Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Book review of The Only Way is West by Bradley Chermside

French Village Diaries book review The Only Way is West Bradley Chermside
The Only Way is West by Bradley Chermside

The Only Way is West by Bradley Chermside

Having just returned from a few days in St Jean Pied de Port in the Pyrénées, sharing my review of this fabulous travel memoir about the 500-mile walk from St Jean Pied de Port to Santiago de Compostela in Spain seemed appropriate. Many thousands of ‘pilgrims’ make this journey on the Camino every year, following the ancient route over the Pyrénées and across northern Spain to Santiago de Compostela, where the bones of St James are said to rest.

Bradley is one such person and this memoir tells of his journey, from the planning, his arrival in France, his blisters and sleepless nights along the way, the people he meets and the mysterious girl he hopes will be waiting for him. His writing style is funny, his descriptions and observations, especially of those he shares his Camino with, bring his journey to life, and I enjoyed every page. He certainly fanned the flame of fire within me to make my Camino dream a reality one day. 
French Village Diaries book review The Only Way is West Bradley Chermside Camino
Following the Camino
This book is mostly his account from the journal he kept, but also includes some of the emails sent to friends and family and their words of encouragement, that always seemed to arrive just when he needed them most. The Camino is tough on the body; the grueling terrain and nights spent in large hostels with shared dormitories and basic facilities. Plus, with long, hot days, often walking alone, there is time outside of your normal routine for your head to think and make decisions. I really enjoyed the experience of following Brad and couldn’t wait to see if he found what he was looking for at the end of his journey and also discover how the Camino changed him and shaped his future.

This book would be a great read for anyone planning their own Camino, or for those who like adventure and travel memoirs written with honesty, emotion and humour.

The Only Way is West is available in ebook and paperback format and links to Amazon can be found below.

Monday, May 20, 2019

Back in the Pays Basque

French Village Diaries back in the Pays Basque
On the French/Spanish border Pays Basque
Sometimes it is important to forget your worries and count your blessings, so having left our requests for post-Brexit residency with the Prefecture in Niort, and spent a good few days struggling to move around whilst keeping everything crossed, we decided enough was enough and in true Bollox to Brexit spirit hit the road. 

A four-hour drive from home and we caught our first glimpse of the Pyrénées in the distance. Light shadows of mountain peaks teasing us, there one minute, gone the next, then majestically reappearing and revealing a little more of themselves. The Pays Basque was beckoning us; Adrian with his inner mountain spirit was keen to stretch his legs, feel the burn, and crest col after col (mountain passes) and I was dreaming of reacquainting myself with the rich, buttery, moist and chewy Gateau Basque.

French Village Diaries back in the Pays Basque
St Jean de Luz

Instead of looking at (yet another) week of no work for Adrian as a sign of the possible recession the UK seems to be heading for, we made the most of it and proved we don’t just live in France, we are LIVING in France. In four days we cycled 189km, climbed three mountain cols, each one a little higher than the last, dipped from France to Spain and back again a few times (EU freedom of movement bonus) and followed the Atlantic coast from Bidart to Hendaye, taking in cosmopolitan St Jean de Luz. We were powered by stunning scenery; green rolling hills dotted with white Basquais houses, wild horses, sheep and flowering verges, as well as lots of delicious Gateau Basque cakes.

French Village Diaries back in the Pays Basque
Valcarlos in the Pays Basque

There is something about the Basque that captured our hearts five years ago, the hills are soft, not rough jagged peaks, but they are not exactly gentle either. Cycling here is a constant climb, curve, descend, climb again, pattern, but after a while it’s easy to get into a routine. There is locally produced wine to enjoy with sheep’s milk cheeses, and the warming effects of the Piment d’Espelette chili can be found in many local dishes. With a language of its own and boasting one of the oldest civilisations in Europe, it is a unique area of France (and Spain) and also home to St Jean Pied de Port, pilgrim gateway to the Pyrénées and our home for four nights. 

French Village Diaries back in the Pays Basque Camino Saint Jacques de Compostelle
The Chemin de St Jacques, St Jean Pied de Port

I have a fascination for all things to do with the pilgrim camino to Santiago de Compostela. Maybe it’s from living on the Chemin de St Jacques that passes through Tours, Poitiers and Melle, on its way to St Jean Pied de Port, or because of my namesake, Ste Jacqueline, an Italian who walked as a pilgrim to Santiago de Compostela many times in her life, but whatever it is, the pull is there. Immersing myself in St Jean Pied de Port for four days gave me the opportunity to watch the comings and goings of the pilgrims as we drank our morning coffee in the sun, spot the pilgrims from the holiday tourists (like ourselves) over dinner, and as a reward for conquering a short (but steep) section on my bike, buy myself a Camino shell trinket in the hope I can one day return.

French Village Diaries back in the Pays Basque Camino Saint Jacques de Compostelle
Walking the cobbles of St Jean Pied de Port

Not everyone is on a pilgrimage, but we are all on a journey and putting my body through the sometimes-grueling climbs of the Pyrénéan cols certainly left no room in my head for worrying about where our future will take us. The fatigue was fought off by the sense of achievement, the encouragement from seasoned local cyclists warmed me when the cold wind hit at altitude and the time Adrian and I spent sharing our adventures created special memories to cherish.

This week the blog is going Basquaise and I will be sharing some of our days on the bikes in the Pays Basque, as well as some reviews of books set in the Basque and on the Camino.

Here are a few previous posts about the Pays Basque you might like:

Sunday, May 12, 2019

Book review of Simone LaFray and the Chocolatiers' Ball by S.P. O'Farrell

French Village Diaries book review Simone LaFray and the Chocolatiers' Ball by S.P. O'Farrell
Simone LaFray and the Chocolatiers' Ball
by S.P. O'Farrell

Simone LaFray and the Chocolatiers’ Ball

This book, set in a patisserie in Paris, is aimed at 10 to 11-year old’s, but that didn’t stop me from thoroughly enjoying it, in fact, with a main character who is a little bit different, plenty of mystery and lots of chocolate; I would have loved to have read this as a child.

Simone LaFray is not your average 12-year-old girl. She prefers to blend into the crowd, to see everything, but not to be seen; for Simone is an undercover agent and a pretty good one at that. Following in her mother’s footsteps (she is a top international spy) and with the backing and assistance of the ministry, there are always plenty of mysteries for Simone to solve, as well as looking after her little sister Mia and helping her Father in his patisserie. Who is the Red Fox and why is he back in Paris? Who stole the ancient recipe books from her Father’s patisserie? What has suddenly made her Father lose his culinary perfection?

Things come to a head at the Chocolatiers’ Ball, a prestigious event that this year will be showcasing her Father’s work, but with sabotage and theft hanging over them, what must Simone do to save the day?

I loved Simone’s character and enjoyed her daily life in Paris, from strolls in the park to helping out in the patisserie, to working undercover in the art galleries. Her attention to detail, the way her eyes expertly sweep a room and mentally take everything in; calculating how many people, who is acting suspiciously and who is genuine, was matched only by the attention to detail in the author’s descriptions. There is a lot that makes Simone unusual and different, including her love of routine and precision, but these were the things I enjoyed most about her. As a children’s novel, her quirky perfection will I’m sure strike a chord with those kids who maybe don’t feel they fit in with the norm.

This first book sets the scene perfectly and left me wanting more from the extraordinary life of Simone LaFray.

Simone LaFray and the Chocolatiers’ Ball by S.P. O’Farrell will be published by Brandylane Publishers on Monday 13th May, available in hardback, paperback and ebook versions. Links to Amazon can be found below. I was kindly sent a review copy by the author.

Wednesday, May 8, 2019

8th May Victory in Europe Day 2019

French Village Diaries Victory in Europe Day 2019
The grave of Fernand Prevost
8th May Victory in Europe Day and public holiday in France

8th May 2019, a damp morning where villagers, hidden under umbrellas, coats and scarves, congregated in the cemetery to stand by a plain grave, situated against the far wall. 

Fernand Prevost
Died for France
Shot by the Germans
In the woods at Bois Cambert
24thJuly 1944
At the age of 18

There was no official ceremony, or laying of flowers, just a moment of quiet reflection for the loss of a young life to war, almost 75 years ago.

The slow procession then made its way to the village war memorial outside the salle des fêtes (village hall), where the Maire read the address from the French minister in charge of the armed forces.

French Village Diaries Victory in Europe Day 2019
Ed at the village war memorial

Three years ago, our village lost its last war veteran and since then our son Ed has often been asked by the Maire to hold the flag, both at the 11th November and 8th May memorial ceremonies; where the French stand alongside the British, and the young alongside the old, united in remembrance.

Ed is 18 now, the same age as Fernand Prevost, and away at uni with a world of possibilities ahead of him. But he is home today, to do his bit once more and we are very proud of the man our village has turned him into. My mother lost her father in The Second World War, my father’s father was in northern France, possibly on 8th May 1945, so ensuring Ed remembers has always been important to us, as is the idea of a united not divided Europe, something we will never give up hope of.

To read more about the shootings in our village in 1944 see my post from last year here.
To read about my family’s history in the war see these two posts

Sunday, May 5, 2019

Book review of The Amazing Adventures of Wobblin' Wobin by Tony Rocca

French Village Diaries book review The Amazing Adventures of Wobblin' Wobin Tony Rocca
The Amazing Adventures of Wobblin' Wobin

The Amazing Adventures of Wobblin’ Wobin by Tony Rocca 


Meet Robin, or rather, Wobin: a metal garden ornament transported from England to the beautiful French Riviera. He's lonely and can't speak French. Neither can he fly, which is a bit unfortunate for a bird. This is his story about learning to fly and being brave.

My Review:

This is a sweet tale about a little bird, built in a shed in London, who finds himself at the Chelsea Flower Show where he is sold to an elegant French lady, who thinks his wobbling will be the perfect thing to deter the pigeons on her balcony in Cannes on the French Riviera. Lucky Wobin!

He soon makes friends with a blackbird and two doves and then the fun really begins. They want him to be able to fly with them and to see the sights on the Riviera, despite him being a metal ornament. With the help of his friends, lots of perseverance and a sense of adventure, Wobin takes to the skies and explores Cannes, Nice, the islands of Sainte Marguerite and Saint Honorat, and Monte Carlo, learning all about them from his knowledgeable dove guides. 

Poor Wobin has a few mishaps and run-ins along the way, with bullying pigeons and seagulls, and a gang of streetwise Magpies, but he soon learns to hold his own. There were a few topics that surprised me for a children’s book, like drinking too much wine at the monastery and feeling hungover, but I loved Wobin's determination and the power of friendship that came across. The illustrations at the beginning of each chapter were beautiful and I really enjoyed being taken along for the bird’s eye view of the Riviera too.
French Village Diaries book review The Amazing Adventures of Wobblin' Wobin Tony Rocca
Illustrations by Fulvio Testa

Information about the Book

Title: The Amazing Adventures of Wobblin’ Wobin
Author: Tony Rocca
Release Date: 30th April 2019
Genre: Middle Grade
Page Count: 182
Publisher: Clink Street Publishing

Amazon Link

French Village Diaries book review The Amazing Adventures of Wobblin' Wobin Tony Rocca
Tony Rocca and Wobin

Author Information

Tony Rocca’s writing career has spanned 30-plus years as a London journalist, notably with the Daily Mail and Sunday Times, during which time he has been a reporter, sub-editor, foreign correspondent and features editor. He has written five books and is widely travelled, having once owned a vineyard in Tuscany that brought him success as an accidental winemaker. He tells the story amusingly in his first book, Catching Fireflies (‘A welcome change in a climate of clichés’ – International Herald Tribune). A second book, Memories of Eden, concerned the Jewish community of Iraq and was equally well received. His first novel, You Send Me, followed. This new book for children, set on the French Riviera where he now lives, is a further example of his versatility as a writer.   

French Village Diaries book review The Amazing Adventures of Wobblin' Wobin Tony Rocca
Tour Schedule 

Sunday 5thMay

Monday 6thMay

Tuesday 7thMay

Wednesday 8thMay

Thursday 9thMay

Friday 10thMay

Saturday 11thMay

Saturday, May 4, 2019

World Naked Gardening Day 2019

French Village Diaries World Naked Gardening Day 2019
World Naked Gardening Day 2019, hidden in the hollyhocks

World Naked Gardening Day 2019

On the first Saturday in May, gardeners of the world are encouraged to garden a little more ‘naturally’ than they might normally to celebrate World Naked Gardening Day #WNGD which is now in its 15th year and something I have joined in with since 2013. 

French Village Diaries World Naked Gardening Day 2019
World Naked Gardening Day 2017

Why? Firstly, it is a bit of fun and by finding just the right angle I hope my pictures raise a smile rather than cause any offence. However, there are more serious messages behind the fun too. One is about body image and accepting who we are and what we look like and the other is about addressing our relationship to the natural environment. 

French Village Diaries World Naked Gardening Day 2019
World Naked Gardening Day 2016, tomato seedlings

From people obsessing about having the perfect body shape, to gardeners determined to have a weed-free lawn whatever the chemical cost and farmers penalized by supermarkets for not growing straight carrots, I think we’ve lost the plot and need a little reminder to get back to what nature intended.

French Village Diaries World Naked Gardening Day 2019
World Naked Gardening Day 2015, raining

Here are a few quotes from the WNGD website:

“Our culture needs to move toward a healthy sense of both body acceptance and our relation to the natural environment. Gardening naked is not only a simple joy, it reminds us (even if only for those few sunkissed minutes) that we can be honest with who we are as humans and as part of this planet.”

“Stay private or go public. Make it a quiet time or make a public splash. Just get naked and make your part of the botanical world a healthier and more attractive place” 

French Village Diaries World Naked Gardening Day 2019
World Naked Gardening Day 2013 and 2014, pottering

Whether you are up for baring all or maybe just taking a barefoot stroll on the lawn today, I hope you get the chance to enjoy your garden, balcony or public open space. Please don’t forget your sun cream, especially on those delicate areas that might not normally get too much exposure.

Thursday, May 2, 2019

An overnight in Bordeaux

French Village Diaries overnight in Bordeaux

An Overnight in Bordeaux #AllAboutFrance

Spending a night in Bordeaux has been on my wish list for a number of years now. Day trips to la grande dame, one of my favourite French cities, are always exciting, even if they are just to Ikea, but I wanted to experience more. To not have to worry about the two-hour return journey home, to enjoy a leisurely evening meal with wine and to wake up there; that was what I wanted, and what I finally got when we made Bordeaux the start and end point of our 350km adventure, cycling along the Canal de la Garonne to Toulouse.

Bordeaux on the first Saturday of the school holidays, complete with sunshine, warmth and crowds was alive and just a little bit overwhelming for a country mouse like me, for whom 40 people filling the village bar is a crowd. It could have felt even more intimidating when we noticed the protesting Gilets Jaunes marching along the river front, with banners and raised voices, followed by a convoy of riot police vans. However, it was peaceful and not at all threatening and we cycled on by. 

There is so much to see and do in Bordeaux, so I thought I would share my Top Favourites that are easy to fit in if, like us, you have more (but not much more) than a day.
French Village Diaries overnight in Bordeaux Place de la Bourse
Place de la Bourse Bordeaux
Place de la Bourse and the famous miroir d’eau. 
This is somewhere we always enjoy spending time; the open paved square with the Three Graces fountain, surrounded by the stunning architecture of the 18th Century buildings, all reflected in the wide water mirror on the riverfront promenade, that is alive with soggy, laughing children having a great time. On hot summer days we’ve paddled, but with loaded bikes, this time we were content to people watch and take a few photos before continuing our riverside ride.

Bordeaux on a bike is super easy with marked cycle paths away from the roads, cycle ways on roads (where cars are often one way and bikes are two way), and although on shared usage paths the signs say to give priority to pedestrians, the bike is pretty much access all areas and the city is alive with bikes and cyclists of all ages, styles and abilities.
French Village Diaries overnight in Bordeaux Monument aux Girondins
Monument aux Girondins Bordeaux
Place des Quinconces 
This is a huge public square, set back a little from the river, where everything is on an enormous scale; the square and the Monument aux Girondins with its fountains, statues and towering column. There is often an event, fair or fete set up in the square and we were there when the April brocante was on and had a lovely wander up and down the rows of stalls while the sun was shining.
French Village Diaries overnight in Bordeaux Jardin Public
Jardin Public Bordeaux
Jardin Public 
Just a short distance by bike from the Monument aux Girondins is the entrance to the public gardens; a calm and green oasis offering a moment of peace in a busy city. With a lake, flowerbeds, trees, vistas of beautiful Bordeaux buildings and grass you can sit on (unlike in Paris), plus a puppet theatre and natural history museum I really do recommend taking time out to chill in the park.
French Village Diaries overnight in Bordeaux musée du vin et du négoce
Musée du vin et du négoce Bordeaux
Musée du vin et du négoce
We didn’t have much time to visit museums, so we selected just one, the wine and wine trader museum on Rue Borie. Set in the former caves of a wine merchant, the museum isn’t too big, but with lots of exhibits and friendly staff, it was interesting, informative and good value, especially as two taster glasses of Bordeaux wine were including in the price. You can find more information from their website here.
French Village Diaries overnight in Bordeaux Pont Jacques Chaban-Delmas
Pont Jacques Chaban-Delmas Bordeaux
Dockside bars
Up towards the impressive new bridge over the Gironde, the Pont Jacques Chaban-Delmas, the old dock hangers are now bars and restaurants with waterfront terraces and happy hour offers. A great place for an early apéro and a spot of people watching, especially if there are any river cruise ships in. 
French Village Diaries overnight in Bordeaux La Cheminée Royale
Starter at La Cheminée Royale Bordeaux
La Cheminée Royale
Dinner at this traditional restaurant on Rue Saint-Rémi was a real Bordelaise treat; a kir with olives for an apéro, a generous goat cheese salad starter, then steak cooked on an open fire and chips cooked in duck fat, served with a red wine sauce, followed by an apple tarte tatin, and accompanied by a nice bottle of red wine. All this for 66€ for the two of us. The restaurant was packed out and many who turned up without reservations were sent away; great signs that we had made a good choice and one I would recommend and return to. You can find out more on their website here.
French Village Diaries overnight in Bordeaux March des Capucins
Breakfast at Marché des Capucins
Marché des Capucins
This large indoor covered market is open every morning and the perfect place for breakfast, or to buy a lunch. A short walk from our hotel (where many were eating an uninspiring breakfast in a dark room with the only window looking into the reception area) we ate outside, in the sun, with the colourful backdrop of a fruit and veg stall. Our coffees and croissants cost 5.70€ in total and we then enjoyed a tempting walk around the rest of the market, where there was so much tasty temptation, I admit we fell under the spell of a still warm feta cheese pasty that was as delicious as it sounds.

My dream of staying over didn’t disappoint, but I do have one word of warning, especially if you are on bikes like we were. Watch out for broken glass. Bordeaux, it seems is a party animal after dark, she parties hard and the evidence the following morning is all too obvious. 

I hope you have enjoyed my mini-tour of Bordeaux as much as I did, even if there is so much more still to see (for the next time).

This post has been linked to the #AllAboutFrance blog link here

Wednesday, May 1, 2019

Book review of Lies Behind the Ruin by Helen Matthews

French Village Diaries book review Lies Behind the Ruin by Helen Matthews
Lies Behind the Ruin by Helen Matthews

Lies Behind the Ruin

Emma Willshire has overcome plenty of obstacles in her life. From student bride to single mum of a son, Owen, but she has found happiness with her second husband, Paul and another child, Mollie. Emma's dark days seem far behind her until a fatal accident happens at Paul's work and he is held responsible.

On holiday in France, Paul's behaviour turns erratic. On impulse, he buys a cheap, dilapidated property and, to Emma's dismay, persuades her they can renovate it into a holiday home.

Back in England, their problems spiral out of control. Escape to a new life in France seems the only solution but with heart-breaking loss for Emma. As the couple strive to renovate their ruin and open a small business, shadows from the past threaten their happiness and safety. Because, how can you build a new life on toxic foundations?

French Village Diaries book review Lies Behind the Ruin by Helen Matthews
Lies Behind the Ruin Helen Matthews

My Review

I hesitated before saying yes to reviewing this book because it’s not my usual warm and fluffy read that enables me a moment of blissful escape. It contains some difficult and uncomfortable situations, including debt, deceit and Brexit, and as I’m a bit of a wimp, I had to man-up, but I’m so glad I did. It wasn’t long before I was gripped by the chain of events that I knew was building up to a dramatic situation for Emma and her family.

The characters are strong and vivid, and I couldn’t help but like Emma. From feeling happy and secure in her second marriage to Paul, she soon finds herself coping alone in rural France, running a business and coordinating the renovation of the ruined farmhouse Paul bought. Reliable and resourceful, Emma can always find a way to make things work for the better, despite never being fully in control as so many others seem to have a say on the direction her life takes. Weakness and giving up are not for her and even when things took a dramatic turn, I never worried she wouldn’t rise to the challenge. 

Paul however is weak, stupid and ultimately doesn’t deserve Emma. He might try to resolve the issues he has created through his poor decisions, but he seems a ‘one-step-forward, two-steps-backward’ kind of person. He made me cross, but some of the mess he found himself in actually made me laugh as well.

All the action is set against a backdrop of Limoges and rural Limousin that the author has perfectly captured. From the often-stagnant communities to be found in rural areas of France to the characters that frequent small village bars, it is all here with some local history and places of interest too. 

This book shows the good, the bad and the ugly of relationships, and really drew me in. If you are looking for something gritty to get stuck into this summer, give it a go.

Purchase Links

French Village Diaries book review Lies Behind the Ruin by Helen Matthews
Helen Matthews

Author Bio 

Helen Matthews is the author of Lies Behind the Ruin, a contemporary suspense novel set in France, to be published in April 2019 by Hashtag Press. Her debut novel After Leaving the Village, published in 2017, won first prize for the opening pages of a novel at Winchester Writers’ Festival. Born in Cardiff, she read English at the University of Liverpool and holds an MA in Creative Writing from Oxford Brookes University. Helen’s short stories and flash fiction have won prizes and been published in Reflex Fiction, Ad Hoc, Artificium, Scribble and Love Sunday. Her freelance journalism has been published in the Guardian and broadcast on BBC radio. She is an ambassador for Unseen, a charity that campaigns to end human trafficking and modern slavery.

Social Media Links 

French Village Diaries book review Lies Behind the Ruin by Helen Matthews
Lies Behind the Ruin blog tour

Giveaway to Win 2 x Signed copies of Lies Behind The Ruins (Europe Only) 

*Terms and Conditions –European entries welcome.  Please enter using the Rafflecopter box below.  The winner will be selected at random via Rafflecopter from all valid entries and will be notified by Twitter and/or email. If no response is received within 7 days then Rachel’s Random Resources reserves the right to select an alternative winner. Open to all entrants aged 18 or over.  Any personal data given as part of the competition entry is used for this purpose only and will not be shared with third parties, with the exception of the winners’ information. This will passed to the giveaway organiser and used only for fulfilment of the prize, after which time Rachel’s Random Resources will delete the data.  I am not responsible for despatch or delivery of the prize.

a Rafflecopter giveaway