Tag Archives: Historical fiction

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.

Visit her website.
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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 + 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!

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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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*Note*: I received a copy of the title from the publisher for purpose of honest review.  I was not compensated for this review: all conclusions are my own responsibility.

#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.

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

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

Sword of the Maiden cover

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

Review and Giveaway: “In the Shade of the Almond Trees” by Dominique Marny #FranceBT

1 Oct

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MY REVIEW

In the Shade of the Almond Trees by Dominique Marny is historical fiction at the intersection of many of the features I especially appreciate: It is a family saga. Set in the immediate time after the First World War, it shows the effects on family life at the home front. The Barthélemy family has lost their patriarch, who died at Verdun. His widow and children must deal with their grief and the challenge of running their business in the postwar economic climate.  It is set in the French countryside, outside the village of Cotignac, in the center of Provence, where the Barthélemy almond trees and olive groves have provided the family’s livelihood.

Cotignac_centre

Place de la mairie de Cotignac – Var – France. By Technob105 (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

The pace of Marny’s prose is measured and restful, like the undulating rows of olive trees in their estate of Restanques.

“They went around a pigeon coop, then down the steps that led to the yard’s first terrace. Restanques spread down a hill over several acres planted with almond, olive, and fig trees, all on terraces held together by stone walls.” (p. 11)

This view, which Jeanne Barthélemy shows visiting botanist (and soon-to-be love interest) Jérôme Guillaumin, may be restful but the problems she faces are urgent and unsettling: how to maintain the smooth operation and solvency of the almond nougat and olive oil businesses without the support of her mother or the immediate help of her brother, Laurent who is bitten by wanderlust. As a further complication, an opportunist land speculator called René Verdier has bought the neighboring estate of Bel Horizon, with an eye to romancing the naive Barthélemy widow and gaining control of Restanques too.  Jeanne tackles the demands of running her businesses with determination and creativity, but very humanly, she faces genuine discouragement at times and her own romantic blind alleys.  But, as Jérôme advises her,

“You’re pursuing a dream–yours, which gives your life meaning. … What you’re accomplishing here, right now, will be yours forever.” (p. 174)

What I liked most about this novel was that it presented two strong female characters, who were NOT romantic rivals, but rather childhood friends, whose lives converged again at this critical moment.  Rosalie is the niece of Apolline who had worked for the Barthélemy family for many years. When Rosalie joins her aunt and begins to work for them as a maid, the two young women find themselves side by side, their friendship renewed but complicated by the differences in their situations. Jeanne is now Rosalie’s employer.  Marny does an excellent job of showing us Rosalie’s aspirations and conflicts as often and as deeply as Jeanne’s. In fact, their romantic lives are running in parallel to some degree, both having three significant men in their lives. For Jeanne, they are Régis Cuvelier, a self-centered playboy who nevertheless keeps a strong hold on her; Antoine Laferrière, a businessman who persistently offers her financial help–and his heart; and Jérôme, who is elusive and independent.  Soon after she arrives, beautiful Rosalie gives her heart to Laurent Barthélemy, but his restlessness and immaturity pose significant obstacles. Vulnerable and dissatisfied with her position, she becomes entangled with Verdier, at great cost.  She is nearly oblivious to the loyal attention of François, who works managing the estates and is likewise ambitious to make something better of his life.

At the risk of repeating a stereotype, this novel felt ‘very French’ to me (in the best way!), focusing as it did on the sometimes disastrous love affairs of the principal characters. Perhaps that is just the hallmark of good historical romance, in any language!  As I read, I instantly compared this novel to The Rocheforts, which I also reviewed for France Book Tours (see The Rocheforts tour quotations) this year.  Like it, In the Shade of the Almond Trees gives a glimpse of the workings of the family’s agriculturally based business–information which I found especially helpful in rounding out the picture of French life at the historical time and place.  The Rocheforts perhaps emphasized the business side more, as it presented the intertwined relations of two families over several generations. With the strength of this book’s compassionate portrayals of Jeanne and Rosalie, and Marny’s sure hand in crafting a well-paced story, In the Shade of the Almond Trees captured my interest throughout, and I can highly recommend this slice of Provençal life and love in the aftermath of the First World War.

I also look forward to reading Marny’s previous novel in translation I Looked for the One My Heart Loves.

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In the Shade of the Almond Trees

Dominique Marny

on  Tour

September 29 – October 8

with

In the Shade of the Almond Trees

(historical fiction)

 Release date: September 29, 2015
at Open Road Media

280  pages

ISBN: 978-1480461178

Website | Goodreads

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SYNOPSIS

In the aftermath of World War I, a family estate hangs in the balance.

For generations, the Barthélemy family tended to the olive trees of Restanques, a sprawling property in Cotignac whose olive oil and almonds were as incredible as the countryside that produced them. But all that changed when war came to France. Robert Barthélemy never returned from the trenches, and without him, the farm is beginning to die. His widow has lost the will to live, and only the fierce efforts of their daughter, Jeanne, have kept the creditors at bay.

Jeanne is spending an afternoon at home with the family’s grim financial statements when a handsome stranger appears on the front steps. His name is Jérôme Guillaumin and he is a brilliant botanist about to embark on a journey around the globe. From the moment they meet, Jeanne is struck by feelings she never thought possible: feelings that could save her life or destroy everything she has ever known.

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In the Shade of the Almond Trees - Dominique MarnyABOUT THE AUTHOR

Dominique Marny
was raised in a family
that loved art, literature, adventure, and travel.
In addition to being a novelist,
she is a playwright and screenwriter,
and writes for various magazines.

Visit the author’s website (in French)

Follow her on Facebook

Buy the book

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GIVEAWAY

Global giveaway open internationally:
2 participants will each win a copy of this book.
Print/digital format for US residents
Digital for all other residents

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for more chances to win

Enter here

Visit each blogger on the tour:
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*Note*: I received an advance 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.

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Review + Giveaway: “The Rocheforts” by Christian Laborie

7 Apr

Rocheforts banner

My Review

I found The Rocheforts to be an enthralling family saga, one which kept me intensely engaged from its dramatic Prologue, set in 1898, to its Epilogue, thirty-two years later.  Although this is Christian Laborie’s first novel to appear in English, I was not surprised to learn that he is an accomplished author of many other novels, a total of 16 books to date, two of which have won prizes for regional fiction related to the area he has made his home, the Cévennes, a mountainous region in the southeast corner of the Massif Central.  It must have a special attraction for authors: Robert Louis Stevenson traveled there in 1878 and then published a famous memoir about his trip, Travels with a Donkey in the CévennesMuch of The Rocheforts takes place in Tornac (near Anduze, we are told) in the Gard department, within sight of the Cévennes mountains. This is the home of the Rouvières, a family of prosperous farmers who raise sheep and maintain vineyards on their fertile land holdings. The other main locus of the action is Nîmes, capital of Gard and a major city in the Languedoc-Rousillon region, noted for its Roman ruins and long history and, in this novel, for its wonderful sturdy cloth, the “serge de Nîmes” commonly called denim. Anselme Rochefort and his family has long maintained a thriving textile business in the region, first, in silk made from their own silkworms fed on mulberry trees they grew themselves, and then, thanks to the shrewd management of Anselme’s father, who moved the factories to Nîmes, in denim which they sold to Levi Strauss in America. The Rocheforts live in the city but often spend time at their country home, Clos du Tournel, which made them neighbors of the Rouvières.

It soon becomes clear that this book is really the saga of two families, whose lives become so entangled that their histories cannot be told separately. However, I believe it would be most helpful to readers for me to introduce the members of each family, who are the chief characters of the novel.  It is to Laborie’s credit as a writer and an observer of people that he makes each family member distinctly memorable.

The Rocheforts:

  • Anselme–Shrewd and unswerving in his calculations, whether to advance his business interests or dominate his family, Anselme is a formidable patriarch. He inherits much wealth, adds to it by two advantageous marriages, and wishes to hold absolute sway over his children especially. Events flow from this determination of his to control, even when that control is thwarted–at great cost to those closest to him.
  • Eleanor–Anselme’s first wife and mother of his eldest daughter, Catherine. Already suffering from depression when she wed, Eleanor’s life proved to be as short as it was unhappy.
  • Elisabeth–Anselme’s second wife, who raised Catherine as her own and had two more daughters and two sons with him. She showed herself a capable mother and loyal wife, despite Anselme’s often cold and dismissive disposition; devoutly religious, she was sincerely involved in many charitable activities, befitting the role of a society wife.  Aware of her high social station, she was slow to form close bonds with the Rouvières, but she was not as implacable as her husband, and grew to value and respect them.
  • Catherine–The Rocheforts’ oldest daughter is the focus of family secrets. When we meet the family, they are already in mourning for her at her funeral.
  • Elodie–Being deeply attached to her older sister, Elodie suffers from persistent grief over Catherine’s death and suspicion about its circumstances. Her health declines but readers should not count her out of the drama because of her frailty.
  • Jean-Christophe–The “good son” who apparently follows his father’s wishes, Jean Christophe shares his father’s harsh political views, and agrees to devote his life to the family business. Unfortunately, he has too little of his father’s keen judgment and too much disregard for the consequences of his actions.  The extent of his double-dealing and immorality will surprise even his father, and point the family toward disaster.
  • Sebastien–The rebellious son, Sebastien is the one who feels as though he landed in the wrong family. He has no taste for wealth or luxury, develops early concern for the plight of workers, and wishes for nothing but the independence to conduct his own life without interference from his father. His childhood and youth are a constant tug-of-war with Anselme.  An idealist in many ways, he nevertheless manifests a thoughtless streak that ends up hurting others.
  • Faustine–The pampered youngest child, Faustine is perhaps the only Rochefort child who is warmly loved, and willingly indulged, by Anselme.  She is beautiful, confident, intelligent, and the least troubled of her siblings. Yet this will not protect her from hurtling toward terrible heartache.

The Rouvières:

  • Donatien–The Rouvière patriarch is a loving family man, father of three daughters and one adopted son. He wisely manages and tirelessly works his extensive farms, called La Fenouillère, and his honest dealings have made him respected in the region.  He is on good terms with his neighbors including the powerful Rocheforts, a position which allows him to incur privileges, such as summer pasturing of his sheep on Rochefort land in Lozère. In turn, he harvests the grapes from the Rochefort vineyards and is able to keep (and sell) half their yield. But despite his obvious success, social disparity is enough to put him at a disadvantage when Anselme Rochefort wishes to contract a marriage between his oldest son Jean-Christophe and Donatien’s eldest daughter, Louise.
  • Constance–Donatien married for love, and his wife Constance is a partner in their family and even in some of the farm labor, such as the grape harvest, where the whole family must pitch in.  She is warmly understanding and solicitous of her children, but finds herself somewhat intimidated at first by the closer connections established with the wealthier Rouvières.
  • Louise–The Rouvières’ eldest daughter accepts an arranged marriage with Jean-Christophe Rochefort very early in the book.  She brings to the marriage an impressive dowry, the groves of mulberry trees which Anselme covets to feed his silkworms. Louise and Jean-Christophe have a large family of their own, and she becomes an influential figure in the story for both her siblings and her in-laws.
  • Julie–The second Rouvière daughter has a bad case of middle-child syndrome, since she feels ignored and uncomfortable with the expectations placed on her. She will also become entangled with one of the Rochefort men.
  • Aline–Youngest daughter Aline is bright and wishes to be a teacher. Her ready admiration for her adopted brother Vincent becomes unrequited love as they grow older.
  • Vincent–Vincent Janvier spends his early childhood years at the Sisters of Charity orphanage in Nîmes, until he is adopted by Donatien and Constance Rouvière. He quickly loves all the duties of farm life and forms strong bonds with his new family. The Rocheforts are slower to acknowledge his status as Donatien’s fully fledged son and sometimes fail to recognize his importance, with the significant exception of young Faustine. She and Vincent fall in love “at first sight” as children, and their forbidden romance is pivotal throughout the novel.

These families will experience the repercussions of World War I, the Russian Revolution, and the post-war period up through the financial crash of 1929.  We see the changing fortunes of the Rocheforts’ textile company, the effects of shifting markets and supplier competition in the denim industry, and the crisis of an aging industrial magnate trying to pass on his business and ensure his family legacy. The threats of family disunity and financial disintegration are never far away, and in this respect, the novel belongs to a class of novels exemplified by Thomas Mann’s Buddenbrooks (1901), the story of a north German family’s decline over four generations.  Younger generations who succeed a great founder of a business empire tend to have different talents and different aspirations, and they are adversely affected morally by the very wealth their illustrious forebear has created for them.  Critic Ian Sansom called this the “Buddenbrooks effect” in his last piece for The Guardian in 2011.  It is equally the “Rochefort effect” in Christian Laborie’s compelling portrait of two French families at the beginning of the twentieth century.

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Rocheforts cover

Author Christian Laborie

on Tour

April 6-15, 2015

with

The Rocheforts

(fiction / saga)

Release date: May 5, 2015 at Open Road Integrated Media

484 pages

ISBN: 978-1-4804-6120-8

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SYNOPSIS

Two very different families are bonded by scandal in this sweeping story of love, greed, and betrayal.
Anselme Rochefort has built an empire manufacturing serge de Nîmes, or denim. His biggest client? Levi Strauss. As the craze for blue jeans begins to sweep the globe, Rochefort Industries seems poised for untold success. But Anselme can be as cruel and ruthless with his family as he is in business.

The Rocheforts’ neighbor Donatien Rouvière has one of the region’s most prosperous farms and is desperate for a son to carry on his legacy. After the births of three daughters, the Rouvières adopt an orphan from the Sisters of Charity convent and raise him as their own.

When Anselme suggests uniting the two families by arranging for their children to marry, it seems like the perfect match. But as the lives of the two clans grow increasingly intertwined, dark secrets come to light, including the mysterious circumstances of the death of Anselme’s eldest daughter.

With The Rocheforts, Christian Laborie weaves a captivating tale of deceit, intrigue, and the dynamic tension between industrialization and a way of life rooted in the land. [provided by the publisher]

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Rocheforts - LaborieABOUT THE AUTHOR

Christian Laborie was born in the North of France, but has lived in the southern region of Cévennes for more than twenty years.

The Rocheforts is his first novel to be published in English.

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You can enter the global giveaway here
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
.

Entry-Form

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 open internationally:
5 winners will receive 1 digital copy of The Rocheforts

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CLICK ON THE BANNER

TO READ OTHER REVIEWS AND AN EXCERPT

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*Note*: I received an 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. 

Related links:

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2015 Reading Challenges–French Bingo and more

21 Jan

french-bingo-2015-logo2I’m delighted to join this reading challenge for 2015, hosted by Emma at Words and Peace. Here are some of the books I may include:

  1. Journeys Through France and Life by Glenda de Vaney (my review)
  2. To Dance with Kings by Rosalind Laker (set in court of Louis XIV)
  3. The Sharp Hook of Love by Sherry Jones (about Héloïse and Abélard)
  4. How Paris Became Paris by Joan De Jean
  5. The Vicomte de Bragelonne by Alexander Dumas (in the Musketeer series)
  6. Lev Gillet: ‘A Monk of the Eastern Church’ by Elisabeth Behr-Sigel

I’ll most likely add others during the year, especially as part of France Book Tours. I will post those reviews here on the Fictional 100 blog. Other brief reviews will appear on my Goodreads shelf.

Many of these books will also qualify for two challenges posted by The Introverted Reader: the 2015 Nonfiction Reading Challenge and the 2015 Books in Translation Reading Challenge.

Finally, these varied books on France, past and present, fiction and nonfiction, are also part of my ongoing participation in the Travel the World in Books Reading Challenge, hosted by Mom’s Small Victories, I’m Lost in Books, and Savvy Working Gal.

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Love and War: “Lies Told in Silence” by M. K. Tod–Review and Giveaway #franceBT

20 Sep

Lies Told in Silence bannerLies Told in Silence cover

Lies Told in Silence by M. K. Tod. Tod Publishing, 2014.

Near the end of Lies Told in Silence, M. K. Tod’s beautifully rendered story of a French family during World War I, her main character, Hélène Noisette, wonders to herself: “Is it the things you choose or the things you don’t choose that make your life?” In any novel about war, this has to be one of the central questions. It could just as well be asked by Natasha Rostova in War and Peace or Scarlett O’Hara in Gone With the Wind. Events people didn’t choose came to their doorstep, and character was shaped by the will to retain the power of choice in the face of those events and to exercise it wisely. Choices, very much limited by circumstance, present themselves like a great divide–life could diverge this way or that–and Hélène had to confront many such fateful choices. Tod shows them to us with sensitivity and respect for all her characters’ humanity.

The book opens in May 1914, when Hélène’s father, Henri, who works in the War Ministry in Paris, determines that it is no longer safe for his family to remain in Paris. Unwillingly, 16-year-old Hélène must move out of the city with her mother Lise, and her younger brother Jean. Her older brother, Guy, stays with his father in Paris to attend military school and prepare for the war. Mother, daughter, son, and Henri’s mother, Mariele, settle in the small town of Beaufort, northeast of Paris, at a family home once belonging to Henri’s sister. Neither Lise nor Hélène have been emotionally close to Mariele (Grandmère) up to this time, so it is an uneasy household at best. Hélène is miserable; she misses the excitement and variety of her life in Paris–her friends, her school–and thinks:

How can Grandmère be so content? Doesn’t she miss her friends and the theatre and the beautiful shops of Paris? Here we are stuck in a tiny backwater because Papa is worried about something that may never happen.

That was in June. By August, war had broken out in Europe and everything changed. It became clear that while Paris was threatened, Beaufort might be in the line of fire too. It seemed that Germany planned to march north through Belgium and then invade France from there. But all the family could do was stay put and wait, and learn to adapt to life in wartime, its shortages, and the need to be more self-sufficient if they were cut off from supplies and the resources of normal daily life. Something shifted for Hélène; she understood that if she wished to be more grownup she would need to start helping her mother and grandmother, learn the skills of life most needed in the situation they were caught in, and take her share of responsibility for boosting their morale. Months and years passed, and Hélène did indeed grow up:

All the vestiges of girlhood were gone. She no longer dawdled along the road or sighed over fashion magazines or complained about her lot in life. She read the newspaper with care and wrote articulate letters to her father and brother. She learned the difference between German, French and British planes so she could recognize any that flew near the house, knew how to bottle and pickle, when to prune their vegetables and how to repair the outside pump. … Hélène was busy all day and wore a look of quiet authority and purpose.

Most important, the women in the neat house in Beaufort came to rely on each other, seek each other’s counsel, and share the immense challenges of living. Tod’s novel is ultimately a love story, and it begins here, with the unshakable love that grows between Hélène, her mother, and her grandmother.

One day they can hear a repetitive sound that they realize must be artillery fire. It is undeniable what is happening, but Hélène cannot help but think, “No…war is for history books, not for us to experience firsthand. It’s for faraway places known only on maps.” But the war will approach them very closely indeed. Canadian troops will be stationed near them, making preparations and then fighting the battle to take Vimy Ridge. Hélène will meet a Canadian soldier named Edward Jamieson and discover the intensity of love in wartime. She will have to face the deep anxiety over the absent loved one’s safety, compounded by worry about whether love itself can survive the rigors of war.

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The Battle of Vimy Ridge by Richard Jack. 1918. Library and Archives Canada (copyrighted).

The rest of the book tells their story, and I won’t reveal much more about it. I do want to say, however, that Tod uses letters very effectively throughout the book: between the Hélène and Edward, between Lise and Henri (another love story!), and between Guy and his parents, after he joins the army. We who are so used to instant communication by many means can only imagine how desperately people waited for those letters, with some news of their loved ones’ situation, physical well-being, and state of mind. In wartime, all communication, by whatever means, is threatened, and Tod makes this precious, fragile link between her characters stand out in many heart-rending moments.

Tod has a clear, flowing writing style; her prose spins out in a rolling, companionable way with just enough added description to create a sense of immediacy for the reader–so important to the success of any historical fiction. I found the setting of Beaufort natural and convincing, precisely because it was revealed in the daily activities of Lise, Hélène, Grandmère, and Jean–I felt I knew their clean and serviceable house, with its attic retreat for Hélène; the places in town and in the countryside they visited; and the townspeople they met. I was surprised to learn in the author’s note that “Beaufort” was a fictional town, because it seemed very real to me, and I was ready to add it to my next itinerary for a visit to France! The closest I might come would be Vimy, which is in the Nord-Pas-de-Calais region of France, on the border with Belgium. Here is a picture of the Canadian National Vimy Memorial, dedicated in 1944.

Vimy Memorial

Field Marshal Montgomery visits the Canadian First World War memorial at Vimy Ridge, 8 September 1944

This novel was a five-star read for me, and I highly recommend it!

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Lies Told In Silence

[historical fiction]

 Release date: end of July 2014
at Tod Publishing

367 pages

ISBN: 978-0 991967025

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SYNOPSIS

In May 1914, Helene Noisette’s father believes war is imminent. Convinced Germany will head straight for Paris, he sends his wife, daughter, mother and younger son to Beaufort, a small village in northern France. But when war erupts a few months later, the German army invades neutral Belgium with the intent of sweeping south towards Paris. And by the end of September, Beaufort is less than twenty miles from the front.

During the years that follow, with the rumbling of guns ever present in the distance, three generations of women come together to cope with deprivation, constant fear and the dreadful impacts of war. In 1917, Helene falls in love with a young Canadian soldier who was wounded in the battle of Vimy Ridge.

But war has a way of separating lovers and families, of twisting promises and dashing hopes, and of turning the naïve and innocent into the jaded and war-weary. As the months pass, Helene is forced to reconcile dreams for the future with harsh reality.

Lies Told in Silence examines love and loss, duty and sacrifice, and the unexpected consequences of lies. [provided by the author]

ABOUT THE AUTHORLies Told - M. K. Tod

M.K. Tod writes historical fiction featuring WWI and WWII. Her debut novel, UNRAVELLED, was selected as Indie Editor’s Choice by the Historical Novel Society.

In addition to her writing, Mary maintains the blog www.awriterofhistory.com  where she talks about reading and writing historical fiction.

She has also conducted two well-regarded historical fiction reader surveys and in her spare time reviews books for the Historical Novel Society.

M.K. Tod is delighted to hear from readers at mktod at bell dot net.

Visit her blog

Follow her on FacebookTwitterGoodreads

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I am pleased to include the following **GIVEAWAY** of Lies Told in Silence. To Enter the drawing, click on the entry form below. There will be 9 winners of an e-book (mobi or epub). This giveaway is open internationally.

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Lies Told in Silence bannerI encourage you to visit France Book Tours to find other stops–and more reviews by many delightful bloggers–on this book tour!

*Note*: I received an 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.

A Mother’s Pilgrimage: “A Star for Mrs. Blake” by April Smith (France Book Tours #franceBT)

10 May

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A Star for Mrs. Blake by April Smith. Knopf, 2014.

A Star for Mrs. Blake begins well, continues well in the middle, and finishes well–this is deft storytelling that April Smith has honed in her Ana Grey mystery thriller series and in her writing for television. Any reader can be grateful to be in such confident authorial company. Yet, clearly, this book goes beyond its sureness of craft: it’s the product of Smith’s passion for her subject over many years of research and thought about the real people making the Gold Star Mothers pilgrimages to the American cemeteries in France in the early 1930s. The characters she has created are fictional, but fashioned from genuine historical detail, which is meaningfully applied throughout.  Because this novel is shaped by the course of a very special pilgrimage, it makes sense to talk about it in terms of the sequence of stages through which anyone on pilgrimage will likely pass. I’m adopting the stages mapped out by Phil Cousineau in his book The Art of Pilgrimage, which in turn draws on the “hero’s journey” made famous in the writings of Joseph Campbell.

First, there is the Longing; for mothers whose sons had died in the First World War and were buried overseas, the longing was persistent and palpable. The first such mother we meet in the novel is Cora Blake, a librarian and single mother in Deer Isle, Maine, raising her three nieces and mourning the loss of her son Sammy who was killed in Verdun in October 1918. The hard decision many families made not to bring their children’s remains home from the battlefield was a lingering wound; the longing to visit these graves was acute, yet such a trip seemed out of reach. The Call came in 1929, when the U.S. Congress passed legislation which enabled mothers to go on pilgrimage, courtesy of the government, to their sons’ graves in Europe. For Cora Blake, her personal call came in February 1931 when she got a letter of invitation from the War Department. (Here is a sample set of documents sent to a Gold Star Mother in 1930, including invitation, letters, and a handbook of general information for her trip.) Cora learned that her fellow pilgrims would be four other mothers–all very different from each other–and together they would make up “Party A”; they began to exchange letters and prepare for the momentous Departure in June. This part of the story reminded me in a way of Enchanted April, from the novel by Elizabeth von Arnim, in which a small group of women who were strangers to each other and from diverse circumstances made the decision to take a trip to Italy together.  The Gold Star Mothers in Party A were on a very different sort of journey, yet it shared some of the same elements of adventure and assertion of personal independence.

Just as Chaucer’s Canterbury pilgrims gathered at the Tabard Inn before setting out on the road, Party A all had to assemble at their hotel in New York City before boarding an ocean liner bound for the port of Le Havre, France. Cora came by train from Bangor, Maine, stopping in Boston to meet another mother in her group, an Irish maid named Katie McConnell. One by one, the pilgrims arrived, were introduced, and joined the preparations for the European voyage. Smith has brought to convincing life five women with very different temperaments and histories; the incidents along their pilgrim way flow very naturally from these women’s lives.

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In venerable medieval fashion, the pilgrims all received special bronze badges to wear during the whole trip. These badges identified them as Gold Star Mothers wherever they went. Smith describes what one woman, a Russian immigrant named Minnie Seibert, felt as she looked around the room where many parties of mothers were seated for a welcome luncheon:

“Every woman at the table–everyone in this enormous room–fat ones, skinny ones, ugly, whatever–wore a Gold Star badge. Abraham [her husband] of course had refused, but Minnie had dutifully worn the torn black ribbon of the mourner for seven days after they got the news that Isaac had been killed–but thirteen years later you didn’t go around wearing a badge. Here, you did. Because, like the rabbi from Bangor had said, the consolation for a mourner is that she shares with others not only this loss but all the misfortunes that come of living a full human life. Here, among those others, Minnie knew she belonged.” (pp. 80-81)

This passage expresses Minnie’s thoughts, but it also captures the anguish and isolation each of the mothers had experienced; losing a child to war still separated them from others despite the intervening years.

Once they arrived in France, the stops along the Pilgrim’s Way for these mothers included several days in Paris, not only as tourists but, it became apparent, as goodwill ambassadors for the American military–not a role they consciously chose or endorsed. The mothers were the focus of much attention, most of it welcome and gracious, but some of it problematic and intrusive. As anticipation was building to get down to the real business of the trip, the women confronted painful questions about the war and the meaning of their sons’ deaths. In terms of the hero’s journey, they found themselves in the Labyrinth, which is sometimes called the Descent, the most confusing and potentially hellish time. Pilgrims in the Labyrinthine part of their journey are often assisted by guides: in this case, Lt. Thomas Hammond and nurse Lt. Lily Barnett, who led Party A; and news reporter Griffin Reed, himself an injured WWI veteran, who would have a special influence on Cora’s life. The Arrival at the Meuse-Argonne Cemetery where their sons were buried brought this phase to a climax; the series of visits they made there was handled with tremendous sensitivity and insight by Smith. I was frankly in awe of the beautiful construction of the plot at this point–which I WON’T reveal!  It felt like being there with the mothers and then watching the unexpected unfold. Here is the Meuse-Argonne cemetery as it appeared in 1930.

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This picture suggests the immense impact of arriving there, trying to take in the rows upon rows of graves, and then finding the special one with a beloved son’s name on it. Cora had “always imagined Sammy falling alone in suspended space like a stage backdrop, but now she saw a marble forest of young men who were dead, and knew that Sammy was, had been, and always would be in their company.”

The last stage of the hero’s journey–and these pilgrim mothers do emerge as heroes–is Bringing Back the Boon, receiving the gift or gifts from the experience. These can be tangible (crucial objects, talismans, or “souvenirs”) or intangible gifts (knowledge, awakening, and healing)–usually both. Again, this story stars in its unsentimental and emotionally powerful treatment of the resolution for each character. The important thing about going on pilgrimage is that whatever you could imagine ahead of time, you can never really know what it will mean to you until you go there yourself. The same is true of A Star for Mrs. Blake: only by traveling its road and reading to the end can you bring back the boon of this beautiful book.

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I am working with author April Smith on a virtual tour for her historical novel: A Star For Mrs. Blake.  Please pay a visit to other stops on the tour at http://francebooktours.com/2014/03/19/april-smith-on-tour-a-star-for-mrs-blake/.

SYNOPSIS

In 1929, The U.S. Congress passed legislation that would provide funding for the mothers of fallen WWI soldiers to visit the graves of their sons in France. Over the course of three years, 6,693 Gold Star Mothers made this trip.  Smith imagines the story of five of these women, strangers who could not be more different from each other. One of them is Cora Blake, a librarian and single mother from coastal Maine. Journeying to the Meuse-Argonne American Cemetery, the lives of these women are inextricably intertwined as shocking events – death, scandal, and secrets – are unearthed. And Cora’s own life takes an unexpected turn when she meets an American, “tin nose,” journalist, whose war wounds confine him to a metal mask.  [provided by the author]

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Release date: January 14, 2014
at Knopf

ISBN-13: 978-0307958846

Hardcover, 352 pages

Purchase the book

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

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April Smith is the author of the FBI Special Agent Ana Grey mystery series, starting with North of Montana.  She is also an Emmy-nominated writer and producer of dramatic series and movies for television.  She lives in Santa Monica with her husband.

Visit her website.
Get in touch with her on Facebook and Twitter

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*Note*: I received an 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.

Related post:

Scotland Reading Challenge 2013

4 Apr

Scotland Reading Challenge 2013

I’m happy to be participating in the Scotland Reading Challenge 2013, created by Faith Hope and Cherrytea.  For my proposed reading list, I have pulled together some books already on my to-be-read stack (even if part of that stack is only on my Kindle!) and added some books that I’ve discovered via the Reading Challenge bookshelf on Goodreads.

  1. Rob Roy by Sir Walter Scott — next on my list for this quintessential author of Scottish historical novels.
  2. Monarch of the Glen by Compton Mackenzie — I’m catching up here. This was a recent selection of the Reading Challenge group, and it looks good–I don’t want to miss it!
  3. The Old Ways: A Journey on Foot by Robert Macfarlane — Macfarlane devotes one section, and therefore one of his walking journeys, to a long walk in Scotland. I’m there in spirit if not on foot.
  4. The Master of Ballantrae by Robert Louis Stevenson– Kidnapped and Catriona are also on the menu, this year or next.  Two of Stevenson’s most influential characters, Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde and Long John Silver, are on The Fictional 100, ranking 67 and 93, respectively.  Last year, I read James Pope-Hennessey’s excellent biography of Stevenson, along with a re-read of Treasure Island, for this post on Silver: Return to Treasure Island by Andrew Motion.
  5. The First Blast of the Trumpet (Knox Trilogy #1)  by Marie Macpherson — I just learned about this well-researched historical novel from the discussion boards, which featured a video about it. I am keenly interested in religious history and theology, so this story of the Scottish Reformation appeals greatly.
  6. The Highland Clans by Alistair Moffat — My history book club accumulated points may go toward this one!

I’m sure I will be lured by other Scottish-themed titles as the year progresses and I learn from others’ choices. Now is the point where I must wish myself luck! However much I am able to read, I appreciate the spur to goal-setting and the camaraderie of more book-obsessed friends!

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