Saturday, February 18, 2017

Book review of Stuck With Me by Cassandra Piat

Book review Stuck With Me Cassandra Piat French Village Diaries Neverland Blog Tours
Stuck With Me by Cassandra Piat

Today I am taking part in the weekend blitz virtual book tour for Stuck With Me by Cassandra Piat, hosted by Neverland Blog Tours.

Book review Stuck With Me Cassandra Piat French Village Diaries Neverland Blog Tours
Cassandra Piat
As this book is set in Mauritius I appreciate I am stretching the boundaries of France here, however culturally Mauritius is quite French and almost 19 years ago we spent our honeymoon there. It was lovely to be back, even if only in the pages of a novel.

Molly is a happy soul and it’s her always-smiling persona that Adam is interested in discovering more about. Adam is a journalist ‘forced’ into writing a feature on happiness. One week, all expenses paid at a beach side hotel in Mauritius, with Adam doing his best to counterbalance Molly Sunshine; it should be the easiest assignment he’s ever worked on.

However, it doesn’t take him long to discover there is more to Molly than her smile and the chemistry between them begins to make things spark. As well as some great descriptions of the beautiful island of Mauritius (thankfully our two characters are keen to leave the all inclusive resort and explore), this book is good fun, with just enough romance to give a warm and squishy feeling inside.

This book was ticking it all for me in terms of chick-lit formula. Boy and girl thrown together, a love/hate relationship that soon becomes chemistry with tingles and fluttering heart rates, then deception and disappointment rear their ugly heads, despite us always wanting true love to conquer. However, just when I thought that was all it had to offer, I was pleasantly surprised. The author deals with anxiety issues suffered by one of the characters in a sympathetic way and portrayed the emotions this stirred up for those caring for someone with anxiety very well. This added an extra layer of feelings and emotions to the book and was all the better for it.

This book is a perfect, easy (no-thought-required) holiday read that is packed full of laughter and emotions, and that will transport you to Mauritius, a very special place.

Book review Stuck With Me Cassandra Piat French Village Diaries Neverland Blog Tours
Blog Tour Stuck With Me by Cassandra Piat
Stuck With Me is published by Island Girl Publishing and is available in ebook format. Link to Amazon is below.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Book review of Loving Le Corbusier by Colin Bisset

Loving Le Corbusier Colin Bisset review French Village Diaries
Loving Le Corbusier by Colin Bisset

I thought my review today should be one with a love theme and Loving Le Corbusier by Colin Bisset; a novel with passion, loyalty, hard work, but sadness too, seemed to be the perfect choice.

This is a novel based on the real life characters of Ed, Le Corbusier, and his wife Yvonne, told through her eyes. Le Corbusier, a Swiss born architect who took French nationality, designed some of the first modern tower blocks that revolutionised the way we lived post-war. Designed as villages on stilts with facilities on site, rooms flooded with light and views for all, his creations were always functional and clean lined and very different to anything that had come before. He is famous the world over, although I admit that until this book arrived in my inbox I knew very little about him. Now, I am hooked.

I love a novel based on fact; the strength of real characters and events, but the author’s take on their inner thoughts and feelings, and I found this a fascinating book. Yvonne Gallis, or Von as Ed calls her, who wasn’t in the spotlight quite like her husband, came to life through the author’s writing. I warmed to Yvonne, laughed at the jokes Ed and Von shared and felt her sadness when she was often left alone as he worked away. Ed and Von came from very different backgrounds, met and fell in love in Paris and although she loved him dearly, she never quite seemed to be able to see or understand his modern ideas. His vision and ambition, and her lack of either, almost drove them apart and troubled her mind. I felt her heartache; she knew Le Corbusier loved her, but she also knew his career would always come first.

This book offers a great insight into life before, during and after the Second World War, so perfect for those interested in historical fiction as well as with an interest in Le Corbusier and his struggle for recognition. Whilst set mainly in Paris, we also get to join them on the coast, as theirs was the lifestyle where you left Paris (and your troubles behind) for the summer. The years of the Occupation were not easy for France and the author portrays these difficulties well, especially for Von, who seemed quite lost and lonely during this time. She never gave up loving him, but she never quite lost her desire to return to the simple life they shared before his fame. I learned a lot through the pages of this book and Yvonne, and her life, have stayed with me long after the final page.

Loving Le Corbusier is available in ebook format, link to Amazon below.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Tour de Rêves, a charity bike tour of the Deux-Sèvres

Tour de Rêves charity bike ride Deux-Sèvres French Village Diaries
Tour de Rêves Tour Four
photo copyright Megan MacDonald 2017

Those of you who also live in the Deux-Sèvres might have seen my photo (and Adrian’s) splashed across the centre pages of the February edition of The Deux-Sèvres Monthly magazine, where our charity cycling challenge was launched.
Tour de Rêves charity bike ride Deux-Sèvres French Village Diaries The Deux-Sèvres Monthly
The Deux-Sèvres Monthly Magazine February 2017

Welcome to the Tour de Rêves

Tour de Rêves charity bike ride Deux-Sèvres French Village Diaries
Tour de Rêves 4-9 September 2017
This September Adrian and I along with Sarah and Rob Berry (from The Deux-Sèvres Monthly) will be attempting to cycle around the Deux-Sèvres department following a 6 day, 400km (or maybe a little more) figure of eight route devised by Adrian.

Starting on Monday 4th September in Secondigny, in the centre of the department, we will make our way south to the Pays Mellois, then west to the Marais Poitevin and Niort before heading to the north of the department, that for me at least is very much uncharted territory. From Parthenay to Thouars to Bressuire, Adrian says we will find hills, but hopefully the flatter terrain in the south will have warmed our legs up nicely by then, well, that is my ‘fingers-crossed’ plan.

Why Tour de Rêves?
Rêves is the French word for dreams and also the name of the French children’s charity that Sarah has chosen to raise money for. As you might have guessed, Rêves makes dreams come true for children with serious medical issues. In her own words:

“I chose the Rêves charity simply because I can’t have children myself, so it would be wonderful to help others”.

Tour de Rêves charity bike ride Deux-Sèvres French Village Diaries
My Deux-Sèvres research
On a personal note, a cycle tour of the Deux-Sèvres is a dream idea for me. The Deux-Sèvres has been our home for over twelve years, despite never having heard of it until we started house hunting and found ourselves meeting with an estate agent in Chef Boutonne, a small market town in the southern tip of the department. Over the years I have come to love it here, but ashamedly the north of the department is still a bit of a mystery to me. I have started my research already and over the coming months I will share my findings and we can learn together about the history, the chateaux, the Romanesque churches, the Donjon, the rivers, the wetlands, the fairytales, the pilgrimage routes and the food we are hoping to see and sample. Oh yes, Deux-Sèvres might be relatively unknown, even to the French, but it’s not short of interesting places to visit.

France (with a lot of help and encouragement from Adrian) has made me into a cyclist and cycle touring is the perfect way to explore. You see what would only be a blur of landscape from a car window. You smell the fields, verges and hedgerows as you cycle along. You feel the contours of the land, the sun on your back, and sometimes the wind and rain in your face. It is a 100% experience and I’m excited to be off exploring once more, despite the physical and mental challenge cycling 400km in six days is going to be for an almost 46 year old. 

Tour de Rêves charity bike ride Deux-Sèvres French Village Diaries
My winter training zone
I might be used to days out on my bike, but six days in a row and cycling in a team is going to be a new experience for me. Sarah and Rob might be new to cycling, but Rob is no stranger to sports and exercise and Sarah is five years younger than I am (with longer legs). I already know I slow Adrian down when we are out on the bikes and know I have to be careful and remember my limits, so I’m worried I will be the weakest link in our group. The what-ifs of living with epilepsy can be a challenge for my mind everyday, but with training, careful planning of rest stops and meal breaks, and not setting too fast a pace, I am determined I can do it.

How you can help
Nearer the time we will let you know how you can donate to Rêves (collection boxes will be placed in various locations along the route), but we are also looking for business sponsorship. 

We need cycle tops so we are recognisable to the cheerers, wavers, encouragement shouters and cyclists we are hoping will join us along the route, and maybe you can help us with these? 

We would also be very grateful of any help with accommodation for the Marais Poitevin, Parthenay and Bressuire stages. I can assure you that any offers of help will receive lots of (free publicity) shout-outs here on my blog and on my social media accounts, also from Sarah in The Deux-Sèvres Monthly tour publicity, and you may even be able to have your logo on our tour shirts. Please contact Sarah if you would like to help.

We are all very excited by the planning of this challenge and hope you will enjoy joining us on our journey.

You can read the full article from The Deux-Sèvres Monthly online by clicking here.

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Book review of Sweet Encore by Karen Wheeler

French Village Diaries book review Sweet Encore Karen Wheeler memoir
Sweet Encore by Karen Wheeler

My review today is for the fourth memoir by Karen Wheeler, Sweet Encore; a road trip from Paris to Portugal, that also takes us to her home in rural France along the way.

There is something very comforting about Karen’s writing style and being back in one of her memoirs is like meeting up with an old friend for a good girly catch-up. Life in her French village is moving on, the bar has re-opened, other new faces are arriving and changes are afoot for Karen too. Rural France might not have the fast pace and excitement of city living, but that doesn’t mean it is dull either, especially as Karen has a gift of noticing the little things and sharing them in a way that made me smile.

In this book Karen and her dog Biff are joined by Arianna, her niece; sent to Auntie Carrie’s reform school for the summer – well that is what her Dad is hoping. Worried that rural France might not live up to teenager Arianna’s expectations, Karen thinks big. What better way to bond with her niece (who lives on the other side of the world) than hop in a car and take a road trip through France, northern Spain and into Portugal? Along the way Karen shares with us the sights they see, lessons she hopes Arianna will remember and more importantly the fun and laughter they enjoyed too. Those who have read Tout Soul will understand Karen’s desire to visit Portugal, home to her friend Luis, and there are some very moving moments when their road trip arrives in his village. I’ve never been to Portugal, but Karen’s descriptions and obvious love for it, especially the pastéis de nata (custard tarts) and Vinho Verde (local white wine), made it seem to be worth a visit just to sample them.

French Village Diaries book review France in Four Seasons Karen Wheeler memoir
France in Four Seasons by Karen Wheeler

When I read Sweet Encore it was Karen’s latest memoir about life in France, but for those of you who enjoy her writing as much as I do, I’m delighted to let you know there is a new baby in her series of books. France in Four Seasons, with the same gorgeous artwork that entices you into all her books, is out now as an ebook. This is a collection of short stories and articles she has written over the years about her French village life. It is like a catch up as well as a revisit – some new stories, some felt more familiar, but all are 100% Karen and packed full of her fabulous descriptions. I was also delighted when she asked to include my France et Moi interview with her in the book – I wonder can I now class myself as almost published?

If you are looking for some easy-read books to help take you away from the gloom of winter, these two will be perfect.

You can read my reviews of Karen’s previous books here:

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Book review of Taste of the French Caribbean by Chef Denis

French Village Diaries book review Taste of the French Caribbean Chef Denis blog tour
Taste of the French Caribbean by Chef Denis

Today I am taking part in the blog tour for the Taste of the French Caribbean by Chef Denis.
French Village Diaries book review Taste of the French Caribbean Chef Denis blog tour
Chef Denis
Denis Rosembert was born on the island of St.Lucia where he started training to be a chef in 1973. After a couple of years he was invited to England to continue his training. Since then Denis has worked in various hotels and restaurants across Britain and America in the role of Commis, Sous and finally Head Chef. In 1989 he moved to Norwich, where after a brief stint working for the Sports Village, he finally realised his dream and opened his own restaurant Chez Denis. This is his first cookbook. You can follow Denis on Twitter

While this book may only have a tenuous link to France, the one thing I have missed since moving to France is a bit of hot and spicy food, so with it’s Jerk and Creole Caribbean spice flavours, I couldn’t resist this book. In A Taste of the French Caribbean, Chef Denis shares a great mix of recipes, from soups, fish, meat and vegetable dishes, plus sauces and desserts. From the beginning the soup section excited me, yes I know, but I do love a good warming and full-flavour soup and Chef Denis has quite a selection. This summer, with our potager harvest, I will be trying out his Creole Tomato soup and his Courgette and Mint soup. His Roast Pumpkin and Ginger one was as delicious as it sounds (although I used a home grown winter squash rather than a Caribbean pumpkin) and the Red Onion soup is next on my list to try. I also found I was drawn to the sauce section as this is where so many lovely flavours were combined that can be used to enhance lots of ordinary weekday meals, the curry sauce in particular I can see becoming a regular in my kitchen.

A book with it’s roots set in the Caribbean naturally contained some unusual and (for me at least) new ingredients. Thankfully Google came to my rescue with images and descriptions of Christophene, Kalaloo leaves and even pig tails, as I wasn’t sure at first if he really was using piggy tails! He was, and as someone who is more than happy to make a pig trotter stock I was quite excited by this discovery. I loved that this book opened my mind to new ideas, including the use of sweet potato in a lemon drizzle cake, something else I am determined to try (the list kept growing), especially as from a first glance none of the recipes look daunting.
French Village Diaries book review Taste of the French Caribbean Chef Denis blog tour
My spicy vegetable and béchamel sauce
As part of my review I agreed to do a taste test and was given one of his recipes to try and have to admit to being rather surprised at being given Vegetable Lasagne. When I think of Caribbean recipes, lasagne doesn’t immediately spring to mind, but when I noticed the addition of Creole Pepper Sauce, I was intrigued and couldn’t help feel that a bit of spice would be a perfect addition. However, I live in rural France and I searched high and low for Creole Pepper Sauce only to be left disappointed. Not one to give up I searched online for an ingredient list and then added a tiny pinch of turmeric and mustard powder to a teaspoon of French Purée de Piment (puréed hot pepper sauce). I hope Chef Denis forgives me, I certainly loved the warming kick it gave my vegetable sauce. I also had to substitute roasted winter squash for the baby corn and mangetout in the recipe as France is much more into selling seasonal produce than Tesco is.

I have a real love hate relationship with lasagne. I love it, but compared to most pasta dishes it is quite a hassle, so I find I rarely make it. It was therefore a nice change to give this recipe a go and as well as loving the pepper spices, I also loved the addition of a bay leaf and 50ml of white wine to the béchamel sauce (something I have never done, but will be doing again). The only thing that would have been nice is someone to do the washing up for me; lasagne seems to create quite a collection of saucepans and utensils, but it was worth the effort. Here is the recipe, should you wish to give it a go.
French Village Diaries book review Taste of the French Caribbean Chef Denis blog tour
My Chef Denis Vegetable Lasagne

Lasagne pasta sheets
For the cheese sauce
50g butter, 50g plain flour, a bay leaf (remove before serving) and 500ml milk cooked into a béchamel sauce
50ml dry white wine plus 125g grated cheese stirred into béchamel sauce
150g grated cheese for the topping

For the vegetable sauce
2 cloves of garlic chopped
1 bay leaf
1small red onion diced
1 courgette diced
8 baby corns
100g mangetout
150g mixed peppers diced
1 tbsp tomato puree
100g plum tomatoes chopped
Mixed herbs
1 large aubergine diced
1 tbsp brown sugar
1tsp Creole pepper sauce

1. Sauté the vegetables in a pan with hot oil, add mixed herbs and tomato puree, cook for two minutes. 
2. Add chopped tomatoes, pepper sauce and sugar, simmer for 20 minutes
3. Cook until the vegetables are tender.
4. Place the lasagne pasta in a baking tray in layers. On top of the first layer, pour some of the cheese sauce, then another layer of the pasta followed by the mixed vegetables, more pasta and cheese sauce and so on.
5. You should have four layers in total. The last layer should be cheese sauce. Sprinkle the grated cheese over the top.
Bake until brown. 

French Village Diaries book review Taste of the French Caribbean Chef Denis blog tour

Taste of the French Caribbean is published by Clink Street Publishing and is available in ebook and hardback formats. Links to Amazon can be found below. If you love cooking meals that have a bit of spice and heat, I'm sure you will find lots to please in this cookbook.