I’m delighted to be hosting Will Bashor today as he sets out on his virtual book tour with this truly absorbing and meticulously researched book.

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

 

Synopsis

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

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

 

My Review

I was riveted by this book from start to tragic finish.

Marie Antoinette must be one of the best known-about historical figures of all time, but not the best known. We’ve all heard the famous statement, “Let them eat cake,” Qu’ils mangent de la brioche, although it’s not certain she ever actually did give this tactless response to the claim that the poor people had no bread, and we also know that she was executed by guillotine during the aftermath of the French Revolution. And for most of us that’s just about it.

But there was so much more to her than that. In Marie Antoinette’s Darkest Days, historian and author Will Bashor recounts the dreadful experiences she went through between the beginning of August 1793 until her death in mid-October. Her husband already dead, separated from her sister-in-law and children she languished in a filthy prison. Yet she showed resilience and dignity in the face of hatred and enemies baying for her blood.

The book reads, I think, more like a novel rather than a history book, in that while the authors shares a tremendous amount of painstaking research with us, we’re never overwhelmed and the pace is crisp. Our tragic heroine develops before our eyes and we feel empathy for her in her wretched circumstances. She stops being a figurehead and becomes a very real person to us. Yes, she had been one of the royal family who knew no restraint in flaunting their wealth and acting insensitively and unsympathetically towards their subjects, but that was how life was then. There was a chasm between the haves and have-nots. You can understand why the people wanted to redress the balance somewhat, or at least attempt to. With the forthcoming elections here in France, it is somewhat ironic to realise that once again there is a widening gap between the people and those that govern them – there are many millionaires in the government these days. Did poor Marie Antoinette die in vain?

If you’re interested in French history then this without doubt is the book for you. It is completely absorbing and absolutely fascinating.

 

Extract

Security tightened in the Conciergerie as the public uproar increased. The guards searched through the queen’s laundry, and she was only allowed a change of clothing every ten days. At the same time, the queen’s health was faltering. She complained of pain in one of her legs, covering it with her cushion to keep it warm. The queen also suffered from insomnia, anxiety, dizziness, weakness, and frequent bouts of vaginal bleeding. Rosalie attributed the hemorrhaging to the “crushing sorrows, the foul air in her cell, and lack of exercise.”

These miseries were perhaps every bit as disturbing as the presence of the guards, who violated her modesty as they watched her change clothes. When the queen discretely removed the bloody dressings, Rosalie disposed of them secretly but with great difficulty; the inspections were multiplying at all hours of the day and night. And the noise became unbearable, with the locks continuously clanking and the door of the queen’s dungeon screeching as deputies entered and exited.

On October 3, Deputy Jean-Baptiste-André Amar of the Committee of General Security decreed that 129 deputies of the Gironde party be denounced as outlaws, arrested, and brought to trial. The Girondins had campaigned for the end of the monarchy but came into conflict with the more radical Jacobins. On the same day, a large number of the Girondins were imprisoned in the Conciergerie, the same prison that housed the fallen queen of France. That these Girondins would be tried and most likely face the guillotine before the queen sparked another public controversy.

They argued that the queen was the “guiltiest of all” and “her head should be the first to fall.” The committees, clubs, and cafés of Paris were all calling for a speedy trial of the Agrippina, a reference to the ruthless, domineering, and violent mother of Nero.

“I rang my alarm bell to all French ears on the infamous Antoinette,” wrote lawyer and politician Armand-Joseph Guffroy in his journal. “Keep Marie Antoinette in prison to make peace, you say drearily, and I say to you, ‘Make her jump like a carp with its hands tied behind its back.’”

“We aim to judge the Austrian tigress from twelve until two o’clock in the afternoon,” the deputy Louis Marie Prudhomme wrote, “and we demand the offenses to condemn her; if justice is served, she will be hacked up like mincemeat in a pâté.”

 

About the Author

Will Bashor

 

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

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

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***

MARIE ANTOINETTE’S DARKEST DAYS

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

(history – nonfiction)

Release date: December 1, 2016
at Rowman & Littlefield

392 pages

ISBN: 978-1442254992

Website | Goodreads

 

 

Giveaway

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
.

ENTER HERE

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

Global giveaway – international:
1 winner will receive a copy of this book

***

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From 2011: The Year of All Things Wild and Woolly

Talking about sad episodes, it’s time to mention our polytunnel. Our earnings were a little healthier now that we were with Angling Lines, but there still wasn’t a lot of spare cash. Now, we’d been mulling over the idea of getting a greenhouse or polytunnel for several months. We ate a lot of tomatoes and lettuces but these didn’t thrive outdoors. Despite digging lots of poop from assorted animals into the area of ground we designated as the vegetable patch, the soil remained poor. The only things that did grow were courgettes and pumpkins, and you can definitely have too many of those. Hence, the desire to grow a wider variety of veggies. After a lot of pondering, we opted for a low budget polytunnel off eBay. Stop laughing and bear with me. It looked good in the advert, and was the right sort of size so we paid up and eagerly awaited its arrival. It wasn’t too long coming and we got it up in one afternoon. Given the number of bits of framework and the unhelpfulness of the instructions, that was surprisingly fast. We chose a south-facing spot behind the barn. It was in the female llamas’ field and they were delighted. They had a very interesting time watching us grapple with poles and plastic. Llamas are so wonderfully inquisitive. Once it was finished they seemed very pleased with the new addition to their field and inspected it every now and again. We’d have to make sure to keep it closed, or they’d be in like a shot.

We got to work constructing some workbenches from recycled building materials and quickly covered them with seedlings in yoghurt pots. My inner gardener blossomed. I spent many happy hours pottering around potting things up in there, and Chris likewise. It started to look very impressive and productive. We took the precaution of wiring the framework to two very heavy iron bars that had come with the farm. We had no idea what their original purpose might have been, but we knew they’d come in handy one day and so we left them where they were, on the grass beyond the hangar, and regularly tripped over them. However, all those stubbed toes were worth it as the bits of iron now came into their own.

They, the bits of wire and a few bits of bent framework were all that were left after the first slightly windy night we experienced after erecting the polytunnel. A few moderate gusts of wind and the whole thing fell apart. The plastic ripped and fluttered off around the farm, sending our seedlings flying, only to be consumed or trampled on by the llamas. What a disaster. All that hard work wasted. Evidently the polytunnel was intended for indoor use only. We sighed and collected up any salvageable pieces of debris, and they weren’t many, ignoring the llamas’ giggling.

We learnt our lesson from that act of cheapskateness and decided we would have to invest in a real, proper, heavy-duty polytunnel with thick plastic and a weighty metal framework. It would be worth dipping into our savings if it meant we bought something that would last longer than a couple of weeks and withstand a gentle breeze. And so our new polytunnel duly arrived. This was more like it. It came on two pallets and weighed a ton. Never mind several hours, it took several weeks to erect. The main supporting framework needed concreting in place, wooden doorways had to be constructed and it took the whole family to help with fitting the rest of the frame together and fitting the plastic over, stretching it carefully to fit and cutting off the excess. Leaving a central walkway, Chris built a raised bed to each side which, over a few days, we filled with barrowfuls of llama and chicken poop. The ten-metre long and four-metre wide polytunnel accommodated an awful lot of poop, I can tell you. We were delighted, and, although a bit late, set to on a second splurge of growing seedlings. We hung up a thermometer and marvelled at the tropical temperatures reached in the polytunnel. On a cloudy day when it was 20 degrees outside, the tunnel clocked up 35 degrees. And when it was hot and sunny outside around the 30 degree mark, the thermometer showed upwards of 45 degrees. Surely our lettuces and tomatoes would flourish now.

Word must have got round about our polytunnel because out of the blue, a young man turned up. He explained he was a neighbour, relatively speaking – he lived a good few kilometres away but there weren’t many other habitations between us and him so I guess that did make us neighbours – and that he’d just taken over Les Chapotiers and planned to make a living growing bio (organic) fruit and veg. We’d detected a hint of hippie. He had a polytunnel on order and asked if we’d come and help him erect it when he arrived. We replied that so long as he wouldn’t object to a good bit of swearing going on during the process, then no problem, count us in. We’d found from our few years of heavy labour in France that swearwords are as crucial an ingredient in constructing something as the physical constituents. Cussing concentrates the mind. We weren’t the first to think so. I remember from my childhood Dad going round to help our neighbour, who I knew as Uncle Will, with a car problem. “Damn, I won’t be able to swear so it’ll take ages,” Dad grumbled as he set off. Uncle Will was indeed a gentle soul. We’d often call round as kids and be treated to a biscuit in the kitchen. I only saw the living room once, and the walls were festooned with beautiful embroidered pictures. All Uncle Will’s work.

The young guy never turned up again.

Another #SampleSunday, another extract from my forthcoming ‘Total Immersion: Ten Years in France’. We’re in March 2009, and we get to meet our first home-born baby llama and Chris has a very close encounter with a fox.

We’d moved Gabby, the mother llama, into a stable so she’d be warm and cosy when delivery time came and we checked on her frequently. We coated the stable floor with hay, and counted the days. We were starting to give up. She seemed intent on exploding rather than giving birth, just to spite us.

This cria is actually Sir Winter, born Jan 27 2017. My photos of baby Lulin are on another computer. But he’s equally as cute as she was!

It was a fine, sunny morning during the kids’ winter holiday fortnight so we decided to go for a walk. We did one of our local strolls, the Chambon shuffle we call it (ch = sh in French, so it’s a nice alliterative name). Coming back along the green lane between fields, we spotted a fox in the hedgerow, but it didn’t run away. We peered close and saw that it had a metal snare around its stomach, getting tighter and tighter every time the animal moved. It was probably stupid of us, but we couldn’t leave it like that. Chris had gloves on and tried to free the fox but it bit him, not surprisingly really, and we were forced to abandon the rescue mission for the time being. When we got back, Chris went to put Germolene on his bite and then find thick gloves and wire cutters for a second attempt. I went to look in on Gabby. And there, in a hideous, spindly heap, was a llama cria. Gabby had chosen the darkest, dirtiest corner of the stable to deliver in, studiously avoiding the birth-friendly hay carpet we’d put down.  The baby was cold and grubby. Caiti and I got busy with towels drying the little female down while the boys went off to deal with the fox.

Both missions proved successful. Caiti and I soon transformed the baby into a clean, dry, fluffy cria. She was mainly white with some pretty brown splotches on her face and back. At the time Comet Lulin was visible, and we thought that Lulin was the perfect name for a little llama. Again with the alliteration. Benj and Chris came back, fortunately with no more bites, thanks to the thick gloves. But we still had the one bite to worry about. And worry a lot about, as France was then still officially a rabid country.

We hopped in the car to go to the doctor’s. We explained what had happened, and he asked us if we had the fox’s head. I stared at him blankly. No, he can’t have said that. I must have misunderstood something there. I asked him to repeat the question at a non-Francophone-friendly speed, and the same words came out. Chris and I shot other a ‘what the heck’ look. I warily replied that we didn’t have the head. We’d left it on the fox as it clearly had need of it. There didn’t seem a lot of point in freeing a fox from a snare only to immediately decapitate it, not the thought of doing so would ever have occurred to us.

The doctor sighed and told us, in a long-suffering tone, that if you get bitten by a fox, or any other possibly rabid animal, you’re meant to kill it and bring its head with you for testing. As with so many things in France, you’re meant to instinctively know this. Well, we didn’t, and we hadn’t got a vulpine head with us, so what next? The doctor quickly cheered up and said that Chris would need to go to Guéret hospital for rabies-neutralising shots. These would start at the rate of several a week, then one a week, then one a fortnight and so on at increasingly long intervals for at least the next six months. He might have said years, I was too shocked to listen properly. This really was a blow. We’d been expecting Chris would need a few injections, but not that many or for so long.

Lulin today

The doctor phoned the nearest Department of Information about Rabies and we watched as the smile dropped from his face. Our hearts were in our boots. He must have underestimated the treatment process. But it turned out that Boussac was a rabies-free zone. There hadn’t been any cases reported here for some officially sanctioned period of time, so we didn’t need the injections after all. The doctor was clearly very disappointed about this. I think he’d been quite looking forward to having a case of rabies to tell all his medical chums about. Or maybe, odd as this may sound, he liked seeing English people suffer. All that needed doing was to give Chris some antibiotics. Our anti-tetanus shots were up to date, so no more jabs were necessary. Talk about relief. The incident has, however, left Chris with an intense dislike of foxes. He also vowed he would never try and free another animal from a snare, a vow he steadfastly kept until Christmas when we came across our next case of a snared animal, a deer this time, which, of course, we set free.

Snaring  is legal in France, under certain conditions, and also trapping. Our local friendly farm supply shop, run by incredibly nice people, has a whole rack of gruesome looking devices for these very purposes and obviously they don’t give it a second thought. It’s still a way of life for some country dwellers. We haven’t come across any trapped animals for a long while now, it has to be said. However, I don’t suppose the practice has died out, just that whoever’s setting the snares is keeping them off our usual stamping grounds. The snarer has possibly worked out that the proximity of our farm to the cut-through snares they’d laid was more than coincidental. Because they were quite close to us, the only inhabitants in a sizeable chunk of very many square kilometres. Mine were the only local chickens, or in fact livestock of any kind, that a fox might have helped itself to, so I can’t see the need for anyone to have set a snare in that location. OK, deer eat crops which must be annoying if you’re a farmer, but this snare was on a bit of fencing (erected by the gas board) bordered by scrub land. Unnecessary and unpleasant.

Now that the first draft of Haircuts, Hens and Homicide is in the bag, I’ve been able to return to part Deux of my memoir of our lives in France, Total Immersion. To whet your appetites here’s an extract from the chapter ‘2012: The Year of the Pig’.

The Big Freeze of 2017 is going on as I write about the Even Bigger Freeze of 2012 so it’s helping to put me in the mood. It’s brought back precise memories of exactly how flipping cold it was.

The year started off harmlessly enough. Once New Year was over, the kids headed back to école primaire (Rors), lycée (Caiti) and fac (Benj) and Chris and I settled into our daily routine of this time of years of jobs around the farm, lake maintenance and our online businesses. However, Chris’s inner swineherd was proving hard to ignore. He’d been becoming more and more interested in getting pigs, and talking about them to such an extent that some returning angling clients of ours gave him a book about pig ownership. Perhaps that was the deciding factor, or maybe he just felt ready for a new challenge as by now, between us, we’d mastered llama and alpaca, goat, sheep and poultry ownership. It was time to conquer another animal species.

Chris did some research and found someone who did pig management courses in Poitou-Charentes, about four hours away. He booked himself in on the next available session and sorted out a night’s accommodation nearby as there was an early start to the day’s training. All he had to do now was wait.

January was ridiculously mild, to the extent that the daffs were coming up, the chickens were laying fit to bust and buds were starting to appear on many trees. What a lovely short winter we’ve had this time, we thought with a smile. But Mother Nature had the last laugh.

Chris set off on a sunny Sunday afternoon, waved off by me and the two youngest. Once he was gone we pottered around in the warmth, doing the farm chores and getting some fresh air before focussing on getting everything ready for school next day. For Rors this was just making sure there were clean clothes ready and waiting, but for Caiti it was the usual painful process of packing the suitcase for a week of boarding. We should have had it down to a fine art by now, and we had done with Benj, but somehow every week seemed like the first with our daughter. She always left packing till the very last minute, long after parental patience had been ground down. I’ve never been a late night person and since moving to France and taking up a much more physically exhausting lifestyle, then bed starts calling at nine o’clock, sometimes earlier. So things would tend to get fraught on a Sunday evening. But Caiti inevitably produced the proverbial rabbit from the hat and was all ready for the off, although she regularly resembled the proverbial slow snail and reduced me to a nervous wreck on Monday mornings. However, as it turned out miraculously we only ever missed the bus once.

This particular Monday morning was very chilly but with Chris away I had no alternative but to load a warmly wrapped sleepy Ruadhrí into the car to be taken for the ride when delivering Caiti to the bus stop in Clugnat. The road sparkled with frost and it was nippy. One low, hill-bottom stretch of the road was, as usual, particularly cold. We called it the ‘frost bucket’. This arose from a very young Caiti mishearing us using the expression ‘frost pocket’. Well, since ‘frost bucket’ is so much better we adopted that one as a family saying. The car showed a temperature of minus three or so. Brrr.

Meanwhile Chris was getting up to minus five, which came as a bit of a shock. Fortunately he’d taken plenty of warm clothes with him as a lot of the training was done outside and the day itself was sunny and bright. He had a wonderful time learning about the finer points of pigmanship with trainers David and Lorraine. They specialised in English old breed pigs and so Chris got to meet Gloucester Old Spots, Berkshires and Oxford Sandy and Blacks. He got to eat them at lunchtime too but not the ones he’d just met, obviously! The whole point of getting pigs was to become self-sufficient in pork. We weren’t going to be a pig sanctuary – we were going into this venture with hardened hearts and a love of sausages.  Chris was immediately struck with how much nicer the pork from these old breeds was than what we were used to eating from the supermarket.

Chris learned about fencing, handling and breeding pigs, and about all the relevant legislation. There was plenty of hands-on experience of rounding up and feeding. He was struck with how intelligent the pigs are. You can interact with a pig. Llamas, alpacas, goats, sheep – not so much. The action with them is one way, i.e. from the human, with the creature in question simply regarding you vacantly as The Mysterious Being That Dispenses Food. A pig, though, will come over for a chat. A pig will listen. A pig will scrutinise you and size you up with those shrewd eyes, rather than just gaze dumbly at you. A pig is altogether a different kind of animal from other farm livestock.

Temperatures began to plummet as the day wore on. I distributed extra hay to the animals and took a hat for Rors with me when I walked to Nouzerines to meet him from school. It was the walking-to-and-from school season in the winter, but the rest of the year we cycled him in and out. Despite living the furthest away, and Chris and I being the oldest set of parents by at least a decade, we were the only ones who were able to get to and from under our own environmentally-friendly steam rather than resorting to car or bus. As well as allowing us to feel morally superior to the rest of the world, it kept us all fit and we enjoyed the exercise as a family activity.

Chris got back quite late and reported freezing fog and icy roads all the way. It was by now a good few degrees below freezing, and it was going to be several weeks before it warmed up. The Big Freeze had begun.

It seemed to come out of nowhere. Admittedly we didn’t watch the Météo, weather forecast, regularly. We’d tried and failed to adapt to French television generally. With its love of short and frankly bizarre (‘quirky’ doesn’t come close) vignettes, and its overly-verbose chat and quiz show hosts, it just wasn’t for us. The culturally divide turns into a chasm when it comes to the TV. But we soon started watching it every night. And the news, where ice-bound scenes from around the country filled most of the half-hour slot. However, we were far more concerned with our own ice-boundness, which was dramatic and wholesale.

(The artwork for the cover of Total Immersion is by the incomparable Roger Fereday. The photo is of our own Berkshire pigs, Rosamunde and Oberon.)

The author describes this as a dozy mystery, rather than a cozy mystery, which right from the start gives you the idea that the book is likely to be quirky and fun. And it is. It’s a very enjoyable, well written and easy read.

Ron, our laid back hero, who only panics now and then such as when it looks like he’s been snugly stitched up as the perpetrator of the crime, leads us through the story. He’s determined to find out who did actually sink a machete into Old Pete’s head, and so he sets about the task, very unably assisted by Sam, his colleague at The Jolly Jester. He encounters various other shady but fascinating characters along the winding way. He discovers, as do we, that there’s a lot more going on in the village of Duckley than meets the eye.

Well worth a read, and many thanks to the author for keeping me thoroughly entertained.

Available from all the Amazons.

I came across this book via Twitter (so take heart, indie authors, it does pay to Tweet regularly about your books!) and I’m so pleased I did. As a keen cyclist I was immediately attracted by the inclusion of ‘peloton’ in the title. Actually, I liked all of the catchy title with its alliteration, rhythm and assonance. The cover is also not a run-of-the-mill romcom cover, with quirky artwork and fancy italics for the typeface. This one is fresh and clear,and also intriguing. Why when we have ‘two’ in the title do we only have ‘one’ in the image? The hint is that this is a resourceful, independent heroine, who’s bound to be interesting. I had to read this book.

‘Peloton of Two’ is a light-hearted romantic comedy set mainly in rural France. Catherine Pringle, a journalist, has the chance to write her own column whilst cycling around France with her explorer boyfriend Nick. The tour will further her career, she hopes, and also improve her slightly shaky relationship with Nick. However, the tour gets off to a shaky start and most definitely does not go as planned. But all isn’t lost for our empathetic, well-meaning heroine. Life has a way of throwing up surprises.

We get to see a lot of France and human nature on the way, and there are many entertaining characters to meet. It’s a super read, well written and thoroughly entertaining.

Available at all the Amazons for Kindle and as a paperback.

I’m delighted to be playing host today for the first book tour to visit Books Are Cool this year. What a great way to start 2017. I’ll be presenting my review of the book, and then there’s an extract for you to enjoy. Finally, don’t forget to enter the giveaway, which you’ll find at the end of this post.

Review

The Elusive Elixir is the third book in Gigi Pandian’s Accidental Alchemist Mystery series. The two previous books are The Accidental Alchemist and The Masquerading Magician. However, like I did, you can jump into the series here and still thoroughly enjoy the book. The author gives enough background details along the way, without ever info-dumping, for the reader to get up to speed with current events. I shall be reading the first two books now. I might be doing things backward, but with these books in which backward alchemy has such a part to play, then I feel justified!

The action takes place in Paris and Portland as Zoe Faust, our alchemist heroine who is somewhere around 300 years old having discovered the Elixir of Life, tries to find a cure to help her dear gargoyle friend Dorian from turning back into stone. She has to foray into the dark world of backwards alchemy, and places herself into considerable danger. Events and people from the past come back into her life to cause her rather a lot of trouble.

This is a fabulously original book, and series, combining those formidable looking gargoyles of Notre Dame cathedral with alchemy. The author lends her own twist to the magic with her idea of backward alchemy, and the mysterious books of alchemy that Zoe is so eager to get her hands on. Zoe is a lively, interesting character, full of courage and initiative. Dorian is a wonderful counterpoint to her, with his, dare I say it, stereotypically slightly grumpy Frenchness and love of food! He’s irrepressible, even when facing such an uncertain future. Luckily he’s as resourceful as Zoe, as things don’t quite go the way she planned.

There’s a fascinating cast of rounded characters all bringing their own action and interest to the story too, including Max, her calm, understanding boyfriend, and Brixton, her typical-teenager friend. There are secondary strands to the story making for a very rewarding, rich experience. It really is an absolutely delightful novel to read.

Here’s the first chapter so you can see for yourselves:

Chapter 1 of The Elusive Elixir by Gigi Pandian

The woman was still behind me.

She was so close to me on the winding, irregular stone steps inside Notre Dame Cathedral that I could smell her breath. Sourdough bread and honey.

I could have sworn I’d seen her at the boulangerie near my apartment earlier that morning. Now her unwavering gaze bore into me. She must have been at least eighty and wasn’t more than five feet tall. She didn’t fit the profile of someone worth being afraid of. Most people would have dismissed it as a coincidence.

Unless you’re someone like me, who always has to be careful.

We emerged from the cramped corridor onto the narrow Gallery of Gargoyles, high above Paris. I shielded my eyes from the sun. A warm wind swept my hair around my face as I looked out through the mesh fencing that covered the once-open balcony.

The gargoyle known as Le Penseur, “The Thinker,” sat regally with his stone head turned toward the City of Lights, as he had for over 150 years. Unlike my friend Dorian, this gargoyle of Notre Dame wouldn’t be stepping off his stone mount.

For a few brief seconds, the stunning details Eugène Viollet-le-Duc had added to his chimeras all those years ago made me forget about the woman. The grandeur even made me lose sight of the real reason I was at Notre Dame that day. My quest was never far from my thoughts, but for those fleeting moments, I allowed myself the space to appreciate the splendor of the craftsmanship of generations of artists and laborers.

A girl around eight years old squealed in delight as she noticed a set of smaller gargoyles perched overhead, grinning maniacally at us. Her younger brother began to cry. His father explained in a thick Welsh accent that gargoyles weren’t to be feared. They weren’t even real, for Heaven’s sake! His father was right—in this particular case.

If I didn’t get rid of my shadow and get what I needed here at Notre Dame, the Welshman’s words would be true for all gargoyles, including my best friend. I followed the tight walkway for a few steps until I saw it. An unfinished slab of limestone where a gargoyle might have perched.

This was the spot.

I glanced behind me. The woman stood a few paces away. In stylish sunglasses with a perfectly knotted silk scarf around her spindly neck, she was simultaneously frail and glamorous. Unlike the crowd of tourists excitedly scurrying past each other on the balcony that was never meant for this volume of visitors, the woman stood stock still. She held no camera. Her gaze didn’t linger on the dramatic cityscape or on the unique stone monsters that surrounded us.

She looked directly at me, not bothering to conceal her curiosity.

“May I help you?” I asked, speaking in French. Though the woman hadn’t spoken, the style and care of her clothing, hair, and makeup suggested she was Parisian.

She pulled her sunglasses off and clenched them in boney hands. “I knew it,” she replied in English. “I knew it was you.” Her voice was strong, with the hint of a rattle in her throat. The forcefulness of her words seemed to surprise her nearly as much as it surprised me.

My throat constricted, and I instinctively reached for my purse. Empty except for my phone, notebook, wallet, and homemade granola bars packed in parchment paper. I was thankful I’d had the sense to leave Dorian’s alchemy book safely hidden far from me. I willed myself to relax. Things were different now. This wasn’t a witch hunt. Being recognized wasn’t necessarily a bad thing.

I’d flown from Portland to Paris earlier that week. Because of the urgency of the situation, while I was recovering from an illness and too sick to climb the steps of Notre Dame, I’d stayed busy with people I thought might be able to help me, several of whom blurred together in my mind. Librarians, academics, amateur historians, Notre Dame docents, rare book dealers. Still, I found it surprising that I’d completely forgotten this woman. No, that wasn’t entirely true. Now that she’d removed her sunglasses, there was something vaguely familiar about her?…?And if she was one of the people who worked at the cathedral, that would explain how she was fit enough to keep pace with me on the hundreds of stairs.

“Please forgive me,” I said, switching to English, as she had done. “I seem to have forgotten where we met.”

She shook her head and laughed. “So polite! We have not met. You’re Zoe Faust’s granddaughter, aren’t you?”

I let out the breath I’d been holding and smiled. “You knew Grandmere?”

The woman gave me a curious look, her eyes narrowing momentarily, but the action was so quickly replaced with a smile that I might have imagined it.

“During the Occupation in 1942,” she said. “My name is Blanche Leblanc.”

“Zoe Faust,” I said automatically.

The quizzical look on her face returned.

“Named after my grandmother,” I added hastily, stumbling over the words. I’m a terrible liar. Personally, I think it’s one of my more endearing qualities—who wants to be friends with someone if you never know if they’re being honest?—but in my life it’s also a most inconvenient trait. “It’s lovely to meet you, Madame Leblanc.” That was a lie too. I’m sure she was a nice person, but I didn’t need this complication.

Three out-of-breath tourists, the stragglers of our group, burst through the top of the winding stairway. While they caught their breath, I led Madame Leblanc away from the crowded section of walkway next to the gargoyles. There wasn’t much space on the gallery, but by stepping back a few feet, at least we wouldn’t be jostled.

“You look so much like her,” Madame Leblanc said, speaking more softly now. “When I was a young girl, my mother once brought me to her shop. What was the name?”

“Elixir.”

“Yes. Elixir. Many foreigners left Paris, but your grandmother stayed and helped people during the war. Her healing remedies saved many lives. But then she left. After the fire?…?”

I returned her sad smile. These days, people think of me as an herbalist. In the past, people thought of me as an apothecary. Not many people have ever known the truth, that I’m an alchemist.

I’ve never gotten the hang of turning lead into gold, but ever since I was a small child I’ve been able to extract the healing properties of plants. My ability to heal people was one of the things that made me think my accidental discovery of the Elixir of Life wasn’t entirely a curse. But the dangers of living a secret life created a heavy burden. My “grandmother” Zoe Faust is me.

Since I’ve always been good with herbal remedies, I’ve been able to help both sick and injured people. And war often leads to far too many of both.

“Yes,” I said, “Grandmere finally left Paris to help a family that was fleeing with a child too sick to travel.”

Madame Leblanc’s painted lips quivered. “My first thought was the right one, n’est pas?” Her silk scarf swirled in the wind.

“Are you all right?” I asked.

“Don’t touch me,” she hissed, twisting away from me. “My mother was right. You are a witch.”

The Gallery of Gargoyles was loud with the excited voices of tourists of all ages, but suddenly I couldn’t hear anything except the beating of my heart. The multilingual voices of the tourists around us dissipated as if sucked into a vortex. It felt like the only two people left on the Gallery of Gargoyles were me and Madame Leblanc. My stomach clenched. I wished I hadn’t eaten a hearty breakfast from that boulangerie. “You’re confused, madame.”

“You were in your late twenties then. You have not aged a day. There is no anti-aging cream that good. I know. I have tried them all. You stand before me through witchcraft or some other deal with the devil.”

I choked. “I’m told my grandmother and I look very much alike,” I said, trying to keep my breathing even. “These things happen—”

“I am eighty-two years old,” Madame Leblanc cut in. “My eyesight is not what it once was, but my hearing is perfect. Even with the cacophony around us, I would know your voice anywhere.”

“I’m told that I sound like her, too—”

“I remember the voice of the soldier who told me that my father was dead.” Her words were slow. Crisp. “I remember the voice of the nurse who handed me my healthy baby girl. And I remember the voice of the apothecary named Zoe who saved many lives in Paris—but not that of my mother.”

Momentarily stunned by the heartfelt speech, I was at a loss for words. I looked from the woman to the gargoyles surrounding us then out at the Eiffel Tower stretching into the blue sky, Sacre Cour’s man-made grandeur, the flowing river Seine, and wisps of smoke from chimneys. Air, earth, water, fire. Elements I worked with and craved.

“I don’t know what sort of bargain you made with evil forces to be here today,” Madame Leblanc said, her voice nearly a whisper, “but that woman was not your grandmother. She was you. I know it is you, Zoe Faust. And I will find out what you are. You cannot hide any longer.”

 

Gigi Pandian

on Tour

January 9-20

with

the-elusive-elixir-cover

The Elusive Elixir

(mystery / paranormal mystery)

Release date: January 8, 2017
at Midnight Ink

ISBN: 978-0738742366
336 pages

 

SYNOPSIS

Dorian Robert-Houdin, the three-and-a-half-foot gargoyle chef who fancies himself a modern-day Poirot, is slowly turning into stone, and it’s up to Zoe Faust to unravel the alchemical secrets that can save him. When they discover that a long-lost stone gargoyle with a connection to Dorian has reappeared in Europe, the stakes are even higher.

From Portland to Paris, Zoe searches for the hidden knowledge she needs, but a cold case that harkens back to 1942 throws her off course. With an ailing friend desperately trying to discover his own elixir of life and a new romantic interest offering the first chance at love she’s had in nearly a century, Zoe is torn between a dangerous form of alchemy and her desire for a safer life.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Gigi Pandian

USA Today bestselling author
Gigi Pandian
spent her childhood
being dragged around the world
by her cultural anthropologist parents,
and now lives outside San Francisco
with her husband
and a gargoyle who watches over the garden.
Gigi writes the Jaya Jones Treasure Hunt mysteries,
Accidental Alchemist mysteries,
and locked-room mystery short stories.
Gigi’s fiction has been awarded the Malice Domestic Grant
and Lefty Awards,
and been nominated for Macavity and Agatha Awards.

Visit her website. Follow her on Facebook, Twitter

Subscribe to her newsletter

Visit her Gargoyle photography blog: http://www.gargoylegirl.com

Pre-order the book: Indiebound | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Midnight Ink

***

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
.

Enter here

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

Global giveaway open to all:
1 winner of a Grand prize:
the first two books in the series
(The Accidental Alchemist and The Masquerading Magician)
plus a set of gorgeous 7 book-themed recipe cards

***

CLICK ON THE BANNER
TO READ REVIEWS AND EXCERPTS

the-elusive-elixir-banner

 

The New Year is a time for making resolutions and setting yourself challenges. For book lovers then a reading challenge is the ideal sort to go for. And there are plenty to choose from – I’d never realised quite how many! Girlxoxo gives a comprehensive listing here.

I’m going for two.

The first of these is the 2017 European Reading Challenge. I’m signing up for the Five Star Deluxe Entourage and will be aiming to read five qualifying books from or set in different countries of Europe. And, to make the challenge a bit more demanding, I’ve decided that my France book will be in French. There are four I shall be choosing from. I’ve had them all for quite a while but not got round to even starting them. Oops!

The other reading challenge I’m going to take on is 2017 Cruisin’ Through The Cozies. Not only do I thoroughly enjoy reading cozies, but I’m about to finish writing my first one – Hens, Haircuts and Homicide – so this is the ideal challenge for me. I’m going in at level one, and will be reading ten cozies, one in each of the categories listed in the rules and regs of the challenge. I’ll keep you posted as to how I get on during the year.

So, will you going for a reading challenge too?

 

 

 

I was pretty certain I was going to like this book even before I started reading it. First up, it’s a Christmassy romcom that manages not to have ‘little’ in the title! The author could have jumped on the bandwagon with ‘Christmas at the Little Village Pub’ or similar, but thank goodness she doesn’t! ‘Little’ is currently one of the most overused words in book titles, or at least I think so. Instead we have ‘Christmas at the Dog & Duck’, and the novel is as unpretentious and down to earth as the pub’s name, although we get our magic sprinkling of festive happiness at the end which we and the protagonists all deserve.

As well as the title, the book cover is also distinctive. There’s a definite craze for Christmas romcom covers to be shades of blue with a snowy house in the centre. At the bottom of this review you’ll see four such covers that I found within a few minutes of searching! Christmas at the Dog and Dog bucks this trend. We have a striking, unique look for this book, and it’s equally as Christmassy as all those snow scenes.

The book turns out to be equally as impressive. The story is beautifully and intelligently written. I notice some reviewers have grumbled about this not being a very Christmassy book as a lot of the action takes place during the months preceding the festive season. The plot of this novel is such that this needs to be the case, and quite frankly it doesn’t disqualify it from being a seasonal story at all. We see characters and their relationships develop over time, and a chain of events unfold. The action culminates on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day in a superbly warm and cosy way. This is most definitely a Christmas romantic comedy.

Heroine Ellie is smart and sensible, and taking time after a redundancy to sort herself out. She’s returned to the village she grew up in to housesit for her absent parents and sets up a dog walking business to tide her over. She also works at the Dog and Duck, and the pub is central to the story. The main love interest comes in the form of Max, a local landowner. They first bump into each other in less than flattering circumstances, at least for Ellie, and we get our share of mishaps and misunderstandings that are crucial to the romantic comedy. There are some endearing animals in cameo roles, but we stay well clear of the mawkish cutesiness that’s all too rampant in this genre.

This a measured, classy and immensely enjoyable novel. Three cheers for Jill Steeples, and five stars for her book.

 

Here are those other covers I mentioned earlier:

I’m a big fan of Paulita Kincer’s novels, and I honestly think this is her best yet. It’s an exciting story that takes us from Florida to Paris and Marseilles as Sadie tries to find her runaway daughter, Scarlett.

Sadie is still healing after an unpleasant divorce and has been neglecting herself and devoting all her energies to her two girls, to try and keep their family life going. Conversely, although she is going through a complete nightmare of worry and helplessness, the experience is bringing her back to life. She teams up with Auguste, the father of the young man, Luc, that Scarlett has followed to Paris. This new partnership benefits them both.

There is such sharp attention to detail it keeps the reader riveted. All those little Frenchisms which, as a visitor to the country, hit you with such force. As an expat in France for ten years, I’ve stopped n noticing some of them, so as I read this book I had plenty of ‘oh yes, that’s so true!’ moments. A couple of examples are how the way of numbering floors is blocks of flats is uniquely French, and how there really is such a thing as ‘the art of French shrugging’.

The characters are so well portrayed. Sadie is in many ways a very typical fifty-year-old mum of growing up, if not quite grown up, children. She’s pretty au fait with social media, and she’s one step ahead of me in being able to store her plane ticket on her mobile phone. Auguste and the minor French characters we meet are so obviously and convincingly French. Scarlett is not quite every difficult teenage girl, because she takes things to the extreme in her flight abroad, but she exhibits many of the traits you associate with her age group. I particularly like the monotone which she reserves especially for her poor mum.

This is a wonderfully written story and it will keep you gripped from cover to cover. I’m already looking forward to Paulita Kincer’s next novel.

The book is available from all Amazon stores in paperback and ebook.