-Saint-Michel off the coast of Normandy. Perrin’s heroine, 17-year-old American teen Katelyn Michaels, is visiting the Mount as a tourist with her younger brother Jackson, when she becomes enmeshed in a centuries-long fight to destroy Mont-Saint-Michel and its place in history: both as guardian of France at a crucial time and as bulwark again Satan and his fallen angels. She is attacked by one of those demonic figures, called Abdon, inhabiting someone in her time. She is also given a key by a “Watchman” from the past, and to escape Lucifer’s henchman–her personal adversary–she must use the key to go . . . she knows not where. She wakes up in 1424 to discover that she herself is a Watchman. How will she react to this news? How would we? Kathleen Perrin’s instincts for portraying a 21st-century teenager’s speech and emotions are unerring, and she has created one of the most engaging, instantly involving characters I have read in quite a while.  She is confronted with a venerable mentor, Jean le Vieux, who teaches her to live and function in medieval France, and the 19-year-old Nicolas le Breton, who finds her exasperating and then, as you might guess, irresistible.  Together they must try to defend Mont-Saint-Michel, weakened after a long siege by the English, from an impending attack. Her wits, courage, and modern-day know-how will be tested to the utmost.  I am eager to begin on Book II of The Watchmen Saga, The Sword of the Maiden, which I will be reviewing for France Book Tours in March.

Sword of the Maiden cover

Thanks again to Michelle Miller whose Seasons of Reading blog is a welcome gathering place all year!

Christmas Joy and Traveling the World in Books

20 Dec Bookmark prize and gifts from Isi

Bookmark prize and gifts from Isi

This week seems to be the perfect time to give thanks for the lovely books and book-related gifts that I received from our October Travel the World in Books Readathon that will help send me on more traveling the world in books!   I am so happy and grateful to have this collection of bookmarks from Isi Orejas and the very special bookmark she created for her Readathon mini-challenge: The balloons on strings are tethered by the banner Travel the World in BOOKS–it makes me think of Around the World in 80 Days, Phileas Fogg, and Jules Verne, and all the reading adventures ahead in 2016. I need to get back in my own balloon and read some of my planned voyages!  She also included her bookmarks inspired by Alice in Wonderland (see the Rabbit peeking out?) and The Princess Bride–both of these are favorites of mine as well! Gift tags, tree ornaments, and a beautiful card completed the lovely package.

And what are some of those planned voyages? First of all, I am grateful to have received three books that will send me to India for delicious cooking and family memories (My Mother’s Kitchen from the author, Meera Klein), to New York and London for mystery and a healing encounter (Close to Destiny from the author, Adria J Cimino), and to England and France during World War I (A Pattern of Lies by Charles Todd, from Tanya of Mom’s Small Victories, who donated this ARC and who keeps the #TTWIB ship afloat for all of us!).

I will be reading these as my Christmas gift to myself, and I wish everyone joyous holidays, stimulating and comforting reading, and beautiful bookmarks to mark the places on your reading voyages! 

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Travel-the-World-in-Books-Reading-Challenge 300x300

2015 Christmas Spirit Readathon and Reading Challenge

22 Nov xmas spirit read-a-thon 2015

xmas spirit read-a-thon 2015

xmas spirit reading challenge 2015

Aren’t these beautiful banners? They were created by Michelle Miller for these events which she graciously hosts for us at her lovely blogs, Seasons of Reading and The Christmas Spirit.

My focus for this year’s Christmas Spirit Read-a-Thon and Christmas Spirit Reading Challenge will be Christmas traditions.  First, I am reading from three books which describe Christmas traditions in Scandinavia. For the Read-a-thon my first goal will be to read Sigrid Undset’s book, Happy Times in Norway, the first third of which is devoted to her memories of a Norwegian Christmas before the Second World War. Undset, best known for her masterpiece trilogy Kristin Lavransdatter, wrote this memoir of the prewar years while living in New York, having fled the Nazi invasion and occupation of Norway.

Happy Times in Norway cover

For the Reading Challenge, I also  plan to cover the Christmas traditions in two books: Of Swedish Ways by Lilly Lorenzen and Of Finnish Ways by Aini Rajanen. Together, these three books will be part of the Travel the World in Books Reading Challenge, and I’ll write about them at my Northern Lights Reading Project.  These will also be some reading for my Nonfiction November!

One of my own Christmas traditions is to break out (and dust off) the cookbooks! Last year I tried a wonderful Scandinavian Christmas cookbook.  This year I have decided to browse through my two Gooseberry patch Christmas books, which have delightful reminiscences of family Christmas traditions submitted by readers and compiled by the authors over the years.  The recipes are very homey and festive; I usually get some new ideas for dressing up turkey leftovers (such as easy Turkey Tetrazzini) from these books.  They also have ideas for simple decorations and fun activities to do with kids during the holiday season.

Gooseberry Patch Christmas books.jpg

Another of my Christmas traditions is to read something by Dickens, and this year I will read his last Christmas ghost story, The Haunted Man and the Ghost’s Bargain.

1024px-Hauntedman_front_1848

Haunted Man frontispiece 1848 by Bradbury & Evans – Heritage Auction Galleries. Licensed under Public Domain via Commons

He wrote it in 1848, interrupting his work on Dombey and Son.  Since I have just begun reading Dombey myself, I thought it was perfectly fitting that I too interrupt his novel to enjoy this Christmas novella! It can be found online at several places.

Finally, my last reading tradition is to gather some daily advent reflections. This year I am looking forward to one by Mother Mary Francis called Come, Lord Jesus: Meditations on the Art of Waiting.

Advent readings

I wish everyone happy reading, Happy Thanksgiving, and many unexpected joys in the holiday season ahead.

Angel figurine

 

 

 

 

#TTWIBRAT 2015 Mini-Challenge Wrap-Up, Giveaway Winner, and Highlights!

3 Nov
Image courtesy of potowizard at FreeDigitalPhotos.net.

Image courtesy of potowizard at FreeDigitalPhotos.net.

The November issue of Real Simple magazine features as its lead story, “How to Make Time for What Matters.” That headline describes so well my feelings about the last two whirlwind weeks of time spent participating in our Travel the World in Books Readathon. I can’t say enough how much fun it was to make time to instagram daily, write posts, read posts, tackle mini-challenges, join in two Twitter chats, and see and share what everyone was doing to read widely and diversely.  I feel even more motivated to plan for further worldwide reading with the help of all the creative exchanges of book recommendations.  Doing this stuff really matters, and will affect my reading choices in months and years ahead. My thanks to hosts Tanya from Mom’s Small Victories, Becca from I’m Lost in Books, Savvy Working Gal, and Aloi from Guiltless Reading; I’m so glad to be among you, for this readathon and for the Travel the World in Books Reading Challenge, with more readalongs and other events (such as Nonfiction November going on now) planned for the coming year.

I was delighted to host a mini-challenge on Favorite Characters and Cover Art, with a Giveaway (by random drawing) of a book displaying some of my own favorite characters in fabulous cover designs. Here are the cover art entries:

Lory of The Emerald City Book Review (who was also the WINNER of this Giveaway!), submitted this beautiful cover depicting the March sisters from Little Women:

Susan at The Book Trail wrote a lovely post about four of her favorite characters, including a cover art collage of them:

Becca of I’m Lost in Books shared her amazing collage of favorite world lit characters on Instagram, which included:

1) Nefertari from The Heretic Queen by Michelle Moran
2) Mr. Darcy
3) Elizabeth Bennet
4) Sherlock Holmes
5) Miriam and Laila from A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini
6) Lisbeth Salander from The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
7) Hermione Granger
8) Okonkwo from Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe

9) Midori Kobayashi from Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami

Emma of Words and Peace shared this amazing cover art:

Aloi from Guiltless Reading also made a photo collage of four favorites:

Tanya from Mom’s Small Victories admired a cover I also found especially striking, from a very moving book about a mysterious little girl:

Isi of From Isi shared her lovely copy of a book about a favorite teddy-bear character, Henry Brown, who I definitely want to check out!

Sharon of Faith Hope and Cherrytea made this bold collage of one of her favorites, Drew Farthering, who appears in some pretty stylish cover art!

Thanks to all of you for sharing your favorite characters and the snappy, bold, and beautiful covers that display them!

I was so happy to participate myself in Tanya’s Instagram challenge all through the readathon, Isi’s bookmark pairing challenge, and Heather’s creative book photography challenge.  I also worked on my Fictional 100 book map for Aloi’s terrific book mapping challenge.  So far, I’ve finished 68 of 100 characters, with popup pictures and a description for each one. I WILL finish them all, I promise, one day, and I’ll post about it again, but for now, here it is:

Oh, yes, and since this was a Readathon, I did read some books!! I read about 100 pages in each of two of my planned books:

Although most of my recent traveling by way of books has taken me to Scandinavia, my reading during this readathon was clearly in Eastern Europe, specifically in Poland and Russia. Stories in these countries seem instantly to attract my interest lately, and that is one of the amazing fruits of this challenge: finding stories (fiction or nonfiction) from new places in the world that speak to one’s heart, mind, and spirit.

#TTWIBRAT Mini-Challenge + GIVEAWAY : Favorite Characters in Cover Art

25 Oct
Image courtesy of potowizard at FreeDigitalPhotos.net.

Image courtesy of potowizard at FreeDigitalPhotos.net.

I’m very happy to be hosting a mini-challenge for our Travel the World in Books Readathon. It’s about one of my very favorite things about reading–great characters! When a truly memorable character transports me to a different place and time, it’s even better, and speaks to my own longings to travel around the world and travel in time too.  A beautiful or striking book cover featuring the outstanding character I will meet in the story is sure to draw me in, whether the book is a favorite classic in a new edition or something totally new–a favorite in the making.

I’m sure you’ve had that experience too.  I like many kinds of covers featuring characters: original illustrations made just for the book cover; paintings or other art that suggests the character and gives me some notion of time, place, and personality (Penguin is a fan of this approach); or even photographs, modern or period photos of people who then become my mental image of the character as I read.

CHALLENGE

This challenge is meant to be easy, fun, and flexible. The goal is for us to share some favorite characters from around the world, especially those which have been depicted in memorable cover art. Your task is to select one or more book covers featuring any one of your favorite characters (they don’t have to be on my 100 list, of course), and post the result in the format of your choice.  Some details:

  1. You can share just ONE book cover that you especially like–that would be great.  Or, if you wish, create a COMPOSITE image, a COLLAGE, or GALLERY with several covers.
  2. Post your image on the social media of your choice. You can Tweet or Instagram it. You can post it in your blog. Whichever way you choose, be sure to include the hashtag #TTWIBRAT in your posting.
  3. Share the link with me by leaving a comment to this mini-challenge post.  Be sure that you use the specific link that will take me right to your post, tweet, or instagram page containing your submission.  I will be tweet-sharing your submissions @Fictional100, and I will feature as many as I can in a follow-up post at the end of the Readathon.
  4. This mini-challenge and giveaway will run throughout the second week of the readathon, from October 25 to 31.

GIVEAWAY

I am giving away a copy of one of the following books, featuring Fictional 100 characters on their gorgeous covers, to ONE lucky winner.  These are all chunksters, in acclaimed translations, and well worth adding to your personal library and your lifetime reading (or re-reading) plan.  Follow the links to Goodreads for more details about each one.

The GIVEAWAY is open to those who participate in the mini-challenge and share a fabulous character cover or covers! Because the prize is a print book, which I will ship to your doorstep, this print-book giveaway is open in the US/Canada only. International readers who enter will receive a Kindle version of one of these books if they win.

The winner will be selected by random drawing from those who ENTER using the link below. I will notify the winner by email and arrange to send your prize.

Entry-Form

I can’t wait to see and share your cover selections for favorite characters. If you are participating in the #TTWIBRAT Instagram Challenge, today’s theme is Favorite World Lit Characters, so feel free to share the same photo here if it is a book cover. Thank you for participating, and enjoy the rest of the Travel the World in Books Readathon!

And There’s More!

Also be sure to check out the main Travel the World in Books Readathon 2015 Giveaways Page and enter to win a book from among the 18 books generously offered there! See more details at Mom’s Small Victories.

Giveaways page button

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