Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Book review of The Frenchman by Lise McClendon

French Village Diaries book review The Frenchman by Lise McClendon #FranceBT
The Frenchman by Lise McClendon
on tour September 8 to 21
(mystery) Release date: September 8, 2017 at Thalia Press 278 pages


In this 5th installment of the Bennett Sisters Mysteries (beginning with Blackbird Fly), attorney Merle Bennett goes to France for an extended stay to drink in the essence of "la France Profonde" and write her own novel. But the countryside is not as tranquil as she hoped. A missing Frenchman, a sinister one, an elderly one, a thieving one, and a vandalizing one: all conspire to turn Merle's sojourn of reflection into a nightmare of worry. Where is Pascal, her French boyfriend? Who is the man with the terrible scar? Why is someone spray-painting her little stone house in the Dordogne? And will her novel about the French Revolution  (snippets of which are included) give her a soupçon of delight or a frisson of danger?
Works fine as a stand-alone


I read Blackbird Fly, book one in the Bennett Sisters Mysteries series, in 2014 and have been a bit of a fan since then so it was great to back in France with Merle Bennett, and once I started this book, it just got better and better.

Merle has arranged her life and work in New York to enable an extended period of time to be at her house in the Dordogne, hoping to attack her house ‘to-do’ list as well as have time to start writing her novel and catch up with her sexy French detective Pascal. However, things don’t go to plan as one by one people and situations crop up that demand her time, attention and inquisitive mind.

Merle is independent, but gives herself 100% to help others too. She finds herself coping with vandalism, building work, a strange request from a local goat farmer’s daughter and the uncertainty of her relationship with Pascal. As with all the books there is a great sense of family and despite Pascal’s mysterious absence Merle is never alone, as her sisters are always there for each other.

There are lots of plots running alongside each other, including Merle’s story, Pascal’s story, where we get a look behind the scenes of some of the best known wine areas in France and Odette’s story, the girl in the novel Merle is writing that is set in the French Revolution. I liked this. It kept my interest as each time one story began to peak, Lise switched us to the next one, which always left me wanting more, right to the end where everything was nicely sewn up.

This is a great mystery, set among the vineyards of France and pretty golden coloured villages of the Dordogne, perfect for a late summer getaway.


French Village Diaries book review The Frenchman by Lise McClendon #FranceBT
Lise McClendon is the author of fifteen novels of mystery, suspense, and general mayhem plus short stories. Her bestselling Bennett Sisters mystery series began with "Blackbird Fly". She also writes thrillers as Rory Tate, the latest of which is "PLAN X." Her short story is included in this fall's noir anthology, "The Obama Inheritance." She lives in Montana.
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You can read my review of Blackbird Fly here and The Girl in the Empty Dress here.


Monday, September 18, 2017

Perfect September weather

French Village Diaries September sunrise Pays Mellois Nouvelle Aquitaine
September sunrise

This morning was a perfect September morning. A misty, cold start, it was still dark when we left the village on the school run, but once the fog lifted we were treated to clear open skies, with the wind turbines silhouetted against the orange sunrise. It was still and calm, so the steam from the power station cooling towers, 88km (55 miles) away on the River Vienne, sat dark like a bruise, the only imperfection on an otherwise perfect sky. Weather wise, it was day full of promise.

This is our fourteenth September in France and over the years we have come to recognise that foggy starts will produce warm, blue-sky days. However, never in our fourteen years have we had to wait until 18th September for a day like today. It has been a summer of water restrictions and doom concerning the drought conditions, but looking back it hasn’t been a good summer in terms of heat and sunshine. We did have an official heatwave in June, but it seems that peak of heat so early on was all we were going to get and since then it’s been unsettled. We even had rain on four of our six days on our cycling tour and not once did we feel too hot or fatigued from high temperatures.

French Village Diaries potager fruit vegetable harvest gardening
September garden produce
The garden, however, has loved it. It has been a real bumper year for crops, fruit in particular and despite the dull, damp days of August, we suffered no blight on the tomatoes. My kitchen this afternoon is littered with grapes, peaches, pears, apples, quince, figs, squash, tomatoes, peppers and aubergines, all freshly picked. The only thing I have been disappointed with is the courgettes, but then there is never enough of those in my opinion.

Fruit is being served with every meal and I’ve even surprised myself with the quantity of pears and peaches I can put away daily with no unpleasant side effects. Dinner this evening was roasted vegetables, quince, figs and chickpeas in Moroccan spice and tomorrow I’ll be busy roasting and preserving more of the same. I feel a week of chutney, jam and jelly making coming over me, with hopefully some warm sunny afternoons to walk the dog and tend to the garden. September weather, please be kind to us for a little while longer, we have missed you.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Mark Beaumont's Around the World in 80 Days Cycling Challenge

Mark Beaumont's Around the World in 80 Days Cycling Challenge French Village Diaries #80days #ArtemisWorldCycle
Mark Beaumont #80days #ArtemisWorldCycle

Having recently completed our six-day cyclingadventure around the Deux-Sèvres department of France, the amount of support we received was something I hadn’t expected, but certainly an important factor in keeping our spirits up. We had a live tracker app running on Sarah’s phone and this enabled people to follow our progress and come out to meet us in the right place and at the right time. I was also humbled by the many comments we received saying we were an inspiration, and I appreciate we are all different, but what we achieved in comparison to the cyclist we cheered on today was nothing. Mark Beaumont, who is attempting to cycle around the world in 80 days is a true inspiration. You can read more about his challenge on his website here.

Mark Beaumont's Around the World in 80 Days Cycling Challenge French Village Diaries #80days #ArtemisWorldCycle
Mark Beaumont #80days #ArtemisWorldCycle
Mark left Paris on his bike 78 days ago and has been cycling ever since, covering over 200 miles a day, surviving on about four hours sleep and having to consume around 9000 calories daily to keep him fuelled up. He has been heading east since leaving Paris, cycling through Europe, Russia and Asia before flying due south from Beijing to Perth. He cycled east to Brisbane, flew to Invercargill on New Zealand’s South Island, cycled to Auckland and then flew north to Anchorage in Alaska. He then cycled across North America to Halifax Nova Scotia, before flying to Lisbon in Portugal. He has crossed Spain and the Pyrenees and is back in France cycling in the rain on the final push towards Paris. This is extreme cycling and we couldn’t let the opportunity pass to cheer him on as he cycled through Poitou Charentes this afternoon.

Mark Beaumont's Around the World in 80 Days Cycling Challenge French Village Diaries #80days #ArtemisWorldCycle
Mark Beaumont #80days #ArtemisWorldCycle

We too set off east, but in the car this time, stopping regularly to check our route against his tracker information that seemed to only update every fifteen minutes (and he can cover quite a number of kilometres in fifteen minutes). Despite using three mobile phones on 3G, an iPad tethered to one of the phones, an atlas and the sat nav, we missed him to begin with, but once we knew which road he was on we were off again. We followed him, caught him up, overtook him and pulled in ahead of him to wait. It was quite exciting to see him approach and be able to do some clapping, cheering and giving of words of encouragement, just like we had received a week ago. That same tired face I’ve seen on his daily video updates, often looking tired enough to fall asleep while talking to the camera, looked up, smiled and lifted one hand from his handlebars to give me a thumbs up in thanks.

Mark Beaumont's Around the World in 80 Days Cycling Challenge French Village Diaries #80days #ArtemisWorldCycle
Me, looking rather excited at meeting Mark Beaumont

Mark is scheduled to cycle to within 180 miles of Paris this evening and finish his epic journey tomorrow afternoon, meaning if all goes to plan he will have smashed the Around the World in 80 Days Challenge, by completing it in 79 days.

Best of luck Mark, you are an inspiration. 

#80days #ArtemisWorldCycle

Saturday, September 16, 2017

46 and feeling fabulous

French Village Diaries 46 and feeling fabulous
At the end of the Tour de Rêves
Well, it has been quite a week and if you can't toot your own trumpet on your birthday, then when can you?

This time last week we were just finishing off our six-day cycling challenge that had seen us complete a figure of eight, 437km route around the Deux-Sèvres department of France. 

French Village Diaries 46 and feeling fabulous
Tour de Rêves, day 6, rain again
We had rain on four of the six days, head winds no matter what direction we were headed in, a bit of sunshine and with quite a bit of hill climbing it was certainly a challenge. However, it was also great fun thanks to the support we received, by the bucket load. If you would like to donate to the children's make a wish association Rêve, you can do so here, thank you.

French Village Diaries 46 and feeling fabulous
Early birthday lunch with café gourmand in La Rochelle
While we were away cycling Adrian's Mum was holding the fort at home (and by this I mean conquering my ironing mountain, among other things) and although sad to say goodbye to her on Tuesday, I was happy she chose to fly from La Rochelle as Adrian treated me to lunch, with a café gourmand dessert. I need a La Rochelle fix every now and then, just wandering around makes me feel a little tingly inside. It also felt quite indulgent starting my birthday celebrations four days early.

French Village Diaries 46 and feeling fabulous
L'Hermione in Rochefort
Not only did I get lunch in La Rochelle, I also got an afternoon in Rochefort where we saw L'Hermione, the replica of an 18th century French frigate (built to defeat the British) that was launched in 2015 when she sailed across the Atlantic to commemorate her predecessor's voyage to aid the American War of Independence in 1780.

French Village Diaries 46 and feeling fabulous
Swallows ready to fly south
Nature has also put on quite a show for my birthday week, every morning the village has been decorated with hundreds of swallows, perched on the phone and power lines like bunting. It's always sad to see them go, but an incredible sight to see too.

French Village Diaries 46 and feeling fabulous
Handmade birthday gifts from the sewing club ladies
Friday was sewing club day and I was spoiled with handmade gifts including a zero calorie (crocheted) cupcake, some not so zero calorie homemade fudge, warm hand knitted socks and homemade walnut wine.

French Village Diaries 46 and feeling fabulous
Birthday gift
We have a tradition in our family - a birthday is not a birthday without some tinned fish and you might note most of my other gifts had a food theme too.

French Village Diaries 46 and feeling fabulous
Birthday breakfast
While we are talking about food, a croissant from the boulangerie, a pear from the orchard and some homemade quince jelly, served with a coffee and dark chocolate. This was the perfect start to my special day.

French Village Diaries 46 and feeling fabulous
New exercise clothes

Those of you who knew me in my youth would probably not have thought exercise clothes or six day bike rides would form any part of my future, let alone feature at my 46th birthday. Well, if I'm honest, neither did I, but I'm glad they did. The rest of the day will also involve cycling, beer, Cremant d'Alsace (think Champagne) and homemade pizza - bring it on!

Cheers! To your good health.

Friday, September 15, 2017

France et Moi with author Angela Wren

Welcome to ‘France et Moi’ where this week as part of the France Book Tours virtual tour for her new release Merle, I am talking to author Angela Wren about what France means to her. You can enter a giveaway and read my review of Merle here.

French Village Diaries France et Moi interview Angela Wren France Book Tours

Firstly, I think France is a special place and it is famed for many things including its cheese, wine and diverse holiday locations plus, dare I say it strikes and dog poo littered streets. What do you think makes France so very unique and ‘French’?

French Village Diaries France et Moi interview Angela Wren France Book Tours
Angela Wren
Angela: I guess it has to be the etiquette. You walk into the boulangerie to get the daily baguette and everyone says good morning. Does that happen in the UK? In tiny villages in the wilds of Wales or Scotland maybe, but mostly I think not anymore. In large cities, maybe the situation is a little different. But then, I was in Dijon not long ago and met two very friendly French ladies who not only helped me find a specific street that I wanted but also chatted to me about nearby places to see and a couple of other things not to be missed that were not on the route I’d been given by the tourist office! Those two ladies could not have been more helpful. And then there is that very gallic shrug followed by that ‘everything can be managed’ look when a small problem is encountered. There is something so uniquely French, and fascinating, about the etiquette and, even after all my time in France, I'm certain I still don't understand it all!

2) You have now set two novels in the Cévennes in France, where did your love of this relatively unknown area come from?

French Village Diaries France et Moi interview Angela Wren France Book Tours

Angela: Robert Louis Stevenson is definitely to blame for that! I first read his book ‘Travels with a Donkey’ as a teenager at school and at the end of the summer term that year I went on a school trip to Italy but we travelled by train from the port of Calais to Venice. I was mesmerized by the landscape of France. Later, when I was in my twenties I met some friends in the Cévennes and, having re-read Stevenson’s book, I spent some time there visiting all the locations detailed in ‘Travels’. The scenery is breath-taking, the villages small and sparse and there’s a quiet wildness there that I’ve never found anywhere else. The weather can change in a moment and the sun can be relentless. The history is fascinating and, in the village where I like to stay, it is so silent that, between the cattle being driven to and from the high pastures, you really can hear the grass grow!

3) How does France inspire your writing?

Angela: Just by being what it is. The very first scene in Messandrierre was inspired by a change in the weather in September 2007. The previous day had been sunny but a persistent cold wind had lowered the temperature. The next morning, I awoke to a light flurry of snow and ground, trees and houses wearing a white mantle. Later in the story, Jacques gets caught out in a terrific thunder storm. The description of the storm, the colours in the lightening, the formation of the clouds – all of that I witnessed for myself one year when I was there. As for the little exchanges between the villagers, most of those have come from something I’ve overheard at the market or in the baker’s or butcher’s shop and I’ve taken that comment or remark and asked myself ‘what if?’ and built it into a scene.

4) What is your fondest memory of time spent in France?

Angela: That’s a tough question, there are so many things that have stayed with me. If I have to choose only one then I suppose it would be the first time I visited Orange. I remember travelling down the RN7, the car moving through the shadows cast by the plane trees. It was a blisteringly hot day and as I approached the town, the roman triumphal arch kind of just appeared ahead of the vehicle in the middle of the road. I was stunned by it and also astounded that such a magnificent and precious antiquity was surrounded by cars and exhaust fumes all day, every day. A little further on and I discovered the roman theatre. As an actor, I just could not resist the opportunity to stand on that ancient stage for just a few moments and wonder whose roman feet had also stood in exactly the same spot. Awesome!

5) Every region in France has its own culinary specialty, do you have a favourite regional dish?

Angela: Hmm, that depends on where I am.  I don’t spend all my time in one place whilst I’m there. I love Porc Normande and I’ve perfected my own recipe for use at home. I am also very partial to a Tarte Normande too. Clafouti is a must when I'm in the Limousin. Those beautiful black cherries are to die for! And that's either by themselves or in a clafouti. I can't resist those cherries when I find them in the supermarket or on a market stall. Flan aux Marrons is something I will always pick up when I’m in and around the Cévennes. And if I really want to spoil myself I will buy some Marrons Glacés. When in Burgundy, if Mousson du Canard is available I will always buy some of that and when in Alsace, it’s jambon forêt noir. But the one dish that I have always wondered about is Rôti de Veau. I first came across this in the Vendée. It’s a rolled piece of veal roasted with garlic, mushrooms and white wine and once cooked, cream and more wine are added to the meat juices to create a sauce. It’s taken me quite a while to perfect the dish and to get it to taste exactly how it did the first time I ordered it from the menu in a small village restaurant in Notre Dame de Riez. Sadly, although the restaurant is still there, the original chef is not  I genuinely don’t know if that is a regional dish or not, but it is absolutely delicious! Then there's the pâtisserie - I'm not sure if I should admit this, but my map of France is covered with notes about what to buy from each shop. So it's Mille Feuille in the pâtisserie by the chateau in Prémery, Tarte au Citron in St Pourçain and... I think I'd better stop there. I'm in danger of giving away all my secrets about France!

6) Imagine you are sitting outside a French café at 10.00am on a sunny morning watching the world go by, what do you order from the waiter?

Angela: That’s easy. A large black coffee and a croissant.

7) France has many different cheeses, a silly question, but which French cheese are you? A hard and mature Tome, a soft, fresh and lively goat cheese, the creamy and rich Camembert or maybe the salty and serious Roquefort?

Angela: Hmm – what an interesting question. I love cheese and some of my most favourite are Gruyère, Camembert or Brie. A Vacherin Mont d'Or is good but I prefer it when it’s young - it has the capacity to be seriously odorous as it matures! I suppose I would have to say that I’m a Morbier. A cow’s milk cheese, it is traditionally made from a layer of evening curd, covered with ash and then supplemented the next day with the curd from the first milking. That kind of fits with my love of history and tradition and my need to be sensible in the use of resources available. When mature, the cheese is a mellow creamy-yellow colour with a dark line through the centre which provides a bit of grittiness to the taste. That kind of fits with me too. I can be quite steely when I need to be.

8) France has some beautiful cities and there are a few that constantly battle to be my favourite, what is your favourite French city and why?

Angela: Yet another almost impossible question to answer! I suppose everyone is tempted to say Paris, as am I. It is a magnificent place. Le Puy-en-Velay has its own charm and an interesting history and must come a close second, I think. And then there’s Mende, not to mention Rheims, Dijon, Nantes, Chartres, the stunning wine villages of Alsace, Burgundy and many, many other places.But if you are forcing me to choose again, then it has to be Villefranche du Rouergue. An old bastide surrounded by a more modern town, with a fascinating history, a fabulous market every Thursday with the most amazing stall selling herbs, spices and oils. I swear you can smell that stall from the other side of town!

9) If money and commitments were no object where in France would you like to own a property and what sort of place would it be?

Angela: My place would have to be a large mountain chalet that was half-way up an Alp with views across the countryside. I’d like a patio all the way around the property with chairs and tables and a barbecue area. Oh and can I have a red Ferrari in the garage too please?

10) Do you have any plans to visit France again soon?

Angela: Yes. I’m always planning some trip or other to France as I like to spend as much time as possible over there.

Finally, I know I want to read more about your main character Jacques Forêt, but do you have any plans to write more of his adventures?

Angela: Yes. I’m already working on book 3 which has the title Montbel.  This is an old case and Jacques is asked to investigate by one of the relatives of the man who died. The investigation takes Jacques into an underworld of lies, deceit and stolen identities. As yet the story is at an early draft. I expect there will be another two or three drafts at least before I’m completely happy with it. Hopefully it will be out towards the end of 2018. There is a fourth book, which doesn’t have a title as yet, but does have an outline of a crime, a victim and a perpetrator, but that’s about it. I’m hoping that this book will be out at the end 2019 or the beginning of 2020. I don’t know if there will be a fifth book or not. Originally, I only ever envisaged 4 stories for Jacques. Maybe when I begin to write book 4 I will see more stories, I don’t know.

Thank you for taking the time to answer some questions about France and you.

You can follow Angela on Facebook and Twitter and visit her website and blog.