Thursday, March 4, 2021

Book review of The French House by Helen Fripp

French Village Diaries book review The French House by Helen Fripp
The French House by Helen Fripp


The French House by Helen Fripp

Description 

The vineyards stretched away in every direction as he plucked a perfect red grape, sparkling with dew. “Marry me,” he’d said. “We’ll run these vineyards together.” But now he is gone. There is no one to share the taste of the first fruit of the harvest. And her troubles are hers alone…

In sleepy little Reims, France, grieving Nicole Clicquot watches her daughter play amongst the vines under the golden sun and makes a promise to herself. Her gossiping neighbours insist that the rolling fields of chalk soil are no place for a woman, but she is determined to make a success of the winery. It’s the only chance she has to keep a roof over her head and provide a future for her little girl.

But as the seasons change, bringing a spoiled harvest and bitter grapes, the vineyards are on the brink of collapse. Without her husband’s oldest friend, travelling merchant Louis, she’d truly be lost. No one else would stay up all night to help count endless rows of green bottles deep in the cellars, or spread word far and wide that Nicole makes the finest champagne he’s ever tasted. One magical night, as a shooting star illuminates their way under a velvet sky, Nicole gazes up at his warm smile and wonders if perhaps she doesn’t need to be quite so alone…

But when Louis shrinks from her touch after returning from a long trip abroad, Nicole fears something is terribly wrong. And as an old secret about her husband – that only Louis knew – spreads from the cobbled village streets all the way to the Paris salons, her heart and fragile reputation are shattered. Was she wrong to put her trust in another man? And with Napoleon’s wars looming on the horizon, can she find a way to save her vineyards, and her daughter, from ruin?

Fans of ChocolatCarnegie’s Maid, Dinah Jeffries and anyone longing to sip champagne under the stars will adore this stunning historical read, inspired by the true story of how Nicole Clicquot blazed her own path to build the world’s greatest champagne house: Veuve Clicquot.



French Village Diaries book review The French House by Helen Fripp
Bookouture Books-On-Tour
The French House by Helen Fripp

 

My review

Unlike most ladies in nineteenth century France, Nicole was a wild-child tom-boy who refused to marry for society but married François Clicquot for love, and to live her life her own way. Theirs was a love that grew like the vineyards they tended together, but also one fraught with depression and loss, leaving her alone in a world where women were not welcome. 

 

The vineyards, terroir and Champagne making process are all easily visualised in this book, along with the French customs of the era. There are many who want her to fail, so knowing who to trust and who would sell out to her rivals is never easy, but her stubborn refusal to give in was what drove her on, even in the darkest of days. From dependable Xavier, to all-seeing Natasha, loyal Louis, exotic Thérésa and mysterious Alexei, we get passion, respect and deception, as well as a colourful cast of characters who intrigued and entertained me as we travelled through the French Revolution, 19thcentury Parisian society and Napoleon’s war with Russia.

 

This imagined story of a real-life remarkable woman is a fascinating read, as fate, mother nature, family feuds and war all have their part to play as the fortunes of Nicole Clicquot and her vineyard, ride high on success one minute and are plunged into disaster the next. I was with her every step of the way, from her most unladylike daring adventures in horse drawn carriages from Reims, to Paris, to Amsterdam, willing her to find the happiness and success that she deserved. Desperately wanting her to gain the respect from the men who were her rivals, and to prove to herself as much as the town’s gossips, that she was right to fight.

 

I don’t know the story behind the widow Clicquot name, although a glass or two of Veuve Clicquot Champagne has passed my lips over the years, but I’d like to think that this book does her, her hard work and extraordinary life justice.

 

The French House is available in ebook and paperback formats and if you enjoy historical fiction, with strong female characters and a fast-moving plot, all washed down with a glass of Champagne, add this book to your 2021 reading list.

 

Purchase links   


Amazon 

Apple  

Kobo 

Google 

 

French Village Diaries book review The French House by Helen Fripp
Author Helen Fripp, The French House


Author Bio 

Helen loves historical fiction, and in her writing, she's fascinated by the women throughout history who have made their mark against all the odds. She finds researching the architecture, art and customs of the time really inspirational, and the tiniest detail can spark an idea for a whole chapter. Her female characters rail against the social constraints to which they are subject and often achieve great success, but they are of course flawed and human, like the rest of us. It's the motivations, flaws, loves and every-day lives of her characters that she loves to bring life, against sweeping historical backdrops - and she will find any excuse to take off and research a captivating location or person for her next story.

Her first novel is set in the Champagne region in France, and she is currently working on her next one, set in late eighteenth-century Paris. She spent a lot of time in France as a child, has lived in Paris and spent a year with her family in a fishing village in South West France, so that's where her books have ended up being set so far. Who knows where next!

 

Author Social Media Links

 

FACEBOOK 

TWITTER 

French Village Diaries reviews of books set in France
French Village Diaries reviews of books set in France


Book review of The Women Who Ran Away by Sheila O'Flanagan

French Village Diaries book review The Women Who Ran Away Sheila O'Flanagan
The Women Who Ran Away Sheila O'Flanagan

 

The Women Who Ran Away by Sheila O’Flanagan

 

THE NO. 1 IRISH BESTSELLER!

'One of my favourite authors' Marian Keyes


'If you've had to cancel your holiday plans this summer, don't worry - this beautiful new novel will transport you to sunnier climes...' - HEAT'S READ OF THE WEEK

In Sheila O'Flanagan's stunning new novel, two women face up to shocking truths about the men they've loved - and start to make their own decisions about what to do next...

Deira isn't the kind of woman to steal a car. Or drive to France alone with no plan. But then, Deira didn't expect to be single. Or to suddenly realise that the only way she can get the one thing she wants most is to start breaking every rule she lives by.

Grace has been sent on a journey by her late husband, Ken. She doesn't really want to be on it but she's following his instructions, as always. She can only hope that the trip will help her to forgive him. And then - finally - she'll be able to let him go.

Brought together by unexpected circumstances, Grace and Deira find that it's easier to share secrets with a stranger, especially in the shimmering sunny countryside of Spain and France. But they soon find that there's no escaping the truth, whether you're running away from it or racing towards it . . .

 

French Village Diaries book review The Women Who Ran Away Sheila O'Flanagan
The Women Who Ran Away paperback release 4th March 2021


My review

This was such an easy book to get into, but a difficult one to put down. 

 

Grace and Deira were engaging characters, thrown together on the ferry from Ireland to France; two very different women, in the similar situation of holidaying alone whilst coping with the traumatic grief that comes with unexpected life-changing events. 

 

They form an unlikely bond as they both try to unravel their thoughts and work out what comes next in life, while solving the clues to a rather unusual treasure hunt. As they make their way from Nantes, to La Rochelle, Bordeaux and down through Spain to Cartagena, their journey takes them to museums and cafés where the lives of literary greats including Jules Verne, George Simenon, Earnest Hemmingway and Cervantes are remembered. This book actually made me want to look up these authors and learn more about their works and especially the places in France they were connected to. I found myself thinking about the clues and the characters even when I’d put the book down, and as much of this book is set in the west of France, close to home for me, it was great to glean some new understanding of some of my favourite places to visit. 

 

This book is more than just a literary road trip, it takes us on an emotional journey too. The destructive emotions we all experience when situations beyond our control throw our lives into chaos, like grief, anger, hurt and regret, were normalised as Grace and Deira learned to put the past behind them and began their road to recovery.

 

I was sorry to get to the end of the journey with them but felt a lovely sense of peace and calm descend in my head when I finished the book.

 

The Women Who Ran Away is available in ebook and paperback formats and if you enjoy a good book that will whisk you along on a journey and open your mind to new experiences, then this is one for you.

 

Purchase Links



Amazon


Waterstones 



French Village Diaries book review The Women Who Ran Away Sheila O'Flanagan
Sheila O'Flanagan

 

Author Bio

Sheila O’Flanagan is the author of bestselling chart-toppers, including Her Husband’s Mistake, The Hideaway, What Happened That Night, The Missing Wife, My Mother’s Secret and All For You (winner of the Irish Independent Popular Fiction Book of the Year Award). After working in banking and finance for a number of years, Sheila’s love for writing blossomed into curating stories about relationships in all their many forms.

 

Social Media Links 

Twitter 

Twitter Headline Publishing 

Website 

Facebook 

 

French Village Diaries book review The Women Who Ran Away Sheila O'Flanagan
The Women Who Ran Away
Publication Day Push 4th March 2021


WHAT READERS ARE SAYING ABOUT THE WOMEN WHO RAN AWAY:


'Didn't want it to end' *****

'I would have given this 6 stars if I could'

'Within the first chapter, I had left reality and social distancing behind and joined two amazing women on a life-changing adventure' *****

'A great summer read'

'Five stars all the way!' *****

'Sheila O'Flanagan never disappoints' *****

'Fantastic read!'

'Couldn't put this book down!'



French Village Diaries reviews of books set in France
French Village Diaries reviews of books set in France


Wednesday, February 24, 2021

Book review of It's a Mad World by Susie Kelly

French Village Diaries book review It's a Mad World Susie Kelly
It's a Mad World, Travels Through a Muddled Life Susie Kelly


It’s a Mad World – Travels Through a Muddled Life


My review today is for It’s a Mad World – Travels Through a Muddled Life, the latest humorous memoir from Susie Kelly.

 

Susie and husband Terry have led a far more interesting life than I have, and despite Susie claiming otherwise, don’t seem to be afraid of adventure. They are well-travelled and come across as engaging, open-minded and happy to talk to the people they meet. Strangers soon become friends, who lead them on exciting detours and ensure their holiday experiences won’t be forgotten in a hurry. They have certainly given 100% to whatever life has thrown at them.

 

In this book, Susie expertly takes us on a journey revisiting some of the memorable moments from her life and travels. Her childhood in Africa, sailing in the Solent, flying free over France, skiing in Bulgaria and relaxing in Greece, to name just a few. No matter where in the world she finds herself, adventure and situations that could go from hilarious, to embarrassing, to terrifying, seem to find her. 

 

This is a well-written book in Susie’s honest and humorous style, that covers the bad days as well as the funny ones and is another great read from her that you won’t want to miss out on. 

 

It’s a Mad World – Travels Through a Muddled Life is available now in ebook and paperback formats and links to Amazon can be found below.  




Read my reviews of Susie’s previous memoirs here:


In Foreign Fields

La Vie En Rose

Safari Ants, Baggy Pants and Elephants

Best Foot Forward

Travels with Tinkerbelle

The Valley of Heaven and Hell

Swallows and Robins

 

You can find Susie on Facebook and Twitter.




French Village Diaries book review It's a Mad World Susie Kelly
From the Writing Desk of Susie Kelly


 

Read my interviews with Susie here:


From the Writing Desk

France et Moi






French Village Diaries book reviews on a French Theme
French Village Diaries book reviews on a French Theme

Monday, February 22, 2021

From the Writing Desk of Susie Kelly

French Village Diaries From the Writing Desk interview Susie Kelly
From the Writing Desk of Susie Kelly


From the writing desk, of Susie Kelly

 

Welcome to the French Village Diaries interview feature, From the Writing Desk, where this week, to coincide with the release of It’s a Mad World – Travels Through a Muddled Life, I am delighted to be (virtually) joining author Susie Kelly at her writing desk in France.

 

Susie was born in Wimbledon, where the Wombles came from, but moved to Kenya where she spent most of the first 20 years of her life. 

 

She later lived in the Cotswolds for many years until she moved to south-west France in the early 1990s and has been there ever since. That’s when she was inspired to begin writing. ‘It’s A Mad World’ will be her twelfth published non-fiction book.

 

Home is an old farmhouse in a tiny hamlet, where she lives with two pygmy goats, two dogs and an African Grey parrot. It’s a pretty good life. 

 

Your writing space

 

Susie, how important is your desk space to your writing? Do you only write at your desk, or are you happy sitting anywhere?

 

Susie: I bought a laptop and planned to use it so that I could write anywhere, but I generally work at my desk, with a larger keyboard to accommodate my large fingers, and a large monitor so I can see what I’ve written. I find the laptop rather fiddly.


 

French Village Diaries From the Writing Desk interview Susie Kelly
Susie's Chinese soapstone brush holder


Do you prefer your workspace to be tidy and well-organised or creatively cluttered?

 

Susie: I would love it to be tidy and well-organised. Ideally my desk would only hold my computer and an exquisite Chinese soapstone brush holder that is one of my favourite pieces of collected oriental carvings. It is so intricate, every time I look at it I find something new to love and admire. The photo doesn’t do it justice. 

 

However, during the day it will be joined by notebooks, battery chargers, cups of tea, sticky notes, cookery books and small pieces of plastic or metal objects that don’t seem to belong to anything.

 

How important is daily writing to you?

 

Susie: It’s not a must-do for me Jacqui. There are days when there are other things I need or want to do, and I never make myself write if I am not in the mood. It has to be a pleasure, not a task.

 

Do you prefer to work to a deadline, and if so, do you set yourself targets?

 

Susie: Hm. That’s an interesting question. Some people work best to a strict deadline; I don’t. As above, I would not enjoy writing under pressure, but at the same time I think you do need to have some kind of plan if you want to complete a project. I prefer to set a notional target and work towards that. With so much stress affecting us all at the moment, I do whatever I can to avoid it, and having to write ‘to order’ would only increase it.  

 

Writing during Covid-19

 

As a writer, with a desk and computer at home, life and work would have continued for you throughout lockdown, but has the pandemic affected your motivation to write? 

 

Susie: When lockdown first began I thought it would be a perfect opportunity to concentrate on writing.  I never imagined it would go on for so long and have such a devastating effect all over the world. As time has gone on I’ve found the travel restrictions quite demotivating, especially as I am unable to visit my daughter. I haven’t seen her for nearly three years.  

 

Although I am normally happy with my own company, after all these months I have begun to feel in need of a change of scene and atmosphere. Sometimes I feel like curling up in a ball and hibernating until it’s all over. 

 

However, we are so lucky to live in a rural area where we have space, peace and quiet all around us. I cannot imagine what it is like for people living in crowded cities and confined spaces, so I count our blessings.

 

Have you noticed any unexpected benefits to life in lockdown?

 

Susie: I’ve saved a lot of money on lipstick. And petrol.

 

Was It’s a Mad World – Travels Through a Muddled Life your lockdown project? 

 

Susie: It actually started before lockdown, when I was convalescing from my cancer operation. Then along came lockdown, and the writing became a much needed distraction and eventually therapy.



French Village Diaries From the Writing Desk interview Susie Kelly
It's a Mad World by Susie Kelly

 

Your latest release

 

It’s a Mad World – Travels Through a Muddled Life, your latest memoir is out now, can you tell us a bit about it?

 

Susie: I think the title sums it up! I believe there are people who sail through life smoothly and nothing ever goes wrong. My life has never been like that. More things have gone wrong than have gone right. Going through my diaries and photo albums bringing back many of those memories cheered me up and made me laugh when I was reminded of all the things I’ve done, places I’ve been and people I’ve met. Although it may have been nice to have had an uneventful life, I think it’s probably a lot more interesting and fun when things fall apart. I hope readers will enjoy reading about my mishaps.   

 

Life outside of writing

 

What do you look forward to, when you’ve saved the document and switched off the computer, as your treat at the end of the writing day?

 

Susie: During the chilly winter months when I’ve finished working I enjoy having a quiet meal and then sitting with Terry, the dogs and parrot and binge-watching Netflix. When I’m tired I take a cup of hot milk and spice up to bed and read for half an hour before going to sleep. It’s my interpretation of a rave. 

Once summer comes we’ll all be chilling out in the garden. 

 

How would you normally celebrate the release of a new novel, and will it be different this year?

 

Susie: I roll up my sleeves and tackle all the tiresome things I’ve managed to avoid while I’ve been writing. After that I need a good rest, and like to catch up on my reading for a few weeks before planning the next writing project. No change this year!

 

Thank you for taking the time out of your writing day to let me join you at your writing desk. 

 

Susie: Thank you Jacqui.

 

It’s a Mad World – Travels Through a Muddled Life is a collection of adventures from Susie’s life. She is one of those people who always finds someone interesting on her travels, often finding herself in situations that could go from hilarious, to embarrassing, to terrifying, but show Susie and husband Terry have certainly given 100% to whatever life has thrown at them. This is another interesting and humorous read from Susie that you won’t want to miss out on.

 

It’s a Mad World – Travels Through a Muddled Life is available now in ebook and paperback formats and links to Amazon can be found below. 

 



Join me on the blog this Wednesday when I will be posting my full review.


You can find Susie on Facebook.

 

Read my reviews of Susie’s previous memoirs here:

In Foreign Fields

La Vie En Rose

Safari Ants, Baggy Pants and Elephants

Best Foot Forward

Travels with Tinkerbelle

The Valley of Heaven and Hell

Swallows and Robins



Sunday, February 21, 2021

Lazy Sunday in France shaking off the winter blues

French Village Diaries Lazy Sunday in France shaking off the winter blues
Migrating cranes flying over the house on their way north


Lazy Sunday in France

It has been a while since I posted a Lazy Sunday in France post, so that was my plan for today. A relaxed breakfast of coffee and croissants with homemade jam, and then maybe a book, a chair and a bit of me time.

 

I peered out of the window to see if sitting in the garden would be a possibility, the weather having thrown all sorts at us this week, although there is certainly a noticeable rise in the temperatures. I didn’t have to look far to see that nature has been anything but lazy.

 

The daisies, speedwell and violets are flowering in the grass (which will need its first cut soon) and one of the plum trees is about to burst into blossom. The migrating cranes have filled the sky above the house most days this week, circling high, flying in formation and calling between themselves as they make their way north. 



French Village Diaries Lazy Sunday in France shaking off the winter blues
Wild daffodils

 

Yesterday’s twenty-two kilometre bike ride was a battle with the wind, but worth the effort to see the first cowslip flowers in ditches that only a few weeks ago were full and flooded, plus banks of purple periwinkle, tall, delicate hellebores in the woods and the tiny, pale daffodils that grow semi-wild just outside the village.

 

I know Covid-19 can make life feel like it’s on hold, but time certainly isn’t standing still. Four months have now passed since we enjoyed a sneaky autumn break in the Cahors vineyards, which was when lockdown two was announced in France. In the run up to Christmas we kept ourselves busy decorating upstairs, but dates on photos show that we put down the paintbrushes three months ago, even though it seems only a few weeks have passed. I am pleased to report the clutter hasn’t made it back to the newly decorated spaces. 

 

It will be interesting to see if France avoids a third lockdown situation, especially as it’s currently school holiday time and anyone who can, seems to have hit the motorways and headed off on holiday. We are yearning to hit the roads on our bikes, even if it is just for a few days, but we’re happy to wait for the school holiday madness to subside. Now it’s still light at almost seven o’clock in the evening, the six o’clock curfew is certainly starting to feel a lot more restrictive.

 

With the spring equinox now only one month away, two-thirds of winter are officially done and dusted. Which probably explains that feeling in my fingers, an itching to declutter. It doesn’t happen often, so I really must channel it, but at the moment I just seem to find myself wandering from room to room, horrified at the amount of stuff, and not sure where to start the sorting. I shall spend the rest of my lazy Sunday planning where to begin. This week it would be nice if we can continue to enjoy morning coffee and lunch in the garden, a motivating treat as I attempt to tackle a cupboard, drawer or shelf each day.

 

What signs of spring to you look forward to seeing to give you the motivation to shake off the winter blues?

  

Saturday, February 20, 2021

Book review of The Secret French Recipes of Sophie Valroux by Samantha Vérant

French Village Diaries book review The Secret French Recipes of Sophie Valroux by Samantha Vérant
The Secret French Recipes of Sophie Valroux by Samantha Vérant


My review today is for The Secret French Recipes of Sophie Valroux by Samantha Vérant.

 

This book starts on a high. The buzz of excitement and anticipation in the kitchen of a prestigious New York restaurant can be felt as the chefs await an important phone call. Then wham! In an instant it’s all taken away and Sophie sees her dream of being a Michelin recognised chef disintegrate around her. As her name is ruined, I felt the dull ache of pain in my chest at the injustice of what had happened to her. Sophie spirals into despair as she loses her way, both in life and in the kitchen, and the risk of turning into a broken woman, like her mother, suddenly seems very real. 

 

A little bit of French magic can help to heal even the most broken of hearts and that is just what is offered to Sophie. Although it has been many years since she spent any time in France with her Grand-mere Odette, a telephone call to say Odette is not well, is enough for Sophie to pack her bags in New York and fly into Toulouse to be with her. She may have pushed her happy memories of summers in France to the back of her mind, since her mum died, but being back in the chateau and seeing familiar faces brings them alive once more, and she begins to realise what she has sacrificed to follow her dream. 

 

In order to move forward, Sophie needs to understand more about the past and together with Odette, they slowly work through things that have been too difficult to voice for many years. Not everyone is happy with her sudden arrival, and it will take time and work to regain her confidence and prove her place in the chateau. With support from a few special people and the strength she has from Odette and her notebooks, Sophie tries her best to rebuild her life and her dreams. 

 

There was a lot to keep me entertained in this book, including a great fun and sometimes quirky cast of characters. Sophie came to life through the emotionally charged moments, from the despair at the beginning to the understanding and acceptance that came with the family secrets revealing the missing pieces of her life. I found it easy to visualise the chateau, the markets and the streets of Toulouse, as well as the smells of the kitchen and the produce from the garden and vineyards, and as an added bonus there are recipes included for some of Sophie’s favourite dishes. The more I read, the more I was filled with hope that she would find herself and her home. 

 

If you enjoy novels with strong characters, a sense of place and a little bit of French magic, you will love this one. 


The great news is that the second book in this series, Sophie Valroux’s Paris Stars will be released in October this year. Links to Amazon can be found below.

 

Samantha Vérant has also published two memoirs about her extraordinary love affair with France and her Frenchman, and the kindle version of How to Make a French Family is currently reduced on Amazon.

 

Read my reviews here:

Seven Letters from Paris

How to Make a French Family

 

Read Samantha’s France et Moi interview here.