Friday, October 31, 2014

France et Moi with author Ann Mah

Welcome to ‘France et Moi’ where this week I am talking to Ann Mah, author of Mastering the Art of French Eating: Lessons in Food and Love from a Year in Paris about what France means to her. You can read my review of this delicious book that has now been released in paperback, here

I'm delighted that the publisher has kindly allowed me to run a giveaway for one lucky reader to win a paperback copy of this book (US residents only please). Just email me at FrenchVillageDiaries@gmail.com with Mastering the Art of French Eating as the subject before 11th November 2014. The winner will be the first name drawn at random. Good luck.

French Village Diaries France et Moi Ann Mah Mastering the Art of French Eating
Ann Mah
Ann Mah is a journalist and author of a food memoir, Mastering the Art of French Eating, and novel, Kitchen Chinese: A Novel about Food, Family, and Finding Yourself. Her articles have appeared in the New York Times, Condé Nast Traveler, South China Morning Post, Bon Appétit, and other publications. In 2005, she was awarded a James Beard Foundation culinary scholarship. Ann divides her time between New York and Paris, but loves eating everywhere.

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’?

Ann: I love the connection between food, and place, and history in France, the sense of continuity, the way a recipe grows from the land, takes root, and is cooked and eaten in that same spot for hundreds of years.

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

Ann: I was six years old and on a family vacation. We arrived in Paris in the midst of a high-summer heat wave. Every aspect of the city assailed my senses from the seesawing sound of the sirens to the imprint of wicker café chairs against my legs. I didn’t like everything, but it all gripped me under a spell I would come to know was Francophilia. Meanwhile, my fifteen-year-old brother was at the peak of his rebellious years. He spent a lot of time plugged into his Walkman while my parents coped by drinking red wine.

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

Ann: The opportunity to travel around France, researching the country’s culinary traditions was both the best and most intimidating experience.  I’m an introvert, so it took a fair amount of gumption to introduce myself to strangers and start asking them quite intimate questions. In the beginning, I felt awkward travelling alone – especially dining alone in restaurants, when it felt like everyone was staring at me. But after the first few trips, I started to enjoy being on my own, creating my own schedule, eating when I felt hungry, and dropping everything to, say, hunt down an obscure buckwheat farmer.

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

Ann: There are pairs of words I can never keep straight—like “borrow” and “lend”—and according to a French friend, my pronunciation of “sweater” (un pull) and “lightbulb” (ampoule) is indistinguishable. But here’s one of my favorite food-related stories:

Soon after I moved to France, I was invited to a cocktail party in Provence. I had just completed a seven-week French immersion program and I was eager to test out my brand new language skills. But when I found myself being introduced to the village mayor, my heart started to pound.

The mayor had a bald head, intelligent eyes, and was missing a finger from a hunting accident. He was interested in my husband’s job as a diplomat, and in the various countries we had called home. “Did you enjoy living in Beijing?” he asked in French.

“It was a wonderful experience, but sometimes challenging,” I said. “La ville est très salée.” Everyone within earshot laughed uproariously. It took me a minute, but eventually I realized that somehow in my fluster, I had confused “sale”—which means dirty—with “salée,” or salty.

French Village Diaries France et Moi Ann Mah Mastering the Art of French Eating5) Every region in France has it’s own culinary specialty and you traveled widely tasting and researching for you book, but do you have a favourite regional dish?

Ann: It’s impossible to pick a favorite but some of my fondest memories are from my trip to Brittany, a region I loved as much for its buttery buckwheat galettes, as the warm welcome I received there. Being invited into people’s homes, cooking homemade crêpes, listening to their childhood stories – these were experiences that touched me very deeply.

6) What is your favourite thing to buy in a Boulangerie/Patisserie?

Ann: I’m a sucker for the most basic stuff: a baguette “tradi” (it tastes best when you break off the heel and eat it on your walk home) and chocolate éclairs.

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

Ann: I will try anything. But I am embarrassingly squeamish about most offal.

8) 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 maybe the salty and serious Roquefort?

Ann: Perhaps a Beaufort, from the Savoie? It’s an aged cheese perfumed with the wild herbs and grass of Alpine pastures. It relies on hard work and tradition, which are qualities I admire very much.

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

Ann: The drink? Champagne. Even saying the word brings a smile to my face.

The nibbles? I’ve been craving gougères for several weeks, especially the oversized ones sold at the marché bio on Boulevard Raspail. I love the crusty exterior contrasted with the spongy, cheesy layers within. They’re delicious with Champagne!

The location? I often dream about our living room in Paris, tiny but bright with afternoon sunshine, strewn with my beloved flea market finds.

The company? My husband, who loves Champagne as much as I do. And our baby daughter, who always squawks for a sip. I sometimes dip my finger in the glass and let her taste the wine. (Full disclosure: Since this is cocktail hour, it would be wonderful for her to join for a few minutes and then be whisked off to bed by her nanny :)

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

Ann: I’m writing a novel set in Paris and the vineyards of Burgundy—it’s a love story with a secret buried at the heart of a family wine cellar. I’m enjoying every drop of the wine research!

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

Ps I can’t wait to read the novel!

Mastering the Art of French Eating: Lessons in Food and Love from a Year in Paris is published by Penguin Books and is available in hardback, ebook and paperback (from today in the US and from 20th November in the UK). This book would make a perfect Christmas gift for any food loving Francophile. Links to Amazon can be found below.




Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Book review of The House at Zaronza by Vanessa Couchman


My review today is for The House at Zaronza by Vanessa Couchman, an historical novel set in Corsica. I’ve never been to Corsica, but the descriptions Vanessa gives of the wild and rugged coastline and untamed mountains gave me a detailed image in my mind, which was perfect as the backdrop to the turbulent storyline. It has also made me determined to visit one day.

French Village Diaries Corsica The House at Zaronza A Tale of Corsica Vanessa Couchman
The story begins in the present when a young woman arrives in Corsica trying to piece together her past, but with almost all links extinguished can she shed any light on what happened? All Rachel has to go on is that her grandmother lived in Zaronza and her name was Maria, and she hopes that by staying there it will help solve the mystery. What she finds on arrival at the guesthouse is another mystery involving the love letters between a schoolmaster and his secret lover. Rachel is certain that by trying to unravel this story she will find answers to her own past.

Rachel uncovers a memoir and we find ourselves in the remarkable life of an extraordinary woman, who defied what was considered the norms for a lady of her position. She wasn’t afraid to stand alone and act to make a difference. She suffered, both at the hands of those she loved and from the circumstances she found herself in, but she was always caring and determined. The story was powerfully written and gripping. The characters were strong and believable. It covered a fascinating period of history from an unusual angle, highlighting the role of a woman from Corsica during the First World War. This book was like unwrapping a parcel, as every layer unfolded it added a little more, but always leaving so much more to discover.

I would recommend this book to anyone who enjoys historical fiction and I’m looking forward to reading more from Vanessa. The House at Zaronza is published by Crooked Cat Publishing and is available in paperback and ebook format. Links to Amazon are below.


Thursday, October 23, 2014

FrenchEntrée Photo Competition

French Village Diaries FrenchEntrée Essence of France competition
FrenchEntrée Launches Photo Competition to Find Essence of France


I love France and am never without my camera when out and about, either locally, on the bike or when on a road trip to the South of France. The scenery, the architecture, the style of the villages and the landscapes change from one area to another so I doubt I'll ever tire of sightseeing in this beautiful country. If like me, you love France and can't help but snap away, you may be interested in this photo competition to find the Essence of France, launched by FrenchEntrée. Here is what they have told me about it and the super prizes on offer:

French Village Diaries FrenchEntrée Essence of France competition

FrenchEntrée, the French travel and property specialists for overseas buyers, is launching a competition to find the best images of France taken this year.

Photographers of all ages and abilities are invited to upload pictures of their French travels to FrenchEntrée to win a high specification camera from the Olympus Travel range.

French Village Diaries FrenchEntrée Essence of France competition
 Essence of France photo competition
The competition celebrates the 10th anniversary of the website, which has been re-designed to appeal to increasing numbers of users accessing it from a tablet or smartphone.

The winning photographer will receive an Olympus SH-60. The winning image will be publicised via Twitter, as well as printed in the January edition of FrenchEntrée, the beautiful magazine version of the site. Runners up will receive a subscription to the magazine.

Justin Postlethwaite, Editor of FrenchEntrée, says, “France, through its glorious beaches, villages, cities and immensely varied and beautiful countryside, continues to attract artistically-minded visitors who want to discover its authenticity.

“We are looking for images that sum up France, from quintessential scenes, landscapes, festivals, events or even cityscapes - pretty much anything that would inspire friends and family to try out this wonderful, and still changing country.”

Olympus SH-60:
French Village Diaries FrenchEntrée Essence of France competition Olympus SH-60Thanks to the Hybrid 5-Axis IS normally found in D-SLRs, the compact SH-60 effectively counteracts blur in all five directions.  So effective, you can actually make a movie as you run.

The SH-60 has a high-zoom lens that lets you get close to the details from up to 40cm away – perfect for creating fascinating still shots or smooth 1080 full HD movies. Packed with Photo Story, this pocket-sized wonder lets you create an artistic collage for sharing on social networks or printing.

Competition details:
Participants are asked to register on the site. Once registered, they should submit photos to justin@francemedia.com, along with their name, plus their FrenchEntrée user name, email address and a brief caption about the photos (i.e subject, plus details on where and when it was taken).

The closing date is Friday 14th November. The winner will be announced on Monday 1st December.

Good luck!

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Book review of Promises to Keep by Patricia Sands

French Village Diaries book review Promises to Keep Patricia Sands Provence France

French Village Diaries book review Promises to Keep Patricia Sands Provence France
Promises to Keep
Synopsis from the author:
Falling in love with the south of France was no surprise to Katherine. Choosing to walk away from her past and start over was completely unexpected. A new country, a new lover, and the promise of a bright future beginning in mid-life … who knew?

Now there were the exciting dreams of restoring the property on the Cap, of beginning a new career, of experiencing the traditions of Christmas in Provence, of falling even more deeply in love with the man who inspired these hopes.

It was all so perfect, until it wasn’t.

She had embraced new possibilities in life and given her heart only to discover something was being kept from her. Something terrible from her lover’s past. Something that could destroy everything.

What doesn’t kill us makes us stronger, had become her mantra. Would it be enough?

My review:
Katherine found happiness in Provence, where she spent time on home exchange holidays following the break up of her marriage and the death of her mother. In book one we left Katherine at a critical life-changing moment and this book follows the first few months of her new life in the south of France. There are delicious descriptions of market produce and no shortage of stunning scenery brought to life; from days out in the hilltop towns and cycle rides along the coast with the new man in her life. I really felt that I was there along side her as she became a part of the local community. There are loved up picnics, lie-ins and preparations for her first traditional French Christmas, shared with a special person in her life once more; real romance that warmed my heart. I especially enjoyed their weekend sightseeing in Lyon. It is somewhere I’ve always wanted to visit and more so now thanks to Patricia’s cleverly written chapter. She left me feeling more knowledgeable in what I want to see when I get there.

However, life (even with love in Provence) is not all rose tinted. There are dark secrets from a past forgotten that come back to haunt them, just when they are getting their lives back on track. Things happen to scare them and fear taints their happiness. The cleverly written suspense about what was happening really drew me in and there were times when my imagination was running way ahead of what I was reading and I was expecting all sorts to happen just over the page. Everyone was a suspect in my eyes, so much so I was left feeling a little under whelmed when things did come to a head. It does seem though, that their life is likely to be full of drama for a little while longer. I’m sure there is more to tell and I am looking forward to the next book where I hope Katherine will learn more about her friend Simone, a new character that Patricia has dangled temptingly in front of us.

If you love romance with a twist of drama and a taste of Provence, I’m sure you will enjoy this book.

Promises to Keep - A Novel (Love in Provence Book 2) is available in ebook format and The Promise of Provence (Love in Provence Book 1) in paperback and ebook format. Links to Amazon can be found below. You can read my review of The Promise of Provence here. If you would like to read more about Patricia’s love of France you can read my France et Moi interview with her here. Patricia is also the co-author of Cooking With Our Characters: Fifteen Recipes from Characters in Our Books a recipe ebook that features some of the delicious food Katherine learns to love in Provence.



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. 

Sunday, October 5, 2014

It's October already

Hey, has anyone else realised it’s almost the end of the first weekend in October already? Not only was I was not ready for September to start; it now appears to have been and gone in a flash without me realising. Before I know it Christmas will be upon us and 2014 will be history. Does anyone else feel like life speeds up the older you get or is it just me?

French Village Diaries September France Birthday
My birthday drinks
Looking back, September did happen and I have loads of photos to prove what a busy month it was. Ed was happy to get back to start his last year at secondary school, an important year when he will sit his brevet exams and have to decide where he will go and what he will study at Lycee. Ade was less happy to get back to work in the UK, but to soften the loneliness for me, Mum and Dad were here for a week to celebrate my birthday. 



With all the comings and goings there were lots of airport runs that proved to be good excuses to get out of the village and see some city life. Bordeaux was her usual elegant and warm self, welcoming us back with open arms. We cycled in from the lake on the outskirts of town on the super networks of cycle lanes, picnicked in the shade by the river and enjoyed an afternoon of sightseeing.
 
French Village Diaries September France Bordeaux cycling
Picnic in Bordeaux

French Village Diaries September France Bordeaux cycling
Sightseeing in Bordeaux

Angouleme offered us some real excitement when we spent the day at the Circuit des Remparts, the annual road race for vintage cars that takes place in the old town, see here for some photos. Limoges however was not so exciting. It is a city we had never been to before, although Ade regularly uses the airport, so when I had to collect him at 9.30am one morning we decided a day trip would be a good idea. Unfortunately the weather was a little wet and although we spent a lovely time in a café catching up, we took no photos and came away feeling it was just a grey city. Maybe we missed the best bits?

The garden and orchard have moved seamlessly from summer to autumn. Yesterday I made my last batch of sweet courgette relish, one of my favourites, the tomatoes are finished and tonight it will be the last homemade pizza to contain perfect rounds of buttery sautéed courgettes for a few months. However when one season ends another begins and I am busy picking walnuts and being just as creative with the squash recipes as I was with the courgettes ones. Grated squash certainly makes a delicious chocolate cake, see here.




French Village Diaries September France Birthday Walnuts
2014 Walnut harvest


With the return of a ‘normal’ term time routine, I am also back to taxi-ing Ed to his various after school music lessons and trying to ensure the meetings for things I’m involved in with the village don’t clash. Being on the council is interesting, but it’s proving a challenge to my already poor organisational skills, especially those weeks when there is something on every evening. Thankfully my yoga classes have also started back, giving me a whole morning every week of me time and the luxury of total relaxation. What do you enjoy doing to relax?  


French Village Diaries September France Autumn
Autumn colours





Friday, October 3, 2014

Book review of The French for Christmas by Fiona Valpy


French Village Diaries review The French for Christmas Fiona Valpy Bordeaux books FranceMy review today is for a new release The French for Christmas by Fiona Valpy. First, I’ll let you into a little secret, I don’t really ‘do’ Christmas and I certainly never start thinking about it this early in the year. However, I was persuaded to get my Christmas jingle on when I had the chance to review Fiona’s latest novel.

I really enjoyed her first two books The French for Love and The French for Always so despite my scrooge-like demeanour for Christmas I was excited to head back to the Bordeaux vineyards where all three of her books have been set.

In this book we follow Evie at a difficult time; her marriage is failing, her husband is plastered all over the media as his TV career takes off and with Christmas and the first anniversary of the loss of their baby fast approaching she takes refuge in a small hamlet in France. Her plan is to avoid Christmas at all costs.

As suggested by the publisher, I poured a glass of red wine, curled up in a comfy chair and opened my kindle. What I hadn’t expected was to find myself crying before I’d finished my first glass and this wasn’t the only time this book made me cry, but they were good tears if you know what I mean.

The hamlet among the Bordeaux vines that Evie finds herself in is home to only three others, an older couple Mathieu and Eliane and the village doctor, Didier. Evie soon realises she isn’t the only one running away from heartache and little by little through the extended hands of friendship and a shared love of good food, hearts begin to heal and anger and depression to disappear.

As I’ve found in her previous novels Fiona’s writing brings rural France to life. Her knowledge of the changing of the seasons in the vineyards, the importance of the potager, especially for the older generations and local food customs and speciality dishes is spot on. The fact that good food eaten with family and friends plays a major part in this novel shows she knows her subject well. There were enough delicious descriptions to make my tummy rumble as I read.

All three of her novels are stand alone but linked somewhere in the story, a clever touch I really enjoy and that enables me to keep up to date with the characters I fell in love with in the earlier books. I was sad to finish this book and as before have been left wanting more from Fiona.

This is another great and emotional read with Christmas cheer, Christmas spirit and even a stable birth, and is definitely one to ask Santa for, especially as it's only £1.59 for the kindle edition. I think it is also worth noting that Fiona will be donating 10% of all royalties from this novel to Médicins Sans Frontières (Doctors without Borders). The French for Christmas is published by Bookouture, who kindly sent me a copy to read and review.

To read my review of The French for Love see here and for my review of The French for Always, see here. To read Fiona's France et Moi interview see here.