Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Book review of The Hairy Hikers by David Le Vay

French village diaries book review The Hairy Hikers by David Le Vey walking Pyrenees
David and his mate Rob decide to set out on the GR10 hiking trail to walk off their mid-life crisis by crossing the Pyrenees from Atlantic coast to Mediterranean coast. We are planning a short trip to the western Pyrenees, taking our bikes, and this book gave me plenty of ideas of places I want to visit.

It would be easy to lose interest in a book where every day the narrative was - got up, had breakfast, booted up, walked mountains, arrived at overnight gite, ate dinner, etc. but there is always a little something of interest or an amusing tale to keep this book a lively read. One of my favourite funnies was set in the dingy broom cupboard of the Internet café trying to find the @ sign on a French keyboard. Much of the humour comes from him being a self-confessed Mr Grumpy, an insomniac and a social numpty, who spent two months, day and night, in close proximity to his mate, often staying in shared gite accommodation with strangers. I would have found it very difficult and he did struggle at times, but it made a very funny read, especially his description of the orchestra of sleeping sounds from his travelling companion.

As you would expect from two blokes alone in the mountains, proudly growing their beards and turning a little feral, talk often turned to farts and with a spot of wild camping, pooing in the woods got a mention too. While some may find this distasteful it amused me no end. It was one of those books I read with a grin.

The writing gave me the impression they were a likable duo who had fun on their adventure, despite the pains and issues they faced, and came out the other side of their mountains appreciating not only what they had achieved, but also the things that are important in life.

The Hairy Hikers: A Coast-to-Coast Trek along the French Pyrenees is published by Summersdale and available in ebook and paperback versions. From now until the 1st September 2014 the ebook is only 99p on Amazon UK. David also has a new book out this summer, A Tour of Mont Blanc: And other circuitous adventures in Italy, France and Switzerland  that I'm looking forward to reading.

Monday, July 21, 2014

The Pendleton Initial Ladies Road Bike from Halfords

We have a new addition to our family who is stylish, sleek and sporty. I’m very excited as she is my first brand new bike since the mint green mountain bike I bought when I was 18 and that I still have, looking sad and neglected in the barn.

I give you the Pendleton Initial ladies road bike from Halfords, funnily enough, the same store I bought my mountain bike from twenty-five years ago.

french village diaries Pendleton Initial road bike Halfords
Pendleton Initial Ladies Road Bike
Cycling has always been important in our French life and even when Ed was only four he was happily riding five km routes with us on the farm tracks, having learned to ride without stabilizers shortly after we moved here. In 2011 we became a family of road bike cyclists, a totally new experience for me. We all started off with second hand bikes and I fell in love with Bluebelle, my 1980’s Mercier bike. Together she and I covered about 2000km a year cycling the back roads of rural France and having fun. We’ve seen fields of all colours, storks, deer, monuments, churches, abbeys, chateaux, forgotten villages, rivers, the Atlantic and more. We even took part in a local event with real cyclists, see here. The decision to upgrade was not an easy one, especially as, until I found the Pendleton nothing had stirred my heart like my old Bluebelle, but for the sake of comfort the time is right to move on. I really hope I have found my forever replacement. I won’t be getting rid of Bluebelle but I think she has earned a quiet retirement.

I have ridden my first couple of hundred kilometres on my new bike and so far, so good. The handlebars are much more comfortable and changing gear is more straightforward, slicker and smoother. Her small frame is just right for my small frame. Ade reckons I have increased my average cruising speed by a couple of kilometres an hour, but I will never be speedy like the real Victoria Pendleton. For me cycling is more about the journey than personal bests.

french village diaries Pendleton Initial road bike Halfords
With my new Pendleton Initial
This post is not sponsored by Halfords, but I spoke to them about their new Pendleton range and Victoria’s input in its design, and they gave me the following information:

"The Pendleton Initial road bike is the first road bike to be added to the Pendleton Collection. The specification, geometry, and design have all been chosen to perfectly suit the female cyclist. The smaller frame sizes were chosen so that the model caters for younger riders too, but the bike has been aimed at any female cyclist who is looking to get into road cycling, or to further their love for the sport.

Victoria played an integral part in the design process; right from the very first meeting her experience as a female cyclist has influenced every decision. As a result, everyone involved is extremely pleased with the final product, and we all hope that the new model inspires more women to start, and to continue, cycling."

I have to admit that although the white saddle it came with is beautiful, I have decided to keep the saddle I bought earlier in the year, see here. I have also taken the big step to progress to cycling shoes that attach to the pedals; something Bluebelle was too old to be compatible with. So far, I have managed not to fall off, but I’m sure that won’t last forever.

I will certainly be putting her through her paces this summer, including lots of cycling in Poitou-Charentes and short breaks in Normandy and the Pyrenees, where I hope her compact gear will help me glide effortlessly up the hills of the Basque Country. She is my little bit of British heritage who, like me, is very much at home cruising in France.

french village diaries Pendleton Initial road bike Halfords
Pendleton Initial Road Bike in France

One of my reads this summer has been Victoria’s autobiography, Between the Lines. I was instantly hit by the drive, determination and emotion flowing through the book that left me gripped and page turning. I also learned a lot about the world of track cycling and what it takes to be a champion and my head was awash with emotions and adrenalin after reading this book.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Hot deals for summer Kindle reading

French village diaries kindle summer sale bookworm reading france
The French Village Bookworm

With the UK Kindle summer sale in full swing there are hundreds of great reductions and it seems books set in France are very well represented. I have done a bit of sharing on Facebook, but thought a post where they are all listed would also be a good idea. Many of these books are only 99p and most offers will be available until 1st September 2014, but please do check the prices before downloading.

To make the most of these offers why not treat yourself to a Kindle Paperweight. By using the code KINDLE4SUN at the checkout you will receive a £20 discount if you buy before Tuesday 22nd July. I hope you have a great summer reading about France, there is certainly enough here to keep even the most greedy bookworm very happy - even I've not read them all, yet!

In no particular order, here are the TWENTY-ONE books I've found on offer:

The President's Hat by Antoine Laurain, the story of a hat that belongs to President Mitterrand that finds itself in different hands and where we share snippets of the life of those new owners and the strange effect owning the hat has on their lives. I really enjoyed this book.

The People in the Photo by Helene Gestern, a relationship that unfolds between strangers who meet when one of them attempts to identify the people in an old family photograph. There journey leads them along a path with lots of family secrets that need to be unravelled if they want discover the truth. I really enjoyed this book.

Hot Sun, Cool Shadow by Angela Murrills, a book about the food of the Languedoc region in France. I've downloaded this and am looking forward to reading it soon.

Dark Summer in Bordeaux by Allan Massie, part of the Bordeaux Trilogy that I've downloaded and will be reading soon.

Cold Winter in Bordeaux by Allan Massie, part of the Bordeaux Trilogy that I've downloaded and will be reading soon.

Grape Expectation by Caro Feely, a book I very much enjoyed reading about a family move to a French vineyard and the hard work involved in setting up an organic wine making business.

Serge Bastarde Ate My Baguette by John Dummer, a funny look at life working the brocantes of south west France. John is helped and led astray by loveable rogue Serge. A very funny read.

Son of Serge Bastarde by John Dummer, more from John's life in France, more fun and being led astray by Serge, who is back with a son in tow. I really enjoyed this book.

The Dress Thief by Natalie Meg Evans, espionage and romance in the world of Paris haute couture. I've not yet read this book.

Toute Allure by Karen Wheeler, a lovely memoir of falling in love with a new life in rural France. I'm a big fan of all of Karen's books.

Bon Courage! by Richard Wiles, a book following the renovation project of a property in the Limousin region of France. This book is on my book shelf and I will be reading it soon.

Bon Chance! by Richard Wiles, following on from his first memoir this book is about settling into his new life and is also waiting on my book shelf.

Downhill all the Way by Edward Enfield, the journey of a bike ride from the Channel to the Mediterranean. Cycling and France - I'm looking forward to reading this one.

Ten Trees and a Truffle Dog by Jamie Ivey. I really enjoyed this book about a family looking to put down roots in Provence, raise their young children, train their puppy and try to sniff out truffles from the trees on their land.

Midnight Train to Paris by Juliette Sobanet, love, Paris, France and bit of time travel. I have enjoyed all of Juliette's romantic novels set in France.

Paris Requiem by Lisa Appignanesi a book I haven't yet read, but it's an historical novel set in Paris, 1899.

A House in the Sunflowers by Ruth Silvestre, one of my favourite memoirs about life in France. Different from the others as her family bought their holiday home in the 1970's when rural France was a very different place.

Two Lipsticks and a Lover by Helena Frith Powell, another one on my reading list. A witty look at French chic and that very French je ne sais quoi.

The Hairy Hikers by Davie Le Vay, a funny account of two middle aged men walking off their mid-life crisis by crossing the Pyrenees on foot. I really enjoyed this book.

The Girl you Left Behind by Jojo Moyes. I've not yet read this romantic story, where two women, separated by a century, are united in their determination to fight for the thing they love the most. There is a short story prequel to this book Honeymoon in Paris.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Book review of Follow My Heart by Frances Lawson

My review today is for Follow My Heart: Risking it all for a life in France by Frances Lawson.

French Village Diaries book review Follow My Heart by Frances Lawson

Frances feels she must follow her heart and against all the odds make a new life for herself in France. She doesn’t ask for much, just the chance to live and work in France, a modest house, a small garden to grow vegetables, an income to keep her solvent and if possible someone special to share it with. I can understand the feeling in her bones that France is the country of her soul. I now also understand how much more complicated this move is for a single woman from New Zealand, with a daughter almost ready to fly the nest and a very limited budget. It was never going to be an easy journey.

With such a gorgeous front cover I couldn’t wait to dive in, but in keeping with her journey, things were slow to start. Unfortunately not everything went to plan and in the first few chapters we meet Nicolas the Parisian, an internet find who she hoped would help ease her move to France. It was obvious from the tone of the writing that things were not going to work out between them and I certainly tired of him and his antics long before Frances did. However, her determination was her strength and she picked herself up and made another plan that this time put her in France as a student at a language school. Despite her hard work doors were slow to open and obstacles were placed in her way, but eventually France became her place of work and although she hasn’t quite ticked off everything on her list, what she has managed to do is quite an achievement.

This is not an uplifting book, but it does show true grit and resolve and highlights lots of issues that expats (especially those from non-EU countries) have to face when settling in France. Many in her shoes would have given up, but she is still here in France and I salute her.

Follow My Heart: Risking it all for a life in France is available in ebook and paperback and links to Amazon can be found below. If your ebook reader shows colour pictures you will enjoy the photos of France that Frances includes with each chapter. The paperback version contains black and white pictures. I was sent a copy of this book by the author.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Le Tour Up North

This summer is turning out to be a year to remember the Tour de France, from when it exploded into life at it's grand depart in the UK to watching with despair as some of our British hopefuls crashed out spectacularly. My author friend and Tour de France fan Julia Stagg was in Yorkshire to experience the start and shares her day with us here.

The Tour de France Yorkshire
No Wiggo, no Cav and now no Froome!

It was like inviting an exotic friend from much warmer climes to come and have a barbeque in your back garden. The whole of Yorkshire watched the weather for weeks ahead, an anxious eye on the nightly forecast, fingers, toes, arms crossed in hope. We were about to host the Tour de France and what those of us living in this beautiful county wanted above all else was sunshine. And a chance to impress.
The morning didn’t start off auspiciously. Low mist hugged the hills, a cold breeze tugged at cycling jerseys and goosebumps rippled flesh as we rode down into Hawes. Then the climb up Buttertubs, the heart pounding, the breath ragged as legs turned pedals, weaving in and out amongst the walkers. So many walkers. And all of us traversing the newly laid tarmac that the peloton would soon be cycling over.
The Tour de France Yorkshire French Village DiariesWe were in position by nine thirty, blanket on a bit of hillside, bikes stowed behind us, and by ten o’clock, what had been a fairly steady stream of people climbing the hill became a deluge. Families, couples, cycling clubs, people dressed as onion sellers, people dressed as sheep, people with flags and the children, so many children. If anything marked this stage of Le Tour as different to all the stages I’ve seen in the Pyrenees, it was the children.
They were all ages. Young teens on proper road bikes, in full kit, thin legs pumping furiously as they cycled uphill to roars of approval. Youngsters on small bikes, pedalling hard, a firm hand reaching out from the crowd every now and then to push them for a few paces as klaxons sounded. And the little ones, the tiny ones on bikes being towed along by dads, waving like chauffeur-driven royalty as cow bells heralded their approach. ‘I have to tell you son,’ said one cycling father to his beaming child who was riding alongside him, the tumultuous approval of the watching hordes giving him a taste of being a professional rouleur‘it won’t always be like this!’

The Tour de France Yorkshire French Village Diaries
Gendarmes on UK roads

By the time the helicopter sounded overhead, we’d forgotten to worry about the weather. We were too busy having a party. The publicity caravan went through in a blur of festivity and then they were here, the men of Le Tour, bronzed legs, colourful lycra, a tunnel of noise welcoming them onto Cote de Buttertubs. Allez allez called out the crowd. And the sun burst from behind the clouds and the Dales looked magnificent.
The Tour de France Yorkshire French Village Diaries
The peloton 

Within minutes they’d passed and a collective sigh eased out from the thousands gathered on the hillside. We’d done it. We’d invited them here and we’d given them a day to remember. We’d even made the sun shine. The only question left to ask is when can we do it all again?

Thanks for sharing and the great photos Julia. I was lucky enough to be in London to see them arrive on day three and I will share my day with you soon.

Julia Stagg writes fiction set in the Ariège region of the French Pyrenees, an area she discovered through her passion for cycling. Her latest novel, A Fête to Remember, is available now (Hodder & Stoughton £7.99).