Saturday, October 31, 2020

In the Dordogne and Lot before lockdown

French Village Diaries lockdown walnuts
Shelling walnuts in the sun


Day two, Saturday 31st October 2020 

Today has been a day of domestic bliss and settling back into the routine of being together at home. The weather was kind enough to get two post-holiday wash loads dry outside and just perfect for taking the bikes to the weekly market in Chef Boutonne. We needed fresh vegetables, fruit, animal food and a few other bits, but luckily the bikes have good luggage capacity, so our ten kilos of shopping were well within their (and our) capabilities. It was also reassuring to find neither the market, the supermarket nor the post office were particularly busy. This afternoon, while Adrian did a bit more painting, I shelled about a kilo of last year’s walnuts and made the dough for tonight’s homemade pizzas; a family favourite for a Saturday night meal together.

 

The one thing 2020 has certainly delivered on is family and us time. In the twenty-two years we have been married, Adrian has always worked away from home, but so far, this year has given us almost eight months where he has been by my side every night. This is the longest time we’ve spent together, and we are loving it, honestly! We have also been incredibly lucky to get away together three times since we came out of lockdown number one in May.

 

In the Lot before lockdown, part one


French Village Diaries cycling in the Dordogne before lockdown
Perigueux, Dordogne

 

At the beginning of this week, we broke our journey from the Deux-Sèvres to the Lot with a twenty-kilometre bike ride along the river Isle into Perigueux, Dordogne, followed by an overnight stop near Bergerac. This allowed me to tick off another department (county) on my 2020 cycling challenge list and having only managed six kilometres on the bike the week before, was also a great warm-up for my legs for the rest of our week away. It was an easy, flat ride where the autumn colours and the pretty domes of the cathedral St-Front reflected on the calm waters of the river. Even the rain held off until we’d got back to the car, where we could hear thunder rumbling in the distance.

 

The following day our drive took us south of Bergerac through the Monbazillac vineyards, where the gently rolling hills were resplendent in autumn colours of every shade of bronze, orange and ruby red. The photos would have been stunning if it hadn’t been for the heavy, low cloud and persistent misty rain. We stuck to the dry of the car, hoping for an improvement later on so we could enjoy cycling through these fields of rose gold.

 

Our entertainment for the damp morning was a drive around the out of town shopping centres, a mooch around a supermarket or two and a second breakfast stop in a Leclerc café where two coffees and two croissants came in at 4.20€ and gave us access to a flushing loo.

 

We’d slept well in a cosy bed, disturbed only by a squawky cockerel and then at 7 o’clock by an unidentified beeping. It stopped, we slept a bit more, then while Adrian got up to make tea, I got up to use the loo. The electric operated macerating toilet showed no signs of life when I tried to flush it and neither did the kettle, lights or electric shutter. A quick text to the host family next door confirmed a commune-wide power cut. While Adrian was disappointed the Nespresso coffee machine was out of action, I was relieved I’d only had a wee.

 

French Village Diaries cycling in the Lot before lockdown
Villeréal, Lot et Garonne


As the rain eased, the bastide town of Villeréal gave us a quick leg stretch, but for a Plus Beaux Village de France it was a little underwhelming. The central market halle and arcaded shops were pretty enough, but to appreciate their beauty you had to see past the cars squeezed into every available space around the square. We’d parked up outside the bastide and walked the short distance in, most people had not.


 

French Village Diaries cycling in the Lot before lockdown
Monflanquin, Lot et Garonne


We ate our homemade picnic lunch in Monflanquin, another bastide town and Plus Beaux Village, that we first visited six and half years ago on one of our Mini Cooper road trips. For us, it definitely has the edge over Villeréal and the sun even came out, bringing with it a hint of warmth on our backs, as we enjoyed a post lunch wander.



French Village Diaries cycling in the Lot before lockdown
The River Lot

 

In the afternoon we’d reached the Lot and Garonne and parked in Fumel, unfolded the bikes and set off along the River Lot cycle way, carefully carrying our box of patisseries. For fifteen kilometres we followed the flat route that for most of time was along an old railway line. The autumn colours on the sides of the old embankments then gave way to seemingly never-ending rows of russet vines, glowing in the late afternoon sun. When we reached the old railway viaduct over the Lot, it was time to turn back and retrace our steps before the drive to St Vincent Rive d’Olt in the Lot. 



French Village Diaries cycling in the Lot before lockdown
Vineyards in the Lot


I couldn’t help but smile to be back on the bike and surrounded by so much autumnal beauty. At this time of year, the golden sandstone buildings, with their terracotta roofs, were perfectly camouflaged in the natural colours of the landscape.


I’ll bring you part two of our adventure tomorrow.



Friday, October 30, 2020

Lockdown in France, part two

French Village Diaries lockdown in France, part two
Autumn in the Lot, the night before lockdown


At the stroke of midnight last night, as I slept soundly in a bed that wasn’t mine, France went into Covid-19 lockdown for a second time. 

As with the last time, there are strict rules we must follow in order to leave home without risking a 135€ fine. A form must be filled in, on paper or digitally, (see here) proving you are going out for one of the allowed reasons:

1)   Going between home and work, or where you are on a training course, or taking an exam

2)   Going out to get the necessary supplies to run your business, or to buy your essential shopping (from any of the shops the government is allowing to remain open) or to collect an ordered item.

3)   Medical appointments that can’t be done remotely or postponed, and to collect prescriptions

4)   Leaving home to help other family members or look after children

5)   Accompanying someone who is disabled

6)   Your one hour of daily exercise, one kilometre from your home, not including any group activities and keeping away from others doing the same, although family members from the same household may be together. To walk your pets

7)   If you are summoned by the courts or doing a public service

8)   Voluntary work that has been authorised

9)   Taking your children to and from school

 

It is day one and already we have broken the rules, making a 265km journey through south west France, for none of the permitted reasons. Tempting though it was to shut out the madness of the world outside and stay put in our blissful holiday bubble in the beautiful Lot, we did the grown-up thing and packed the bikes back in the car and headed home.

 

Handwritten on the back pages of my notebook were our carefully worded documents stating, on our honour, that we were on holiday when lockdown was announced and our only reason for being out today was to return home. What a magnificent return it was. Traffic was light (until we crossed into the Charente after lunch), the sun shone on the autumn colours all around us and everywhere I looked there was something to feast my eyes on. A turreted chateau on a hill, the Cahors vineyards wearing their bronze leaves with pride, the rich textured landscapes and pretty villages of the Lot and Dordogne, the steep sandstone cliffs that rise along the Dordogne river with caves and overhanging rocks, and that was just this morning. I hope I never tire of travelling through France.


 

French Village Diaries lockdown in France, part two
St Vincent Rive d'Olt



These few days away have been a real boost to our minds and bodies, something that I appreciate even more now we are facing at least a month of lockdown and staying close to home. I am not really sure how I feel about another period of lockdown. On the one hand I am very happy the three of us will be together, protected from the outside world and safe. There is an element of relief that the decisions about going out have been taken from us and I’m ready to cocoon within our family unit and not be distracted by the outside world. There have been many times over the summer where I’ve struggled with safely balancing wanting to socialise and carry on as normal, with not wanting to take unnecessary risks and mix with too many people. I’ve had similar battles in my mind between allowing Ed his independence, now he has his driving licence and university life in Poitiers had resumed almost as normal but hating that meant he wasn’t in our safe bubble anymore. Only last weekend he drove the two hundred kilometres from Poitiers to Le Mans for a visit to Pearl’s sister. It was an all family event, but still a mix of households and meals out. I will also admit to my heart being in my mouth as we tracked his progress along the motorway (for the first time). This weekend not only will there be no extended family gatherings, there will be no Pearl either as they enter their second enforced separation this year. It is this that makes me the saddest. Their freedom, independence and life together being put on hold once more.

 

During the last lockdown we functioned pretty well in our family unit. Things will be slightly different this time as Ed will have online lectures to log onto and Adrian has a number of online courses scheduled to run from home. The house has changed a bit since last time too as we now have better defined (and decorated) zones for online work and now we’ve started, there are plenty more decorating projects to keep us all busy. The first thing we did after lockdown was announced this week was to hot foot it to the shops for as many tins of white satin wood paint as we could carry and when we passed a DIY store today, open as usual, we just had to pop in for the wallpaper for the hallways. 

 

French Village Diaries lockdown in France, part two
Autumn colours in the Cahors vineyards



We feel incredibly lucky to have picked this week for our last cycling break of 2020 and certainly made every moment count. We cycled two hundred kilometres through vineyards and along rivers surrounded by stunning autumn colours, and partook in patisseries wherever possible too. It was our first visit to the Lot department, but we were in agreement that we liked the Lot a lot and we’d love to go back.

 

La France est belle, vive la France, vive le vélo and stay safe mes amis.

Tuesday, October 27, 2020

Book review of The Resistance Girl by Jina Bacarr


French Village Diaries book review The Resistance Girl Jina Bacarr
The Resistance Girl by Jina Bacarr


The Resistance Girl by Jina Bacarr

Two women. One heartbreaking secret.


Paris, 1943.

Sylvie Martone is the star of French cinema, and adored by fans. But as Nazi officers swarm the streets of Paris, she is spotted arm in arm with an SS Officer and her fellow Parisians begin to turn against her.

However Sylvie has a secret - one she must protect with her life.

Paris, 2020.

Juliana Chastain doesn't know anything about her family history. While her mother was alive she remained very secretive about her past.

So when Juliana discovers a photograph of a glamorous French actress from World War Two amongst her mother's possessions, she is in shock to find herself looking at her grandmother - especially as she is arm in arm with a Nazi Officer...

Desperate for answers, Juliana is determined to trace the journey of her grandmother. Surely there is more to the photograph than meets the eye?

But as she delves into Sylvie's past, nothing can prepare Juliane for the tales of secrets, betrayal and sacrifice which she will uncover.

A heart-wrenching story of love and war, perfect for fans of Pam Jenoff and Suzanne Goldring.

 

French Village Diaries book review The Resistance Girl Jina Bacarr
Blog tour The Resistance Girl Jina Bacarr


My review

From the beginning of this book, I loved the character of Sylvie and was intrigued by Madeleine and the secrecy surrounding her life in France before she moved to America, where her daughter Juliana was born. Juliana is grieving for her mother, but she feels the time is right to look through her mother’s possessions, which is when she finds a photograph that shocks her. 

 

This discovery leads her on a journey to France, to the sanctuary of a convent that played an important part in both her mother’s and grandmother’s early years. Here she hopes to find the clues to help her uncover the facts from her family’s past; her mother’s childhood and her mysterious grandmother’s life during the German Occupation of Paris. It is a difficult journey emotionally and when secrets have been buried for so many years, finding the answers to her questions is not easy. Through a combination of the artefacts Juliana discovers and flashbacks of Sylvie’s life, we get a glimpse of the Paris cinema world in the years before the war, the lonely life of a young star, a forbidden romance and the pressures the industry and war put upon her. Sylvie was flawed, but always independent, passionate and determined to succeed in whatever she turned her mind to, whatever the risks, to protect those she loved.


This is the story of three women who should have had the opportunity to make happy memories together, but lived three very different lives, shrouded in secrecy and shame. It was desperately sad in places, but glamourous and uplifting too. If you enjoy historical dramas, I’m sure you will like this book as much as I did.

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French Village Diaries book review The Resistance Girl Jina Bacarr
Jina Bacarr


Author Bio  

Jina Bacarr is a US-based historical romance author of over 10 previous books. She has been a screenwriter, journalist and news reporter, but now writes full-time and lives in LA. Jina’s novels have been sold in 9 territories.


French Village Diaries book review The Resistance Girl Jina Bacarr
The Resistance Girl Jina Bacarr



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Thursday, October 22, 2020

Book review of Stonechild by Kevin Albin

French Village Diaries book review Stonechild by Kevin Albin
Stonechild by Kevin Albin


Stonechild by Kevin Albin

Where do we go to when we die? Imagine human consciousness embedded in the molecules of a statue. So, when the statues of London come to life, it is a spectacle like non other, and they come with a specific message, and an offer we cannot refuse.

 

As the world reels in this wonder of science and religion, Molly Hargreaves has other plans and she sets out to prove that things are not as they seem. 

 

Chased, captured and confined, Molly confronts the statues and her own fears. But who can she convince? The people are welcoming, the Government has succumbed, and the police try to act, but how do you shoot stone and metal? Be prepared to be run ragged around London on a mystery worthy of the great Sherlock Holmes.


 

French Village Diaries book review Stonechild by Kevin Albin
Stonechild by Kevin Albin tour banner



My review

This book may not be set in France, but I couldn’t resist reading it as Kevin, the author, until recently lived in the same village as me here in France. I also have rather a soft spot for London and loved the idea of statues coming to life, with a message for us.

 

Molly Hargreaves is 15, well travelled, well read and thanks to her parents, pretty clued up on conservation too. As certain statues come to life on the streets of London, claiming to have done so in order to save the planet, Molly isn’t convinced and the statues she first encounters only make her more suspicious that something else is going on. While tourists flock to see the spectacle and London goes mad, alone and with no one prepared to believe her, Molly tries to discover the truth. 

 

This book might be aimed at younger readers, but there was certainly enough to keep my interest, and not only did we get a tour around the main sights of London, we were taken to more hidden locations where statues are to be found too. Kevin gave just enough detail about the figures from history to add to the story, without it feeling like a school textbook, and it was obvious that a lot of thought had gone into which statues would be used, and why. The race against time for Molly to uncover what is really going on just added to the drama and sense of adventure. It may be fiction, but as we live through a global pandemic, there was a lot here that rang true and certainly made me think about the changes we all need to make to ensure the planet has a future.

 

 

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https://amzn.to/2BfnoWs


On Kevin's website you will find a word puzzle for the readers of Stonechild, with a prize to be drawn on the 10th December, which is Human Rights Day. Click here for further details. 

 

French Village Diaries book review Stonechild by Kevin Albin
Kevin Albin



Author Bio 

I served 25 years with the police in the UK, eight years of which were with a tactical firearms team. In 2002, I took a career change, and retrained as an International Mountain Leader working across the globe guiding on mountaineering trips and expeditions. 

 

I have led many trips to the jungles of Borneo, my favourite destination, an enchanting place that has sadly seen much deforestation. My trips were based on education and conservation.

In 2011, I won the Bronze in the Wanderlust Magazine World Guide Awards for my work..

 

It was whilst working on a corporate training day in London, when I pictured a statue coming to life to give my clients the answer to the clue they were working on. The rest grew from there. 

My hope is that my writing will continue to spread the word on conservation and protection of all species.

 

I live in France.

 

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French Village Diaries book review Stonechild by Kevin Albin
Stonechild by Kevin Albin


Wednesday, October 21, 2020

Book review of Lost in Lavender by Lise McClendon

Lost in Lavender
Lost in Lavender by Lise McClendon

 

Lise McClendon

is back! on Tour October 20-November 2 with      

Lost In Lavender

(mystery/women’s fiction) Release date: October 15, 2020 at Thalia Press 254 pages
***


SYNOPSIS

Facing a crossroads– both career and personal– the youngest of the five Bennett Sisters, Elise, does what she does best: she runs away to think. This time she runs to a farm in Provence that produces heaven-scented lavender for oils. The area is famous for the beautiful purple flower, the symbol of this southern region of France. Her sisters are stumped. Elise never seemed like the farming type, or even gardening, for that matter. But she’s signed up for a farm stay vacation, an idea she got from an unlikely source, the trophy wife of one of her law partners. When she arrives, courtesy her older sister Merle who drives her to the Luberon from the Dordogne, she discovers she is the only guest at the picturesque family farm who is not a college student. The rest are all doing a French language exchange program and are 20 years younger than Elise, leaving her feeling like an outsider and wondering about her life choices. Not only is her judgment in men and careers awful, but she can’t even plan a decent vacation. Meanwhile in the Dordogne, Merle’s niece, Willow, arrives for some R&R before she starts law school. But she brings a few surprises with her, a boyfriend plus Elise’s fiancé. Or is it ex-fiancé? It will take several sisters– and of course Pascal– to unravel the facts as all descend on southern France for July in the heat and lavender. Suspense, romance, intrigue, and humor as the summer heats up for the Bennett Sisters again. Another delicious adventure in international travel and cozy mystery as the Bennett Sisters fight their way to truth, justice, and a perhaps a summer fling, deep in Provence. A summer fling in France never hurt anyone, now did it?
Works fine as a stand-alone

MY REVIEW

I’ve been a fan of Lise’s writing since I first read Blackbird Fly over six years ago and it’s always exciting to get back between the pages of a Bennett Sisters mystery. This book was no exception. It didn’t take long for the memories of the previous adventures of Merle Bennett, Pascal (her French detective boyfriend) and her four sisters to flood back into my head, leaving me feeling like it had been no time at all since I read the last book.

Merle’s cottage, in a bastide town in the Dordogne, may be tiny, but there never seems to a shortage of visitors and surprises through the door. This summer, her son Triston is due home, her niece Willow is popping in after a visit to Paris and her younger sister Elise is taking time out in France too, meaning a lot of running around for Merle. With Pascal now working in Bordeaux, she is also charged with the task of finding a base there for them to be together.

Elise, a lawyer, like all the Bennett sisters, seems preoccupied and distant when she arrives to spend a working holiday on a lavender farm in Provence. Despite Merle’s attempts to discover what is bothering her, Elise just bids her farewell when they arrive at the farm. Two weeks later when Merle returns to the Luberon to collect her, there is no sign of Elise. When she does make contact, she has found herself in the middle of a dark and mysterious situation and needs help. Merle and Pascal, no strangers to danger and adventure in France, waste no time in arriving in Provence where Pascal sets to work (unofficially) to piece together the truth.

I really enjoyed this book, the characters are now like old friends, the emotions Elise was feeling were relatable and the chemistry between Merle and Pascal is as strong as ever. It was an easy book to get immersed in, with an intriguing mystery to be solved, a bit of romance and some family drama, as well as fantastic locations to visit. Lise brings France to life once more, from the city of Bordeaux, to the lavender hills in the Luberon, and not forgetting life in a market town in the Dordogne.

If you have read and enjoyed any of the previous books in the series, you’ll love this one. If you haven’t yet discovered Merle, Pascal and the exciting situations they seem to find themselves in, don’t delay, start today.



Lost in Lavender LiseMcClendon
Lise McClendon


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Lise McClendon is the author of thirteen books in the Bennett Sisters mystery series including A Bolt from the Blue, Blame it on Paris, and DEAD FLAT. She wrote two mystery series, the Alix Thorssen and Dorie Lennox mysteries set in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, and World War II-era Kansas City (The Bluejay Shaman; One O’clock Jump). She also writes stand-alones as Rory Tate, including PLAN X, a thriller featuring a Bozeman, Montana policewoman. She edited the 2020 anthology, STOP THE WORLD: Snapshots from the Pandemic, bringing together 40 writers around the globe to discuss their experiences and emotions during this year, plus poetry and short fiction. Her short story, Forked Tongue, was included in the Anthony Award-winning anthology, The Obama Inheritance. As Thalia Filbert she wrote with four other well-seasoned crime writers the darkly comic culinary thriller, Beat Slay Love: One Chef’s Hunger for Delicious Revenge. Lise has served Mystery Writers of America in the past as a national board member and Montana representative. She lives in wilds of Montana near Yellowstone National Park.
Visit her website
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***
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ENTER THE GIVEAWAY

Tweeting about the giveaway everyday of the Tour will give you 5 extra entries each time! [just follow the directions on the entry-form] Global giveaway open to all 5 winners will receive an ecopy of this book

***

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Tuesday, October 20, 2020

Book review of The House by the Lake by Ella Carey

French Village Diaries book review The House by the Lake Ella Carey
The House by the Lake by Ella Carey


The House by the Lake by Ella Carey

 

The cobbled streets were dark as Isabelle hurried through the shadows, dodging in and out of doorways, constantly looking back. She worried the sound of her loudly thumping heart would give her away, as she peered around a corner. Suddenly, Isabelle was surrounded by Nazi soldiers, their black boots pounding on the pavement, barring her way…

1939, Berlin. Max Albrecht is the young and handsome heir to a beautiful house on a lake where he spent his happy childhood. As war approaches, his parents tell him he must join the Nazi party or the whole family will be killed. But when his beloved French fiancé Isabelle shows him the horrifying truth, Max faces an impossible choice: protect his family or save the girl he loves?

2010, San Francisco. Anna Young is content with her life, running a bustling deli and taking care of her adored grandfather Max, who raised her. Max has never spoken of his past until he hands over an old map, the plans to a grand house just north of Berlin. With a shaking finger, he points to it and says, “I left something behind under the floorboards. Please bring it home before I die.”

When Anna arrives at the crumbling manor in Germany, she discovers a hidden engagement ring in a velvet box. She is desperate to find the woman her grandfather hoped to marry, but the local villagers look away when she mentions Max’s name, and back in San Francisco he is now in hospital, too unwell to speak to her. What did Max do so many years ago? Is Anna ready for the terrible secret that her family’s past may hold?

From bestselling author Ella Carey comes an unforgettable novel, weaving together past and present. Gripping and heartbreaking, The House by the Lake uncovers the secrets and devastating choices that people were forced to make during history’s darkest time.  


 

French Village Diaries book review The House by the Lake Ella Carey
The House by the Lake by Ella Carey blog tour


My review

This book can be read as a standalone, however as it fills in some of the missing pieces from The Paris Time Capsule, notably Isabelle’s life in Paris in the years leading up to the war, I would recommend reading that first (see my review here).

 

Anna is very close to her grandfather Max, but his reluctance to talk about his past has always been something she has never understood. Without any prior warning, Max suddenly asks Anna to travel to Berlin to retrieve something he left in his family house decades ago. Here Anna discovers a grand schloss, locked up and unloved, in a village where life seems to have come to a halt. No one there is prepared to talk to her about her family, or help her on her quest for Max. 

 

Anna is a strong and independent woman, and her determination and desire not to let her grandfather down, lead her to the only keyholder, who reluctantly agrees to let her visit. This unexpected journey, to a country she had no idea she had ties with, raises more questions than answers for Anna, and there are very few people left to explain to her what went on.

 

From present day San Francisco and Berlin, to Paris, Germany and Lake Geneva in the years leading up to the Second World War, this book tells a heart-breaking love story and family drama, revealing secrets that haven’t been spoken about in decades.

 

With Max’s struggles as Nazism takes hold in Germany, this book has that something a bit different from other books I’ve read set at a similar time, and I found myself immersed in Anna’s story, willing her to succeed in unravelling the past and moving forward with a new chapter in her life. If you enjoy reading historical fiction set during the Second World War, I am sure you will love this one. 



French Village Diaries book review The House by the Lake Ella Carey
Author Ella Carey

 

Author Bio

 

Ella Carey is the international bestselling author of The Things We Don’t Say, Secret Shores, From a Paris Balcony, The House by the Lake, and Paris Time Capsule. Her books have been published in over fourteen languages, in twelve countries, and have been shortlisted for ARRA awards. A Francophile who has long been fascinated by secret histories set in Europe’s entrancing past, Ella has degrees in music, nineteenth-century women’s fiction, and modern European history. She lives in Melbourne with her two children and two Italian greyhounds who are constantly mistaken for whippets. 

 

Ella loves to connect with her readers regularly through her facebook page and on her website. 

 

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