Thursday, December 31, 2015

Happy New Year

French Village Diaries New Year lunch in garden 31st December 2015
Last lunch of 2015, in the sun

The sun has set on the final day of 2015, a day warm enough to eat lunch in the garden, but with a few spots of rain on our dog walk, enough to create a rainbow whose end appeared to rise from the village itself. A stunning sight and one I would have loved to share, but alas, my camera was home alone. My New Year Resolution needs to be, never leave home without a camera.

2015 has been a good year, with the exception of losing our beloved cat Poppy to old age. Ed passed his brevet and has settled in well to his new school, something I was worried about as it was a big change for him. Ade has had a good year for work, although the downside to having work means time spent away from us, but there is always lots going on in the village to keep me occupied. I have survived another year as a local councillor and have enjoyed the experiences this has given me. I’ve managed to eat a lot of new patisseries from our boulangerie and read (and shared) a huge stack of books set in France. I’ve also blogged about life in France, our road trip to the South of France, village events, bike rides and interviews with authors.

As a little year-end summery, here are the five most popular blog posts from 2015, in case you missed them.

If you follow me on Facebook you will know I share ebooks with a French theme that are free or with great price reductions, almost every day. Here are the five most popular shared ebooks from 2015, based on my Amazon UK referral statistics (that show over 3000 ebooks have been downloaded from my referrals this year). I have to admit to not reading all of them yet, but I will, I promise.

Mapping the Heart by Carol Drinkwater, a novel set in France and Brazil where there is passion and love. For Carol Drinkwater fans, next February will see the publication of her new novel set in France called The Forgotten Summer. I can't wait.

A Spell in Provence by Marie Laval, a gripping novel set in Provence with dark magic and mystery. See my review here.

A Tent in France by Simon Swinn, a memoir about a new life in France, running a campsite in the Auvergne.

Lunch in Paris by Elizabeth Bard, a delicious look at a new life in Paris, with love and food and recipes too. See my review here.

All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr, a novel about a blind French girl and a German boy whose paths collide in Occupied France. I'm moving this to the top of my to be read pile.

2016 is a new year to be filled with new books and new experiences. Happy New Year to you and may 2016 be a healthy and a happy one for us all.

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Book review for One Night in Paris by Juliette Sobanet

Welcome to the final day of my #FrenchVillageBookworm advent calendar. I can’t believe that we have reached the evening of the 24th and in a few hours it will be time to welcome Christmas Day. I’ve just remembered buying a few presents back in October, but can I find them to wrap them? No! So much for thinking I was more organised than usual. If time travel were a real option, how many of you would like the chance to have a few extra hours today?

French Village Bookworm Advent Calendar review One Night in Paris Juliette Sobanet
Day 24 French Village Bookworm advent calendar

My review today is for One Night in Paris (A Short Story) by Juliette Sobanet, a short time travel novel by one of my favourite romance writers.

Successful but unhappy, Ella drops everything to fly to Paris to be at her frail grandmother’s bedside, hoping she will make it before it’s too late. Her grandmother’s final wish is that Ella puts on one of the dresses she has kept from her past and make her a promise to save a friend she had lost years before. Ella humours the old lady, puts on the dress and suddenly finds herself in Paris, in 1927. With time against her, can she save Lucie, what other (romantic) adventures are in store for her and how will she get back to her old life? It could be that fulfilling this wish changes things for more than one character in the book.

This book gave me a perfect, quick escape and as expected Juliette’s writing brought the sights and smells of Paris alive, from smoky jazz clubs to fragrant patisserie shops. It wasn’t difficult to imagine myself in Paris and in love, although Juliette does visit some dark places too.

It may be Christmas, but as this is only a short story, I recommend a glass of mulled wine and a quiet sit down for a few minutes to enjoy a mini-break to Paris. Especially as this book is available in ebook format for less than £1.

I would like to wish you all a very Happy Christmas and all my best wishes for 2016. Thank you for reading and commenting on my French Village Diaries.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Book review of My Paris Kitchen by David Lebovitz

Welcome to day 23 of my #FrenchVillageBookworm advent calendar. We’ve nearly reached the end and I hope you are all organised for Christmas? Adrian and I have been as busy as elves with two days spent finishing the shopping and present wrapping, as well as enjoying time together following a hectic few months.

French Village Bookworm advent calendar review My Paris Kitchen David Lebovitz
French Village Bookworm advent calendar day 23

My review today is for My Paris Kitchen: Recipes and Stories by David Lebovitz.

In David, I have found a kindred spirit. I did so much nodding and muttering in agreement, right from the start of this book, that I probably looked a bit strange as I was reading it. For example, he too prefers seasonal, locally grown food, brought direct from the producer rather than focussing on buying food labelled as ‘organic’. He also tells readers to use a recipe as a guide rather than a rigid set of rules, encouraging cooks to have the confidence to think for themselves, adapt to the seasonal ingredients they have and adjust their seasonings etc. I’m the first to admit to using any recipe merely as a start point and I’m delighted he agreed with me, although I still learned things including a new French phrase ‘au pif’ meaning to cook ‘by the nose’.

This book contains a good selection of recipes that include traditionally French and Mediterranean influenced too. It was interesting to see dishes like the simple French bistro lunch of croque-monsieur (a type of cheese and ham toasted sandwich) and one of my comfort food favourites, brandade (made from salt cod and creamed potatoes). I’m not sure I’ve ever thought about how these are prepared, but now I know and I might just be tempted to give them a try at home. All of them looked delicious, were enhanced with great photos and often made me hungry as I was flicking through. The recipes are interspersed with some lovely snippets of David’s life in Paris. These sections are often amusing and always open and honest.

I’m sure that anyone with a love of food and France won’t be disappointed with a hardback copy of this book, which is also available in ebook format. Links to Amazon can be found below.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Book review of How Blue is my Valley by Jean Gill

Welcome to day 22 of my French village bookworm advent calendar. My review today is for How Blue is my Valley by Jean Gill, a memoir about her move from Wales to the south of France.
French Village Diaries book review How Blue is my Valley Jean Gill
How Blue is my Valley
My first impressions were good, the cover is beautiful and anyone who starts her book talking about feeding her toilet with such delights as live yoghurt (flush) and whole chickens (don't flush) has well and truly grabbed my attention. As the book moved on the narration wandered with her mind from France to Wales and wherever else she seemed to think of. This was a little quirky but I found it interesting in that it added the background to how they found themselves in France in a property with water and plumbing issues. I found some of the sentences were a little long, which necessitated in me taking a breath halfway through, but this is still a funny account of their first year in France.

I was lucky enough to pick up the kindle version when it was on promotion for less than a £1 and felt I had my money’s worth long before I reached the end of the book. How Blue is my Valley is available in ebook and paperback format and links to Amazon can be found below.

You can follow Jean on Facebook, Twitter and find her website here.

Book review of Paris for One by Jojo Moyes

Welcome to day 21 of my French Village Bookworm advent calendar where I'm sharing a book a day between now and Christmas. My review today is for Paris For One (Quick Reads) by Jojo Moyes, part of the Quick Reads short story series.

French Village Diaries book review Paris for One Jojo Moyes
FrenchVillageBookworm advent calendar 
Nell is a planner who likes to make lists and is about to discover Paris for the first time. Unfortunately her plans are disrupted, she is disappointed and despondency sets in. But Paris isn’t going to let her disappear into the background, Paris is there to help her discover herself and make some important decisions about her life.

This may be a short story, but it is still packed with emotions, energy and entertainment. Grab a copy, a coffee and a cosy chair, you won’t be disappointed, this book is a perfect travelling companion and a weekend in Paris you won’t forget.

Paris For One (Quick Reads) is available in ebook and paperback format priced from only £1. Links to Amazon can be found below.

Monday, December 21, 2015

Advent day 20, père noël

Père Noël out and about

With only five days left until Christmas, Père Noël has been spotted out and about in France today.

Lots of père noëls 

In fact there were quite a few look-a-likes to be seen.

The real père noël 

But the real one made sure he was in our village to hand out gifts to the children while everyone, young and old, enjoyed hot chocolate and mini viennesoise.

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Advent day 19, party time

French Village Diaries advent calendar party time
Mincepies, homemade cake, chocolates

Welcome to day 19 of my advent calendar and as it is a weekend, here is a little catch up on village life. This week marked the last aqua gym session of the term and due to winter maintenance work on the pool, we now have a two month break before starting to shift those extra Christmas calories. I'm not sure finishing the term with a pre-Christmas party was the healthiest of ideas, but it was certainly good fun. 

I may be the newbie to the group (and the youngest by a few years too) but I'm going to miss the hilarity that has quickly become routine for my Tuesday mornings at aqua gym. The end of term couldn't happen without a little something special and so we slightly shortened our exercise time to ensure we had plenty of time to sit (in the empty paddling pool), drink coffee and indulge in the tasty delights we had all come along with. One thing I have learned since joining this class in September is that these ladies know their food, every week what they are cooking and eating is their main topic of conversation.

French Village Diaries advent calendar party time
Pre-Christmas party

I made a batch of mincepies to share, which went down very well, although I did have to list the ingredients and method at least six times as the French can be a little unsure about eating something they don't recognise. As an English ambassador in rural France I consider it my duty to spread the word, and the love for mincepies at Christmas.

French Village Diaries advent calendar party time
Genius plate carrier

One of the ladies arrived with this totally amazing bag that is pretty, functional and very French too. A soft fabric bag to carry a plate to a shared meal or picnic, where the handles ensure the top of the bag is kept clear of the contents of the plate, genius! I have severe bag envy. Dear Father Christmas, if you happen to be reading this I would love a bag just like this one please.

My featured book today is also full of delicious French treats and should you wish to walk off a few calories, it includes a lovely guide to some delicious sights to see in Paris too. Teatime in Paris!: A Walk Through Easy French Patisserie Recipes by Jill Colonna is a beautifully illustrated recipe book, with easy to follow, step-by-step instructions to help you achieve perfect patisseries in your own home. You can read my full review here. Both of Jill's books would make perfect Christmas gifts and links to Amazon can be found below.

Friday, December 18, 2015

Book review of From Paris With Love This Christmas by Jules Wake

Welcome to day 18 of my #FrenchVillageBookworm advent calendar where I am sharing a book with a French theme everyday between now and Christmas.

French Village Diaries bookworm advent calendar review From Paris With Love This Christmas Jules Wake
French Village Bookworm advent calendar day 18

My review today is for From Paris With Love This Christmas by Jules Wake, a lovely festive read to give you that warm, squishy feeling, so important on the run up to Christmas.

Enter Siena, bubbly, well mannered, perfectly groomed, but rather clueless. She is the girl who seems to have it all, a monthly allowance, friends in the right places, a chateau in France, an eligible fiancé and a dysfunctional family. There is just one thing missing - happiness, so she has packed a few essentials in her Louis Vuitton carry-on and run away from Paris to see her sister Laurie in the UK.

Enter Jason, friend and tenant of Laurie, happy in his own company and now rather reluctant host of Siena.

I loved Siena from the beginning as she had a perkiness and determination that made her hard not to like. Life in the UK isn’t quite what she expected, Laurie is away and Siena soon finds herself alone and penniless for the first time ever, but willing to try anything to succeed. Once we find out the details behind why she has run and why following her dream would never be possible in France, I was willing her to succeed with every page turn.

Little by little she begins to prove herself, earns the respect and friendship of those around her and after a flying visit to Paris, love begins to blossom. She discovers having less really does give her more and all would be great if it weren’t for a few surprise visits from France and that misunderstanding between a boy and girl that all good chick-lits must have.

This book is a great few days of pure escapism and romance that would have been a five star if it weren’t for the many typos. Although it can be read as a stand-alone novel, it is the sequel to From Italy With Love , where we first meet her sister Laurie. I’ve now downloaded book one and can’t wait to finish reading it, especially as it contains a road trip through France – how have I missed it!

From Paris With Love This Christmas is published by HarperImpulse and is available in paperback and ebook format and links to Amazon can be found below.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Book review of The Parisian Christmas Bake Off by Jenny Oliver

Welcome to day 17 of my #FrenchVillageBookworm advent calendar where I am sharing a book set in France everyday between now and Christmas.

French Village Diaries bookworm advent calendar review The Parisian Christmas Bake Off Jenny Oliver
French Village Bookworm advent calendar day 17

Today it is another Christmas themed book, The Parisian Christmas Bake Off by Jenny Oliver. Newly single Rachel gets a surprise from her friends, a trip to Paris, with a catch; she has been entered into the competition to find Paris’s next patisserie apprentice. She has one week to prove she’s got what it takes to bake patisseries, in Paris.

When she first arrives the loneliness of her small Paris apartment, the competitiveness of the others she finds herself thrown in with and the arrogance of the French chef all make for dark times when the rest of Paris is high on Christmas. Full of self-doubt she wants to run, but to run away would disappoint those who have arranged this special treat for her. With determination she buries herself in flour, crème-patissière and beaten egg whites and begins to create her dreams. Paris in all her winter glory comes to life, the food descriptions are tantalisingly delicious and there is light at the end of the tunnel for Rachel.

This is a good fun read, packed full of French patisserie delights, Paris Christmas sparkle and even a sprinkling of romance. After all we can’t have the single heroine of a chick-lit set in Paris at Christmas time without a little Paris love and magic, can we. If you want a winter break in Paris, this book is the perfect get away.

The Parisian Christmas Bake Off is available in ebook and paperback format and links to Amazon can be found below. I can also recommend Jenny Oliver’s The Vintage Ice Cream Van Road Trip , a steamy romance set on a road trip through France.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Book review of The Red Notebook by Antoine Laurain

Welcome to day 16 of my #FrenchVillageBookworm advent calendar where I am featuring a different book every day in the run up to Christmas.

French Village Diaries bookworm advent calendar review The Red Notebook Antoine Laurain Gallic Books
Day 16 FrenchVillageBookworm advent calendar

Today I am reviewing The Red Notebook by Antoine Laurain a tale of mystery set in Paris where a girl is mugged, her handbag stolen and she is left bleeding. The following day, bookshop owner Laurent finds an abandoned handbag that among other items contains a small red notebook filled with very personal thoughts, that is the only thing that may give him the clues to discover the owner and return her bag.

His mission to find this mystery woman soon takes over his life and as his obsession with the unidentified owner grows so did my interest in this novel, which quickly became compelling as well as a little creepy. There was something quite perverse about Laurent knowing so much about someone he had never met, even more so when he becomes involved in her life.

It is a beautifully written book that I felt was very romantic in places, despite the difficulties Laurent creates for himself as he crosses personal boundaries. What would he say to explain his actions? How would she feel about his involvement? Would life ever be the same again for him?

This is the second novel I have read by Antoine Laurain and they have both entertained, but also made me think as I was reading them and found myself guessing how things would evolve and turn out. His books are different from other novels I have read, but I’m hooked.

The Red Notebook and The President's Hat are published by Gallic Books and available in ebook and paperback format. Links to Amazon can be found below. You can read my review of The President's Hat here.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Book review of Friday in France by Judy Block

Welcome to day 15 of my #FrenchVillageBookworm advent calendar where I am sharing a book a day between now and Christmas.

French Village Diaries advent calendar book review Friday in France Judy Block
#FrenchVillageBookworm advent calendar day 15

My review today is for Friday in France: A humorous memoir about leaving it all behind. by Judy Block, a memoir about settling into the gentle sway of life on a small French island in the Atlantic. I sometimes worry when a book is titled ‘humorous’ by the author, but I have to agree in this case as parts of this book are hilarious.

Take one New York executive used to the fast paced life on Manhattan Island and take her across the Atlantic to the small island of Ile d’Oleron, just off the coast of La Rochelle (and somewhere I know very well). It is the early 1990’s and there is no internet, email, Facebook or mobile phones, meaning she is totally isolated from all her friends and family and has no choice but to settle into her new life with her French surfer boyfriend and his mates. Give her lots of new and scary experiences like driving a car with gears (stick shift), topless beaches (who knew you American gals struggle so much with boobies), a strange language where kissing replaces waving and hugging, shared public toilet facilities and local farmers who stare.

Some might go mad, some might run back to their hectic normality, but Judy lets the love of a good Frenchman and the acceptance of the locals slow her down, relax her and leave her feeling calm and at home. Except when it comes to struggling with the supermarkets, cheese counters and shopping trolleys (carts), when (between my giggles) I feared she might need to return her Upper West Side shrink.

I thoroughly enjoyed her funny descriptions of the vast differences between her old and new life and the only thing that disappointed me was the end. I really wasn’t ready for it to end when it did and I do hope there is another book planned. I guess I am just a naturally nosey person, but I’d love to know what happened next.

Friday in France: A humorous memoir about leaving it all behind. is available in ebook and paperback format and links to Amazon can be found below. Do head over and follow Judy on Facebook, where she shares some lovely pictures of Ile d’Oleron.

Monday, December 14, 2015

Book review of The Little Bookshop on the Seine by Rebecca Raisin

Welcome to day 14 of my #FrenchVillageBookworm advent calendar where I am sharing a book a day between now and Christmas.

French Village Bookworm advent calendar review The Little Bookshop on the Seine Rebecca Raisin
#FrenchVillageBookworm advent calendar day 14

My review today is for The Little Bookshop On The Seine (The Little Paris Collection, Book 1) by Rebecca Raisin, a lovely novel that I enjoyed escaping into in the dark days following the November attacks in Paris. This book was perfect, Sarah, the main character, loves books with a passion, she becomes absorbed in her books, they speak to her and she is happy in their presence. This was just what I needed and the bonus was that it was set in Paris.

We join Sarah (from The Bookshop on the Corner ) as she agrees to a six month bookshop exchange with her Parisian friend Sophie who owns an established, bustling bookstore in Paris with more nooks, crannies and floating temporary staff than you could imagine. This is the first in the Little Paris Collection from Rebecca, but those who have read The Gingerbread Café series will recognise plenty of characters, although this book can be read as a stand-alone novel.

Life in Paris is certainly very different from what Sarah is used to in her small town of Ashford in the US and she soon learns there is a vast difference between the American way and the French way, the small town way and the big city way. Sarah finds herself in the heart of Paris at Christmas and although all the old Paris clichés are present, I loved it for that. There are snippets of hidden Paris, typically Parisian characters and tasty patisseries on every corner. I enjoyed the mix of characters and liked the fact that it wasn’t all peachy in Paris when she first arrived. She feels alone, but she can’t give up, Paris won’t let her. Sarah had to work hard to be accepted but ultimately finds herself and happiness, with the help of a little Paris magic. There was lots to make me smile while I was reading and plenty of little sub plots to try and guess where they were leading to along the way. I especially enjoyed the mystery of the old and forgotten love letters and the will-they-won’t-they romance with her too good to be true, but often absent, boyfriend Ridge.

I did think it was slightly let down by typos and mistakes that should have been picked up by the editor, but it was a great escape to Paris and I’m looking forward to the other books in the Little Paris Collection. I’ve also gone on to read (and enjoy) The Bookshop on the Corner and Christmas at the Gingerbread Café .

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Advent day thirteen, Christmas trees

French Village Diaries advent Christmas trees
Mistletoe at Christmas

It is almost the middle of December and I think I'm all Christmas tree'd out. I love trees and think there is something quite special about the shape of trees in winter, especially when they are naturally decorated with mistletoe, but I have to admit I find putting up our musty artificial tree a real chore. 

French Village Diaries advent Christmas trees
Handmade Christmas trees
This year I have spent quite a bit of time decorating trees, lots of trees, but not our tree. As well as the original handmade trees that a team of volunteers have been busy producing in our village (see more here), we have also been turning pine branches into street Christmas trees that we have tied to the lamp posts.

French Village Diaries advent Christmas trees
Decorated Christmas branches
Making them festive with donated baubles and empty boxes wrapped in metallic paper that we are hoping will survive the winter weather.
French Village Diaries advent Christmas trees
Village decorations
They have certainly brightened up the village, but they have zapped all my decorating energy. This year our tree will stay in it's box, but I've come up with another idea for our lounge. I've discovered the rather addictive craft that is book folding and a small forest of book trees has sprung up, each one individually decorated with tiny cut outs from old Christmas cards. I've even made us a Nativity Scene, and as someone who is probably one of the least creative or arty people on the planet, I'm really quite pleased with what I have achieved.

French Village Diaries advent Christmas trees
My 2016 Christmas trees

My book choice today (on a tree theme) is Ten Trees and a Truffle Dog by Jamie Ivey, the tale of Jamie and his wife putting down roots in Provence and attempting to settle into a happy and calm family life. I also really enjoyed Jamie's first memoir Extremely Pale Rosé where Provence and her wines take a hold of Jamie and become an important part of his life, but for many years I struggled to find books two and three in the series. This year has seen an exciting development as for the first time all three books in his Rosé series are now available in ebook format.