Tag Archives: World War I

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.

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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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.

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Global giveaway open internationally:
5 winners will receive a print copy of this book.

***

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*Note*: I received an advance review 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 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

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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

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

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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.

**********************************************

Review + Giveaway: “The Rocheforts” by Christian Laborie

7 Apr

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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.

Follow Open Road Integrated Media on Facebook |   Twitter

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Buy the bookAmazon

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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

Rocheforts banner

*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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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.

The_Battle_of_Vimy_Ridge--Richard_Jack

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

***

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.

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