Books & Reading, Writing & Life
The Frenchman: #5 in the Bennett Sisters Mysteries
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Here are some new reviews:
Merle has arranged her life and work in New York to enable an extended period of time to be at her house in the Dordogne, hoping to attack her house ‘to-do’ list as well as have time to start writing her novel and catch up with her sexy French detective Pascal. However, things don’t go to plan as one by one people and situations crop up that demand her time, attention and inquisitive mind.
Merle is independent, but gives herself 100% to help others too. She finds herself coping with vandalism, building work, a strange request from a local goat farmer’s daughter and the uncertainty of her relationship with Pascal. As with all the books there is a great sense of family and despite Pascal’s mysterious absence Merle is never alone, as her sisters are always there for each other.
There are lots of plots running alongside each other, including Merle’s story, Pascal’s story, where we get a look behind the scenes of some of the best known wine areas in France and Odette’s story, the girl in the novel Merle is writing that is set in the French Revolution. I liked this. It kept my interest as each time one story began to peak, Lise switched us to the next one, which always left me wanting more, right to the end where everything was nicely sewn up.
This is a great mystery, set among the vineyards of France and pretty golden coloured villages of the Dordogne, perfect for a late summer getaway.
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 skillfully reveals thought and emotion of her characters to her readers, and ties together Merle and Odette 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.
As a writer it can be easy to fall in love with your characters…. too easy, some would say.
But writing a long series (is five books long? For me, yes) makes loving your characters a necessity. Without a strong connection to their foibles, their humanity, their traits and mistakes, you will falter as a writer. The plots become stale, the situations trite, the people dull.
So it is with some trepidation that I can say that I still love these Bennett Sisters. Here is a post I wrote for a blog tour of The Frenchman that explains my views toward my characters.
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.
It’s past midway in 2017. Yes, already.
Is summer (or winter for you southern hemisphere folks) going well for you? I hope so. Here in Montana we’re looking forward to the solar eclipse in August. I have to travel a few miles south into Idaho but I will report! I hope you report too if you’re in the trajectory of this rare event.
The Frenchman: a Bennett Sisters Mystery
My news this summer is the new Bennett Sisters mystery, The Frenchman, coming in early September. It’s number five — again, already! So here it is!
In this story we continue the thread that began at the end of The Things We Said Today where Merle gets an idea to write a gothic romance, like those she and her sisters loved as young girls. [Hint: Me too.] She decides to go to France for a longer stretch so she can research and write her novel, set during the French Revolution.
Meanwhile (isn’t there always a meanwhile??) Pascal, who works in the Wine Fraud Division of the Policier Nationale) is doing an undercover investigation when he falls off Merle’s radar. She tries not to be a hovering girlfriend while vandals spray graffiti on her lovely stone house and she tries to finish her remodeling to-do list.
There are a number of fascinating Frenchmen in the book, including of course Pascal d’Onscon, Merle’s boyfriend. There is also a stranger with a scar, a couple of intriguing Frenchmen during the revolutionary period, a criminal, a vandal, some wine shenanigan-ers. (Is that a word? It should be.)
If you’re ready to read a little bit of the new book, check it out here. You can read a preview on InstaFreebie here:
Catching up on the Bennett Sisters? You can get this box set for much less than the individual books.
And one more thing– the audiobook for The Things We Said Today is out!
Thank you, Denice Stradling for your awesome narration.
Please share your reactions in social media. You know the drill– I love your opinions! Link to the Preview if you can.
I’ll be back when the pre-order is live. Thank you!!
I wrote this in 2012 on my father’s birthday. He would have been 96 today (2017). For his grandsons, Evan, Nick, Zach, and Ian. And all of us who loved him. Miss you, pops. ❤️ And we WILL get that book off the computer.
As a crime writer I often have to deal with death — fictionally. But as most of us have, I also have experienced the loss of a loved one.
John Haddaway McClendon, my father, would have been 91 today. I miss him, of course, and wanted to do a memory piece for him today, nearly eight years after his death. There are many things he missed these last years, college graduations, a wedding, the birth of his great-granddaughter. He would have enjoyed them all, in his quiet way. He was a shy man although life made its requirements on him and he adapted. His father was an academic and 40 when he was born. His mother died when he was 16, of cancer, which must have made a mark on him. He followed his father into university life (my grandfather, Jesse F. McClendon taught physiology to medical students at the University of Minnesota) and was above all else a student, a researcher. He graduated from high school as World War II broke out in Europe, and joined ROTC at Minnesota.
After college he was in Army Intelligence (maybe that’s where I get my love of intrigue!) and spent six months learning Japanese in preparation for the invasion that never occurred. He had a lifelong love of Japan after spending a year there with his parents and older brother when he was 11. After the war ended he was sent to Japan for the Occupation, where he met my mother, a secretary from Texas who worked in his office. They knew each other for six months before tying the knot, and were married for 57 years.
Those are the basics. John taught and researched plant physiology his entire career and continued his interest in the origin of species in a book he wrote after retirement — we still have to get that book together, sisters! (Grandsons?) It sits on his computer, waiting for us to rediscover it. John had three daughters, none of whom followed him into science, a consequence that never seemed to bother him. Or if it did, like many things, he never mentioned it. He ended up with four darling grandsons to make up for the lack of sons. They often remind me of John. They are tinkerers and thinkers, conjurers of brew, hands-on builders of stuff, outdoor adventurers, and computer whizzes — all things he loved.
My father had to teach freshman biology every so often at the University of Nebraska. It makes me squint just thinking about. I never took a course from him, but now I wonder why. I should have. I had friends who took classes from him. I’m sure he wasn’t the best lecturer in the world and public speaking was low on his favorites list but I’m also positive that his students felt his genuine love of pure science and the way it relates to the world we live in. (Zero Population Growth was one of his passions.) I can hardly remember one thing my father ever said about his teaching. He wasn’t one to discuss his work, successes or not. Like many academics he felt his work spoke for itself, or maybe that none of us would understand. A family story — when I was about six or so and wanted to be noticed by my father (middle child, what can I say: I always wanted to be noticed) I climbed on his lap, stroked his cheek, and said in a vampish voice: “Tell me about your enzymes.” I still have no idea about enzymes, not really. So if you, blog reader, want to tell me about your enzymes, go ahead.
My father named me Lise after a physicist he admired, Lise Meitner. An Austrian physicist, Meitner helped develop nuclear fission. The spelling is often a problem, people never know how to pronounce it (lee-za) but I will never change it. (Yes, I am still daddy’s girl.) He loved to sail, a consequence of growing up in Minnesota around all those lakes. He had a sixteen-foot sailboat on the Chesapeake Bay when we were young, and made us a little yellow bathtub sailboat with a polka dot sail to learn on. I’ll never forget sailing with him around the Bay, and the time the wind knocked the boom into him, he tumbled overboard, and lost his glasses! Fun times!
In 1999 my parents came out to Montana for a vacation in our ski house at Big Sky. My book, Nordic Nights, had just come out and I was going on a little tour around the state to bookstores. I piled the kids and the grands in the Suburban and hit the road. I love so much that we were able to share that time together. Like my father I don’t like to boast about my work. Writing, like research science, is a pretty private affair. My father loved to read and would often pass me mysteries he loved, like Tony Hillerman or P.D. James. He particularly liked James, whose books include brainy characters like himself. At a reading in Whitefish someone asked me if I was Norwegian like my character, Alix Thorssen. My father popped up in the back of the room (so much for shyness!) and said: “The Scots are just shipwrecked Vikings, you know!”
He had a great sense of humor. Mostly he loved a good pun — “the lowest form of humor.” I will always remember his laugh — even if I have forgotten all those puns. I hope you’re enjoying a pun and a dram of single malt with Darwin, Daddy, wherever you are.
Love you always,
It’s been a rough year on so many fronts in public life: politics, musicians, all sorts of beloved people up and leaving us. One thing is clear from this list (link on pic below), I didn’t see enough movies. Last week I caught “Miss Sloane” which is great in a European, talk-y switcheroo thriller way which I love, but I don’t even remember what I saw before that. Probably something in LA or Seattle when I can go to a fancy theater where they serve wine and have reserved seats and no stupid ads. Going to the theater isn’t as much fun as it used to be, like airplane travel, activist politics, and so many things.
But on this blizzardy day in Montana I have a whole lot of movies to look forward to on the small screen. So many of this list look fabulous, and, wow, I never heard of them at all. Does that mean they’ll come out sooner on HBO or Netflix? Who knows? But I’m making my list (of flicks to see in 2017) and checking it twice.
Have you seen any of these 25 best films of 2016 (according to Little White Lies: Truth and Movies)? Do tell.
It’s been a crazy autumn. Whew. Still reeling a bit but it’s time to get back to writing and reading and holiday food and all the things that make you happy. The stress of the election hasn’t left us but we are learning to deal with it. Here in Montana the snow is falling and the temperature is dropping, reminding us to stack more wood, find the snow boots, and hunker down for a long winter. And get the reading list re-tooled, if necessary!
Check out this great list of food and drinks for December on my Facebook page. Click on the little ‘f.’ You can ‘Like’ the page while you’re there if you’d ‘like.’ 🙂 Be sure to check in about where you live on the top post.
I read a great book I want to share: Francine Mathews’ Too Bad to Die – a sort of James Bond continuation novel but not exactly. The main character is Ian Fleming, Bond’s creator, working in Naval Intelligence during World War II. Hey, the Nazis can stay in fiction forever! It’s a great thriller with (imagined?) asides about the origins of Bond. Loved it.
Looking for a comfort read? My French suspense novel (no overt violence!) Blackbird Fly is just 99 cents right now. Check out the reviews and see if it’s for you. Here’s a recent one:
Excellent read, October 20, 2016
When Merle Bennett’s husband dies of a sudden heart attack the rose colored glasses come off and Merle gets to examine the truth about her life. Merle is a well developed character and I found it easy to identify with the emotional impact of such a profound life change. The majority of the book takes place in a small French village where Merle tries to untangle the web of deceit around the birthplace of her husband. An absorbing story that I didn’t want to end. Happy to see there is a series!
• • •
Speaking of… the Bennett Sisters Mysteries are now exclusively on Amazon. That means they are FREE for Kindle Unlimited readers for the first time. Not a Kindle Unlimited member? Because of the low price on Blackbird Fly currently, you can get the whole series for less than 11 bucks for someone you love (hey, you love yourself, right?)
Paperbacks are still available all over the place, usually by special order. Ask your bookseller or drop me a note.
Happy December. May the snow be deep, the whisky strong, and our hearts full of cheer.
I found out today that one of my very first writing friends, and at one time my closest, is gone.
Sandra West Prowell and I started writing in the ’80s and both lived in Billings, Montana. We shared a lot of firsts together. We met at a writers group in town and our friendship grew like a western wildfire. The two of us co-founded a statewide writers group, Montana Authors Coalition, in 1989, well before either of us had sold a book. (Kinda ballsy, eh? That was Sandra.) We ended up getting published at the same house, Walker & Company, and shared an editor there. She published her first mystery, By Evil Means, to great critical acclaim in 1993. The New York Times called her “an assured storyteller with a fascinating subject,” about The Killing of Monday Brown. She was a warm, supportive, outgoing friend who offered ‘you-can-do-it’ cheerleading to me during those early years when neither of us knew whether we’d ever be published.
I learned confidence from Sandra. One of her favorite phrases, as she urged me to get on AOL or buy a fax machine, was “Fake it til you make it!” She showed me there was power in positive thinking, gave me passionate advice, made me get out and meet writers. She took me and a small posse of other Billings writers to my first Bouchercon (the world mystery conference) in Omaha. We roamed through that conference, awed by writers we’d only heard about, bought silly bumper stickers and had buttons made that read, “Michael S* is harassing me!” Michael, our editor, had already bought my first book by then (The Bluejay Shaman).
Sandra’s books were nominated for many awards, the Dilys, a booksellers award, the Shamus, a private eye novel award, and the Hammett Award from the International Association of Crime Writers. Three books were published in the Phoebe Siegel series from Walker. Her voice was strong, funny, and unique. A fourth book, to be called ‘An Accepted Sorrow,’ was due out in 2000 or 2001 but wasn’t released. In an online interview in 2000 with CNN Book Chat she also discussed her stand-alone thriller, ‘Lap of God.’ We, her Montana writing friends, heard so much about this project. She was so excited about it, describing it as “about the rise of the Neo Nazis and the far right in Montana.” We all were excited. Like many of her projects it had come to her of apiece, in a flash of inspiration. We all looked forward to it.
Neither of these books became published reality. Something happened– I don’t know what. Sandra started retreating from her writer friends. In conversation with her daughter today I found we apparently weren’t alone. At one time I talked to Sandra every day. Then, as ‘Lap of God’ didn’t go well (I am only guessing here) she cut us all out of her life. She had been so full of life and warmth and sharing, our den mother, our mother hen, until suddenly she wasn’t. Her daughter said we weren’t alone; writing was a taboo topic there too. Many manuscripts were discovered by the family in the home though, so there is always a possibility we will get to read another Sandra West Prowell novel one day. Wouldn’t that be grand?
The news I heard today from Sandra’s daughter made me very sad. Sandra has been gone since August 2015, over a year. She passed away just weeks after her husband Bruce. She left no will and her affairs are in disarray. Her daughter and I agreed that we need to get our own affairs in order. Let’s do it. Our heirs will thank us for it.
I’m sorry I haven’t kept up with Sandra these past years, although not for lack of trying. Every so often someone would send me a ‘Where Is She Now?’ email or letter and I would pass it on to the only contact number I had. For a long time after we no longer talked I bitterly missed her throaty laugh, her friendly voice, her inclusive love. Then, as we must, I accepted it. I knew it wasn’t personal. She was dealing with something she couldn’t share with us. It must have been very difficult emotionally, whatever it was. That too tears me up. Being a writer is fraught with stress: insecurity, loneliness, rejection, bankruptcy both emotionally and financially, depression, the black, blank page. We all suffer but knowing that she suffered so much she apparently gave up writing and never spoke of it even to those she loved most is rough news. The last time I saw her was in 2001 at a funeral of a fellow Billings writer, Terry Johnston.
Sandra West Prowell was born in Helena, Montana. While her bio is not available online, and no obituary was published, she told me once that she lived in Bakersfield for a few years as a teen. A wild teen, she implied with a mischievous smile. (I lived in Bakersfield once myself and wondered who thought it was an improvement.) At any rate she returned to her state, a fourth-generation Montanan who lived and breathed the Big Sky state and its people. She had many Native American friends and helped connect me with some when I was writing my first mystery. She loved astrology and did charts for many people. She loved animals of all kinds, adopting abused and neglected birds including a half-bald toucan and a red-headed parrot named Phoebe Siegel. She once had a pet raccoon, she told me, until he started biting people. Her daughter told me she still had many birds when she passed away, as well as five dogs. And she loved writing, for awhile.
Sandra died August 29, 2015. She was 71. Good rest, my friend.
What a great selection of free mysteries! Something for everyone on the softer end of the boil: cozy, suspense, amateur sleuth and more. My own Blackbird Fly is in there, totally free. Get acquainted with the five Bennett Sisters and take a virtual trip to France! Check out all the free books HERE – Hurry. A limited time offer.
Back to the Books $250 Cash Giveaway
August 17th to September 7th
An Awesome Group of Authors & Bloggers have joined with me to bring you 1 fabulous prize!!
We’re giving away $250 in Paypal Cash! Or alternately you can choose a $250 Amazon.com Gift Code!
I Am A Reader
Here We Go Again…Ready?
Hall Ways Blog
Kindle and Me
Kimber Leigh Wheaton
Bound 4 Escape
Every Free Chance Books
Laurie Here – Cont Fiction and More
Krysten Lindsay Hager author
Heather Boyd, Historical Romance Author
The Page Unbound
Author Mary Ting/M. Clarke
Rockin’ Book Reviews
Lori’s Reading Corner
Rice & Rocks, by Sandra L. Richards
Author Dorothy Dreyer
Diana’s Book Reviews
Books & Benches
Heather @ Townsend House
Glistering Bs Blog
Paisley Piranha YA Book Blog
Cool Cat Mysteries
Bella Street Time Travel Romance
Bonnie Blythe Faith Based Romance
The Candid Cover
Lise McClendon – Author
Laurie Here – Cont Fiction and More
$250 in Paypal Cash (alternately the winner can choose a $250 Amazon.com Gift Code)
Open only to those who can legally enter, receive and use money sent via Paypal. Winning Entry will be verified prior to prize being awarded. No purchase necessary. You must be 18 or older to enter or have your parent enter for you. The winner will be chosen by rafflecopter and announced here as well as emailed and will have 48 hours to respond or a new winner will be chosen. This giveaway is in no way associated with Facebook, Twitter, Rafflecopter or any other entity unless otherwise specified. The number of eligible entries received determines the odds of winning. Giveaway was organized by Kathy from I Am A Reader and sponsored by the authors, bloggers and publishers on the sponsor list. VOID WHERE PROHIBITED BY LAW.
The New Book is here!
Just two years in the making… whew. Since the second book in the Bennett Sisters series in 2014, The Girl in the Empty Dress, there has been a novella featuring them, Give Him the Ooh-la-la, plus last year’s whacky dark comedy, BEAT SLAY LOVE. But now, at last, the third full-length book.
Like the first book in the series featuring five sisters — named Bennett after the famous Austen characters, the new book has a title from a Beatles song from the 60s, THE THINGS WE SAID TODAY. It is a slow, sweet song – here is Paul singing it – that you may not remember as well as Blackbird. But it fits this tale of a two lovers who may or may not decide to get married in the Scottish Highlands. The whole clan gathers at the hunting lodge of the groom for a week-long celebration. But the happiness is disrupted by torrential rains (so uncommon in Scotland! 😉) annoying relatives, and the cold feet of one bride.
Will Annie and Callum overcome the obstacles? Will Merle and Pascal make their own plans for togetherness? Will Francie drink herself silly– or stupid? Will Elise pull “a Lydia” and run off with the wrong sort of man like the youngest Bennet sister in Pride and Prejudice?
Hie thee to the Highlands, reader! All will be revealed.
Coming soon: Nook KOBO and iTunes
Prefer to deal with an independent bookstore?
Drop a line to Mysterious Galaxy about a special deal there
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