Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Book review of The Lost Vintage by Ann Mah

French Village Diaries book review The Lost Vintage by Ann Mah
The Lost Vintage by Ann Mah

My review today is for The Lost Vintage, the new novel from Ann Mah, released today. 

Set amid the Burgundy vineyards, we meet wine expert Kate, as she heads back to her French roots to study for her Master of Wine exams. While helping with the family harvest, a discovery in the wine cave reveals a fractured family with long-ago buried secrets, and leads to many questions, all needing answers.

In a journal shared only with the reader, we meet Hélène and follow her life through The Occupation. While we know how she suffered, the hardships of daily life, the sacrifices she made and the risks she took, Kate and her family only know the shadow of Hélène that hangs over the older generation. Her life was incredibly sad, and her journal was a very moving account of the war years.

This book is well researched, both in terms of history and wine facts. There is a good mix of characters, some with an edge of mystery, whose actions made me slightly wary; their motives unknown as we wait for them to be revealed. We have a lost love and an awkward reunion, regrets of past decisions and possibilities of future reconciliations. It all flows beautifully, I enjoyed the switch from the journal to the present day and along with the descriptions of the changing seasons in the vineyards, I felt part of their lives.

Being back in France makes Kate question what she really wants from life. Wine is in her blood, but is the Master of Wine part of her future? Can the older generation let go of the past and let the younger ones move the vineyard forward to a brighter future? You’ll certainly have a great read finding out!

I know this book has been many years in the making, but like a good wine, it has only benefitted from this process of maturation. If you enjoy family historical sagas and a good glass or two of French wine, take this book on holiday with you, it won’t disappoint.

The Lost Vintage is out now in ebook format with the hardback and paperback versions available for pre-order on Amazon UK now. You can read my review Ann's Mastering the Art of French Eating here and links to Amazon for both books can be found below.

If you missed Ann’s Lazy Sunday in France guest post and fancy a quick trip to Paris, you can read more here.

Sunday, June 17, 2018

Lazy Sunday in France with author Ann Mah

French Village Diaries #LazySundayInFrance Ann Mah The Lost Vintage
The Lost Vintage by Ann Mah

Welcome to another Lazy Sunday in France, where this week Ann Mah is taking us to Paris for a perfect family day. Ann is the author of Mastering the Art of French Eating, a delicious look at French regional specialities (read my review here) and this week will publish her first novel that is set among the Burgundy vineyards. I’ll be posting my review on Tuesday, but I guess there is no harm in telling you now that it is a beautifully written book, full of long buried family secrets just waiting to be released.
French Village Diaries #LazySundayInFrance Ann Mah The Lost Vintage
Ann Mah photo by Katia Grimmer-Laversanne

Lazy Sunday in France by Ann Mah

Sunday morning is my favourite time in Paris especially if my husband has gone out early to pick up croissants or miniature tartes aux pommes from the boulangerie. On a perfect day (which is what this is, right?) we eat them with the windows flung open, accompanied by hot tea and summer peaches, which always taste sweeter and juicier when you can slurp them at leisure. 
French Village Diaries #LazySundayInFrance Ann Mah The Lost Vintage
Paris, photo Ann Mah
Sunday mornings are for making lists, which I love to do, poring over beloved cookbooks and deciding what to make my family for dinner. A little later, we’ll take a walk to do our shopping, joining the crowds at the rue Cler and buying enough food to keep us until Tuesday, when these stores will open again. 

Back home again, I spend some time admiring the fruits and vegetables I’ve just bought. The fragrant melons and soft-skinned tomatoes. The length of baguette, the paper-wrapped triangle of cheese, the pink translucent slivers of dry-cured ham are a delicious and easy lunch for three.
French Village Diaries #LazySundayInFrance Ann Mah The Lost Vintage
The toy boats at the Luxembourg Gardens

In the afternoon, a walk? A trip to the Luxembourg Gardens, where we sail a small toy boat in the fountain, chasing it around the basin with a stick in our hand? Perhaps a nap on the grass. Or an ice cream? Definitely a cold drink to refresh us before the bus ride home. 

The sun is still bright overhead, but the shadows are lengthening as we near our apartment building. Since this is a perfect Sunday, dinner is already made. I need merely sip a glass of wine while it warms on the stove. After we eat, we’ll put our daughter to bed, pour another glass and chat about the week ahead. The temperature will turn chilly enough for us to burrow under heavy covers. In bed, I read my book and drift to sleep, dreaming of my next Sunday in France, simple but so very sweet. 

Lazy Sunday in France for French Village Diaries.

Don’t forget to join me back here on Tuesday to read my review of The Lost Vintage. You can also read my review of Mastering the Art of French Eating here and read more about why Ann loves France in my France et Moi interview with her here. Links to Amazon for both of her books can be found below.

Friday, June 15, 2018

France et Moi with author Susanne O'Leary

Welcome to ‘France et Moi’ where this week I am talking to author Susanne O’Leary about what France means to her.
French Village Diaries #FranceEtMoi interview Susanne O'Leary The Road Trip
Susanne O'Leary
Susanne O’Leary is the bestselling author of more than 20 novels, mainly in the romantic fiction genre. She has also written three crime novels and two in the historical fiction genre. The wife of a former diplomat, she has also been a fitness teacher and a translator. She now writes full-time from either of two locations, a rambling house in County Tipperary, Ireland or a little cottage overlooking the Atlantic in Dingle, County Kerry. When she is not scaling the mountains of said counties, or doing yoga, she keeps writing, producing a book every six months.

1) I think France is a special place and it is famed for many things including its cheese, wine and diverse holiday locations plus, dare I say it strikes and dog poo littered streets. What do you think makes France so very unique and ‘French’?

Susanne: France has a very strong identity, proud of its language and culture. What makes it unique are the age-old traditions and the rhythm of daily life. The queuing for a fresh baguette twice a day, the food market, the patisserie for Sunday lunch, kissing on both cheeks, in short, the very elegance of daily life.  And the chic women, the little boutiques, the strict etiquette when it comes to being polite. Not to mention that blend of coffee, fresh bread, garlic and a whiff of petrol fumes wafting around any French town. It’s a kind of oh-la-la-ness that hits you every time you go there.

2) What is your first memory of a trip to France? 

Susanne: The very first time I went to France, I was 15 and I was staying with a French family in Annecy, Haute Savoie. I was educated in a French lycee in my native Stockholm, so my French was quite good, but being in an all-French speaking environment was new to me. I remember how impressed I was with the beauty of the town and the views of the snow-covered Alps across the lake.

3) You spent four years living in France, can you tell us what the best thing about being immersed in French life was and the scariest thing?

Susanne: The best thing was living in Paris, my favourite city. I swear I woke up every morning with a smile on my face, whispering: ‘I’m in Paris’ to myself. I loved hearing French all around me and having all that French culture on tap, like French movies in the cinema around the corner, the little art galleries and the museums. Also sitting at cafés people-watching and browsing in the quaint shops on the Left Bank. I loved the French countryside too, that ‘Douce France’ kind of living in little villages when we were on holiday.
The scariest thing? Minding two very lively boys and making sure they were safe and I knew where they were at all times. One of my boys, age 10, once got lost cycling through the Bois de Boulogne. I was in bits before we found him. He was completely cool about it and couldn’t understand what the fuss was about.

4) Do you have any top tips for learning French? Or maybe an embarrassing language mishap you are happy to share?

Susanne: I think the best way to start, would be to learn the verbs avoir and être (to have and to be) by heart, and to try your very best to learn French pronunciation. As I started French at a very early age, I think I learnt the language like a child, so it all came gradually with a feel for the language without even thinking about grammar.

5) Imagine you are sitting outside a French café at 10.00am on a sunny morning watching the world go by, what do you order from the waiter?

Susanne: I would order un café crème(aka ‘café au lait’) and a croissant. Love that combination.

6) France has many different cheeses, a silly question, but which French cheese are you? A hard and mature Tome, a soft, fresh and lively goat cheese, the creamy and rich Camembert or maybe the salty and serious Roquefort?

Susanne: Definitively a Reblochon. Hard on the outside, soft and creamy on the inside, with a touch of dangerous bacteria.

7) Every region in France has a culinary specialty, do you have a favourite regional dish? 

Susanne: I love bouillabaisse, that fragrant fish soup from the south of France.

8) France has some beautiful cities and there are a few that constantly battle to be my favourite, what is your favourite French city and why?

Susanne: I adore Paris. I would have loved to have lived there permanently. So many reasons; the food, the culture, the friendly (yes, I swear) people, the buzz and all the different historical parts and museums and art galleries and boutiques and cute restaurants…

9) How does France inspire your writing?

Susanne: First of all, the many beautiful vistas, and then the history and the beautiful architecture. So much more, the air and smells of Provence, the buzz of Paris, the food and wine. The elegance of the women. The handsome men. And the language.

10) With plenty of space and lovely scenery France is a great place to explore. If you were to take a day off from writing where in France would you go?

Susanne: I would go to Provence. Especially Antibes, which has all of the things I love about France, plus the sunshine and the glorious, azure Mediterranean
French Village Diaries #FranceEtMoi interview Susanne O'Leary The Road Trip
The Road Trip by Susanne O'Leary
Finally, your latest novel The Road Trip, sees two characters travelling through France in a convertible (my dream holiday), can you let us have a sneak peek at some of the places they visit and things they experience?

Maddy and Leanne have a special dream of driving through Paris in a sports car, like in the song ‘The Ballad of Lucy Jordan’, so they do just that. A snippet:

They continued up Rue de Rivoli, driving slowly, the top down, with Leanne humming the tune of ‘The Ballad of Lucy Jordan’ while she drove. ‘Oh, this is what I dreamed of,’ she said with a blissful smile. ‘I can die happy now.’
‘Thank God for that.’ Maddy managed to take a few shots of Leanne at the wheel with a backdrop of the shopfronts of Rue de Rivoli, and the Luxor Obelisk as they drove across Place de la Concorde. They continued up the Champs-Élysées, around Place Charles de Gaulle, glancing up at the magnificent Arc de Triomphe while all around them traffic roared and car horns tooted.

Then they go and visit the famous cathedral in Chartres which, apart from La Sainte Chapelle in Paris, has the most beautiful stained-glass windows in France. 

The cathedral of Chartres was mind-blowing to Maddy. Not expecting anything more than an old Gothic church, she nearly stopped breathing when she looked up and saw the vast stained-glass windows, their jewel colours glowing in the dim light, throwing splashes of red, green and blue on the stone floor. She had read in the guidebook that the cathedral was built in 1260 on the foundations of an earlier church that had burnt down in the previous century, but she had had no idea of its magnificence. Awestruck, she stood there, looking up and marvelling at the still vivid hues and beautiful shapes.

After that, they head south to Provence, where they stop off first in Orange to see the Roman Theatre, which is truly amazing.

Leanne and Maddy spent an enjoyable half hour walking up and down the different levels of the amphitheatre, amazed at the ancient site and the history behind it. They finally sat down on one of the seats at the very top, looking down at the half circle that made up the front of the theatre. Up here, they were hit by the magnitude of the edifice, and how the stage down there seemed to echo with voices from the past. The sense of history was so strong, they could nearly see ghostly figures in strange costumes moving around, hear the applause from the people on the packed terraces and smell dusty air, thick with atmosphere.

They continue on to Gordes and the lavender fields of the Abbey of Notre Dame de Senanque before they finally arrive in Nice. Then they go to Vence, a little town in the hills above the city, where Leanne’s father has a big villa.

Wow! Thank you for taking the time to answer some questions about France and you and giving us a great teaser for the book.

You can read my review of The Road Trip here and follow Susanne here:

The Road Trip is available in ebook and paperback format and links to Amazon can be found below. If you like to travel in France, you’ll love The Road Trip and it’s currently only 99p for the kindle version – bargain!

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Only in France!

French Village Diaries #OnlyInFrance Bressuire

The school run weather gods have been at it again this week. With Ed boarding during the week, it’s only on a Monday morning that we have an early-start school run, but consistently all winter it was only on Mondays, and when Adrian was away working, that the gods threw down a heavy frost for me to scrape off the windows. It is now June and on the one Monday when Ed had to be in Niort, 60km away, by 8.00am for his English oral Baccalaureate exam, the gods chose rain of biblical proportions, knowing that Adrian was away, and the driving was all down to me.

The 5.30am alarm wasn’t necessary as the thunder woke us both at 5.00am. The only way to reach the car, parked just outside the front gates was by wearing wellies and once I’d moved the car from the lake it was parked in, I still had to find Adrian’s boots in order for Ed to wade through the lake and reach the car. Thankfully we did remember to put his shoes in the car, as I’m not sure it would have done his stress levels much good being the only teenager at the exam wearing his Dad’s wellies.

It poured all the way to Niort. I had no option but to drive through flood water in Chef-Boutonne, where the road was totally submerged, and at one point on the way to Melle, all across the road was a deep brown slick of mud running off the fields. I have never seen weather quite like it, especially in June, and we have been here almost fourteen years.

Thankfully two days after our wet trip to Niort, the sun was out for our 225km round trip to Bressuire for his German oral exam. Yes, only in France would kids be sent from their lycée to another one in the department that is 112km from home, all for a 20-minute oral exam. This distance was way out of my comfort zone, but I took a friend for navigation help (I tried to work the Sat-Nav in Adrian’s car, but I am too much of a womble to get both sound and pictures) and I made sure we left with hours to spare. 

We arrived at the lycée in Bressuire an hour and half early, not bad as we had to navigate a dreaded 'Route Barrée' and 'Deviation' just as we arrived on the outskirts of town. We had time for a leg stretch and maybe even the possibility of finding a quick plat du jour for lunch. Yes and no! After quite a bit of walking all we found were long-ago shut up bars and auberges, so it was back to the car where we tucked into my emergency quiche in the lycée car park (please tell me I’m not the only one who never ventures too far from home without packing an emergency quiche!). 
French Village Diaries #OnlyInFrance Bressuire
Being interviewed in Bressuire on the final day of the Tour de Rêves
With Ed safely in his exam, Lesley and I set off once more to explore Bressuire. We walked almost 5km, took some photos, had a tasty ice-cream (don’t tell Ed), but the only bit of Bressuire I’d been to before, a bar we stopped at on our Tour de Rêves bike ride last year, was mysteriously allusive, despite wandering here, there and back again.

Thankfully we didn’t have the four hour wait that I’d had on Monday morning, this time Ed was finished after only an hour, so by 15h we were setting off for the two hour drive home. Just as I was relaxing back into the familiar roads closer to home, almost patting myself on the back at my accomplishments, things up ahead didn’t look quite right. On a straight section of road, a car was on its side, airbags gone off, debris and glass in the road and a real shock to see. It had obviously only just happened as there were other drivers there, and a farmer directing traffic, but the pompiers and gendarmes hadn’t yet arrived on scene. We also found out later that there had been a very nasty accident, just as we were leaving Bressuire, on the road to Parthenay. Although we had arrived on that road, for some reason we came home on the Niort road instead. 

Maybe the gods were on my side after all!

Next week Ed has a full timetable of written exams and then that’s it, he’s finished with school in France. Where have the last fourteen years gone?

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Book review of The Road Trip by Susanne O'Leary

French Village Diaries book review The Road Trip Susanne O'Leary
The Road Trip by Susanne O'Leary

My review today is for The Road Trip, the latest novel by Susanne O’Leary, released this week.
If you had reached a time in your life when you weren’t happy with the way things were headed and you suddenly had the financial means to escape for a while, and a friend ready to join you, would you go?
This is the situation teacher Maddy finds herself in. Her kids have left home, her husband has a closer relationship with his golf clubs than with her and with the school lottery syndicate hitting the jackpot, she now has 200,000€ of her own, to do with what she chooses. Along with colleague Leanne, they hire a car, buy a designer capsule wardrobe and set off on a road trip from Ireland to the south of France, with lots of places they want to see on the way.
The characters of Maddy and Leanne are full of life with a little Irish mischief and the situations they find themselves in are often unexpected and come with a good pinch of fun and joie de vivre, but there is a touch of seriousness too. It becomes a journey of discovery where they learn a lot about themselves and their families along the way, so much so life will never be the same again, for either of them. They meet the eccentric and the good looking, but more importantly will they find the answers to unanswered questions from long ago?
I read the first half of this book in one sitting, it’s that good I just didn’t want to put it down and I’m so glad to hear there is to be more from Maddy and Leanne, very soon.
The Road Trip is published by Bookouture and is available in ebook and paperback format, links to Amazon can be found below.

Join me back here on Friday when Susanne will be answering my #FranceEtMoi questions.

You can find Susanne on these social media sites: