This is the fifth book in Lise McClendon’s series about the five Bennett sisters. Merle, our Elizabeth equivalent, is the main character, and out of the five impressive sisters she’s probably the strongest. But her strength is tested in this book.

She works for a legal aid company and is about to take a long break in France in order to get busy on the gothic novel that is floating in her head. Unexpectedly her steely boss announces that she’s planning to retire and wants Merle to take over her role. This brings prestige and salary but Merle resists this temptation. Her mettle is tested again when, on arriving in France having been reunited with her French detective boyfriend Pascal, she finds her beloved little house has been vandalised. And a man with a scarred face is making her nervous. She’s not through yet. Pascal disappears. Has he given up on her, or is he in trouble?

Author Lise McClendon

Merle has a busy and anxious time in France. Despite all the distractions, her novel begins to take shape, and it’s woven through the book. It’s set in the French Revolution, and also throughout the book there’s an ingenious theme of references to that troubled time – to events that took place then, and people, real and imagined.

It’s an absorbing story. It doesn’t give a twee, rose-coloured view of life in France, such as appears rather too frequently in cozies and chick lit, but presents it warts and all. Insurance assessors can be mean and moody, dropouts can cause trouble, sons don’t necessarily relish time with their mother, life doesn’t go as planned. It’s all very human and convincing.

My only niggle is about the title. There are a lot of books with The Frenchman as the title, or in it, and I always advocate a distinctive, unique title for discoverability’s sake, especially for a book as unique as this one.

Do read this, and the rest of the series too! Be sure to enter the giveaway below.

 

Lise McClendon

on Tour

September 8-21

with

Frenchman-ebook-cover

The Frenchman

(mystery)

Release date: September 8, 2017
at Thalia Press

278 pages

 

 

SYNOPSIS

In this 5th installment of the Bennett Sisters Mysteries (beginning with Blackbird Fly), attorney Merle Bennett goes to France for an extended stay to drink in the essence of ‘la France Profonde’ and write her own novel.
But the countryside is not as tranquil as she hoped. A missing Frenchman, a sinister one, an elderly one, a thieving one, and a vandalizing one: all conspire to turn Merle’s sojourn of reflection into a nightmare of worry. Where is Pascal, her French boyfriend? Who is the man with the terrible scar? Why is someone spray-painting her little stone house in the Dordogne? And will her novel about the French Revolution – snippets of which are included – give her a soupçon of delight or a frisson of danger?
Works fine as a stand-alone

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Frenchman - Lise McClendon

Lise McClendon
is the author of fifteen novels of mystery, suspense,
and general mayhem plus short stories.
Her bestselling Bennett Sisters mystery series
began with ‘Blackbird Fly.’
She also writes thrillers as Rory Tate,
the latest of which is ‘PLAN X.’
Her short story is included in this fall’s noir anthology, ‘The Obama Inheritance.’
She lives in Montana.
Visit her website
Subscribe to her mailing list
Follow her on Facebook | Twitter | Goodreads
Buy the book: on Amazon

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[just follow the directions on the entry-form]

Global giveaway open to all
7 winners

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Ironically, having to rush down to Bordeaux due to a family crisis has made me late taking part in the France Book Tours virtual tour for the latest in the Winemaker Detective series, in which Bordeaux has previously featured. Events were entirely beyond my control but here I am now, a little late and still stressed to the eyeballs, but delighted to be sharing this lovely book with you.

Requiem in Yquem sees Benjamin Cooker and assistant Virgile back in action in this newest wine-centred cozy mystery. This time we are in Sauternes region, where a brutal murder of an elderly couple has shattered the locality. Virgile has some history in the area, which comes in handy, and this together with a wine connection and Benjamin’s tenacity soon has them on the trail of the killer.

As always with this series, there is plenty of good food and wine to relieve the dramatic tension, and also superb descriptive writing, and our two imperfect heroes with their problems and quirks keep these stories realistic and totally absorbing.

Here’s an atmospheric excerpt so you can see for yourself just how enjoyable the writing of Jean-Pierre Alaux and Noel Balen (pictured above) is.

From Requiem in Yprem

It was a rustic bed. Resting on a pine frame, the thin mattress had served for more than sleep. Lovers had coupled in the night here, and children had been birthed in white-hot pain. Under the goose-down comforter, the sheets were heavy and rough. A crucifix above the bed attested to a faith filled with incense and rosary beads. A frond secured behind it awaited Ash Wednesday, when it would be reduced to gray dust—a reminder of mortality.

An antique clock with a brass pendulum ruled over the dreary room, which was steeped in darkness day and night. Éléonore and René Lacombe were too discreet to let the sun reveal their furrowed faces, skeletal torsos, and arthritic joints. The couple anticipated death with resignation mingled with apprehension.

On this late-autumn morning, the two old creatures were lying side by side, with waxy faces, half-closed eyes, gaping mouths, and limp, fleshless arms. Éléonore and René looked like marionettes abandoned by a puppeteer who had rushed offstage. Except for the blood.

The bullets had been carefully aimed. Had Éléonore and René awakened? Had they seen the murderer’s face? Clearly, there hadn’t been enough time to switch on the lamp or let out a word or a cry. And certainly not enough to grab the shotgun below the bed, which René hadn’t used since he stopped pigeon hunting five years before. No, the scenario had unfolded without a hitch. No mess in the house. No closets forced open or drawers rifled through. The covers were even pulled up, as if to keep the victims from getting cold before moving on to the afterlife.

Was it possible that someone was after the couple’s modest possessions? A postal employee’s pension, combined with the meager savings of a seamstress, was hardly enough to motivate a crime like this.

They kept no wads of euros tucked beneath their mattress. The small savings they had managed to accumulate was safely deposited at a bank in Preignac, a commonplace town in the Sauternes appellation of southwestern France. The Lacombes’ nest egg was available for withdrawal if anything happened. But nothing ever happened. Theirs was a humdrum life permeated with silence, small grimaces, groans, and occasional laughter. Some bickering, of course, but nothing serious.

Éléonore and René had sometimes joked that they would be inseparable even in death. And when the first officer on the scene carefully pulled down the covers, it was confirmed. Éléonore and René were holding hands.

Here’s your chance to win a copy of this very entertaining mystery that really does keep you guessing right up to the end.

 

 

Jean-Pierre ALAUX and Noël BALEN

on Tour

September 11-22

with

REQUIEM-IN-YQUEM cover

Requiem in Yquem

(mystery)

Release date: September 12, 2017
at Le French Book

215 pages

ISBN: 9781943998104

Website | Goodreads

SYNOPSIS

The intricate taste of greed and remorse.
The “addictive” Winemaker Detective series returns with a French mystery set in Sauternes, home of one of the world’s finest dessert wines, Yquem, known to some as liquid gold.
In the mist-covered hills of Sauternes, where the wine is luscious and the landscape beguiling, the brutal murder of an elderly couple intrigues the wine expert Benjamin Cooker and awakens memories for his dashing assistant Virgile Lanssien. Drawn into the investigation, the two journey through the storied Sauternes countryside, where the Château d’Yquem has reigned for centuries. Will the murder go unexplained and the killer remain free? The Winemaker Detective’s discernment and incessant curiosity pushes investigators to look deeper, while Virgile rekindles memories of his days at school and questions the meaning of his life.
In another satisfying wine novel with a French flair, authors Jean-Pierre Alaux and Noël Balen give readers a perfectly intoxicating combination French wine, gourmet meals, and mystery in the gloriously described Sauternes wine region with all the scenery, scents, and sounds of France. This light, fun mystery combines amateur sleuths, food, and wine in a wonderfully French mystery novel that doubles as a travel guide.
It is a new kind read on the international mystery and crime scene: a pitch-perfect, wine-infused, French-style cozy mystery.

ABOUT THE AUTHORS

Alaux-Balen

©David Nakache

 

Jean-Pierre Alaux and Noël Balen,
the authors of the Winemaker Detective series
are epicures.
Jean-Pierre Alaux is a magazine, radio and TV journalist
when he is not writing novels in southwestern France. |
He is the grandson of a winemaker
and exhibits a real passion for wine and winemaking.
For him, there is no greater common denominator than wine.
He gets a sparkle in his eye when he talks about the Winemaker Detective mystery series,
which he coauthors with Noël Balen.
Noël lives in Paris, where he shares his time between writing,
making records, and lecturing on music.
He plays bass, is a music critic,
and has authored a number of books about musicians
in addition to his prolific novel and short-story writing.

Follow Le French Book on Twitter | on Facebook
Sign up to receive their latest news and deals.

 

ABOUT THE TRANSLATOR

Sally Pane studied French at State University of New York Oswego and the Sorbonne before receiving her Masters Degree in French Literature from the University of Colorado where she wrote Camus and the Americas: A Thematic Analysis of Three Works Based on His Journaux de Voyage. Her career includes more than twenty years of translating and teaching French and Italian at Berlitz and at University of Colorado Boulder. She has worked in scientific, legal and literary translation; her literary translations include Operatic Arias; Singers Edition, and Reality and the Untheorizable by Clément Rosset, along with a number of titles in the Winemaker Detective series. She also served as the interpreter for the government cabinet of Rwanda and translated for Dian Fossey’s Digit Fund. In addition to her passion for French, she has studied Italian at Colorado University, in Rome and in Siena. She lives in Boulder, Colorado with her husband.

 

***

GIVEAWAY

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
2 winners

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It is a bit early to be thinking about Christmas, I admit, but the opportunity to take part in the book tour for this intriguing sounding book from New Vessel Press was too good to miss.

Short story collections by assorted authors can be hit and miss. Harnessing together authors from different periods with very different writing styles is quite risky. The logic behind such an enterprise is, I imagine, to seek to introduce the reader to a variety of writing united by some common theme or themes – as here where we have two in Frenchness and Christmas – at the same time bearing in mind that not everyone is going to like everything, but should at least like something! This book very successfully presents us with an excellent selection of festive French literature that I think will please and interest the vast majority of readers.

The Frenchness emerges in various ways in the anthology. France has long been thought of as a bastion of male chauvinism, something reflected in the language itself. Get one guy and a thousand girls together and you have to refer to them as ‘ils’ because of that one man! Times are changing, however, if slowly, but it was rather disappointing to see just one female author included in this anthology. Yes, it’s a long story/screenplay but it’s still just one as opposed to nine male authors. The lone female is Irène Némirovsky, of Ukranian Jewish origin, lived half her lifetime in France and wrote in French, but was refused French citizenship. Had she been awarded it, this prolific author might have avoided being arrested as a stateless Jew on 13 July 1942, despite having converted to Roman Catholicism, and sent to Auschwitz where she died just over a month later. It is thus very poignant and powerful to find her work included in this French anthology, since her adopted country let her down.

Other Frenchness emerges in how Christmas isn’t overly romanticised in any of the stories. In many, it’s mainly a background. This is how Noël is in this country. There isn’t the crazy hype starting in October that you get in other countries. There’s an air of restraint about it, but nonetheless, a good time is had by all. There is also a clear focus on eating during the festive season, and this emerges in many of the stories. The importance of food is one French stereotype that holds firm! But there are some small helpings of magic and wishful thinking, a crucial part of Christmas.

Straight talking is another Frenchness. No beating around the bush. Thus it’s a little startling and uncomfortable, for Western European readers at least, to come across an African character called Black Jo in one of the stories. It’s not offensively motivated, it’s who he is to the other boys at the school, and as the narrator of the story comes to know the boy better, he begins to call him Jo or Joseph.

But all these Frenchisms, together with the variety of writing we are offered, give a good impression of the country’s historical and present culture.

These are the stories and authors:

The Gift – Jean-Philippe Blondel (b.1964) Relationships and loneliness at Christmas.

St Anthony and his Pig – Paul Arène (1843-96) Great fun this one! St Anthony struggles with terrible temptation.

The Louis d’Or – François Coppée (1842-1908) A gambler seeks redemption.

Christmas in Algiers – Anatole La Braz (1859-1926) A soldier far from home attends a midnight mass with a difference.

The Wooden Shoes of Little Wolff – François Coppée (1842-1908) A touching tale, the most Christmassy of them all.

Christmas Eve – Guy de Maupassant (1850-93) The moral of this story is don’t pick up a pregnant prostitute on Christmas Eve…

Christmas at the Boarding School – Dominique Fabre  (b.1960) A young African boy in France, because of ‘events’ faces Christmas far from home.

Salvette and Bernadou – Alphonse Daudet (1840-97) Two imprisoned French soldiers remember the Breton Christmases of their youth.

A Christmas Supper in the Marais – Alphonse Daudet (1840-97) A Christmas ghost story – or just too much wine for Christmas supper?

A Miracle by Guy de Maupassant (1850-93) Evil spirits at Christmastime.

I Take Supper with my Wife – Antoine Gustave Droz (1832-95) Husband and wife share a playful Christmas Eve supper.

The Lost Child – François Coppée (1842-1908) A sweet Christmas miracle.

The Juggler of Notre Dame – Anatole France (the pseudonym of Jacques Anatole Thibault 1844-1924) Another religious miracle based on a medieval legend.

Noël – Irène Némirovsky (1903-42) Bittersweet undercurrents during a Christmas party held by affluent Parisians.

My only gripe is with the subtitle – in my opinion it’s a little rash to claim things are the ‘greatest’ but it gets attention I suppose, and it’s acceptable ‘puff’. However, I think the anthology would have worked just as well without it. Clearly the stories are selected because the editing team considers them to be exceptionally good and worthy of inclusion, and thus it’s implicit that there is merit in reading them. I suspect an anthology of awful stories not worth reading has yet to be published…

I also take slight issue with the ‘of all time’ label as three of our ten authors were born in the twentieth century, and all the other seven in the nineteenth from 1832 onwards. But since some of the stories refer to earlier times and we come right up to the present, then we do get a taste of several periods.

The book makes for an interesting, enjoyable and educational read, will make your Christmas more multi-cultural and will, I hope, tempt you to discover more French writers after sampling the writing in this anthology.

 

A Very French Christmas:
The Greatest French Holiday Stories
of All Time

on Tour

August 8-14

Very French Christmas Cover

A Very French Christmas:
The Greatest French Holiday Stories
of All Time

(short story collection)

Release date: October 10, 2017
at New Vessel Press

ISBN: 978-1939931504
142 pages

Website
Goodreads

 

SYNOPSIS

A continuation of the very popular Very Christmas Series from New Vessel Press, this collection brings together the best French Christmas stories of all time in an elegant and vibrant collection featuring classics by Guy de Maupassant and Alphonse Daudet, plus stories by the esteemed twentieth century author Irène Némirovsky and contemporary writers Dominique Fabre and Jean-Philippe Blondel.
With a holiday spirit conveyed through sparkling Paris streets, opulent feasts, wandering orphans, kindly monks, homesick soldiers, oysters, crayfish, ham, bonbons, flickering desire, and more than a little wine, this collection encapsulates the holiday spirit and proves that the French have mastered Christmas. This is Christmas à la française—delicious, intense and unexpected, proving that nobody does Christmas like the French.

THE AUTHORS

Alphonse Daudet, Guy de Maupassant, Anatole France
Irène Némirovsky, Jean-Philippe Blondel, Dominique Fabre,
Paul Arene, Francois Coppee, Antoine Gustave Droz, Anatole La Braz

Follow New Vessel Press on Twitter | on Facebook
Sign up to receive their latest news and deals.

Buy the book: on Amazon

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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.

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 US residents
5 winners

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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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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

***

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Now that my own Christmassy romcom Fa-La-Llama-La, is published, it’s time to take a look at some of the opposition. There are a lot of other festive romcoms to choose from, many set in guesthouses, cafés or other eateries, so I think I’ll start with some of them. Today’s is set in a café in Cornwall.

 
Cornish Cafe Christmas

Christmas at the Cornish Café by Philippa Ashley is the second in a planned trilogy. I hadn’t read the first book,  Summer at the Cornish Café, so perhaps this was the reason I found it rather slow and uncertain to start with. However, the reader can soon work out roughly what has gone before, but I imagine there will be added depth if you come to this book from the first one. It may also make the opening chapter or so less slow.

There is a plethora of books out at the moment about little teashops or cafés or guesthouses by the coast, and many are romanticised and twee. So it was a huge relief to find that this one gives a realistic portrayal of working in the hospitality trade – difficult customers, tight deadlines, the sheer volume of work involved.

That’s true of this whole book. It has its light-hearted, rosy-glow side but also has its feet firmly in reality, which, as we know, is far less than perfect. At times I couldn’t quite marry the two as I feel the author’s strength is more with the in-your-face aspect. The idealised, picture-perfect element occasionally didn’t quite fit in.

Overall the book is enjoyable. Our main characters, Demi and Cal, are rounded and flawed and believable. We care what happens to them, and in this story we see Demi’s café dream become reality and both she and Cal develop as the story unfolds. They both realise what is important to them, and both have to deal with difficult aspects of their past. Demi in particular becomes more confident and courageous. And since this is Christmas, the time for families and forgiveness, we see reconciliations and new starts.

The setting is wonderful. The author describes the scenery and local life in St Trenyan in exquisite detail and it’s very atmospheric. There are also some fascinating minor characters, including Kit Bannen who is mysterious and turns out to be something of a catalyst.

I was attracted to this book because of the Christmassy element, and that didn’t disappoint at all. The story has all the festive, feel-good tingles you expect from a seasonal novel.

Will I be reading the next book in the trilogy? I don’t know. I came to admire the characters rather than fall in love with them, and I also rather liked the ending of this book so I don’t know if I want to find out if that’s spoiled!

Cornwall is the setting for another Christmas story, A Cornish Christmas>em>, which I’m actually not tempted to read and review from its description, and I don’t think I’ll be alone in thinking that the covers of these two books are very similar – old cottage, snow, night sky, italic typeface.. Always good to have a distinctive cover.

 
Cornish Christmas

paulyblueThis is a very lively memoir of the author’s younger years growing up with his three older brothers, his one older sister and his dad during the 1970s. Money is tight and times are hard but Paul not only survives but thrives, thanks to his eternal optimism and his ability to make the best of every situation. No new toys? Make up a game with smelly socks. Having to do the food shopping with his sister? Play bowling with tins of beans down the store’s aisles.

He inherits from his father a strong sense of right and wrong. It may not always tally exactly with everyone else’s but young Paul has strong principles and sticks to them. Whilst he does try to play by the rules, he decides that only God has the right to pass judgement. He therefore regularly wheels and deals with his Maker over “minor transgressions such as scrumping, thumping and the occasional fib” and firmly believes in a banana-filled heaven. This is just one example of how the irrepressible youngster navigates his way through his noisy, boisterous, deprived childhood.

Paul doesn’t dwell on the hardships in his life. They’re simply there and he has to carry on regardless. For example, when he and his brothers and sister suddenly find themselves in a children’s home, when their father temporarily can’t cope, there’s no upset, merely a quick adaptation to this new life. And when the children are returned home, then they all just pick up from where they left off with no questioning. It’s this pervasive inspiring, non-resentful attitude that makes this book such a gem.

Nostalgia publishing is currently hugely popular. (For example, there are lots of biographies of erstwhile stars about to hit the bookshops for this Christmas, and Ladybird books and Enid Blyton have been revamped for a new audience.) Books like Playing Out show why this is the case. When done well, as here, this genre evokes a past era that those who’ve lived through can recognise and enjoy reliving, and those who haven’t can get a real sense of what it was like to be there. It would do the Millennials and later generations good to read this book and see that you really can be happy with no phone, hardly any telly and a handful of simple toys and some oranges and chocolate biscuits in your Christmas stocking!

This is a truly enjoyable book written with a sharp eye for detail, lots of humour and an infectious happy-go-lucky zest for life. An absolute must-read.

eventide beazleyThe Sepherene Chronicles show a very different side to this talented indie author. Daniel Beazley’s previous books have been comical fantasy – Goblins Know Best and The Rotten Roots, both of which you really should read – and whilst we’re still in the reamlm of the paranormal with his new series, there is a serious, spiritual theme to these books. We’re in metaphysical and visionary territory.

Lucius is possessed by an angel, Sepherene, who is on a mission to find and destroy her fallen brethren. She is convinced she is on a righteous quest, but things are not always what they appear. She has chosen a somewhat flawed human to inhabit: Lucius has a very troubled past. They have a rather difficult and slightly dubious task ahead.

This book is one of contrasts and seeming contradictions. It unites sci-fi with Christian ideals, gives us a vengeful angel, an anti-hero, a future world that surely should have striven to be better but seems to have become more corrupt and divided than before. And yet somehow right and wrong, good and bad, become blurred.

Daniel Beazley is sharply observant and gives us plenty to think about in this novella, the first in a very promising series.

Available at all Amazon stores.

instagramOne of my resolutions this year is to get to grips properly with social media. I’m pretty good with Twitter and I’m a regular on FB now, but other platforms, such as Instagram and Pinterest, had me scratching my head. I vaguely know what they’re about. I know they can be fun to use as well as good publiciity, but I wasn’t sure how to use them to my advantage.

So, I was very happy to stumble across Insta-Advantage. This is an extremely useful book, specifically written for the entrepreneur. I now understand Instagram and realise just how valuable a promotional tool it can be. I now know that 60 million photos are shared every day on Instagram, and that it has 200 million active users. That’s pretty impressive.

The author has a very clear, methodical approach, describing how it can be used and why we should be using it in these ways. Oblak gives six succinct steps to follow with all the details you need. As well as how to download and use the app, there’s info on hashtags, understanding your audience, what major companies are doing with Instagram, how comments and likes can help your promotion, and more.

It is an excellent, comprehensive guide that’s easy to understand and follow. It’s available at all Amazon stores.

A backlist title for you today – The Xmas Factor by Annie Sanders. This book was published in 2006 and is still going strong. I read it most years in the run-up to Christmas. It’s that sort of rereadable, totally enjoyable book.

xmasfactor

Beth, our heroine, starts to plan Christmas in September. She’s agreed to organise the annual village Christmas Eve bash, which her husband’s former wife used to do. And always magnificently. Beth is also getting ready to welcome her difficult step-daughter over Christmas too.

Carol is a magazine editor but her publication’s sales are flagging. She’s a single mum and perpetually guilty about that so wants to organise the perfect Christmas in a country hideaway for her son.

But despite the fact both these women make careful, elaborate plans things don’t go quite how they should. However, help is at hand from unexpected sources and both our heroines get as close to their goal as it’s possible to get in this imperfect world of ours.

There is so much that’s very clever and imaginative in the book. A touch I love is that all the main characters have a Christmassy/biblical name – Holly, Joseph, Carol, Jacob, Elizabeth, Noel, Nicholas. The Xmas Factor combines festive fun and witty humour with a very sensitive and realistic look at the ups and downs of family life at Christmas. There are stresses, conflicts, guilt and optimism as the various characters trying to create a perfect yuletide. As one reviewer has said, “There are the ghosts of Christmas past,the pressures of Christmas Present and a promise of happy Christmasses yet to be.”

Annie Sanders is in fact Annie Ashworth and Meg Sanders, who have written eight novels and eight non-fiction books between them now. Here’s their website.

The book’s available as a paperback, Kindle version, audio book in all the usual places.