K. Ferrin spends her days surrounded by engineers, technology, and humming machinery, but her evenings are steeped in magic, myth, and adventure. She writes fantasy, loves gardening, and eats way too much pie. She lives at the foot of the Colorado Rockies with her husband and two pooches.
Her novels include the stand alone YA fantasy novel, Magicless, as well as Across the Darkling Sea and A Dying Land, the first two books of a series. You can find her online at www.kferrin.com.
“Curiosity didn’t kill the cat, it gave her material for stories.” Thus says author Lisa Manterfield, who presents her second curious novel, The Smallest Thing. Set in the Derbyshire Dales village of Eyam, The Smallest Thing is inspired by the historical plague that overtook Eyam in the 1600s and led to quarantine of the village. In The Smallest Thing, Manterfield’s protagonist, Emmott Syddall, finds herself in a similar quarantine which keeps her from fulfilling her desire to move to London, and ultimately leads her to grow while questioning what she really wants to do with her life.
Manterfield has described herself as loving “fish-out-of-water stories of ordinary people in extraordinary situations, especially if those situations delve into the unexplained.” At closer to eighteen than seventeen years old, self-centered Emmott is quite decided on leaving her small-town life in Eyam and strained relationship with her father. Wanting to be with her boyfriend, Ro, and having found a job and apartment in London, Emmott plans to move within a matter of days from the novel’s opening. A sudden outbreak of an unknown illness traps Emmott in the middle of a mysterious sickness, complete with a village-wide quarantine, HAZMAT suits, and situation briefs. Though she searches for a way outside the town’s boundaries, Emmott is unable to find an escape past the quarantine, and when Ro abandons their plans to move, Emmott is left with crushed dreams and nothing to do but ride out the outbreak.
In The Smallest Thing, Manterfield explores not only the historical effects of quarantine, but also the personal effects of being held in close proximity with the same people for long periods of time. As a teenager, Emmott has not yet learned to think of how her actions affect the people around her. When she is forced by the quarantine to zero in on her relationships with her father, best friend, neighbors, and even Ro, Emmott learns things about the people closest to her that she didn’t know before. She also gets a rude awakening of what it is to be alone – the very state of being that she was running toward by planning to move to London.
“I can’t count the number of times I’ve wished I could be alone. I couldn’t wait to get away from the village and out from under the watch of my parents, to be free to be myself and do my own thing, without other people and their opinions getting in the way. I wished so hard for that, and now I’ve got it. Now I am completely alone.”
– Chapter 28, Page 236
Well-written with a delicious dose of descriptive setting and metaphor, The Smallest Thing is a lesson in growing to recognize more than just a personal struggle when disaster strikes the people closest to you.
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’d hoped it would be. 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 soupon of delight or a frisson of danger?
From the Author: What my characters have shown me as they’ve grown
As I launch the fifth installment in the Bennett Sisters Mystery series it occurs to me that one of the joys of writing a long series is the chance to really dig deep into the personalities of the characters. Although I originally conceived of the series as linked stand-alones about each of the five sisters, the first book, Blackbird Fly, centered on the middle sister, Merle. When I eventually continued the series, I continued Merle’s journey of self-discovery after the sudden death of her husband. It just made sense that one summer sojourn in France wouldn’t cure all her problems, lovely as France might be.
So Merle has a Frenchman. Initially, like Merle, I didn’t see how a long-distance relationship with a man who lived across an ocean would work. How could she work in New York City and Pascal work all over France’s wine country and they continue a romance? Because, although I didn’t write the series as a romance, women have love affairs— have you noticed? And they like to read about them. Merle’s affair with Pascal might have just been a fling, a curative, that first summer. But as the series goes along it’s obvious that Pascal thinks of it as something more. Although Merle isn’t sure what he thinks— he’s a Frenchman and you know how they are— her feelings mature, especially in this fifth book.
Their relationship is an underpinning in the novels to intrigue, sisterhood, and the joys and trials of mid-life. The sisters range in age from 40 to 55, or so, and I try to find aspects of women’s lives that are interesting and challenging. Life can be hard but reading about how other women make choices and navigate the pitfalls is helpful and revealing to me, and I hope to readers.
As a writer you never know how readers will react to your characters. Will they think them weak and stupid for their choices? (Yes, I’ve had that review.) Or will they identify with them, cheer for them, hope for them? That’s what I live for, that identification from the reader. I am not an Everywoman myself. I am opinionated and cranky and sometimes not that nice. Also, funny, a good friend, a loving parent— I hope. We all have so many aspects. I see some of myself in each of the five Bennett Sisters. I am a middle sister myself though, that’s why Merle appeals to me.
I recently had a review of Blackbird Fly that made all the writing worthwhile. (I love that readers are still discovering the series.) A reader said “The main character, Merle Bennett, could have been me, though I’m not a lawyer, have never inherited a house in France, and never had her problems. The writing puts you in the book.”
Right there, that’s why I write.
Then, if you love France like I do, the reviewer says that for her, at least, I got something right: “I’ve spent enough time in France to know that Albert, Mme Suchet, and the others in the village who snubbed, helped, or sabotaged Merle are just so … French. The story unfolds just as it should along with Merle’s self-discovery and personal regrets.”
And so Merle’s journey continues in The Frenchman. Who is the Frenchman, you ask? There is of course Pascal, Merle’s Frenchman. But there are many more in this book, policemen and old villagers, young punks and charming neighbors. And in Merle’s novel, chapters of which are included in the novel, there are Frenchmen from the Revolutionary period: farmers and rebels, nobles and royals, villagers and strangers. I had such fun writing Merle’s novel— which will be fleshed out and published separately as well— about a goat-herder who flees the terror in Paris for a farm in the Dordogne. Merle calls it ‘Odette and the Great Fear,’ and it will be available soon as an e-book.
Thanks for the chance to discuss the Bennett Sisters Mysteries. I hope you enjoy reading them!
Review: The Frenchman
Lise McClendon’s The Frenchman is McClendon’s fifth novel in her Bennett Sisters Mysteries series. It is a frame story variation in that Merle, the protagonist, tells a story of her own throughout the mystery.
As McClendon’s story opens, Merle seems to be a bit lost within herself. She’s taking an extended leave from her work as a lawyer in New York in order to go to France and get started on her novel. Merle’s son, Tristan, is growing up and heading off to college this year, and her French boyfriend, Pascal, works a job that frequently keeps them apart for long periods of time and with little communication. Upon arrival in France, Merle finds herself with tangible insecurities as well – her house has been vandalized, and she has need for a vehicle but no knowledge of how to buy.
Meanwhile, Merle begins to write her novel, Odette and the Great Fear, and McClendon includes Merle’s chapters as stand-alone chapters within The Frenchman. Writing acts as Merle’s escape: “It was so comforting to live in another world where the mundane was an afterthought, where pain was just a word, where one had control of all events, and the author was a god.” (Kindle Locations 1356-1357). This comfort is better understood later, when McClendon’s mystery comes to light as Pascal disappears.
The Frenchman is as much a mystery novel as it is an exploration into the personal life of an author. McClendon’s character, Merle, strives to build her own character, Odette, in a seemingly reflected manner of McClendon’s own efforts to dive into Merle’s character. McClendon grants access into how a casual observation can play itself into a piece of detail, and skillfully reveals thought and emotion of her characters to her readers. Merle and Odette’s characters are tied together in a pleasant analogy.
The Frenchman is a delightful stroll through a grove of mystery, with a woven path through a light French countenance that makes for a formidable leisure read.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
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. Lise lives in Montana.
Hope Rains Sullivan is living the dream—a successful husband, two beautiful young boys, and a charming home in Northern California. She should be happy. She almost convinced herself she was, until Adrian came along.
Adrian appears to be everything her husband isn’t. He works with his hands, and is even willing to use them in a fight. He’s sexy, strong, and fit, with warm brown skin that alludes to his Spanish background. Best of all, he lives for spending time with his kids. Feeling alone in her marriage, Adrian offers her a way out.
Hope’s affair is just the beginning. Her journey inward will require untangling her complicated past and surviving an astonishing revelation. Her lover is not who he pretends to be.
She’s searching for her happily-ever-after, and no matter how painful the journey, she’ll find what she’s been looking for all along—the chance to choose Hope.
Choosing Hope is a harrowing story of passion and deceit, the things we do for love, and the rabbit holes we tumble into while chasing elusive fairy-tale endings. Dark around the edges with a shocking twist that I didn’t see coming, this is the kind of book you’ll be passing around to your friends so you can talk about it. Holly Kammier delivers romance, suspense, and a strong, smart heroine who turns out to be nobody’s victim. Don’t miss this one!
– Kat Ross, best-selling author of The Midnight Sea
Holly Kammier is a former journalist an UCLA honors graduate who has worked everywhere from CNN in Washington, D.C. and KCOP-TV in Los Angeles, to the NBC affiliate in small-town Medford, Oregon. She is the author of Kingston Court, her debut novel.
Choosing Hope, her soon-to-be released second novel, is a cross-over to Kingston Court with overlapping characters and locations.
The California native and mother of two lives in San Diego, California, close to her family and friends. Holly is the Co-Founder of Acorn Publishing and is available for speaking engagements and content editing.
Also a theatre director in Yorkshire and a self-proclaimed Francophile, author Angela Wren presents her second Jacques Forêt mystery, Merle. Like her first Jacques Forêt novel, Messandrierre, Wren sets Merle in a small, French town that soon discovers that murder visits not only Paris.
Formerly a Parisian policeman, Jacques Forêt is now a private investigator who has been commissioned by Vaux Consulting to investigate the possibility of corporate corruption among executives. As Jacques spends time with the employees of Vaux Consulting, he finds that there is more being hidden within Vaux Consulting’s walls than originally suspected. Jacques is quite confident in his investigative skills, however, and isn’t afraid to ask awkward questions to find out what he needs to know; Jacques seemingly begins to upset the wrong person, and receives notes threatening himself and his lover, Beth, who has just decided to move to Merle with Jacques. Before any resolution arrives, corruption spirals into murder, and the lives of people near to Jacques are put into danger.
Wren demonstrates her skill as theater director by fragmenting her plot and rearranging the pieces in a way that opens her novel with an apéritif showing a glimpse of the denouement. Wren keeps Jacques and Beth dimensional with subplots exploring how how serious Jacques and Beth’s relationship is, and how Beth’s hobbies will thrive in Merle. Wren’s astute attention to detail of French culture, architecture, and geography keeps her writing relevant and pleasant.
Packed with continuing complications to intensify the final unraveling, Merle is a thrilling read about authority, corruption, and the power of secrets to deprave a genial French town.