Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Book review of Hate Bale by Stephanie Dagg

French Village Diaries book review Hate Bale by Stephanie Dagg
Hate Bale, A rural cosy mystery by Stephanie Dagg

Hate Bale by Stephanie Dagg

Grumbling guests and escaping piglets are precisely what Martha doesn’t need. She’s already struggling to run a holiday cottage and a rather large smallholding single-handedly. Since her husband Mark died, three years ago, her rural property in France, beautiful as it is, has become an increasingly heavy millstone around her neck.
So whilst she’s horrified to stumble across a corpse at the local farm supplies shop, it does at least distract her from her own woes. Best friend Lottie, the cheese to Martha’s chalk, swoops in to offer moral support, and encourages Martha to join her in some unofficial sleuthing. Meanwhile, police officer Philippe Prudhomme, a former fellow chess-player of Mark’s, undertakes a rather more professional investigation. 
However, despite everyone’s efforts the killer remains at large. And when more bodies (one and a bit, to be precise) come Martha’s way, it definitely feels like he’s closing in on her… 
There’s suspense, humour and excitement in this entertaining cosy mystery set in the French countryside.    

French Village Diaries book review Hate Bale by Stephanie Dagg
Hate Bale by Stephanie Dagg

My Review

I’ve been a fan of Stephanie’s writing for a number of years and I know I will be entertained, find myself at the heart of a rural French community and pick up a few new words along the way too. This book was no exception. The characters were great fun; from frazzled Martha who seemed to have developed a habit of being in the wrong place at the wrong time, to Mrs Miserable, the impossible-to-please gîte guest, as well as ever-present Officer Prudhomme and larger-than-life Lottie, the friend who always looks out for her despite their many differences.

With a never-ending list of jobs to do on her smallholding and the needs and whims of her gîte guests to be catered for, the last thing Martha needs is for bodies to begin mounting up around her. Even if she has nothing to do with them, it is a worry, and the increased police presence is beginning to bother the guests. It was easy to feel sorry for Martha, but at the same time it was nice to witness her making the first steps towards her new life without her husband. 

Despite the sometimes grizzly circumstances, there were lots of funny moments to laugh along with, plus a who-dunnit mystery to be solved and a hint of romance, and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Hate Bale is another great read from Stephanie and would be perfect for those of you who enjoy visiting the ‘real’ France in the pages of your summer holiday reads.

French Village Diaries book review Hate Bale by Stephanie Dagg
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. Taking on seventy-five acres with three lakes, two hovels and one cathedral-sized barn, not to mention an ever increasing menagerie of animals, has made for exciting times. The current array of creatures ranges from alpacas to zebra finches, with pretty much everything in-between! Before we came to France all we had was a dog and two chickens, so it's been a steep learning curve. 
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. As well as being an author, I’m also a part-time editor and, with Chris, manager of three carp fishing lakes. My hobbies are cycling, geocaching, knitting and sewing.

Social Media Links

Friday, April 12, 2019

Images of Poitou and the Pays Mellois

French Village Diaries des Racines et des Ailes Pays Mellois
Poitiers, one of the largest French cities in the Middle Ages

Des Racines et Des Ailes du Poitou aux Iles des Charentes. 

French TV doesn’t seem to have many fans in the English-speaking community here. We all know we should watch it, for cultural, current affairs and language reasons, but there are many reasons not to. With games shows, dubbed US series and lots of films, following in French isn’t easy and when you are tired at the end of the day, a bit of relaxing, watching something familiar, in English, without having to think, is often what is needed. I get that.

A recent programme on French TV that I did watch and enjoy was Des Racines et Des Ailes du Poitou aux Iles des Charentes, set in our local area. Des Racines et Des Ailes (the roots and the wings) is a long-running French series where each episode highlights a particular area of France, focusing both on the history (the roots) and stunning aerial photography (the wings).
French Village Diaries des Racines et des Ailes Pays Mellois
At two hours, it was a rather long programme, but as we flew over the chateaux and medieval forts (our area was once a boundary to be defended between French-ruled France and English-ruled France), took a tour of Aliénor of Aquitaine’s 12thCentury Poitiers and got a close-up look at artisan life on the Atlantic islands of our region, this programme had it all and time flew by.
French Village Diaries des Racines et des Ailes Pays Mellois
Ile de Ré
I learned more about the Protestant history of the Pays Mellois, where worshipers had to meet in secret, but it was their presence in the area that resulted in the small town of Celles-sur-Belle becoming home to a huge Abbey and church; a statement piece to showcase Catholicism. I also discovered sea turtles are common in our Atlantic waters and those who are unfortunate to be washed up on the beaches (they can be around 40 years old and weigh almost 60kgs) are cared for in a sanctuary attached to the aquarium in La Rochelle, before being released off the Ile de Ré. Plus, now I know more about the history of Poitiers, I need to make a return visit as my list of sights to see has grown.

If you get the chance to watch any episodes of this series, with a bit of French I’m sure you will learn a lot, and even without the language, the scenery will make it worth your while.

Pays Mellois

French Village Diaries des Racines et des Ailes Pays Mellois
Méli our local mascot
Our local tourist office has also produced a new series of short promotional videos about the Pays Mellois, the first of which you can watch below, and I’ll leave the link on the blog sidebar for future views. In it you will meet Méli, our local (goat) mascot, who loves to share this special area almost as much as I do.

Thursday, April 4, 2019

Book review of One Summer in Paris by Sarah Morgan

French Village Diaries review One Summer in Paris Sarah Morgan
One Summer in Paris US cover

One Summer in Paris by Sarah Morgan


After 25-years of marriage, Grace can’t believe when her husband announces that he doesn’t want to join her on their long-planned trip to Paris—he wants a divorce instead! Reeling from the shock and devastation, Grace makes the bold decision to go on this holiday of a lifetime alone. As she gets settled in her hotel, Grace meets Audrey, her 18-year old neighbour who has run to Paris to ‘learn the language’ (in reality, she’s escaping her mother’s struggle with alcoholism and unintended neglect).

Both characters, heartsore from personal rejections, forge an unlikely bond. Audrey is rebellious, wild and desperately unhappy and Grace is severely lacking in self-confidence. Together, over one magical summer in Paris, they’ll help each other overcome the pain they’re both wrestling with and discover stronger, happier versions of themselves.

French Village Diaries review One Summer in Paris Sarah Morgan
One Summer in Paris UK cover

My Review:

This book is highly charged with emotions and relationships; family, friend, lover, those that work and those that don’t, all are there, and all are intense from the beginning. At times it was emotionally exhausting, but rather addictive too, and lots of elements of this book have stayed with me since I finished reading it.

Audrey, 18 and alone in Paris with very little resources, simultaneously strong and in control, but vulnerable and lonely underneath. Paris is her escape plan, but with no one to share the problems at home, at first, she feels guilty and not quite as free as she expected to feel. I loved Audrey, despite her troubles she was fresh, lively and open to new opportunities as well as being a caring and understanding young woman, but throughout the book I worried whether she would find the strength required to start to trust people around her and open up about her life.

Grace, broken following her husband’s betrayal, alone for the first time in her life and despite being in Paris, feels rather lost to begin with. A chance meeting with Audrey, and the book shop that becomes a special place for both of them, and slowly being in Paris starts to do her some good. Her journey to recovery is a long one, with a few direction changes along the way, that takes her back to her childhood and her issues with control, but how will she know who to choose to find her happy-ever-after?

At times I felt the location took a second place to the emotional journeys in this book, although there is no doubt you are in Paris. However, my favourite place in the novel was definitely the bookshop. It was old, dusty and with hidden places hiding long lost secrets. The answers to so many things seemed to be there, just waiting for the right person to pick up the right book and make the right connection. It made me want to get myself to Paris, find an old bookshop and lose myself within the shelves.

This book will be a great holiday read this summer, especially for those who like to feel their way through the emotions of the characters rather than just follow their journey.

One Summer in Paris by Sarah Morgan and published by HQ is released today in the UK, in ebook and paperback format, and on April 9th in the US. Links to Amazon can be found below.

Saturday, March 30, 2019

The morning after the night before

French Village Diaries bollox to Brexit soirée
Bollox to Brexit

The morning after the night before

And we are still hanging in there. Following 33 months of uncertainty, fear, and anger at a situation we were thrown into without being given any reliable or reassuring information, or answers to any of our questions, and unbelievably the 29thMarch has been and gone and nothing has changed.

The 29th March was always going to be a difficult day for me; a dark day, a day to retreat within and block out the world, but at least I thought by now we would know; deal or no deal, date of exit, the new rules we will now need to abide by. But no, nothing.

There has been no ring-fencing of citizens’ rights, there has been nothing the British government can agree on and we are no closer to understanding what happens to our futures and how we can run our business and live our lives. That is 33 months of nothing.
French Village Diaries bollox to Brexit soirée
Let the party begin
Whatever the final outcome, the damage has been done; hearts have been broken, families and friendships fractured, and Britain has become a divided rather than United Kingdom. I trust no one in UK politics to unravel this mess they have created; in fact, I doubt they could even organise a piss-up in a brewery. I on the other hand, along with some equally fed up Brits in France, certainly can. A few weeks ago (when Brexit was still due to blindly happen on 29thMarch) six of us were having lunch. The Brexit issue reared its ugly head, as usual, and one friend offered to host an evening on 29/3, so we wouldn’t have to sit alone and mope. Adrian then suggested seeing if the village bar was free that night, so we could invite a few others and the idea of a karaoke was suggested.
French Village Diaries bollox to Brexit soirée
Fish & Chips at the village bar
The bar was free, and we were offered a fish’n’chip supper with dessert for 10€ a head, and in a matter of hours, word of mouth had filled all 40 seats and our Bollox to Brexit soiree was born. That, Mrs May, is how you rally the troops.

Last night forty lost souls felt slightly less alone as they celebrated the good things about life in France; the sense of community, the village bar and the wine. For one night we gave ourselves permission to let our hair down, to sing loud and forget our Brexit worries; it was a night of music and laughter, a much-needed pause in the madness. It is difficult to laugh when the world you’ve worked hard to achieve is unravelling, but laughter is a great medicine and one we all needed last night.
Today we are back to waiting, wondering and worrying, but we at least are a little bit more united than we were before.

Vive la France and the good old village bar.

This post has been linked to the Lou Messugo #AllAboutFrance link up.

Lou Messugo

Sunday, March 24, 2019

Update on my 2019km cycling challenge

French Village Diaries #KTTinyTourer 2019 cycling challenge Ile de Ré Canal de la Garonne
#KTTinyTourer Ile de Ré

2019 Cycling Challenge

This year, with my new bike Katie the Tiny Tourer, I have challenged myself to cycle 2019km, which is a significant jump from the 700km I managed in 2018. As the end of the first three months draws near, I thought it would be a nice idea to update you on how I am doing.

I’ve never really been keen on cold winter rides and even less keen on wet and windy ones, so I was expecting to complete the majority of my kilometres during the summer months. However, a new bike, a challenge and the need to have something positive to focus on (Brexit still pops into my headspace all too often and with negative effects), combined with mild weather, and I have done better than I thought. Splitting the kilometres over the months equally, I should have cycled 505km by now, whereas I’ve actually managed 611km.

Ile de Ré

So far it has been a case of little and often that has accumulated my kilometres, but we have also had a couple of proper days out with café stops, picnics and fun in the sun on the Ile de Ré. On our last visit I couldn’t resist treating Kate the Tiny Tourer to a mascot, something small and fun that can travel with us as we make our pedal-powered way along the back roads of France. 
French Village Diaries #KTTinyTourer 2019 cycling challenge Ile de Ré Canal de la Garonne
Annie the Ile de Ré donkey
I’m delighted to introduce you to Annie, the Ile de Ré donkey. Fascinating fact time: the Ile de Ré is probably the only place in the world where donkeys traditionally wore pyjamas and I think you’ll agree Annie looks particularly fetching in hers. Donkeys were used on the island for agricultural work, kelp harvesting on the coast and working on the salt beds, as well as the main form of transport between the villages. The salt marshes on the island attract flies and mosquitos that attacked the donkeys, so to protect them they were dressed in trousers made out of recycled shirts. 
French Village Diaries #KTTinyTourer 2019 cycling challenge Ile de Ré Canal de la Garonne
Ile de Ré donkeys
In the summer you still see dressed-up donkeys, as the tourists like it (possibly more than the donkeys), but at our out of season visit the donkeys were happily munching the grass and wandering around naked.
French Village Diaries #KTTinyTourer 2019 cycling challenge Ile de Ré Canal de la Garonne
Cycling the Canal de la Garonne Cicerone guide book

Canal de la Garonne

Next month, if all goes to plan, I should get even further ahead of my target as we make our way from Bordeaux to Toulouse along the Canal de la Garonne, on a six-day, 350km tour. Adrian has the route and accommodation all sorted, has ensured we have enough spares and luggage to carry everything, and has even planned for emergency coffee stops. As we will be early in the season and following the towpath, rather than back roads from village to village, this time we will be taking our new lightweight trekking stove and Bialetti coffee pot with us. We just need to create ourselves a Bialetti bracket to hang the coffee pot from a bike, photos to follow, I promise.


We still have a few weeks left to get as bike fit as possible before we set off and thanks to Marc, my new yoga teacher, I’m feeling in good shape. I hadn’t realised how much I’d missed a regular yoga class until Phoenix Yoga set up a couple of weekly classes in a nearby village, but I’m loving it and even hoping Adrian will join me.