Sunday, August 26, 2018

Lazy Sunday in France with author Serena Kent

French Village Diaries #LazySundayinFrance Death in Provence Serena Kent
Death in Provence by Serena Kent
Welcome to another #LazySundayinFrance and today I am delighted to have author Serena Kent giving us a little bit more from her Death in Provence character Penelope Kite. You can read my review of Death in Provence, that is available in ebook and paperback format, here.

By Serena Kent, author of cozy mystery Death in Provence
Our accidental sleuth Penelope Kite loves Sunday mornings in Provence. Even though she no longer works nine-to-five as assistant to an eminent forensic pathologist, she still savours that delicious Sunday feeling of waking with no pressing need to leave a soft bed when the sun slants through the open shutters. No family to prepare lunch for, no housework, just lovely croissants for breakfast on the sunny terrace of Le Chant d’Eau, her recklessly purchased old farmhouse with views of the Luberon valley.
Cello practice (what bliss to be able to play again, letting the notes rise into the open air, disturbing no one) is followed by a quick swim in the pool. The pool looks glorious in the walled garden now, with lavender lining the walls and four sentinel cypress trees. Fortunately, there is no dead body floating in it today. 
The sun is already hot as she prepares to go out tat-hunting at a classic Provençal brocante. Penelope loves nothing more than wandering around stalls which are selling everything from dented old oil lamps to chests of drawers, spotting pieces to up-cycle. In mid-August there is always an especially fine brocante at Beaumettes. She arrives to find crowds, streets lined with vendors and a great deal of temptation. A glass of rosé perhaps, to get in the mood? Probably shouldn’t. Don’t want to wander round half cut and buy too much rubbish.
In the end, Penelope manages to resist the battered old tuba – she has a vision of hanging it from a tree as a curio in a surreal garden she could create – and comes away with two large lanterns and a set of colourful bowls, all for…well, slightly more than she anticipated paying. 
French Village Diaries #LazySundayinFrance Death in Provence Serena Kent
Bonnieux ©SerenaKent2018
And then it’s lunchtime! The glorious hilltop village of Bonnieux is on her way back, so it makes sense to stop there. She’s on her own, but this has never bothered Penelope. Back in England, before her divorce, the family took her for granted dreadfully; now she positively relishes having time to herself. Besides, she has new friends arriving at home in St Merlot later for an apéro.
At Bonnieux the landscape is all orchards and olives and vineyards and the blue Ventoux hills opposite. From the top, Penelope always looks out towards the neighbouring village of Lacoste, where the ruins of the Marquis de Sade’s castle once stood in jagged mockery of Bonnieux’s proud churches. There’s a little bar-café she knows with friendly service and beautiful views. 
French Village Diaries #LazySundayinFrance Death in Provence Serena Kent
Chateau de Mille ©SerenaKent2018
On the way back, after a delicious goats cheese and fig salad and a single glass of her favourite pale rosé, she takes the Route de Bonnieux to the Château de Mille, the oldest winery in the Luberon – it is mentioned in archives in Avignon in 1238. It opens at 2pm on a summer Sunday, and Penelope knows exactly what she wants: a case of their Rosé de Léo. 
A few lazy hours in the garden beckon, with a book and a good strong cup of British tea. Then, at 5.30pm it’s time to make some canapés – tapenade and caviar d’aubergines on thin, toasted slices of stale baguette – to have with chilled glasses of the rosé. Her great friend and sleuthing companion, the glamorous Clémence Valencourt will be arriving shortly. It is easy to tell when she arrives, as the red mini she drives at high speed sprays gravel all down the track, and the clickety-click of her high heels on the stone flags is instantly recognisable. She is still without her mysterious husband who seems to spend a lot of time in Paris. But that doesn’t bother her. It is odd how she and Laurent Millais, the drop-dead gorgeous Mayor of St Merlot, always seem to arrive together on Sundays. But maybe Penelope’s being over suspicious.
French Village Diaries #LazySundayinFrance Death in Provence Serena Kent
Lavender fields in Provence ©SerenaKent2018
In the end, Clémence and Laurent arrive separately but within minutes of each other. A jolly interlude of high-quality local gossip ensues, as they sit on the terrace. The heavenly aroma of lavender wafts from the fields owned by Penelope’s neighbour. 
Later that evening, alone again, Penelope puts a recording of Fauré’s Nocturnes on the CD player and gazes out over her French domaine, feeling glad she has dared to make a new life for herself here, wondering what tomorrow will bring – so long as it’s not another dead body.  
Death in Provence is out now in ebook format and paperback. Links to Amazon can be found below.
French Village Diaries #LazySundayinFrance Death in Provence Serena Kent
Serena Kent ©SerenaKent2018
Serena Kent is the author name of husband and wife writing duo, Deborah Lawrenson and Robert Rees. You can read more about Serena at her website here and follow her posts on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Book review of Death in Provence by Serena Kent

French Village Diaries book review Death in Provence Serana Kent
Death in Provence, Serena Kent

My review today is for Death in Provence by Serena Kent, one of this summer’s new releases, with a cover so beautiful I couldn’t help but open it immediately and get stuck in.

We meet Penelope Kite at the beginning of her new adventure in Provence. Having swapped life in Surrey, where she is at the beck and call of a demanding family, for a farmhouse with potential in the south of France, things immediately start to go wrong. The discovery of a dead body floating in her swimming pool, strange comings and goings on her property, and a painfully slow police investigation, mean her idyllic new life in France is anything but.

Thankfully she has plenty of chilled rosé and fresh pain au chocolats, and she soon discovers a rich and varied local community in the village of St Merlot. With a background in forensic investigation she can’t help but try to piece together the suspicious circumstances of her neighbour’s demise, but the unfriendly Chief of Police, overly charming Mayor and an estate agent who keeps popping up unexpectedly, would all rather she left well alone. 

This was a great fun read that contained all the best bits of life in France, fantastic local characters and attention to detail that anyone who has spent time in a French village will appreciate. With plenty of humour and a mystery to be solved too, all set against the landscape of Provence that came to life from the pages, this book was perfect holiday reading, for the bargain price of 99p.

Happily, I know that the next book in the series is well on the way and I can't wait to head back to St Merlot and read more.

Death in Provence is out now in ebook format and will be released in paperback tomorrow. Links to Amazon can be found below.

Serena Kent is the author name of husband and wife writing duo, Deborah Lawrenson and Robert Rees. Having read and enjoyed The Lantern by Deborah, I was fascinated by the idea of this partnership and I wasn’t disappointed. You can read more about Serena at her website here and follow her posts on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

Join me back here on Sunday, when Serena Kent will be sharing something a little different, Penelope Kite’s perfect lazy Sunday in Provence. #LazySundayinFrance 

Sunday, August 5, 2018

Lazy Sunday in France, breakfast in the vineyards

French Village Diaries #LazySundayinFrance picnic in the vineyards
An early morning bike ride

Welcome to another Lazy Sunday in France, although if I’m honest all our days feel lazy days at the moment, thanks to the current heatwave and I’m not complaining one bit.

To beat the worst of the heat we are up at 7.00am, which I guess isn’t that lazy (unless you compare us to our French neighbours who are in their 70’s and up by 5.30am, summer and winter) and off on our bikes by 8.00am. We return for a dip in the pool, a morning coffee and tackle the chores before lunch, this could be mowing, roasting the glut of courgettes or housework. Lunch of a salad made with garden produce and eaten in the shade, is followed by another skin-cooling dip in the pool and then I retire to a darkened room. 

We usually love the fact that our house faces south and that each room has a huge window, that we fling open most mornings to let in the light and air, however in a heatwave, the shutters are kept partially closed, and the dark rooms have a cooler, cave-like feel to them. We have also moved downstairs into the guest bedroom, which is around 5º cooler than our upstairs room in the eaves. 

My siesta begins with a chapter or two from the latest book on my kindle, before my eyelids feel heavy and I succumb to real sleep. There are no rules for sleep in a heatwave, but I am usually to be found awake again before 17h, just in time to check the thermometer to see how hot it has been and put some thought into what is for dinner. 

Aperos in the shade (we are avoiding the sun at the moment), a late meal on the terrace, a watering and picking session in the potager and another dip in the pool before bed, and sleep comes easily, despite the heat and my afternoon nap. This is a routine I could get very used to.

French Village Diaries #LazySundayinFrance picnic in the vineyards
The Charente vineyards

This morning our bike ride was rather special. Having done two morning rides of 20kms on Friday and Saturday, increasing it to 30kms this morning seemed like a good idea, especially when Adrian promised me a breakfast picnic in the vineyards. 

French Village Diaries #LazySundayinFrance picnic in the vineyards
Wind turbines and vineyards

The roads were quiet as we made our way up to the ridge above St Fraigne, just over the Charente border, where vineyards and wind turbines command the best of the views. 

French Village Diaries #LazySundayinFrance picnic in the vineyards
A breakfast picnic in the vineyards

We packed the croissants I bought at the village boulangerie, a flask of coffee, two china cups, a square of dark chocolate each and something to sit on, and had a perfect breakfast, just the two of us. It was a memorable moment and something I hope we will repeat again before the summer is over.

If you are a writer, blogger or run an independent business in France and have something you think would be ideal to share in a future Lazy Sunday in France post, please do get in touch.

Friday, August 3, 2018

The Boys are Back

French Village Diaries The Boys are Back
Ed in London with his Ride London 46 finishers medal

After two long weeks home alone, Adrian and Ed are back in France and I’m happy.

Ed profited from Adrian’s UK work schedule to spend some time catching up with family and friends, as well as cycling his 80km charity bike ride. Thank you to everyone who sponsored him; he well and truly smashed his £200 target and has so far raised £388 for Mind, The Mental Health charity. The weather in London on Sunday was horrid; cold, wet and breezy which is the worst combination of conditions for cycling, so well done Ed.

One of the things he did while in UK was make plans to meet up with his friend Mary. Adrian and I have been friends with Mary’s parents for about 25 years, my wedding car was Mary’s mum’s cabriolet Mini, we all worked in London in our pre-baby years and regularly spent many a fun weekend at Mini shows or camping together, so you could say Ed and Mary have known each other all their lives, but have probably only seen each other a handful of times since we moved to France fourteen years ago. Social media obviously has a big part to play in Ed keeping in touch with her and his UK friends, but I still think it’s very special these grown up kids, who enjoyed ice creams together as toddlers, now choose to hang out when Ed is visiting the UK.

French Village Diaries The Boys are Back
Courgette and tomato tian

The evening the boys returned home we were in party mood. A roast pork dinner served with a courgette and tomato tian (recipe from Mardi’s cookbook), made a welcome change from spiralised courgette salads for me, and as the sun set, Ed played his guitar on the terrace and we caught up with each other’s news. It felt like we were on holiday and with no school, no library and for the moment, no work for Adrian, the holiday mood has continued.

French Village Diaries The Boys are Back

Yesterday Adrian and I treated ourselves to morning coffee at the village bar before settling down for a languid afternoon in the garden, watching the birds foraging for food. With my feet up on the reclining lounger, I quickly got swept up in Susanne O’Leary’s latest summer read A Holiday to Remember, which is the sequel to The Road Trip. Then again at 34º and an orange heatwave alert I felt justified in my laziness. Adrian, however, went out on his bike!

French Village Diaries The Boys are Back
Moules frites

Dinner last night, following a kir in the shade, was a summer favourite for us; moules frites. We’d bought the Atlantic moules direct from the producer when she visited the village in the morning and as I’ve been at work by the time she arrives, this was our first moules frites of the season and delicious it was too. It was certainly worth the wait. Their first day back was finished off nicely with an after dark dip in the pool, to help cool us off before bed.

French Village Diaries The Boys are Back
Early morning cycling through sunflower fields

Cycling is something we haven’t had much time to enjoy so far this summer and with soaring high temperatures forecast for the next week, I wasn’t sure I could. However, such was our need to turn the pedals, we were up and out by 8.00am today and enjoying the cool of the morning before a refreshing dip in the pool and a trip to market. The melons and strawberries perfumed the car on the way home and the cheeky croissant and coffee while watching the world go by felt entirely justified after our bike ride. I’m hoping this holiday feeling continues for a while.

French Village Diaries The Boys are Back
Morning coffee and croissant at market

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

Book review of The Second Footman by Jasper Barry

French Village Diaries review The Second Footman Jasper Barry
The Second Footman by Jasper Barry

The Second Footman 
Nineteen year-old Max is the duchesse de Claireville's second footman, but he does not intend to endure the indignities of service for long. He has a plan-to find an aristocratic patron who will become his unwitting accomplice in an audacious fraud. It is true that in 1880s' France, despite nearly a century of revolution and social turmoil, the aristocracy is still firmly entrenched in privilege, and the gulf between the salon and the servants' hall is as wide as ever. But Max is handsome, quick to learn and confident of his abilities as a seducer of both men and women. Whether ladling soup into noble plates beneath crystal chandeliers, or reading biographies of the great generals in his squalid footman's dormitory, he is planning his strategy. He, Max, is the man of the future - ruthless, above morality and sentimental attachments. Yet, when, after a couple of false starts, he at last acquires his patron, he finds himself ambushed by instinctive longings - for friendship, for affection - that threaten his grand plan. 'Be true to yourself...' the saying goes. But to which self? And what is 'truth'?

My Review: 
Max, the newly appointed second footman to the duchesse de Claireville, is straightaway a character surrounded in mystery. Who was he? Where had he come from? What was this mission he hinted at, this plan he was working towards? To begin with I found it a little rambling and felt a bit lost; it’s one of those books that launches you straight in and then fills in the gaps as the chapters unfold. Just as you begin to think you are about to find out, another character’s story takes over the narrative, a trick that kept me reading, needing to know more and Max is certainly a character worth getting to know. I was torn, was there too much hidden in his past to trust him, yes, but then no! He is clever, quick to learn and a lover of books, which gave him a lot of appeal, despite the unknown and the mysteries. 

As well as an observant eye for detail there is a humour to the writing style that I really enjoyed. The author gives a great insight into the houses and lifestyles of the wealthy in 19th century Paris. The rituals, the secrets, the socialising and the contrast with the servants and their lives below stairs, all came to life. He also creates a good build-up of characters and plot, perfectly set for more to come, I hope.

This book is not what I would usually read and with the gay love story, probably not what I was expecting it to be either. However, it is a well written historical romance and there was plenty in the storyline to keep my interest and intrigue.

The Second Footman is available in ebook and paperback formats and links to Amazon can be found below. 

Purchase Link -

French Village Diaries review The Second Footman Jasper Barry
The Second Footman by Jasper Barry

Author Bio:
Jasper Barry graduated from Cambridge with a degree in English and has worked in advertising, then in journalism. Jasper lives in London with too many books and three obstreperous cats.
Social Media Links – 

French Village Diaries review The Second Footman Jasper Barry
The Second Footman blog tour