Thursday, September 16, 2021

Fit into 50

French Village Diaries Fit into 50 #fitinto50
Cycling the Cognac vineyards


It’s the little things

I know many of you have only ‘met’ me through my words here, but it is fair to say that at 155cm (5ft 2) and 47 kgs (seven and a half stone), ‘little’ sums me up quite nicely, so as I celebrate my fiftieth birthday, I thought a list of 50 little things I am thankful for would be a good idea, and something I can look back on in the years to come.

 

I started making the list and after the first ten, my ideas slowed down, until I stumbled on the word courage. I don’t generally think of myself as a brave person. I can’t sleep during a thunderstorm (unlike Adrian) and if it’s forecast to bring strong gale force winds with it, I’m a wreck. However, it soon became apparent that most of the little things I’m thankful for have occurred because I’ve had the courage to step out of my comfort zone and choose a different, and often difficult path. 

 

Long before we moved to France as a family, I’d had the courage to realise the relationship I’d been in for seven years wasn’t one that was going make either of us happy in the long run. The easy option would have been to stay and see what happened, the brave one was what I chose, to go my separate way and risk everything on a feeling that my friend Adrian could offer me happiness. A year later we were married.

 

It was another brave move to leave the UK and our family behind, when Ed was only three years old, and start again in France, where we knew no one and only had a basic grasp of the language. With Adrian working away a lot of the time, I had to be brave and take myself out of the house, creating a life for me outside of being wife and mother. Stepping out of my comfort zone and saying yes to new things opened so many doors and took courage I didn’t realise I had. In our first few years in France, as well as helping out at Ed’s school, I’d become involved in the village monthly magazine, even though the meetings with rapid fire French were incomprehensible to begin with. Then I agreed to help out at the village library, which ultimately, many years later, led to me getting paid to work at the Chef-Boutonne library on two maternity replacement contracts. Becoming known in the village also led to me being asked to stand for election onto the local council, and get elected in 2014, for a six-year term, that if Brexit hadn’t have happened, might well have been extended for another six years.

 

Starting a blog about our life here in France and putting everything out there for anyone in the world to read, took courage (or madness), but again it is something positive that has given me so much. Not only has it led to new experiences that have boosted my confidence, like writing for a monthly magazine, but it’s also helped me to connect with some lovely people, from every continent. 


 

French Village Diaries Fit into 50 #fitinto50
Before and after cycling became my thing


Having the courage to get on my first ever drop handle-bar road bike, aged thirty-nine (and three quarters), was terrifying, but ultimately led to a love of cycling and cycle touring, so that I now can’t imagine not owning a bike. I might never have natural grace or balance on a bike, but that doesn’t stop me turning the pedals and following on behind Adrian, whether we are cycling into town, touring around France or climbing mountains in the Pyrenees. The fact that I’ve also managed to encourage others to use their bikes is something I’m really proud of.

 

The French word for ‘courage’ is courage, but the French for ‘good luck’ is bon courage, which I think is actually pretty accurate. I’ve been so lucky in so many ways; to marry a good man, for our family to live a fantastic life in France and to have the health and fitness to cycle over 100km in a day, or climb mountains on my bike, but it’s taken many courageous steps to get to where I am today. As I pour a glass of champagne to celebrate my birthday, I see now that I’m braver than I thought.

 

We all need a reminder every so often of how brave we’ve been and how strong we really are. It is all too easy for our heads to get lost in the myriad of stuff we’ve messed up, or that we’ve not managed to achieve or that is on a wish list for the future. Not every success needs to be a huge one, or one that reaps financial reward; it’s the little things that make us (and those around us) smile that need to be celebrated.

 

My twenties were when I met and married Adrian, and Ed arrived in our lives.

 

My thirties were when we moved to France and I began to shed those excess kilos that had always been with me.

 

My forties were when I really discovered cycling and fitness.

 

As I ‘Fit into 50’ bien dans ma peau (to be comfortable in my skin), I’m ready to embrace whatever adventures my fifties have to offer.

 


Tuesday, September 14, 2021

Book review of Falling for a French Dream by Jennifer Bohnet

French Village Diaries Falling for a French Dream Jennifer Bohnet
Falling for a French Dream by Jennifer Bohnet


Falling for a French Dream by Jennifer Bohnet

 

Escape to hills high above the French Riviera with international bestseller Jennifer Bohnet.

 

After tragically losing her husband, Nicola Jacques and her teenage son Oliver relocate to his father’s family's Olive Farm in the hills above the French Riviera.

 

Due to a family feud, Oliver has never known his fathers’ side of the family and Grandpapa Henri is intent that Oliver will take over the reins of the ancestral farm and his rightful inheritance.

 

Determined to keep her independence from a rather controlling Grandpapa, Nicola buys a run-down cottage on the edge of the family's Olive Farm and sets to work renovating their new home and providing an income by cultivating the small holding that came with the cottage.

 

As the summer months roll by, Nicola and Oliver begin to settle happily into their new way of life with the help of Aunts Josephine and Odette, Henri’s twin sisters and local property developer Gilles Bongars.

 

But the arrival of some unexpected news and guests at the farm, force Nicole and Aunt Josephine to assess what and where their futures lie.

 

This book was previously published as The French Legacy.


 

French Village Diaries Falling for a French Dream Jennifer Bohnet
Falling for a French Dream by Jennifer Bohnet


My review

I can’t believe I missed this book when it was first published as The French Legacy, but I’m delighted it is now available with a new title, a pretty new cover and a few more chapters. It really was the perfect summer escape; its pages full of everything that conjures up the south of France, with a lot more besides. 

 

The Jacques family haven’t always had an easy ride of things, from Henri attempting to control everyone’s lives, to Marc’s impossible search for adventure and now Oliver, who is struggling to adapt to some big life changes, they are a dysfunctional family learning to move on following tragedy. The women had their dramas and sadness too, but came across as strong, dependable and, despite his tough exterior, able to put Henri in his place, when necessary.

 

I loved getting to know Nicola as she navigated family life in France, alongside making a home for herself and Oliver and I felt quite at home around the table in the old farmhouse, experiencing the grape and olive harvests, family meals and the challenges of extreme weather. As the family secrets were revealed and stories of lost love and new love took shape, this was an easy book to get lost within and I wished it wouldn't come to an end. I couldn’t help but want Nicola to fall in love with the French dream and find some happiness for herself too, she certainly deserved it. 

 

If you need a post-summer pick-me-up, I’m sure Falling for a French Dream will hit the spot.


 

French Village Diaries Falling for a French Dream Jennifer Bohnet
Falling for a French Dream by Jennifer Bohnet


Purchase Links 



Amazon 


 

French Village Diaries Falling for a French Dream Jennifer Bohnet
Jennifer Bohnet


Author Bio 

Jennifer Bohnet is the bestselling author of over 12 women’s fiction titles, including Villa of Sun and Secrets and A Riviera Retreat. She is originally from the West Country but now lives in the wilds of rural Brittany, France.

 

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French Village Diaries Falling for a French Dream Jennifer Bohnet
Falling for a French Dream by Jennifer Bohnet

Friday, August 27, 2021

Book review of Lil's Bus Trip by Judy Leigh

French Village Diaries book review Lil's Bus Trip Judy Leigh
Lil's Bus Trip by Judy Leigh


Lil’s Bus Trip by Judy Leigh

 

It’s always a good time for a road trip… 

When 82-year-old Lil decides to book herself, her 65-year-old daughter, Cassie, and her friend Maggie on a bus trip across Europe, she hopes for a little adventure to counteract the monotony of life in sheltered accommodation. 

 

Along with three members of the Salterley Tennis Club and the Jolly Weaver five-a side football team, whose ideas of a good time are rather different to Lil’s and strikingly at odds with each other’s, the merry band of travelers set out on their great adventure. 

 

From moving moments on the beaches of Normandy, outrageous adventures in Amsterdam, to the beauty of Bruges and gastronomic delights of France, the holiday is just the tonic Lil, Maggie and Cassie needed.  

 

And as the time approaches for them to head home, Lil makes an unexpected discovery - even in her advancing years, men are like buses – there isn’t one for ages then two come along at once. Is Lil ready to share her golden years, and can the ladies embrace the fresh starts that the trip has given them. Or is it just too late to change…  


 

French Village Diaries book review Lil's Bus Trip Judy Leigh
Lil's Bus Trip by Judy Leigh


My review

This is a gem of a book and one I really don’t want to say too much about, except to say buy it, read it and enjoy it.

 

Lil, from the first page, is a CHARACTER; full of life and energy despite a hip that feels all of her eighty odd years. It’s no surprise she signs herself, her daughter Cassie and neighbour Maggie onto a bus trip to France, Belgium and Holland, on a whim.

 

I had such fun on the road with these ladies and the ten others on the trip. Thirteen strangers/acquaintances/friends, of all different ages, all slightly flawed, and all bringing something different to the holiday. We get to meet them all and learn what it is they are looking for. I loved revisiting some special locations, but it was what they gained from their time together that is the best part of this book and left me with a warm squishy feeling. 

 

Lil is strong, feisty and great fun; I got to the end and wanted to hop back on the bus for another adventure. In fact, I think I want to grow up to be like Lil.

 

This is a well-written book with some clever twists, that was a real tonic and put a huge smile on my face. It was a great reminder that life is worth living, and having fun and friendship is priceless.

 

If you are looking for an escape this summer, with lots of fun and emotional scenes, I can recommend Lil’s Bus Trip. 


 

French Village Diaries book review Lil's Bus Trip Judy Leigh
Lil's Bus Trip by Judy Leigh


Purchase Links 


Amazon  


 

French Village Diaries book review Lil's Bus Trip Judy Leigh
Judy Leigh


Author Bio 

Judy Leigh is the bestselling author of A Grand Old Time and The Age of Misadventure and the doyenne of the ‘it’s never too late’ genre of women’s fiction. She has lived all over the UK from Liverpool to Cornwall, but currently resides in Somerset.


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French Village Diaries book review Lil's Bus Trip Judy Leigh
Lil's Bus Trip by Judy Leigh blog tour








French Village Diaries book reviews on a French theme
French Village Diaries book reviews on a French theme


Sunday, August 22, 2021

My Pashley Princess Sovereign bicycle

French Village Diaries Pashley Princess Sovereign
My Pashley Princess Sovereign



Bowled over by a basket, does that make me a total basket case?

 

Many people have a bucket list of things to do, or experience, before they hit fifty and although I tried to make a list of possibilities, with less than a month to go, it seems I have failed miserably. One of the things I’ve wanted for longer than I can remember is a bike with a wicker basket on the front. Over the years, I’d even gone so far as to look longingly at baskets that I could possibly attach to some of the various bikes I’ve owned, but Adrian’s sensible head has always won me over; they wouldn’t look right on that sort of bike, that would make cycling any distance so much harder etc, etc, etc. This summer, two things happened, and the stars were aligned in my cycling universe.


 

French Village Diaries Pashley Princess Sovereign Back in the Frame Jools Walker
Back in the Frame by Jools Walker


The first was that I bought cycling memoir Back in the Frame by VeloCityGirl blogger Jools Walker, who has been writing about her cycling life almost as long as I have been writing about our French life. Jools goes into great detail about getting back into cycling in 2010, and that the only bike she was interested in was a Pashley Princess Sovereign. Adrian picked up her book on our kindle and got stuck into reading it before I did, which was unusual as we don’t often read the same things. Every evening, he had something to read out to me from her book and I couldn’t wait to read it myself. Thanks to Jools, we both ended up checking out Pashley bikes on the internet and I could see why she was so determined to own one. Made in Stratford-upon-Avon, to the same design since the 1920’s, the Princess Sovereign is Pashley’s top of the range bicycle, that comes with a Brooks leather saddle, a rear-wheel fitted bike lock, a huge ding-dong bell and an impressive wicker basket, as standard, for around £900 brand new. Jools bought hers via the UK’s Cycle to Work Scheme, I just had another pang of bicycle and basket envy.

 

And then…a listing on the local free-ads site popped up on Adrian’s laptop, for a Pashley Princess Sovereign, twenty minutes from home, in good condition, with her basket, all for 85€. It was difficult not to get too excited, especially as the ad had gone on the previous day, and I was convinced she would already have been snapped up. Adrian calmly sent a message, enquiring if she was still available, and mentioning that his wife was almost fifty and had long dreamed of owning a bicycle with a basket. Miraculously, no one else had shown any interest and we arranged to visit the following day.

 

I was awake before five o’clock that morning, thinking about the bike, and kept busy hoovering, dusting and toilet cleaning, anything in fact, to fill the time before we needed to leave. Dressed in my bicycle print dress, adorned with step-through bikes, with baskets and bunches of flowers (just like the Pashley), excited like a five-year-old on Christmas Eve, doesn’t even come close. Despite the excitement, I was anxious not to get too carried away. I am short, very short, and the Princess comes in three frame sizes, so there was a great probability that she would be way too big for me. Also, even if we were a good fit, with all her comfort accessories, she’s a heavy bike. Would she prove too heavy for me to cycle, especially loaded with a picnic in the basket?


 

French Village Diaries Pashley Princess Sovereign
My Pashley Princess Sovereign, the day she arrived


The first thing I noticed as we arrived at the gate, was that I was eye to eye with the lady selling her and it was such a relief not to be looking up to a long-legged giant. She noticed my special bike dress and was as delighted with me becoming the new owner of a bike she’d loved for years, as I was to be taking the Princess home.

 

Having spent at least two years in a garage, she needed a bit of Adrian’s tlc, but she is now in tip-top condition, with new, brighter lights. At nine kilograms heavier than my Brompton, the Princess can be a challenge, especially cycling uphill where I can feel every tiny rise in the road, in my legs and in my lungs. It reminds me of what cycling used to feel like when I was nine kilograms heavier, and less fit; the extra effort required to move is astonishing. This revelation alone is enough to keep me focussed on staying fit.


 

French Village Diaries Pashley Princess Sovereign
Pashley Princess Sovereign out and about in rural France


After a few gentle rides for me to get used to the upright cycling position, (it is fair to say I feel a bit like a meerkat on a double-decker bus in comparison to riding the Brompton), we have bonded and become great friends. From picnic aperos at a chateau by a lake, to cycling past sunflower fields, or using her to commute to the library, every time we go out, she puts a smile on my face as I ride along. She has been with us for six weeks now, although this is the first week where time and weather have allowed me to ride all three. The only problem I have now is which of my three beauties to take out to play.

 

I might not have come up with “Fifty things to do before I turn Fifty”, but fulfilling the childhood dream to have my own bike with a basket, just before I turn fifty, and for it to be the Queen of bicycles with a basket, is absolutely priceless.

 

 



Friday, August 20, 2021

Book review of The Paris Wife by Meghan Masterson

French Village Diaries book review The Paris Wife Meghan Masterson
The Paris Wife by Meghan Masterson


The Paris Wife by Megan Masterson

 

Paris, 1856. In a world ruled by men, one woman holds the fate of a nation in her hands.

When Livia leaves behind the bronzed hills of Italy for the rain-soaked streets of Paris, she feels lost and alone. Trapped in an icy marriage, she longs to return to her life as a doctor’s daughter. To a simpler time when she could use her healing skills to help people. But her husband’s diplomatic work launches her into French high society. And soon she befriends Elisabetta, Napoleon III's clever and beautiful mistress.

Elisabetta may be the most glamorous woman in France, but she is isolated too. With jealousy and political conspiracies surrounding her, she is drawn to Livia’s honesty and intelligence. And when Livia saves Elisabetta’s life, the two women become inseparable.

Soon Livia’s life is an exciting whirlwind of masked balls, theatre and fashion, and at last she feels happy. She even finds the courage to open her heart, learning to love her new husband. But just as she begins to let her guard down, Livia discovers that her worst enemy has followed her all the way from Italy…

While danger lurks in the shadows, an assassination attempt is made on Napoleon. And Livia’s husband is wrongly accused of treason. The future of France is in peril, and Livia must work with Elisabetta to save the lives of those they love. With Livia’s keen knowledge of medicine and deadly poisons, and Elisabetta’s many connections, the women are a formidable partnership. But can they really trust each other? And how far are they prepared to go?

A totally gripping, richly imagined historical novel about the power held by women in a world run by men. Fans of Lucinda Riley, Kate Morton and Marie Benedict will be absolutely hooked from the very first page until the final, breath-taking conclusion.


 

French Village Diaries book review The Paris Wife Meghan Masterson
The Paris Wife by Meghan Masterson blog tour


My review

Having previously enjoyed The Queen’s Dressmaker, I was delighted to discover another historical novel from Meghan Masterson, and very quickly, The Paris Wife lived up to my expectations.

 

Set during the 1850’s, in a period of history that I was shamefully ignorant of, this book illustrates the plight of the Italian nobles who are desperate for a unified and independent Italy, so much so they are in Paris to do all they can to persuade the Emperor Napoleon III to assist their cause.


 

French Village Diaries book review The Paris Wife Meghan Masterson
The Paris Wife by Meghan Masterson


This book is full of mystery from the beginning, which I loved, and that kept me turning the pages night after night. The mysterious world of herbal medicine and poisons, the mysterious marriage of Niccolo and Livia and the mystery of her life in Turin, are all slowly drizzled into the story, each chapter revelation adding to my enjoyment. I too am a bit of medical nerd, so understood Livia’s fascination with helping (and learning from) her father, and admired her knowledge of herbs, remedies and poisons. I warmed to Livia straight away and the more I read, the more Niccolo won me over too. 

 

This was an easy book to become immersed in, from the glamour of Paris’s high society, to the drama, suspense and danger that Livia finds herself in as the story progresses. The smouldering passion added another element of surprise and pleasure too. 


Livia, who was always strong and independent, comes into her own, and became one of those characters who I know I will remember for a long time to come.

 

If you enjoy historical dramas, I can recommend The Paris Wife as a great read this summer. I do hope there are more books to come from Meghan Masterson.

 

Purchase Links 


Amazon 

Apple 

Kobo 

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French Village Diaries book review The Paris Wife Meghan Masterson
Meghan Masterson


Author Bio 

Meghan Masterson graduated from the University of Calgary with an Honours Bachelor of Arts in Communications Studies, and has worked several unrelated jobs while writing on the side. When not writing, Meghan can often be found reading at all hours (even at breakfast), practicing archery and roaming through the woods with her dog.


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French Village Diaries book reviews on a French theme
French Village Diaries book reviews on a French theme


Thursday, August 12, 2021

Book review of The Mersey Angels by Sheila Riley

French Village Diaries book review The Mersey Angels Sheila Riley
The Mersey Angels by Sheila Riley


The Mersey Angels by Sheila Riley

 

1916 LIVERPOOL

Following the death of her father, Ruby Swift, and husband Archie finally move back into Ashland Hall.

 

As the Great War rages, fathers and sons take the King's Shilling and head off to fight the unknown enemy, not knowing what horrors lie ahead. 

With Ned Kincaid in the Navy, Archie signs up to the volunteer constabulary and nurses Anna Cassidy and Ellie Harrington enlist to do their bit for King and Country. 

 

Soon the true casualties of war are being brought home in droves, Ruby converts Ashland Hall into an auxiliary hospital for wounded servicemen.

It’s not long before the true cost of war is brought closer to home and Anna and Ellie enlist in the British Military Nursing Corp and soon find themselves in the battlefields of France in search of the truth.

But they soon discover more than they bargained for...


 

French Village Diaries book review The Mersey Angels Sheila Riley
The Mersey Angels book tour


My review

Nurses and best friends, Anna and Ellie, soon find doing their bit for the war effort at Ashland Hall with Aunt Ruby isn’t enough. For many reasons they want to help in the field hospitals in France. Anna has a troubled past and in order to make peace with her future, needs to do what she can to get to France, even if it’s a million to one chance she’ll find her brother Sam there.

 

The two girls couldn’t be more different, but I found both were characters who kept my interest. They were strong, followed their hearts, but were not afraid of hard work. They met the horrors and losses they saw on the battlefields with real Liverpudlian grit and determination, never losing their focus.

 

Alongside the personal dramas, I also enjoyed the social history aspect to this novel. From the converting of grand manor houses to recuperation hospitals, to the rise of women in the workforce and the poverty portrayed in the Liverpool dock vignettes, as well as the horrific conditions of the mud-filled trenches of France. 


There was a lot to like if you are a historical fiction fan like I am.

 

I hadn’t read the first book in this series, which introduces eccentric Aunt Ruby and Anna’s tragic childhood story, and although I felt a bit lost at the beginning, I soon caught up and enjoyed following her journey. I would, however, recommend starting with The Mersey Mistress.

 

If you enjoy historical dramas with a real sense of place, I’m sure you will like this series.

 

Purchase Links 




Amazon  



French Village Diaries book review The Mersey Angels Sheila Riley
Sheila Riley

 

Author Bio 

Sheila Riley wrote four #1 bestselling novels under the pseudonym Annie Groves and is now writing a new saga trilogy for Boldwood under her own name. She has set it around the River Mersey and its docklands near to where she spent her early years. She still lives in Liverpool. Her new trilogy began with The Mersey Orphan in September 2019.

 

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French Village Diaries book review The Mersey Angels Sheila Riley
The Mersey Angels book tour








French Village Diaries book reviews on a French theme
French Village Diaries book reviews on a French theme


Saturday, August 7, 2021

A rainy day in a library

French village diaries, a rainy day in a library, life in France
The Sun, The Summer Rain, I Want Some Sun!


Saturday 7th August 2021

It was rather quiet in the library first thing this morning, just me, the books and the sound of rain falling on the roof.

 

It’s a Saturday, normally one of our busiest mornings as the weekly market takes place right outside our door. This year, the commune of Chef-Boutonne have made a real effort to ensure summer 2021 is something special. There is live music playing every week at the market and events taking place in all parts of the newly enlarged commune. It’s such a shame the weather has been so bad, for so long. I can normally hear the sounds of the market from the library. The chatter of the shoppers, the live music and the general hubub of a lively event. Today it was silent, aside from the drumming of the rain.

 

I’ve now completed two of the three weeks as sole librarian while boss C takes her summer break to walk in the mountains. I’m nicely up to date with all the tasks she has left me, so I took advantage of a quiet start to explore some of the bookshelves more closely. The great thing about the library is there is always something new to catch my eye, another book to add to my ever-growing list of books to read. I really am like a kid in a sweetshop, greedily feasting with my eyes and unable to choose which one to have next.


 

French village diaries, a rainy day in a library, life in France
Some local books that have caught my eye


Life has been quite hectic these last few weeks, but I always feel both calmed and energised surrounded by books. Reading in French isn’t easy, even for me after seventeen years living here, but it is worth the effort. Seeing the words and sentences written down helps my brain to retain the vocabulary and reinforces the grammar I so often forget when I speak. Whether it is children’s easy readers, that I can read quickly, local history books that always interest me or novels that are similar to those I read in English, they are all helping. 



French village diaries, a rainy day in a library, life in France
Murder on the Orient Express comic book


I’ve even been branching out into the murky world of Bande Dessinée, comic books. I’ve never really been a fan, but the French love them, especially in our area as Angouleme is considered the BD capital of France. However, these last few weeks I’ve found some with topics I’m interested in, like a BD Diary of Anne Frank and Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express and Death on the Nile. As with any form of learning, it’s easier if the subject holds your interest. The thing I am now appreciating about BDs is that the pictures help me to follow the story and the words are mostly dialogue, so a great aid to improving conversational French.


 

French village diaries, a rainy day in a library, life in France
The furniture arrives at our new house, August 2004


An important anniversary

Today is a special day for us as seventeen years ago we set off in our two-car convoy, to begin our new life in France. To think that our little three-year-old is now working and preparing to officially move in with his girlfriend, Pearl, and start a Master’s degree, or that my French is good enough to read and understand real books and work in an all-French environment, is nothing short of mind boggling.

 

You can read all about our first days in France and signing for our house in this series of blogs I wrote a few years ago. Let’s just say we might have had a plan, but in life, as we all know, things rarely go to plan.

 

Saturday 7th August, our first night in France.

Sunday 8th August, arriving in Poitou-Charentes

Monday 9th August, at the notaires

Tuesday 10th August, moving into our new home