Tag Archives: Historical romance

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 + 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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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
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***

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

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

Enter here

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

***

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

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.

******

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

******

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

******

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

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 EXCERPTS

In the Shade of the Almond Trees Banner

*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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