Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Book review of The Girl in the Empty Dress by Lise McClendon

French Village Diaries France Booktours review The Girl in the Empty Dress Lise McClendon Dordogne FranceToday I am taking part in a virtual book tour via France Book Tours for The Girl in the Empty Dress (Bennett Sisters Novels) by Lise McClendon, the sequel to Blackbird Fly that I reviewed here. Although this can be read as a stand-alone novel I really enjoyed book one and recommend you to start there too.

Synopsis (provided by author):
Merle Bennett and her sisters go on a walking tour on the backroads of the Dordogne. When they come across an injured dog their idyllic summer tour takes a dark turn. Who is this dog that everyone wants so badly? And who is this friend one sister brought along, the one without a history? Truffles, romance, wine, and intrigue in the French countryside.

My review:
We join Merle back in the old stone cottage in the Dordogne that she rescued and restored in Blackbird Fly and that kind of rescued her too from a difficult emotional time. This visit her four sisters, her son and a friend are with her to enjoy a summer holiday eating al fresco, walking in the French countryside and filling the old house with life and laughter. However their plans are thrown awry when they find an injured dog by the roadside and things soon get complicated, tempers rise and sibling bickering rears it’s head. There is a mystery to the dog’s past and a situation arises that leads them to question the friend’s past too and puts them in a dangerous position.

To distract Merle from the craziness, the lovely Pascal with his sexy French accent who brought love back to her life in book one makes a reappearance. There is the passion that she needs but it is a complicated romance, with many interruptions, so can she rely on him to be there for her when it matters or should she take charge and go it alone?

I liked Lise’s writing style, loved that little old ladies came out with the word ‘shit’ and her brilliant descriptions like this one “He had the face of an ice block hardened by many winters”, brought her characters alive. The situations they found themselves in often made me laugh and there was just the right amount of ooh-ing and aah-ing over the tasty French cheeses, truffles and wine to remember they were in France and loving it.

I can recommend both Blackbird Fly and The Girl in the Empty Dress (Bennett Sisters Novels) as perfect summer holiday reads. I will be looking out for more Bennett Sisters Novels.

French Village Diaries France Booktours review The Girl in the Empty Dress Lise McClendon Dordogne France
Lise McClendon
About the author:
Lise McClendon is the author of ten novels written as Lise McClendon and thrillers as Rory Tate. Her suspense novel Blackbird Fly was released in 2009 and was an Amazon bestseller.
She lives in Montana when not walking the back-roads of France. You can visit her website here and find her on Facebook, Twitter and Goodreads too.
French Village Diaries France Booktours review The Girl in the Empty Dress Lise McClendon Dordogne France

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Fête des Mères or Mother's Day in France

It has been a long and busy weekend for me. Since Friday I have shopped at our local market, made two visits a day to a friend's cat (one daily visit where I have to administer drugs), run an English conversation class at Ed's school, had a meeting with our insurers, done a supermarket shop, attended a local council meeting, walked the dog, baked two cakes, swept the floors, watched Ed perform at the music school annual concert, been to dinner at friends, fed our animals, done a two hour stint at the village polling station for the European Elections, picked cherries, collected and started delivering 400 Living Poitou Magazines and assisted with the vote counting for the elections. But today is also Mother's Day in France. I may have been up and out of the house before Ed was awake, but when I did see him at lunchtime I got a lovely card and some chocolates that hit THE spot! It was also a lovely privilege to have the time and weather to spend this afternoon in our much neglected garden.

French Village Diaries Potager Fetes des Meres weekend
First plantings in our potager

We've had many issues with our poor potager this year, notably a lack of time to prepare the soil and get on top of the weeds, but finally it is looking promising. I started the beans in our mini greenhouse and they were desperate to get going outside and now they can. However all our tomato and courgette seedlings are looking quite poorly. The weather hasn't been great - cold, wet and not enough sunshine, but we also think the soil we used in the pots has been lacking in something and they are quite stunted. Thankfully our generous friends in the village have donated some of their spares so today we planted out over 40 onion plants and 20 tomatoes. Now it looks like a potager I'm certainly feeling more relaxed about actually getting some produce this year. We have also started picking the cherries and the raspberry plants seem to be planning a takeover. If the foliage growth has any relation to the fruit we'll be jamming with raspberries very soon.

I hope you have all had a great weekend, whether it was relaxing or productive or both and Happy Mother's Day to all Mums wherever you may live.

Friday, May 23, 2014

France et Moi with author Liz Ryan

Welcome to ‘France et Moi’ where this week I am talking to author Liz Ryan about what France means to her. Liz has lived in Normandy, France since 2001 and is the author of several novels and a memoir about her life in France, French Leave that you can read my review of here. She especially enjoys walking and spending time on the beach.

French Village Diaries France et Moi interview Liz Ryan French Leave
Liz Ryan
Firstly, I think France is a special place and it is famed for many things including its cheese, wine and diverse holiday locations plus, dare I say it strikes and dog poo littered streets. What do you think makes France so very unique and ‘French’? 

Liz: Its strong sense of identity – (language, culture, architecture, food, fashion, wine) – its seasonal rhythm – its social rhythm - and of course its hypochondria!

2) What is your first memory of a trip to France?

Liz: I was an 18-year old au pair in the Loire Valley. Absolutely hopeless, but the family couldn’t have been nicer, even when I nearly poisoned the baby…which was when I realized I’d better seriously learn the language, so I could spend the rest of my life apologizing for not understanding crucial instructions. I also discovered the music of Serge Reggiani, which I love to this day.

3) Having lived in France and spoken French for many years do you have any top tips for my readers on how to learn French?

Liz: Just go for it. Be confident, and concentrate. Watch French tv and, especially, listen to radio, which trains your ear until one day, bingo, you can follow what’s being said. Attend classes, and don’t hide out with other ex-pats. Speak up no matter how horrible a hash you might make of it. As with playing the piano or tennis or whatever, personal ability varies, but anyone who’s lived more than 2 years in France should be able to communicate fearlessly.

4) When you first arrived in France what was the best thing about being immersed in French life and the scariest thing?

Liz: The best things were the food, the weather and the discovery of a disciplined but delightful way of living. The scariest thing, as for everyone, was the bureaucracy, until I discovered that a bit of Irish blarney could charm the bureaucrats into compliance. Well, sort of J

5) France has some beautiful cities and there are a few that constantly battle to be my favourite, what is your favourite French city and why?

Liz: It’s a cliché but it’s Paris. Even today, submerged in fast food joints, plastic signage and fusspot over-regulation, it still has that old je ne sais quoi. You just have to seek it out a bit harder. If I were the new mayor, I’d start by enforcing a return to the lovely old script signage on shops. I’d also ban rap music in restaurants – bring back the accordion!

6) Every region in France has it’s own culinary specialty, do you have a favourite Norman dish?

Liz: Seafood. I buy my fish fresh off the trawlers along the Cote d’Albatre and there is no happier moment than sitting down outdoors with a plate of fresh oysters, a chilled glass of white wine, a warm baguette and some unsalted butter. I love cooking the day’s catch at home too, whatever it might be – sole, turbot, whelks…the freshness so fabulous, all you need is a whoosh of lemon juice and wow, magic. 

7) France has many different cheeses, a silly question, but which French cheese are you? A hard and mature Tome, a soft, fresh and lively goat cheese, the creamy and rich Camembert or maybe the salty and serious Roquefort?

Liz: I guess I would be the 'salty and serious Roquefort' !

8) Imagine you are sitting outside a French café at 10.00am on a sunny morning watching the world go by, what do you order from the waiter?

Liz: Depending on mood and budget, either a café au lait or a glass of champagne.

9) Best French tipple, and yes I know there are many to choose from?

Liz: Calvados keeps us warm and hardy here during the Norman winters – perfect for snuggling up with beside the fire on a snowy night (and there were a lot of those in 2013!) Some of the locals make calva and some of it is so rich, so full of depth, mmm.  I also love crémant and would in fact prefer a good crémant to a bad champagne. My favourite is Ackermann.

10) Can you describe your perfect French apero for us; the drink, the nibbles, the location and the company?

Liz: The drink would be either champagne or crémant; the nibbles would be olives stuffed with almonds, tiny chili peppers stuffed with cream cheese, salt crackers and home-made humous; the location would be by the sparkling sea and the company would be warm and witty! It would also be either totally bilingual or totally monolingual, because after 13 years in France I’ve run out of patience with interpreting, especially for anglophones who live here permanently. It slows the simplest chat down to first gear and means no lively conversation can fully develop. You also get a sore neck from playing tennis umpire: ‘He says to tell you…she says to tell him…’ etc.

French Village Diaries France et Moi interview Liz Ryan French LeaveFinally, do you have any current projects you would like to tell my readers about?

Liz: I’m trying to decide whether to return to writing fiction or do some more journalism such as French Leave . They’re very different skills but I love them both.

Thank you for taking the time to answer some questions about France and you.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Book review of Blackbird Fly by Lise McClendon

French Village Diaries book review Blackbird Fly Lise McClendon Dordogne FranceMy review today is for Blackbird Fly by Lise McClendon. This book is the first in the Bennett Sisters novels and next week Lise will be taking part in a virtual book tour to celebrate the release of the second book, The Girl in the Empty Dress (Bennett Sisters Novels) . I will be posting my review for book two on Wednesday 28th May. Despite book two being described as a stand-alone novel, I decided to treat myself to book one and I’m very glad I did. I found it really set the scene; it was a great read and left me wanting to jump straight into book two.

Merle Bennett, the middle sister of five daughters in a family where everyone is a lawyer, loses her husband Harry to a sudden heart attack, alone at his desk at work. As she comes to terms with this she realises things in her marriage were not quite what they seemed and her future looks very uncertain. This is quite a gloomy start that left me feeling very heavy hearted, which is not a feeling I really enjoyed, but I was intrigued to find out more and kept reading. On his death Merle inherited a house in a bastide town in Dordogne, France, which she visits during the summer with the intention of preparing it to sell, but things get rather complicated. I found that once Merle and her son arrived in France this book really came alive.

Merle was a very likable character dealing with death, deceit, decaying houses and many hidden skeletons, but she was strong, organised and very early on France seemed to grab her and not want to let her go. This book was a real mystery, an intriguing tale that kept jutting off in different directions, but always coming back and tying in nicely to the storyline. I could feel a sense of foreboding, that things would get dark, but I had no idea what would happen until it did. It was difficult to know who to trust as there were plenty of rogues who would dip in and out again, until Bam! They’d execute their deed and leave Merle to pick up the pieces.

This was a quick read that grabbed my attention, often had me smiling and at times made my heart flutter too.  For a limited time the ebook version is on promotion for only 99p at Amazon. It is also available in paperback, links below.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Book review of Something Old, Something New by James R Vance

French Village Diaries Something Old Something New by James R Vance Oradour-sur-Glane
Something Old Something New by James Vance
My review today is for Something Old, Something New an historical novel by local author James Vance

French Village Diaries Something Old Something New by James R Vance Oradour-sur-Glane
This book is partially set in Oradour-sur-Glane in the Limousin, where on 10th June 1944 the German soldiers of the SS Panzer Division Das Reich rounded up the men, women and children and massacred them all before ransacking and burning the village. 

French Village Diaries Something Old Something New by James R Vance Oradour-sur-Glane
No explanation was ever given as to why. The ruins have been left as a memorial that we have visited and is a very emotional place. 

French Village Diaries Something Old Something New by James R Vance Oradour-sur-Glane
Despite this horrific event I was quite excited to find a book using local history as its backdrop.

In the 1990’s sisters Elodie and Monique open an old trunk in their parent's attic in an attempt to find ‘something old’ from their Grandmother's belongings for Monique’s wedding. Their family, like many others, was touched by events during the war, but a very deep secret lies buried in the mementos and they have no idea of the pain they will eventually cause when they start the rummage that leads them to investigate more about their family’s unknown history.

The German Occupation of France is not an easy topic to read about, but James’ careful story telling and the use of different voices from different generations meant a fascinating tale that twisted and turned and added flesh to history. I’m no expert, but have read a few books on the subject and this book seemed to be very well researched. The many voices to this story all had their own motives for their actions, but together they became a pot ready to boil over and when it did things would never be the same again.

This book is also part love story; it has characters that see people for who they are inside and others who are prejudiced by what is represented outside, some are able to forgive, some are not.  It certainly made me think as I was reading it and was a real page turner, with every chapter adding a little bit to the intriguing plot but always leaving me wanting more.

Something Old, Something New is available in ebook and paperback, and other books by James are also available, links to Amazon are below. I would like to thank James for contacting me and offering me a copy to review. You can find out more about James on his website here and follow him on Twitter.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Book review of French Leave by Liz Ryan

French Village Diaries book review French Leave Liz Ryan Normandy FranceMy review today is for French Leave by Liz Ryan. Fed up of her fast-paced life in Dublin, writer Liz set off to seek out the quiet life on a windy plateau in Normandy and after ten years she has experienced the best and worst France has to offer. From sun-kissed summers spent on the beaches, to delicious food festivals that had her guests salivating at the delights on offer, to dodgy mechanics out to make a fast buck when a single foreign woman arrives on their forecourt, to TGV’s disrupted by strikes and suicides and more than one run-in with the local police! She combines all her experiences in a humorous account that often had me laughing and nodding in agreement at her observations.

Her chapter on learning the language was particularly brilliant, I felt she had her finger on the pulse of French culture and politics (more so than most) and she is one of very few people who have ever successfully encouraged me to watch more French TV. She writes with passion and truth and although I didn’t agree with everything it felt OK to have our differences.

This is a fast paced read, like the conversation that flows at breakneck speed from the mouths of my Irish cousins, fun, but sometimes a little too fast for me. It wasn’t a book that I couldn’t put down, rather one that I needed regular rests from to catch my breath, but certainly a book worth reading - maybe I’ve just been living the slow rural life for too long?

If you’ve made the move to France, I think you will enjoy her experiences and probably learn something too (I did). If you want to make the move, I think you should read this book and take notes. If you just enjoy the dream of France and like being entertained by memoirs like this, you will be able to have a laugh, (mostly at the expense of those of us who have made the move). The end of the book highlights an issue that not many of us talk about, the limbo that is expat life. After ten years in France she is asking herself if she should stay, or go back, or move on elsewhere. I really wanted to sit down with her, pour a glass of wine and say ‘yes, I understand how you feel’. Once you have moved away and experienced something different you can go back, but you are not the same person you were when you left and it will never be the same place that you left behind. It also takes many more years than she or I have been here to become ‘French’, if we ever could!

French Leave is published by Liberties Press and available in paperback and ebook format, links to Amazon are below.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Grrrr, service!

This is not a rant about the French idea of customer service, as despite the ‘non, c’est pas possible’ and Gallic shrugs we have encountered over the years we have also had some great and very helpful experiences too. The award for best customer service has to go to our boulangerie who probably make hundreds of door-to-door deliveries each day, both to local villages and also to those in our village who can’t easily get to the shop. That is what I call a service.

French Village Diaries Customer Service France
In the name of progress our local supermarket have implemented improvements at the expense of a service offered and I am miffed. At the far corner of the car park, gone is the little booth where the service station attendant used to sit; door opened for air in summer and shut in with a fan heater in winter and in it’s place is an automated payment box that those of us who are on the short side have to stand on tip-toe to read the display screen. As a regular bankcard user I’m not too bothered about how I pay for my fuel, but there have been many sightings of more mature people wandering over from the car park and peering at the new machine with suspicion. A bankcard is an optional (and chargeable) extra with a French bank account; so many people still prefer to use cheques. This is now impossible.

My issue with this new system is 100% with the loss of service. This small town fuel station used to have a sign, in French and in English, stating that it was forbidden to fill up your car yourself. No matter how busy it got, the one member of staff patiently stood there and filled each car in turn, pausing to chat to the customers, take their money, sell tokens for the car wash and then move on to the next vehicle. I am missing this service; this exchange of pleasantries and the time spent in the queue people watching. I am also ashamed to admit it, but until this ‘improvement’ it had been many, many years since I last filled up the car myself and I don’t like change.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Why I love French Village Life

French Village Life Diaries Deux Sevres
Does your dog walk your donkey or your donkey walk your dog?

It's Sunday, the sun has shone all day, the 8.02 morning Angelus was ringing to accompany my walk to the boulangerie, a chat with my neighbour taught me that snails make love for four hours at a time and on our bike ride we spotted a donkey taking a dog for a walk. I love French Village Life!