Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Cover reveal for The Chateau of Happily Ever Afters by Jaimie Admans

Cover reveal The Chateau of Happily Ever Afters by Jaimie Admans
The Chateau of Happily Ever Afters
by Jaimie Admans

Today I'm taking part in the cover reveal for The Chateau of Happily Ever Afters by Jaimie Admans that is due out on 7th June 2017. As soon as I read the synopsis for this book, I knew it was one I wanted to read and now I've seen the cover I can't wait to start turning the pages. I hope you will add it to your summer holiday reading list too, it looks to be the perfect escape, set in a chateau, and in France - what more could you ask for.

Synopsis provided:
Where dreams come true…?

Wendy Clayton stopped believing in fairy tales a long time ago. Instead, she has a ‘nice’ life. Nice job. Nice flat. Absolutely no men. Until her life is turned upside-down when her elderly neighbour, Eulalie, passes away and leaves her the Château of Happily Ever Afters!

But there’s a catch: she must share the sprawling French castle with Eulalie’s long-lost nephew, Julian. And no matter how gorgeous he is, or how easily she finds herself falling head over heels, Wendy needs to find a way to get rid of him…

Because surely happily ever afters don’t happen in real life?

Escape to beautiful France this summer with this uplifting romantic comedy. Perfect for fans of Kat French, Caroline Roberts and Holly Martin.

Pop back here on 5th July to read my review or better still, pre-order yourself a copy from Amazon NOW!

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Book review of Glass Half Full by Caro Feely

Book review Glass Half Full Caro Feely French Village Diaries
Glass Half Full by Caro Feely

My review today is for Glass Half Full, the third memoir about raising a family on an organic vineyard in Saussignac, Dordogne, by Caro Feely.

Having read and enjoyed Caro’s previous memoirs about starting out on the organic wine making path, I was excited at the prospect of catching up with the family and seeing how things are going in her latest book.

Theirs is not an easy life. Since day one, Caro and Sean have invested time, money and their hearts into the vineyard, creating a teaching/tasting room and accommodation, as well as making their organic wine. Caro takes us through each stage of the organic wine making process, and it’s work that never ceases and that can be affected by many things, all year round, that they have no control over. To market their brand then takes more time, money and effort. At the same time Caro is also establishing herself as an expert wine tour guide of the region, something she enjoys and ultimately helps their wine sales, but also has to be fitted into her already busy schedule. Add into this the pre-menopause, that sneaks up on her, plus family life, and it’s not difficult to see why her stress levels are out of control. At times it seemed Sean and Caro each had so much to do there was no time left for each other. Her fragile hormonal state just made their relationship worries seem more pronounced.

This book is Caro’s journey to take back control. She shares the dark times, and also the hope; that by getting in some help, learning to listen to her body and making time for each other, things will begin to move in the right direction. There are times when this is a difficult read, but there are also times when their enthusiasm is contagious and I’d have loved a glass of Chateau Feely wine by my side to toast them as I was reading. I really felt part of their daily life and thanks to Caro's beautifully worded descriptions I could visualise the vineyards and the views, and taste the meals (and wine), grown by Sean and served at the family table. When they do get to leave the vineyard, Caro shares their adventures and what they learn along the way.

Having followed their journey through her memoirs, I hope Caro and Sean are now at a place where they can appreciate how far they have come and how much they have achieved with their business. 

This book will appeal to wine lovers as well as Francophiles and memoir readers. Links to Amazon for all of Caro’s books, published by Summersdale, can be found below.

You can follow Caro on Twitter and via her website.

You can read my France et Moi interview with her here and my reviews of her other memoirs here:

Saturday, April 8, 2017

Saturday smiles

French village diaries cycling in Charente and Deux-Servres
Saturday cycling

As I write this I'm sitting on my sun lounger, the evening Angelus bells have just finished ringing out over the village, the temperature is still 25° and Mini the dog, who has been resting in the shade, is demanding Adrian plays ball with her. It's been a good day, which is surprising when we didn't get to bed until just before two this morning (Ed was performing in the Lycee annual show) and then had to be up for six to take Maik, Ed’s German exchange back to school and wave him off on his way back to Germany. By eight o'clock we were all back in bed, but the day was too nice to waste lying in bed, no matter how tempting.

French village diaries cycling in Charente and Deux-Servres
Patchwork fields in Spring

Two loads of washing have fluttered in a gentle breeze all afternoon, lunch was eaten in a shady spot outdoors and then while Ed revised for exams Adrian and I got out on the bikes.  Our 33 km local village circuit took us past chateaux, hedgerows alive with bees, thanks to the first elderflowers, bluebells and cowslips and my favourite, the patchwork of the fields in spring. The pale green pea crops against the warm brown of freshly ploughed fields contrasting with the vivid fresh green of wheat and the zingy yellow of the rape/colza/canola.

French village diaries cycling in Charente and Deux-Servres

The orchards we passed were heavy with blossom, as are ours, the cherry blossom especially is exceptional this year. We also passed a round faced farmer on a tiny, narrow gauge tractor, just wide enough to fit between his rows of vines. His fromage-filled ample belly leading the way as his old, faded orange tractor ploughed away the weeds.

I'll get up in a while, bring the washing in and make dinner; a carb loaded chicken and freshly made wild garlic pesto pasta dish, the perfect recovery food. But for now, I'm enjoying the warmth of the sun on my face and legs, happy for it to feel like summer on an early April day. I wonder if there is anyone kind enough to pour me a chilled glass of fruity white wine and serve it with some shelled walnuts?

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Cycle friendly gîtes in Deux-Sèvres

Cycle friendly gîtes in Deux-Sèvres French Village Diaries
Cycle friendly Gîtes, La Chandurière
Adrian was away working in the UK for almost three weeks in February, home to enjoy (not) a week of rain and then away for another three weeks in March. So it’s fair to say we haven’t spent a lot of time together so far this year.

French Village Diaries Niort salon du vin et gastronomie
Wine from the Salon du Vin et Gastronomie, Niort
On the last weekend of March, within three days of him returning we had spoiled ourselves at the Niort salon du vin et gastronomie, and then packed the car and the bikes and set off to check out La Chandurière, two cycle friendly gîtes in the Gâtine area of central Deux-Sèvres. Here apple orchards, rolling hills and sweet-faced cows give a totally different landscape to where we live, even though we were only an hour and half drive from home.

Cycle friendly gîtes in Deux-Sèvres French Village Diaries
Sunny room with a view, gîte Au Cocoorico
From the minute we got out of the car in Fran’s driveway, the view drew me in. As a tourist I was spellbound at the green hills rolling away in front of me, however as a cyclist I was wide-eyed in horror at the thought of cycling up the view. Fran has put a lot of thought and effort into making sure everything you need is waiting for you at the gîtes, including secure bike storage, a bath, a fully equipped kitchen, homemade jam and enough cleverly planned route ideas to keep you busy for at least a week. With two gîtes on site this would be a great location for anyone looking for a group cycling holiday. You can read my full review and find out more about staying here by clicking this link to Freewheeling France.

Cycle friendly gîtes in Deux-Sèvres French Village Diaries
Three of the Tour Four, Tour de Rêves, Charity bike ride Deux-Sèvres

Sarah and Rob, our cycling buddies for the upcoming Tour de Rêves, our charity bike ride around the Deux-Sèvres, live in the area, so we combined our visit with a group training ride. The Tour route Adrian has planned includes an off-road stretch along a Voie Verte, (a green route, often used to describe a cycle path along a disused railway line). Some of these are tarmac, some smooth but gravelled and some just grass and dirt tracks. Our road bikes don’t like the uneven dirt tracks; so it was important to know what this stretch was like before our weary legs and luggage-loaded bikes hit it on our final day of the Tour. Thankfully it was superb. Wide enough to chat as we cycled along, smooth surfaced and without pot holes and with only the merest hint of the inclines in the landscape around us.

Cycle friendly gîtes in Deux-Sèvres French Village Diaries
Beer in Bressuire

We stopped for a beer in the sun in Bressuire where Rob had the great idea of adding some excitement by taking the road back to Moncoutant. He knew this area is much hillier than we are used to and I’m guessing he wanted to see just what we were made of and test us on some real Gatîne terrain. While Rob hung back, smiling I’ve no doubt, Adrian climbed with grace and ease while I puffed slowly up the hills, waiting for the whoosh of air as Rob sped past so that he and Adrian could wait for Sarah and I at the top of each hill. I certainly take my hat off to the railway engineers of old who managed to smooth out the land and create a flat and easy railway line.

Cycle friendly gîtes in Deux-Sèvres French Village Diaries
Cycling the backroads around St Paul en Gâtine

The following morning we tried out one of Fran’s routes from the gîte, a 22km ride where we experienced the quiet back roads and lots more hills, that weren’t as scary as they looked. It was just lovely to leave behind our parental responsibilities (Ed was away at lycée), village meetings (me) and work/commuting (Adrian) and just take off and spend some time together.

This break yet again renewed my love for France, proving we don’t have to travel far, or be away for very long, to be surrounded by different landscapes, flora and fauna, that together with sunshine and fresh air, recharge the senses and the batteries. 

This post has been linked to Lou Messugo's All About France Blog link up. Click here to read more.

Lou Messugo

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Book review of How to Make a French Family by Samantha Verant

How to Make a French Family by Samantha Vérant review by French Village Diaries
How to Make a French Family
by Samantha Vérant

My review today is for the newly released How to Make a French Family by Samantha Vérant. This is the second memoir from Sam about her new life in France, following a rekindled romance from twenty years ago with Frenchman Jean-Luc. Theirs truly is a real-life fairytale romance and you can read my review of Sam’s first memoir Seven Letters From Paris here.

Synopsis provided:
How to Make a French Family by Samantha Vérant review by French Village Diaries
Samantha Vérant
Say bonjour to a whole new way of life!

Take one French widower, his two young children, and drop a former city girl from Chicago into a small town in southwestern France. Shake vigorously... and voilà: a blended Franco-American family whose lives will all drastically change.

Floating on a cloud of newlywed bliss, Samantha couldn't wait to move to France to begin her life with her new husband, Jean-Luc, and his kids. But almost from the moment the plane touches down, Samantha realizes that there are a lot of things about her new home―including flea-ridden cats, grumpy teenagers, and language barriers―that she hadn't counted on.

Struggling to feel at home and wondering when exactly her French fairy tale is going to start, Samantha isn't sure if she really has what it takes to make it in la belle France. But when a second chance at life and love is on the line, giving up isn't an option. How to Make a French Family is the heart warming and sometimes hilarious story of the culture clashes and faux pas that, in the end, add up to one happy family.

My review:
As soon as their wedding party in California is over, Sam, Jean-Luc and stepchildren Elvire and Max return from the States and Sam is thrown into her new readymade family life in France, and in French. It is not always easy and she experiences moments of insecurity, loneliness and a loss of confidence that she writes about openly and honestly. However her love for Jean-Luc, his love and support for her, and her passion for cooking help her to take the steps needed to regain her happiness. As a forced stay-at-home-mum (mom) Sam cooks her way into family life with some delicious French recipes, often with her own unique twist. As any of us who have cooked for kids will know, some of these go down better than others with her stepchildren, but they all sounded delicious to me. Luckily for us, many of these recipes are shared in the book and if you’d like a sneaky peek, Sam says it’s ok for me to share this link to them here.

In many ways Sam was lucky to become integrated into real French family life from day one and I was especially envious to read about their big family Christmas gatherings in Provence. Family aside, Sam also has to make friends, which is never easy when you are the new girl in town, but yet another thing she manages to achieve as she boldly struts out to conquer her new life. With the support of Jean-Luc, their extended family and her friends Sam is able to overcome the upsets and challenges life throws at her and her strength and determination leap from the pages.

At times this book is sad and shows her vulnerability, but at other times it’s funny and I laughed along, feeling like I was there, in her kitchen, dancing and cooking with her and daughter Elvire. It is a book written from the heart and if you’re a memoir junkie, like I am, you’ll love it.

How to Make a French Family is published by Sourcebooks and available in paperback and ebook format.

You can read my France et Moi interview with Sam here and follow her on her blog here and on Twitter and Facebook.

Sunday, April 2, 2017

Book review of A Chateau for Sale by Carrie Parker

A Chateau for Sale by Carrie Parker review by French Village Diaries
A Chateau for Sale by Carrie Parker

My review today is for A Chateau for Sale, the debut novel from Carrie Parker, set at a chateau in the Lot, southwest France.

Described by Carrie as a dramatic romance with plenty of twists and turns in the plot, I have to say I couldn’t agree more. This book is quite different to many romance novels I’ve read, and from the beginning is very cleverly written with a narrative that moves around, creating holes that are slowly filled in later on. This gave my brain ample time to try and guess what was happening along the way.

We meet Kate and Alastair, a down to earth couple living a simple, but happy life in their dream cottage in Kent, until new neighbours Nick and Joanne arrive in the manor house and things begin to change. All the characters in this book are strong and different and at first I liked Kate, with her gentle and dreamy ways but it didn’t take long before her actions confused me. Truly believing she was in love with both her husband and her lover; escaping to Nick’s chateau in France seemed like the perfect plan. However, almost immediately the chateau seems to foster odd goings on, unwise decision-making and bad luck, and Kate finds herself in situations that spiral out of control and that left me wondering where it would all end.

This book is a really enjoyable read that I found myself being drawn back into, even when I wasn’t reading it. The twists in the plot kept me guessing and despite the grim and grizzly goings on, so many of the nuances about the French and Brits living in France had me grinning along as I read. I know it's fiction, but at times I could believe it!

This is one of those stories that will stay with me, and I know I want to read more from Carrie in the future.

A Chateau for Sale is available in paperback and ebook formats and if you are looking for something a little bit different for your holiday reading, this book is for you.

Links to Amazon can be found below.

You can follow Carrie on Facebook here.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Book review of One Sip at a Time by Keith Van Sickle

French Village Diaries book review One Sip at a Time by Keith Van Sickle
One Sip at a Time by Keith Van Sickle

My review today is for One Sip at a Time: Learning to Live in Provence, a memoir of time spent in France, by Keith Van Sickle.

This book (with it’s gorgeous cover) is well titled, as it is more a collection of events and situations rather than a typical memoir. Each one is no more than a sip, perfectly rounded on the palette in terms of flavour and description, but not quite as thirst quenching as taking a satisfying gulp. There were times I wanted more.

Keith and Val have a dream to live in Provence, and unlike many, they come up with a plan to make that dream come true, even if it’s only on a part-time basis. By becoming consultants they are able to split their time between France and Silicon Valley in the States and from the start throw themselves into French village life, even if they knew they would only be staying for three months. This is to be highly commended and I’m sure gave them a much richer and better experience. They actively sought out real French people to talk to and learn from. They enjoyed sampling the food and drink available locally. They read French newspapers daily and immersed themselves in French culture and politics wherever possible – chapeau to them!

In a humorous way Keith highlights the (many) differences between the life they have left behind and the life they now find themselves living and yes, even for a Brit the French way can be difficult to understand at first. Reading this book made me realise I must have been in France too long as I found myself raising an eyebrow in disbelief at some of his observations. For example, in my experience if you avoid the hot spots of Paris and Provence, while not every driver is careful (where in the world are they?) there is far less madness on the roads than the author would have you believe.

This book highlights what is possible when you work hard at making your dreams come true and is available in ebook format and in paperback, links to Amazon can be found below.

You can follow Keith on his website here, and on Twitter too.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Book review of Bubbles by Malcolm Howard

Book review Bubbles Malcolm Howard French Village Diaries
Bubbles by Malcolm Howard

Today I am reviewing something a little bit different, but packed full of fun; Bubbles, a children's book set in a small school in a mountain village.

Angelique has long thin legs, long thin arms and a turned-up nose on which sits an enormous pair of spectacles. Her spectacles are so big that they look like magnifying glasses and make her eyes look very large. She normally wears black shoes, a blue dress and a red scarf, and she had just been awarded all her Certificates and Diplomas to become a teacher. But she needs a job. Returning to her home village at the foothills of the French Alps, Angelique finds her childhood school has closed! All she needs is determination, enthusiasm and ten pupils to re-open the school and realise her dreams. But Angelique soon realises that her daily adventures have only just begun.

My review
This book, as all good children’s books should be, is great fun and engaging. Even at 45 I enjoyed reading about the small village school in the mountains with new teacher Angelique and her mysterious magical bubbles. Angelique is a schoolteacher with a difference and there are also some rather strange classmates, but by the end of the week everyone has made a special friend and I’m sure I’m not the only reader who would have loved to have joined in with their special play times too. 

Within the pages there are bucketfuls of imagination, adventures, vivid illustrations (so important in a children’s book) and superb descriptions. I would have loved to have read this to Ed at bedtime when he was younger and I’m sure little readers will enjoy it as much as I did.

About the author:
Now retired Malcolm Howard lives in Walton-On-Thames Surrey. Malcolm has enjoyed a varied career from being a part of the Queens Surrey Regiment, to moving to the French Alps where he set up a Ski High School, now part of the British Ski Academy, before returning to Surrey to work for the probation service. In his spare time he continues to lend a hand at the local Council as well as visit the mountains in France where his son still lives.

Book review Bubbles Malcolm Howard French Village Diaries

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

French village life, a week in pictures

French Village Diaries village life in pictures
Wednesday is library day in the village

I can’t help feeling the love for the small French village that has become our home over the last twelve years. We may only have around four hundred residents and be in a very quiet and rural area, but that doesn’t mean we are stuck in a forgotten backwater where nothing happens. We have life and soul and we are proud of it.

Last Wednesday when I was playing at being librarian for an afternoon, chatting to old and new residents about village life, it struck me just how much does go on, even at this time of year. I decided a photo diary for the week would be the perfect way to document village life. So, here it is.


French Village Diaries village life in pictures
Wednesday is library day in the village

The library is open every Wednesday afternoon. Some pop in for a chat, some with laptops to connect to the wifi and some to choose books. We have a good selection of books for young and older readers, including large print and books in English. Everyone is welcome.


French Village Diaries village life in pictures
Thursday is market day in the village

Thursday is market day thanks to the initiative of the fruit and veg man who asked if he could set up in the car park every Thursday morning. He now also has a chilled cabinet with cheese, yoghurt and other dairy products and has been joined by a butcher selling fresh meat and charcuterie, as well as prepared dishes like quiche and salads.

French Village Diaries village life in pictures
Thursday is market day in village


French Village Diaries village life in pictures
Friday is sewing club day in the village

Friday morning is our sewing club that has grown from three to almost twenty members in a year. Some sew, some knit, some crochet and some sketch, but all of us enjoy a fun morning of tea, coffee, cake, chatter and laughter together.

French Village Diaries village life in pictures
Friday is sewing club day in the village


French Village Diaries village life in pictures
Saturday night music and fun in the village

Last Saturday saw the Salle des Fêtes open it’s doors for an informal night of food, music and fun. There was a disco, live music and snacks delivered to the tables, followed by karaoke that literally brought tears to many eyes.

French Village Diaries village life in pictures
Saturday night music and fun in the village


French Village Diaries village life in pictures
Sunday is boulangerie day in the village

Sunday is always my day to indulge at the village boulangerie where the daily bread selection is joined by a choice of fresh patisseries. This week Ed and I shared a delicious Capitole Poire and a Fôret Noire.

French Village Diaries village life in pictures
Sunday is boulangerie day in the village


French Village Diaries village life in pictures
Monday night is keep-fit night in the village

Monday has recently become keep-fit night, which is perfect following an over-indulgent Sunday. With nothing more than an exercise mat, a broom handle and a weighty bottle of water, Jean-Marc puts us through our paces with exercises to tone our legs, arms and abs. He even manages to make us laugh along the way.

French Village Diaries village life in pictures
Monday night is keep-fit night in the village


French Village Diaries village life in pictures
Tuesday in the village is quiet

Tuesday is a quiet day. The boulangerie is closed, there are no regular activities and today even the weather is chilly and damp, making me want to hide away indoors. I need your ideas please. If you lived here, what would you like to do on Tuesdays?

You may think I’m lucky to live somewhere that is small and rural, but also has lots going on, but I know it takes more than luck to find yourself somewhere this special. It takes people who are prepared to open their front doors, meet their neighbours and put in the time and effort required to set up and run the associations who organise these events. It also takes a community prepared to come out and attend the events to ensure they don’t fade away.

I hope you have enjoyed a little peek into my French village life.