Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Book review of The Art of Rebellion by Brenda Joyce Leahy

French Village Diaries The Art of Rebellion Brenda Joyce Leahy France Book Tours review
The Art of Rebellion
by Brenda Joyce Leahy

The Art of Rebellion by Brenda Joyce Leahy

(YA historical) Release date: June 15, 2016 at Rebelight Publishing ISBN: 978-0994839985 252 pages Website Goodreads  


Released June 15, 2016, by Rebelight Publishing, this beautifully written, lush piece drops you into tumultuous and breathtaking late 19th century Paris. Sixteen year old Gabrielle dreams of becoming an artist but her ambitious parents agree to an arranged marriage to an aging Baron. In protest, she runs away from her provincial home of Laval to Paris, the City of Light, intending to live with her grandmother and pursue her passion for art. Her bold plan disintegrates as she arrives in Paris to discover her grandmother has disappeared under mysterious circumstances. Alone in the capital, Gabrielle wonders who to trust: her new artist friends or the handsome but irritating stranger she met on the train, who just might be stalking her. Gabrielle's pride, ambition and impulsive nature thrust her into Paris' underbelly of betrayal and abuse. Will she find the courage to begin a new life on her own terms?

The Art of Rebellion was on the Calgary Bestselling Fiction list in August 2016


Gabrielle is not like her older sisters, who can’t wait to be married off and become obeying wives to titled husbands. For Gabrielle, art is her passion and as a married woman she knows studying art would be impossible, so she runs away to Paris, the prospect of her promised marriage to an older man too much to contemplate. She plans to live with her Grandmother, study art at college and become an artist, proving to her overbearing mother that she is destined to become more than just a wife. It is an era when women, including Gabrielle and her Grandmother, were beginning to want independence in their lives, but the male dominated world wasn’t yet ready to accept these new ideas.

I liked Gabrielle, she is bold and reckless, resourceful when needed, but still naïve as you would expect from a 16 year old from a wealthy family in the 19th century. Her art brings her to life and I could feel her excitement as the Paris art scene opens out in front of her. A man she meets on the train becomes a companion who escorts her to the Paris Exposition and the Louvre and I enjoyed her reactions as she viewed the masters for the first time and was moved to tears by the experience.

There are a lot of emotions in this book as Gabrielle swings from elation at finding like-minded artists and spends time sketching life in Paris with them, to despair when things don’t work out quite as she planned. Paris and the art world has a dark side too and when life takes a turn for the worse Gabrielle has no choice but to accept what fate has planned for her. In her dark moments I could feel the weight of her despair and watched the spark ebbing from her, all the while hoping she could find the strength I knew she had to help her escape.

This is a young adult novel and the author has captured the tumult of teenage emotions perfectly, but I also think it will appeal to readers of all ages who enjoy historical fiction.


French Village Diaries The Art of Rebellion Brenda Joyce Leahy France Book Tours review
Brenda Joyce Leahy loves historical fiction and thinks she was born a century too late but can't imagine her life without computers or cell phones. So, perhaps, she arrived in the world at just the right moment to tell this story. She grew up on a farm near Taber, Alberta but now lives with her family near the Rocky Mountains in Calgary, Alberta. After over 20 years practising law, she has returned to her first love of writing fiction. She is a member of several writing organizations, including the Society of Childrenís Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) The Art of Rebellion is also profiled on the Humber School of Writers website Brenda is also a member of the Historical Novel Society and leads a YA/MG writers critique group in Calgary. Visit Brenda's website Follow her on Facebook | on Twitter Follow Rebelight Publishing on Twitter Buy the book: Amazon | Indigo | Barnes & Noble




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Tuesday, October 4, 2016

September cycling round-up

French Village Diaries cycling Charente Vienne Haute Vienne
September cycling challenges

Wow, September, we had a blast. Thank you for so many great memories to take with me into the cooler, darker days of autumn and winter.

This year has unquestionably been cycle-crazy for us, with adventures in the Sarthe and Ardeche to list just the big ones, but this summer has probably been one of my laziest in years. A few weeks off the bike following my operation in July, followed by the exhausting heat wave of August left me unhappy with the bathroom scales as I approached my 45th birthday. By contrast, Adrian has cycled further and faster than ever before and as a result is fitter and slimmer than he has been for years. Thankfully our September action on the bikes took things up a gear for me.

French Village Diaries cycling Charente Vienne Haute Vienne Cognac
The Cognac vineyards

The few days we spent at the end of August cycling in the Vienne, followed by a morning ride to a local market and then an afternoon pedalling around the Cognac vineyards, meant I’d been out on my bike for six days in a row. This was enough to ensure I found time for a ride on day seven, even if it was just a 30km local ride squeezed in at the end of a busy day. This was a first for me, cycling every day for a week and it felt good, in fact good enough to go out again on day eight. The scales still weren’t cooperating, but my legs felt strong so I had the foolish idea to cycle another 64km in the next two days to complete a ten day, 400km challenge. On 7th September, I did it and it was the perfect training for my next challenge, 100km-in-a-day.
French Village Diaries cycling Charente Vienne Haute Vienne
La Post des Gardes, Availles-Limouzine
Wearing our ‘cycling accommodation reviewing’ caps once more, thanks Freewheeling France, we packed our bikes, pasta and the all-important Garmin navigation device and set off for the pretty town of Availles-Limouzine. Here we spent two nights on the bank of the Vienne River, staying in the historic town house La Post des Gardes.
French Village Diaries cycling Charente Vienne Haute Vienne Mortemart

After a comfortable night and a quick walk to the boulangerie for fresh croissants, we set off for our 100km-in-a-day on the bikes that would take us through the Vienne, Charente and Haute Vienne departments. Our morning took us along quiet roads, past shady forests where the first autumnal colours were starting to show and from one pretty village to another, from Availles-Limouzine to St Germain-de-Confolens to Esse and then Brillac, where we stopped for morning coffee. We passed sheep in fields; sensibly sheltering in the shade and with every kilometre the temperature rose so a stop for a quick drink from our water bottles left our arms and legs glistening with sweat within seconds. Fully caffeinated once more we cycled through the delightfully named Bussiere-Boffy, on to Nouic and then Mortemart, one of the Plus Beaux Villages de France before arriving in Blond for a lunch of tuna pasta salad.
French Village Diaries cycling Charente Vienne Haute Vienne Bellac
We were now 45km into our route to Bellac and with the temperature in the mid 30’s we left the main road and set off to explore the hills, chateaux and more hills of the 'pretty route' Adrian thought would be a good idea. I thought it left my legs achy, my energy levels depleted and I may have moaned a little. Bellac was a welcome sight and we stopped for a beer and nuts by the old stone bridge with the town  peering down on us. Adrian bravely cycled up to town, whereas I walked, but was still rewarded with a raspberry flaky pastry delight when I reached the top. This sugary hit was probably the only thing (along with the threat of an approaching storm) that gave me the strength to complete the final 35km back to Availles-Limouzine.
French Village Diaries cycling Charente Vienne Haute Vienne
My 100km-in-a-day route
It was a hard-going 35km, although not too hilly or challenging, mainly on pretty lanes with lots of shade and no traffic, but it was oh, so hot. I can’t even remember the names of the villages we cycled through. The final few kilometres were downhill to the River Vienne and once on the bridge I could see the house and balcony, which was a truly welcoming sight. It was certainly more of a challenge than last year’s 100km to La Rochelle, which was mostly flat, cool and overcast, but I did it, three days before my 45th birthday and I was very happy with that.
French Village Diaries cycling Charente Vienne Haute Vienne
Refuelling aperos on the balcony
Back at the house we had a lazy early evening apero of fizzy water, nuts and chicken rillettes on baguette, to rehydrate and refuel before putting the finishing touches to a spicy pork and rice dish I’d prepared in advance. Eaten on the balcony overlooking the Vienne it was a lovely end to a special day. Then the wind blew in, fast and furious and like nothing we had ever experienced before. We had to move quickly to bring in the cycle jerseys and wine glasses before we lost them. Half a shutter flew off the house next door, leaving the remaining bit banging sorrowfully in the wind, while we sat and waited for the end of the world. However, after a bit of rain it all calmed down and the forecast storm seemed to have missed us. It was certainly a spectacular end to an exciting day.

French Village Diaries cycling Charente Vienne Haute Vienne
The balcony overlooking the Vienne at La Poste des Gardes

If you are looking for a self-catering property with river views I can recommend La Post des Gardes. You can read my review of the property here.

While these challenges focussed more on distance, our other September cycling adventures were far more concerned with hills. I'll post more about those very soon.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Book review of Death at the Paris Exposition by Frances McNamara

French Village Diaries book review Death at the Paris Exposition Frances McNamara France Book Tours
Death at the Paris Exposition
by France McNamara

Death at the Paris Exposition

(historical mystery) Release date: September 1, 2016 at Allium Press of Chicago ISBN: 978-0-9967558-3-2 ebook: 978-0-9967558-4-9 276 pages Website Goodreads  


Amateur sleuth Emily Cabot's journey once again takes her to a world fair, the Paris Exposition of 1900. Chicago socialite Bertha Palmer is named the only female U. S. commissioner to the Exposition and enlists Emily's services as her secretary. Their visit to the House of Worth for the fitting of a couture gown is interrupted by the theft of Mrs. Palmer's famous pearl necklace. Before that crime can be solved, several young women meet untimely deaths and a member of the Palmer's inner circle is accused of the crimes. As Emily races to clear the family name she encounters jealous society ladies, American heiresses seeking titled European husbands, and more luscious gowns and priceless jewels. Along the way, she takes refuge from the tumult at the country estate of Impressionist painter Mary Cassatt. In between her work and sleuthing, she is able to share the Art Nouveau delights of the Exposition, and the enduring pleasures of the City of Light, with her husband and their children.


This is the sixth novel in the Emily Cabot series, but my first experience and I immediately felt at home with Emily. She is intelligent, organised, inquisitive and determined. It was very easy to slip into her narrative and I enjoyed experiencing Paris in 1900 with her.

Emily and her family are in Paris with the wealthy Palmer family as Emily is working as social secretary for Bertha Palmer, the only woman US commissioner at the Exposition. She becomes part of their social circle, experiencing the fashion houses of Paris and the engagements that must be organised and attended, however things don’t go as smoothly as expected when jewellery is stolen and bodies are discovered. Emily is loyal to her employer and determined to clear the Palmer name, despite the French police and some of their social circle who seem just as determined to prove the guilt. At some point during the book I suspected every character we met and couldn’t wait to find out exactly who was behind the thefts and murders and how they did it.

This book is fiction, but some of the characters we meet are real Americans who were in Paris for the Exposition of 1900. I do have a soft spot for books that blur fact with fiction and this one ticked lots of boxes. Paris is in party mode and the excitement of the exposition and socialising is described in detail, along with the customs, fashion and jewellery of the time. It is a well-researched book set in a fabulous era with a gripping mystery and I loved trying to piece together the facts to work out who was guilty.


French Village Diaries book review Death at the Paris Exposition Frances McNamara France Book Tours
Frances McNamara
Frances McNamara grew up in Boston, where her father served as Police Commissioner for ten years. She has degrees from Mount Holyoke and Simmons Colleges, and recently retired from the University of Chicago. She now divides her time between Boston and Cape Cod. She is the author of five other titles in the Emily Cabot Mysteries series, which is set in the 1890s and takes place primarily in Chicago: Death at the Fair, Death at Hull House, Death at Pullman, Death at Woods Hole, and Death at Chinatown. Visit her website Follow her on Facebook Sign up to receive her newsletter Follow Allium Press of Chicago on Twitter | on Facebook Buy the book: on Amazon


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Monday, September 12, 2016

Book review of Bonjour Kale by Kristen Beddard

French Village Diaries book review Bonjour Kale Kristen Beddard
Bonjour Kale by Kristen Beddard

My review today is for Bonjour Kale by Kristen Beddard, a memoir about a new life in Paris, with a difference.

Kristen meets her husband Philip in New York, but he was actually born in Geneva, raised in England, had a German passport and spoke fluent French. His work lands them in Paris, which she loves, but she also feels there are some things missing in her new life. The first is kale; the curly cabbage-like vegetable that can be eaten raw, cooked or juiced, was a staple from her childhood and is noticeably missing from markets, supermarkets and restaurants in Paris.

The other thing missing is her sense of purpose. Her French is limited, she isn’t working and she misses her family and friends. This is when she decides she needs a project and that is to single-handedly bring kale to Paris.

If there is one thing the French know, it is their food and I’ve yet to meet a French person who doesn’t have an opinion on how to prepare, cook or eat whatever food is being discussed (and in France food is always being discussed). To find farmers willing to grow kale, market vendors willing to sell it and restaurants brave enough to use it, was an enormous task when most of them had never heard of it. With determination and an ever-growing network of kale lovers on her side, it is a challenge she embraces and refuses to give up on.

Maybe I have lived in France too long, or just that I prefer courgettes (zucchini) to brasicas, but I have to admit to never having eaten kale, however Kristen’s passion is so strong, her story so inspirational and the recipes she includes sound so delicious I’m off to see if kale has reached rural France.

This memoir ticked lots of boxes for me; the funny settling in stories and mishaps of arriving in Paris, the food and market side to living in Paris and a story that is just a little bit different to other similar memoirs. I highly recommend it.

Bonjour Kale is published by Sourcebooks and available from Amazon in paperback.

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Book review of Time and Regret by MK Tod

Time And Regret
Time and Regret
by MK Tod

Time and Regret by MK Tod

(historical mystery) Release date: August 16, 2016 on Amazon ISBN: 978-1503938403 366 pages Author's page | Goodreads


When Grace Hansen finds a box belonging to her beloved grandfather, she has no idea it holds the key to his past and to long-buried family secrets. In the box are his World War I diaries and a cryptic note addressed to her. Determined to solve her grandfather's puzzle, Grace follows his diary entries across towns and battle sites in northern France, where she becomes increasingly drawn to a charming French man and suddenly aware that someone is following her. Through her grandfather's vivid writing and Grace's own travels, a picture emerges of a man very unlike the one who raised her: one who watched countless friends and loved ones die horrifically in battle; one who lived a life of regret. But her grandfather wasn't the only one harboring secrets, and the more Grace learns about her family, the less she thinks she can trust them.


Grace and her Grandfather shared a close relationship, close enough for him to set her a puzzle and know that one day she would work out his secret and help to put right what he couldn’t. With his war diaries and cryptic clues Grace heads to France, alone, hoping following in his footsteps will make solving the mystery easier. Visiting the memorials, cemeteries and museums that are in abundance in northern France, Grace meets Pierre, a welcome friendly face, as she soon realises she is being followed. Just what is in her Grandfather’s diaries to cause such interest?

This book is partly set in the 1990’s following Grace as she tries to work out the clues she knows her Grandfather has left for her, part narrative of his time spent fighting in the First World War and part extracts of his harrowing war diaries, all cleverly woven together. We get a firsthand account of everything life in the trenches threw at the soldiers including the discomfort and dirt, death and depression, friendship and camaraderie. Young Martin Devlin is often angry and very different to the loving Grandfather Grace remembers. There are plenty of twists and turns and every time Grace gets closer to solving a clue, something or someone crops up and the mystery deepens, leaving me wondering who can she trust. The further into the book I got, the more difficult it was to put it down.

This is the third historic novel I have enjoyed from MK Tod, but the added sense of mystery in this novel has made it my favourite.

Read my review of Unravelled here.
Read my review of Lies Told in Silence here.


Time And Regret MK Tod Time and Regret is M.K. Tod's third novel. She began writing in 2005 while living as an expat in Hong Kong. What started as an interest in her grandparents' lives turned into a full-time occupation writing historical fiction. Her novel Unravelled was awarded Indie Editor's Choice by the Historical Novel Society. In addition to writing historical novels, she blogs about reading and writing historical fiction at http://www.awriterofhistory.com, reviews books for the Historical Novel Society and the Washington Independent Review of Books, and has conducted three highly respected reader surveys. She lives in Toronto, Canada, with her husband and is the mother of two adult children. Please visit her website and her blog A Writer of History Subscribe to her mailing list or contact her at mktod [at] bell [dot] net Follow her on Facebook and Twitter on Goodreads and Pinterest Buy the book (print, ebook audiobook): Amazon


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