Thursday, May 28, 2020

For Ben; cycle challenge to Istanbul and back

French Village Diaries #ForBen cycling 7360km to Istanbul and back
Team Kharma, virtually cycling 7360km to Istanbul and back #ForBen

Cycling Friends wanted for an epic virtual challenge.

For Ben; To Turkey and Back

As some of you may already know we tragically lost our 22-year-old nephew Ben to suicide a month ago. Ben, an army undergraduate, had been instrumental in planning a Trans-Europe exercise with his squadron from Loughborough University to Istanbul and back, for this summer. In his memory, and to raise money and awareness for neurodiversity and mental health issues in young people, his squadron mates set up the virtual challenge, “For Ben; To Turkey and Back”. Over 800 runners and walkers have already begun to log their kilometres in order to get eight teams the 7360kms from Loughborough to Istanbul and back. The original JustGiving target of £4600 was surpassed in 24 hours and currently stands at over £22,000.
French Village Diaries #ForBen cycling 7360km to Istanbul and back
#ForBen Loughborough to Istanbul and back

Team Kharma

Now it’s our turn and we need your help. We have set up Team Kharma and are looking for cycling friends to help us log the 7360kms and if we can, catch up with some of the other teams. All we require from you to join our team is to log your kilometres on a dedicated website (team link will be sent out to anyone wanting to join us) every time you take your bike out. There is no need for Strava etc, just record your distance and any distance will be appreciated. We are not expecting anyone to cover this distance alone, so even if you only use your bike to pop to the shops, we want you on our team. 

We would also love it if you could share the For Ben; To Turkey and Back Facebook page with your family and friends in order to spread the message that no one is alone, there is always someone you can turn to.

For more information check out the Facebook page or the JustGiving page and if you want to join us at Team Kharma, just contact me here or on Facebook. We are planning to start our journey on Saturday, please join us when you can.

Even if cycling is not your thing, we’d still love it if you could share this post, the For Ben Facebook page or the JustGiving page.

Thank you.

French Village Diaries #ForBen cycling 7360km to Istanbul and back
#For Ben; to Turkey and back

Wednesday, May 27, 2020

Book review of Her Darkest Hour by Sharon Maas

French Village Diaries book review Her Darkest Hour Sharon Maas
Her Darkest Hour by Sharon Maas

Her Darkest Hour by Sharon Maas

Book Description

‘You and me – we’re sisters, not enemies. We’ve got a real enemy at our door and we need to focus on that – together, united. I don’t want to be fighting you as well.

In the small French town of Colmar, swastikas hang from lampposts, tanks are lined up outside the town hall, and twenty-one-year-old Marie-Claire is in love. She will do anything for her childhood friend Jacques, including spying on her German boss, Dietrich Kurtz. Anything to make Jacques see her in a new light, as something more than just a silly little girl.

But when Jacques rejects her, everything changes. Mortified and stung, Marie-Claire feels the need for revenge. She turns her back on those she loves and is catapulted into a new life.

Her little sister Victoire is aghast at her sister’s traitorous behaviour, not least because Marie-Claire is endangering Victoire’s own life-threatening mission, hiding Jewish refugees in their mother’s wine cellar. And when Marie-Claire marries Kurtz, Victoire knows her relationship with her sister has been poisoned for ever.

But when Victoire learns someone she loves is in terrible danger, her only choice is to trust the sister who betrayed her. Kurtz, Marie-Claire’s cruel and heartless husband, has key information and Victoire must persuade Marie-Claire to obtain it, even if it means risking Marie-Claire’s life. As secrets come to light and close bonds are broken, will the sisters be able to heal old wounds?

An unforgettable and unputdownable story of two sisters ripped apart by World War 2. Fans of The Nightingale and The Ragged Edge of Night will fall in love with Her Darkest Hour.  

French Village Diaries book review Her Darkest Hour Sharon Maas
Her Darkest Hour Sharon Maas

My Review

A family divided by war. Margaux, Victoire, Jacques and Juliette are all determined to resist the Nazi takeover of their beloved Alsace. Jacques is instrumental as a local Macquis coordinator, Margaux and Victoire hide escaping Jewish refugees in the wine cellar of their chateau and Juliette is working undercover for Jacques. They struggle to accept the actions of Marie-Claire, whose ideas and beliefs have often gone against the family grain. More interested in her looks and the Haute Couture of Paris, than the outdoor pursuits favoured by her siblings, Marie-Claire is quick to accept a prestigious job working for the boss of the local Nazi administration.

At first, when Jacques approaches her for inside help, she is frightened for her own safety, so refuses to assist in anything underhand, but soon events happen that cause her to turn away from her family. At twenty-one, she is both rebelling against her Mother, but also reaches a point where despite the dire situation she finds herself in, fear and pride prevent her from reaching out for help.

With the story moving from character to character, we are with them all, every step of their Occupation journey. The exhilaration of achieving a breakthrough, the pride at being recognised and feeling worthwhile, the terror of attack, the fear of discovery, the humiliation as the realisation dawns and the grief at losing loved ones. This novel is packed full of emotions and love. This is a family who will never give up, no matter what obstacles come between them.

If you’ve read The Violin Maker’s Daughter, also by Sharon Maas (see my review here) you will recognise some of the characters in this novel and I hope you will enjoy the overlap, and revisiting Margaux’s Chateau, as much as I did.

If you enjoy historical fiction and family drama, this is one to add to your kindle this summer.

French Village Diaries book review Her Darkest Hour Sharon Maas
Sharon Maas

Author Bio

Sharon Maas was born in Georgetown, Guyana, in 1951 and educated in Guyana and England. After leaving school she worked as a staff journalist at the Guyana Graphic and the Sunday Chronicle in Georgetown.

Sharon has always had a great sense of adventure and curiosity about the world we live in, and Guyana could not hold her for long. In 1971 she set off on a year-long backpacking trip around South America. In 1973 she travelled overland to India through Europe, Turkey, Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan, and spent two years in an Ashram in South India. 

Sharon on Twitter 

Buy Links


Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Cycling post confinement

French Village Diaries cycling post confinement Gateau Tusson Charente
A family and friends day out on the bikes

Cycling post confinement

We have escaped for our first real adventures on the bikes since confinement was lifted and I can’t tell you how fantastic it felt.

With four friends, plus Ed and Pearl, we spent some quality time cycling in the French countryside, ensuring we kept a safe distance from each other at all times. For the first real bike ride in over two months and Pearl’s first ever proper ride, clocking up 45kms was brilliant. The sunflower fields are now all visible, with their recognisable seedlings already standing proud and promising vistas of golden cheer in the coming months. It was just so good to be out and free.

French Village Diaries cycling post confinement Gateau Tusson Charente
Cakes from Gateaux in Tusson

Our halfway point was the Charente village of Tusson, where we bought takeaway cakes from Gateaux which we enjoyed with our own freshly brewed coffee, on the same benches we had celebrated our picnic Christmas Day lunch. Refuelled with a sugar and caffeine hit was just what we needed to be on our way.

Our return took us through the gently rolling Charente and Deux-Sèvres countryside, stopping in Beaunac to take a minute at the Operation Frankton memorial. This marks one of the points on the Frankton Trail, the route taken by the Cockleshell Heroes as they made their escape, on foot from Bordeaux in December 1942. 

Their story is a fascinating one, ten men, in five canoes were dropped into the Atlantic, just off the Gironde Estuary on the night of 7th December 1942. Their mission was to make their way down the estuary to Bordeaux, under the cover of darkness, and on arriving, attack the cargo ships in the port with limpet mines. Only four of the men made it to Bordeaux and from here they split up and made their way inland, on foot, to Ruffec (about twenty kilometres from us and 200km from Bordeaux) where they joined up with a local resistance network who helped them reach Spain. Only two survived. 

French Village Diaries cycling post confinement Poitiers

We don’t have to travel far from home to find reminders of the history of this area, but the weekend saw Adrian and I travelling a bit further, although still within our 100km radius from home. Using Ed’s flat in Poitiers, where we knew we could be self-sufficient and come into minimal contact with others, we were determined to explore some new routes on the bikes. 

French Village Diaries cycling post confinement Poitiers
Hotel du Ville, Poitiers

Three days and two nights, gave us time to sort out the flat which had been put into hibernation mode on 16th March, ride a total 125kms, and feel like we had been away on a mini break. With the exception that all bars and restaurants are still closed, Poitiers town centre wasn’t looking much different to usual, and it was a bit unnerving that there were still groups of people sitting around together and not respecting social distancing. Luckily, we kept moving and set our course for the outskirts of town where we found shady river paths, quiet villages, forest tracks and very few people. 

French Village Diaries cycling post confinement Poitiers Migné-Auxances
Migné-Auxances, Poitiers

Our first ride took us north towards Migné-Auxances, Futuroscope and Chasseneuil-du-Poitou, a 37km loop that was hot and hilly. We even treated ourselves to a supermarket pizza for dinner, the first meal I hadn’t cooked from scratch since 12th March. 

French Village Diaries cycling post confinement Poitiers route of St Martin
On the pilgrimage route dedicated to St Martin

The rain on Saturday morning meant a lazy lie in, but after lunch we managed a respectable 54km to Vouillé in the west, on a fascinating route that took us through forests and a military shooting range as well as finding ourselves on the pilgrimage route dedicated to St Martin. This route highlights some of the historical buildings that are linked to, or dedicated to, St Martin in the Tours and Poitiers areas. I love stumbling across things like this and spent quite a bit of time looking into the history of St Martin and the five thousand kilometres of marked routes that cross Europe in his name. Adrian, I feel a real adventure brewing.

French Village Diaries cycling post confinement Poitiers Nouaillé-Maupertuis
Fortified Abbey, Nouaillé-Maupertuis, near Poitiers

Sunday morning, we set off to Nieuil-Espoir, to the south-east of Poitiers, where the stunning fortified Abbey at Nouaillé-Maupertuis made a great backdrop for a photo of the bikes. This 35km route was a little bit busier than the previous days, as many people had the same idea as us on a warm and sunny Sunday morning. Luckily, we were able to find a bit more power and pedal ourselves into safer distances from other users of the forest paths. We even managed to find a boulangerie that was open and without a queue, so we treated ourselves to a patisserie each.

I didn’t just feel happy out on the bike, I felt the weight of confinement lifted from my shoulders and I’m pretty pleased with my total of 170km on the bike in a week. I can’t wait to get back out exploring. 

Friday, May 22, 2020

Book review of JoJo's French Escape by Lorraine Wilson

French Village Diaries book review Jojo's French Escape by Lorraine Wilson
JoJo's French Escape by Lorraine Wilson

JoJo’s French Escape by Lorraine Wilson

‘She had me at Bonjour! Warm, funny, deliciously French…this lovely story filled my heart with sunshine’ Jane Linfoot

Imagine yourself in beautiful France with the sun warm on your face and a glass of wine in your hand…Jojo’s French Escape is the perfect summer read!

Trapped in paradise…
For twelve months JoJo Grant has been hiding from a secret too shameful to share.  And whilst her sanctuary might be the beautiful French countryside, JoJo has a horrible feeling that her peace is about to be shattered…because bursting into her life is the hottest celebrity chef around – Callum O’Connor.
Callum knows all about JoJo’s past, her time as a reality star, the scandal that has dogged her, but he isn’t sure why she’s still hiding?  After spending time with JoJo, it’s obvious to him that she has nothing to be ashamed of – she just needs to be a little braver…
But as much as JoJo likes Callum, he thrives on the glare of the outside world.  Can JoJo let go of her past…with Callum by her side?

French Village Diaries book review Jojo's French Escape by Lorraine Wilson
JoJo's French Escape by Lorraine Wilson

My review

We first met JoJo in book one in the A French Escape series, Poppy’s Place in the Sun, where with Poppy’s help she finds a safe place to hide, following a distressing social media scandal. This book is JoJo’s story; her journey to putting the shame behind her and realising there is a future out there, if she is willing to take it.

Having settled into a life of anonymity as Poppy’s right-hand woman at Le Coqulicots guest house in the French countryside, JoJo’s quiet life is about to be rocked by the arrival of Callum O’Conner. TV chef and friend of Poppy’s fiancé Leo, Cal is looking for his own escape from the limelight and neither of them are too keen on the reminder of celebrity life the other gives them. 

With Poppy and Leo’s wedding to organise and a new restaurant in the grounds of the Chateau to open, there is plenty of work to keep everyone busy doing their own thing. However, as in all good romances, even those not looking for love are often hit by a stray spark, and there is certainly chemistry between these two. In places this book was so hot the screen on my kindle steamed up.

JoJo has to decide how much she is willing to give to Cal and how much she wants from him. There is no denying he’s made her confront some of her darkest thoughts, but maybe this is just what she needs to move on in her life.

This is a great summer read that will certainly raise the temperature a degree or two as well as giving us all a gentle reminder about the importance of being kind to others, especially on social media. 

This has been a fab series of books; Poppy’s Place in the Sun, Christmas at the Chateau and JoJo’s French Escape and I really hope we can return to these characters who are full of life and exude their love of rural French living.

You can read my previous reviews on the links below:

French Village Diaries book review Jojo's French Escape by Lorraine Wilson
JoJo's French Escape by Lorraine Wilson

Purchase Links 


French Village Diaries book review Jojo's French Escape by Lorraine Wilson
Lorraine Wilson

Author Bio

Lorraine Wilson writes flirty, feel-good fiction for One More Chapter - a Harper Collins imprint - and is unashamedly fond of happy endings. She loves hearing from readers and feels incredibly grateful to be doing the job she always dreamt of.

She splits her time between the South of France and Cambridgeshire and is usually either writing or reading while being sat on, walked over or barked at by one of her growing band of rescue dogs.

French Village Diaries book review Jojo's French Escape by Lorraine Wilson
Lorraine Wilson and her rescue dogs

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Wednesday, May 20, 2020

Book review of The Secret of the Chateau by Kathleen McGurl

French Village Diaries book review The Secret of the Chateau by Kathleen McGurl
The Secret of the Chateau by Kathleen McGurl

The Secret of the Château by Kathleen McGurl

Everything is about to change…
1789. Pierre and Catherine Aubert, the Comte and Comtesse de Verais, have fled the palace of Versailles for their château, deep in the French Alps. But as revolution spreads through the country, even hidden away the Auberts will not be safe forever. Soon they must make a terrible decision in order to protect themselves, and their children, from harm.
Present day. When Lu’s mother dies leaving her heartbroken, the chance to move to a château in the south of France with her husband and best friends seems an opportunity for a new beginning. But Lu can’t resist digging into their new home’s history, and when she stumbles across the unexplained disappearance of Catherine Aubert, the château begins to reveal its secrets – and a mystery unsolved for centuries is uncovered…

French Village Diaries book review The Secret of the Chateau by Kathleen McGurl
The Secret of the Chateau by Kathleen McGurl

My review

Over dinner, five friends who met in their first week at university, now two couples, Lu and Phil, Manda and Steve, plus Gray, hatch a plan. They are all recent empty nesters and with the freedom from work and money issues they decide to sell up in the UK and buy a chateau in France together, and have fun in early retirement. At first, Lu gets swept up in everyone else’s excitement while secretly hoping one of the others will have second thoughts so the subject can return to one of ‘what-ifs’ over the dinner table. She won’t be the one though, and before she knows it, houses have been sold, years of memories are being sorted and packed, and life in France is real.

While Phil gets the gardening bug, and the others oversee the project of renovation, or get lost in rediscovering old hobbies like cycling, running and horse riding, Lu struggles to find her place in their new home. As a history teacher, it isn’t long before the mysterious tales of the last Comte and Comtesse de Verais to live in the chateau, Pierre and Catherine Aubert, are making her delve deeper into the past. 

As Lu does her best to uncover their story, we get taken back to watch events unfurl and I loved this split between life in the modern day and the past. Our time spent with Catherine and Pierre, first at the Palace of Versailles and then at their Chateau, highlights a difficult time for the noble classes of France. Catherine adores Marie-Antoinette and misses her life at court when Pierre whisks her back to the safety of the chateau. He can see the trouble ahead, but his young wife is too innocent and indulged to understand the danger they are in. Pierre never stops doing all he can to protect his wife and children, which at the end includes making some difficult decisions.

There is a lot to like in this book that gives so much more than then a new life in France novel. From the insights into a fascinating period of history, the mystery to be solved and the great fun the five friends have together as they settle into a new and different phase of life, I loved it, and the story stayed with me long after I finished the last page.

This would be a perfect holiday read, but this year it will work just as well as a great escape from lockdown.

Purchase Links 


French Village Diaries book review The Secret of the Chateau by Kathleen McGurl
Kathleen McGurl

Author Bio 

Kathleen McGurl lives in Bournemouth with her husband. She has two sons who have both now left home. She always wanted to write, and for many years was waiting until she had the time. Eventually she came to the bitter realisation that no one would pay her for a year off work to write a book, so she sat down and started to write one anyway. Since then she has published several novels with HQ and self-published another. She has also sold dozens of short stories to women's magazines, and written three How To books for writers. After a long career in the IT industry she became a full time writer in 2019. When she's not writing, she's often out running, slowly.

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French Village Diaries book review The Secret of the Chateau by Kathleen McGurl
The Secret of the Chateau blog tour

Tuesday, May 19, 2020

Life after lockdown, one week in

French Village Diaries life after lockdown, one week in
Free to roam once more

One week post confinement
We have now been ‘free’ for a week (and a day), but freedom’s not all it’s cracked up to be, especially when the weather was doing all it could to keep us trapped inside. Writing my daily update during lockdown seemed to anchor me, and without having it to focus on last week I felt a bit adrift. I had planned on a few days off before writing this update, but how more than a week has passed, I have no idea.

Day one was cold and wet, day two cold and windy, day three cold, wet and windy and day four, although we had been forecast better weather, was still cold and windy. It was just as well we plenty of routine chores to keep us busy, but our moods were low.

French Village Diaries life after lockdown, one week in
Happy 20th birthday Pearl

The highlight of the week was helping Ed’s girlfriend Pearl celebrate her 20th birthday and seeing the two of them looking so happy at being together again, after almost nine weeks. However, even that wasn’t without its trauma as we found ourselves socialising outside of our little bubble of three, where we’d happily been self-contained for two months.

It wasn’t until the weekend that we managed to get some real cycling in, although we’ve still only managed loops from home rather than a real adventure, further afield. Hopefully the next few weeks will see this change. We have no shortage of ideas and routes ready and waiting for us.

French Village Diaries life after lockdown, one week in
My 1€ Lidl veggie box

Despite now being able to travel within a one-hundred-kilometre radius from home, until yesterday, when we ventured the 45kms to Niort, we’d not been far all week, just the same supermarkets we usually shop at. One morning in Niort picking up the bits we needed in five different shops was enough for me, for the next two months at least. Although I did manage to get my first ever Lidl 1€ out of date veggie box. I’m sure I’ll think of something to do with at least twenty bunches of salad onions, even if it is only soup for the freezer.

Everywhere in Niort was uncomfortably busy for me. Too many people moving, standing around or waiting to be served and in one store the queue for the checkouts was so far back you couldn’t see the cash desks from the end. We left, empty handed.

We have pledged to try and use our bikes as our transport as much as possible this summer, but this certainly wasn’t a journey we could have replaced by bike. With 80 litres of potting compost, a 25kg sack of bird feed, a weekly shop, oh, and a hot tub to replace the pool, the poor car was fully laden.

French Village Diaries life after lockdown, one week in
The garden in the sun

Now the weather is better, signs of summer are popping up all the time. The ritual of a hearty soup for lunch has been replaced with a salad and the bunting has been hung outside on the terrace once more. 

French Village Diaries life after lockdown, one week in
The terrace

With the pool gone, the garden has needed our attention. Lots of weeding in the shady flower beds that have been hidden by the pool for twelve years and lots of head scratching as to what to put where in the new space. The pots have moved from one side, to the other, left a bit, right a bit and back again, until I think we are now happy with them. We are certainly very happy with the new hot tub.

French Village Diaries life after lockdown, one week in hot tub
In the hot tub

I hope that wherever you are and whether you are still in lockdown, or free to roam once more, you are keeping well and staying a safe distance from others. The world is still a strange and somewhat scary place and I think it will stay this way for quite a while yet.

French Village Diaries life after lockdown, one week in #ForBen
For Ben

Friday, May 15, 2020

Book review of The Hopes and Dreams of Libby Quinn by Freya Kennedy

French Village Diaries book review The Hopes and Dreams of Libby Quinn Freya Kennedy
The Hopes and Dreams of Libby Quinn by Freya Kennedy

The Hopes and Dreams of Libby Quinn

A gorgeous new romantic comedy about taking chances and realising your dreams.

Libby Quinn is sick and tired of being sensible.

After years of slogging her guts out for nothing at a PR company, she finds herself redundant and about to plough every last penny of her savings into refurbishing a ramshackle shop and making her dream of owning her own bookshop become a reality.

She hopes opening 'Once Upon A Book' on Ivy Lane will be the perfect tribute to her beloved grandfather who instilled a love of reading and books in her from an early age.

When her love life and friendships become even more complicated – will Libby have the courage to follow her dreams? Or has she bitten off more than she can chew?

French Village Diaries book review The Hopes and Dreams of Libby Quinn Freya Kennedy
The Hopes and Dreams of Libby Quinn by Freya Kennedy

My Review

I have to start this review with a confession. This book has no link to anything French, but as it’s set in a bookshop and had such a lovely synopsis, I couldn’t resist. 

Libby Quinn has the chance to open her own bookshop, a dream she had shared with her beloved grandfather since she was a little girl, sitting on his knee and getting lost in his stories. There might be a lot of work to do before she opens the doors, but with support from family and friends and the knowledge that her grandfather is smiling down on her, Libby knows she has it in her to succeed, even when things don’t quite go to plan. 

It doesn’t take her long to realise that her new neighbours on Ivy Lane are more than a collection of residents and businesses, they are a family, who quickly take Bookshop Libby into their hearts and do all they can to help her succeed. Opening Once Upon a Book is the start of a journey for Libby and being part of their community is just what she needs to begin to mend her broken emotions. 

As she ticks off the items from her huge to do list, she starts to wake up and realise what she wants from life, and from those around her. This book is packed full of fun, lots of emotional memories and lots of book love. What Libby is creating is so much more than just a bookshop, and with a coffee machine, desks for roaming writers and carefully selected repurposed furniture and fixtures, I really wanted to be able to pay her a visit.

This is one for the bookworms among you, who need a little a book magic and romance to escape into and where you just might find a knight in shining armour. 

French Village Diaries book review The Hopes and Dreams of Libby Quinn Freya Kennedy
The Hopes and Dreams of Libby Quinn by Freya Kennedy

Purchase Links

French Village Diaries book review The Hopes and Dreams of Libby Quinn Freya Kennedy


Here is your bingo card to join in with #LibbyQuinnBingo on social media. Have fun!

French Village Diaries book review The Hopes and Dreams of Libby Quinn Freya Kennedy
Freya Kennedy

Author Bio 

Freya Kennedy lives in Derry, Northern Ireland, with her husband, two children, two cats and a mad dog called Izzy. She worked as a journalist for eighteen years before deciding to write full time. When not writing, she can be found reading, hanging out with her nieces and nephews, cleaning up after her children (a lot) and telling her dog that she loves her. 

She has met Michael Buble and even kissed him. It was one of her best ever moments.

She believes in happy ever afters.

Freya Kennedy is a pen name for Claire Allan, who also writes psychological thrillers.

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