Just a quick note to let you know my new novel Harvesting the Sky has a cover! Here it is above. I’m very excited. The talented Jessica Dionne, who created The Forgetting Flower, also designed this one. It’s ominous and threatening and mysterious and I love it.
Here’s the jacket copy:
Botanist Andre Damazy lands on the opportunity of a lifetime when he discovers a rare medicinal apple in Kazakhstan and brings back tree cuttings to his hidden greenhouse in Paris. Growing the cuttings into trees is personal for Andre since the apples can heal people with serious illnesses, like his sweet mother who’s suffered a stroke.
But a mysterious stranger constantly thwarts Andre’s work, sending harassing calls and menacing effigies, stalking Andre, and vandalizing his trees. Andre doesn’t understand why anyone would do this, but he wonders if it’s related to a project from his past that went all wrong and resulted in a deadly mistake. So with the help of his new friend Renia (The Forgetting Flower) and her street smarts, he works to outmaneuver his enemy while uncovering a larger, more dangerous plot that threatens the foundation of all that Andre holds dear, including the woman he secretly loves.
Harvesting the Sky is the second book in the Botanique Noire series that combines vivid literary prose and a thriller plot, while enticing readers with the wonder and magic of plants.
Hi everyone, I’m excited to tell you my new novel, Harvesting the Sky, will be published in fall, 2021! This book holds a special place in my heart for a few reasons.
The First Novel That Melded my Plant Passion With Fiction
Some of you know that I resisted focusing on plants in my fiction for years. I saw plants as soothing and beautiful, which they are, and so I struggled to find the darkness. Then I reworked the novel that was my MFA thesis with a botanist at the center of the story. Everything clicked. The story brimmed with stronger danger, atmosphere, and intrigue. Plus, it had this alluring premise related to a special plant. Instead of feeling sheepish about the book, I felt proud. I shopped it to agents in 2016 but couldn’t find a home for it. But now, post The Forgetting Flower, and thanks to my publisher, Woodhall Press, I can properly share it with the reading world.
A Very Special Apple Tree
Harvesting the Sky is about Renia’s professor friend, Andre Damazy, who appeared in The Forgetting Flower. In this book, he finds a medicinal apple tree in Kazakhstan and brings branches (also called scions) back to Paris so he can propagate the tree. It’s a personal mission for him as his mother had a stroke and he hopes to help not only her but many others who suffer from illness. But a stranger constantly harasses Andre and vandalizes his greenhouse. He can’t figure out why. Not only does he have to battle this mysterious person but other dark forces as well until the tension and anger and intrigue all culminate one warm fateful night.
Renia Plays a Key Role
One unexpected surprise I learned about The Forgetting Flower was readers really liked Renia. They rooted for her and wanted her to succeed. Well, I’m happy to let you know she’ll return in this book. At first, I struggled with how to fold her into the story but then suddenly found a logical way that felt perfect and obvious. You may remember Renia had a secret crush on Andre in TFF. Now in this story, that relationship grows through his perspective as well.
Set in a Secret Greenhouse
Though the book is a stand-alone read, it’s set in the same world as The Forgetting Flower. The story picks up about ten months after TFF ends. While outlining the plot, I realized Andre would be propagating special, coveted trees and therefore needed a hidden greenhouse in Paris. After some research, I found a real-life work yard with a greenhouse. It’s out of view from the public and available only to parks department employees. This real-life place provided the inspiration for the area called “L’Enclos” where most of the mystery and action takes place.
More Updates Coming
My publisher and I have completed some preliminary work on the novel so I’ll have more to share in terms of release date, cover, and other details soon. You can sign up for monthly updates if you’d like here. And in the meantime, you can read my three-part series of posts about Harvesting the Sky, which cover how I got the idea for the novel and created its characters and plot. It includes an excerpt from the first chapter at the third post’s end.
Apple photo by Janos Patrik
Today’s post focuses on Renia’s best friend and her boss in The Forgetting Flower. These two characters’ relationship sets the foundation for the novel. One’s death launches the story. You’ll see why they were friends and how they came to be who they are.
Best Friend Alain Tolbert
Alain is an event planner who regularly orders flower arrangements from Le Sanctuaire, the plant shop that Renia manages. He works for large charity organizations and the National Orchestra of France, planning large receptions, award ceremonies, and auctions. Alain was born in Orléans and was educated in a prestigious music academy before working intermittently as a violinist. As an adult, he came to Paris with his partner who was an oboe player. Though eventually the relationship fizzled out, Alain found work in the social functions related to the symphony, moreso than musical work, which was tutoring and performing. Eventually, he opened his own event planning business. Through his work for the orchestra, he met his partner, François, who was a cellist in the symphony.
Across the Street from Le Sanctuaire
Because Alain lived across the street from a flower shop in Paris, he found he could easily order arrangements from the shop owner, Valentina Palomer. To Alain, Palomer was a chatty, self-absorbed but kind-hearted woman who was extremely talented at making fanciful floral creations. She priced the arrangements modestly compared to other florists and delivered the arrangements to the sites, which was convenient. And so, Alain and Palomer became not only business colleagues but close acquaintances as Palomer often moved in the wealthier circles that Alain worked in. The two liked to gossip about the personalities in those circles and sometimes enjoyed a glass of wine together at Le Sanctuaire.
When Palomer hired a young Polish woman to manage Le Sanctuaire, Alain was delighted. The shop had been going stale in its inventory. Palomer had been focusing on flower arranging, which due to health issues, she often did at home. The young Pole, Renia, immediately repainted the outside of the shop, enlarged the plant inventory, created lush displays outside, and carried the latest natural soaps and cloths. Alain thought her talented and the young woman’s artistic eye impressed him. He particularly liked her botanical sketches and even sold a couple to his clients for her. That they both knew Palomer’s quirky, self-centered ways brought them even closer. Occasionally the two went, with François, to dinner and the movies.
Her Boss, Madame Valentina Palomer
Valentina Palomer was born right as World War II ended. She grew up the daughter of a military officer and homemaker near an air base outside of Marseille. This gave her an appreciation for France as a nation and the military specifically. In fact, during the Algerian War of the late 1950s when she was a teenager, she briefly volunteered as a nurse at the base. She helped treat wounded soldiers who’d just returned from the Algerian battlefield. Seeing the many wounded soldiers left a deep impression on her. She resented what she saw as the Algerians’ ferocity and longed for peace in France.
Later, as a young woman at university in Marseille, she met a Greek businessman and married. He was twelve years older than she and financially well established. As he was an importer of Mediterranean antiques, the two relocated to Paris to more easily carry out transactions with his wealthy clients. She assisted with his import business until she opened a gift shop featuring their smaller imported wares in Saint-Germain-des-Prés. By the two’s late middle age, her husband suffered a heart attack and died, leaving Palomer with more debt than she’d realized the two had had. It took her years to recover from the debt and nearly attain the financial comfort the two had earlier enjoyed.
As Palomer had never had children by choice, she threw herself into her gift shop, making it a booming success in the 1990s, selling clothing, home decorations, and cut flowers. But by the early 2000s, her arrangements brought in the bulk of her income but also took up most of her time. The store grew neglected and tired. Around 2005, a client of the shop named Alain Tolbert encouraged her to focus on the floral arrangements and plants instead. For a brief time, this improved sales at the shop though by about 2009, Palomer battled chronic illness and her lack of care made shop sales suffer.
Help for a Neglected Shop
By late 2009, she’d taken on a young Vietnamese-Frenchwoman named Minh. But Minh was a biology student and didn’t have the time nor experience to manage the shop. And so, Palomer put out a word to friends and colleagues that she needed a shop manager. By 2010, a wholesaler she worked with named Feliks Baranczki suggested his niece, Renia, who had recently moved to the Paris area. Though Palomer liked that Renia had studied art and business at her university in Poland, she was reluctant to hire her because of the young woman’s quiet stoic personality. She hired Renia anyway as she was dogged by a foot injury and suffered occasional migraines. She reassured herself that a relative of Monsieur Baranczki’s must be reliable and smart. Renia went to work at the shop immediately after their interview.
That Renia brought the shop slowly back to life was news to many in the neighborhood except Renia. She felt hemmed in by Palomer’s pendulous behavior between micromanaging and absence due to travel. Plus, Palomer’s impulsive decisions didn’t help the the shop either. Those decisions are part of the reason that Renia gets into trouble in The Forgetting Flower.
To read the rest of Alain’s, Palomer’s, and Renia’s story, CLICK HERE.
Photo by Olena Sergienko
Reading a Cara Black mystery is like a brisk jog. You trot alongside private investigator Aimée Leduc as she pieces together clues and sometimes runs for her life while solving a murder. Meanwhile, the sights and sounds of Paris go by: hot bread, honking horns, lovers in a park. It’s always a chic, action-filled journey and Black’s latest novel, Murder on the Left Bank, is no exception.
Book number 18 of the Aimée Leduc Investigation series focuses on the murder of a young man tasked with transporting a very desirable notebook. It contains decades worth of corrupted business deals. The information is so dangerous that a secret crime organization called The Hand is willing to kill people for it. It’s Aimée’s job to find the notebook and bring the killers to justice.
Savvy Writing Style
What’s so strong about this story, and most of Black’s work in general, is the author’s ability to bring Paris to life in a quick short hand while unspooling a fast-paced plot. We get brief notes on the history of fascinating Parisian institutions like the Gobelins tapestry workshop or the community pool at Butte-aux-Cailles. A compact paragraph deftly creates a character snapshot and occasional asides describe Aimée’s outward appearance and emotional interior. Having lived for a few months on the Left Bank, I have to say I did crave more words to draw me into that richly historic, vibrant area. I wanted to relish the setting. But Black expertly knows how to include just enough to hold a mystery/thriller reader’s attention. And after all, these are straight up mysteries, not literary explorations.
A Broad Cast of Characters
So how does this novel compare to the others in the series? I’d say it shares the same pace and love of arrondissement. But readers new to Cara Black may be confused by the numerous characters. Morbier, a police colleague of Aimée’s father makes an appearance, as do lawyer Éric Besson, her partner René, her mother, and others. If you haven’t read Black’s work before, your head may spin at the numerous people. But if you’re familiar with their histories as they relate to Aimée, you’ll enjoy the reuniting while appreciating the deeper meaning.
All in all, I enjoyed this latest addition to the Leduc series. And if you’re looking for a lively story that features a hip sleuth while spotlighting the hidden gems of Paris, you’ll like Murder on the Left Bank too.
The Witch Elm is an impressive novel. It’s a riotous exercise in prose and character and suspense whose ending literally left me breathless. But it has one flaw that has disappointed hardcore Tana French fans: a suspect as the narrator. I myself didn’t particularly mind but apparently most longtime fans did. They yearned for her usual complex detective protagonist while lighting up websites with irritated reviews. They were hoping for what they liked, a Dublin Murder Squad personality, and didn’t get it. I thought French’s approach was fresh and worked well, but I’m not a crime fiction aficionado. I’ll try to explain, without spoilers, why I think this energetic departure was ultimately a success.
Language on Fire
First, I read as a writer, I can’t help it. I’m watching for sweetly flowing phrases and I’m watching for odd adverbs and clunky sentences. So, French’s tight, tumbling prose blew me away. An electricity crackles through this story like a long spark of lightning. She weaves in obscure words, inventive descriptions, and verbs like “judder” into a narrator that’s so expertly rendered you forget he’s a fabricated person. The language pushed me through about 162 pages. Why 162? Well, that’s when the plot launched off a cliff.
A Creepy Premise
At this point in the novel (and this is on the jacket so it’s no surprise), two of the family’s grandchildren find a skull in the hollow of a tree in the back garden. Now, I haven’t read that many detective novels but I’ve read a bunch and I can’t recall another book where a body has been stuffed inside a tree. It’s inventive and unsettling. That French mentioned this scenario a long time ago in an utterly different context in In The Woods leads me to believe the image stayed with her for years. This book is the product of that idea unfurled and explored.
A Subtle Slow Plot
Some online reviewers have complained at the book’s slow-moving plot. I understand. I don’t care for literary writing where the paragraphs are as long as the page. But I can forgive it here because when the plot does kick in, it’s fascinating. After the kids find the skull, detectives show up of course and begin investigating. They swoop in and out as the family processes how in the world a dead body ended up in their tree. Many conversations occur among Toby the narrator, his girlfriend, his uncle Hugo, and his cousins. In long involved exchanges, they talk casually but what they say is loaded with meaning. I tried to decipher every word for a clue about who killed the person in the tree. The puzzle kept my interest.
Ultimately, the long stretches of dialogue mostly occur at Uncle Hugo’s place, Ivy House, which can arguably feel claustrophobic and painstaking. An online reviewer mentioned how the book felt like a One Act play. I can’t dispute that. It’s true.
Vivid Character Portraits
But within that framework, we learn many lurid details about Ivy House and Toby and his cousins. There are several suspects, all credible in their potential for murdering. French deep dives into each’s personality, masterfully leaving us with more questions than answers. Though Toby’s cousin Susanna seems like a responsible mother, she also went through a wild phase and is sharp-sighted. Toby’s other cousin Leon seems volatile and repressively angry but his lack of courage doesn’t fit in with an aggressor’s profile. Uncle Hugo seems just plainly reserved and guileless. We’re guessing until the end.
A Broader Readership
Until now, all of French’s Dublin Murder Squad novels have featured detective protagonists. This one is narrated by an easygoing young guy. The police are on the periphery as outsiders. So, unless you delight in this tricky family, you may not like the book. If you’re open to a crime fiction novel not narrated by a detective in the traditional way, you might like it.
My One Disappointment
The ending to this story is shocking and yet fitting. It’s hard to discuss without giving it away so I won’t go into detail. But I noticed that one of the characters, very similar in tone and style to a character in In the Woods, ends up with a depressing, ruined life. That, to me, was a bit of a predictable repeat. As I’m halfway through Faithful Place now, my third French book, I’m wondering if I’ll see that crutch again. It may make me step back from the novels. But for now, even though The Witch Elm’s conclusion is a bit unrealistically and unnecessarily dark, it’s a flaw I can forgive. The novel’s extraordinary construction of language and character created an intensely suspenseful story that I couldn’t wait to see resolved. I look forward to what Tana French will write next.