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Review+Giveaway: “The Secret of the Abbey” by Kathleen C. Perrin #FranceBT

17 Aug

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My Review

The Secret of the Abbey is the third book in Kathleen C. Perrin’s impressive series of historical romances, The Watchmen Saga, set in medieval France. All these books have gorgeous covers displaying on-site photography; Perrin acknowledges her daughter Christine for their design. Book III has perhaps the most beautiful cover so far. The young woman’s face mirrors the alert intelligence and strength of purpose of the book’s heroine, Katelyn Michaels, and the red gown will figure in the plot.

In each installment of the saga, Katelyn travels back in time to three key moments in the history of France, when the outcome of events will determine the fate of Mont-Saint-Michel and its survival as a stronghold of faith. In The Keys of the Watchmen, Katelyn receives her unexpected calling as a Watchman and discovers her first mission defending the Mount in 1424 against an attack by English forces during the 100 Years’ War. In The Sword of the Maiden, Katelyn returns to a point five years later when her mission takes her to meet Joan of Arc. Katelyn proves to be the perfect counselor and friend for La Pucelle, the Maiden, who must overcome serious obstacles–opposition from her countrymen and struggles within herself–before she can fulfill her own calling to save France. Katelyn knows that history must take its course, because securing the French throne will also safeguard Mont-Saint-Michel, but it is agonizing to watch her friend, Jehanne, the courageous maiden, suffer her cruel destiny as a martyr.

Ultimately, it is the Archangel Michael who is the defender of Mont-Saint-Michel. The Watchmen receive their calling and their instructions through his spiritually intimated instructions. Jean Le Vieux (his name means ‘the old one”) passes along his wisdom as he trains Katelyn, young Nicolas le Breton, and the middle-aged, retired Brother Thibault, all of whom will play key roles in protecting The Secret of the Abbey. They are needed because the most dangerous foe of the Mount is not earthly at all but rather a fallen angel named Abdon who inhabits a series of bodies of wicked men with the aim of discovering the secret of the ancient stones that are hidden deep within the abbey of Mont-Saint-Michel. Abdon and his master hope to usurp the power of the stones in service of cosmic evil.

At the end of Book II, Nicolas was gravely injured in a battle with Abdon’s host, whom he killed, and he was still in a coma. Katelyn was herself near despair. Brother Thibault sent her back to the future (without her consent), to her home and family in America, hoping to spare her months, perhaps years, of anguish. That is where The Secret of the Abbey takes up the thread of all their lives. Unable to share her feelings with anyone in her time, Katelyn resumed her life, finished high school, and wrote an account of her adventures with Joan of Arc, disguised as a historical novel. Presumably, this was Book II, The Sword of the Maiden. This novel turns out to be a surprise publishing success, and she receives a sizeable advance to write a prequel. She will use this money to travel back to France and hopefully return to her beloved Nicolas, provided the Archangel lays the groundwork. She inherits an inn on the Mount, not so fortuitously called L’Auberge de l’Archange (the inn of the Archangel), and it seems she has been provided with the means to stay in France and provide for herself and her family to join her there. She promptly takes up this opportunity and begins managing the inn, while she waits for her next mission from the Archangel to be communicated to her.

Meanwhile, back in the 15th century, Nicolas wakes from his coma, but with amnesia for the last several years.  He does not remember Katelyn or their missions together. Nor does he remember the death of their beloved mentor, Jean Le Vieux. Brother Thibault, who has been faithfully caring for him, fills him in on events as best he can, but he hesitates to reveal to Nicolas his relationship with Katelyn in his present state of mind. A time-traveling Jean Le Vieux pays Nicolas a visit, and tries to quiet his indignation over his amnesia.

Oh, my dear Nicolas. This is not a new teaching for you. We have spoken of it many times, my son. Life is not just. Indeed, it is a necessary condition of mortality. For us to be truly tested, to see whether we will choose good over evil, there must be opposition in all things. If there were no opposition, ‘twould not be a test. The power of evil is real, and God cannot shelter you from the consequences of your own choices, or from the evil acts of others that may affect you, even when you stand blameless.

Jean Le Vieux also brings Nicolas news of his next mission, which will take him 150 years into the future, and shares the Archangel’s plans for Brother Thibault, who is instructed to marry! No one is more surprised at this than Thibault himself, and he wonders who would want to marry him? Only an exceptional woman who could see his heart. Thibault had learned a great deal from Katelyn about sanitary practices and caring for the sick effectively; she also left him with some medicines.  One day, a girl comes to the abbey imploring his help as healer for her gravely ill sister. It is the sister, Amée, who will become his future wife.  The scene in which Thibault administers life-saving treatment to Amée brought tears to my eyes–and this was only page 97!  Perrin’s beautiful writing drew me in to care about Amée as Thibault did and to marvel at Thibault’s own depth of feeling for this woman–a new experience for him.

His marriage was crucially important because Nicolas, traveling to the year 1577, would lodge in Jean Le Vieux’s old cottage–so familiar to him–but now owned by one Thomas Thibault, a descendant of Nicolas’s old friend. Thomas was himself an appointed Guardian of Mont-Saint-Michel and a trustworthy keeper of the family papers and the covert business of the Watchmen. He carefully explained to Nicolas the political situation of the times, pitting Catholics and Huguenots (French Protestants) against each other in the French Wars of Religion. The Saint Bartholomew’s Day Massacre (1572) was a bloody precursor of the hatreds rampant at the time of Nicolas’s arrival. Perrin provides ample historical endnotes to clarify some of the political and religious rivalries, along with family trees of the Catholic Valois and the Huguenot Bourbons.

But don’t worry that you need to memorize all this background to follow the adventure to come. As soon as Katelyn travels with Nicolas back to Thomas Thibault’s cottage and begins to share his mission, the story takes off at a gallop and all the necessary history is seamlessly introduced by Katelyn where needed to advance the plot. Katelyn’s personality continues to leap off the page in this third installment of the saga, and Perrin’s writing is strongest when she is writing in the voice of this marvelously alive young woman. She and Nicolas must re-learn how to communicate in several languages–French, English, and Katelyn’s frank and colloquial American speech–to bridge the cultural gap of centuries between them, when he comes to fetch her in the 21st century.

“Look, I know you don’t remember me,” she continued, switching from French to English, “but it’s okay. We’ll take this slowly.”

He had forgotten that he spoke English so well, and yet he understood her perfectly…except for that odd word. Okay, okay. He tumbled the word around in his mind. He knew it meant something, but he couldn’t remember. However, at least she knew he suffered from memory loss, and she did not reproach him for it.

“I apologize, Mademoiselle Michaels, but ’tis true. I do not remember you or anything about you,” he replied. He saw what he judged to be a glimmer of sadness in her eyes as he said these words. “But I assure you, it will not prevent us from working together as the Archangel has instructed. You are to return with me as quickly as you can prepare yourself.”

“First of all, we have to get this straight,” she said as she met his gaze again. “You are to call me Katelyn, not Mademoiselle, and not Mademoiselle Michaels. We’ve been through this before, so don’t fight me on it. Okay?”

“It…it,” he muttered like an idiot, “it feels so uncomfortable for me to call someone I don’t know by her given name.”

“I know, I know,” she said. “I get it, but get over it because you do know me, and like I say, we’ve been through it all before. Just humor me on this, won’t you please? It’s Katelyn.”

“Katelyn,” he said. “And what is this ‘okay’ you keep using?”

“Oh for heaven’s sake,” she said, and he could sense she was frustrated. “Déjà vu. Like I said, we’ve been through all of this before. As you will soon find out, I can’t speak without using the word ‘okay,’ so you’d better learn it fast….” (pp. 220-221)

Katelyn was warned that Nicolas would not remember their relationship–neither their romance nor their marriage in the 15th century. But Abdon and the French Huguenots are on the move and that is their first priority. There is a wonderful moment when Katelyn wins over the French governor of the Mount to her plan, using a combination of assertive argument and subtle threats. Nicolas is enormously proud of her abilities, and yet confused by the strength of his feelings for her. As usual for them, there is “no time” for them to work this out before being separated; Nicolas and Katelyn each go undercover with prominent French Huguenot families to learn their plans vis-à-vis Mont-Saint-Michel. The unfolding of events is beautifully plotted. I admire Perrin’s skill in working out all the complex details to contribute to the big picture, consistently and meaningfully.

Katelyn is the only one of the Watchmen who doesn’t know the Secret of the Mount, the one she’s nevertheless been protecting through all their battles and trials. This was decided for her protection, and in foresight of some of the attempts Abdon would make to wring the secret from her.  In Book III, she will finally learn the secret, along with some surprising revelations about herself and her family. The secret the Watchmen have been protecting for centuries is–well, of course, I can’t say. But it is worth waiting, along with Katelyn, for the perfect moment to reveal it. It is an interesting mix of theology and cosmology extrapolated imaginatively into the world of this story. I suspect it is influenced by the author’s personal beliefs and faith tradition–which is her right. My one objection might be to some of the anticlericalism voiced by Nicolas and Jean Le Vieux, which sounded a bit anachronistic for 15th-century Catholics immersed in the pervasive piety of a place like Mont-Saint-Michel.

At the end of this highly enjoyable reading journey, I can highly recommend this book and the whole Watchmen Saga. Kathleen Perrin is equally strong in creating engaging, believable characters and in managing complex plots, transforming them into well-paced, suspenseful, and romantic fiction.  And she does her research! I have to say that Katelyn and Nicolas are people I’d want to meet in any century, and I feel that special fondness for them that only a gifted writer can inspire.

***

Kathleen C. Perrin

on tour

August 14-25, 2017

the secret-of-the-abbey cover

The Secret of the Abbey

(historical fiction)

Release date: June 3, 2017
Self-published at Langon House

565 pages

ISBN: 978-0692877975

Website | Goodreads

SYNOPSIS

After unwillingly leaving a comatose Nicolas behind on Mont Saint Michel in 1429, Katelyn Michaels is distraught to be back in the United States in modern times. When a series of remarkable events facilitates her taking up residence on the Mount and reveals why Katelyn was called as a Watchman, her fondest hope is to be reunited with Nicolas, regardless of the circumstances. However, when Nicolas unexpectedly arrives with a new mission for her, Katelyn is devastated to learn that his head injury has deprived him of any memories of their relationship. Nonetheless, she is determined to once again save the Mount—this time in sixteenth-century France amidst violent religious turmoil—and rekindle Nicolas’s feelings for her. The couple’s love and loyalty is tested as she and Nicolas attempt to unmask the true source of the threat¬—their adversary Abdon—sort out their conflicting emotions, and deal with the consequences of an astounding age-old secret.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Kathleen C. PerrinKathleen C. Perrin
holds bachelor’s degrees in French and Humanities
from Brigham Young University and is a certified French translator. Besides being the author of The Watchmen Saga, she has published several non-fiction articles, academic papers, and a religious history about Tahiti.
Kathleen has lived in Utah, New York City, France, and French Polynesia. She and her French husband have spent years investigating the mysteries and beauties of his native country—where they have a cottage—and have taken tourist groups to France. The Perrins have three children and currently reside in Utah.

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Review: “A Very French Christmas: The Greatest French Holiday Stories of All Time” #FranceBT

8 Aug

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My Review

A Very French Christmas: The Greatest French Holiday Stories of All Time is a joy to hold and page through, as it is beautifully produced–not surprising since it comes from New Vessel Press. This collection of fourteen stories derives primarily from the late nineteenth century, the heyday of Christmas stories, one might say, given the popularity of annual Christmas tales from Charles Dickens, Wilkie Collins, and others. But A Very French Christmas feels very French, and also very fresh, owing to the inclusion of a long story by twentieth-century writer Irène Némirovsky and new stories by contemporary writers Jean-Philippe Blondel and Dominique Fabre, commissioned expressly for this book. Although these stories can be sentimental and heartwarming at times, many of them have a bracing quality, taking an ironic view of holiday celebrations, and exploring the way people’s desires and expectations for the season can be confounded.  This is equally true of the older stories.

Jean-Philippe_Blondel-Festival_international_de_géographie_2011_(2)

The collection opens with a new story, “The Gift,” by Jean-Philippe Blondel, who is known for his recent, well-received novel, The 6:41 to Paris.  Like that novel, this story presents another unexpected meeting between a man and woman, this time at a Christmas luncheon. Thomas, age 79 and divorced, is inwardly lamenting his feeling of abstraction from his family, gathered for their annual holiday meal at his son’s restaurant. They don’t really know him, he believes, but have erected a new identity for him as “grandpa.” Perhaps he doesn’t truly know them either, fitting each of them into his own pigeonholes.  While he is musing in this rather self-absorbed way, he is brought back to life by spotting a woman he knows seated at another table.

It’s at this moment she turns her head slightly toward me and our eyes meet.

I hear a faint explosion far away. It’s like a summer storm in the middle of winter, or the start of fireworks whose noise is muffled by the distance. I can’t take myself away from her gaze. My memory has turned into a crazy machine, searching all my internal libraries for the relevant novel, and in this heap of cards and photographs that we store inside ourselves, the information that I need is right there. Because I know her.

I’m sure I know her.

His reaction is nearly physical panic–blushing, heart palpitations, that feeling that one might die from the intensity of the moment–the reactions of a much younger man, and he is thrown back in memory to four decades ago when he made her intimate acquaintance. She was a co-worker in his company, but one night she became more than that to him. And here they are meeting again. Was it chance? The answer is surprising in this well-crafted story.

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After this fine start, we move back a century and a half to “St. Anthony and His Pig” (1880) by Paul Arène. But in reality, the story takes us back to the early centuries of the Christian era when St. Anthony lived alone in the Egyptian desert, fighting the battle for sanctity, with his only company being the devils who tormented him and his faithful pig Barrabas. Flaubert had recently written his novel, The Temptation of Saint Anthony (1874), so it was an opportune time for a Christmas story about the great saint’s trials. In Arène’s story, Anthony has just had six months respite from his regular temptations and prickings by a host of insidious devils. It was near Christmas, when who should visit him but a peddler of spits to roast pigs! The sly man suggests to Anthony how succulent Barrabas would be for Christmas dinner. O the torment! The mind’s imaginings are the greatest temptations, as the life of Saint Anthony abundantly proves. It is well worth following Arène’s delectable tale to the end to see what happens.

Portrait_of_Mr_Francois_CoppeeThere are three stories by François Coppée, all of the heartwarming variety and very pleasing. My favorite was “The Lost Child,” which begins with a portrait of its main character, a “millionaire banker” named M. Godefroy:

On that morning, which was the morning before Christmas, two important events happened simultaneously–the sun rose, and so did M. Jean-Baptiste Godefroy.

… And whatever opinion the sun may have about himself, he certainly has not a higher opinion than M. Jean-Baptiste Godefroy has of himself.

As director of a large bank and administrator of assorted companies, he also enjoyed the possession of many honors, including the Légion d’Honneur. This prosperous, important fellow had one son, Raoul, and no wife, because Raoul’s mother had died in childbirth. Each day, M. Godefroy devoted 15 minutes of his precious business day to a visit with his son, who spent the rest of the day with servants. Nevertheless, he loved his son and looked forward to this time with him. On this Christmas Eve morning, the son used his audience with the great man to ask, “will Father Christmas put anything in my shoe tonight?” His father answered, “Yes, if you are a good child.

After his business concluded for the day, he remembered his son’s words, and went to a toy dealer, where he bought a passel of costly presents, including a rocking horse and a box of leaden toy soldiers. But when he arrived home, the house was in an uproar and the boy’s governess was in tears because Raoul had gone missing. The story unfolds from there in a manner worthy of Dickens, and while M. Godefroy is not as miserly as Scrooge, events of this night will effect a Scrooge-like awakening.

Guy_de_Maupassant_fotograferad_av_Félix_Nadar_1888Two stories by the short story master, Guy de Maupassant, are both definitely of the confounding type, describing rather bizarre Christmas happenings. In “Christmas Eve,” a man explains to his friends his horror of Christmas Eve suppers. He recalled a night two years earlier when he went searching on the streets of Paris for a lady companion to share his supper. He preferred women with plenty of curves “a female colossus,” if possible, and he settled on a very curvaceous young woman who caught his eye. (Inevitably, this reminded me of de Maupassant’s famous story “Boule de Suif,” likewise concerning the misfortunes of a young lady of ample figure, and published just two years before this one.) By the end of the evening, the bewildered man would get a great surprise, and his reaction didn’t say much for his character! The other selection by de Maupassant, “A Miracle,” is a Christmas horror story about a strange blizzard and a woman’s possession by an evil spirit.

Anatole_France_young_yearsIn “The Juggler of Notre Dame,” by 1921’s recipient of the Nobel Prize in Literature, Anatole France, an itinerant juggler named Barnabé was blessed with enough talent at his art to earn a shower of coins from the locals wherever he performed, but this was still insufficient to live on, and he often went to sleep hungry.

One night he met a monk on the road and they fell to talking and comparing their respective work. Barnabé was grateful for what he had, and declared, “I am a juggler by trade. It would be the best trade in the world if only one had something to eat every day.” The monk gently but firmly disagreed, warning his new friend to take care, asserting instead that being a monk was the most beautiful thing in the world, “for he celebrates the praises of God, the Virgin, and the saints, and religious life is a perpetual song to the Lord.”

Barnabé was a humble man and quickly confessed his mistake. Furthermore, he said that although he liked being a juggler, he would like nothing better than to the sing the daily office, especially to the Blessed Virgin, to whom he was specially devoted. The monk held the office of Prior at his monastery and he took the former juggler under his wing. In this way, Barnabé became a monk. His only regret was his lack of education and skills such as the other monks had, because he wanted to offer worthy service to the Holy Virgin.

The biography of Anatole France at the end of this collection compares this tale to “The Little Drummer Boy.” It reminded me of “A Simple Heart” in Gustave Flaubert’s Trois Contes. Both Flaubert’s story and this tale portray the emergence of unlikely saints.

The collection ends with a long story by Irène Némirovsky, who died in Auschwitz in 1942 at the age of 39. Her major fiction Suite Française was not published until 2004. “Noël,” the story included here, is written as a screenplay, giving directions for an opening montage of photographs, “the most conventional and unsophisticated images that accompany the idea of the Christmas holidays“–heavy snow, holly and mistletoe, a yule log, bright lights, voices of children, dinner parties. Snatches of song lyrics suggest the atmosphere: “Childhood…Innocence…Dawn of the world…Dawn of love…The most wonderful days...”

Although the older generation of parents is introduced, it soon becomes clear that the story will be about two sisters, Claudine and Marie-Laure, and the men pursuing them, or discarding them, at a Christmas party. A Christmas of love affairs and heartbreak and, as improbable as it might seem in this gathering of bright young things, perhaps real love? The modernity of Némirovsky’s approach sets this story apart from the tales of the previous century.

I have described so many stories, because they were all so fascinating, just as the book’s subtitle promises.  The Christmas themes are treated with a refreshing originality and variety, and I can imagine returning to reread this collection for many Christmases to come.

Stories discussed in this review:

“The Gift” (2017) by Jean-Philippe Blondel.

“St. Anthony and His Pig” (1880) by Paul Arène (trans. by J. M. Lancaster).

“The Lost Child” (1892) by François Coppée (trans. by J. Matthewman).

“Christmas Eve” (1882) by Guy de Maupassant (trans. by Frederick Caesar de Sumichrast).

“A Miracle” (1882) by Guy de Maupassant (translator unknown).

“The Juggler of Notre Dame” (1892) by Anatole France (trans. by Anna C. Brackett).

“Noël” (1932) by Irène Némirovsky (trans. by Sandra Smith, 2017).

******

A Very French Christmas:
The Greatest French Holiday Stories
of All Time

on Tour

August 8-14

***

Very French Christmas Cover

A Very French Christmas:
The Greatest French Holiday Stories
of All Time

(short story collection)

Release date: October 10, 2017
at New Vessel Press

ISBN: 978-1939931504
142 pages

Website
Goodreads

SYNOPSIS

A continuation of the very popular Very Christmas Series from New Vessel Press, this collection brings together the best French Christmas stories of all time in an elegant and vibrant collection featuring classics by Guy de Maupassant and Alphonse Daudet, plus stories by the esteemed twentieth century author Irène Némirovsky and contemporary writers Dominique Fabre and Jean-Philippe Blondel.

With a holiday spirit conveyed through sparkling Paris streets, opulent feasts, wandering orphans, kindly monks, homesick soldiers, oysters, crayfish, ham, bonbons, flickering desire, and more than a little wine, this collection encapsulates the holiday spirit and proves that the French have mastered Christmas. This is Christmas à la française—delicious, intense and unexpected, proving that nobody does Christmas like the French.

THE AUTHORS

Alphonse Daudet, Guy de Maupassant, Anatole France
Irène Némirovsky, Jean-Philippe Blondel, Dominique Fabre,
Paul Arene, Francois Coppee, Antoine Gustave Droz, Anatole La Braz

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Review+Giveaway: “Marie Antoinette’s Darkest Days” by Will Bashor #FranceBT

24 Mar

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My Review

In Marie Antoinette’s Darkest Days, author Will Bashor offers the reader a gripping narrative history, unremitting in its gaze on the horrors of imprisonment and the mockery of justice that was the Revolutionary tribunal in the years of the Reign of Terror, principally 1793-1794. This is a book about the revenge exacted by the winners against the losers, a phenomenon which, in Marie Antoinette’s case, magnified and distorted her acknowledged faults, laying the whole burden of the nation’s anger upon her shoulders. She carried this burden with a dignity that would have surprised and confounded her detractors.  Bashor’s clearly stated objective is to be nonjudgmental, but his moving account of the facts of the former queen’s 76 days in the Conciergerie, along with the extracts from her interrogations and trial, cannot help but draw the reader in, exciting compassion for the “Widow Capet” and her unfortunate children.

Bashor’s book provides a clear Chronology to accompany his narrative, which helps to orient the reader toward the complex sequence of events that engulfed Marie Antoinette. After the storming of the Bastille prison on July 14, 1789, which marked the beginning of the French Revolution, the royal family continued to live at Versailles until October when revolutionary forces brought them back to Paris. King Louis XVI, his wife Marie Antoinette, their children Louis Charles and Marie-Thérèse, and the king’s sister Élisabeth were among those who attempted to escape the country in June 1791 with help from supporters who arranged their transport and disguises as bourgeois citizens. This “flight to Varennes” ended the next day when the royal family was arrested at Varennes (near Verdun) near the border of France with the Austrian Netherlands (present day Belgium).

640px-Arrest_of_Louis_XVI_and_his_Family,_Varennes,_1791

The arrest of Louis XVI and his family at the house of the registrar of passports, at Varennes in June, 1791. Thomas Falcon Marshall, 1854. Wikimedia Commons.

They were brought back to Paris and kept under guard at the Tuileries palace. By August 1792, all concessions and attempts to stay in power having failed, the king was overthrown, ending the monarchy, and the family fled to the Assembly building but they were apprehended and imprisoned in the Temple, where their daily existence, though not lavish, was relatively comfortable. By December, however, Louis XVI was tried for treason, and a month later, he was convicted and guillotined on January 21, 1793.

In a state of profound grief and anxiety, Louis’s family remained at the Temple prison. It was said that they treated 8-year-old Louis Charles as if he were now Louis XVII, placing him at the head of the table during their meals, and deferring to him in other ways. This aroused anger and fear of the monarchy returning. In July 1793 the child was taken from his mother and confined to a separate cell in the Temple, in solitary confinement for the greater part of the next two years until his death in June of 1795 (age 10 years) of disease and deliberate neglect. I found this the most horrifying passage in the book, as it detailed what he endured:

The true heir to the throne of France perhaps suffered the most during the social convulsions of the French Revolution. During his fifteen months of solitary confinement in the Temple, his food was pushed through an opening in the cell door: ‘No one entered the cell; it was never aired or cleaned, and nothing was ever removed from it. His bedding was never changed during all this time, nor was his person cared for in any manner!’

The cell was overrun with rats and mice attracted by decaying food and human waste. The scabies-infected child also became prey to insects before dying. (pp. 265-266)

During his imprisonment, he would also be plied with liquor, beaten and induced to falsely testify that he was the victim of incest from his mother and aunt. Shocked by these accusations, during her own trial Marie Antoinette rose to her feet to deny them, appealing to “the hearts of all mothers” in the courtroom.

But I am getting ahead of the story. It is difficult not to view the suspenseful tale of imprisonment and trial, which Bashor deftly spins out in historical order, from the hindsight perspective, as we all know that Marie Antoinette will be guillotined. Yet, while the book gains impetus and drama from this knowledge, the fascinating detail and sureness of the narrative carried me along with page-turning rapidity.

Shortly after being separated from her son, Marie Antoinette herself was moved to the Conciergerie prison, where she would spend two and a half months. Her time there is the meat of Bashor’s account, since it is less well known and much less written about than other aspects of her life. While her confinement at the Conciergerie cannot compare in brutality to what her son suffered (unbeknownst to her), the conditions of this prison were certainly much worse for her than at the Temple. Her cells (she was moved once) were damp and dungeonlike, cold, dirty, and lacking in privacy or comfort. She was ill and weak most of the time and hemorrhaged from the uterus. Her wardens attempted to bring her palatable food and water, and they would ultimately suffer for this considerate behavior toward her.

In fact, chapter 4, “Kindhearted Souls,” was one of the most interesting to me, for the specific incidents of compassion it described.  There was a servant named Rosalie who agreed to attend the queen at considerable sacrifice to her own comfort. Another woman, a Mademoiselle Fouché, visited Marie, attempting to console her.  At first, Marie was wary of her, unsure of whether she could be trusted, but when the lady offered to find her an “unsworn” priest–that is, a priest who had not sworn an oath of allegiance to the Republic–her reaction “was immediate and profound. The queen threw herself into Mademoiselle Fouché’s arms and embraced her tenderly” (p. 56). Such a priest would have to hear Marie’s confession and offer her the sacraments secretly. The lady was as good as her word and returned with a priest on several occasions. The warden’s acquiescence to these visits also showed his mercy toward the former queen.

One visitor caused Marie Antoinette great trouble, which became known as the “Carnation Plot.” The chevalier de Rougeville visited her on August 28, 1793 and dropped a carnation containing a small folded note between its petals suggesting that there were those who were ready and able to effect her escape. Her efforts to reply to this note would be a recurring bone of contention. At first she denied noticing the carnation or even recognizing Rougeville as someone known to her from the royal court. Eventually, she would acknowledge some of the facts but never any part in a plot. Moreover, after her husband’s execution, she had vigorously declined any efforts to free her personally, since she refused to leave her children. However, the Carnation Plot angered her captors and swayed public opinion against her.

At this point, one must ask: Why did the Revolutionary leaders keep her alive for so long? Why wasn’t she executed along with her husband? Surrounding countries had declared war on France once the Revolution began. As Bashor explains, she was treated as a hostage, an important foreign captive who could perhaps be exchanged with the belligerent Austrian government in exchange for peace. Recall that she came to France at age 14 as an Austrian princess, the daughter of Empress Maria Theresa, and it was a dynastic marriage. Her acceptance as a foreign queen had long been tenuous. During the Terror, her foreign connections easily lent themselves to charges of disloyalty and outright conspiracy. Bashor gives an intriguing account of the evidence for any conspiracy with foreign powers, most of which did not come to light until centuries later, and could not have served as material evidence in her trial.

Although her position as a hostage made exchange possible, the tide of public opinion went against her and within the government itself, calls for her trial and execution increased. One prominent citizen who suggested she be exiled back to Austria soon found himself in the Conciergerie, denounced as well. In the popular press, she was called an “ogress,” a “murderess,” a “tigress”–and worse obscenities–as garish cartoons appeared depicting her as the dragonish beast they imagined. The feverish demand for her head increased. Her trial began on October 14, 1793 with a guilty verdict, sentence, and execution only two days later, on October 16.

Bashor reproduces the back-and-forth testimony of witnesses and Marie herself with the prosecutors in excerpts that read like a steady march toward injustice. Her two appointed counsels were themselves arrested after the trial, but later released. They defended her bravely, but didn’t dare speak out against her sentence.

This book is a fine achievement indeed, enhanced with a large number of period illustrations, many of them original lithographs from La dernière année de Marie-Antoinette published in 1907. Marie Antoinette’s time in the Conciergerie, her interrogations and trial, her last hours, the way she went to the guillotine, and the story of her final resting place all make for indispensable reading for anyone curious about the true end of this remarkably controversial woman, who has left an indelible stamp on the history of France.

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Last portrait of Marie Antoinette. Bashor describes that her official portrait artist, Alexander Kucharsky, visited her either at the Temple or the Conciergerie, and later painted her from memory in her mourning garb. Wikimedia Commons.

***

Will Bashor

on Tour

March 13-24

with

MARIE ANTOINETTE’S DARKEST DAYS

Marie Antoinette’s Darkest Days:
Prisoner No. 280 in the Conciergerie

(history – nonfiction)

Release date: December 1, 2016
at Rowman & Littlefield

392 pages

ISBN: 978-1442254992

Website | Goodreads

SYNOPSIS

This compelling book begins on the 2nd of August 1793, the day Marie Antoinette was torn from her family’s arms and escorted from the Temple to the Conciergerie, a thick-walled fortress turned prison. It was also known as the waiting room for the guillotine because prisoners only spent a day or two here before their conviction and subsequent execution. The ex-queen surely knew her days were numbered, but she could never have known that two and a half months would pass before she would finally stand trial and be convicted of the most ungodly charges.

Will Bashor traces the final days of the prisoner registered only as Widow Capet, No. 280, a time that was a cruel mixture of grandeur, humiliation, and terror. Marie Antoinette’s reign amidst the splendors of the court of Versailles is a familiar story, but her final imprisonment in a fetid, dank dungeon is a little-known coda to a once-charmed life. Her seventy-six days in this terrifying prison can only be described as the darkest and most horrific of the fallen queen’s life, vividly recaptured in this richly researched history.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Marie-Antoinette_Will Bashor pictureWill Bashor
earned his M.A. degree in French literature
from Ohio University
and his Ph.D. in International Studies
from the American Graduate School in Paris
where he gathered letters, newspapers, and journals
during his research for the award-winning
Marie Antoinette’s Head: The Royal Hairdresser, the Queen, and the Revolution.
Now living in Albi, France,
and a member of the Society for French Historical Studies,
his latest work, Marie Antoinette’s Darkest Days: Prisoner No. 280 in the Conciergeriewas released in December 2016.
He is currently working on the final part of his historical trilogy,
Marie Antoinette’s World: The Labyrinth to the Queen’s Psyche.

Visit him on his website
and here are many ways to follow him:

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.

ENTER HERE

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of the Tour will give you 5 extra entries each time!
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Review + Giveaway: “Fa-La-Llama-La” by Stephanie Dagg #FranceBT

5 Dec

fa-la-llama-la-jpg-banner

My Review

In a good romantic comedy, the love between the couple often grows almost unawares in the medium of another love: love for a child in need; love for animals; love for a place, such as a small town, a farm, vineyard, or homestead; love for family and the need to recover or restore relationships. Love nurtured for these things tends to overflow, and a couple fortunate enough to share a common purpose begins to see each other in it. If it is a comedy, they laugh over the mishaps, confusions, and very human stumbles along the way.  If it is Christmas, well, all the better.

In Fa-La-Llama-La, many of these charming ingredients come together with much delight!  We meet the aptly named Noelle, who is living with her parents temporarily (she hopes), after the triple whammy of a broken engagement, the loss of her job, and the death of a dearly loved grandmother–seemingly, the recipe for a Christmas spent licking her wounds. Yet, with so much abruptly snatched away from her, it turns out she has a deep reservoir of love left to give. But llamas? Not at all what she’d imagined for her holidays, until her cousin Joe called with the offer of a last minute pet-sitting job in France, specifically at a farm six hours drive south of Paris, in Creuse, a départment in the Nouvelle-Aquitaine region. Creuse was known in its rich medieval past as La Marche.

Noelle arrives at her job in a major snowstorm and is pretty shocked to find an empty, unheated house, no electricity, and the erstwhile owners’ twelve llamas out in the thickly snow-covered field.  She manages to camp in the house with her supplies, making sure that the llamas have some food and an open barn to shelter in (if they wish–these are creatures from the Andes mountains). When she finally falls into a shivery sleep, she is confronted by another surprise: the new (rugged, good-looking) owner of the house has arrived unexpectedly to claim his domain. His name is Nick, he’s Australian and a famous novelist, and she wonders what he is doing buying a house in rural France! She has consternation over the lack of electricity and furniture; he has consternation over being swindled during the house transaction by the previous owner (who made off with all the furniture and left the llamas). He is also fuming that both the llamas and their pet-sitter are apparently staying for the duration of the holiday. Their shared frustration slowly turns to amusement and joint problem solving. But before that lovely transformation can happen, they both need coffee and food, and they quite literally trudge to town, but not exactly together.

I’d imagined we have a companionable chat as we walked-cum-waded to the village, I was soon disabused. Nick strode on ahead leaving me to follow in his wake. It made me feel like King Wenceslas’s page, only the king in our case didn’t have the philanthropic intentions of the original. …

I took my mind off my annoyance with Nick and the physical effort of the journey by singing Christmas carols to myself, changing the words of some of them to make them more apt. The chorus of ‘Deck The Halls’ became “Fa-la-llama-la, la-llama-la,” and the first verse of ‘We Three Kings’ became “We three Kings of Les Veragnes are / Taking your furniture off in our car / Leaving you llamas and plenty of dramas / We’ll be spending your cash in a bar.”

When they return, Noelle and Nick have a more pressing crisis than their own comfort. One of the llamas, Gabrielle, is very pregnant and has decided to deliver early. Noelle discovers her lying down in the stable with two little hoofs already emerging! But something seems to be wrong. The rest of the baby is not emerging along with them and the delivery seems to be taking too long, causing Gabrielle more distress. Good thing that Noelle read up on the care and feeding of llamas before she left her home in the UK. Midwifing a llama, however, was going into new uncharted territory. Thankfully, Nick was willing to assist this time, and the result was a spindly llama cria (what llama babies are called), which they named Sir Winter. This whole episode is tense and fascinating and so engenders vicarious llama love–even in someone like me, who has no pets–that I recommend not missing it.

Another challenge for Noelle and Nick arises when they find out that the former owners of the house had promised that one of the llamas, Holly, would appear in the nearby town’s church Christmas pageant. Noelle is determined to make good on this promise and Nick is increasingly determined to stay close to Noelle. But first, which one is Holly? And how does one convince a llama to take a long, nocturnal walk to church? Even if these mysteries can be solved, they know that nothing is really “nearby” in thickly blanketed snow, and this episode has many ankle-twisting turns. Fa-La-Lhama-La really breaks out in the “comedy” part of romantic comedy, when Holly does her star turn in the nativity scene. The fictional audience was laughing, and I heard myself laughing too!

lulin-holly

Lulin (alias Holly) in all her beauty, suitable indeed for Christmas pageant stardom. Photo courtesy of Stephanie Dagg.

Throughout the story, Nick has seemed like the kind who bottles up emotions, but his real reasons for coming to France show otherwise. Apparently, under that rough exterior, there is a lot of love waiting to come out for a family he never knew, for the right woman–even for llamas! This story was hugely enjoyable, perfect for Christmas reading, and a treasure trove of appealing llama lore.

robllamapic3

Photo courtesy of Stephanie Dagg.

******

Stephanie Dagg

on Tour

December 5-16

with

fa-la-llama-la

Fa-La-Llama-La

(Christmas romantic comedy)

Release date: October 21, 2016
Self-published

ASIN: B01MF7F813
165 pages

SYNOPSIS

It’s very nearly Christmas and, temporarily jobless and homeless, Noelle is back at home with her parents. However, a phone call from her cousin Joe, who runs a house-and-pet-sitting service, saves her from a festive season of Whist, boredom, and overindulging. So Noelle is off to France to mind a dozen South American mammals. She arrives amidst a blizzard and quickly discovers that something is definitely wrong at the farm. The animals are there all right, but pretty much nothing else – no power, no furniture and, disastrously, no fee. Add to that a short-tempered intruder in the middle of the night, a premature delivery, long-lost relatives and participation in a living crèche, and this is shaping up to be a noel that Noelle will never forget.
Fa-La-Llama-La is a feel-good, festive, and fun romcom with a resourceful heroine, a hero who’s a bit of a handful, and some right woolly charmers.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

fa-la-llama-la-stephanie-dagg

Hi, I’m Stephanie Dagg. I’m an English expat living in France, having moved here with my family in 2006 after fourteen years as an expat in Ireland. I now consider myself a European rather than ‘belonging’ to any particular country. The last ten years have been interesting, to put it mildly. Taking on seventy-five acres with three lakes, two hovels and one  cathedral-sized barn, not to mention an ever increasing menagerie, makes for exciting times.

The current array of animals includes alpacas, llamas, huarizos (alpaca-llama crossbreds, unintended in our case and all of them thanks to one very determined alpaca male), sheep, goats, pigs, ducks, geese, chickens and turkeys, not forgetting our pets of dogs, cats, zebra finches, budgies and Chinese quail. Before we came to France we had was a dog and two chickens, so it’s been a steep learning curve. I’m married to Chris and we have three bilingual TCKs (third culture kids) who are resilient and resourceful and generally wonderful. I’m a traditionally-published author of many children’s books, and and am now self-publishing too. I have worked part-time as a freelance editor for many years after starting out as a desk editor for Hodder & Stoughton. The rest of the time I’m running carp fishing lakes with Chris and inevitably cleaning up some or other animal’s poop.

Visit her website. Follow her on Facebook, Twitter

Buy the book: Amazon.com | Amazon.fr | Amazon.co.uk

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or on any other book blogs participating in this tour.
Be sure to follow each participant on Twitter/Facebook;
they are listed in the entry form below
.

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]

Global giveaway – international:
1 winner will receive a $10 Amazon gift card

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CLICK ON THE BANNER
TO READ REVIEWS AND AN EXCERPT

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*Note:*  I received this book free of charge from the author.

Review+Interview+Giveaway: “Time and Regret” by M. K. Tod #FranceBT

3 Sep

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My Review

When a plot involves finding an old document, such as an old diary or a set of letters, I feel both an emotional tug and that insistent spark of curiosity–I am soon deeply committed as a reader.  Time and Regret offers such a plot and wastes no time in getting it underway, introducing the intriguing set of diaries in the first chapter.  Mary K. Tod’s heroine, Grace Hansen, is newly divorced; while sifting through her belongings to make a clean start, she finds a “battered tackle box” left in her attic by her grandfather during one of his visits–with no explanation from him at the time. Prying it open, she finds some letters, a photograph, a map, a French magazine, and a set of notebooks tied with a ribbon. These notebooks prove to be her late grandfather’s World War I diaries, and the photograph shows young Martin Devlin and his friends Pete, Bill, and Michel as they were in May 1915. They are so young, as were most of those serving in the “Great War,” and the diaries will tell their story, but above all it relates the particular experiences of Martin.

It is a marvelous way to connect generations in a family, both in real life and in fiction. And this is especially true when the earlier generation lived during a war, a time the younger generation finds hard to imagine but desires to understand better. A diary can give it form and substance.  It also connects people when death separates them, putting them beyond questioning.  And Grace will have many questions as she reads the diaries.  Tod adds the element of mystery to this gift from the past because her grandfather left her an important message, but chose to hide in it in a puzzle only she is likely to solve; solving puzzles was one of their shared pastimes and passions. The brief note he leaves her, saying, “To my dearest Grace, read carefully.  I never should have taken them,” is cryptic indeed.  What could he have taken, she wonders. As she traces his journey through the war years, she finds the stakes of solving this puzzle may be even higher than she anticipated.

Grace’s prickly grandmother is stubbornly reticent about the war years and offers little or no help, so Grace decides to take matters into her own hands with a bold stroke. She will go to France and Belgium to visit the places, one by one, that figure in her grandfather’s account of his war experiences.  After the thorough upheaval of divorce, this change is just what she needs, and it begins to rebuild her confidence.

As she travels from one town or site of a battle to the next, she reads and rereads her grandfather’s words carefully, as he had urged her to do, and a picture of him begins to form in her mind and heart. She also confronts the devastation of the war itself.

Ruins of Ypres, 1919

Ruins of Ypres, Belgium, 1919. Photo by W. L. King. Library of Congress, Reproduction Number: LC-USZC2-6192

The Belgian town of Ypres, which was the locus of several significant battles, costing hundreds of thousands of lives, was one of her stops. It was also a base from which to visit surrounding villages, such as Passchendaele, where some of the fighting occurred.

Wherever I stopped, I checked Martin’s diaries.  I thought of him as Martin now, not Grandpa, like a character in an unfolding story rather than a man I had known for more than thirty years.  Having read the notebooks three times from beginning to end, I was familiar with the entries, yet I felt the need to honor his service at every opportunity. (p. 25)

The war memorials erected at these sites help Grace in this pledge to herself to honor the service of her grandfather and so many others, and through their sheer size, these monuments, along with their adjacent cemeteries, convey the enormous scope and cataclysmic effects of the war. The Battle of Thiepval Ridge, the first battle of the Somme in September 1916, was marked by an imposing structure 140 feet high with foundations 19 feet thick (a detail Grace learns from her guidebook). Beside it she felt like “a tiny insect.” The Thiepval Memorial was dedicated to the 72,246 British soldiers missing during fighting in the Somme, not only in that initial battle, but in the years 1915 to 1918. It was designed by the renowned British architect Sir Edwin Landseer Lutyens. The ingenious fractal structure of its arches, splitting with each new layer into more and more arches (set at right angles), echoes the row upon row of grave markers.

360px-Thiepval_Memorial_to_the_missing

Thiepval Memorial to the Missing. Photo credit: Chris Hartford via Flickr.

In writing Grace’s story, Tod does more than intersperse WWI diary entries in the present-day narrative. Martin’s entries are revelatory in many ways but also terse and constrained by the pain he is feeling. One can imagine that diaries of the time would be a place to unburden troubled minds, yet it might take many years to relinquish certain secrets, even to oneself. Tod’s novel tacitly acknowledges this by providing chapters of third-person narrative fleshing out Martin’s story following each of his diary entries. These paired accounts during wartime are then interspersed with Grace’s life events unfolding in 1991.

This proves to be very effective and necessary. One memorable example for me paired Martin’s diary entry reporting his channel crossing and landing at Le Havre.  From there he will travel to the front. Tod’s narrative tells us what Martin’s first view of the front looked like and hints at how much it shocked him.

Beyond the next rise, the war burst into view, a zigzagging patchwork of Allied trenches facing German lines. The scene looked nothing like Martin had imagined. Instead of deep, carefully constructed trenches designed to protect their men, uneven ditches were connected together in haphazard fashion, with mounds of earth and sandbags marking the lip of every section, and soldiers standing guard at uneven intervals. A sudden breeze carried the smell of mud, sewage, rotting flesh, gunfire, and death.

As far as he could see, the land had been blown to bits, leaving nothing but brown and gray and black, devoid of vegetation except a pocket of shattered tree trunks to the far right. Great rolls of barbed wire and deep craters partially filled with water defined the space between the lines. No-man’s-land. (p. 33)

Martin was certainly not the only character affected by the war, or the only one appearing in his diaries. I appreciated the way we see Grace’s grandmother, Cynthia, as a young woman during the war–when she first met Martin–and then later when Grace is seeking to uncover the family’s past. The intervening years brought many changes to her grandmother’s life but her stubbornness and her determination to secure happiness despite the war proved to be her most enduring traits.

At one point during the war, the weight of grief and responsibility from losing men close to him began to take its toll on Martin, interfering with his performance of duty. His captain ordered a few weeks of medical leave at a facility in England. As a psychologist, I found the therapy sessions between Dr. Berger and Martin especially interesting. These scenes separate Martin from the group setting of trench life with his comrades and mark a turning point for portraying his individual character, his frame of mind, and the underpinning of his choices.

Besides the regrets that many characters harbor, trust becomes a major theme for Grace. The novel begins with broken trust because Grace’s husband Jim suddenly demanded a divorce. Then she discovers that her grandfather has entrusted her with his diaries, and the secret they conceal.  When secrets are involved–family secrets, business secrets–who can Grace really trust?  Can she even trust her grandmother? Someone is following Grace in France–a man wearing a distinctive fedora–and he seems determined to interfere with her apparently innocent plans to discover her family’s story. Could her grandmother be trying to thwart her efforts to uncloak the past?  Finally, she desperately wants to trust in her new feelings for Pierre Auffret, an attractive art curator she meets during her travels, and with whom she joins forces to investigate the path her grandfather took. The romantic frisson between them is spontaneous and exhilarating. Her heart tells her that it is mending, but still, she is not sure whether her trust can keep pace with her hopes for the future.

In her three novels so far, Unravelled, Lies Told in Silence, and now Time and Regret, and on her blog, A Writer of History, M. K. Tod has shown her commitment to deeply researched, intelligently crafted, and beautifully written historical fiction. I have read and reviewed the latter two novels (I want to read Unravelled next!) and I found both of them to be satisfying as fiction, unsettling as history, and tremendously moving in their treatment of people caught in the rough grasp of war, trying to keep on living and loving.

Interview with M.K. Tod

I am delighted to welcome M.K. Tod, who has kindly agreed to share some thoughts on her novel and her approach to writing historical fiction.

Q1. Your previous novel Lies Told in Silence recreated the battle of Vimy Ridge primarily from the point of view of those living nearby, in northern France near the Belgian border, whereas Time and Regret takes us right into the heart of that battle, and others. Through Martin Devlin’s diaries, we can feel the pain of the combatants and the variety of emotions they experience. Can you describe how your own experience writing about World War I differed for these two novels?

Vimy Ridge has been a central battle in all three of my novels—Unravelled, Lies Told in Silence, and Time and Regret. My grandfather fought at Vimy and when I first researched World War One, I spent a lot of time trying to understand what had happened. The battle itself was enormous both in preparation and execution and in that regard it fascinated me. In Lies Told in Silence, Helene Noisette and her brother Jean are observers and so I concentrated on the feelings of horror and awe that an ordinary citizen might feel. However, in Time and Regret and Unravelled, I wanted the reader to feel in the thick of battle, making decisions and reacting to the chaos as a soldier would. Of course, one experience is female and the other male and I had to imagine those different perspectives as well.

Q2. To tell Martin’s story, you use not only his diary entries, but also longer narrative recreations of the events. Was this choice based on the nature of the diaries and accounts you read? What is it like to try to transform a primary source account of a battle or a soldier’s part in it into the storytelling world of a novelist?

The central concept of Time and Regret is Grace’s discovery of her grandfather’s diaries and a puzzle he has left for her to solve. I came up with the idea after reading many soldiers’ diaries during earlier research efforts. While many of the diaries downplay the horror of battle, a few write more honestly about their feelings and experiences and this is what I tried to emulate in Time and Regret. Including the diaries also allowed me to have Martin’s voice in first person so the reader comes closer to what he really thought and felt about the war.

As to the second part of your question, there are many, many accounts of the facts, figures and military details. The challenge for a novelist is to turn those into a compelling story, making sure that such historical details don’t detract from it. It’s a very selective process and I often worry that I haven’t done justice to the true horror and slaughter of WWI. At times I used Martin’s diary entries to position an upcoming battle and then only told a snippet of the battle itself, leaving the rest to the reader’s imagination. Actual battle details are as accurate as I could make them.

Q3. Grace Hansen is your main character in 1991. Her name feels significant to me. When I read about someone named Grace, I expect her to be either the recipient of unusual grace in the course of things or the bestower of grace on others. Or a little of both. Did you pick her name with any such considerations in mind? How do you go about naming your characters?

This answer might be a bit disappointing, however, I picked Grace just because I like the name! As I wrote the story, the thought occurred to me that perhaps Grace should embody the attributes of the word and I hope she does, at least by the end. In general, I don’t go about naming characters with any particular objective in mind. For the most part, a name will pop into my head. I’m sure that doesn’t sound very ‘writerly’. I did choose names for Grace’s grandparents that I thought would suit the era and hence Cynthia and Martin. Pierre’s name immediately suggests someone who is French (my objective) without being too difficult for an English-speaking reader to pronounce. I’ve even found names on grave stones.

Q4. The element of mystery blended very well with the historical side of your fiction. Did you enjoy incorporating a puzzle into the story, and do you plan to write more historical mysteries?

What a lovely compliment! The mystery was my husband’s idea—he loves mysteries—and in fact, he helped me sketch out the initial story concept. Writing a mystery is quite difficult and I enjoyed the process very much. My next novel isn’t a mystery, but you never know, Grace might appear again!

Q5. In your blog, A Writer of History, you generously open a window on your own process and reflect on the craft of historical fiction in general. Now that you have written three novels and have a fourth in the works, what has been the hardest lesson to learn or the most valuable one to pass along?

I’m so pleased you like my blog, Lucy. What a tough question! Beyond learning the craft of writing, I think learning how to incorporate historical detail without weighing down the story is the most difficult challenge. Readers expect to feel immersed in the times of the story, whether that time is ancient Rome or World War One, but they don’t want the facts to obscure the story or slow it down. History needs to serve the story, not the other way around. In terms of the most valuable lesson, I’m reminded of something Hilary Mantel called the dramatic arc of history. Mantel suggests that authors need to find the events that dramatize the time and serve the story. The real answer to your question is that I’m still learning and exploring what makes historical fiction tick!

Q6. Can you tell us a little about your next project, set in Paris during the 1870s?

I don’t have a title for this story yet, so I refer to it by the names of the two main characters, Camille and Mariele, who were introduced in Lies Told in Silence. In that novel, Mariele is Helene Noisette’s grandmother while Camille is her deceased great-aunt. Having written three novels with WWI settings, I wanted to explore a different era, so I chose 1870s Paris: Paris because it’s one of my favorite cities and 1870s because Camille and Mariele would be around twenty at that time. Happily, all sorts of tumult occurred in France at that time including a war with Prussia, the siege of Paris and the Paris Commune. Can you imagine me rubbing my hands with glee when I discovered all that?

Q7. Could you tell us about one of the places you visited in researching Time and Regret, someplace that made a particularly strong impression?

So many places to consider! Vimy Ridge, which I refer to in your first question, remnants of zigzag trenches still visible in the Somme, memorials marking major battles with enormous casualties in northern France, Le Havre where Canadian and British soldiers disembarked on their way to the front lines, Bailleul where many went for training. But let me tell you about a tour my husband and I had in the area around Ypres and Passchendaele. Our guide took us to various places but the event that made a significant impression on me was when he stopped to grab what I thought was a handful of dirt and came up with a handful of shrapnel. Looking at those bits of metal so readily at hand hit me hard as I imagined thousands and thousands of similar pieces flying about during battle. A visceral feeling. It’s a wonder anyone survived.

Many thanks for having me on your blog, Lucy. I really appreciate the opportunity to talk about Time and Regret and the writing of historical fiction.

And many thanks to you, Mary! Not only do you craft a compelling story (and a mystery with some subtle clues!), but you reflect on the writing craft with such infectious vitality, such joie de vivre! Your novels convey this too: although your characters are facing some of the most sobering realities that can affect a person’s life, they seem to find their way toward renewal and hidden graces. So, yes, I would say Grace Hansen is aptly named indeed.

***

M. K. Tod

on Tour

September 1-10

with

Time And Regret

Time and Regret

(historical mystery)

Release date: August 16, 2016
on Amazon

ISBN: 978-1503938403
366 pages

Author’s page | Goodreads

SYNOPSIS

When Grace Hansen finds a box belonging to her beloved grandfather, she has no idea it holds the key to his past—and to long-buried family secrets. In the box are his World War I diaries and a cryptic note addressed to her. Determined to solve her grandfather’s puzzle, Grace follows his diary entries across towns and battle sites in northern France, where she becomes increasingly drawn to a charming French man—and suddenly aware that someone is following her…

Through her grandfather’s vivid writing and Grace’s own travels, a picture emerges of a man very unlike the one who raised her: one who watched countless friends and loved ones die horrifically in battle; one who lived a life of regret. But her grandfather wasn’t the only one harboring secrets, and the more Grace learns about her family, the less she thinks she can trust them.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Time And Regret MK TodTime and Regret is M.K. Tod’s third novel.
She began writing in 2005 while living as an expat in Hong Kong. What started as an interest in her grandparents’ lives turned into a full-time occupation writing historical fiction. Her novel Unravelled was awarded Indie Editor’s Choice by the Historical Novel Society. In addition to writing historical novels, she blogs about reading and writing historical fiction at http://www.awriterofhistory.com,
reviews books for the Historical Novel Society
and the Washington Independent Review of Books, and has conducted three highly respected reader surveys.  She lives in Toronto, Canada, with her husband and is the mother of two adult children.

Please visit her website and her blog A Writer of History.
Subscribe to her mailing list
or contact her at mktod [at] bell [dot] net

Follow her on Facebook and Twitter
on Goodreads and Pinterest

Buy the book (print, ebook, audiobook): Amazon

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Review: “I Promise You This” by Patricia Sands #FranceBT

18 May

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My Review

I have now read all three books in Patricia Sands’ Love in Provence series, so I will comment on the third book, I Promise You This, as the culmination of this series.

The first book, The Promise of Provence, introduces Katherine Price, who is expecting to celebrate her 22nd anniversary, but instead finds that her husband James has left her for another woman he met in their cycling club. This devastating news begins a process of grief and recovery for Katherine who wonders how she missed this crevasse opening up in her life just below the surface of apparent happiness. In this book, and those that follow, Katherine will begin to examine her life and herself and ask what the ingredients of a deeper, more dependable happiness might be.

One of the first things she rediscovers is friendship, reconnecting with her childhood friend Molly who still lives nearby in their city of Toronto, Canada. Another is family; Katherine’s mother is in declining health and needs her daughter’s help, just as Katherine needs her mother’s support as a bulwark against despair and fear. After her mother dies, Katherine must hold on to the lessons of strength her mother communicated.  Molly then encourages her to strike out in a new direction and take a chance on a two-week home exchange in the south of France, in the village of Sainte-Mathilde. Katherine had been to France in her youth, and even fallen in love there, so this opportunity seemed to pick up another piece of her life that she had laid aside during her marriage.

Provence opens up her epicurean side with sightseeing, photography, food and wine; new friendships form, including the unexpected possibility of dating again. After some false starts, Katherine begins to build a new relationship with Philippe, a fromager, whose home base and cheese market is in Antibes on the Côte d’Azur.  As Book 1 closes, Katherine decides to arrange a longer stay in Antibes.

 

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Antibes sea coast. Photo: Gilbert Bochenek. Wikimedia.

 

Books 2 and 3 build on the foundation laid out skillfully so far. In Book 2, Promises to Keep, Katherine and Philippe’s romance begins to encounter some real-life challenges, as secrets from Philippe’s past begin to intrude on the fantasy of the present moment. I found it interesting that Katherine was surprised by her feelings at many turns. She had reached her late fifties without much self-awareness, perhaps suppressed by her life with her dominant ex-husband.  Although Philippe was very different from James, she had to face her choice of another man who was capable of withholding important truths about himself. The revelation of his secret and how they cope with it together makes Promises to Keep a very meaty installment in this trilogy.

In the final book, I Promise You This, Katherine and Philippe’s relationship is tested by separation. Katherine’s friend Molly has been seriously injured in an auto accident and Katherine is the closest thing she has to family. Katherine flies back to Toronto, taking up a place at Molly’s bedside and taking on the responsibility for her health decisions, since Molly was placed in a medically induced coma.

Back in Toronto, Katherine experiences a more powerful sense of returning home than she had anticipated.  She is surprised by her deep attachment to the city and to her way of life there. As attractive as life in France had become for her, she feels a tug-of-war beginning in her heart. Can she really leave her old life behind so completely, and recreate herself in a new country, with a new career, and committed to a new man?  While she grapples once more with the pieces of her identity, she must help her friend Molly awaken to life again. And what about Philippe?  Will he wait passively for Katherine to make her decision, or will he take action to keep the woman he loves from slipping away?

Although the series is called Love in Provence, I think the recurring word promises in each book’s title offers the key to appreciating this carefully crafted series. At first, a broken promise–James’s infidelity and sudden departure–propels Katherine in a completely new direction, across the ocean in fact! Energized by the beauty and abundance of Provence, she experiences the promise (in the sense of latent possibility) of embracing a new, independent life. In the second book, Katherine pledges to stay with Philippe even when the secrets from his past threaten their peace and even their safety.  Finally, I Promise You This thrives on the themes of friendship, loyalty, and finding one’s true home. Katherine promises Philippe to return to France but will she be able to fulfill this promise?  Will she ever be able to make a vow to someone again?  First, she must honor the promise implicit in her friendship with Molly, coming to her aid in crisis and seeing it through.  And she has one last meeting with her ex-husband; sadly, she was not ready to forgive him, but I can only wonder if that might change in the future (the author intimates that she might continue these characters’ lives in a future series).

Katherine begins to understand another kind of promise she has made, since she was thrust into life on her own: To live fully and be true to herself. She will need to work out the implications of this promise to herself, before she can move forward. This book raises the question, are we ever truly “on our own” in this life? Do we want to be? Or do we want to choose the promises we make to care for others, the promises to keep for a lifetime. I Promise You This takes a look at such questions from several angles.  Its characters are very human in their strengths and weaknesses, in their virtues and temptations, and consequently felt real to me.

Like the other books in this series, readers hungry for glimpses of daily life in Provence will find much to savor in I Promise You This: meals described in loving detail, the produce of farm and field, the natural beauty of the region, and the excitement of towns and cities. This book can be read on its own, as the author unobtrusively weaves the necessary information from the earlier books into her story. But reading the earlier books does repay the effort to follow the whole arc of this involving series.

 

Patricia Sands

on Tour

May 17-26

with

I Promise You This

I Promise You This

(women’s fiction)

Release date: May 17, 2016
at Lake Union Publishing

ISBN: 978-1503935723
365 pages

Author’s page | Goodreads

SYNOPSIS

Suddenly single after twenty-two years of marriage, the calm of Katherine Price’s midlife has turned upside down. Seeking to find her true self, she took a chance on starting over. A year later, she is certain of this: she’s in love with Philippe and adores his idyllic French homeland, where he wants her to live with him.

But all that feels like a fantasy far removed from Toronto, where she’s helping her friend Molly, hospitalized after a life-threatening accident. Staying in her childhood home full of memories, Katherine wonders: Is she really ready to leave everything behind for an unknown life abroad? And if all her happiness lies with Philippe, will it last? Can she trust in love again?

Searching her heart, Katherine finds the pull of the familiar is stronger than she thought. An unexpected meeting with her ex, the first time since his cruel departure, and a stunning declaration of love from an old flame spur her introspection.

With sunlit backdrops and plot twists as breathtaking as the beaches of Côte d’Azur, author Patricia Sands brings her trilogy about second chances to a provocative and satisfying close that proves that a new life just might be possible—if you’re willing to let your heart lead you home.

BOOK TRAILER

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

I Promise You This Patricia Sands

A confessed travel-addict, best-selling author
Patricia Sands lives in Toronto, Canada, when she isn’t somewhere else, and calls the south of France her second home. I Promise You This, is Book 3 in her award-winning Love in Provence series.
Find Patricia on Facebookon Twitteron Instagramat her Amazon Author Pageor at her website.

Subscribe to her mailing list and get information about new releases.

Buy the book : Amazon.com | Amazon.co.uk | Amazon.ca | Amazon.fr | available at Barnes & Noble on May 17

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[just follow the directions on the entry-form]

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Review + Giveaway: “The Sword of the Maiden” by Kathleen C. Perrin #FranceBT

10 Mar

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My Review

In my Goodreads review of The Keys of the Watchmen, I  wrote: “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.” In that first book, her heroine, Katelyn Michaels, was drafted by the Archangel Michael to save Mont-Saint-Michel, under siege by the English in what became the Hundred Years’ War.  To do this, she must travel, using a divinely empowered key (her own unique enseigne disk), to 1424 and discover her calling as a “Watchman.”   For me, she not only jumped back in time, but also jumped off the page, and I am delighted to tell you about Book II of The Watchmen’s Saga, The Sword of the Maiden.

As Book II opens, Katelyn is back in her own time, living at home in the U.S. with her brother Jackson, her father, and her father’s new wife Adèle.  Katelyn is recovering from a grave injury she received in the past, but she must keep the true facts from her family, instead devising a story about suffering a bad fall during their recent visit to Mont-Saint-Michel as tourists. Her ordeals in the past have changed her perspective and she has made peace with her new stepmother, even reaching out to her in friendship.  Katelyn is 18 and a senior in high school. But she is still a Watchman. This new identity is ever-present in her mind, as is Nicolas le Breton, the young man in 15th-century Normandy who shared her Watchman’s assignment and, in the course of things, became her husband. What was conceived as a necessary part of their scheme to defeat the English (and stop the demonic adversary Abdon) soon turned into a bond of real love, although the couple never had the chance to be truly husband and wife.

Part of being a Watchman entails receiving messages, sometimes direct and sometimes subtle, from the Archangel Michael.  Present-day Katelyn continues to receive those intimations of how she must still help safeguard Mont-Saint-Michel and its divinely ordained secret. Her last adventure was only part of the larger mission to prevent the English from wiping out this stronghold in the long conflict of the Hundred Years’ War. The next phase of her mission comes to her in a dream. She hears the voice of Jean le Vieux, her old mentor who prepared her for her first tasks:

I could feel the caring emanating from him. I had known Jean for  such a short time, and yet his love was all-encompassing.  It gave me an instant understanding of the love God feels for all of his children.  That love filled the crevices of hurt that had opened up in my heart.  It filled the spaces of doubt and discouragement that had been drilled into my mind, and it soothed the constant pain of my knitting bones and healing skin. (p. 16)

He reminds her of her sacred trust as a Watchman and that more will be required of her now. He assures her, typical of all the Archangel’s messages, that she will know what to do when the time is right.  Finally, he gives her the cryptic message that only her dedication and perseverance can fully decode and realize:

“Learn of the Maiden, Katelyn, and take her the sword.”

Since she is back in the present-day world, she has all the resources of the internet to help her research and learn about the Maiden, whom she soon understands to be La Pucelle, the Maid of Orléans, Joan of Arc–the great heroine and martyr-saint of France.  At the same time, Katelyn begins to prepare herself for her new challenges, following the lead of the Archangel. She finds that, by angelic intervention, she is already enrolled in different high-school classes than she expected: Medieval history, French language, and rock climbing! She also gets the message to study fencing and horsemanship on her own–no easy task to explain and to convince her parents to pay the bills for these lessons!  When she knows she is ready, something very unexpected happens; she hears from her beloved Nicolas in the way she might least have expected–a Facebook message! Perrin shows great imagination and control of tone in crafting their exchange of vital messages.

Clearly, the time for action has come, but she must first get back to Mont-Saint-Michel, and the place where her special key will unlock her way to the past. Abdon, the emissary of Satan that they fought in the first book, is still on her trail but in a new host. Nevertheless, Katelyn’s road to meeting Jehanne, as Joan was known in her native village of Domrémy, may soon be opening up. The obstacles on Jehanne’s path, however, are thorny and complicated. It is no small thing for an unlettered peasant girl to claim that God has spoken to her, commanding her to lead a great army and ensure that the rightful king is crowned. Katelyn’s role will involve much more than simply bringing a very special sword to the Maiden. Katelyn has to cope with the constant awareness that a cruel martyrdom awaits Jehanne, but she cannot speak about this or risk changing history.  Instead, she must learn how best to support, aid, and encourage this devout young girl who would soon inspire all of France.

 

 

Perrin is anxious not to appear to detract from Jehanne’s courage, divine call, or accomplishments because of the events of the novel in which Katelyn serves as a significant help to her, ingeniously carrying out her own appointed mission as Watchman. Perrin writes about this sensitively in her Author’s Notes. Jehanne’s–Joan of Arc’s–saintliness and her accomplishments against nearly overwhelming obstacles cannot be denied and the novel’s portrait of Jehanne does her justice in this regard, both in the chapters that recount Jehanne’s experience of her quest (in the third person) and in Katelyn’s first-person chapters, where she offers her impressions of Jehanne. Early in her time with Jehanne, Katelyn says to herself (in her own unique way):

she doesn’t even realize how amazing she is. Jehanne has all the qualities of the ‘Wizard of Oz’ heroes wrapped into one. She has Dorothy’s loyalty and persistence, the Good Witch Glinda’s compassion, the courage of the Lion, the heart of the Tin Man, and, yes, even the brains of the Scarecrow. She learns quickly and retains nearly everything. Jehanne even has Toto’s bite. She will do well rebuking the soldiers, because this girl has a lot of righteous indignation, which comes from her pure devotion to God.  In every way, this girl is remarkable, and it humbles me to think that I was given the responsibility to help her carry out her mission. (p. 332)

If Katelyn’s “magic” devices brought back from the future were instrumental in this novel, the implication is that, historically, God used other instruments and other people to support this saintly young girl and aid her cause.  Joan’s purity and determination were God’s gifts to her, and God’s chief instruments, from the point of view of the sacred story which runs throughout the novel. It remains respectful of the facts, the speculations, and the evidence of faith that have come down to us through history. As Jehanne begins to assume her leadership role with greater confidence, Katelyn watches her in awe and reflects:

Her words are eloquent and moving, and I cannot help but marvel at her power and the strength of her personality.  She speaks with authority, and in spite of her humble beginnings, she speaks with such magnetism, it’s like our souls are bound to hers. This is her gift from God, and it is certainly one that I don’t have. (p. 377)

Perrin notes that we only see a few significant moments in Joan’s life, because this novel is really about Katelyn and Nicolas and their difficult charge to serve as Watchmen. How will it turn out for them? Will they be reunited in a time when they actually have the opportunity to live as the married couple that they are? And in what century will they live? These questions about their destiny must unfold in the novel, and the author never falters in carrying the story through convincingly to the end.

I can most heartily recommend The Sword and the Maiden, along with Book I, The Keys of the Watchmen, to anyone who loves engagingly written historical fiction, peopled with believable characters and full of life. Kathleen Perrin succeeds in touching the broad range of emotions–disbelief, doubt, anger, fear, pain, despair, joy, love–that a modern person might experience if thrust into the past, in the midst of great events.

We still have not learned the “secret” of the Mount, the one that demands tremendous sacrifice from so many. There are hints near the end, and I have high hopes that Book III, due out in December 2016 will reveal even more!

 ******

Kathleen C. Perrin

on Tour

March 7-26

with

The Sword of the Maiden

The Sword of the Maiden

(historical fiction)

Release date: December 3, 2015
Self published at Langon House

515 pages

ISBN: 978-0692576922

Website | Goodreads

SYNOPSIS

After being abruptly separated from Nicolas le Breton during the battle to save Mont Saint Michel in 1424, Katelyn Michaels finds herself back in her normal twenty-first century life as an American teenager. Depressed and anxious to be reunited with Nicolas, she is comforted when a series of events and impressions lead her to believe she is being prepared for another mission as a Watchman. When her beloved mentor, Jean le Vieux, comes to her in a dream and gives her the injunction to “Learn of the Maiden and take her the sword,” Katelyn understands that her mission involves assisting one of the most iconic figures in all of French History. Katelyn is once again whisked back to the turmoil of medieval France during the Hundred Years’ War and to Nicolas. However, before the two can consider the future of their relationship, they must first complete their mission to take the sword to the Maiden. Little do they know that their old nemesis, Abdon, is already on their trail and will do everything in his unhallowed power to stop them.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

The Sword of the Maiden Kathleen C Perrin (232x350)

Kathleen C. Perrin
holds bachelor’s degrees in French and Humanities from Brigham Young University and is a certified French translator.  Besides being the author of The Watchmen Saga, she has published several non-fiction articles, academic papers, and a religious history about Tahiti. Kathleen has lived in Utah, New York City, France, and French Polynesia.  She and her French husband have spent years investigating the mysteries and beauties of his native country—where they have a cottage—and have taken tourist groups to France. The Perrins have three children and currently reside in Utah.

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and 3 participants will each win a $10 Amazon gift card

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

1 Mar

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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.

 

800px-West_church_portal_in_St-Gilles-du-Gard

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.

******

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! 

******

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.

***

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

***

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

In Another Life Banner

*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.

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

26 Feb

Messandrierre Banner

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:

 

******

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

******

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.

******

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

Connect with her on LinkedIn

Buy the book on Amazon or on Smashwords

******

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

Messandrierre Banner

*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.  

#WintersRespite Read-a-thon Wrapup!

24 Jan

A Winters Respite button 2016

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.

20160116_223837

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!

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