The Women of Chateau Lafayette

I met Stephanie Dray at a 2015 conference in Denver. She was participating in a hilarious late-night sex scene reading – a tradition at Historical Novel Society conferences. I have to get to know that woman, I thought, as I listened to her read from one of her novels and I proceeded to do just that. Stephanie’s specialty is fiction based on real women who’ve played pivotal roles in history.

America’s First Daughter is about Martha ‘Patsy’ Jefferson Randolph, daughter to Thomas Jefferson. I gave it 5 stars. My Dear Hamilton tells the story of Eliza Hamilton, Alexander’s wife who was instrumental in defining America’s founding principles. Another 5 star story in my opinion. She wrote both novels with Laura Kamoie – an amazing feat, if you ask me. Ribbons of Scarlet is a magnificent novel about the women who played key roles in the French Revolution. Stephanie wrote part one of the eight parts of this novel – a section focused on Sophie de Grouchy, an influential philosopher and an advocate of republicanism and women’s rights.

In an interview on this blog in March 2020, Stephanie reflected on her writing career and the novel she was then in the midst of writing, which I now know to be The Women of Chateau Lafayette.

“My most recent work is set in three time periods–during the French Revolution, World War One, and World War Two–all united by the singular legacy of Lafayette and the women who safeguarded his castle during three of history’s darkest hours.

Again this felt like a natural jump because a republic was on the rise during the French Revolution, and deeply threatened in both world wars. I’m always fascinated by the way women are discounted in these great movements, even though they not only contribute to them–sometimes, as my co-authors and I tried to show in RIBBONS OF SCARLET, women even start these movements.”

The Women of Chateau Lafayette, the true story of an extraordinary castle in the heart of France and the remarkable women bound by its legacy. I recommend you run right out now to buy it … or let your fingers do the walking to one of the retailers selling Stephanie’s latest novel.

Here’s a link to Barnes & Noble for the hard cover and to Kobo for the ebook.

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M.K. Tod writes historical fiction. Her latest novel, PARIS IN RUINS, is available for pre-order on Amazon USAmazon CanadaKobo, and Barnes&Noble. An earlier novel, TIME AND REGRET was published by Lake Union. Mary’s other novels, LIES TOLD IN SILENCE and UNRAVELLED are available from AmazonNookKoboGoogle Play and iTunes. She can be contacted on FacebookTwitter and Goodreads or on her website www.mktod.com.

The Garden of Evening Mists

My Toronto book club discussed Tan Twan Eng’s THE GARDEN OF EVENING MISTS last week. The verdict was resoundingly in favour of this powerful novel of memory and forgetting, war and peace, love and hate. Although there were points of criticism, most felt the writing style – particularly the descriptive portions, and there are a lot of those – is evocative and beautifully done. The novel is atmospheric and restrained. No one was surprised that it had been nominated for the Man Booker prize.

There was some debate about the main character, Judge Teoh Mun Ling, whose story drives the novel. Some found her persona rather flat while others appreciated her reserve, her passion and the strength she portrays. We see her during WWII and the occupation of Malaysia (then Malaya) by the Japanese when she was a prisoner of war, during the communist insurgency that followed and later in life when she confronts and records her past.

Memories I had locked away have begun to break free, like shards of ice fracturing off an arctic shelf. In sleep, these broken floes drift toward the morning light of remembrance.

Nakamura Aritomo – the other main character – intrigued our reading group. A former gardener to the Japanese Emperor Hirohito, he’s austere, dedicated, enigmatic, passionate, and a master at designing and building gardens that reflect the landscape and deceive the eye. He’s also a master tattooist, a skill that ultimately becomes an unexpected twist in the story.

In terms of criticism, some thought the story moved too slowly and that the multiple time periods and large group of characters were confusing. One of our members felt the book should have been edited down at least 50 pages, if not more. Two people chose not to finish the novel. And there was considerable discussion of the rather flat voice of the narrator – Mun Ling.

Everyone agreed that we’d learned a lot about WWII in that part of the world along with the hardship and brutality suffered during Japanese occupation and appreciated the opportunity to read a novel set in such a different part of the world.

As for me, I’m giving it 4 stars on the Goodreads scale. I believe it’s a novel that deserves to be read slowly and I suspect that I would get even more from the story if I were to read it a second time.

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M.K. Tod writes historical fiction. Her latest novel, TIME AND REGRET was published by Lake Union. Mary’s other novels, LIES TOLD IN SILENCE and UNRAVELLED are available from Amazon, NookKoboGoogle Play and iTunes. She can be contacted on Facebook, Twitter and Goodreads or on her website www.mktod.com.