Oh, but I love this book about expat life in Provence! It’s beautifully written, thoroughly entertaining and sums up the expat experience superbly. The writing sparkles with enjoyment and humour, although the author’s not above giving gentle digs where they’re due. After all, the French do have their little, incomprehensible ways when it comes to, well, quite a lot of things!

Through a series of sips – vignettes of the author’s part-time expat lifestyle in France – we discover American Keith Van Sickle’s adopted corner of Europe and how he gets on in it. There’s never a dull moment. We share the thrills and frustrations as Keith and Val grapple with French living, attempt to communicate and, zut alors, try to actually get things done. And we mustn’t forget their dog too.

From the jolly, lively and excellent cover to the last page, this book keeps you riveted and provides plenty of chuckles. I do hope there’ll be some sequels as this is an author I want to keep on reading.

So that you can see what I mean, here’s a guest post from Keith

Guest Post

My wife Val and I have had plenty of mishaps living in France, like the time I tried to donate blood. After filling out a long and complex form, I had to have a private interview with a doctor. He didn’t speak English and I didn’t speak much French. After a few minutes of struggling to interview me, he slammed my file shut and announced that I would not be allowed to donate blood due to “insufficient command of the French language.”

And then there were the vocabulary mix-ups. Many words are the same in French and English, like nation and danger. If we don’t know a word in French, sometimes we just fake it by using the English word with a French accent.

It works most of the time but you have to be careful because some words exist in both languages and have entirely different meanings. These are the infamous faux amis, or “false friends.” Ask Val about the time she shocked people by talking about preservatives in food. Oops, preservative means “condom.”

We love France and spend part of every year there. It started when we wanted to live abroad but couldn’t find expat assignments. So we invented our own. We quit our jobs, became consultants and moved to France to follow our dream.

Oh, and we didn’t speak French.

The French have a reputation for being hard to get to know, especially for those who don’t speak their language, so we worried about how we would be received. And it was tough at first, trying to learn the language and meet people.

But despite our various misadventures, we slowly settled in. We mastered the local rules for greeting people (two kisses in certain towns and three in others.) We experienced the ridiculous security procedures surrounding the purchase of a simple $20 beard trimmer. We learned the language well enough that Val blushed when a famous chef called her “young and delicious like the fava beans of springtime.”

And we made friends! That really helped us feel comfortable in our new home. It can take a while, but once a French person welcomes you into their life, you are friends forever.

Now Val and I split our time between Provence and California. Thomas Jefferson is supposed to have said, “Every man has two countries – his own and France.” Maybe he was on to something.

I’ve written about our life in France in my book One Sip at a Time: Learning to Live in Provence, available from Amazon.

Keith Van Sickle

on Tour

November 6-17

with

One Sip at a Time

One Sip at a Time:
Learning to Live in Provence

(travel memoir)

Release date: January 28, 2017
at Dresher Publishing

ISBN: 978-0998312002
192 pages

Author’s page | Goodreads

 

SYNOPSIS

Can a two-career couple really pick up stakes and move to Provence?

Keith and Val had a dream – to live in Provence, the land of brilliant sunlight, charming hilltop villages and the deep blue waters of the Mediterranean. But there were two problems: they weren’t French speakers and they had full-time jobs. So they came up with a plan…

Follow their adventures (and misadventures) as they quit their jobs, become consultants and split their time between two countries. Laugh along as they build a life in Provence, slowly mastering a new language and making friends with the locals over long meals and just a bit too much wine.

If you’ve ever dreamed of changing gears and learning what joie de vivre is really all about, you won’t want to miss this delightful book.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

One Sip at a Time Keith Van Sickle

Keith Van Sickle
is a technology industry veteran
and lifelong traveler
who got his first taste of overseas life
while studying in England during college.
But it was the expat assignment to Switzerland
that made him really fall in love with Europe.
After returning to California, he and his wife Val dreamed of living abroad again
but were unable to find another expat gig.
So they decided to invent their own.
Now they split their time between Silicon Valley and St-Rémy-de-Provence,
delving ever deeper into what makes France so endlessly fascinating.

Find the author on Facebook and Twitter
Visit his website

Subscribe to his mailing list and get information about new releases.

Buy the book on Amazon.com

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GIVEAWAY

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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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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!
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5 winners

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Max, our very down-to-earth and hands-on heroine, returned from New York to her small home town of Crystal Shores a year ago to help nurse her mother through her last months of fighting cancer. But Max is still here, working in Darlene’s Wedding Belles Bridal Salon. However, she’s just been offered a job as assistant designer at Bissette’s, where she used to be a pattern maker. Her father and friends are delighted that she’s delighted about this, but none of them want to see her go. Max herself has mixed feelings.

However, for the time being her attention is diverted as during a dress fitting stroppy and generally unpopular bride-to-be Jennifer Burns collapses. She dies shortly later in hospital, of cyanide poisoning. Who’s the murderer? Max, since she did mutter under her breath that she wished the trying Jennifer would drop dead, and she had in her pocket a red gemlike stone she’d found on the beach that very morning which someone tells her is a wishing stone? Stacy, the new wife of the man Max always thought she’d marry – Andy? She gave Jennifer some cake samples just before she died, and Jennifer had a past with Andy. Or one of the many, many local people who don’t want Jennifer to turn the town’s beloved old theatre into a shopping mall? Jennifer has inherited the theatre and it’s hers to do with as she pleases.

Max can’t help becoming involved in solving in the case. This brings her into contact and conflict with handsome cop Detective Jason Cruz. As she investigates, as well as learning the truth about what happened, she learns some truths about herself and what she really wants from life.

This is a beautifully written book, extremely readable and very entertaining. It has a romantic setting in this pretty seaside town in general and in the wedding shop in particular, but it’s never twee. We see behind the scenes into the dusty corners. There’s a great mix of characters, good and bad, and a convincing sense of community. We become as fond of Crystal Shores as Max. Max herself is creative but also practical, kind and caring but also assertive and businesslike, well-meaning but sometimes heavy-handed, and all in all, a perfectly imperfect heroine whose adventures we thoroughly enjoy sharing.

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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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’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

 

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:

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

frenchguesthouseReturn to the Little French Guesthouse by Helen Pollard (Bookouture) is the second book in the La Cour des Roses series. I hadn’t read the first book in the series, but it didn’t take long to work out who was who and what was going on. (However, a quick ‘story so far’ by way of introduction would have saved a bit of head scratching! But that’s only a minor thing.)

This books weaves together engaging personal relationships with the details and atmosphere of life in France. As someone who’s run a gîte for ten years, this appealed very strongly to me. The author shows what this way of making a living is actually like i.e. not the bed (or cours!) of roses so many think it is. Exactly as in this book, there are demanding guests, unfounded expectations and one-sided reviews to contend with. And that’s on a good day…

The characters are many and varied in the novel, all of them fascinating and rounded. Our heroine, Emmie, is very attractive and realistic: she’s strong but has her vulnerabilities, is kind and caring, and is friendly and enthusiastic but sometimes tries too hard. We’re quickly on her side and want to see her succeed in the hospitality/hostility trade she’s attempting to make her way in. But when you’re up against the likes of Geoffrey Turner, the blogger/reviewer, and Julia Cooper, the guest who wants everything and then a whole lot more, well, it’s not an easy ride.

The novel announces on the title page that it is ‘A feel good read to make you smile’ and it certainly does that. It’s a beautifully written, thoroughly readable and entertaining book.

knitted-toys-coverKnitted toys tend to get rather a bad press. People think old fashioned and twee, but they can be every bit as good as any other toy, and often much longer-lasting. More than twenty years on, toys I knitted for my two eldest kids are still going strong, and still get the odd cuddle!

This collection, Knitted Toys: 20 cute and colourful projects, by Jody Long is modern and fun, and illustrates everything that’s good about knitted toys. Namely, they’re child friendly, they’re versatile in that you can use your own or the recipient’s favourite combinations of colours for them, they’re appealing and (mostly) washable, and they’re timeless.

Jody Long gives us a wonderful selection: transport (aeroplane and fire truck), creepy crawlies (caterpillar, ladybug, bee), animals and birds (duck, hedgehog, bear, mouse, rabbit, pig, puppy, snake), sea creatures (octopus, fish, starfish), teddy bears, dolls and some squishy balls. If that isn’t an impressive array of patterns, then I don’t know what is! And you get more than that in that the author gives a range of accessories for many of the patterns. For example, Henry the Hedgehog comes along with a patch of grass and flowers, a toadstool and a ladybug, and Percy the Pig has a bib, a spoon and a cherry-covered cake to eat. There are also food bowls, a bucket of flowers and a hot water bottle, to name but a few more. I think these are a wonderful fun feature.

One of my favourite toys in Knitted Toys is Ruby the Russian Doll. She’s beautiful and unusual, and such a clever idea. I also particularly like Rio the Fish with the very effective scales.

The instructions are clear and easy to follow, and the illustrations are inspiring and helpful. The book comes with all the basic know-how you need to create and put the toys together. This gem of a book will be a great addition to every knitter’s shelf.