Everything happens somewhere
When I’m reviewing a book, I have a little rubric I follow. (Well, I always mean to follow it anyway…) I think about plot, and about structure. I think about style and setting. And most of all, I think about characterization. Do the characters change and grow? Do I like them? Or at least care about their fate? Do I miss them when their story is done?
Every once in a while—very rarely but it happens—there is an unusual additional character, a subtle but pervasive entity so strong it has its own identity and even plays an important role in the story. It’s the setting, but not just any setting. Even in the most carefully built world, or the most perfectly described location, the setting is where things happen, not how they happen. But now and then, that setting takes a bigger hand in the action. The whole Star Wars universe is a setting, but Hogwarts School is a character, one which plays an important role in Harry Potter’s story. The city of London is the setting for everything from Geoffrey Chaucer to Charles Dickens to Nick Hornby. But London doesn’t play a living, active role like Ankh-Morpork, the City in Terry Pratchett’s Discworld.
“Poets have tried to describe Ankh-Morpork. They have failed. Perhaps it’s the sheer zestful vitality of the place, or maybe it’s just that a city with a million inhabitants and no sewers is rather robust for poets, who prefer daffodils and no wonder. So let’s just say that Ankh-Morpork is as full of life as an old cheese on a hot day, as loud as a curse in a cathedral, as bright as an oil slick, as colourful as a bruise and as full of activity, industry, bustle and sheer exuberant busyness as a dead dog on a termite mound.”― Terry Pratchett, Mort
In all of the different times visited by the time-traveling academics in Jodi Taylor’s Chronicles of St. Marys, History itself is the elephant in the room, looming, waiting to pounce on the unwary. In each of these tales, the setting is more than just a “where”. It’s an actual agent of change. Of course, it isn’t every single setting and every scene of the story that acts, but usually one piece of the world—a magic school, a special city, a space ship, even a forest like the Enchanted Forest in Patricia Wrede’s Dealing with Dragons or Forest, the pissy and actively hostile woods of Lois Lowry’s Messenger.
As I was reading the first two books of Patricia Sands’ Love in Provence series, I realized that the setting itself, Provence, is a subtle but powerful force. Yesterday she joined me here to talk about her writing and about what the setting of her books means to her.
On the evening of her twenty-second wedding anniversary, Katherine Price can’t wait to celebrate. But instead of receiving an anniversary card from her husband, she finds a note asking for a divorce.
Fifty-five and suddenly alone, Katherine begins the daunting task of starting over. She has her friends, her aging mother, and her career to occupy her, but the future seems to hold little promise—until, after a winter of heartbreak, Katherine is persuaded to try a home exchange holiday in the South of France.
In Provence, bright fields of flowers bloom below medieval hilltop villages with winding cobblestone streets. Charmed by the picturesque countryside, the breathtaking Côte d’Azur, and the enchantment-filled boulevards of Paris, Katherine feels life opening up once again. Lavender perfumes the air, and chance encounters hint at romance and passion. But memories of heartbreak and betrayal linger—and her former life waits for her back home. Can she find the courage to begin again?
The painful memories from her life back in Toronto will never be distant enough, but Katherine Price finds peace under the autumn sky in the South of France…and a deepening, dizzying love with Philippe. Together, they savor the delicacies and splendor of life, toasting to a future filled with happiness and hope—a life far away from the heartache they both knew so well.
But during a trip to the medieval village of Entrevaux, a strange note turns into a dangerous car chase. Philippe reveals he has a troubling secret—and the couple’s new life together threatens to crumble before it can begin. Now that Katherine has everything she’s ever wanted, is she about to lose it all?
Promises to Keep is the heartfelt second addition to award-winning author Patricia Sands’s Love in Provence trilogy—and a stirring reminder that it’s never too late to be joyfully surprised by love, life, or even yourself.
“It’s a big universe. Everything happens Somewhere,” says Doctor Who (“The Doctor, The Widow & The Wardrobe”). But I would answer that just as in this episode, and in the Narnia stories it’s based on, sometimes it’s the Somewhere that makes everything happen. To an extent, that’s what occurs in both The Promise of Provence and Promises to Keep, the first two volumes of Patricia Sands’ Love in Provence series.
The story begins on Katherine Price’s wedding anniversary, as she heads to her job in Toronto. Looking forward to celebrating with her husband, she returns home earlier than usual. There she finds his traditional gift, a bouquet of roses, one for each of the twenty-two years they’ve been married. Not so traditional is the letter that accompanies the roses, telling Katherine that he is leaving her for a younger woman, and that they are expecting a child. As her carefully built world collapses, Kat is devastated. In her mid-fifties, she wonders if her entire life has been a sham, and if she has anything left to believe in or trust. I find it entertaining that Katherine’s married name is Price, as she slowly begins to realize that the “stress-free and structured” life she thought she was leading was actually one where the price—giving up her own dreams and even identity—was just too high.
Infidelity, a betrayal of trust, an end to a relationship—these aren’t new storylines. But this isn’t a romance where the new hero swoops in to rescue her. It isn’t even the trope where the philandering spouse comes to realize what he’s lost and seeks forgiveness. Instead it’s the story of how Katherine slowly starts to get to know a woman who’s been invisible for twenty-two years: herself. Her first act is the wonderful destruction of her husband’s beloved Venge bicycle. (She piles the pieces outside for him to collect, after inking RE before the Venge logo on the frame.) Tentatively, Katherine lets herself lean on and accept help from the other women in her life, her ailing mother, and her two best friends. As she gets to know this stranger in her own skin, Kat remembers a promise a younger Katherine made to herself, that she would return to France, the country she’d fallen in love with as a girl. After a few trial runs, she embarks on a home exchange trip to France.
And that’s where the setting comes into its own. Although still nervous about handling everything by herself, Katherine makes it to Provence, and even manages the rental car. Then it happens.
“As she rounded a corner, cresting a small hill, she suddenly pulled the car to the side of the road and burst into tears.
In front of her was a postcard scene from Provence in June. An enormous field of golden sunflowers glistened with an intensity that was hard to believe, as if someone had plastered a Visit Provence poster smack in her face. To one side was the classic mas, with its outbuildings, the shades of the yellow-gray limestone farm structures softened by the mid-afternoon sun. Traditional weathered blue shutters on the south facing windows and doors were flung open in this fine day. […]
She stepped out of the car and hollered at the top of her lungs, “I’m here. I’ve done it! Je suis arrivée!”
Provence, the place and the people, slowly seduces Katherine. As she opens to accept the gifts it offers, she finds herself both healing and becoming the person she lost during her marriage. She still doesn’t know if she could ever trust in a relationship, but as she meets the wealthy Australian Nick and the enigmatic local Philippe, she begins to wonder if that could be possible. In the second book of the series, Promises to Keep, Katherine continues to grow, to take new chances on promises, even if it means facing the possibility of loss.
Katherine’s healing and growth is a slow and cautious process, and at every step the people and places of Provence are a beautifully described and real force, supporting and celebrating her change. But it’s a slow, almost incremental process, one in which the tiny pieces of everyday life and friendship and love are rediscovered and celebrated. If you are looking for a fast-moving story with lots of action scenes, steamy sex, and dramatic events, these aren’t the books for you. But if you’re interested in a careful exploration of a mature woman discovering just who she is, and whether that’s even a person she likes, then I recommend this series. I would give five out of five stars for the beautiful writing, compelling description of an all-too-common betrayal, and most of all for Katherine’s change and growth. My only disappointment is that I’ll have to wait a few months for the next book. In the meanwhile, I’m going to miss my good bookfriends, Katherine and Provence.
*I received this book for free from the publisher or author in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.*
Book Titles: The Promise of Provence & Promises to Keep (Books 1 & 2 of Love in Provence series)
Author: Patricia Sands
Genre: Women’s Fiction/ Romance
Publisher:Lake Union Publishing
Length: 466 pgs (The Promise of Provence) & 226 pgs (Promises to Keep)
Release Date: Updated edition release date October 6, 2015
For more info about Patricia Sands and her books: