Friday, November 30, 2012

Au revoir iWeb

Welcome to the new look French Village Diaries Blog


I have been blogging (on and off) for more than six years and in that time Apple’s iWeb software and I have become very good friends.  It is simple to use and enabled me (with no website design skills at all) to make myself a unique site with a blog page, although I will admit having Ade around helped when things didn’t quite go to plan.  However the time has come to move on and I have been busy creating the new French Village Diaries here on Blogger.

Whilst iWeb made some things very easy, there were some limitations.  Having made the decision to get an iPad I wanted to be able to do as much with it as possible, but despite iWeb and iPad both being from the same Apple family you can’t use iWeb on an iPad, but Blogger on the other hand can be updated via an app or online.  There were also quite a few things I wanted that iWeb couldn’t do, like the ability to add a ‘subscribe to this blog via email’ button, or that fantastic feature from LinkWithin that suggests other similar posts you may also like to read.  I can also now ‘label’ all my posts with key words like ‘recipe’ or ‘review’ so there is no need for separate pages on the site indexing all book reviews or recipes that I have posted, a quick click on a label word (on the sidebar on the right) and all relevant posts will be displayed.  I think it makes for a cleaner and tidier site.  All recent posts and book reviews have already been moved over, however the recipes and guest posts are not here yet, but will be soon.  I will not be moving every post, but some of my favourites may find their way back in someday.  Also, from the tabs across the top you are just one click away from direct access to my Amazon Bookstore and Special Places in France, our holiday home listings site.

I hope you like it too and please feel free to let me know what you think in the comments, thank you.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Susie Kelly New Release and Giveaway


French Village Diaries Susie Kelly book review Swallows & Robins
I felt very honoured when Stephanie at Blackbird Digital Books sent me a pre-published copy of Susie Kelly’s latest book Swallows and Robins - The Guests In My Garden to read and review. It was also a great surprise to see Susie had dedicated the book to me (blush), oh all right only joking; she has actually dedicated it to all like me (and her) who hate housework. Knowing Susie to be an animal lover and having no idea what this book was about I assumed it was about the varied wildlife she lives in rural France with – wrong, although her beloved dogs, cats, horses and chickens get plenty of coverage.  This book tells the stories of Susie the project manager attempting to renovate two cottages on her land to run as gites, Susie the guest services manager trying her best to make everyone as happy as possible on their French holiday and finally Susie the cleaner trying to keep the gites to the required standard of cleanliness. This is another Susie Kelly great read that often had me laughing out loud as we meet the various builders, her local friends, the good guests and the bad who popped into her life over a four year period.

Those who have read and enjoyed her previous books about her life and travels in France will recognise her unmistakeable writing style and enjoy the humour she brings to even the most traumatic of situations. It would also be fair to say that she seems to have a habit of finding herself mixed in with the bizarre more often than most of us do. Anyone who has any experience of running gites in France will love this book and anyone who is thinking about having gites in France should read this book.

I am delighted to announce that Blackbird Digital Books have offered me two copies of Swallows and Robins to giveaway here on the blog. These can be either epub, PDF or mobi for Kindle. To enter please email me frenchvillagediaries@gmail.com the lucky two winners will be drawn randomly on December 12th 2012 at noon CET. 

To read my reviews on her other books please click on the links below and I hope you’ll enjoy reading this book too.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

The Confidant by Helene Gremillon


The Confidant is a first novel for French author Hélène Grémillon and has been translated and published in English by Gallic Books, who were kind enough to send me a copy to review. 

In 1970’s Paris we meet Camille, a single thirty-something who is at a vulnerable time in her life.  Her Mother has just died and along with the letters of condolence she receives some handwritten anonymous letters that begin to tell a story.  It is a disturbing and intriguing tale that twists around and is told from the point of view of three people unknown to her, so what, Camille wonders, does it have to do with her.  Through the letters she is taken back to pre-war village life and Paris at the time of the German occupation, a difficult time in the history of France and a difficult story for the letter writer to tell.

This is a dark and emotional book of love, loss, betrayal, lies, deceit and revenge, but I really don’t want to say anymore except you need to read it for yourselves.


Tuesday, November 27, 2012

The Importance of Editing a Book


I have recently read that the ease of self-publishing has (obviously) resulted in more books out there to read – a good thing, but unfortunately in some cases the quality of these books is not what it should be – not such a good thing for readers. Whilst I would never want to put anyone off writing and getting their story out there, after all this is a great way of documenting our times for future generations, I’m sorry to say I have found a couple of disappointing examples.

Last weekend I took advantage of a small window of opportunity and downloaded Living the Languedoc Life and Love Living the Languedoc Life; , by Wendy Stredder for free on Amazon.co.uk (normal prices are £1.53 and £1.97).  I have an almost insatiable appetite for books on life in France, however in my opinion these books highlight the importance of getting a book edited before publishing it.  I spend quite a bit of time writing my blog posts, and while I am aware the grammar may not always be spot on, it is at the end of a day just a free to read blog.  If these books had been a blog I would have enjoyed them, as a free download I tolerated them, if I had paid I would have been disappointed.  Thankfully they were short books, or I would probably not have finished reading them.  I found them to be very rushed, flitting from event to event without stopping to catch a breath and where characters appeared without introductions.  This would be fine if they were for friends and family to read about your life in France, but is confusing if you are putting the story out for a wider audience.  There was also an excessive amount of exclamation marks, something I know I can be guilty of too, but not something I am used to reading in real books.

The second book ‘Love Living the Languedoc Life’ was a little better, but so much more could have been made of their wine-tasting walks, visits to local fêtes and rambles along the Canal du Midi.  It did however make me want to return to the lovely Languedoc, the ability to leave home and find vineyard walks in every direction, with friendly owners happy to refresh you is what dreams are made of.

This book did give me one epiphany moment though; if she can sell her books on her life in France on Amazon there is no reason why I couldn’t either.  I’ll catch you later; I’m off to write a book and maybe some time. 

The Canal du Midi



Monday, November 26, 2012

The big health check


It started with a new mole on my back and a simple visit to my doctor to get a referral letter to a dermatologist.  However our doctor is nothing if not thorough and after waiting the obligatory half an hour to be seen, she starts off with taking my blood pressure, which is thankfully normal, then she listens to my chest, lots of deep breathing required, but again, everything is normal.  She then does a breast examination with her cold hands that she does apologise for in advance, no problems found and then with a glint in her eye she mentions the dreaded ‘S’ word.  It appears it is time for another smear test - gulp.  At least this time there is no student doctor shadowing her.

As I leave with the letter to give to a dermatologist and the carefully packaged smear to post to the laboratory I also seem to have been given a prescription to take with me to the blood test centre for a set of bloods.  This is why I found myself in Melle rather early on a cold, foggy Monday morning, munching a croissant (it was a fasting blood test) and walking the dog.  I had hoped for a blue sky, sunshine and crisp golden leaves crunching underfoot, type of day.  Instead I got wet, slippery leaves with an eerie mist and a day cold enough to wear a coat.  Never mind, it still looked beautiful, Mini had a great time and I’ve had my full body check up.


Sunday, November 25, 2012

Guest Post by Anne Trager from Le French Book

When Jacqui asked me to write a post for French Village Diaries, I thought it would be fun to share glimpses of France from the books I’ve most recently translated into English. I love mysteries and crime fiction, and all three of these books are in that genre, are by acclaimed French authors, and are set in France. For me, these books are more than just entertaining reading, they are a way to discover France differently.

Take The Paris Lawyer by Sylvie Granotier (http://www.theparislawyer.com).  Our heroine, Catherine Monsigny, is a rookie lawyer in Paris, but a felony case takes her to Creuse.  I’ve lived in France over 25 years and I didn’t even know where that was until now.  Here, she’s talking to her father about her new case.
 “I’d be surprised if you wanted to hang out there. It’s not such a great place.” “Just as well. I’m not a tourist. Isn’t there a slogan, ‘Creuse, where kids run free and happy’?” “Rivers. Where rivers run free and happy.” Yes. An old ad pops out of who-knows-where. 
The author, Sylvie Granotier, splits her time between Paris and Creuse, and has told me about the nineteenth-century painting-like landscapes that inspire her writing.

In Treachery in Bordeaux (The Winemaker Detective Series) by Jean-Pierre Alaux and Noël Balen (http://www.treacheryinbordeaux.com), you travel to French wine country:
The morning was cool and radiant. A west wind had swept the clouds far inland to the gentle hills beyond the city of Bordeaux…The Médoc was still wild, despite its well-ordered garden veneer, and it would always be that way. In the distance, a few low wisps of fog were finishing their lazy dance along the Gironde Estuary.
This book has a particularly heightened sense of place and you learn a lot about the whole winemaking world. It’s a fun, classic whodunit.

Then there is The 7th Woman (Nico Sirsky, Chief of Police) by Frédérique Molay (“the French Michael Connelly”), which gives a truly different perspective of Paris (http://www.the7thwoman.com).  I lived in Paris for over 20 years and really enjoyed experiencing it the way I did in this book: on the end of my seat.  It’s like the movie Seven meets CSI in the City of Light, with an alpha-male hero and a creepy killer.  Here’s one of my favorite passages, which probably says something about me, but hey:
The Marais was part of the city’s magic, with it narrow streets lined with private townhouses … It was the preserved heart of the capital. It had a long history, and its well-preserved heritage let the mind imagine the unbelievable treasures it once held and the scenes with kings and courtesans that those stones had witnessed. He liked this enigmatic atmosphere. It was, after all, in the tower of the Temple Fortress that King Louis XVI had been imprisoned before being taken to the guillotine. It was also where the young King Louis XVII was killed under lesser-known circumstances. This was a neighborhood predestined for his crime. 

Anne Trager founded Le French Book to bring France's best crime fiction, thrillers, novels, short stories, and non-fiction to new readers across the English-speaking world. The company’s motto is: “If we love it, we’ll translate it.”

Many thanks to Anne for joining us here.
©Sylvie Granotier

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Spotted Out and About Shopping


We have been out and about shopping, normal food shopping, a bit of Christmas present shopping and fresh produce market shopping.  Not bad for a couple who really don’t shop unless absolutely necessary.  Some of the things we have seen tickled me and I thought I would share them with you.

As we are nearing Christmas the shops are digging out their tinsel and doing a bit of festive decorating.  Unfortunately ‘elf-n-safety’ hasn’t really reached France yet so we watched with held breath as the lady from the welcome desk at the local supermarket put her life in the hands of her colleague all for a bit of tinsel. With her fashionably high-heeled boots she was standing on the forks of a forklift pallet mover six feet off the ground while her colleague moved her around the aisles to hang the decorations.  This was carried out during the open hours with the added risk of a trolley driven by a doddery old shopper colliding with the forklift.   I would have taken a photo, but I was afraid the flash would have made her lose concentration and fall, so I refrained.

Browsing the aisles I was easily distracted from the potential disaster of a falling decorator when I noticed the advent calendars – for cats.  At a huge price of 9.99€ your pampered pussies could be the owners of an enormous Gourmet sachet filled advent calendar – purrlease!  I was so shocked by this I forgot to take a photo, sorry.



Now to explain the picture of me with the funniest thing we found so far, an enormous book titled Johnny Hallyday pour les nuls (For Dummies).  The French LOVE Johnny Hallyday and find it very hard to believe us when we tell them he really isn’t that big in the English speaking world.  An extensive search on Amazon.co.uk not only failed to find the English version of this book but also showed most of the books available on Johnny were in French.  I have no idea what they found to fill so many pages, but when I mentioned it to some French friends they solemnly said that he had been around a long time, so there was quite a bit to write about.  I don’t think I will be adding it to my Christmas list.



By far the best shopping experience was wandering around the delicious produce at the Angouleme Fêtes des Gastronomades.  Food and drink producers from all over France gathered in marquees in the streets of the beautiful city of Angouleme.  Their produce on display was a feast for the eyes, and for the mouth as tasting was positively encouraged.  We were tempted by biscuits from Brittany to Provence, local goats cheeses to Basque sheeps cheeses, fresh meats, dried meats, olives, fruits, wine, oils – I could go on.  It was busy but worth a visit especially as entry to all the venues was free.  Despite it being held on a Saturday a month before Christmas the sun was out and we were able to drive into a city centre underground car park without any traffic problems and park for over two hours for 1.50€ - in UK this would have been at least stressful if not impossible.    With Christmas a month today I think I am more prepared than usual, phew.  To see more photos of the food at Gastronomades please take a look at the Facebook page, thanks.

Delicious chocolate orange buns

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Joie de Vivre, by Harriet Welty Rochefort


For Book Worm Wednesday this week I am reviewing Harriet Welty Rochefort’s book Joie de Vivre: Secrets of Wining, Dining, and Romancing Like the French .  A book with a beautiful cover, where she uses her in depth knowledge of the French, she has been married to a Frenchman and living here for over 40 years, to explain their ‘ways’ to the rest of us.

She tries to unravel and explain a lot of French paradox, they seem to eat more, yet mostly remain on their target weight, their lunch hours and holidays are important, strikes happen and are supported, yet they remain very productive and for a nation with a reputation for being sullen they have the most ‘joie de vivre’.

I was either nodding in agreement or having a bolt of understanding as I read this book. So many things seemed to make sense and it was nice to identify some typically French things I had been following for a lot of my time here without really realising it.  I definitely learnt something - that the most important thing is confidence, from what you wear (like La Parisienne) to how you manage your food.  Talking about food, we all know it is big in France and therefore no surprise, a big topic in this book too, where we often join her and her extended French family at the table.

More than anything it made me yearn for Paris, especially as she describes her walk to the local market, the wine shop where she gets advice and good wine and my favourite, her cheese man with his seasonal stock of over 200 real cheeses.  She also seems to spend a lot of her time in cafés, talking to friends, interviewing or just people watching, but I can’t blame her, I would be doing the same if I were there too. 

If you are looking to create a new life in France it would be a great idea to read this book first, especially if finding a French husband is on your ‘to do’ list.


Friday, November 16, 2012

An Olive Oil Tour of France by Alice Alech


I have been spending some virtual time in the South of France learning about olives and olive oil.  In her book An Olive Oil Tour of France , Alice Alech takes novices and enthusiasts (that’s me) behind the scenes of the French olive oil industry.

In France, unlike Spain and Italy, most producers are small and strive for quality over quantity and importantly preserving their heritage.  In this book we meet some of the family run enterprises from the growers in Corsica, to the mill owners in Provence and even the soap makers from Marseille still using a cauldron to make the traditional olive oil soap.  Alice also introduces The Olive Garden project where children have been involved in planting 400 trees, caring for them, harvesting and producing oil to take home, a very important project for future generations of olive growers. 

We learn how to taste olive oil and like in wine how important that French phenomenon of terroir is (I love that word that basically means the influence soil and position have on the taste of grapes or olives).  One of my regrets is that last time we were in Provence we didn’t stop at one of the mills to buy (or try) ‘real’ olive oil, but next time with Alice’s tasting notes to hand I will feel more confident to give it a go.  Real olive oil tasting, for the experts, seems even more complex than wine tasting and includes something called the ‘retro nasal sensation’ – I bet you didn’t know that did you?

I love France and since moving here my relationship with food has changed for the better and I consider myself fairly knowledgeable when it comes to the French way of healthy eating, but this book still taught me new things.   It is a good mix of informative but without going too deep in a way that would make the average enthusiast switch off.  Alice also includes some recipes in the book, both edible ones and beauty ones that highlight the olive oil benefits to our hair and skin.  I will be giving the hair conditioning treatment a try.  As you would expect the food recipes are all very Mediterranean but they are not exclusively Provencal.  One of my favourites was a savoury ‘apero’ cake with rosé wine in the ingredients list, now that is my kind of cake.  

Thank you for contacting me and offering me a copy of this book Alice, it has been a very enjoyable journey.  For the moment this is an ebook only, but at a price of £1.94 it is very good value.  A paperback version should be available before Christmas.

You can follow Alice’s blog ‘Provencial Provence’, which has a lot of tasty, foodie posts here.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Celebrating Christmas French Style


Six weeks today is Christmas day.  I will admit that I have done a little bit of pressie shopping, but I haven’t yet thought about writing the cards.  However, I have made the mincemeat for the mincepies and as I don’t bother with the traditional pudding or cake I don’t think I’m doing too badly, but what about something for me?  

There is always a small stack of books on my Amazon Wish List and to make the reading of my ebooks and the France Travel Magazine App easier I have been thinking along the lines of an iPad or a Kindle.  But real inspiration struck when flicking through the publicity catalogues that our post lady kindly litters our letterbox with every week.  If you look closely at the picture above you will see that for the bargain price of 3.99€ I could be the proud owner of a Christmas bikini (one size fits all) or if I’ve been a really good girl for 11.99€ a five piece Sexy Christmas costume could be mine!  Just think of the fun we could have if I treat Ade to the Santa hat with beard at 4.99€ as well, now why does that make me think of a Carry on Film?  The fact that in December temperatures in rural France can be well into the minus figures obviously didn’t put the retail buyers off!  Happy Christmas shopping everyone and I hope this has given you some ideas Ho! Ho! Ho!


Wednesday, November 7, 2012

The Valley of Heaven and Hell, by Susie Kelly

For today’s bookworm Wednesday here is my review of  The Valley Of Heaven And Hell - Cycling In The Shadow Of Marie Antoinette by Susie Kelly.

French Village Diaries book review Susie Kelly The Valley of Heaven and Hell Paris France
Oh Susie!  What have you done?

I walked with you and your blisters as you wandered from La Rochelle to Geneva in Best Foot Forward - A 500-Mile Walk Through Hidden France , often tired, cold, wet and hungry. This time you have taken off for three weeks on a bike in ‘The Valley of Heaven and Hell’ despite admitting to not being a natural cyclist. It seems a little crazy and I have to ask why?

Ah, I see, Terry wanted an adventure and the Marie Antoinette route was quite interesting, following her final footsteps from Versailles to the east, along the Marne Valley. I suppose it was nice not to go it alone, and you did get a new bike with the added bonus of some electric assistance and a baking tray, but honestly, cycling in Paris, what were you thinking? I love Paris and I love cycling too, but I’m not sure I’m brave enough to mix the two together.  

On a reader entertainment level it was brilliant. Your descriptions of your red faced, Lycra clad reflection had me chuckling and I sympathised with you watching Terry disappearing as I too am often left way behind when out cycling with my husband. The camping was a surprise though, I didn’t think I’d be reading about more ill equipped nights spent cold and uncomfortable under canvas, you fool. Although I was pleased to read you did at least get a few nights of luxury in the odd hotel this time. I also have to thank you, for as well as the laughs you also educated me. Marie Antoinette was not someone I knew very much about, but your journey and your writings brought her story to life. It is not often a book entertains as well as informs and I’m glad I now know there is so much more to her than the misattributed quote “Let them eat cake”. Thank you Susie.
You can read my reviews of Susie's other books by clicking on the links below.
Best Foot Forward
Travels With Tinkerbelle
Swallows and Robins





Tuesday, November 6, 2012

France Travel Magazine App



It’s new, innovative, colourful, very clever, informative and a whole lot of fun.  It is also designed to promote the best that France has to offer – I love it.  


‘It’ is the new free tablet app .fr France Travel Magazine that is launched today by the publishers of the French Entrée magazine.  When I heard they were looking for bloggers to give it a try, how could I refuse?  I will admit to being a bit of a novice navigator on our iPad, as Ade rarely lets me get a look in, but that didn’t stop me enjoying it and I only got ‘lost’ once or twice.  It is so much more than a digital magazine; it is exciting and engaging as every feature has hidden surprises that are a just a ‘slide’ or ‘touch’ away. The quality of the photographs is stunning; the article content is interesting and informative and there is a good mix of articles covering historic villages, regional guides, food, museums and more.  Although I will say that I found the text difficult to read on the 48 hours in Aix-en-Provence article as I couldn’t stop the images continually scrolling as I was trying to read, but they were beautiful photos so I could almost forgive them.  The only other issue we had was our broadband speed struggled to download the magazine, but that is one of the downsides of living the rural French dream.


No longer are reading text and looking at placed images enough now we have seen slick and arty page loading, full screen pictures, slideshows, video and audio clips, direct links to related websites and each page instantly shareable via email and social media.  This has to be the way forward for digital magazines and I can’t help feeling I may need my own iPad soon.

The app is free and available to download now from iTunes, see here: https://itunes.apple.com/gb/app/.fr-france-travel-magazine/id561651885?mt=8&ign-mpt=uo%3D4
For more information see the French Entrée site here.

Monday, November 5, 2012

A Whatever the Weather Weekend


We have had a ‘whatever the weather we will enjoy ourselves’ weekend.  Ade’s parents have been over and as is usual for one of their visits the weather was horrid.  I appreciate it was nowhere near as bad as in the States recently but the fields, ditches and roads between our village and local town were the wettest I had seen them in over eight years.  On Friday morning the car was sat in a huge puddle and visibility on the airport run (a two hour round trip) was in places almost nothing.  Friday evening was a special one as in their honour we fired up Big Bertha the central heating boiler for the first time this winter.


Were we going to let this put a dampener on our weekend – we were not!  Following a boulangerie made croissant and fresh coffee breakfast on Saturday (who isn’t cheered by that?) we took Mini out for a walk that was almost dry.  Having spotted three deer she gave chase for a minute or two before bounding back to us and flopping down in what looked like a lake but was actually a waterlogged field, for a cool down.  

The afternoon was spent at a local Foire aux Vins et à la Gastronomie (food and wine fair) where we nibbled, sipped and chatted to some happy, friendly producers.  We all agreed the homemade chocolates looked mouth-wateringly delicious, but unfortunately they were eye-wateringly expensive, so we moved onto the unusual jams made over on Ile de Ré.  Not quite sure how or who came up with the innovative idea to make jam out of potatoes, maybe it is just an island thing. Although there was a real mashed potato texture, the flavour seemed to be all about the rum that had been added.  

We met an old friend, our wine man M Vilneau with his Vins de Pays Charentais wines.  A quick catch up chat, a tasting (bien sûr) and we left with a box of six 2010 Merlots.  He reassured us that 2012, for him at least, had been a good harvest, thanks he says to the hard work he put in, so there should be no shortage of his fine wines.  What goes better with wine than cheese, and the little round man with his round Basque beret and his delicious sheep’s milk cheeses was only too happy to let us taste his wares.  He also gave us a leaflet showing his Basque farmhouse in the Pyrenees bedecked with strings of chillies drying in the sun and where he said we would be most welcome if we were ever in the area.  By far the most friendly of the producers was the dried meat and sausage man.  His ‘beef’ was from aurochs, the ancestor of domestic cattle that has been bred back from extinction and his pork only from black pigs and he was very proud of his animals.  His garlic sausage was delicious, sweet and moist, and thinly sliced made a fantastic apero for our Saturday evening.  We shunned the TV and entertained ourselves with old-fashioned family games like Charades and Consequences and had lots of laughs.



Sunday was spent in the lovely city of La Rochelle, where a day out never disappoints whatever the weather, but was especially nice as the sun came out to join us in the afternoon.  We walked, browsed, ate and had a great day.  As could have been predicted, by the time Ed and I arrived home from the airport this afternoon the sky was blue, the sun was shining and the temperature had climbed to 14 degrees.  Never mind, it was a superb weekend and I feel thoroughly spoiled.