Friday, December 2, 2022

Book review of Dead in Tune by Stephanie Dagg

French Village Diaries book review Dead In Tune Stephanie Dagg
Dead In Tune by Stephanie Dagg

Dead in Tune by Stephanie Dagg


It’s nearly Christmas, a time for peace and goodwill. Or maybe not.


First the house of a young Spanish family is burned down, and then a Dutch clog dancer is battered almost to death with his own footwear. On the night of the carol service, at which the Worldwide Friendship Club’s choir is singing, a Scottish bagpiper is found dead. By Martha, who has come across enough dead bodies already this year to last her a lifetime.


Convinced there’s a link to the choir, Martha and best friend Lottie set out on the trail of the murderer. Their unconventional sleuthing methods land one of them in rather a lot of trouble…


‘Dead In Tune’, the sequel to ‘Hate Bale’, is an entertaining, festive cosy mystery set in rural France.  

French Village Diaries book review Dead In Tune Stephanie Dagg
Dead In Tune by Stephanie Dagg


My Review

Following our family Christmas adventure last weekend, I’m returning to the sleepy French rural idyl that is the Creuse, with a great fun, cosy Christmas who dunnit, Dead In Tune by Stephanie Dagg. 


We are back with Martha and her friend Lottie (see my review of Hate Bale here) as Christmas is approaching and the Worldwide Friendship Club is organising a carol service. Despite some rivalry over the mince pies, everyone is looking forward to the event until some sinister goings on look set to disrupt their plans, and once again Martha finds herself more involved than she would like.


This book is full of humour and colourful characters as Martha and Lottie undertake some amateur sleuthing, convinced they know more than the police. I enjoyed the twists, and the real sense of drama, especially as things got quite heated towards the end. 


Having followed author Stephanie’s life in France for many years, her obvious eye for detail and the snippets of her experiences, cleverly woven into the characters and storyline, added authenticity to what was already a very readable mystery. I hope there will be more adventures for Martha and Lottie next year.


This is a must read for anyone who wants a trip to the real rural France this Christmas.

Purchase Links


Amazon UK  

Amazon US   

French Village Diaries book review Dead In Tune Stephanie Dagg
Stephanie Dagg

Author Bio


I’m an English immigrant living in France with my family, after many years in Ireland. We have a seventy-five acre farm with animals ranging from alpacas to zebra finches. I work part-time as a freelance editor. The rest of the time I'm helping to run our carp fishing lake business and inevitably cleaning up after some or other animal.


I’ve written both fiction and non-fiction books, and plenty of them - somewhere around the fifty mark now! Originally I was published by two presses in Ireland, but more recently I’ve taken the self-publishing route. I’m a keen book blogger, and I also love knitting, natural dyeing, gardening and cycling.  


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Thursday, December 1, 2022

Farewell November

French Village Diaries farewell November Advent day one
The November blues

Farewell November

November you have really excelled yourself this year and it is with a smile of relief we welcome the arrival of December and Advent.


This was Mini last night. 


“Has November gone yet? Is it safe to come out?”


French Village Diaries farewell November Advent day one
Is it safe to come out now?


If losing our friend Sue on the anniversary of losing Adrian’s dad wasn’t bad enough, we learned of the death of another British friend from the village, Richard, whilst we were at the crematorium for Sue on Monday morning. 


In another grisly November coincidence, Richard shared our surname, which led to some confusion with the people I work with, and it was a rather bizarre telephone call where I had to explain that the Mr Brown who’d just died wasn’t my husband, or a relative. The fact that all of this took place exactly a year after Adrian spent five days in intensive care at the hospital in Niort, just made it seem even more surreal. 


I think it’s safe to say we are all glad to see the back of November.

French Village Diaries farewell November Advent day one
Coffee, croissant and great company


Advent Day One

We celebrated the arrival of December with a brisk but fresh bike ride with friends, cycling into Chef-Boutonne for coffee and croissants this morning. It might only be a Thursday and such luxuries are normally reserved for the weekend, but if November has shown us anything, it’s to seize the moment and do the things that make you happy, today. Croissants and good company always make me happy.


Something else that makes me happy is cheese and especially cooked cheese dishes, so tonight, I have decided we will feast on the first tartiflette of the season. This is French winter comfort food at its best in a dish that combines sliced potatoes, lardons, sauteed onions and oodles of melted cheese baked in the oven.

French Village Diaries farewell November Advent day one
Mini's Advent calendar


Mini is celebrating her fourteenth Advent and despite her hearing failing her, her legs being a little wobbly at times and her energy levels being rather depleted, she has no problem with her memory. Just one glimpse of an Advent calendar and she remembers the routine: sit, paw up to select the window and out pops a treat. She even knows that no matter how good the rest of the treats smell, you only get to open one window a day.


I’d love to know what you will be doing to celebrate life this December. 

Tuesday, November 29, 2022

Christmas in the Creuse

French Village Diaries family Christmas in the Creuse St-Martin-Ste-Catherine eglise
The nativity scene in the village of St-Martin-Ste-Catherine in the Creuse

Christmas in the Creuse


It was a genius of an idea. A spur of the moment change of plan that immediately felt so perfect it actually ignited my Christmas spirit – something that never happens in November. 


Let me take you back a few weeks, to early November, when Ed and Pearl were home for a weekend visit. We checked our calendars and found a weekend when they were free to dog and house sit for us, so we could escape on the bikes in the hope of catching some fine autumnal colours and exploring some more of France. Adrian, being our chief planner, had found a few accommodation options, when he stumbled upon a bargain that couldn’t be ignored. Rather than a bijou studio apartment for two, with just enough room to squeeze the folded Bromptons in, he’d found a gite that slept six people and was happy to accept dogs, for the same modest price we always search for. A quick chat with Ed and Pearl confirmed they were happy to join us there, direct from Poitiers, and have fun with Mini exploring some new walks. As we won’t all be together for Christmas or New Year, it seemed the perfect opportunity to combine a weekend away and a family pre-Christmas celebration.

French Village Diaries family Christmas in the Creuse
An evening stroll, autumn in the Creuse


Adrian and I arrived on the Friday, just as the sun was setting, bathing the rural landscape of rolling hills, fields of Limousin cows and autumn-leaved trees in a soft gold. The fire had been lit, adding to the warm welcome we received from Sally and Mark, who had even thought to add some Christmas decorations when we’d explained our weekend plans. We unpacked the car that was stacked to bursting with bicycles, walking boots, food, drink, clothes and the dog, before setting off along the lane for a quick evening stroll. Mini met the resident dogs who were as welcoming as their owners, and they all got on just fine once the ritual bottom sniffing had been attended to.


When Ed and Pearl arrived, it was quickly decided that Pearl would be our weekend fire chief. While our heating has always been of the push-button boiler variety, her parents have a woodburning stove and all Adrian and I had succeeded in doing so far, was either letting it go out or, poking it and stoking it, thus filling the room with smoke. With Pearl in charge, we were nice and toasty. 

French Village Diaries family Christmas in the Creuse Brompton
Setting off for 70km on the Bromptons


Once the morning fog had lifted on Saturday, Adrian and I set off for a 70km ride on the Bromptons, exploring an area where the cycling was hilly enough to be challenging, but the autumn colours were stunning and the scenery was gorgeous. We are used to rural French cycling, following the back roads between villages and rarely being bothered by traffic, but the Creuse took quiet, lost lane cycling to a whole new level. It was as if we were the only ones in the world, as village after village slumbered behind closed shutters. Luckily there were cows to keep us company, lots of cows. Their gentle eyes lifted from the seriousness of grass chewing and followed us past their fields, their chestnut colouring blending perfectly with the trees and hedges framing the landscape.

French Village Diaries family Christmas in the Creuse chemins de St Jacques camino
The scallop shell that marks the Camino pilgrimage routes


Once again fate had thrown us onto the path of one of the French Caminos, the long-distance pilgrimage routes that cross France heading towards Santiago de Compostela in northern Spain. This time it was the route from Vézelay that then heads through Limoges and Bergerac on its way to St Jean-Pied-de-Port in the Pyrenees. So many of our adventures cross the camino, the call to follow it becomes stronger each time.

French Village Diaries family Christmas in the Creuse 16th Century frescoes
The 16th Century frescoes in St-Martin-Ste-Catherine


As the afternoon drew on, we realised it wasn’t just us who were thinking of Christmas. A pause to rest our legs and look at the sixteenth century frescoes in the rather damp and crumbly church in St-Martin-Ste-Catherine, revealed the nativity scene tucked under the altar, ready for the first Sunday of Advent. The figurines were chipped and worn, no doubt touched by many hands over the years, the manger empty and waiting for its Christmas Day arrival. It was about this time that I began to doubt myself. Daylight was fading fast; the air had become noticeably colder and my legs were tiring with each pedal stroke. What 51-year-old fool thinks she can cycle 70km in an afternoon and then prepare a special four course feast for dinner? That fool would be me! 

French Village Diaries family Christmas in the Creuse
A family festive feast


It was dark before we returned, but the chatter over aperos soon revived me enough to put together my Christmas flavours risotto; chicken, pumpkin, mushrooms and cranberries, served with side dishes of spicy red cabbage (prepared in advance) and sautéed lardons, leeks and walnuts – the leeks were a good substitute for the Brussels sprouts that didn’t look very appetising when we shopped. We dined like kings, pausing between courses to play games like Boggle, Uno and Head Bandz as the music played and the fire crackled in the background. Ed was our chief entertainer and when I could no longer sit upright, we sprawled on the sofas as he played his guitar.

French Village Diaries family Christmas in the Creuse
The gite


The gite had everything we needed, including an enclosed garden, endless walks that took in views of the lake, woodlands and fields, and cosy, comfortable beds topped with soft flannelette sheets and heavy, down-filled duvets. The icing on the cake was that it was owned by an Australian ex-pro road cyclist who was happy to talk about cycling and share his knowledge of the local routes. A weekend here was not long enough. For more information you can contact them by email:

French Village Diaries family Christmas in the Creuse
Sunrise from the bedroom window


Life has been turned on its head a number of times since the summer and sometimes you just need to stop the madness for a moment. This weekend gave me the chance to reset my head and experience the sunrise from another bedroom window, and it’s always good to see things from a different angle.


Thanks for the fun and great memories. You guys are the best.


French Village Diaries family Christmas in the Creuse
My family - an autumn walk in the Creuse


Sunday, November 27, 2022

Book review of Christmas on the Riviera by Jennifer Bohnet

French Village Diaries book review Christmas on the Riviera Jennifer Bohnet
Christmas on the Riviera Jennifer Bohnet

Christmas on the Riviera by Jennifer Bohnet 


As a toddler Elodie Jacques was abandoned by her mother and left in the care of her French grandmother, Gabriella in Dartmouth, Devon.


Now 24 years old, Elodie struggles to reconcile the deep anger for the mother she has never since seen.


When Gabriella unexpectedly announces she wants the two of them to spend Christmas and her 70th birthday in her home town of Juan-les-Pins in the South of France Elodie is thrilled.


Gabriella meanwhile has her own ulterior motives for wanting to return after 40 years, a daunting homecoming potentially filled with memories, secrets and recriminations.


With Juan-les-Pins pulsing with lights, decorations and the festive spirit, Christmas promises to be filled with fun. But when Elodie learns there is the possibility that her long absent mother may join them she hides her feelings behind a show of indifference and animosity.


Will there be the reconciliation that Gabriella longs for - or will the spirit of Christmas fail to work its magic?

French Village Diaries book review Christmas on the Riviera Jennifer Bohnet
Christmas on the Riviera by Jennifer Bohnet


My Review

Having been a big fan of Jennifer Bohnet’s novels for many years, I couldn’t wait to dive into her latest, set on the Riviera and with a sprinkling of festive magic. I wasn’t disappointed, this is another cosy read that wrapped me up in the lives of the strong female characters.


Gabriella and her family have reached a point in their lives where change is afoot. Having shut away her memories of growing up in France, it is now time to return to her roots and confront her childhood home in the south of France. For her granddaughter Elodie, now feels the right time to change the direction her life is going in, but she needs to discover the where and how. For Gabriella's estranged daughter, it is time to discover if there is still a place for her in her family, despite the mistakes she’s made over the years.


This is a strong emotional read where settling past traumas and tentatively taking steps to new beginnings hold their own alongside Christmas friendship and the promise of romance, all with the backdrop of festive cheer on the Riviera. There are a lot of emotions for each of the women to come to terms with, but I especially enjoyed discovering the secrets hidden in their pasts. 

As the true romantic I am, I was hoping for happy ever afters – it is almost Christmas after all – but I shall say no more and let you discover what happens this Christmas on the Riviera. 


If you are looking for something special to read, with a glass of mulled wine and a mince pie, treat yourself to Christmas on the Riviera, I’m sure you will love it. If you are quick, the kindle UK price is only 99p, don’t miss out.


Purchase Links 

Purchase here  

French Village Diaries book review Christmas on the Riviera Jennifer Bohnet
Jennifer Bohnen

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 book review Christmas on the Riviera Jennifer Bohnet
Christmas on the Riviera by Jennifer Bohnet

Monday, November 21, 2022

Destiny's dating game

French Village Diaries destiny's dating game
Calm skies on Saturday morning's bike ride

Last week was quite a week with one thing and another, which made me appreciate the quiet weekend we had, before we launched ourselves into another busy week. 


It was a weekend of reflection for us, as exactly six years ago today we lost Adrian’s Dad to a stroke, and this is the first time the anniversary has matched that weekend, day for day. I can’t help but look back and remember what we were doing that Friday when the phone call came. How it felt to leave Adrian at La Rochelle airport to head to the UK, alone, while I spent the drive home preparing what I would say to Ed when I collected him from lycée. For Ed and I, the weekend was spent waiting for messages or video calls. For Adrian, his Mum and the rest of the family, it was spent at the hospital. Then the heart-breaking call on the Monday morning to say his Dad had died.


Do you ever wonder how destiny works? and how it is we end up where we do? and how some people we meet come and go, but bonds are formed with others? I do, and I usually enjoy discovering patterns or coincidences, especially when they involve dates and numbers. 


Back in the 1990’s we were living in Reading, Berkshire and I was commuting into the City of London for work. One of my younger colleagues lived on the Essex coast, so if we hadn’t have found ourselves working in the same small team, it is safe to say we would never have met. Over the years our lives became intrinsically entwined by shared memorable dates. The first coincidence was that she and Adrian share a birthday. Then, she got married on our first wedding anniversary and to top off the hat trick, her third son was born on my 37th birthday. With lives in different countries, we might not see each other regularly, but we will always have those celebratory dates in common and we keep in touch, through Facebook. They are a sporty family too and didn’t hesitate to help us clock up the kilometres for the charity event set up in memory of our nephew Ben in the summer of 2020.

French Village Diaries destiny's dating game
Autumn colours in the old vineyards


Destiny has been playing the dating game with me again this week, minus the smiles of birthdays and weddings. Exactly two months on from losing my Dad to liver cancer, a good friend in the village was admitted into the palliative care unit at our local hospital, also battling liver cancer. On Friday, her three children arrived at her bedside, exactly as Adrian had done for his Dad on Friday 18th November 2016. Our thoughts and hearts have been with them all this weekend and destiny’s hat trick was the news that she died peacefully in her sleep this morning. 


Whilst news like this is always a shock, my coincidence alarm was on high alert and I would be lying if I said a little bit of me hadn’t been expecting the early morning message from her son. I'm not sure what to make about these crazy coincidences, but I am glad destiny put us in the same small French village and that I was able do what I could to help her navigate this beast of an illness with the added complication of medical appointments in a foreign language.


RIP Sue 21/11/22. A lovely lady and a good friend. 


In memory of David 21/11/16. The best father-in-law, who welcomed me into his family with a smile and one or two glasses of vin chaud.