July 4th: The Perseverance At Valley Forge Remembered

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Map of Valley Forge encampment.


On days like July 4th, it gives me the chance to talk about the nation I will always put before myself. My life is possible because of America, and so I will give it if that means the protection of her and the American people.

The founding father that I identify with most is George Washington. One of the most consequential moments in our nation’s history is the winter at Valley Forge in 1777-1778. The Continental Army, after losing the Battle of Germantown, was forced to march 20 miles northwest of Philadelphia, now in British hands under General William Howe. Two-thirds of the soldiers marched in the dead of winter with no shoes, their bloody footprints staining red the dusting of snow. The 12,000 Continental troops were malnourished, ill, and unequipped to construct a full camp. 

General Washington, joined with the Prussian Baron Von Steuben, was blessed with the unique quality that allowed them to raise morale in others no matter how deep the despair had set in. Washington was able to make the lowliest into some of the most honorable soldiers in the army. The two men immediately got to work, Washington drawing up defensive strategies and instructing the troops on how to build shelters, Von Steuben training the men so well in that winter that they excelled at military procedure that British troops required at least half a decade to learn. 

The first shelter, despite the bitter cold and illness, went up 3 days after the army’s arrival at Valley Forge. The next 4 days later. By February 1778 over 2,000 shelters were up, which made Washington proud and saved many of the troops from dying. 

Shelters at Valley Forge (reconstructions).

The man that seemed to pluck grain out of thin air, Baker General Christopher Ludwig managed to provide food, though in meager quantity, to the 12,000 soldiers. Washington, when Ludwig became Baker General at Valley Forge, asked for one pound of bread per one pound of grain; Ludwig immediately replied “Not so; I must not be enriched by the war. I shall return 135 pounds of bread for every 100 pounds of flour.” He followed through, using what little ingredients he had, especially with Philadelphia cut off by the British, to supply the army with sustenance. 
The months at Valley Forge, despite all of these men achieving what no one thought possible, were clouded over by the many deaths of soldiers because of malnutrition, the cold, and illness. The men suffered through unimaginable circumstances, poorly clothed, freezing, typhoid, typhus, dysentery, pneumonia, and smallpox all ravaging the camp. By the end of the time at Valley Forge Washington had lost almost 2,500 soldiers. Washington felt this loss greatly as he felt himself equal to those he was leading, and worried “that unless some great and capital change suddenly takes place…this Army must inevitably…starve, dissolve, or disperse, in order to obtain subsistence in the best manner they can.”

In February 1778 that “great and capital change” came to the Continental Army. After a long period of persuasion on America’s behalf by Ben Franklin (my other favorite founding father) France agreed to ally with the Colonies to fight Britain. The soldiers at Valley Force cheered “Long live France! Long live the friendly powers! Long live the American States!”

General Washington at Valley Forge.

With France now on their side and the British having departed from Philadelphia, Washington’s troops retook the city in June of 1778. The army then moved on to reemerge in the Battle of Monmouth. In 1781 General Cornwallis surrendered in Yorktown and the British evacuated New York City in 1783, leading to the Treaty of Paris. The war was over, Washington’s Continental Army victorious and the British suffering the greatest military defeat since the Roman occupation of Britain over a thousand years prior.

Washington always said that the perseverance the troops showed in Valley Forge led to the army’s development from a ragtag group of rebels to one that defeated the greatest military in the world. These moments, like the time at Valley Forge, remind us that great leaders, like Washington, Lincoln, Kennedy, all have the power to inspire people to keep fighting despite cynicism and despair. 

America needs leaders who can do this in the 21st Century now just as much as we did during the Revolution. It is up to all of us to make America better, not complain and blame. I know my path, one of leadership of the entire nation, not meant for many and being one that I may give my life for. I will serve in this regard because America is the greatest nation on earth, and she needs her people just as much as her people need her. 

On the 4th of July, remember the struggle at Valley Forge and reaffirm that no matter how great the trials are the American spirit can overcome anything as long as we dedicate ourselves to it.


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An Interview With Author Khanh Ha On His Heritage In War-Torn Vietnam

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Modern Vietnam

Modern Vietnam

The era that surrounds the Vietnam War changed America dramatically. The deception that was exposed to the American people made us distrustful of our own government, including President Nixon and leading Generals. We learned that the reality of the war was far from what the Nixon Administration was saying, and events like the Kent State Shootings and the humiliation of the Tet Offensive put a rift between leaders & the American people.

40 years ago this week the capital of South Vietnam, Saigon, fell to the North Vietnamese. The American troops had withdrawn after the Paris Peace Accords in 1973, leaving the South Vietnamese to defend themselves. South Vietnam, after nearly a decade of conflict, had fallen to the Communists in a matter of weeks.

My friend Khanh Ha, author of 2 beautiful novels I have reviewed, found his heritage in Vietnam during the war. He gives us a rare insight into the war from the Vietnamese perspective, and he discusses the scars the war left upon his birthplace. His compassion for his people is evident and abundant, and he reminds us that atrocities like what the Communists did to Vietnam still happen today. He is a voice for empathy, and I am truly honored to now give you my interview with Khanh Ha.

Nassem: Hello Khanh, and welcome back to Seize The Moment. How are you?

Khanh: I’m fine, and thank you, Nassem, for having me back on your blog.

Nassem: Today I would love to discuss your heritage in a nation that greatly changed ours, but many of us do not know much about. Could you give us a broad introduction into the expansive history of Vietnam?

Khanh: The birth of our nation began 4000 years ago under the name Văn Lang, which was geographically North Vietnam today. The nation then became Âu Việt as a result of the annexation following a war among tribes. The nation was then subjugated by the Chinese for several centuries until it regained its freedom and autonomy under a new name: Vạn Xuân. It fell to Chinese dominion again for three centuries before it finally gained its permanent independence under the name Đại Cồ Việt. During this new era, the nation defeated the Mongols three times, first in 1258, then in 1285, and finally in 1287. It fought off the Ming invasion two centuries later and the nation’s name was changed to Đại Việt. Civil wars raged for over two hundred years until the nation was unified under emperor Quang Trung’s reign. His chief enemy, Lord Nguyễn Ánh, sought military aid from the French, which eventually led to his victory and established the Nguyễn dynasty that lasted from 1802 to 1945. However, the French began encroaching on the nation’s autonomy in 1858 and conquered it in 1884. The Vietnamese resistance, still infantile at the turn of the 20th century, gradually became a force to be reckoned with in the 1930s under the name Viet Minh, led by Hồ Chí Minh. The Viet Minh defeated the French at Đien Bien Phu in 1954, forcing the negotiation in Geneva which led to the division of Vietnam at the 17th Parallel: north of the parallel was North Vietnam and south of the parallel South Vietnam. Backed by the communist Chinese and Russians, the North Vietnamese communists began infiltrating South Vietnam in 1958. The American-backed South Vietnam fought North Vietnam for over a decade in what was known as the Vietnam War. In 1975, North Vietnamese communists won and the nation is called Socialist Republic of Vietnam.

Nassem: With this background established, I would like to discuss more recent Vietnamese history. The French were in control in Vietnam from 1945 to 1954, and I have heard that cities in Vietnam look somewhat like “smaller versions of Paris.” In Hue, where you grew up, is this statement true? 

Khanh: No. French influence was most evident in Tonkin (North Vietnam) and Cochinchina (South Vietnam). Annam (Hue), Laos and Cambodia did not fall directly under French influence. Cochinchina, or La colonie de Cochinchine, was southern Vietnam whose capital was Saigon. Here the vestige of French culture still stands over the years: the colonial architectural buildings and residential quarters, the tree-lined streets and avenues of old Saigon built by the French over a century ago.

Tu Duc Mausoleum

Tu Duc Mausoleum

Nassem: Staying on the topic of Hue before the Vietnam War, what was city life like before the war? I understand that many other conflicts had caused much destruction, but could Hue have been considered metropolitan prior to the Vietnam War? 

Khanh: Hue was the ancient capital of Vietnam before the Geneva Accords which divided Vietnam into North and South Vietnam in 1954.

I admire the U.S.’s democracy. But unlike many immigrants who try to forget their past, I carry with me the image of my country. That image is Huế, where my placenta was buried. There is a Vietnamese proverb: Quê mẹ là nơi chôn nhau cắt rốn. The Motherland is where we bury our placenta and sever our umbilical cord. It begins with the cultural intellect of a city known for its moss-stained citadel, the imperial tombs nestled in the pine forest, temples and pagodas tucked away at the foot of gentle hills by a quiet stream. Its damp, foggy climate had left moisture damage on the ancient buildings, on old houses with moss-covered yin-yang roof tiles. Through Huế flows the Perfume River, clear and clean, and in the summer flame trees bloom scarlet along its banks. All the streets were narrow, shaded with ancient trees, sometimes white with frangipani blossoms, sometimes pink with cassia. As a youngster, I lived in the Huế’s mysterious atmosphere, half real, half magic. I used to walk home under the shade of the Indian almond trees, the poon trees. The nuts of the Indian almond trees tasted rich and fat like almonds, the nuts of the poon trees were polished and used in the marble games. At the base of these ancient trees I would pass a shrine. If I went with my grandmother, she would push my head down. “Don’t stare at it,” she said. “That’s disrespect to the genies.”

It is the old capital of the Nguyễn dynasty. It is my birthplace.

Nassem: Moving into the beginning stages of the war now, the struggle between the Communists and the Diem government was reaching fever pitch. Where did your family pledge its loyalty, and where did many others put theirs? In a similar vein, as a child, did you understand the full ramifications at stake in this face-off?

Khanh: My father was the chairman of a major political party in South Vietnam. He was anti-dictatorial and anti-communist. Because of his political stance, he was imprisoned by the Diem government. After the military coup d’etat in 1963, which saw Diem and his brother killed, my father was set free. He took office with the military junta as the minister of the interior, but he resigned shortly after because of irreconcilable issues with the Nguyễn Khánh junta government. As a child, I understood only one thing: have faith in your parents. My father was anti-Diem, and he was a resistance leader. His party, Đại Việt, was pledged to the restoration of national prestige and the unifications of the two nations. When he became a political prisoner, our family was exiled to Huế, where we lived with our grandmother until the coup d’etat in 1963, when we were reunited with our father again.

Nassem: President Ngo Dinh Diem was proven to be an autocratic and brutal leader, and the Communists were worse. How did many of the common people in Vietnam, those just looking to make a life for themselves, decide what side to support? Did many not support any side at all?

Khanh: Those who were caught between a rock and a hard place had to live through the dilemma. There were no better sides to side with. But the Vietnamese people are known for being markedly resilient, attested by their incredible endurance against adversity. Newspapers in South Vietnam were censored during the Diem regime, and again censored through the first Republic of Vietnam under Nguyễn Văn Thiệu regime. At the same time, people lived in fear against the communist terrorism much like ISIS violence against the innocents in today’s world.

Nassem: In the Vietnam War, Hue was found to be a vulnerable location as it rested on the border between the North and South. During the Tet Offensive in 1968, Hue was practically destroyed. Could you expand on what you remember of the destruction, as you were there as this all happened? Also, if it is not too horrific to talk about, would you talk us through what the Communist massacre of innocents in Hue did to the spirit of the citizens in the city?

Khanh: At Mỹ Lai the American soldiers murdered the Vietnamese civilians; but during Tết in Huế, the VC massacred the Vietnamese—their own people. Here you heard only of Mỹ Lai. The American public was more interested in a war crime committed by one American infantry platoon than in the Huế massacre.

My father wasn’t home with us. The VC executed people like him. My mother kept the joss sticks burning on the altar every day and thanked the Buddha for sparing my father’s life.
The VC came into Huế with the names of those they wanted to kill. Few were spared. They executed government officials, political party officials, block leaders, intellectuals, teachers, even priests and monks. But they killed a lot of people out of personal hate and vendetta.

Every night we heard gunshots. Much later we found out that those were fired by the communists during their execution, and the playground of our high school was used as a mass grave. After the VC withdrew from Huế, graves were identified, and folks came to dig for bodies. The odor from the rotten bodies hung for days over the neighborhood. Smelled like dead rats but with a fish stench. My mother burned incense in the house to kill that odor. Like many people who lived inside the Citadel, we had fled, seeking refuge somewhere else.

When we came back to our house inside the Citadel, one side of the house had caved in. It must have been hit by artillery shells or helicopter gunships. Ammunition shells were all over the yard. Do you know what I saw on one side of our chest of drawers? An inscription: Miami, FLA. Mom, Dad, and apple pie. The American troops had  boarded down in our house during the house-to-house combat against the VC.

They massacred at least a few thousand people. It took people months to search, to dig the mass graves. Mass graves in the schoolyards, in the parks of the inner city. Mass graves in the jungle creek beds, in the coastal salt flats. People shot to death, clubbed to death with pick handles, buried alive with elbows tied behind them. The communists said they executed only the reactionaries, those who worked for the South Vietnam government. But I saw many bodies of women and children. Shot in the head, bashed in the head. Did they deserve to die?

Evacuation from Hue

Evacuation from Hue

Nassem: As the war continued, necessities for many Vietnamese were not available. What kind of food, water, and other needed resources were restricted or non-existent in Hue during the war? 

Khanh: It wasn’t so. There were no food ration or food scarcity. The only common restriction of freedom of movement is the night curfew, which was enforced in major cities of South Vietnam.

Nassem: In the late 1960s into the early 1970s, the United States erupted in anti-war sentiment and activism against the Vietnam War, which led in the Paris Peace Accords in 1973. What actions occurred in Hue after these Accords were signed? Did communication systems exist still in Hue at this point to inform citizens of the end of American involvement? 

Khanh: Everything was normal until the fall of South Vietnam in 1975. However, the false lull after the peace accords could be felt by those who were politically savvy about the communist cunning. They knew it was only a matter of time before war would erupt again.

Nassem: By 1975 the North Vietnamese had reached Saigon and reunited the nation under Communism. I understand that you left Vietnam at this time, after spending the duration of the war in Vietnam. What were the circumstances around your evacuation and how did it happen?

Khanh: I watched the debacle of South Vietnam on TV in my dormitory room in the United States. My father had predicted such a collapse. I wished he was wrong, but when I saw that exodus in March of seventy-five, I felt sick in my stomach. My Huế people were leaving their beloved city for Ðà Nẵng. It seemed like an atomic bomb had been dropped on Huế. It looked that way to me. I cried as I watched thousands of refugees climbing the Hải Vân mountain pass. Cars, scooters, bicycles, even the xích lô. My parents decided to stay. People panicked after the Airborne pulled out of Huế. Then the real shock came when they saw American advisors start burning papers. The day the Americans closed up their offices in late March, people packed up and fled the city. It was a shame to see the first to flee Huế and Quảng Trị were government and military officers. They boarded commercial air flights, they chartered vehicles to carry their belongings. My father’s love for Huế could have cost him his life; he wanted to be with his family. I respect his decision. Every morning my father stood at the window and watched the flow of refugees. He told my younger sisters to study, though there were no schools. Then for days the city came under mortar attack. The family hid under the beds. My father never left the window. He kept watch. Then he saw more and more soldiers deserting in the exodus. ‘For twenty years we had fought the communists only to give up in a matter of days,’ he said to my mother, and then closed the window.

Nassem: As exciting and informative it has been to talk to you about your heritage in Vietnam, I would like to now give you a platform to talk about your new book The Demon Who Peddled Longing, which I have reviewed on this site. Please talk about the general description of the book and also where interested readers can learn more about the book.

Khanh: Set in post-war Vietnam, The Demon Who Peddled Longing tells the terrible journey of a nineteen-year-old boy in search of the two brothers who are drifters and who raped and killed the boy’s cousin. It begins with the boy badly hurt in a boat wreck. He finds himself on the Plain of Reeds in the Mekong Delta, being saved by a fisherwoman who drinks nothing but rice liquor and nurses him with her own milk and at night would take his sex and caress it like a holy object. When he decides to leave, the woman comes close to taking his life. He runs away. He travels south on the trail taken by the drifters who has raped and murdered his cousin, until he reaches a seaside town. One night he sees a girl coming down the road on a beautiful white horse. He has hardly breath while he stands in front of her. He knows he would never be the same again without knowing her. By chance the boy finds out who the girl is. The twenty-two-year-old girl, the untouched cherry, is married to an overlord triple her age and sexually impotent. Then there is the overlord, the most unforgiving master of his own vast holdings yet a victim of his illnesses, who wants the boy’s life for having laid his eyes on the master’s young wife. From this backdrop comes a story of the damned, the unfit, the brave, who succumb by their own doing to the call of fate.

If you are interested in reading more about the book, please go to my author website, From there you can visit my blog, Goodreads and Facebook pages. To order a copy of the book, go to Amazon or Barnes&Noble.

Nassem: Thank you so much Khanh for being so willing to discuss your upbringing in Vietnam and for sharing all of your knowledge. I look forward to having you back here! 

Khanh: Thank you, Nassem, for the interview, and it’s my pleasure to appear on your blog again.

Author Bio:

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Khanh Ha is the author of Flesh (2012, Black Heron Press) and The Demon Who Peddled Longing (2014,  Underground Voices). He is a five-time Pushcart nominee, a Best Indie Lit New England nominee, and the recipient of Greensboro Review’s 2014 Robert Watson Literary Prize in Fiction. His work, The Demon Who Peddled Longing, was honored by Shelf Unbound as a Notable Indie Book.

Hard Choices by Hillary Rodham Clinton- Review

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No matter what side of the political spectrum you are on, you are going to want to read Secretary Hillary Clinton’s newest memoir, Hard Choices. Clinton released the new book about her time as the 67th Secretary of State in June 2014. She discusses what led into her taking the honorable position, her work promoting democracy around the world, and her methods and time diffusing crises around the world.

In Hard Choices, Clinton describes the reluctance she had at first to take the position. She was convinced that there were so many more qualified individuals that should have taken the job, but President-elect Barack Obama made the case to her. He pleaded that she could continue promoting women’s rights all over the world, build America’s international relations with allies, and that, frankly, the Administration would need her. She weighed her options, and then made her decision. The rest is history.

Clinton talks about working with nations in the Asian continent quite a bit. She discusses the reluctance of China to have any real diplomatic influence on its neighbors, and how some of the political leaders in that nation are as opaque as the political system. She also talks about how the fight for democracy in Burma was, at some points… interesting, to say the least. She wrote about what one of the leaders said, finding it just as humorous as when it first was spoken, “The Speaker of the Lower House of Parliament, Shwe Mann, another former general, met with me…’We’ve been studying your country trying to understand how to run a Parliament,’ he told me. I asked if he’d read books or consulted with experts. ‘Oh no,’ he said. ‘We’ve been watching the West Wing.’

European nations, and their long-standing relationships with America, are also discussed in Hard Choices. Clinton discusses why Europe’s alliance with the United States dipped before she was sworn in as Secretary. “Most of our European allies disagreed with the decision to invade Iraq.” But, as both America and Europe pursued common interests under the Obama Administration, trust, essential for democracy to thrive, was restored. During the stressful dialogue started with Iran on its nuclear program, on quelling the empty threats by North Korea, and in anti-terror operations, the United States and traditional allies, like Britain and France, regrew the relationship that has existed since the beginning of the Republic.

The operation to take down Osama bin Laden, and bring him to justice, came because of Clinton’s advocation. Her reasoning came because she is no stranger to the pain al-Qaeda brought upon America. As a Senator from New York, she helped secure the very significant $21 billion in funding to rebuild the World Trade Center site. She supported the invasion of Afghanistan, believing that it could simultaneously help root out terrorism and improve the condition of Afghani women. The opportunity to kill bin Laden was not one that came without plenty of patience, but when it did come, Clinton, “laid out the case, including the potential damage to our relationship with Pakistan and the risks of a blown operation.” She then added, “But, I concluded, the chance to get bin Laden was worth it.” The plan went forward, with US Seal Team Six storming the compound, taking down bin Laden, and recovering invaluable intelligence on future al-Qaeda operations. Clinton made the decision, along with President Obama, that trust could be placed in our troops, and it came out a complete success.

The crisis in the area of Gaza in 2012 was one that demanded undivided attention. A long-ensued battle between Israelis and Palestinians came to blows in the tiny 139-sq-ft strip on the Mediterranean one again. A fight that hadn’t been intensified to the point of mass conflict since 2008, when Israel ceased to occupy Gaza, Clinton was on the case from the very beginning. She worked hand-in-hand with (at the time) Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi to bring a ceasefire to the conflict. Over 100 people had already perished in the fighting, many women and children, both Israeli and Palestinian, and the condition of innocents has always gained the attention of Hillary Clinton. Negotiations between Morsi, Clinton, and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu proceeded, where an agreement was reached that set out a comprehensive plan to end the fighting, and find a final solution to the conflict as a whole. Fighting ended after the agreement, and Clinton said that, “the ceasefire held better than anyone expected.” As now, an end to the current fighting in Gaza, where over 1000 people have died already, is being pursued along the lines of the 2012 ceasefire agreement.
Clinton discusses the issues we face in today’s world. She discusses the dire threat of Russian aggression, which she sees as Vladimir Putin’s goal of “reclaiming the Soviet Empire.” Clinton explains that, “we’re all in this together,” when it comes to Climate Change and energy. She wants the upcoming 2015 International Paris meeting on Climate Change to achieve real and beneficial reductions in our emissions, while helping to grow the US economy through green-collar jobs and new energy exploration, including solar, wind, and geothermal technologies. Finally, she discusses how Cold War-esque diplomacy will not work in the modern world, where both nations and groups pose threats. She explains what she calls “smart power,” which is the advocacy of democracy and freedom though the internet, technology, and human connections with everyday citizens.

The final discussion in Hard Choices is focused upon human rights, which Clinton calls the “unfinished business” of the 21st Century. Back in 1995, in a famous speech in Beijing, Clinton proclaimed that, “human rights are women’s rights and women’ rights are human rights.” She also discusses the fact that the growth in women’s job holdings in the US from 37% in 1979 to 47% in 2009 attributed to “more than $3.5 trillion in GDP growth over four decades.” Another argument that is made in Hard Choices is the fact that when women are a part of peace processes, “they tend to focus discussion on issues like human rights, justice, national reconciliation, and economic renewal.” Hillary Clinton, as she has done for her entire life, is nowhere near stopping now in her work pursuing rights for women here in America and abroad.

All in all, Secretary Hillary Clinton’s memoir of her time as Secretary of State is candid, revealing, and truly a testament to the challenges we face in today’s world. Time will tell if future ambitions exist, but one thing is certain: Clinton isn’t done yet.

Author Biography- Secretary Hillary Rodham Clinton:

Hillary Diane Rodham Clinton served as the First Lady of the United States to the 42nd President, Bill Clinton. She went on to become a U.S. Secretary of State and U.S. Senator from New York. In the 2008 election, Clinton was a leading candidate for the Democratic Presidential nomination. (Credit to The White House)

Mademoiselle Chanel by C.W. Gortner Recaptures The Life Of The First Businesswoman

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MC cover

Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel was the world’s first businesswoman. Rising from the bottom, Chanel used her innate ingenuity and work-ethic to build one of the most recognisable and successful businesses ever. To paraphrase Chanel, she created her life because she was unhappy with it. Despite all of this, however, jealous competitors and misogynists have attempted to slander her legacy. The time has finally come that Coco Chanel is done justice, and that has come with C.W. Gortner’s Mademoiselle Chanel.

Gabrielle Chanel was born in Saumur, France into deep poverty to a deadbeat father and a physically ill mother. This loneliness only got worse after her mother died when Gabrielle turned 12 and when she was sent to Aubazine, a convent. Gabrielle turned her despair into application and effort when she learned the sewing at the convent and where the sisters helped turn her passion into a successful work venture.

At the age of 18 Chanel was sent to live at the boarding school in Moulins. While in Moulins she both pursued sewing and stage performing, which is when she became “Coco”, based off of the popular song  “Qui qu’a vu Coco”. In 1906, after failing to find success as a stage singer in Vichy, she returned to Moulins dedicated to her sewing.

Moulins was where Coco met the ex-military officer and aristocrat Etienne Balsan, and where she became his mistress. Coco replaced famous courtesan Emilienne d’Alencon, who ironically later became something of a business asset for Chanel, for Balsan, and there never really was any love shared between Chanel and Balsan. This time, however, brought Chanel to realize that her fate was to put her entire being into her work, despite all of the negatives Balsan said to her about it. This is the time when Chanel also learned the foreign but fine art of making powerful friends.

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Some of the research I did for this review: Sampling Chanel No. 5, Coco, and Bleu de Chanel.

In 1908 Chanel began an affair with Arthur “Boy” Capel, one of Balsan’s friends. Chanel found a new feeling, something that she had never felt before, with Capel: love. This relationship also proved to be one of business as well, which put Chanel’s talent together with Capel’s money to open her first boutique at 21 rue Cambon Paris, which really put Chanel’s effort and determination into tangible results.

Boutiques in Deauville and Biarritz opened subsequently, which is the period when many influential people saw Chanel’s fashion as revolutionary and loved it. 1919 marked the most tragic event of her life when Boy was killed in an automobile accident. In 1921 Coco opened the first modern boutique at 31 rue Cambon and just 6 years later owned almost the entire rue Cambon. Continuing the rise that Chanel was taking, she made business contacts with Pierre Wertheimer, who introduced her Chanel No. 5 perfume in his department stores but who Chanel referred to as the “bandit who screwed me.”

Chanel worked her way into association with the British aristocracy in 1923 and for the next decade continued close relationships with it. Chanel closed her shops at the advent of World War II and the occupation of Paris, and in 1947 became one of the richest women in the world with a new profits deal with the Parfums Chanel line.

After having moved to Switzerland in 1945, Chanel returned to Paris in 1954. With her reemergence came her greatest popularity in Britain and America, which continues now all around the world. Coco Chanel died in 1971.

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Les parfums de Chanel- Photo credit to Seize the Moment.

Now, with this background stated, we can delve into Gortner’s writing:

First, let us look at the great understanding of Chanel’s personality and spirit Gortner shows in this book. We understand that Chanel, growing up unstable and lonely, learned that money is true freedom. We also learn that Chanel neither hated men nor believed women to be superior; she was simply fiercely independent and determined to build her own life, not to be taken care of. The greatest thing Gortner succeeds in showing about Chanel’s personality is that she was constituted of great determination, which both helped her build the Chanel empire but also made many jealous, which was a great source of loneliness for Coco. Gortner really became Chanel herself, not the grand icon Chanel, not the stoic businesswoman. He wrote of the true, everyday, and genuine Coco Chanel, which is more important to her legacy than anything else.

Next, we must address how Gortner describes the setting around Chanel’s life. Gortner is a master of developing both multi-layered characters and environments in his novels, but Mademoiselle Chanel brings this skill to another level. Whether it be the forests of rural France or the urban streets of Paris, Gortner brings to life the world Coco Chanel lived in, which adds an aspect into understanding the legend, her era, and her work.

Finally Mademoiselle Chanel is a kind of biography that really hasn’t been seen before. In the same vein as Jack Kennedy, Chanel is unique in that no one can ever truly and completely understand every aspect of her life. Gortner, with great skill and intellect, recognises this and doesn’t attempt to achieve the impossible. Instead, he takes on what I consider to be a more daunting task: writing a biography that shows the genuine Coco Chanel and wanting us to base our opinions of the icon on that truth. Gortner achieves this magnificently, and makes Mademoiselle Chanel ingenious and revolutionary, just as Coco Chanel’s life was.

As intoxicating as the jasmine aromas of Chanel No. 5 and as revolutionary as the Little Black Dress, C. W. Gortner’s Mademoiselle Chanel reclaims the legacy of the world’s first businesswoman and shows the genuine Coco Chanel.

Mademoiselle Chanel, Synopsis~

(historical fiction)

Release date: March 17, 2015
at William-Morrow/HarperCollins

384 pages

ISBN: 978-0062356406

For readers of “The Paris Wife” and “Z” comes this vivid novel full of drama, passion, tragedy, and beauty that stunningly imagines the life of iconic fashion designer Coco Chanel—the ambitious, gifted laundrywoman’s daughter who revolutionized fashion, built an international empire, and became one of the most influential and controversial figures of the twentieth century.

Born into rural poverty, Gabrielle Chanel and her siblings are sent to an orphanage after their mother’s death. The sisters nurture Gabrielle’s exceptional sewing skills, a talent that will propel the willful young woman into a life far removed from the drudgery of her childhood.

Transforming herself into Coco—a seamstress and sometime torch singer—the petite brunette burns with ambition, an incandescence that draws a wealthy gentleman who will become the love of her life. She immerses herself in his world of money and luxury, discovering a freedom that sparks her creativity. But it is only when her lover takes her to Paris that Coco discovers her destiny.

Rejecting the frilly, corseted silhouette of the past, her sleek, minimalist styles reflect the youthful ease and confidence of the 1920s modern woman. As Coco’s reputation spreads, her couturier business explodes, taking her into rarefied society circles and bohemian salons. But her fame and fortune cannot save her from heartbreak as the years pass. And when Paris falls to the Nazis, Coco is forced to make choices that will haunt her.

An enthralling novel of an extraordinary designer who created the life she desired, Mademoiselle Chanel explores the inner world of a woman of staggering ambition whose strength, passion and artistic vision would become her trademark.

Author Biography: C.W. Gortner

CW Gortner

C.W. Gortner is the international bestselling author of six historical novels, translated in over twenty-five languages to date.

His new novel, Mademoiselle Chanel, traces the tumultuous rise to fame of iconic fashion designer, Coco Chanel.

In 2016, Random House will publish his eighth novel, “Vatican Princess”, about Lucrezia Borgia.

Raised in Spain and a long-time resident of the Bay Area, C.W. is also dedicated to companion animal rescue from overcrowded shelters.

Visit his website. Follow him on Facebook, Twitter

Subscribe to his newsletter

Buy the book: HarperCollins | IndieBound | Amazon | Barnes & Noble

GIVEAWAY / GIVEAWAY / GIVEAWAY

You can enter the giveaway here or on the book blogs participating in this tour (just click on the badge below to follow the stops on the tour. Be sure to follow each participant on Twitter/Facebook; they are listed in the entry form below.

Click on “Entry-Form” below to enter:

Entry-Form

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]

6 winners and open to US only:
5 printed copies + 1 beautiful, handcrafted beaded bracelet inspired by Coco’s
black-and-white signature colors and camellia design

Mademoiselle Chanel bracelet

Click on the banner here to follow the other stops on the tour:

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Shadow Ritual: Fascinating Interview With The Authors

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Yesterday I reviewed Shadow Ritual by Éric Giacometti and Jacques Ravenne. Today, I have an interview with the authors:

 

 

How are you both? Thank you, gentlemen, for coming to my blog today.

 

1) Mr. Giacometti: I understand that you are a former journalist for Le Parisien newspaper. What kind of writing did you pursue while here? Also, Le Parisien found its roots in the French Underground during the German Occupation. Did your interest in this era, as evidenced by Shadow Ritual, get sparked in any way from this, or was that interest already there?

 

I was an investigative reporter and covered many topics, including corruption involving the Freemasons on the French Riviera. I discovered the dark side of the brotherhood. It resulted in a lot of heated discussions with Jacques. However, this unsavory side of freemasonry is confined to a limited number of brothers. 

 

Well before I started working for Le ParisienI also worked on Nazi spoliation under the Occupation in France, a dark page in the history of FranceIn the weekly Le Pointreported on the French Ministry of Finance’s archives on the subject.


As for Le Parisien, you are well informed! For a long time, thenewspaper was called the Parisien Libéré (litt: the liberated Parisian)It was born at the time of the liberation of France in 1944, from the rubble of a popular daily newspaper called Le Petit Parisien. Emilien Amaury, the owner and creator of the Parisien Libéréwas very close to General de Gaulle and shared his ideas. I have always been fascinated by that period. 

 

2) In Shadow Ritual, there is a lot of influence by Freemasons. Is this group still a major influence in the world?

 

Well, it all depends what influence and what freemasonry you are talking about. To clarify, there is no global freemasonry united under a great master who would draw the strings. There are various independent jurisdictions (Grand Lodges). Some even forbid their members from having any connection with members of other lodges. For examplethe French Masonic Grand Lodge (GNLF), recognized by the United Grand Lodge of England, does not allow their members to receive brothers from the Grand Orient of France (the largest organization in the country) in their temples nor to attend their ceremonies. There is a kind of undeclared war between many groups, both nationally and globally. There are reasons for these tensions. For instanceAmerican and British Freemasons accept a belief in God, whereas in the Grand Orient it is not compulsory, and secularism remains a fundamental principle. 


As for the supposed influence on politics and economics, there is no denying that in France some lodges welcome influential people. Networks do exist, but no more nor less than other networks that are sometimes much more powerful. There was a time when some jurisdictions exclusively recruited senior officials and business and financial leaders to inflate theirmembership and increase their power. But because of scandals disclosed by the press, especially about the French Riviera, some clean up took place

 

However, you can’t prevent many laymen from believing that Freemasons are pulling the strings of a major global conspiracy with the Illuminatiwho until proven otherwise no longer exist.

 

In our thrillers, we try not to fall into the trap of conspiracy theory. And for good reason: Antoine Marcas is a Freemason policemanproud of his ideal!

 

3) Your gift for seamlessly weaving history and thriller together to create a better novel is commendable. When did both of your interests in history begin, and what eras are you each most interested in?

 

Thank youWe have always been fascinated by history, be itofficial history from the textbooks or more obscure history woven into the texture of big eventsJacques has a passion forthe Middle Ages and the eighteenth century. It is not by chance that he wrote a novel on the life of the Marquis de Sade.

 

4) Your protagonist, Antoine Marcas, has been found unique in many ways, setting him apart from the average lead character. How did you develop this character, and does he embody any of your personal qualities?

 

As a Freemason, he believes in the values of freemasonry, butremains realistic on the organization and its by-productsHe does not fantasize about having access to higher knowledge through his initiation. He is cop, he’s divorced and has problems with his exwife. He lives in a realistic worldBut a world in which suddenly the veil is torn and another reality appears, one that is more esoteric and strange. He goes through what poet Gérard de Nerval used to call the doors of “horn and ivory.” 

 

Marcas is a product of our differencesEric had a not-so-positive view of Freemasonry, resulting from his investigations. And Jacques was tired of reading simplistic articles on thebrotherhood. Antoine Marcas is the ideal honest Freemason. In Shadow Ritual, he teams with Jade, secret service agent. She hates the brothers. Over the years, since this first book, Eric has become “Mason friendly, but he is still critical of certain practices.

 

Standard image of masonic square and compasses

 

5) On this blog, I have written articles on the rise of extremism in Europe, specifically in FranceShadow Ritual features this extremism, and I understand that you have both studied it throughout your career. How does this startling new trend connect back to the Nazi era, and why is this ideology resurfacing now? 

 

The political situation in Europe is concerning. There’s a rise of parties qualified as extremist or populist, from the extreme right, like the National Front in France, or on the opposite from the extreme left, like the anti-capitalist party Syriza in Greece. 

 

Reasons can be identified: increasing unemployment rate, latent economic crisis, rejection of political and media elite, growing rejection of uncontrolled globalization and of immigration, loss of national identity, and also distrust of European political structures. Add to this Islamic attacks, like on Charlie Hebdo in January 2015, and the latest discovery of an anti-Semitism rooted in some social groups of immigrants, and the result is a concerning mix

 

However, we need to be careful in our comparisons with Nazi and pre-Nazi eras. In Francebefore World War II, anti-Semitism and anti-Freemasonry were widespread within the population and the elite. This is no longer the case. Also, even if neoNazi groups do exist, as with the Golden Dawn in Greece, they remain very marginal and no right-wing populist party consider themselves to be part of them. Unlike in the United States, Nazi apology and the display of Nazi symbols are severely punished by law in France.

 

6) Shadow Ritual has a lot of historical influence in it, including the Nazi era in Europe and after. What kind of historical research did you pursue for the novel?

 

We read history books on this dark period. From this, we developed, for instance, the character of Le Guermand, a French SS officer. There were a few thousand like him in our country. Some defended Hitler’s bunker to the very end, in Spring 1945.For a long time, in France it was taboo to discuss the soldiers who fought in German uniform.

 

On the esoteric dimension of Nazism and the role of the Thule society, there are few reference works. It is still a rather unknown part of historyopen to all kinds of fantasies.

 

7) What other writings have you published? Are there any more titles featuring Detective MarcasHow can readers connect with you? 

 

In addition to the series with detective Antoine Marcas, which has ten books to date in French, Eric wrote a thriller about a public health scandala real story of killer pacemakers, as well as essays and an investigative book on pharmaceutical laboratories.

 

Jacques published his book on Sade and also research on the writer Paul Valery

 

Readers can contact us via Facebook or on our website. 

 

8) I have to ask this one question, one that doesn’t have much to do with the book: What is life like living in France? I am fascinated by different cultures and so I am curious as to your response compared to other French I have spoken with.

 

Eric:

I would say the answer varies according to whom you are talking to in France. For those who struggle to make ends meet, life is tough, even if the social system provides a minimum safety net. 

 

I have been living in Paris for 27 years. For me, France remains the country of good living and Paris is a wonderful city. Enjoying simple moments in life is part of a hedonistic view of life. To have a coffee on the terrace of my regular café in the 9th arrondissementto walk along the banks of the Seine with my wife, to work late into the night and gaze upon the Sacré-Cœur from my office, these are unrivaled pleasures. 

 

Shadow_Ritual view fron office

The View From Éric’s Office

 

Jacques lives on the Left Bank, in the Latin Quarter, near Saint-Germain-des-Prés. There you can hang around the Saint-Sulpicechurch and browse through the booksellers along the Seine. I realize these are all tourist clichés, but clichés are sometimes true. 

 

And France is packed with wonderful landscapes, magnificent castles, and beautiful villages. Yes, to live in this country brings happinesseven though the French are the most pessimistic people in Europe, because of the economic crisis and social problems (rise of extremism, loss of reference points, etc.). They are afraid of the future and tend to take refuge in the past. French society gets bogged down because of this lack of optimism. 

 

However, if you could get a message through, that would be very nice. I almost chokewith rage when I watched a report on FoxNewsThey lied about Paris and invented “nogo zones where non-Muslims would be prohibited, where Sharia law would be applied. In comparison, the Chicago of Al Capone would be a loving nursery. 

 

Yes, there are suburbs with problems, but to say that Paris has become cut throat, that’s pure nonsense. This report was passed on here by the media and millions of French were shocked. I live in one of those supposed “nogo zones, near Montmartre… I am even more upset because I am pro-American, in heart and mind. I love the United States so much that I even married (for real) in Las Vegas with my wife and… Jacques was my best man!

 

Thank you very much gentlemen for being on my blog today. I look forward to reading the next books in the series and maybe having you on again!

 

The Authors: Éric Giacometti & Jacques Ravenne:

Jacques Ravenne is a literary scholar who has also written a biography of the Marquis de Sade and edited his letters. He loves to explore the hidden side of major historical events.

 

Eric Giacometti was an investigative reporter
for a major French newspaper. He has covered a number of high-profile scandals 
and has done exhaustive research in the area of freemasonry.

About The Translator:

Anne Trager loves France so much she has lived there for 27 years and just can’t seem to leave. What keeps her there is a uniquely French mix of pleasure seeking and creativity. Well, that and the wine. In 2011, she woke up one morning and said, “I just can’t stand it anymore. There are way too many good books being written in France not reaching a broader audience.” That’s when she founded Le French Book to translate some of those books into English. The company’s motto is “If we love it, we translate it,” and Anne loves crime fiction, mysteries and detective novels.
 

Follow Le French Book on Twitter  | on Facebook
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Buy the book | on Amazon  | Barnes & Noble  | Indiebound  | upcoming on Apple + Kobo

Sudetenland: Excerpt From George Chronis’ New Book

 

Today I am proud to have an excerpt of George Chronis’ new novel Sudetenland. This exciting snippet is just a taste of this historical novel set around the Munich Conference in 1938. Now, enjoy! 

Excerpt: 

“The Germans are very keen to have news of the conference broadcast live across the world. They are very confident of the outcome. Godesberg is a great victory for them,” Shirer felt a tad uncomfortable at helping them promote their success.

“Yeah, that’s what I have been reading in the local rags,” Endicott found the towing of the government’s pitch lines to be remarkably uniform.

“Don’t be too hard on us, my friend,” an overly cheery German broke into the conversation to sit down at the table without waiting for an invitation. “Godesberg is one of those rare occasions where everything we print is actually true.”

Shirer laughed and slapped the tabletop. “Eavesdropping again, Manfred?”

“Of course! And so do you. I am just better at snooping than you are,” the German boasted, although he ranked Shirer’s attention to detail as amazingly high.

“Charles,” Shirer turned to Endicott. “Meet Herr Culemann, one of Germany’s leading editors.”

“Pleased to meet you. Charles Endicott, Hearst International News Service,” Endicott reached over the table to offer his hand.

“I just read your story. Great work there: Kidnapped By the Sudeten Freikorps. I am glad you survived unscathed. Many of their number are severely undisciplined,” Culemann was sincerely pleased no harm had come to the American.

“Thanks on both counts. Sometimes I get lucky,” Endicott hoped the roll lasted for a while longer. “Say, you look like a man in the know. When does Herr Hitler arrive?”

“Oh, the chancellor is already in Godesberg… upstairs as we speak,” Culemann informed them.

“Now you’re talking,” Endicott perked up. “When do you think we will get a chance to see him?”

“Any time really. One never knows. He could stroll through the lobby in five minutes on the way to his river yacht. The vessel is tied up at the water’s edge,” Culemann located the vessel through the window and showed them.

“Somehow I expected something more formal,” Endicott sounded let down.

“Do not despair, the Teppichfresser will not disappoint,” Culemann lowered his voice as he teased the Americans.

“The what?” Endicott did not understand the term.

“Carpet eater?” Shirer’s translation did little to ease his own confusion.

“You two have obviously not been paying attention to the discussion at the next table,” Culemann nodded in the direction of two party hacks nearby.

“I imagine not,” Shirer had been ignoring their boorish neighbors on purpose.

“Perhaps you have heard… the chancellor often has strong reactions to bad news,” Culemann continued in a whisper. “Chamberlain promised him that he could deliver the Sudetenland on a platter and all of the news from Prague says Beneš is obstinately refusing to go along. Those two over there were just mentioning how this continued stubbornness by the Czech president has brought on one of Hitler’s rages causing the leader of the great German Empire to fling himself on the floor where he chews on the edge of the carpet.”

“You have to be kidding,” Endicott found such a tale difficult to believe.

“Trust me, on such matters, I never kid,” Culemann wagged his forefinger at the Americans.


***


  

Hashtags : #SudetenlandBlogTour #HistoricalFiction

Twitter Tags: @hfvbt 

  

Sudetenland is the premiere novel by author George T. Chronis. The book delivers suspenseful and sweeping historical fiction set against Central European intrigue during the late 1930s leading up to 1938’s Munich Conference. Having swallowed up Austria, Adolph Hitler now covets Czechoslovakian territory. Only France has the power to stand beside the government in Prague against Germany… but will she? The characters are the smart and sometimes wise-cracking men and women of this era – the foreign correspondents, intelligence officers, diplomats and career military – who are on the front lines of that decade’s most dangerous political crisis. If Czechoslovak president Edvard Beneš ignores the advice of French premier Édouard Daladier and refuses to give up Bohemian territory willingly, then Hitler orders that it be taken by force. The novel takes readers behind the scenes into the deliberations and high drama taking place within major European capitals such as Prague, Paris, Berlin, Vienna and London as the continent hurtles toward the crucible of a shooting war.

Praise for Sudetenland

“Chronis impresses with such a challenging and intriguing debut effort, well written, impeccably researched.” — Melinda, Unshelfish

“Anyone that is looking for a thorough and rewarding read will enjoy Sudetenland.” — Diana, BookNerd

“The plot moves quickly along keeping you intrigued with well defined characters and great imagery to help immerse yourself in the story… I adored the way George managed to weave together the tragedy of war, depression and politics with romance, love and hope.” — Jennifer, pirategrl1014

Buy the Book

Amazon US
Amazon UK
Barnes & Noble
iBooks
Kobo

About the Author

  

After years as a journalist and magazine editor, George T. Chronis decided to return to his lifelong passion, storytelling. A lover of both 1930s cinema and world history, Chronis is now devoted to bringing life to the mid-20th Century fictional narratives that have been in his thoughts for years. Sudetenland© is his first novel. Taking place during turbulent times in Central Europe during the 1930s, the book took eight years to research and write. The author is already hard at work on his second novel.

Chronis is married with two daughters, and lives with his wife in a Southern California mountain community.

For more information please visit the Sudetenland website or George T. Chronis’s website, or follow him on Tumblr. Subscribe to George T. Chronis’s newsletter.

Sudetenland Blog Tour Schedule

Monday, March 16
Spotlight & Giveaway at Passages to the Past

Tuesday, March 17
Review at Flashlight Commentary

Monday, March 23
Spotlight & Excerpt at 100 Pages a Day

Tuesday, March 24
Spotlight & Excerpt at The Maiden’s Court
Spotlight at CelticLady’s Reviews

Wednesday, March 26
Spotlight at Mythical Books
Spotlight & Excerpt at Kinx’s Book Nook

Thursday, March 26
Review at A Virtual Hobby Store and Coffee Haus
Spotlight & Excerpt at Griperang’s Bookmarks

Friday, March 27
Review at Genre Queen
Spotlight & Excerpt at A Book Geek.                                          Spotlight & Excerpt at Seize The Moment


Shadow Ritual Is An Exciting Thriller With A Powerful Message; Review + Giveaway

Review: 

The genre of thriller in literature is very broad. The majority of thrillers in modern times have plenty of action, plenty of conflict, etc. The problem is not that these books aren’t well-written, but they lack a message. My favorite thriller/espionage writer, the indomitable John Le Carré, wrote with a message in each of his books, and still at the age of 83 hopes his life’s work has not been for nothing.

I mention Le Carré because I believe that the authors of Shadow Ritual, Éric Giacometti and Jacques Ravenne, are the closest anyone has come to reaching Le Carré’s caliber in both writing thrillers to entertain and to convey a message.

Shadow Ritual, published for the first time in English, follows the investigation by Inspector Antoine Marcas into 2 murders, one in Rome and one in Jerusalem. Marcas soon finds himself in the middle of a conspiracy that stretches the entire continent of Europe. Paired with the resolute Jade Zewinski, who has a personal connection to one of the victims, they must decipher a mystery centuries in the making before it is too late.

Shadow Ritual is unique because of its balance. Inspector Marcas is a Freemason, but is fairly portrayed not in the corrupt manner the world thinks Freemasons are but as simply a part of his life. Freemasonry plays a large part in the conspiracy Marcas and Zewinski must unravel, but the authors, though divided in their views of Freemasons, find a moderate position that Marcas can hold firm to.

The historical influence on the events in the novel work well together and despite seeming disconnected at first the authors do an impeccable job of showing the connections they share with each other and the present. The research the authors conducted really shines through and gives the novel another dimension.

The 2 lead characters in Shadow Ritual, Antoine Marcas and Jade Zewinski, bring this novel into a high caliber of literary accomplishment. The characters are so realistic, unusual for thrillers, and we see them as the lead point for the novel, not the action. We understand Marcas as a man involved in things bigger than himself but puts justice above all else, which sometimes distracts him from smaller details. I see Zewinski as a truly powerful woman, often being more stubborn than Marcas but always dedicated to getting the job done well. This team work so well, and give each other such a fair amount of give and take that real-world detectives should look at this pair as a great example of an inspector duo.

Finally, Shadow Ritual has a message that truly needs to be heard. The novel shows how corrupt ultranationalism and extremism is, and how we must counteract the rising extremism with true understanding and justice. We must all join together to say “never again.”

Shadow Ritual puts Giacometti and Ravenne into the top tier of writers that effectively pair entertainment and meaning into their work. The times call for more writing like this, and I look forward to reading more of this author team’s work.

Éric Giacometti and Jacques Ravenne: 
 

Jacques Ravenne is a literary scholar
who has also written a biography of the Marquis de Sade and edited his letters. He loves to explore the hidden side of major historical events.

Eric Giacometti was an investigative reporter for a major French newspaper. He has covered a number of high-profile scandals
and has done exhaustive research in the area of freemasonry.

About The Translator: 

Anne Trager loves France so much she has lived there for 27 years and just can’t seem to leave. What keeps her there is a uniquely French mix of pleasure seeking and creativity. Well, that and the wine. In 2011, she woke up one morning and said, “I just can’t stand it anymore. There are way too many good books being written in France not reaching a broader audience.” That’s when she founded Le French Book to translate some of those books into English. The company’s motto is “If we love it, we translate it,” and Anne loves crime fiction, mysteries and detective novels.

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

Buy the book | on Amazon  | Barnes & Noble  | Indiebound  | upcoming on Apple + Kobo


Giveaway:

You can enter the giveaway here or on the book blogs participating in this tour.

Be sure to follow each participant on Twitter/Facebook, they are listed in the entry form below.

Entry-Form

Visit each blogger on the tour and tweeting about the giveaway everyday of the Tour will give you 5 extra entries each time!

[just follow the directions on the entry-form]

8 winners

3 print copies for US residents

5 digital copies for US or other residents