Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Book review of Citadel by Kate Mosse

French Village Diaries France Book Tours Citadel Kate MosseToday I am taking part in a virtual book tour via France Book Tours for Kate Mosse’s Citadel.

I have to admit that this is the first Kate Mosse book I have read and I’m embarrassed by this oversight, but to be honest Labyrinth was such a huge book and I can’t pronounce the second title Sepulchre so they seemed rather daunting. Citadel, the third book, however, really did appeal as it is set during the occupation years of World War II and highlights the work of the women in the Resistance movement.

Synopsis (provided by the publisher)
From the internationally bestselling author of Labyrinth and Sepulchre comes a thrilling novel, set in the South of France during World War II, that interweaves history and legend, love and conflict, passion and adventure, bringing to life brave women of the French Resistance and a secret they must protect from the Nazis. Like their ancestors who fought to protect their land from Northern invaders seven hundred years before, these women—codenamed Citadel—fight to liberate their home from the Germans.
But smuggling refugees over the mountains into neutral territory and sabotaging their Nazi occupiers is only part of their mission. These members of the resistance must also protect an ancient secret that, if discovered by the enemy, could change the course of history.

A superb blend of rugged action and haunting mystery based on real-life figures, Citadel is a vivid and richly atmospheric story of a group of heroic women who dared the odds to survive.

My Review
Set in Carcassonne and the mountain villages of the Pyrenees, this book follows the lives of more than one character and as Kate keeps their stories separate, to begin with it took me a while to slip into a rhythm. However, once there I was taken over and by building up each story, then cutting back to a different character I found the excitement and my emotions much more intense.

It made me cry in places and made my heart race in other places. Many times I was unable to put it down, but sometimes it was so intense I had to stop reading and have a break. The stories will stay with me for a long while especially those of Sandrine, Raoul and the other Resistance fighters, bravely trying to outwit the German Milice, never knowing who to trust, putting themselves in horrendous situations and losing many of their friends and loved ones. As well as their fight for the freedom of France the race is on to find and protect an ancient codex that legend says is hidden in the mountains and has a dark power that must not fall into enemy hands. This adds an extra dimension of mystery and danger to the story.

This book was totally addictive, the characters felt real, the plot felt very real and I forgot I was reading a novel. In fact it felt like I was learning about a period of history, but without being lectured to.

French Village Diaries France Book Tours Citadel Kate MosseAbout the author
Kate Mosse is the multimillion selling author of four works of nonfiction, three plays, one volume of short stories and six novels, including the New York Times bestselling Labyrinth and Sepulchre.  A popular presenter for BBC television and radio in the UK, she is also cofounder and chair of the prestigious Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction (formerly the Orange Prize) and a member of the board of the National Theatre of Great Britain. In 2013, she was named as one of the Top 100 most influential people in British publishing and also awarded an OBE in the Queen’s Birthday Honours List for services to literature. She divides her time between England and Carcassonne, France. You can follow Kate at her website, Facebook and Twitter.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Virgile's Vineyard and Arrazat's Aubergines by Patrick Moon

For a France lover who is equally keen on the wine and food of France too, these books from Patrick Moon, focusing on the regional delights of the Languedoc were calling out to me. Before I’d even opened them the titles and front covers had peaked my interest and I couldn’t wait to get stuck in.

French Village Diaries book review Virgile's Vineyard Arrazat's Aubergines Patrick Moon LanguedocIn the first book, Virgile’s Vineyard we join Patrick as he spends a year in the Languedoc at the house he inherited from his uncle. As well as exploring, taming his land and getting to grips with the unique water supply, Patrick sets himself a challenge to discover and understand the wine of the region. With his three self-appointed experts we learn alongside him; the history of the area (from an expat divorced history teacher), the way of the locals (from Manu, his wine drinking neighbour) and the art of Languedoc wine making (from Virgile, a local vigneron).

This book was a pleasure to read and I have to admit to smiling from the very beginning as so many of the great descriptions were spot on. It is not difficult to imagine you are in the Languedoc and learning about the life and wine alongside Patrick, with just enough information and snippets of history to be interesting rather than over bearing.

For a memoir, Patrick unusually keeps himself in the background and it is his three experts who come alive from the pages, especially Manu – the loveable rogue. I couldn’t wait to carry on and read Arrazat’s Aubergines.

French Village Diaries book review Virgile's Vineyard Arrazat's Aubergines Patrick Moon LanguedocIn book two, Arrazat’s Aubergines, Patrick is back in the Languedoc but on a more permanent basis and it is the food that piques his interest this time. Many of the people we met in book one are back, enriching and hindering Patrick’s life, but also encouraging his love of food. Neighbour Manu and his wife persuade him to dig a large potager and fill it with their favourite vegetables. Winemaker Virgile takes him to lunch at Laurent Arrazat’s new restaurant where he finds himself invited to follow behind the scenes and learn about food from a master chef. As well as trying his best to keep up and help out during busy services, Patrick also makes many other foodie visits during the year to meet cheese makers, snail farmers, honey producers, salt masters, oyster farmers and more. This book often made me hungry and despite the privilege of learning what goes on in a French restaurant kitchen it was the visits to the local producers I enjoyed the most and it has made me more determined to get out and explore my local producers.

The antics of his neighbours, as in book one, regularly made me chuckle and having read these two books back to back I’m going to miss the daily goings on of Manu and Patrick.

These books have both recently been updated and re-released and would be ideal for those who love life in France memoirs, plus those with an interest in French wine and the food of the Languedoc. But be warned, they will make you hungry and want to visit the area. Available in paperback and ebook format, links to Amazon can be found below.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Cycling in the Vienne

French Village Diaries cycling Vienne Charroux Poitou-Charentes
We celebrated the first day of spring with a bike ride in a never before (by us) cycled location in the Vienne. Even the drive there was spring-like; the blue sky, the bright green fields, the flowering hedgerows and the haze of new growth on the tips of the deciduous trees.

We parked in Charroux and ate our power picnic (pasta, tinned fish, banana and homemade coffee cupcakes) before setting off to explore what we hoped would be a landscape a bit more undulating than where we live. Thank you to the town of Charroux for providing the perfect car park; free, plenty of spaces, a bench for our lunch and joy of joys – a clean toilet and all this with their attractive tower as a backdrop.

The ride didn’t disappoint. Plenty of hills for Ade to stretch his legs and lose me on, pretty chateaux, lakes with ducks and fields of very pretty cows to keep my interest. The circuit that Ade had programmed into his clever-gadget-thingy centred on the River Charente and we crossed her a number of times as we zigzagged up and down her valley. Taking the back roads by bike really is the best way to see the hidden beauties in the French countryside. I hope you enjoy the photos.

We finished our 38 km in a couple of hours, feeling contentedly exercised rather than totally exhausted which for the beginning of our cycling season felt good.

French Village Diaries cycling Vienne Charroux Poitou-Charentes
Pretty cows

French Village Diaries cycling Vienne Charroux Poitou-Charentes
River Charente

French Village Diaries cycling Vienne Charroux Poitou-Charentes

French Village Diaries cycling Vienne Charroux Poitou-Charentes
Cycling in the Vienne

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Book review of My Wish List by Gregoire Delacourt

Today I am taking part in a virtual book tour via France Book Tours for Grégoire Delacourt’s novel My Wish List that will be released on March 25th.

Synopsis (provided by the publisher):
A cathartic, charmingly tender, assuredly irresistible novel, MY WISH LIST imagines one answer to the question: If you won the lottery, would you trade your life for the life of your dreams? With sales of more than half a million copies in France alone, rights sold in twenty-five countries, and a major motion picture in development, this slim yet spirited tale has sewn up the interest of the literary world.

Jocelyne Guerbette is a forty-seven year old who runs a modest fabric shop in a nondescript provincial French town. Her husband—instead of dreaming of her—wants nothing more in life than a flat-screen TV and the complete James Bond DVD box set. And to Jocelyne’s two grown-up children, who live far from home, she’s become nothing but an obligatory phone call. Perpetually wondering what has happened to all the dreams she had when she was younger, Jocelyne finally comes to terms with the series of ordinary defeats and small lies that seem to make up her life.

But then Jocelyne wins the lottery: 18,547,301.28€! And suddenly she finds the world at her fingertips. But before cashing the cheque, before telling a soul, she starts making a list of all the things she could do with the money. While evaluating the small pleasures in life—her friendship with the twins who manage the hairdresser next door, her holidays away, her sewing blog that’s gaining popularity—she begins to think that the everyday ordinary may not be so bad. Does she really want her life to change?

MY WISH LIST is an essential reminder of the often-overlooked joys of everyday life and a celebration of the daily rituals, serendipities, and small acts of love that make life quietly wonderful.
Gregoire Delacourt

About the Author:
Grégoire Delacourt was born in Valenciennes, France, in 1960. His first novel, L’Écrivain de la Famille, was published in 2011 and won five literary prizes. MY WISH LIST has been a runaway number-one bestseller in France; publication rights have been sold in more than twenty-five countries. Delacourt lives in Paris, where he runs an advertising agency with his wife.

My review:
We follow Jocelyne, an ordinary wife and mother in a family with communication issues, who doesn’t have a great sense of self-worth as she reminisces about her life and unfulfilled dreams. When she wins the lottery she makes a list of things she would like, things she could now buy without worrying about the money and these are surprisingly ordinary things! She is very level headed but also frightened of change and keeps the win to herself initially. However, not everyone in her life thinks the same way she does and that is where the real story begins to unravel.

I found this a quick read novel with a rather bizarre set of characters, many of who were difficult to warm to. It is real-life and gritty so I didn’t find it an uplifting book, maybe not ideal for those who want an afternoon or two of happy escapism and Champagne filled glasses. However, I liked that it made me think. What is it that is important in life? What is happiness? What difference would a lottery win make? Does/can money make you happy?

My Wish List is published by Penguin in paperback format and will be available from 25th March.

France Book Tours

Monday, March 17, 2014

Leek tops and slow cooked chicken

I always try not to waste food, but until I had spent some time in a kitchen with my French friends and neighbours making a communal charity meal, I never used the green leek tops. I was a chop-em-off and compost them girl! When I tried this at the salle des fêtes kitchen, cries of horror went up all around me and it was explained these would be tidied up, thoroughly washed and added to the vegetable soup to give bulk, but more importantly flavour.

French Village Diaries Leeks soup potager recipes
Leek tops
I am now converted. Whether they make their way into a soup or I use them as a flavour bed for a slow-cooked chicken, I never now throw them out (except for the first few outer leaves). This weekend I’ve used them in my slow cooker and they are a gift that keeps on giving. Having flavoured the slow-cooked whole chicken, the leeks were then added to the stockpot with the chicken carcass to make a delicious stock. The stock then became a tasty soup and a base for a risotto using the leftover chicken and the white leeks. There was also enough cooked chicken for a homemade pizza.

French Village Diaries slow cooker chicken recipe
Ready for the slow cooker
If you have a slow cooker, here is my tried and tested, perfectly moist chicken.

1 whole free-range chicken
1 onion or three leek tops, finely sliced
1 carrot finely sliced
Herbs and spices of choice
1 glass of wine – I use white or rosé
Enough water to give a liquid level of 2 cm in the bottom

Brown the chicken on all sides in a frying pan to give it some colour.
Place the chopped vegetables in the slow cooker with the glass of wine and then place the chicken on top. If necessary add water to cover the bottom to a depth of 2 cm and add your herbs or spices of choice, season with salt and pepper and then cook on low for about six hours. The chicken will be falling off the bone, but remains deliciously moist. My favourite flavours are cumin and curry powder rubbed into the skin, or parsley sprinkled over plus a few lemon slices added to the cavity or a crushed garlic and herb rub, but the possibilities are endless. This is a great dish if you want to spend the afternoon in the garden or out on your bikes.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Cycling the Charente route 33

Today we completed our first Charente cycle circuit of the year with the smell of sun cream in the air as we bared our white winter legs and arms in the warm sunshine. Our start point for Circuit 33 is two villages away and following route B gave us a 34km ride through pretty villages, fields of leeks, peas, wheat and rapeseed, tidy pruned vineyards and wide open vistas. Also spotted today were a Frankton Trail memorial commemorating Operation Frankton – a Royal Marine Commando raid on Bordeaux in 1942 using canoes via the Gironde estuary and an amazing 160 km escape on foot to Ruffec, an old washhouse, an old walnut millstone and a medieval graveyard, the final resting place of crusading knights. These are just some of the reasons I love cycling in the French countryside and I can't wait to get out and about on a regular basis this year.

French Village Diaries Cycling Charente Operation Frankton
The Frankton Trail

French Village Diaries Cycling Charente

French Village Diaries Cycling Charente
Tidy pruned vines

French Village Diaries Cycling Charente

French Village Diaries Cycling Charente
Walnut millstone

French Village Diaries Cycling Charente
Medieval graveyard

Saturday, March 15, 2014

The air that we breathe

French Village diaries France air pollution
Hazy horizons
Breathing in the fresh countryside air isn’t always as idyllic as it sounds. This week the farmers have had a major manure spraying session leaving the village a stinky place to be. Thankfully, as the weather has been good lots of us (me included) have been out mowing, so the aroma of fresh cut grass has sweetened the air a little.

Unfortunately this early good weather has given France a problem with it’s air quality leaving the majority of regions on a high pollution alert. I am no meteorologist, but from the articles I’ve read in the French press it seems the cold nights and dry warm days have led to a build up of small dust like particles in the air. The lack of wind has left these pollutants suspended in the air, giving a smog-like film over the cities. Here in the countryside the horizon has been hazy all week, even on the sunny days and today it has taken until late afternoon to see the sun at all. With the springtime rise in pollen, those with allergies are being warned to take care. Thankfully we are not a hay-fever suffering family, although Ed has complained of sore eyes a few evenings this week.

In an attempt to reduce traffic pollution many of the larger cities have been promoting the benefits of car sharing and are encouraging the use of public transport this weekend by offering it for free. There are also speed limit restrictions in place on many of the motorways. If you are out and about in France this weekend, although facemasks are probably not necessary just yet, do take care and think before you drive.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Book review of Hotel Paradise by Carol Drinkwater

French Village Diaries Book Review Hotel Paradise Carol Drinkwater MediterraneanHotel Paradise is a new Kindle single (ebook short story) by Carol Drinkwater, whose descriptions of life in Provence never fail to transport me there.

Beginning and concluding in the present day, most of the story in Hotel Paradise occurs twelve years earlier when a young couple, who met by chance in Paris, make their way south to an island off the Cannes coast following an unknown path of adventure.

Genevieve and Paul find themselves in a long forgotten, dusty hotel that might just be ready to awaken to their touches. There is passion, a sense of adventure, hurt, grief and many other emotions, and the spell of the place fills their heads with dreams and ideas for the future. Then a newcomer arrives on the island, but will this upset the balance and with it their dreams?

Throughout the book there is no doubt about the location, Carol’s beloved Mediterranean coast. She describes the food, the markets, the flora, the wildlife, the coastline, the weather, the sounds and the scents. I feel I know the shores of this island despite never having visited it. I think it’s familiarity comes from the pages of one of the Olive Farm books and Carol’s descriptions make me feel I am returning to somewhere special. It has made me want to delve back into her earlier books (again).

This is a neat, perfect example of a short story. A quick morning read on a beach or by the fire – actually, it doesn’t matter where you are, just sit back and let Carol take you to the Mediterranean.

Hotel Paradise is available only as an ebook from Amazon. I can also recommend Carol’s other Kindle single The Girl in Room Fourteen (Kindle Single) , you can read my review here.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

My name is

French Village Diaries Jacqui Jackie Brown
Jacqui Brown
My name is Jacqueline or Jacqui (these days I'm happy to answer to either) but it's a name that has caused me a bit of bother over the years. As a kid I disliked Jacqueline, mainly because it is so long to write and even seems to take forever to pronounce 'jac-que-line'. I was still in primary school when I adopted the shortened version Jacqui, that has suited me fine ever since. Although it is true to say I do have to spell it a lot and not get too hung up about an extra 'e' added on the end, especially here in France.

Sixteen years ago I became Mrs Jacqui Brown and unfortunately this fantastic event coincided with the release of the Quentin Tarantino film Jackie Brown. The seemingly endless jokes from work contacts when I mentioned my new married name was enough to put me off ever watching the film for myself.

Moving to a small French village almost ten years ago we found we were not the only Browns in the village. The rural postal service tends to deliver by name rather than address and a mix up of mail is how we came to meet the other Browns, who have since become very good friends. It now seems I am not the only Jacqui Brown in the local area.

Last weekend I received a steady trickle of confused emails from local friends following another Jacqui Brown's mail shot advertising her cleaning and gardening maintenance business. Confused and amused is probably more accurate as anyone who knows me will agree, housework and cleaning aren't really my thing! It is the first time in 16 years that I have come across another Jacqui Brown with an identical spelling and to be living so close to each other in rural France is quite bizarre. To avoid any further confusion, and in the interests of her business, I promise to stay well away from cleaning, but if the weather is good, you might just find me doing some weeding in my garden. If you would like more information on Jacqui's business, you can contact her here.