Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Book review of The Girl in the Shadows by Katherine Debona

French Village Diaries book review The Girl in the Shadows by Katherine Debona
The Girl in the Shadows by Katherine Debona

My review today is for the debut novel by Katherine Debona, The Girl in the Shadows.

Set in Paris, this book follows three troubled lives as they try to find answers to questions.

Alice, alone in the world now her Father has died, arrives in Paris in an attempt to find answers about her Mother. Although Alice was always led to believe she had died when she was a baby, something she finds in her Father’s possessions makes her hope she may still be alive and living in Paris. Her investigations get off to a slow start, but through her love of photography she makes a friend who makes Paris more fun, interesting and less lonely. Bit by bit details of her Mother begin to appear, but finding all the answers doesn’t seem to be as easy as she hoped; in fact her dream of a happy family reunion just seems to get further out of reach.

Veronique, a private investigator accepts the job of looking for the runaway daughter of a wealthy Parisian, despite feeling something is not quite right about the information provided by the family. The more she uncovers, the more questions arise to be solved and the further away the daughter seems to become. Meanwhile this case seems to throw her into the path of her ex-lover, which which forces her to ask herself questions about her future; questions she finds hard to answer without delving too far into her own troubled past, something she has always tried her best to forget.

Mathilde is the most mysterious and probably the most troubled of the three; always slightly removed from the main action and managing to stay one step ahead of those who are looking for her. I could feel a real sadness coming from Mathilde and needed to find out exactly what had made her run.

This book has a good mix of strong characters; some are likeable, some are not. The Paris described feels real; from the cafés, to the seedy nightlife and the air of celebration for Bastille Day. With a good pace, lots of twists, plenty of action and some great detective work it became impossible to stray too far from; even when I wasn’t reading it I was thinking about it and wondering just how the mysteries would be brought to a close and who, if anyone, would get their happy ending.

I’ll certainly be looking out for more from Katherine and if you like strong detective mysteries, or just books set in Paris, I’m sure you will enjoy this one.


The Girl in the Shadows is published by HQ Digital and is available in ebook format. A link to Amazon can be found below.


Monday, May 22, 2017

Just another weekend in rural France

French Village Diaries weekend in rural France giant paella fêtes des voisins
Giant Paella for Fêtes des Voisins

Friday evening saw us collecting Ed and his suitcase from school in the market town of Melle 25km away, feeding him and a friend and driving them to Niort, our big town, 45km away, where they enjoyed an evening out with some other friends. Having driven almost 150km, we retired to the sofa where we watched Gardeners’ World and enjoyed a glass of wine. Thankfully someone else drove them home, so all we had to do was to collect Ed from Melle (again) on Saturday afternoon. We live in a small village of less then four hundred people, with no public transport, except the school buses, and for a 16 year old there is not much going on. Ed’s social life has already moved on and away from the village.

I have been known to (affectionately) refer to life here, as living in the arse-end-of-nowhere, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t have anything going for it. I know how special it is and I also know I’m not the only one; from Parisian retirees to escapees from London life, they come from far and wide to experience life in our village. Honestly! Saturday night, for example, for the bargain price of 5€ per person we celebrated the Fêtes des Voisins (Neighbours Day) in the salle des fêtes (village hall) with a giant paella, a charades game, a DJ and live music. It was the chance for friends, new and old, French and British, to have fun and get to know each other a bit more.

As well as our French friends we found ourselves in the company of a media executive from London who owns a holiday house in the village and a press photographer (and author) who is the latest arrival to be bewitched by life here. Martin, the photographer, has also written two children’s books and having taken a sneaky peek at the first one I can see him fitting into life here just fine. All I can say is that his head must be a busy place to be if his book, which is lively, bonkers and brilliantly perfect for those with an overactive imagination, is anything to go by. As for our media executive, I shall name no names, but as I’ve seen him in the Daily Mail I know he is important and I’m sure his usual red-carpet events don’t often involve him miming a kiwi fruit, but he certainly seemed impressed with Jean-Marc’s event hosting and organisation.

French Village Diaries weekend in rural France rock and roll fêtes des voisins
Ed and Adrian rocking the salle des fêtes

For me, the highlight of the evening was watching Ed, with the help of Adrian – who hasn’t played in front of an audience since 1987, entertaining everyone with a bit of rock’n’roll, including a tribute to the late greats Chuck Berry and Rick Parfitt. Many a foot tapped along with them and hands clapped in appreciation afterwards.

French Village Diaries weekend in rural France plant sale
Plant sale

Sunday dawned warm and sunny and Adrian and I set off to a local village who were holding a plant sale, vide grenier (car boot) and farmers market. We chatted with a few friendly faces, bought some tomato plants and then watched a rather bizarre big truck convoy that tooted it’s way through the village on it’s way to a country fair.

French Village Diaries weekend in rural France cherry trees chickens
Chickens and cherries

It’s now Monday and the aeroplanes have whisked Adrian and the London escapees back to the real world, leaving me to my life of chicken keeping, cherry picking, lawn mowing and laundry. As well as pondering the question why do sunny mornings turn to rain the moment I hang my washing out?

If you want to check out Martin’s books, The Boy who missed Next Year (part one and two), where among other things a goldfish talks and teaches moral life lessons and a steam train comes alive from a wall calendar and whisks Barry and Cedric the Shubunkin back to the previous year, (I told you it was bonkers), then click on the Amazon links below.


Have a great week, wherever you are. This post has been linked to Paulita’s Dreaming of France blog link. Click here to read more.


Sunday, May 21, 2017

Book review of Just For the Holidays by Sue Moorcroft

French Village Diaries book review Just For the Holidays Sue Moorcroft
Just For the Holidays by Sue Moorcroft

My review today is for Just For the Holidays; the new novel from Sue Moorcroft, released this week.

In Just For the Holidays we meet Leah, a saint amongst sisters, who is emotionally blackmailed by big sister Michele to join her fragmented family on holiday in Alsace. Although she doesn’t realise it at the time, the list of family traumas she will end up dealing with could have filled a parenting magazine, which for a single, childfree, ultra cool Auntie, is impressive. Thankfully she has back up.

First it’s chocolate, and with Sue’s delicious descriptions I too could imagine the taste of the delights whipped up to diffuse the tensions of the hormonal teenagers trying to come to terms with their family troubles. Then there is Ronan, single Dad to another teenager, handily located next-door, and happy to offer his support to Leah. Let’s face it; what female could resist a man with the combination of the toned body of a helicopter pilot, with a vulnerable side too.

Sue’s characters are vibrant and believable. I loved Leah, who comes across as strong and independent, despite being somewhat coerced into a tricky situation by her sister, who quite frankly I could have slapped. There are many emotions that run strongly throughout the book and that I felt within me as I read; from the confused tears of a teenager coming to grips with adulthood, to the frustrated passions of new love. Sue’s obvious love of Alsace as a location also stands out. It is an area of France I have wanted to visit for a while now and Sue has certainly strengthened my resolve to get there.

This is a great family drama, packed full of fun, love, laughter and tears that needs to be on your holiday packing list this summer.


Just For the Holidays is available in paperback and ebook format and links to Amazon can be found below. You can find Sue on her website and blog and follow her on FacebookTwitter and Instagram 

To read more about her love of France, see here for my France et Moi interview with her.


Friday, May 19, 2017

France et Moi with author Sue Moorcroft

Welcome to ‘France et Moi’ where this week, as part of the launch for her new novel, Just for the Holidays, I am talking to author Sue Moorcroft about what France means to her.
 
Just for the Holidays by Sue Moorcroft

Sue Moorcroft
Best-selling author Sue Moorcroft writes contemporary fiction with occasionally unexpected themes. The Christmas Promise was a Christmas 2016 best-seller, rising to #1 in the Amazon Kindle chart; The Wedding Proposal, Dream a Little Dream and Is this Love? were all nominated for Readers’ Best Romantic Read Awards and Darcie’s Dilemma for Readers’ Best Short Romance. Love & Freedom won the Best Romantic Read Award 2011 and Dream a Little Dream was nominated for a RoNA in 2013. Sue’s a Katie Fforde Bursary Award winner, a past vice chair of the RNA and editor of its two anthologies.

Sue also writes short stories, serials, articles and writing ‘how to’.

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’?

Sue: I have to say that I approve of wine and the civilised practice of sitting in the sunshine to drink it. The cakes made a big impression on me, too. There seems a lot of room for the rural idyll in France.

2) Your latest novel, Just for the Holidays, is set in Alsace. When you are researching a novel set in France, do you like to spend time in that area?
 
Just for the Holidays by Sue Moorcroft
Sue: I’d love to say it was the result of careful thought but it was because a friend of mine moved there and was kind enough to say I could visit. Until then, I’d intended to set the book in the Dordogne, which I’d visited a couple of times in recent years.

3) What makes Alsace special enough to be your chosen location?

Sue: It has a personality all of its own, probably from its mixed history with Germany. The names of places and people sound (to my English ear) more German than French. In fact, an Alsatian friend who read the book for me, told me that many of the family names I’d chosen were ‘too French’ and gave me Alsatian substitutes. I met with nothing but friendliness when I was in Alsace.

4) From the title we can guess your characters are on holiday in France, do you have any special memories of a holiday in France?

Sue: A camping holiday over 20 years ago, clear across the country in Brittany, near Carnac. We went over there towing a trailer tent, got lost and almost ran out of petrol. Some tipsy men from a village wedding got the local garage owner out of the celebrations to open his fuel pumps for us and set us back on the right road. It turned out that one of the men spoke good English but had been so entertained listening to my French (which is more Franglais) that he hadn’t wanted to tell me.

5) With plenty of space and lovely scenery France is a great place to explore by bike. If, like Alister in your novel, you were to take off on your bike, where would you like to go?

Sue: Somewhere flat! Cycling is much more an Alister thing than a Sue thing. I like walking, though, and love the beautiful countryside of the Dordogne, where the vineyards march across the sunny slopes.

6) 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?

Sue: Strasbourg is fantastic (and I don’t think I saw a single dog poo). The Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Strasbourg is so awesome that there are rows of deck chairs outside just so people can sit and look at it. I thoroughly enjoyed my days in Strasbourg, walking through the beautiful city streets and taking a trip up the canal. I may have also visited a patisserie.

Flammenküche
7) Every region in France has it’s own culinary specialty, do you have a favourite regional dish? (Doesn’t have to be from Alsace!)

Sue: It is from Alsace, though – Flammenküche, which is like an incredibly thin pizza. I loved the goat cheese and honey one.

8) France has many different cheeses, a silly question, but which French cheese are you? A hard and mature Tome, a soft, fresh and lively goat cheese, the creamy and rich Camembert or maybe the salty and serious Roquefort?

Sue: Definitely goat cheese. Versatile, too!

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

Sue: Pain au chocolat. It makes several appearances in Just for the Holidays!

10) Best French tipple, and yes I know there are many to choose from?

Sue: Cremant d’Alsace. A really lovely fizzy white. I could be seduced away from that with champagne, though …

Finally can you tell us a little bit about Just for the Holidays?

Sue: It’s the story of what happens to Leah when she ends up in France looking after her sister’s husband and children, having gone through life avoiding having a husband and children of her own. She does allow herself to be distracted by grounded helicopter pilot Ronan next door - but then he gets an uninvited guest who changes everything.

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

Sue: You’re very welcome and thank you for inviting me! It has been a pleasure.

Just for the Holidays is published by Avon Books UK and is available in paperback and ebook format, links to Amazon can be found below. Pop back here on Sunday to read my review.

Sue Moorcroft author France et Moi interview French Village Diaries


You can read more about Sue on her website and blog and follow her on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram


Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Book review of Curious Histories of Provence by Margo Lestz

French Village Diaries review Curious Histories of Provence Margo Lestz
Curious Histories of Provence by Margo Lestz

My review today is for Curious Histories of Provence, the new release from Margo Lestz.

This book will teach you interesting facts about Provençal customs, traditions and history as well as give you ideas about what to see and where to go while in Provence. You will meet monsters, dragons and saints, gypsies, bulls and white horses plus learn about kings, Gardians and scholars. And that’s just a selection of what is on offer! 

For a short break in Provence, this is the only guidebook you will need. It is quick and easy to read; so a perfect choice to get you into the mood for your holiday in Provence if you’re lucky enough to have one planned. If not, you will at least feel like you’ve been there. It’s also an entertaining and informative read that will ensure you want to return to Provence to discover all it has to offer.

Curious Histories of Provence is available in paperback and ebook format and links to Amazon can be found below. 

You can read my review of French Holidays and Traditions, Margo’s first book here.


Margo’s blog The CuriousRambler can be found here and is always a good read.


Friday, May 12, 2017

France et Moi with author Janine Marsh

Welcome to ‘France et Moi’ where this week, as part of the publication celebrations for her memoir My Good Life in France, I am talking to author Janine Marsh about what France means to her.
 
French Village Diaries France et Moi interview Janine Marsh The Good Life France
Janine Marsh The Good Life France
Janine Marsh is a travel writer and editor of the award winning website  and Magazine The Good life France.

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’?

Janine: Ooh that’s a tough question – so many things but I’d have to say one of the stand out things for me is bread! I love that there are artisan bakers and beautiful boulangeries where ever you go. The smell of a fresh baked baguette or a buttery golden croissant is so very French (and delicious).

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

Janine: I was 14 years old and went on an exchange trip to Antony in the suburbs of Paris. I came from a London council estate and I was absolutely mesmerized by France. Drinking bowls of hot chocolate and dunking our croissants in them, being sent to the boulangerie for a cake after school, a trip to Versailles – it all seemed so exotic! I feel head over heels in love while I was there and I am still in love – with France.

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

Janine: Best thing? Again a tough one but I found an injured kitten in the town of Boulogne-sur-Mer. It was being attacked by a bigger cat. I rescued it and bought it home, fed it with a pipette as it was so tiny and I never thought it would make it through the night. Winston, as I called him, did survive and he is now the biggest cat in the village. It made me realize I love animals – a lot, I now have more than 60! Dogs, cats, chickens, geese and ducks. It still surprises me as I had never had, nor wanted an animal before!

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

Janine: Well I probably make a load of mistakes but happily I am blissfully unaware! I am of the opinion that in France, you have to try however bad you are at it to speak French. It’s doubly hard where I am as my neighbours speak a local patois called Ch’ti. When I first came here I was given a Ch’ti dictionary by one of my neighbours because it’s a different language. For instance chair in French is chaise – here it’s cayelle! I just try my best and chat away as best I can and sometimes my French friends laugh at me but mostly they say they find it cute when non Frenchies try to speak French!

5) As part of your website/online magazine The Good Life France, you have become very well travelled in France; do you have a favourite place to visit in France?

Janine: Blimey Jacqui – that’s such a hard question! I love Lille – it’s a wonderful cultural, vibrant city with a fabulous bright vibe. I love Audresselles, a tiny tiny fishing village on the Opal Coast in the north. Nice, Paris, Provence, Loire, Burgundy, Annecy… I love so many places and I still have a load more to discover so it’s a never ending answer!

6) If money and commitments were no object where in France would you like to own a property and what sort of place would it be?

Janine: I’d love to do up a chateau! We’ve spent 13 years renovating this old farmhouse. It had dirt floors and some of the doors were made of corrugated metal – they used to flap in the wind. We replaced 37 windows and mixed more than 100 tonnes of concrete. There were times when I thought – never ever again. But now we’re nearly done I miss it. I love doing DIY, I’m proud of what we’ve achieved and I think I might just be ready to start again! As to where in France… I think I’d stay in the north. We might not have the sunshine but I love the authenticity of this place, the respect for traditions and heritage – and the food!

7) France has many different cheeses, a silly question, but which French cheese are you? A hard and mature Tome, a soft, fresh and lively goat cheese, the creamy and rich Camembert or maybe the salty and serious Roquefort?

Janine: Oh I’m definitely a goat cheese – perhaps with some rose petals on top. One that’s matured for just about a week, fresh – and slightly nutty!

8) 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?

Janine: A grand café crème and I’d expect to get an espresso! It’s hard to find a proper American or UK style creamy coffee but I’ve got used to the dark side to a certain extent. Just being able to sit outside a French café on a sunny morning is pleasure enough!

9) Every region in France has it’s own culinary specialty, do you have a favourite regional dish?

Janine: I love flammekeuche! They’re a northern French pizza made with sour cream and cheese and onions with a thin pastry. I could eat one every day of the week (which is why I am permanently on a diet!). I also like Charles Quint’s Finger Cake! No I don’t really but I can’t resist telling you about them. Charles Quint was the Holy Roman Emperor in the 16th century and he had gout. In this part of France there is a cake dedicated to his gouty old fingers – it’s a long sponge with red jam that oozes out. How weird is that?!

 
French Village Diaries France et Moi interview Janine Marsh The Good Life France
My Good Life in France
Finally, your memoir My Good Life in France has just been published, can you tell us a bit about it and how you came to write it?

Janine: It’s a dream come true! I love writing. Sometimes when I’m supposed to be cooking dinner and I start writing I just forget everything else. Some people use a timer to alert them to dinner being ready to serve, I have a smoke alarm!

It all started when my Dad got sick. I’d already left for France but when he was diagnosed with cancer I went back to London to help look after him. Some days I’d sit and scribble away – I didn’t have a blog then. My Dad would ask me about what I’d written and said “you’re not bad at that – you should try and write a book”. I didn’t really think anything of it but when I went back to France after he sadly passed away, my other half set me up a blog so that I could keep in touch with friends and family. They used to ring constantly asking us about what was going on – how many more strays had I taken in? Had my neighbor who was in love with a chicken split up with his nubile girlfriend? Had I broken any more bones carrying breeze blocks and building walls? I thought about what my Dad had said and decided to give it a go. The first month my blog went live I had 480 views – I tell you I was amazed and I quickly got hooked on writing every day. Six months later I had 60,000 views a month – now I get more than 1 million page views a month – I’m so humbled by it I can’t tell you. Anyway a publisher who follows me on my blog offered me a book deal – and I grabbed it with both hands and the result is “My Good Life in France”. It’s had some lovely reviews – my favourite is “a warm and uplifting read, effervescent like a glass of your favourite Champagne” and “move over Peter Mayle (A Year in Provence)  - there’s a new girl in town and her name is Janine Marsh” – woohoo!

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

My Good Life in France is published by Michael O’Mara Books and is available in paperback and ebook format. You can read my review here. Links to Amazon can be found below.



Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Book review of My Good Life in France by Janine Marsh

French Village Diaries book review My Good Life in France Janine Marsh
My Good Life in France by Janine Marsh

My review today is for My Good Life in France, the brand new memoir from Janine Marsh, who also writes the excellent website and online magazine The Good Life France.

An accidental house hunt, while on a day trip to France from London, led Janine and husband Mark to the home of their dreams just over The Channel in northern France. With a writing style that is gentle and relaxed, much like how she describes life in the area she lives in, Janine takes us with her as she gets to know the area, the locals and more importantly works hard to turn a run down farmhouse into something quite special.

To begin with, France was still a holiday destination for them, albeit working holidays, and Janine writes openly about the emotional journey to making the move permanent and how difficult it can be to adjust. There may only have been two of them to start with, but when the local animal population realised they had arrived, things began to change. As someone who moved to France with a toddler and two cats and was happy for it to stay that way, but ended up with ducks, chickens, a goose, rabbits and a dog, I loved her tales of the animal antics that have become part of her daily life in rural France.

Every area in France has it’s own fêtes, festivals and celebrations of local history and traditions and Janine explains those unique to her area in a way that will make you want to visit somewhere that isn’t often on the main tourist map and experience it for yourself. I remember fondly our day trips to France, stocking up on wine and food, driving our Mini Cooper along twisty back roads, heading away from Calais and searching out the real France, even if just for a few hours. Those happy, carefree days of twenty years ago when we fell in love with France came flooding back as I read this book. Sadly, since moving to France in 2004, Calais and the surrounding area is somewhere we pass through as quickly as possible while making the twelve-hour drive from home to the UK and back again. Janine is a great ambassador for this region and has made me realise how much I am missing, zooming along the autoroutes and passing through, rather than stopping and enjoying.

This book has everything a good memoir should have; an interesting story to tell, the ability to write openly about the ups and downs of life, while also including humorous observations of the French way - their fondness for speech making in particular made me laugh out loud.

If you, like me, enjoy memoirs about life in France, you will love this one and it might even inspire you to seek out the Seven Valleys on your next French adventure.

To read more about her love of France, join me back here on Friday when Janine will be answering my France et Moi questions.


My Good Life in France is published by Michael O’Mara Books and is available in paperback and ebook format. Links to Amazon can be found below.


Monday, May 8, 2017

Victory in Europe 2017

French Village Diaries Victory in Europe 8th May 2017 French elections
Ed holding the flag at the village memorial service 8th May 2017

Every year on the 8th May a small ceremony is held in our village to commemorate Victory in Europe Day; a public holiday in France.

French Village Diaries Victory in Europe 8th May 2017 French elections
Flowers laid at a grave in the village cemetery
This year, just before the official ceremony at the memorial a moment of silent reflection was observed at a simple grave in the village cemetery; the resting place of Fernand Prevost, aged 18, who was shot dead by the SS troops just outside the village in July 1944.

Now we have sadly lost our old soldiers, the holding of the flag has been passed on to the younger generation and Ed did us proud once more. I think he is hoping that photos like the one above will help him with his French nationalisation request in a few years.

French Village Diaries Victory in Europe 8th May 2017 French elections
The vin d'honneur
As usual, after the ceremony we gathered in the Salle des Fêtes for a vin d’honneur (wine of honour) and aperitifs. It seemed only a few hours since we had been drinking aperitifs with some of the villagers, which if I’m honest it was, in celebration of another victory for Europe, the defeat of Marine Le Pen.

French Village Diaries Victory in Europe 8th May 2017 French elections
Bureau de vote

I had helped man the bureau de vote on Sunday afternoon, where strict controls and counts are kept on who arrives to vote. I checked their voting cards and date stamped them, initialled a register and sent them off to the voting cubicle. Upon their return I got to open the slot in the ballot box and then we all cried out “A Voté” (voted) as the envelope slipped in. My colleague then requested their signature on another copy of the register and handed their cards back. Despite the seriousness of the event, all this was done with the usual kisses, handshakes and conversation that is normal in a French village and made me feel included even if I had no right to vote.

French Village Diaries Victory in Europe 8th May 2017 French elections
Awaiting the national results
Our village had a turnout of 190 voters and Macron won with 56% of votes, slightly less than the national average and it was a very close count at one point. With the hope other towns and villages would follow our trend I began to relax a little about our future for the first time in a few weeks. Once the official voting documents had been deposited at the local Gendarmarie, the aperos were served and we all gathered around to await the eight o’clock announcement on French TV as to who was likely to be our president. An hour of light hearted political banter followed before we all made our way home, relieved and happy.

It certainly has been an action-packed couple of days in our quiet village.

You might also like to read my previous VE Day posts from 2013 (here) and 2016 (here).