Thursday, December 13, 2018

Book review of The First Noel at the Villa des Violettes by Patricia Sands

French Village Diaries book review of The First Noel at the Villa des Violettes by Patricia Sands
The First Noel at the Villa des Violettes by Patricia Sands

My review today is for The First Noel at the Villa des Violettes, a Christmas novella by Patricia Sands.

This festive novella does so much. It not only takes us back to Kat and Philippe and their villa in Provence, where we left them in book three celebrating their marriage, it also shares many of the delightful Provencal Christmas foods and traditions as well as taking us to the Christmas markets of Alsace.

I was so pleased to get back to the Provence that Patricia describes so well, and to spend time with Kat and Philippe. I thought this book was a wonderful mix of familiar characters, love, family, good friendships and French festive fun. Kat is anxious, both about her first Christmas at their villa and about history repeating itself with trouble from the past rearing its head again, but with Philippe being his usual loving, strong and supportive self, I had no doubt their first Christmas would be just perfect. 

The First Noel at the Villa des Violettes is out now in ebook and paperback format and I know we are all busy in the run up to Christmas, but I encourage you to make time for this quick read. 

Links to Amazon for all the books in the Love in Provence series can be found below.

Here are the links to my reviews of the Love in Provence series: 

Sunday, December 9, 2018

Book review of Deck the Halles by Stephanie Dagg

French Village Diaries book review Deck the Halles by Stephanie Dagg
Deck the Halles by Stephanie Dagg

Deck the Halles
It’s next Christmas at the little French llama farm. 
Last Christmas infamous Australian author Nick bought the farm, that was meant to be furnished and without llamas. The reverse proved to be the case. Noelle had been sent to pet sit the llamas until his arrival. After a decidedly frosty start, Nick and Noelle’s relationship warmed up rapidly and they’re now happily living together, with an ever growing assortment of animals.
They’re looking forward to a quiet, romantic Christmas together but at the last moment Noelle is called on to find a venue for the annual national llama show. The local agricultural hallesare free so she books them, thinking that’s all she’ll have to do to help. She couldn’t be more wrong! On top of that, various relatives start turning up on her doorstep unexpectedly, as the result of assorted crises. The farmhouse is about to burst at the seams. Add in a few other events, such as playing the part of a pixie at a Christmas fête, organising Nick’s book launch and training a non-cooperative llama for the agility class in the show, and Noelle is pushed ever closer to the end of her tether. Can she hold it together and stay as calm as a llama? Or will she be the next member of her family to make a bolt for pastures new?      
This festive, feel-good and fun novel is the sequel to ‘Fa-La-Llama-La: Christmas at the Little French Llama Farm’ but can be read as a standalone.
French Village Diaries book review Deck the Halles by Stephanie Dagg
Deck the Halles blog tour

My Review
Having thoroughly enjoyed Fa-La-Llama-La, you can read my review here, I was delighted to be back with Nick and Noelle and couldn’t wait to see how their relationship was going. Happily for me, (I do love a good romance) they have settled in nicely to rural French living and things between them seem to be going from strength to strength. 
While their first Christmas was chaos, they are looking forward to a quiet one together this year, with just their animals for company. Their plans soon seem to spiral out of control, thanks to a last-minute Llama show to organise and a seemingly never-ending stream of uninvited guests, all of whom come with catastrophes, disasters and excellent appetites. While we are talking of disasters, anything that could go wrong, does so, but at least Noelle has a back-up team she can put to good use and with Nick beside her, anything seems possible, even the impossible.
This book is great fun; full of energy, humour and romance all sprinkled with quirky rural French magic and lots of festive jingle. It's another great read from Stephanie. If you have read any of her previous novels, you will recognise her writing style and enjoy being back within her pages, if you haven’t yet read any of her books – what are you waiting for!
Author Bio – 
French Village Diaries book review Deck the Halles by Stephanie Dagg
Stephanie Dagg
I'm an English expat living in France, having moved here with my family in 2006 after fourteen years as an expat in Ireland. I now consider myself a European rather than 'belonging' to any particular country. The last ten years have been interesting, to put it mildly. Taking on seventy-five acres with three lakes, two hovels and one cathedral-sized barn, not to mention an ever increasing menagerie, makes for exciting times. The current array of animals includes alpacas, llamas, huarizos (alpaca-llama crossbreds, unintended in our case and all of them thanks to one very determined alpaca male), sheep, goats, pigs, ducks, geese, chickens and turkeys, not forgetting our pets of dogs, cats, zebra finches, budgies , canaries, lovebirds and Chinese quail. Before we came to France all we had was a dog and two chickens, so it's been a steep learning curve. I recount these experiences in my book Heads Above Water: Staying Afloat in France and the sequel to that, Total Immersion:Ten Years in France. I also blog regularly at
I'm married to Chris and we have three bilingual TCKs (third culture kids) who are resilient and resourceful and generally wonderful.     
I'm a traditionally-published author of many children's books, and am now self-publishing too. I have worked part-time as a freelance editor for thirty years after starting out as a desk editor for Hodder & Stoughton. Find me at The rest of the time I'm running carp fishing lakes with Chris and inevitably cleaning up some or other animal's poop.   

Social Media Links – Twitter Facebook Blog

French Village Diaries book review Deck the Halles by Stephanie Dagg
Deck the Halles blog tour

universal purchase link:

Sunday, December 2, 2018

Vin Chaud, advent 2018

French Village Diaries Vin Chaud advent 2018
Vin Chaud
This year I have a few Christmas themed posts to share which I hope will help get me in the festive mood, as once again I find December has crept up on me and taken me by surprise.

Now we have reached advent, as well as having a continually bubbling pot of veggie soup on my hob, I also have my pan of vin chaud, or mulled wine on the go too. Nothing says Christmas is on the way quite like a glass of mulled wine, either wandering around a Christmas market, or cosy and warm indoors and accompanied by a mince pie. It is even my apero of choice at this time of year in the village bar.

It seems spiced red wine has been a thing in Europe for many hundreds of years. The Romans would boil honey and wine and then add spices including pepper, bay leaves and saffron. In the 13thCentury the ports in the south of France, near Montpellier, where the spices from the Orient arrived by boat, had their own spiced wine recipe that included cloves. Traces of its popularity can be found in Germany and it was enjoyed by Swedish kings too, with the preferred spices being cinnamon, ginger, cardamom and clove. By the end of the 19thCentury, the link with Christmas and spiced wine was born and Swedish wine merchants began bottling their own house specialities. A warm, spiced wine is now as common a sight at a Christmas market anywhere in Europe as Père Noel.

Here is my recipe, first posted here in December 2012, if you would like to give it a go.

Put one bottle of red wine in a saucepan and add the zest and juice of a Clementine, a small pinch of cloves (about 7), a teaspoon of cinnamon (or a piece of cinnamon stick) and I also always add a lemon and ginger tea bag. 

Give it a good stir then add a generous tablespoon of brown sugar and a small(ish) glass of Cognac. Heat until the sugar has dissolved, but don’t let it reach boiling point and then try a little. When inhaling over the pan you should get a Christmassy tingle in your sinuses and a small sip should be a balanced taste between spicy and sweet. If it isn’t sweet enough or spicy enough keep adding until it tastes just right for you. 

Once you are happy with your mix it will keep all week, just warm it up, serve it and enjoy.

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Book review of Tales from the Pays d'Oc by Patricia Feinberg Stoner

French Village Diaries book review Tales from the Pays d'Oc by Patricia Feinberg Stoner
Tales from the Pays d'Oc by Patricia Feinberg Stoner

Tales from the Pays d’Oc
Twenty-one tales of life, love and laughter in the land of sun and vines.  
What is Matthieu doing up an olive tree?  Why won’t Joséphine ever eat pizza again? Who went four by fourth? And who rescued two hapless Americans at Armageddon Falls?
Travel to the Languedoc, feel the scorch of the sun on your shoulders, smell the dust and the lavender and the ripening grapes and follow the adventures of the Saturday Club and the regulars at l’Estaminet.
In this collection of stories, Patricia Feinberg Stoner revisits the territory of her memoir, ‘At Home in the Pays d’Oc’ with a whole host of new and familiar characters.
French Village Diaries book review Tales from the Pays d'Oc by Patricia Feinberg Stoner
Tales from the Pays d'Oc blog tour
My review
This book is a collection of good fun snippets of life in a Languedoc village, each one short enough to dip in and out of whenever you get a spare minute to pick up a book. 

Patricia allows us to observe the villager’s routines; meeting the regulars at the village bar, joining the old men on the bench in the village square and sampling the delights at the weekly market. We discover the local characters and their individual quirks, and there is always someone sharing some juicy gossip somewhere. Life isn’t always plain sailing for her characters, but each story is written with humour, a great eye for detail and shows her obvious love for French village life.

I haven’t yet read Patricia’s memoir At Home in the Pays d’Oc, but reading these stories has led me to pick up a copy, and I can’t wait to get stuck in and read more from her.

About Patricia Feinberg Stoner

French Village Diaries book review Tales from the Pays d'Oc by Patricia Feinberg Stoner
Patricia Feinberg Stoner
Patricia Feinberg Stoner is a former journalist, advertising copywriter and publicist. For four years she and her husband were accidental expatriates in the Languedoc, southern France.  During that time she wrote a series of magazine articles which eventually became her first book about the Languedoc: ‘At Home in the Pays d’Oc.’
Now back in the UK, she lives with her husband in the pretty West Sussex village of Rustington, where Michael Flanders encountered a gnu and the mobility scooter is king. 
She spends much of her time writing short stories and comic verses. Her first book, ‘Paw Prints in the Butter’, is a collection of comic poems for cat lovers, and is sold in aid of a local animal charity.  In 2017 she published her second book of comic verse: ‘The Little Book of Rude Limericks’.
In the autumn of 2018 Patricia returns to the locale of ‘At Home in the Pays d’Oc’ with a new collection of stories: ‘Tales from the Pays d’Oc’.
Patricia welcomes visitors to her Facebook page and to her blog.
You may occasionally find her on Twitter

French Village Diaries book review Tales from the Pays d'Oc by Patricia Feinberg Stoner
Blog Tour Tales from the Pays d'Oc

US -

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

When Reuters came to the village to talk Brexit

French Village Diaries Reuters filming Brexit
Reuters microphone
A few weeks ago, a local friend contacted me to see if I would be happy to talk to a Reuters journalist from Paris, who was interested in meeting with people who are integrated into their local community in France, about the impact Brexit is likely to have on their lives. 

French Village Diaries Reuters filming Brexit
Filming in the village library
I’ve done a few magazine interviews about our life in France, and usually look on things like this as a good experience and doing something a bit different for fun. Brexit is not fun and we, the forgotten in France, need a voice so this was an opportunity not to be wasted, despite not being totally comfortable being filmed. My fear for our future was greater than my fear of sitting and chatting with a camera, a microphone and a light pointing at me. Thankfully I was told to ignore it all, which I gratefully did.

French Village Diaries Reuters filming Brexit
The interview
The (very reliable) village grapevine has reported that my interview, filmed in the village library, was shown on French TV (in English) about a week ago. All I’ve been able to find online is a written article quoting me talking about our situation (see here), and a video clip following some of our friends in the area (see here). It was an experience, but I can’t say I’m too disappointed at not being able to watch myself on TV.

French Village Diaries Reuters filming Brexit
From the Reuters article

Maybe one day we will have answers to our questions about continuing our business, that relies on EU rulings and freedom of movement, and assurances not only on our status to remain in France, but for Ed to finish his university education here too.

French Village Diaries Reuters filming Brexit
On camera
Maybe one day Mrs May will think about the lives of the EU citizens who exercised their right to move freely within the member states and appreciate the benefits they have made to their new areas. 

Maybe one day my stomach will stop tying itself in knots on a way too regular basis and Adrian’s blood pressure will return to a healthier level.

French Village Diaries Reuters filming Brexit

Sunday, October 28, 2018

Celebrating Friendships

French Village Diaries celebrating friendships
Being together - corridor decoration at the retirement home
My life since finishing my four-month contract at the library, has taken a hectic dive into the unknown, the unexpected and often the downright bizarre.

Some days have been full of laughter and cake, others have been emotionally tough, but the good and the bad have one thing in common; friendship. 

French Village Diaries celebrating friendships
Wine soaked sponge sticks
I am doing what I can, as a friend, to support one of the first people I met here in our village, as the bastard that is cancer tightens its grip upon her life. Morphine pumps, drips, drains and wine sucked through sponges on sticks, have become our apero norm, alongside laughter and good company. From translating for the doctors and nurses, to finding a local English-speaking vicar, to saying prayers with her (maybe that Catholic upbringing wasn’t wasted after all), I know I am doing all I can in a totally rubbish situation. 

In turn I have friends who are there for me too. From caring texts that make me smile, to cake-eating outings; the distractions are welcome and very much appreciated. 

French Village Diaries celebrating friendships
Mr Accordion and the birthday celebrations
Last week, another good friend had a favour to ask. Would I pop into the retirement home and visit her Mum, while she took a well-earned break for a few days. Having seen the devastation Alzheimer’s has had on her Mum, I was unsure if she would even recognise me, but visit her I would, and what a visit it was. She not only remembered me, she asked after Ed too and the god of cake appreciation was smiling down on me as my visit coincided with a communal birthday celebration. A room full of pensioners, an accordion player, foot-tapping music and even a spot of dancing, all helped to perk my mood up no end, and left us both laughing as well as oohing and aahing over the light and creamy, raspberry topped gateau. I would have been happy to stay forever - in fact maybe I should ask if they need a librarian.

Cancer, Alzheimer’s and the constant worry and fear over Brexit, plus the time and effort required to cope with the Brexit bureaucracy mean my stress levels are high and life has felt pretty crap at times. 

Thank god for good friends, friendship, wine and cake. 


Sunday, October 21, 2018

Lazy Sunday in France, Ed's 18th birthday

French Village Diaries #LazySundayinFrance 18th birthday Martin O'Neill
The birthday boy

The last time I posted a Lazy Sunday in France post, it was September and my birthday. I can’t believe how quickly the last five weeks have gone, now it’s October and we’ve celebrated Ed’s birthday too. In fact, I can’t believe where the last 18 years have gone, but here are a few pictures from Ed’s 18thbirthday bash on Friday night. Happy Birthday Ed. 

French Village Diaries #LazySundayinFrance 18th birthday Martin O'Neill
Birthday beer

Things to include for a French village style 18thbirthday celebration:

Food and drink – it was in the bar, so there was no risk of us running out of drink and they put together a tasty selection of apero nibbles too.

French Village Diaries #LazySundayinFrance 18th birthday Martin O'Neill
The speech

Embarrassing photos and speech – well, it wouldn’t be a Brown event without a slide show presentation and what better way to mark 18 years than lots of cute baby photos, funny dressing-up photos, the annual back to school pictures and plenty of cool guitar pictures too. Also important were a few words from Mum and Dad about how proud we are, valiantly read out in French by Adrian, to the awe (and amusement of our French friends).

French Village Diaries #LazySundayinFrance 18th birthday Martin O'Neill

Music – I’m guessing not everyone is the entertainment for their own birthday party, but with a bit of help from Adrian, and a lively karaoke session too, we certainly had good music.

French Village Diaries #LazySundayinFrance 18th birthday Martin O'Neill
The cake

Cake with candles – expertly made by me and decorated by Adrian. This shot really does show it in its best light.

French Village Diaries #LazySundayinFrance 18th birthday Martin O'Neill

Friends – oh yes! The translation of the name of our village bar is ‘between mates’ and we were lucky to gather together some good friends from the village to help us celebrate, many of whom have watched Ed grow up over the last fourteen years.

As we said on Friday, whatever you do in the future Ed, and wherever life takes you, we hope that you won’t be afraid of taking risks, that you’ll be happy and that you will never forget growing up in our quirky little French village.

Photos thanks to village photographer Martin O’Neill, always out and about with his camera slung over his shoulder, but equally happy to do family photo shoots in his studio and host photography workshops from his gîte. For more information see his website here.

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Book review of The Poppy Field by Deborah Carr

French Village Diaries book review The Poppy Field Deborah Carr
The Poppy Field by Deborah Carr

My review today is for The Poppy Field, the second historical novel by Deborah Carr. 

This year marks the 100th anniversary of the end of the First World War.
Young nurse, Gemma, is struggling with the traumas she has witnessed through her job in the NHS. Needing to escape from it all, Gemma agrees to help renovate a rundown farmhouse in Doullens, France, a town near the Somme. There, in a boarded-up cupboard, wrapped in old newspapers, is a tin that reveals the secret letters and heartache of Alice Le Breton, a young volunteer nurse who worked in a casualty clearing station near the front line.
Set in the present day and during the horrifying years of the war, both women discover deep down the strength and courage to carry on in even the most difficult of times. Through Alice’s words and her unfailing love for her sweetheart at the front, Gemma learns to truly live again.
This is a beautifully written epic historical novel that will take your breath away.
French Village Diaries book review The Poppy Field Deborah Carr
The Poppy Field blog tour
My Review:
I enjoyed getting to know Gemma, discovering why she is alone in a run-down farmhouse in the Somme area of France and what had happened to make her run away from her old life. It is soon apparent that her sadness and vulnerability are only partly masked by her independence. Fate, or maybe the farmhouse itself, leads her to local builder Tom, who soon begins to help her with her task of restoring the house, so her father can sell it. Tom and Gemma both have secrets from their past, but it’s the discovery of a box of letters, hidden in an outbuilding on the farm, that help them decide what they want for the future.

The letters take us back to 1918 where volunteer nurse Alice Le Breton is working in a casualty clearing station not far from the frontline trenches. Just like Gemma, I too became absorbed in Alice’s life; the exhaustion, the relentless convoys bringing in more wounded men, the strict rules imposed on the girls by Matron and the nursing sisters. Deborah’s writing brought to life the horrors of trench warfare from the point of view of the nurses, most of whom had little training or experience before the war. The dirt, the lice, the infected wounds and then the gas attacks, meant there wasn’t much for them to look forward to, especially as fraternising with the patients was forbidden.

Alice was dedicated to her job, independent and determined to live her life to the full, despite the risks involved, and I didn’t want to stop reading until I discovered what became of her after the war ended.

This book switches from one era to another, which worked well for me, and I also enjoyed seeing the similarities between Gemma and Alice, as well as discovering places with Gemma in 2018, that Alice had visited in 1918. This is a well-researched book that I think is a beautiful tribute to mark the 100thanniversary of the end of the First World War.

Author Bio:
French Village Diaries book review The Poppy Field Deborah Carr
Deborah Carr
Deborah Carr lives on the island of Jersey in the Channel Islands with her husband, two children and three rescue dogs. She became interested in books set in WW1 when researching her great-grandfather's time as a cavalryman in the 17th 21st Lancers.
She is part of ‘The Blonde Plotters’ writing group and was Deputy Editor on the online review site, for seven years. Her debut historical romance, Broken Faces, is set in WW1 and was runner-up in the 2012 Good Housekeeping Novel Writing Competition and given a 'special commendation' in the Harry Bowling Prize that year. The Poppy Field is her second historical novel.

You can find and follow Deborah on her WebsiteFacebookTwitterInstagram and Pinterest.
French Village Diaries book review The Poppy Field Deborah Carr
The Poppy Field by Deborah Carr publication date 12th October 2018
The Poppy Field is out now in ebook and paperback format and is a must read for those who enjoy well-researched fiction set during the First World War. Links to Amazon can be found below.

You might also like Deborah’s first historical novel Broken Faces, also set during the First World War. If you are interested in historical reads, where romance and history are nicely combined, I’m sure you will enjoy it. You can read my full review here.

Monday, October 15, 2018

100km in a day

French Village Diaries 100km in a day bike ride
Village art along the way
For the fourth consecutive year, I, Jacqui Brown, now aged 47 years old, have cycled my 100km in a day birthday challenge.

French Village Diaries 100km in a day bike ride
The clock tower in St Jean d'Angeley
Despite knowing I am less cycle-fit this year than last year, I was still determined to give it my best shot and think it’s worth celebrating my achievement, even if a lack of time to plan a new route meant we re-ran last year’s route to St Jean d’Angeley.

French Village Diaries 100km in a day bike ride
Homeward bound on tree-lined roads
You know life is busy and hectic when an event like this gets squeezed in around other commitments, seems like the easiest thing you’ve achieved in the last few weeks and then quickly becomes forgotten in the craziness of life.
French Village Diaries 100km in a day bike ride
Following (in the wrong direction) the Chemin de St Jacques
The weather was perfect; calm, sunny and not too hot, and taking the back roads through small villages meant there was always something to catch my eye and give me a good excuse to hop off the bike and take a photo or two.

French Village Diaries 100km in a day bike ride
Beer and pain aux raisin halfway there treat
As usual, our halfway point was marked with a beer and a patisserie, sat in a shady square in St Jean d’Angeley. Here we met another couple of cyclists out for one of their first rides on a pair of matching Brompton bikes. Adrian was rather excited to spot the Brompton’s as his beloved Brompton (Delila) lives in the UK and I think he misses her when he’s back with us in France. If I had a crystal ball, I’m sure I’d see a vision of the two of us cycling on Bromptons here in France in the not too distant future.

French Village Diaries 100km in a day bike ride
Look at these beauties!
I certainly hope to celebrate many more birthdays in this way with Adrian, my route planner, by my side, and have to credit our neighbour Pierrette who is a real inspiration to me. She will be having a hip replacement next month, but despite this, and being 78 years young, she is still out on her bike every weekend. She claims that although uncomfortable to walk, cycling doesn’t hurt her hip at all - until she gets off the bike. I may not be doing 100km in a day when I’m 78, but I do still hope to be cycling, just like Pierrette.

French Village Diaries 100km in a day bike ride
Home for a dip in the pool!

Cycling is more than good exercise, it is also a great way to clear your mind, focus on something different and escape the stresses of daily life. The past month or so has seen me drowning in dossiers of French paperwork, helping friends in situations that have tested my translation skills to the max, as well as learning a lot about friendship, compassion and what the important things in life really are. I’ve even had the excitement of a film crew in the village, interested in our worries and concerns as the Brexit nightmare looms ever closer.

Ed in Poitiers

I am slowly accepting that Ed is doing OK living on his own in Poitiers, hasn’t starved to death, and is occasionally cooking real food as well as opening tins and reheating the contents. In fact, Poitiers is becoming reassuringly familiar and from what I have seen, I am not at all surprised it is ranked in 2nd place in terms of quality of student life, for towns in France with up to 40,000 students. I still feel rather cheated that he had signed his first rental contract at only 17 years old, but this has probably helped me come to terms with the fact that by the time this week comes to an end my baby will be a child no more, but an 18-year-old adult who is already well on his way to an independent future.