Wednesday, June 3, 2020

Book review of The Day Henry Died by Lynda Renham

French Village Diaries book review The Day Henry Died Lynda Renham
The Day Henry Died by Lynda Renham


Suppose you wake up one morning to find yourself dead. You can see yourself clearly in the mirror, and feel the same as you did the day before. But today is the day of your funeral. What do you do?

This was Henry’s dilemma. Henry decides he can’t possibly be dead, so he sets out to prove he is alive. Then, he discovers that Rita, a product demonstrator at the supermarket, can see him. 

Even with the help of Rita, proving you’re not dead was harder than Henry imagined, but when Henry discovered that he was murdered, the question was why and by whom?

My review

This was one of those books with a synopsis so intriguing I couldn’t turn it down, despite it having no link to France. 

We meet Henry, his wife Imogen and his friend Rita in the most unusual circumstances. Henry wakes up to find nothing in his normal routine is the same and this makes him feel out of sorts, a feeling that only gets worse when he reads his own obituary in the newspaper over breakfast.

Henry is not one to be deterred, so he arrives at work as usual, to find no one can see or hear him and someone else is working from his desk. He tries to find his wife Imogen, but she isn’t at the greengrocers where she works, and at the back of the shop he finds her colleague preparing the flowers for his funeral, that afternoon. Desperate to find out what has gone wrong and why everyone thinks he’s dead, Henry needs a plan. Popping into the supermarket he is surprised to find that Rita, who he often chats to as he samples the products she is demonstrating, can see him and hear him.

Together they take the bus, in the rain, to Henry’s funeral. It is not at all what Henry had imagined, it’s in a church for starters and most of the small congregation he hardly knows. He needs Rita’s help to put right this mistake of being dead and let Imogen know he’s OK. Rita is frightened of death, but not of Henry, in fact the more she gets to know him, the more she enjoys his company and having someone in her life, even if he is dead.

Henry is a precise man, has a well-ordered and perfect life, but being dead makes him see that under the surface maybe things weren’t so perfect after all. He revisits major moments in his married life and gets to see things he never noticed at the time. Can he find a way to get back to Imogen and can what he now knows make a difference to his future? 

This book is certainly something different and stretches what we think of as normal in life and death. I like different and enjoyed Henry’s after death journey, and despite my best efforts to work out where it was leading, had no idea what would happen.

Author bio

Lynda Renham is author to many popular romantic comedy and gripping psychological thriller novels. She lives in Oxford, UK. She has appeared on BBC radio discussion programs and is a prolific blogger, Twitter and when not writing can usually be found wasting her time on Facebook. Lynda lives in Oxfordshire with her second husband and two cats. 

Buy links 

This book is available in kindle and paperback versions from 1st June 2020 and the kindle price is currently only 99p / $1.21   

Monday, June 1, 2020

Covid-19 Deconfinement in France, phase two

French Village Diaries hello June, hello normal cycling Charente Chateau
Cycling in the Charente

Hello June, hello normal

Welcome to June, a month that seems a long way from March when everything went a bit crazy in the world. We have just spent a lovely weekend doing things like cycling and meeting our friends, and there is a real feeling in the air that life is slowly returning to normal once more.

The second phase of deconfinement in France begins this week and will see bars, restaurants and holiday accommodation opening up again, as well as the lifting of the 100kms from home restriction. We are free to roam, to stay away and to stop for refreshments once more although sensible social distancing and wearing of masks will be our new normal. The bar in our village has a sign up saying it will be open from 8h30 on Thursday 4th June and we already have plans to meet friends there for a drink. It might still be a while before we can experience one of our legendary soirees with a packed restaurant, generous buffet and live music that slips into raucous karaoke as the clock ticks by and the night becomes morning, but I’m just happy it will be open again soon.

I have now cycled my first 1000km of 2020, including over 150kms this week, discovering new places even though we’ve not been more than forty kilometres from home. On Saturday evening we cycled to friends and enjoyed an outdoor curry and games night, with wine, music, laughter and real-time, face to face conversation. It was fantastic fun and social distances were maintained throughout the evening. 

French Village Diaries hello June, hello normal cycling Charente Chateau des Chevaliers de Londigny
Chateau des Chevaliers de Londigny, Charente

On Sunday Adrian planned a bike loop of 57km that quite by chance took us past the Chateau des Chevaliers de Londigny, a beautiful fairy tale castle with towers and turrets, almost hidden in the gently rolling hills of the Charente countryside. It has been there since the 15th Century and we have lived here for over 15 years, but this was the first time I’d so much as glimpsed it. A little bit of research has shown me that it is a B&B as well as having a gatehouse cottage to rent.

French Village Diaries hello June, hello normal Lou Messugo Côte d'Azur
Photo ©LouMessugo website

We have even been starting to think about a week’s holiday with the bikes, on the Côte d’Azur, thanks to some brilliant news on Friday. I was the lucky winner of a Facebook giveaway; three nights at Lou Messugo on the Côte d’Azur, just a 26km bike ride from Nice. Owner Phoebe and I have been blogging friends for years, but have never met, so I really can’t wait get down there, especially as they have been busy decorating the accommodation during lockdown. Maybe 2020 is going to redeem itself a little having already hit us with Brexit, Covid-19, Adrian’s isolated 50th birthday, losing our nephew Ben and no work for over two months. A bit of south of France sunshine and a new area to explore by bike is just what we need.

French Village Diaries hello June, hello normal Team Kharma cycling #forBen
JustGiving #ForBen

Team Kharma update

Team Kharma, our virtual cycling team is gaining strength, even though we still have a week to go until we are off. As a team we will be logging the 7500km that represents the distance from Loughborough to Istanbul and back as we raise money for charities helping young people with mental health issues, in memory of our nephew Ben. As well as our local friends, who we will hopefully be clocking up the kilometres with, thanks to the power of social media, we have reconnected with friends in the UK from our corporate lives over twenty years ago, who are also keen to get on their bikes and help us. The For Ben; To Turkey and Back, Facebook page is the place to go to see how big this event has become, including video messages of support from celebrities and sports personalities, encouraging over 800 people who are taking part and who have already raised over £25,000. We can’t wait to start our part of this challenge.

Thursday, May 28, 2020

For Ben; cycle challenge to Istanbul and back

French Village Diaries #ForBen cycling 7360km to Istanbul and back
Team Kharma, virtually cycling 7360km to Istanbul and back #ForBen

Cycling Friends wanted for an epic virtual challenge.

For Ben; To Turkey and Back

As some of you may already know we tragically lost our 22-year-old nephew Ben to suicide a month ago. Ben, an army undergraduate, had been instrumental in planning a Trans-Europe exercise with his squadron from Loughborough University to Istanbul and back, for this summer. In his memory, and to raise money and awareness for neurodiversity and mental health issues in young people, his squadron mates set up the virtual challenge, “For Ben; To Turkey and Back”. Over 800 runners and walkers have already begun to log their kilometres in order to get eight teams the 7360kms from Loughborough to Istanbul and back. The original JustGiving target of £4600 was surpassed in 24 hours and currently stands at over £22,000.
French Village Diaries #ForBen cycling 7360km to Istanbul and back
#ForBen Loughborough to Istanbul and back

Team Kharma

Now it’s our turn and we need your help. We have set up Team Kharma and are looking for cycling friends to help us log the 7360kms and if we can, catch up with some of the other teams. All we require from you to join our team is to log your kilometres on a dedicated website (team link will be sent out to anyone wanting to join us) every time you take your bike out. There is no need for Strava etc, just record your distance and any distance will be appreciated. We are not expecting anyone to cover this distance alone, so even if you only use your bike to pop to the shops, we want you on our team. 

We would also love it if you could share the For Ben; To Turkey and Back Facebook page with your family and friends in order to spread the message that no one is alone, there is always someone you can turn to.

For more information check out the Facebook page or the JustGiving page and if you want to join us at Team Kharma, just contact me here or on Facebook. We are planning to start our journey on Saturday, please join us when you can.

Even if cycling is not your thing, we’d still love it if you could share this post, the For Ben Facebook page or the JustGiving page.

Thank you.

French Village Diaries #ForBen cycling 7360km to Istanbul and back
#For Ben; to Turkey and back

Wednesday, May 27, 2020

Book review of Her Darkest Hour by Sharon Maas

French Village Diaries book review Her Darkest Hour Sharon Maas
Her Darkest Hour by Sharon Maas

Her Darkest Hour by Sharon Maas

Book Description

‘You and me – we’re sisters, not enemies. We’ve got a real enemy at our door and we need to focus on that – together, united. I don’t want to be fighting you as well.

In the small French town of Colmar, swastikas hang from lampposts, tanks are lined up outside the town hall, and twenty-one-year-old Marie-Claire is in love. She will do anything for her childhood friend Jacques, including spying on her German boss, Dietrich Kurtz. Anything to make Jacques see her in a new light, as something more than just a silly little girl.

But when Jacques rejects her, everything changes. Mortified and stung, Marie-Claire feels the need for revenge. She turns her back on those she loves and is catapulted into a new life.

Her little sister Victoire is aghast at her sister’s traitorous behaviour, not least because Marie-Claire is endangering Victoire’s own life-threatening mission, hiding Jewish refugees in their mother’s wine cellar. And when Marie-Claire marries Kurtz, Victoire knows her relationship with her sister has been poisoned for ever.

But when Victoire learns someone she loves is in terrible danger, her only choice is to trust the sister who betrayed her. Kurtz, Marie-Claire’s cruel and heartless husband, has key information and Victoire must persuade Marie-Claire to obtain it, even if it means risking Marie-Claire’s life. As secrets come to light and close bonds are broken, will the sisters be able to heal old wounds?

An unforgettable and unputdownable story of two sisters ripped apart by World War 2. Fans of The Nightingale and The Ragged Edge of Night will fall in love with Her Darkest Hour.  

French Village Diaries book review Her Darkest Hour Sharon Maas
Her Darkest Hour Sharon Maas

My Review

A family divided by war. Margaux, Victoire, Jacques and Juliette are all determined to resist the Nazi takeover of their beloved Alsace. Jacques is instrumental as a local Macquis coordinator, Margaux and Victoire hide escaping Jewish refugees in the wine cellar of their chateau and Juliette is working undercover for Jacques. They struggle to accept the actions of Marie-Claire, whose ideas and beliefs have often gone against the family grain. More interested in her looks and the Haute Couture of Paris, than the outdoor pursuits favoured by her siblings, Marie-Claire is quick to accept a prestigious job working for the boss of the local Nazi administration.

At first, when Jacques approaches her for inside help, she is frightened for her own safety, so refuses to assist in anything underhand, but soon events happen that cause her to turn away from her family. At twenty-one, she is both rebelling against her Mother, but also reaches a point where despite the dire situation she finds herself in, fear and pride prevent her from reaching out for help.

With the story moving from character to character, we are with them all, every step of their Occupation journey. The exhilaration of achieving a breakthrough, the pride at being recognised and feeling worthwhile, the terror of attack, the fear of discovery, the humiliation as the realisation dawns and the grief at losing loved ones. This novel is packed full of emotions and love. This is a family who will never give up, no matter what obstacles come between them.

If you’ve read The Violin Maker’s Daughter, also by Sharon Maas (see my review here) you will recognise some of the characters in this novel and I hope you will enjoy the overlap, and revisiting Margaux’s Chateau, as much as I did.

If you enjoy historical fiction and family drama, this is one to add to your kindle this summer.

French Village Diaries book review Her Darkest Hour Sharon Maas
Sharon Maas

Author Bio

Sharon Maas was born in Georgetown, Guyana, in 1951 and educated in Guyana and England. After leaving school she worked as a staff journalist at the Guyana Graphic and the Sunday Chronicle in Georgetown.

Sharon has always had a great sense of adventure and curiosity about the world we live in, and Guyana could not hold her for long. In 1971 she set off on a year-long backpacking trip around South America. In 1973 she travelled overland to India through Europe, Turkey, Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan, and spent two years in an Ashram in South India. 

Sharon on Twitter 

Buy Links


Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Cycling post confinement

French Village Diaries cycling post confinement Gateau Tusson Charente
A family and friends day out on the bikes

Cycling post confinement

We have escaped for our first real adventures on the bikes since confinement was lifted and I can’t tell you how fantastic it felt.

With four friends, plus Ed and Pearl, we spent some quality time cycling in the French countryside, ensuring we kept a safe distance from each other at all times. For the first real bike ride in over two months and Pearl’s first ever proper ride, clocking up 45kms was brilliant. The sunflower fields are now all visible, with their recognisable seedlings already standing proud and promising vistas of golden cheer in the coming months. It was just so good to be out and free.

French Village Diaries cycling post confinement Gateau Tusson Charente
Cakes from Gateaux in Tusson

Our halfway point was the Charente village of Tusson, where we bought takeaway cakes from Gateaux which we enjoyed with our own freshly brewed coffee, on the same benches we had celebrated our picnic Christmas Day lunch. Refuelled with a sugar and caffeine hit was just what we needed to be on our way.

Our return took us through the gently rolling Charente and Deux-Sèvres countryside, stopping in Beaunac to take a minute at the Operation Frankton memorial. This marks one of the points on the Frankton Trail, the route taken by the Cockleshell Heroes as they made their escape, on foot from Bordeaux in December 1942. 

Their story is a fascinating one, ten men, in five canoes were dropped into the Atlantic, just off the Gironde Estuary on the night of 7th December 1942. Their mission was to make their way down the estuary to Bordeaux, under the cover of darkness, and on arriving, attack the cargo ships in the port with limpet mines. Only four of the men made it to Bordeaux and from here they split up and made their way inland, on foot, to Ruffec (about twenty kilometres from us and 200km from Bordeaux) where they joined up with a local resistance network who helped them reach Spain. Only two survived. 

French Village Diaries cycling post confinement Poitiers

We don’t have to travel far from home to find reminders of the history of this area, but the weekend saw Adrian and I travelling a bit further, although still within our 100km radius from home. Using Ed’s flat in Poitiers, where we knew we could be self-sufficient and come into minimal contact with others, we were determined to explore some new routes on the bikes. 

French Village Diaries cycling post confinement Poitiers
Hotel du Ville, Poitiers

Three days and two nights, gave us time to sort out the flat which had been put into hibernation mode on 16th March, ride a total 125kms, and feel like we had been away on a mini break. With the exception that all bars and restaurants are still closed, Poitiers town centre wasn’t looking much different to usual, and it was a bit unnerving that there were still groups of people sitting around together and not respecting social distancing. Luckily, we kept moving and set our course for the outskirts of town where we found shady river paths, quiet villages, forest tracks and very few people. 

French Village Diaries cycling post confinement Poitiers Migné-Auxances
Migné-Auxances, Poitiers

Our first ride took us north towards Migné-Auxances, Futuroscope and Chasseneuil-du-Poitou, a 37km loop that was hot and hilly. We even treated ourselves to a supermarket pizza for dinner, the first meal I hadn’t cooked from scratch since 12th March. 

French Village Diaries cycling post confinement Poitiers route of St Martin
On the pilgrimage route dedicated to St Martin

The rain on Saturday morning meant a lazy lie in, but after lunch we managed a respectable 54km to Vouillé in the west, on a fascinating route that took us through forests and a military shooting range as well as finding ourselves on the pilgrimage route dedicated to St Martin. This route highlights some of the historical buildings that are linked to, or dedicated to, St Martin in the Tours and Poitiers areas. I love stumbling across things like this and spent quite a bit of time looking into the history of St Martin and the five thousand kilometres of marked routes that cross Europe in his name. Adrian, I feel a real adventure brewing.

French Village Diaries cycling post confinement Poitiers Nouaillé-Maupertuis
Fortified Abbey, Nouaillé-Maupertuis, near Poitiers

Sunday morning, we set off to Nieuil-Espoir, to the south-east of Poitiers, where the stunning fortified Abbey at Nouaillé-Maupertuis made a great backdrop for a photo of the bikes. This 35km route was a little bit busier than the previous days, as many people had the same idea as us on a warm and sunny Sunday morning. Luckily, we were able to find a bit more power and pedal ourselves into safer distances from other users of the forest paths. We even managed to find a boulangerie that was open and without a queue, so we treated ourselves to a patisserie each.

I didn’t just feel happy out on the bike, I felt the weight of confinement lifted from my shoulders and I’m pretty pleased with my total of 170km on the bike in a week. I can’t wait to get back out exploring.