Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Book review of Naked in the Wind by Shirley Ledlie

My review today is for Naked in the Wind: Chemo, hairloss and deceit by Shirley Ledlie. This memoir is Shirley’s story of her battle with a French drug company when the combination of chemotherapy drugs she was given for her breast cancer left her with an unpleasant side effect. Having come through the cancer treatment and at a time when life should have been getting back to normal she was told some devastating news that would change her life forever.

French Village Diaries books reviews Naked in the Wind Shirley Ledlie France memoirs medical health
This is a very personal journey full of raw emotions, anger and pain; it is not an easy story to read, but it is one that needs to be shared. Shirley came across as a very strong lady who stuck to her guns and stood up to the big boys when most people would have crawled into a corner and cried. She may have shed many tears, but she has also bravely bared her soul in order to tell the world the facts and risks that the drug company and experts wanted to keep hidden. Alongside the difficult times Shirley shares stories from the happier days when her family had just begun their new life in France, which were very entertaining.

Writing can be very therapeutic and I hope that writing this book has helped Shirley emerge from the dark and lonely place where she found herself battling not just physical and emotional symptoms but a team of corporate lawyers too. This was a very inspiring and page turning book that women all over the world should read.

Naked in the Wind: Chemo, hairloss and deceit is available in paperback and ebook format. If you are quick, the ebook is reduced to only 99p (99c in the US) for this week only, as October is Breast Cancer Awareness month. Please do share this book with your friends, thank you. 

Friday, October 10, 2014

France et Moi with author Samantha Verant

Welcome to ‘France et Moi’ where this week, to celebrate the launch of her first memoir Seven Letters from Paris: A Memoir, I am talking to author Samantha Vérant about what France means to her.

French Village Diaries France et Moi author Samantha Verant Seven Letters from Paris France books memoirs

Samantha Vérant is a travel addict, a self-professed oenophile, and a determined, if occasionally unconventional, French chef. She lives in southwestern France, where she's able to explore all of her passions, and where she's married to a sexy French rocket scientist she met in 1989, but ignored for twenty years.

French Village Diaries France et Moi author Samantha Verant Seven Letters from Paris France books memoirs
Samantha Verant
Firstly, 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’?

Samantha: I think France is unique because of the fact that I’m able to drive somewhere exciting within two hours (sometimes less) and the landscape dramatically changes right before my eyes. One minute, I’ll see medieval castles on the route of les Cathares, and the next moment, I could be skiing down the Pyrénées Mountains, scuba diving in the Mediterranean Sea, surfing in Biarritz, or tasting wine in St. Émilion. Plus, in all these fabulously beautiful locations you are literally walking in history -- sometimes circumnavigating those pesky “landmines” on the cobbled streets. Thankfully, my husband, Jean-Luc, is a history buff and makes for an excellent tour guide. Viva La France!

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

Samantha: In 1989, my family lived in London, and my best friend, Tracey, and I wanted to travel Europe while we had the chance over the summer break. Paris was our first stop. The first two days, we crammed in everything we could-- boat rides on the Seine, shopping at the markets, visiting the Eiffel Tower, and dashing through most of the museums. But the biggest highlight of the trip was meeting Jean-Luc at Dame Tartine, a restaurant in le Beaubourg by Le Centre Pompidou. Like the cliché goes, my eyes connected with his from across the room. And bam! Love at first sight. I’ll never forget the spark or our first conversation.

3) When you first arrived in France what was the best thing about being immersed in French life and the scariest thing?

Samantha: The best part about becoming immersed in French life was all the new meal options, which, thanks to Jean-Luc, I learned to prepare. I guess I’m a bit of a foodie. (Note to self: don’t prepare French food in American-sized portions. The first year living in France, I gained a lot of weight. Gasp! Over 25 pounds/12 kilos. I’ve since lost most of the weight. Hey, there’s nothing wrong with a little extra padding).

As for the scariest thing, it was a toss-up between talking in French– in a loud enough voice so that people could actually hear me (I call this my mouse voice phase)– and driving a stick shift (manual gearbox). Now, after five years of living here, I drive and yell at the same time...without the fear of rolling backwards or weirdly rolling my Rs. French, of course, is a beautiful language, but not if you sound like a cat coughing up fur balls.

4) Do you have any embarrassing language mishaps you are happy to share?

Samantha: Where do I begin? There have been so many and, unfortunately, they always carry a sexual innuendo. The worst, which is mentioned in the book, took place my first Christmas in France. I’d just met Jean-Luc’s sisters and they asked me if we wanted to have children. In the best French I could muster up, I said, “After the marriage. We’re waiting for July.” Apparently, I mispronounced July like the verb jouir, which definitely isn’t a month. So his whole family thought I’d said, “After the marriage. We’re waiting for the orgasm.”

Ahhh, Americans! We are such an amusing species.

5) I have to ask you about French women, what do you think makes them different to us and gives them that je ne sais quoi?

Samantha: I think it all comes down to confidence, which French women wear very well! They also take great pride in their appearance, which is probably why there are over fifteen hair salons and six salons de beauté in my town of 13,000. That’s a lot of beauty.

6) 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?

Samantha: I’d order une noisette, an espresso with a dash of milk. And then I’d have another one.

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

Samantha: I’m a soft, creamy Cabécou, a goat cheese from the Dordogne region in France, about two hours north of my home. Before I’m wrapped up in chestnut leaves to age, I’m dipped in plum brandy and sprinkled with black pepper. Delicious. And I could say, “Coucou! I’m Cabécou!” Must be the brandy talking.

8) Is there anything French you won’t eat?

Samantha: There were quite a few food catastrophes in the beginning of my relationship with Jean-Luc, namely a meal called pot au feu de la mer– unrecognizable fish with their heads still on, glassy eyes staring at me from a steaming bowl of cabbage. I will never, ever order this again. But my tastes have changed a little bit. I hate to say it: I now adore civet de sanglier, wild boar, as long as the sauce isn’t chunky and grey.

9) Can you describe your perfect French apero for us: the drink, the nibbles, the location and the company?

Samantha: Drinks: Champagne or made to order mojitos using fresh mint from my garden

Nibbles: In addition to all the usual suspects, such as olives, potato chips for the kids, peanuts, a platter of crudités with a lemon-infused dipping sauce, I also serve hand-sized tartes, usually tomato and asparagus, and something in a verrine, like a homemade soup (maybe a gazapacho made with tomatoes from my garden) or a melon, dried ham, and feta cheese salad. One time, I served homemade sushi.

Location: My backyard in the summer. It’s beautiful! We have two lilac bushes, a magnolia tree, a cherry tree, wisteria, lavender, and lots of roses.

The company: You! You’re invited! Come on over to Toulouse. I love entertaining.

FVD: How could I resist that mouthwateringly delicious array of nibbles? I’m on my way.

10) 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?

Samantha: We recently ventured off to Biarritz for a surf weekend. One afternoon (after being completely knackered out from all the waves in the morning), we headed to St. Jean de Luz, about a half hour south of Biarritz, and close to the Spanish border. It’s simply charming, filled with lovely shops, friendly people, and cute cafés and restaurants. The moules à la plancha (mussels cooked on a flat grill) were heaven in my mouth. Plus, St. Jean de Luz is located right on the Atlantic Ocean. It really is the perfect little beach town. Seriously, forget about St. Tropez!

Finally, do you have any current projects you would like to tell my readers about?

Samantha: Sure! Why not! I do have plans for memoir book two. In fact, I’ve already written 35k of it. It picks up where SEVEN LETTERS FROM PARIS leaves off. I jump into a new life in France...but I forget to pack a parachute and I land pretty hard. But as I settle into my new life and Jean-Luc’s children and I become closer, and as the relationship with Jean-Luc and I intensifies, no matter how terrifying things appear, I remind myself I have love on my side. And with love on my side I can do anything (including renovating a kitchen and building a bedroom-- the true test of any relationship!) Memoir book two will be another love story, but the focus will be on family. Of course, there will also be some romance. Maybe I’ll finally get back to Paris with Jean-Luc? Or go on a honeymoon? Neither of these things have happened...yet. I’m working on it.

Thank you for taking the time to answer some questions about France and you.

Samantha: Thank you for having me! It’s been a blast!

Seven Letters from Paris: A Memoir is published by Sourcebooks and is available in paperback and ebook format. You can read my review of it here, it really is a lovely, romantic story. You can follow Samantha on Twitter, Facebook and on her blog.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

English is cool

French Village Diaries English is cool France
English is cool
I may live in France, speak relatively understandable French and love to hear French spoken around me, but there is no getting away from the fact that I’m English and live in an English speaking household. However, I have noticed that here in France, English words seem to be creeping into daily life as I see them all the time when out and about. For a brain like mine, that functions in English and copes in French, an unexpected mix of the two tends to confuse me, although sometimes it just amuses me. This sweatshirt is just one example that put a smile on my face. It seems English words on clothes are cool, whatever the spelling or whether they mean anything.

The principal at Ed’s Collège (secondary school) is determined to make the most of the influx of English speakers in the community and in 2009 set up an English conversation lunch club. It has been something I have been involved in from the beginning, which was long before Ed started at school there. As well as being run by volunteers it is voluntary for the kids too (yes amazingly they do actually choose to do extra English in their lunch break) and is a great way for them to hear English spoken by English people. The start of this new academic year saw more subscribed than any previous year. I’m astounded that anyone puts their names down, but they do and they come back the following year. In the heavily accented words of the rather stern deputy head “it’s awesome” and the kids certainly think English is cool.

There is, however, a French body, l’Académie française who seem determined to remove these pesky English words that have slowly crept into French vocabulary. I’m guessing as they are based in Paris they haven’t spent much time out and about in the provinces noticing what I’ve noticed. Examples I’ve seen are the kitchen shop offering “Cuisines You”, the clothing company encouraging you to “Fais-toi un New Look”, the removal company describing themselves as “Les Gentlemen du demenagement” and the decorating company advertising “Colour Dream”. My favourite however is the local social security department recruiting call centre staff by a process they call “Job-dating”. I’ve not even heard of this in English, but similar to speed dating, candidates are given seven minutes in front of the panel to show off their motivation and competences. Let’s hope the successful ones are as quick to respond when they start work!

Dressed in their elaborate outfits, decorated with embroidered olive leaves in green and gold, complete with a real sword, the forty members of l’Académie française meet every Thursday in Paris. Unfortunately their meetings are in secret, so if you are not a member you cannot watch proceedings unless you are a visiting head of state, so that’s me out then. I have however been able to access their website and my favourite section is called Dire, ne pas dire – advising us on what we can say and what we can’t say. Here are some of my favourites:

Couriel is good, Email is not.
Mot-dièse is good, Hashtag is not.
Équipe is good, team is not.
Night-club, however is acceptable.
Vintage is another word that has crept in uninvited. Un sac vintage (a vintage bag) should be un sac des années 1960 (a bag from the sixties).
There are some examples where the French alternative is rather long winded, for example à retourner asap (to return as soon as possible) should be à retourner dès que vous pourrez. There are others where the anglo-isms are so bad they make my French look good. I would never think to use être booké  (to be booked) or être overbooké (to be double booked). I agree that être occupé or n’avoir aucun moment de libre would be much better.

They also remind us that it is forbidden to write Lundi or Octobre as there is no place for capitals letters for the days of the week or months of the year in French.

There ends my lesson for today, but I will be keeping an eye on the Dire, ne pas dire section and although l’Académie française may disagree I think English is still cool.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Book review of Seven Letters from Paris by Samantha Verant

My review today is for Seven Letters from Paris: A Memoir by Samantha Vérant, her first memoir and a beautiful love story with heartbreak and happy ever after, that reads more like a fairytale romance than the real life it is.

french village diaries books review Seven Letters from Paris Samantha Verant memoir
When life doesn’t go to plan, what girl doesn’t dream of having her own real life ‘Pretty Woman’ fairytale moment? At the end of an unhappy marriage that had left her deep in debt, Samantha finds seven love letters tucked away in the bottom of a storage box. These love letters are 20 years old and despite her never having replied at the time, offer her a glimmer of hope and future happiness. The fact that they were written by a very sexy sounding Frenchman, who as well as being a rocket scientist wasn’t afraid of opening his heart to her, is just a bonus.

This memoir lets us read the letters and follows Samantha and Jean-Luc as they make contact, become very good friends and eventually meet up with a view to working out if they can have a shared future together. They both showed great courage. For Samantha to walk away from an unhappy marriage was like stepping off a cliff into the unknown, and although her new future promised to have Jean-Luc at her side it must still have felt like another cliff! The distance from her home in California to his in Toulouse, his children who had already lost their Mother, the language difficulties and the paperwork, were just some of the obstacles to be faced together. Although their journey was not without heartache and huge risk I can’t help but feel pleased for Samantha that she re-found her prince and now lives in wedded bliss with him in France.

I got to the end and I couldn’t help grinning at the loveliness of it and really feel it should be made into a film. Even Disney couldn’t have written a love story this romantic. But don’t worry; it’s not too gushy, sweet and sickly.

Seven Letters from Paris: A Memoir is published by Sourcebooks and is available in paperback and ebook format. I’m delighted to announce Samantha will be answering my questions for a France et Moi interview this Friday.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Book review of You Had Me at Bonjour by Jennifer Bohnet

French Village Diaries book review You Had Me at Bonjour Jennifer Bohnet ProvenceI've an extra review today for You Had Me At Bonjour by Jennifer Bohnet, a fun, easy to read book that left me feeling happy. It’s a perfect escapism read.

Jessica needs a gap year. Her marriage is over, her daughter is ready to fly the nest and with the help of her best mate she has made plans to spend a year in Provence. A year when all she has to worry about is herself, well that is her plan.

Written as a diary, which works really well, it’s a form of therapy for Jessica to rid herself of the hurt and anger caused by her ex-husband, and the loneliness she feels when she first arrives. I felt all her raw emotions, I fell in love with her new life in Provence and loved the subtle little snippets of life in France that show the author has lived there and experienced more than just French holidays. The other characters we meet, family, friends and neighbours, add some depth, a chance of romance and also some interesting twists to the plot.

I was sad to leave at the end of the year, but I’m hopeful that Jennifer could pick up Jessica’s story again.

You had me is published by Carina and is available in ebook format.