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

17 Aug

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My Review

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

Kathleen C. Perrin

on tour

August 14-25, 2017

the secret-of-the-abbey cover

The Secret of the Abbey

(historical fiction)

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

565 pages

ISBN: 978-0692877975

Website | Goodreads

SYNOPSIS

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

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

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

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*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.

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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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*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.

20160116_223837

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

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

Sword of the Maiden cover

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

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