Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Book review of From Moulin Rouge to Gaudi's City by EJ Bauer

French Village Diaries book review From Moulin Rouge to Gaudi's City by EJ Bauer

My review today is for From Moulin Rouge to Gaudi’s City by EJ Bauer, a travel memoir packed with ideas and experiences from Elizabeth’s first European visit to Paris, the south of France and Barcelona.

Paris had always been her dream and for many years Elizabeth thought it might just remain that, however events in life often change the way of our future paths. For Elizabeth, recovering from breast cancer led her to look differently on her future and saying ‘yes’ to a trip to Europe with her sister Louise and friend Bron was just the beginning.

Elizabeth takes us with them and I have to admit to experiencing more of Paris through the pages of this book than I have in real life and I live in France, only 400km from Paris. Our intrepid adventurers dined atop the Eiffel Tower, experienced the cabaret of the Moulin Rouge, took city walking tours, boat tours, a chateaux and wine tour in the Loire, a cycling tour to Giverny and Monet’s Garden, and so much more. It was exhausting! They then moved on to the south of France by train, where they hired a car and took in a different set of French experiences with every day packed to bursting, as their days in Paris had been. I take my hat off to them, especially as shingles were giving Elizabeth a bit of a hard time and Bron too had health issues.

I soon discovered their secret though; the magic elixir that kept them going, and it comes in a flute shaped glass, goes pop with you open the bottle and never failed to make me smile as I read of yet another bar stop where it was Champagne time once more.

Once the ladies had finished with France (for this visit anyway), Barcelona was their third and final destination. Here the weather was better than in Paris and their itinerary no less packed out. The only difference being the bars here served Cava and tapas to keep their energy levels up as they took in the sights and the shops.

This is an entertaining and enjoyable travel memoir that not only shows bags of enthusiasm for her destinations, but also the benefits of the careful and considered planning that obviously went into making this trip so special. It left me full of admiration for all they had achieved. Elizabeth's passion for travel is contagious so do be warned, this book will leave you wanting to pack for your own adventure. I know this trip was just the beginning for Elizabeth and I’m certainly looking forward to reading more of her travels in the future.

From Moulin Rouge to Gaudi’s City is available in ebook and paperback versions and links to Amazon can be found below.

Friday, November 10, 2017

Book review of French Collection by Vanessa Couchman

French Village Diaries book review French Collection Vanessa Couchman
French Collection by Vanessa Couchman

My review today is for French Collection, the new short story collection from Vanessa Couchman.

I enjoy Vanessa’s writing and this latest collection didn’t disappoint, she sets a good scene and even in a short story I feel I am able to get to know the characters really well.

This collection of twelve short stories take us on a trip through the ages, from the years of the plague in the 17th Century, to the years of the First and Second World Wars and on into the present day. We meet families in difficult times, experience life in France from travelling pedlars to soldiers in the trenches, to the arty scene in Paris and more. They are all very different tales, some have twists and surprises, others are full of ghosts and memories, but all are thoroughly enjoyable snippets of life in France.

This book would be the perfect accompaniment to your morning coffee break, great to dip in and out of and far less calorific than a biscuit. It also includes a sneak preview of her new novel set in Corsica and I can’t wait to get my hands on that.

If you missed Vanessa’s guest post about how France influences her fiction writing, you can read it here. You can also read my France et Moi interview with her here and my review of her first novel, The House at Zaronza here.

You can visit Vanessa's website here and she also writes a great blog, which you can read here and do follow her on Facebook and Twitter too.

All of Vanessa’s books are available in ebook and paperback version, links to Amazon can be found below.

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Guest post by Vanessa Couchman

French Village Diaries guest post from Vanessa Couchman new release French Collection
French Collection by Vanessa Couchman

To celebrate the release of French Collection I am welcoming author Vanessa Couchman to share a guest post with us today. I have followed Vanessa's blog for many years, read some of her short stories published in a couple of anthologies, thoroughly enjoyed her first novel The House at Zaronza and was lucky enough to have met her at the Charroux Literary Festival this summer. You can imagine I was quite excited when I heard she would be publishing French Collection, twelve short stories set in France, and that she was happy to offer me a review copy. Thank you Vanessa, over to you:

Many thanks for inviting me to French Village Diaries today, Jacqui.

Why France Provides Inspiration for Fiction

Twenty years ago, my husband and I bought an 18th-century farmhouse in southwest France and moved here to live. It’s been a big adventure. Above all, I have learned far more about the history, culture and customs of this entrancing country.

In 1997, I was a freelance management consultant and copywriter. My work involved a lot of writing, but I had no idea that I would move on to writing fiction. Living in France has played a large part in that.

When we moved here, I knew very little about this part of France. We had been here on holiday and enjoyed the climate, the food, the perched hilltop villages and the glorious countryside. I had a vague idea that the Hundred Years War had been fought around here, but beyond that my knowledge of the rich historical heritage was woefully thin.
French Village Diaries guest post from Vanessa Couchman new release French Collection
Moving here was a voyage of discovery. At first, it was an extended holiday and we visited all the touristy places, such as the stunning villages of Najac, Saint-Cirq-Lapopie and Bruniquel. They have fascinating and often turbulent histories. Gradually, I learned that le petit patrimoine – wayside crosses, shepherd’s huts, tiny chapels buried in the woods – also harbours stories that are poignant, romantic or tragic.

An isolated cross with intricate carvings was a futile attempt to ward off the phylloxera bug that devastated the French vineyards in the 19th century. A pigeonnier (dovecot) became a prison for a girl who fell pregnant outside wedlock and brought shame on her family. A stone plaque in a peaceful spot is a memorial to maquisards who were shot by the Germans during World War II.   

However, it’s not just France’s history that makes it such a happy hunting ground for authors. The colour and vibrancy of produce in a market, the taste, texture and scent of bread and patisserie, the fragrant steam rising from a bowl of moules marinières – all these have worked on my writing grey cells as well as my taste buds.

French art and architecture also offer rich seams of inspiration. For example, the Mona Lisa was evacuated from the Louvre to an abbey near us during World War II. That’s a story just begging to be written: it’s on my to-do list. Artists such as Degas and Toulouse Lautrec provide a tantalising glimpse into the Parisian demi-monde, while the soaring cathedrals and opulent châteaux are fitting settings for stories.   

It’s no surprise that authors such as Joanne Harris, Peter May, Kate Mosse and Martin Walker, to name just a few, have chosen to set their stories in France.  

After eight years of writing fiction, I realised that I had used France as the backdrop for many of my short stories. So I have collected a dozen of them into a book. About two-thirds are historical, but they are all inspired by the essence of France. 

French Village Diaries guest post from Vanessa Couchman new release French Collection
Vanessa Couchman
Vanessa Couchman is a British novelist and short story writer who has lived in southwest France since 1997. She has written two novels, The House at Zaronza (read my review here) and The Corsican Widow, and is working on a third. Her short stories have been placed in competitions and published in anthologies. French Collection, her collection of short stories set in France, is published today, 9th November.
French life blog, Life on La Lune:

French Collection: Twelve Short Stories is available in paperback and e-book formats from Amazon.

Join me back here tomorrow to read my review of French Collection and you can also read my France et Moi interview with Vanessa here.

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Flower Delivery in France Flower Delivery in France French Village Diaries
Raina by
New to France,, are an online flower delivery service, who aim to safely deliver reasonably priced bouquets of flowers direct to your door, with no extra delivery cost. They kindly offered to send me the bouquet of my choice, delivered on the day of my choice, in exchange for this blog post.

Would the delivery driver find our village, on the allotted day? Would the flowers have survived their journey? Would the bouquet look like the website picture I’d chosen? These were all questions I was keen to find out and here are my honest answers: Flower Delivery in France French Village Diaries safe packaging
Deliveries here can be rather hit and miss, due to our slightly remote village location, but I’m pleased to report scored a big hit. Their online tracking service wasn’t very detailed, all I could glean was that my order was being processed and would be delivered between 8h00 and 20h00. I was up early and prepared for a long day of waiting, however, by 10h30 it had arrived. Top marks for you delivery driver Hipper; on more than one occasion I’ve waited in vain for three days for a delivery scheduled ‘today’. Flower Delivery in France French Village Diaries
Safely nestled inside
It was quite exciting having a huge box to open and I’m pleased to report the flowers inside were carefully packaged and double wrapped in cellophane, to ensure the water pocket kept the stems moist and flowers fresh in transit. Two flower heads fell off as I lifted it from the wrapping, but once it was in the vase you’d never notice. Flower Delivery in France French Village Diaries
My Raina bouquet
I’m no flower arranger, so I was delighted to see that once I’d unwrapped them, snipped off the base of the stem (as my Mum taught me) and put them in the vase, they relaxed into shape perfectly. All I needed to do was to add water and the plant food sachet they arrived with, and enjoy. Flower Delivery in France French Village Diaries website

I think you will agree from my photos that the comparison of the picture I’d selected from the website, with the bouquet I received is almost identical in every way and I certainly wasn’t disappointed with the service.

I chose Raina, for it’s seasonal autumnal colour, and delivered to your door for 24.99€ (or £19.99 from their UK site), I think represents good value for money.

If you ever need/would like to send flowers to France just click here to see their full selection. For future reference you can also find them on the sidebar of the blog by clicking on Flower Delivery in France.

Friday, November 3, 2017

Speeding it up, slowing it down

French Village Diaries, Internet speed it up, slow it down
Coming soon our fibre-optic junction box
Our French village is fairly unique in that we are just a small, unremarkable, rural French village, with no great frescos, vistas or historical monuments, situated seven kilometres from a small market town (with all facilities), and have less than four hundred inhabitants, but we still boast a bar, hairdressers, boulangerie/post office, library, small weekly market and active associations who organise social events as well regular activities including keep-fit and sewing. It is sadly true to say that not all French villages are like this, but having this sense of community is one of the things I love most about village life. However, links to the outside world are important too, especially communication links. How could I share my wonderful village life with you if it wasn’t for a reliable internet service?

When we arrived here in 2004 the internet was via a dial-up modem (remember them?) charged per minute and using the telephone line. The mobile phone signal was non-existent thirteen years ago, and isn’t much better now, but the arrival of broadband improved the internet, although with connection speeds sometimes as low as 0.2mbps there is still room for improvement.

Well, exciting news! Things in the village are quite busy at the moment and lots of the work that is going on is intended to improve our online life. Last week the telecoms guys were busy digging up the road to put in a clever junction box thingy that will (eventually) control our super-fast fibre-optic internet. Oh yes! Soon, the days of 0.2mbps internet speed – speedy it isn’t – will be gone for good.

French Village Diaries, Internet speed it up, slow it down
The arrival of the fibre-optic October 2016
The process however is as snail-like as our original internet speed. The new telegraph poles and fibre-optic cable were installed a year ago. However all they currently do is arrive, pass through the village and head off elsewhere.

French Village Diaries, Internet speed it up, slow it down
Fibre-optic arrives, but goes nowhere, just yet.
Their arrival has given a small improvement to our internet speed, some days up as high as 4.5mbps, but we have been promised more, although not just yet.

The junction box work has started, but is not yet finished and we know it will be March 2018 (or there abouts) before the new system is finally switched on, however we can wait. When it goes live we have been promised speeds of up to a stratospheric 90mbps, although somewhere nearer 20mbps is likely to be more realistic. 0.2mbps to 20mbps is 100 times faster than what we have had to put up with, so we’ll be happy with that, when it arrives.

French Village Diaries, Internet speed it up, slow it down road safety
Traffic lights in the village are usually a rare sight
No sooner had one set of workmen packed up their temporary traffic lights and diggers and moved on, another set arrived, but this time their work is being carried out with the intention to slow us all down. We may only be a small village, but our main road sees an average of 1000 vehicles passing through every day, and many of them do not respect the current 50km/hour speed limit. 

French Village Diaries, Internet speed it up, slow it down road safety
Creating a speed hump in the centre of the village
We will soon be the proud owners of four large speed humps, a new 30km/hour speed limit and hopefully a safer village for us all. This is especially important as almost ten percent of our population fall into the under ten years old age bracket, something else that sets us apart from many small, rural French villages.

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

November and Toussaint

Toussaint 1st November French Village Diaries
The village cemetery on All Saints' Day

Last weekend the clocks leapt back, leaving summertime behind for another year and this morning the calendar seems to have leapt forward, to November - already. Does anybody else feel like this year is slipping away too fast? More importantly does anyone have any idea how to slow it down?

Here in France we are on holiday, a double holiday in fact for those of us with children. 1st November is Toussaint, or All Saints' Day and a public holiday, that always falls during the mid term school holidays. It is a beautiful time of year, the autumn colours in the hedgerows are glowing and the florists and cemeteries are ablaze with colourful chrysanthemums, left at graves by families as a mark of respect and remembrance to their loved ones for All Souls' Day (2nd November). It is worth noting that despite their beautiful array of colours the French only buy chrysanthemums for the cemeteries and never as gifts for friends or autumnal decorations for their house and garden.

Ed has been on holiday all of last week and this week too and in that time I’ve driven over 700km. I’d love to tell you about our adventures; Paris maybe (400km from here) or Lyon (500km away and somewhere I’ve always wanted to visit), but no, sadly we have been nowhere. This is just the general running around involved in living in a small village (in the middle of nowhere) with a teenager whose friends and social life is no longer on the doorstep. The funny thing is that I don’t even like driving that much and would certainly think twice before getting in the car and driving myself to Lyon or Paris, but having calculated my mileage this past week, maybe I should be packing my bags and planning a real getaway.

French Village Diaries fish and chickpea curry
Ed's fish and chickpea curry

At least I’ve managed to spend some fun time with Ed (fitting me in around his socialising) over the holidays, and it’s mainly been in the kitchen. He has been away from home, boarding at lycée from Monday to Friday, since he was 15 years old. This is something else that seems to have sped past very quickly, and means time at home, learning to cook, clean and run a house, has been rather limited. This week I’ve actively encouraged him make a mess in my kitchen, learn how to experiment with flavours and create simple but tasty meals, as well as clearing up afterwards. 

He has learned a lot and I’ve learned that I’m a bit of a control freak when it comes to someone else cooking in my kitchen, but we’ve both enjoyed his efforts and spending time together. What's for dinner tonight Ed?