Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Book review of The Poppy Field by Deborah Carr

French Village Diaries book review The Poppy Field Deborah Carr
The Poppy Field by Deborah Carr

My review today is for The Poppy Field, the second historical novel by Deborah Carr. 

This year marks the 100th anniversary of the end of the First World War.
Young nurse, Gemma, is struggling with the traumas she has witnessed through her job in the NHS. Needing to escape from it all, Gemma agrees to help renovate a rundown farmhouse in Doullens, France, a town near the Somme. There, in a boarded-up cupboard, wrapped in old newspapers, is a tin that reveals the secret letters and heartache of Alice Le Breton, a young volunteer nurse who worked in a casualty clearing station near the front line.
Set in the present day and during the horrifying years of the war, both women discover deep down the strength and courage to carry on in even the most difficult of times. Through Alice’s words and her unfailing love for her sweetheart at the front, Gemma learns to truly live again.
This is a beautifully written epic historical novel that will take your breath away.
French Village Diaries book review The Poppy Field Deborah Carr
The Poppy Field blog tour
My Review:
I enjoyed getting to know Gemma, discovering why she is alone in a run-down farmhouse in the Somme area of France and what had happened to make her run away from her old life. It is soon apparent that her sadness and vulnerability are only partly masked by her independence. Fate, or maybe the farmhouse itself, leads her to local builder Tom, who soon begins to help her with her task of restoring the house, so her father can sell it. Tom and Gemma both have secrets from their past, but it’s the discovery of a box of letters, hidden in an outbuilding on the farm, that help them decide what they want for the future.

The letters take us back to 1918 where volunteer nurse Alice Le Breton is working in a casualty clearing station not far from the frontline trenches. Just like Gemma, I too became absorbed in Alice’s life; the exhaustion, the relentless convoys bringing in more wounded men, the strict rules imposed on the girls by Matron and the nursing sisters. Deborah’s writing brought to life the horrors of trench warfare from the point of view of the nurses, most of whom had little training or experience before the war. The dirt, the lice, the infected wounds and then the gas attacks, meant there wasn’t much for them to look forward to, especially as fraternising with the patients was forbidden.

Alice was dedicated to her job, independent and determined to live her life to the full, despite the risks involved, and I didn’t want to stop reading until I discovered what became of her after the war ended.

This book switches from one era to another, which worked well for me, and I also enjoyed seeing the similarities between Gemma and Alice, as well as discovering places with Gemma in 2018, that Alice had visited in 1918. This is a well-researched book that I think is a beautiful tribute to mark the 100thanniversary of the end of the First World War.

Author Bio:
French Village Diaries book review The Poppy Field Deborah Carr
Deborah Carr
Deborah Carr lives on the island of Jersey in the Channel Islands with her husband, two children and three rescue dogs. She became interested in books set in WW1 when researching her great-grandfather's time as a cavalryman in the 17th 21st Lancers.
She is part of ‘The Blonde Plotters’ writing group and was Deputy Editor on the online review site, for seven years. Her debut historical romance, Broken Faces, is set in WW1 and was runner-up in the 2012 Good Housekeeping Novel Writing Competition and given a 'special commendation' in the Harry Bowling Prize that year. The Poppy Field is her second historical novel.

You can find and follow Deborah on her WebsiteFacebookTwitterInstagram and Pinterest.
French Village Diaries book review The Poppy Field Deborah Carr
The Poppy Field by Deborah Carr publication date 12th October 2018
The Poppy Field is out now in ebook and paperback format and is a must read for those who enjoy well-researched fiction set during the First World War. Links to Amazon can be found below.

You might also like Deborah’s first historical novel Broken Faces, also set during the First World War. If you are interested in historical reads, where romance and history are nicely combined, I’m sure you will enjoy it. You can read my full review here.

Monday, October 15, 2018

100km in a day

French Village Diaries 100km in a day bike ride
Village art along the way
For the fourth consecutive year, I, Jacqui Brown, now aged 47 years old, have cycled my 100km in a day birthday challenge.

French Village Diaries 100km in a day bike ride
The clock tower in St Jean d'Angeley
Despite knowing I am less cycle-fit this year than last year, I was still determined to give it my best shot and think it’s worth celebrating my achievement, even if a lack of time to plan a new route meant we re-ran last year’s route to St Jean d’Angeley.

French Village Diaries 100km in a day bike ride
Homeward bound on tree-lined roads
You know life is busy and hectic when an event like this gets squeezed in around other commitments, seems like the easiest thing you’ve achieved in the last few weeks and then quickly becomes forgotten in the craziness of life.
French Village Diaries 100km in a day bike ride
Following (in the wrong direction) the Chemin de St Jacques
The weather was perfect; calm, sunny and not too hot, and taking the back roads through small villages meant there was always something to catch my eye and give me a good excuse to hop off the bike and take a photo or two.

French Village Diaries 100km in a day bike ride
Beer and pain aux raisin halfway there treat
As usual, our halfway point was marked with a beer and a patisserie, sat in a shady square in St Jean d’Angeley. Here we met another couple of cyclists out for one of their first rides on a pair of matching Brompton bikes. Adrian was rather excited to spot the Brompton’s as his beloved Brompton (Delila) lives in the UK and I think he misses her when he’s back with us in France. If I had a crystal ball, I’m sure I’d see a vision of the two of us cycling on Bromptons here in France in the not too distant future.

French Village Diaries 100km in a day bike ride
Look at these beauties!
I certainly hope to celebrate many more birthdays in this way with Adrian, my route planner, by my side, and have to credit our neighbour Pierrette who is a real inspiration to me. She will be having a hip replacement next month, but despite this, and being 78 years young, she is still out on her bike every weekend. She claims that although uncomfortable to walk, cycling doesn’t hurt her hip at all - until she gets off the bike. I may not be doing 100km in a day when I’m 78, but I do still hope to be cycling, just like Pierrette.

French Village Diaries 100km in a day bike ride
Home for a dip in the pool!

Cycling is more than good exercise, it is also a great way to clear your mind, focus on something different and escape the stresses of daily life. The past month or so has seen me drowning in dossiers of French paperwork, helping friends in situations that have tested my translation skills to the max, as well as learning a lot about friendship, compassion and what the important things in life really are. I’ve even had the excitement of a film crew in the village, interested in our worries and concerns as the Brexit nightmare looms ever closer.

Ed in Poitiers

I am slowly accepting that Ed is doing OK living on his own in Poitiers, hasn’t starved to death, and is occasionally cooking real food as well as opening tins and reheating the contents. In fact, Poitiers is becoming reassuringly familiar and from what I have seen, I am not at all surprised it is ranked in 2nd place in terms of quality of student life, for towns in France with up to 40,000 students. I still feel rather cheated that he had signed his first rental contract at only 17 years old, but this has probably helped me come to terms with the fact that by the time this week comes to an end my baby will be a child no more, but an 18-year-old adult who is already well on his way to an independent future.

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Book review of Haircuts, Hens and Homicide by Stephanie Dagg

French Village Diaries book review Haircuts, Hens and Homicide Stephanie Dagg
Haircuts, Hens and Homicide by Stephanie Dagg

Haircuts, Hens and Homicide

Megan finds mayhem when she arrives in France to bury her Gran and sort out her affairs. She expected difficult encounters with civil servants and red tape but not with wandering chickens, an imperious policeman and a dead body. Together with her unlikely new friend, the elderly and grumpy Alphonse and his canine equivalent, Monsieur Moustache, Megan becomes involved in investigating the fowl-related foul play that’s at work in this sleepy part of rural France. 
She’s helped but mainly hindered by the people she comes across. These include the local mayor, who wants Megan to stay and set up a hair salon in his village to help keep it alive. There are the cousins Romain, the gendarme, and Nico, the clumsy but hunky farmer. They have always clashed, but do so constantly now that Megan is on the scene. Michelle, Romain’s terrifying ex who wants him back, appears along the way, as does Claudette, a wheelchair-bound old lady, and Kayla, Megan’s best friend, who is hugely pregnant but not above taking on the forces of French law and order when Megan finds herself the prime suspect after Alphonse is stabbed.
There’s excitement, humour and lots of ruffled feathers in this rom-com slash cosy mystery, the first in a projected series.

My review

I have been following Stephanie for many years and have always enjoyed her writing style, and this book was no exception.

Megan isn’t in a great place. With her mum no longer on the scene, burying her Gran (who brought her up) and sorting out her house and belongings is something she has  to go through alone, and in France. From her arrival, things start to veer off plan, mainly thanks to strange goings on that seem to involve foul play with chickens. She soon makes an impression on the local gendarme, as she always seems to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, and life is certainly not as calm as she was expecting it to be, especially with the queue of ladies (of a certain age) wanting a new look hairstyle from her. It is when she becomes involved in investigating the mysterious happenings in the village, and then finds herself the main suspect, that things start getting serious.

This is a fun read with a great story line that perfectly captures life and the quirky characters you meet in rural France and I often found myself laughing at the characters as I read it. With the added bonus of a mystery to be solved, a hint of romance, some unexpected twists and a real baddie intent on causing as much trouble as possible; I loved it from beginning to end and couldn’t put it down.

I’m so pleased to read that there will be more books in this series from Stephanie as I’m hooked and can’t wait to find out what happens next for Megan.

French Village Diaries book review Haircuts, Hens and Homicide Stephanie Dagg
Stephanie Dagg

French Village Diaries book review Haircuts, Hens and Homicide Stephanie Dagg

Author Bio

I'm an English expat living in France, having moved here with my family in 2006 after fourteen years as an expat in Ireland. I now consider myself a European rather than 'belonging' to any particular country. The last ten years have been interesting, to put it mildly. Taking on seventy-five acres with three lakes, two hovels and one cathedral-sized barn, not to mention an ever increasing menagerie, makes for exciting times. The current array of animals includes alpacas, llamas, huarizos (alpaca-llama crossbreds, unintended in our case and all of them thanks to one very determined alpaca male), sheep, goats, pigs, ducks, geese, chickens and turkeys, not forgetting our pets of dogs, cats, zebra finches, budgies , canaries, lovebirds and Chinese quail. Before we came to France all we had was a dog and two chickens, so it's been a steep learning curve. I recount these experiences in my book Heads Above Water: Staying Afloat in France and the sequel to that, Total Immersion: Ten Years in France. I also blog regularly at
I'm married to Chris and we have three bilingual TCKs (third culture kids) who are resilient and resourceful and generally wonderful.     
I'm a traditionally-published author of many children's books, and am now self-publishing too. I have worked part-time as a freelance editor for thirty years after starting out as a desk editor for Hodder & Stoughton. Find me at The rest of the time I'm running carp fishing lakes with Chris and inevitably cleaning up some or other animal's poop.   

Sunday, September 16, 2018

Lazy Sunday in France, Poitiers

Ed was home for the weekend, so we decided to combine taking him back to uni with a day out in Poitiers. Morning coffee, a picnic in Blossac park and a tasty sweet treat, all with blue sky and sunshine was just perfect for a Lazy Sunday in France and I really can't think of a nicer way to have spent my 47th birthday. 

French Village Diaries Lazy Sunday in France Poitiers
Morning coffee, Place du Maréchal-Leclerc, Poitiers

French Village Diaries Lazy Sunday in France Poitiers
Sunny morning in Poitiers 

French Village Diaries Lazy Sunday in France Poitiers
With Ed, Parc de Blossac, Poitiers

French Village Diaries Lazy Sunday in France Poitiers
Parc de Blossac, Poitiers

French Village Diaries Lazy Sunday in France Poitiers
Quirky ducks, Parc de Blossac, Poitiers

French Village Diaries Lazy Sunday in France Poitiers
Sitting by the fountain, Parc de Blossac, Poitiers

French Village Diaries Lazy Sunday in France Poitiers
A birthday Broyé du Poitou

Friday, September 14, 2018

Book review of Blame it on Paris by Lise McClendon

French Village Diaries book review Blame it on Paris Lise McClendon

Lise McClendon Blame it on Paris

Release date: August 24, 2018 at Thalia Press
256 pages


In this seventh installment of the Bennett Sisters Mysteries, Francie goes to Paris when she is accused of wrongdoing in her law office. She has received a mysterious letter connecting her ex-husband to an American student jailed for drug crimes. A chance encounter with an old boyfriend makes her spring in Paris more exciting but between the accusations against her at home, and the difficulty of doing any good in Paris, things are never smooth for a Bennett sister in France


Blame it on Paris sees us back in France with Merle Bennett and one of her sisters, Francie, and this time it is Francie who gets most of the main action. Following an accusation at the law firm in the US where she works, she finds herself with enough time on her hands to investigate the case of a forgotten American, imprisoned in Paris on drug charges. Paris, an investigation to solve and a hint at romance; I couldn’t wait to get stuck into this book.

Strange and often dangerous situations seem to have a habit of finding the Bennett sisters and they can’t help but become caught up in the middle of them. However, they are a force to be reckoned with; intelligent, knowledgeable in law and with real determination to discover the truth, no matter how much it has been hidden - never underestimate them. 

Despite feeling this book had less drama than the previous books in the series, and missing being in Merle’s cottage in the Dordogne, there was still a lot to enjoy here. Lise created a real sense of place with the setting of this book and I could easily imagine myself in Paris, by the River Seine, and taste the delights the sisters and Merle’s partner Pascal discovered in the many hidden away bistros they visited. I enjoyed Francie’s sense of discovery and chance of romance that Paris gave her, but as always in this series of books it’s the twists and turns of the investigation that I love. Francie and Merle are led to many doors, but not everyone is keen to talk or help them, but perseverance, team work and with the delicious Pascal on their side, I had no doubt they would be able to unravel the truth in the end.


French Village Diaries book review Blame it on Paris Lise McClendonLise McClendon is the author of sixteen novels, mysteries, and thrillers, including her popular Bennett Sisters series featuring five sisters who are lawyers. Lise herself is not a lawyer but a francophile scribbler who enjoys imagining different lives, loves, and adventures. Her first mystery, The Bluejay Shaman, was published in 1994. She lives in Montana.
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French Village Diaries book review Blame it on Paris Lise McClendon