Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Book Review of In the Shade of the Almond Trees by Dominique Marny

French Village Diaries book review In the Shade of the Almond Trees
In the Shade of the Almond Trees

Today I am taking part in a virtual book tour for In the Shade of the Almond Trees: A Novel by Dominique Marny via France Book Tours.


In the aftermath of World War I, a family estate hangs in the balance. For generations, the Barthelemy family tended to the olive trees of Restanques, a sprawling property in Cotignac whose olive oil and almonds were as incredible as the countryside that produced them. But all that changed when war came to France. Robert Barthelemy never returned from the trenches, and without him, the farm is beginning to die. His widow has lost the will to live, and only the fierce efforts of their daughter, Jeanne, have kept the creditors at bay. Jeanne is spending an afternoon at home with the family's grim financial statements when a handsome stranger appears on the front steps. His name is Jerome Guillaumin and he is a brilliant botanist about to embark on a journey around the globe. From the moment they meet, Jeanne is struck by feelings she never thought possible: feelings that could save her life or destroy everything she has ever known.

My review

This novel is set in the years directly after the First World War and as well as beautiful descriptions of it’s Provencal setting and the olive and almond tree orchards, that conjured up perfect pictures in my mind, there was lots of historical interest added in as well. From the seedy back street life in the docks of Marseille to the perceived ‘comfortable’ life of the wealthy land owners, albeit those who were struggling to survive in difficult times, to the lives and background stories of their workers, the olive and almond pickers, the farm hands and the serving staff. We are shown a snippet of the real Provence of the period and this all added to the story for me, making it a very enjoyable read.

I really warmed to the character of Jeanne, a strong and independent woman who despite her young age takes on the task of running the family estate, pretty much alone. A young lady in her position should have been concentrating on finding herself a husband and starting a family, however she has a lot of responsibility resting on her shoulders and is unable to give in to her passions, unlike her mother and her brother.

Throughout the novel, a varied cast of characters comes and goes, but not all the visitors arriving at their door are genuine, some are only out to make the most of their situation, but can Jeanne know who can be trusted? Is her love for her family estate and her ideas for it’s future enough to keep it going? I for one had my fingers crossed for her from quite early on.

This would be an ideal book for readers who enjoy historical fiction set in France.

About the author

French Village Diaries book review In the Shade of the Almond Trees - Dominique Marny Dominique Marny was raised in a family that loved art, literature, adventure, and travel. In addition to being a novelist, she is a playwright and screenwriter, and writes for various magazines. Follow Open Road Integrated Media on Facebook | Twitter Subscribe to Open Road Newsletter
Visit the author's website (in French) Follow her on Facebook


French Village Diaries book review In the Shade of the Almond Trees

In the Shade of the Almond Trees: A Novel is available in paperback and ebook format and links to Amazon can be found below.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Book review of Christmas Confessions and Cocktails by Vicki Lesage

French Village Diaries book review Christmas Confessions and Cocktails Vicki Lesage
Christmas Confessions and Cocktails by Vicki Lesage
My review today is for Christmas Confessions and Cocktails: A Humorous Holiday Memoir with Sassy Drink Recipes by Vicki Lesage, the latest in her Paris Confessions series of memoirs. This book is written in the same fun lively style of writing that I have come to expect from Vicki’s memoirs about her life in France, but this one was a little different. I found a more mellow side to Vicki here; the wild party girl was somewhat replaced by someone to whom family life is obviously very important, as important in fact, as having a good time.

This book includes twenty-five fun snippets of her life, loosely centered on the Christmas theme; both before and after she moved to France and many of these snippets are from times in her life when her family is together and celebrating. As usual she includes the bad as well as the good, but all are told in a way that made me smile. At the end of each one is an invitation to join her in a celebratory cocktail (or two), well, OK it is just the recipes, but it felt like she was inviting me to join in her fun. Cheers Vicki, thanks for another fun read and have a great Christmas!

All of the books in Vicki’s Paris Confessions series are available in ebook and paperback format and links to Amazon can be found below. A free taster of her memoirs can be found in her ebook memoirette Petite Confessions: A Humorous Memoirette with Sassy Drink Recipes .

You can read my reviews of her other books here;

Friday, September 25, 2015

100km in a day - home to La Rochelle

French Village Diaries cycling challenge 100km La Rochelle France Poitou-Charentes
Chemin de la Rochelle

When we first moved to France in 2004 we bought ourselves a walking map of the local area so we could get out on foot or on our old mountain bikes and explore our new location. One of the first things we noticed was that one of the back lanes out of the village has a name, ‘Chemin de la Rochelle’ (the La Rochelle path), which amused us, as La Rochelle is an hour and a half away, by car. Why does a small village 100km inland have direct access to a major town on the coast? Who in their right mind would head there on a small track rather than using the main roads?

Well, eleven years on and a discovered love of traveling the back roads of France by bike, and although the answer to my first question is still a mystery, the answer to my second is us. At some point along the years, "why" became "why not" and yesterday, after much planning and anticipation, we set off from home and followed the Chemin de la Rochelle out of the village and kept going. 

French Village Diaries cycling challenge 100km La Rochelle France Poitou-Charentes
Our route data to La Rochelle

The route had been carefully thought out to give us the challenge of doing 100km in a day, but not take us too many kilometres over, to avoid main roads where possible and most importantly to include stops in places where food and coffee would be available. This meticulous attention to detail was (as usual) down to Ade and his Garmin navigation device, however as I know that I reach the end of my reserves long before he does, I added in a few extra snack stops along the way. I knew my only way of succeeding was to keep fuelled up. We breakfasted on wholewheat cereal and boiled eggs and made sure we had time for an espresso coffee and some dark chocolate before heading off. The first 20km were a breeze and the breakfast, caffeine and excitement kept me going with no problems at all. I didn’t really feel I needed the muesli bar at 20km, but I knew it would ensure the second 20km to our morning coffee stop wouldn’t be a struggle.

French Village Diaries cycling challenge 100km La Rochelle France Poitou-Charentes
Just outside our village on the Chemin de la Rochelle

My first moment of panic arrived when we found the boulangerie in Beauvoir-sur-Niort closed. I had my heart set on a coffee, a croissant and a square of dark chocolate, my fuel for the next stage. Thankfully a small detour up the main road and we found an open boulangerie, phew, and after a small rest I was ready. Oddly enough this photo of us was taken by the lovely lady who was cleaning in her closed boulangerie.

French Village Diaries cycling challenge 100km La Rochelle France Poitou-Charentes
Route de la Rochelle at Beauvoir-sur-Niort

We had purposefully picked a day when the weather forecast was in our favour, a sunny day with some cloud cover, so not too hot and with no rain or wind. However, an unforeseen cloud had rolled in from the Atlantic overnight and while keeping it’s toes in the ocean it slowly spread it’s way inland, giving the day a grey and sometimes drizzly feel to it. We weren’t too far out of Beauvoir, on the Route de la Rochelle (our little chemin had grown a bit) when we had to stop and put the wet weather gear on and cycling into the wind made it quite hard going. Luckily we seemed to skirt around the worst of the rain, but this third section of 27km to Surgères for lunch was the bit I found most difficult.

French Village Diaries cycling challenge 100km La Rochelle France Poitou-Charentes
Grey, drizzle and wet weather gear

Ade had told me that as our village is 102m above sea level and La Rochelle is at sea level it would be down hill all the way. Now, I’m not saying that my husband is a liar, but with hindsight I think he slightly bent the truth here. There were some hills along the way; my legs felt them and they don’t lie.

I was running on empty by Surgères and we really should have stopped for an energy gel as although on paper 27km doesn’t seem too much longer than 20km, it was too far for me. A restorative salami and goats cheese baguette, followed by a huge slice of rum and raison flan made me feel much better and rather than abandoning the challenge at 65km, something I had been thinking about on the last few kilometers before Surgères, I was ready to roll once more.

French Village Diaries cycling challenge 100km La Rochelle France Poitou-Charentes
Along the canal almost in La Rochelle

By splitting the route into manageable chunks of around 20km, it seemed far less daunting for me, but if (or rather when) we do it again, I think having stops at 15km later in the day would be better. More than once I found myself tiring before we had planned a stop, but an afternoon energy gel really helped to perk me up. The last stretch was along the Canal de Marans à La Rochelle where we joined up with the marked cycle paths into town, a much nicer way to arrive than by car.

French Village Diaries cycling challenge 100km La Rochelle France Poitou-Charentes
The port of La Rochelle

A funny thing happened when we arrived; we really didn’t know what to do, or where to go and although we’d achieved what we set out to do, being there seemed a bit of an anti-climax. However, after a few photos with the famous towers behind us, we cycled to one of our favourite cafés, where we sat looking out to sea and enjoyed a hot chocolate that came with a biscuit and I’m sure you’ll agree, we had earned that biscuit.

French Village Diaries cycling challenge 100km La Rochelle France Poitou-Charentes
Putting my feet up looking out to sea

Sunday, September 20, 2015

A day out in the Charente

French Village Diaries September sunrise Poitou-Charentes
A proper September morning

We were up at 6.00am (on a Sunday)! Out at 7.30am, showered, breakfasted, washing hung out on the line, animals fed and watered and Ed still in bed. The mist was hugging the fields and the first pinks and oranges were just visible as the sky became brighter. The sun was still unseen, but reflecting off the aeroplanes, making them look like blazing shooting stars. It was our first proper September morning that was chilly, but full of promise for a warm day.

It was one of those busy days with lots of events battling for our attention; the Circuit des Remparts in Angouleme (see here), the photography exhibition ‘BarrObjectif’ (see here) and the Tour des Flandres Charantaises cycle event (see here).

We were heading for the start of the cycle event, but this year I was there as support staff and cheerleader, rather than rider. This was a very important role that included hand holding at the sign in, a kiss goodbye and a cheery wave at the start point, driving to a big climb to cheer and photograph and being back at the finish line with a smile. The sun was out and I spent a very relaxing few hours reading a real tearjerker ( Finding Shelter: tales of a French animal shelter by Emma Lee) while waiting for Ade to complete the 55km challenging hill climb event. I certainly picked the best role!

French Village Diaries Tour des Flandres Charantaises Poitou-Charentes cycling
My hill climbing hero

By late morning he was finished and very happy, so happy in fact that I managed to persuade him to buy me a morning coffee on the way home. It just so happened that we were almost passing through Barro, the small village that holds an annual photography exhibition every September, how handy. A little detour, another car park in a field and we were soon enjoying a coffee and a wander through the village admiring the photographic art. As usual there was a good mix of pictures; ones to make you think, topical ones, bizarre ones, naked ones, funny ones, local ones and foreign ones. Here are just a few.

If you are in the Charente, BarrObjectif is open daily until 27th September, is free entry and well worth a visit. See here for more information.

French Village Diaries Barrobjectif 2015 Barro Charante Poitou-Charentes
Morning coffee in Barro

The bizarre 

French Village Diaries Barrobjectif 2015 Barro Charante Poitou-Charentes
The thought provoking 

French Village Diaries Barrobjectif 2015 Barro Charante Poitou-Charentes
The Tour de France

French Village Diaries Barrobjectif 2015 Barro Charante Poitou-Charentes
The Giants

French Village Diaries Barrobjectif 2015 Barro Charante Poitou-Charentes
Je Suis Charlie

French Village Diaries Barrobjectif 2015 Barro Charante Poitou-Charentes
Made me smile

French Village Diaries Barrobjectif 2015 Barro Charante Poitou-Charentes
Artistic twins

Friday, September 18, 2015

Book review of The 6:41 to Paris by Jean-Philippe Blondel

French Village Diaries book review The 6:41 to Paris Jean-Philippe Blondel
The 6:41 to Paris by Jean-Philippe Blondel

Today I am taking part in a virtual book tour for The 6:41 to Paris by Jean-Philippe Blondel via France Book Tours.

SYNOPSIS provided
Cecile, a stylish 47-year-old, has spent the weekend visiting her parents in a provincial town southeast of Paris. By early Monday morning, she is exhausted. These trips back home are always stressful and she settles into a train compartment with an empty seat beside her. But it is soon occupied by a man she instantly recognizes: Philippe Leduc, with whom she had a passionate affair that ended in her brutal humiliation 30 years ago. In the fraught hour and a half that ensues, their express train hurtles towards the French capital. Cècile and Philippe undertake their own face to face journey in silence. What could they possibly say to one another? With the reader gaining entry to the most private of thoughts. This is a brilliant psychological thriller, a high-wire act of emotions on rails, about past romance, with all its pain and promise.


As an ex-commuter I identified with a lot in this book; the relief at getting a seat, the annoyance when you realise the prized empty seat next to you is about to be taken, the way an early morning commute lets your mind wander back in time and the awkwardness when body parts accidentally touch on a moving train.

I loved the mystery the author created and how he made questions keep popping in to my mind. Why had Cècile and Philippe lost touch? What had happened all those years ago? Why were they both so unsure about being the first to start a conversation? I had so many questions. I am nosy and I wanted to know all the nitty gritty from their shared past, but like a long train journey the author made me wait. This book is certainly full of suspense, but I think to describe it as a psychological thriller is a little bit misleading.

The suspense created and the emotions Cècile and Philippe experienced in their minds, still as strong as ever from their personal recollections, but kept suppressed from the other passengers around them, kept me page turning. However, as I read, I found their ‘voices’ were very similar, too similar sometimes and this meant I often got confused. There was no change in font when there was a change in character and sometimes there didn’t even seem to be an obvious paragraph break. I found myself re-reading the first twenty pages more times than I care to admit as I often found the character had changed without me realising it. This did frustrate me at first, but once I’d accepted I’d have to concentrate a bit harder I did enjoy the book, as I really wanted to discover what had happened and what would happen next.

This book is something a bit different and I’m sure anyone who is used to taking regular train journeys would enjoy it.


French Village Diaries book review The 6:41 to Paris Jean-Philippe Blondel Jean-Philippe Blondel was born in 1964 in Troyes, France where he lives as an author and English teacher. His novel The 6:41 to Paris has been a bestseller in both France and Germany.


Alison Anderson is a novelist and translator of literature from French. Among the authors she has translated are JMG Le Clèzio, Christian Bobin, Muriel Barbery and Amèlie Nothomb. She has lived in Northern California and currently lives in a village in Switzerland.
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French Village Diaries book review The 6:41 to Paris Jean-Philippe Blondel

The 6:41 to Paris will be available in paperback from 10th November 2015 but is available to pre-order from Amazon now. A link can be found below.

Monday, September 14, 2015

Book review of Racing Heart by June Moonbridge

Today I am taking part in a virtual book promotion event for Racing Heart by June Moonbridge via Brook Cottage Books.
French Village Diaries book review Racing Heart June Moonbridge Brook Cottage Book tours
Racing Heart June Moonbridge
To her colleagues, Desiree Hart is a Formula 1 fan who lives in Nice and works in a perfume boutique in Monte Carlo, however there is so much more they don’t know about her and so much intrigue that is hinted at to the reader. She certainly gave me more questions than answers to begin with, felt a rather cold and unfeeling person and there were some things that made me quite uneasy, including the ever-controlling character of her boss Harry. I found him a hard one to relate to, until I got into the book and things started to fall into place. Desiree is not who she seems to be, having run away from her old life and started again in an attempt to get back her son who was kidnapped in Paris.

When she meets Lorcan Shore, the Five Times F1 World Champion, their encounter is everything but ordinary. Out of pure fear for her life, she loses her temper, turns her back on him and hopes (despite her feelings) she will never meet him again. He, of course, has other ideas and turns out to be very persuasive and a better detective than any of the ones she has employed over the years to find her son. I love a screwed up heroine and Desiree was perfect in this role with so much emotional baggage from the past she seemed unable to see the love now being offered. Will the man of her dreams be able to fulfill them all? Including the most important, will he help her find her missing son?

I found this to be quite a slow moving book to begin with, despite the underlying F1 theme, but once it got going and things began to heat up then so did the speed. Towards the end my heart really was racing trying to keep pace with the action and the passion, and I really enjoyed the behind the scenes insights the world of Formula 1 racing. This is a romance with added glamour from the locations and F1 connection, but it’s also a book with a plot you have to concentrate on.

About the Author:
French Village Diaries book review Racing Heart June Moonbridge Brook Cottage Book tours
June Moonbridge
The person behind the name of June Moonbridge, has many names and many faces too. Although living in the same area, she was born and raised in one country and now living in another.
She studied economics, and quickly realised she hated it. Afterwards, she found herself working in mainly male businesses; at first in automotive and later - steel products productions. She can choose for you the best steel you need, but don't, please don't, ask her which lipstick to use.
She started to write in her high school and was negatively criticised by her teacher. Stubborn as she is that didn't stop her. Under different pen names for her stories she tried to get some independent opinions, which came back as good reviews in magazines and later she published three books.
Giving birth to two children, and learning that her second child has Autism, she married the father of them and continued to work. All that together took all of her free time. But the desire to write didn't die. When life somehow sorted itself out, she decided to write her novel in English and her first submission to Safkhet was rejected…
For what happened later… read third paragraph, second sentence.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Fete de la Chevre 2015 Celles-sur-Belle

French Village Diaries Fete de la Chevre 2015 Celles-sur-Belle
Fête de la Chèvre 2015

Today was a tasty day.

Today was the day the local town of Celles-sur-Belle held an all day event celebrating the deliciousness that is goats cheese, the Fête de la Chèvre.

French Village Diaries Fete de la Chevre 2015 Celles-sur-Belle
The tasting table
We carefully planned our arrival for the opening of Le Grand Plateau or the big platter where a 1€ ticket gave you access to one of the largest and heavily laden tables of assorted goats cheese in the world. Last time we went to this event, a few years ago, the tasting table was free and I have a feeling that our gluttony at being presented with a free-for-all chèvre feast has necessitated the 1€ charge this year.

French Village Diaries Fete de la Chevre 2015 Celles-sur-Belle
Clever cheese displays
The producers were there to chat and explain the differences between the cheeses and every cheese was different, trust me I tried them all. In terms of texture there was everything from runny, to soft, to hard. The flavours ranged from mild, creamy and subtle, to strong and very strong. The cheeses came in all shapes and sizes and were displayed with real attention to detail and arty flair.

French Village Diaries Fete de la Chevre 2015 Celles-sur-Belle
Fromages de Chèvre
We also visited the Maison des Fromages de Chèvres, a small museum dedicated to all things goat, where we watched a demonstration of how to make goats cheese.

French Village Diaries Fete de la Chevre 2015 Celles-sur-Belle
Artistic cheese displays
My eyes were certainly bigger than my belly when it came to cruising the table, filling my plate, pausing to nibble and taste before filling it up some more. Interestingly, our French friends from the village who were also there confirmed the French have the same saying, but at least I got to bring some cheese home to enjoy this evening with a glass of wine.

French Village Diaries Fete de la Chevre 2015 Celles-sur-Belle
My leftover cheese

This post has been linked to Paulita'a Ponderings Dreaming of France blog link up. Click here to read more.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Book review of Last Chance in the Pyrenees by Julia Stagg

French Village Diaries book review Last Chance in the Pyrenees Julia Stagg
Last Chance in the Pyrenees
My review today is for Last Chance in the Pyrenees the final novel in the Fogas Chronicles by Julia Stagg that is released in paperback today. This is a book I was both desperate to read and sad to finish, knowing that once I’d finished it, a great series would be over forever. Although this book could be enjoyed without having read the previous books I would encourage you to start from the beginning with L'Auberge and get to know the characters and their quirky mountain village life.

Life in the small mountain commune of Fogas is never straightforward and this book is no exception as we are launched straight into jaw dropping action that both unites two old pals and leaves the community reeling. The village and their way of life are in danger of changing (or being lost) forever and the residents must work together to save it. However, this is easier said then done, as their personal lives seem to be getting in the way. Paul and Lorna at the auberge are busier than ever before, Josette is distracted by her own mystery at the bar, Veronique the postmistress finds herself lost in a dark place and deputy Maire Pascal makes some dangerous decisions. Life very quickly becomes a matter of power. Who has it, who wants it and how best to use it. Being the Maire of a small French village is no easy task.

There is a good mix of baddies, goodies, plot twists, romance and humour in this book that perfectly portrays the best and worst rural French life has to offer. Julia is a great storyteller who builds events up gradually, slipping in hints that raised my hopes before crushing them yet again when something took a turn for the worse. I was an emotional wreck by the time I reached the end; I had cried, screamed, laughed, drunk way too much coffee and cried some more.

Just like the other novels in the series it was easy to feel a part of this community where the characters are now as familiar as friends and neighbours. My nerves were on edge throughout the book as I was willing things to go the way I wanted them to go, but did I get the fairytale happy ending I so desperately wanted? You’ll have to read the book to find out. I'm going to miss my annual visit to Fogas, but at least I can re-read them any time I choose.

Last Chance in the Pyrenees is published by Hodder and Stoughton and is available in paperback and ebook format. Links to Amazon for all of the novels in the Fogas Chronicles can be found below. 

My reviews of the previous books in the series can be found here: