Sunday, November 28, 2021

Lazy Sunday, lost in books

French Village Diaries Lazy Sunday Lost in Books
A selection of soul-soothing books

Lazy Sunday, Lost in Books

I will admit that since finishing at the library, I’ve been a bit lost without the routine we’d slipped easily into over the summer and I’ve found myself hiding away from reality, in the pages of books. My mood hasn’t been helped by the weather taking a seasonal change for the worse, where the wind has enhanced the colder temperatures and hampered our efforts on the bikes. 


French Village Diaries Lazy Sunday Lost in Books mulled wine
Mulled wine

The heating has been fired up, the first batch of mince pies have been made (and eaten) and the mulled wine has been blended; red wine, Cognac, sloe port, cinnamon sticks, clove-studded clementines, a lemon and ginger teabag and brown sugar (to taste). We also indulged in our first tartiflette on Friday evening; an oven baked potato, onion and melted Reblochon cheese dish that is our ultimate winter comfort food treat. You can find my recipe here.


It’s not been any easier for Adrian to adjust to the changes in our routine, as having gone from a hectic work schedule all summer, his diary is looking almost as empty as mine. As is often the case when you are self-employed, it’s either feast or famine.


We have both been drawn to books promising adventures and challenges, using them as our escape, or maybe to find our way? I’ve been reading up on the Chemin de Saint Jacques Camino routes in France, from books I took out from the library. As I practice my French reading, I’ve been learning the history of this ancient pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela in northern Spain. By following any of the marked routes that wind their way to St Jean-Pied-du-Port in the Pyrenees, the possibilities for cycle adventures to explore the historic towns and churches of France, are almost endless.


French Village Diaries Lazy Sunday Lost in Books Two Wheels and a Will Colin Hunter
Two Wheels and a Will by Colin Hunter

Adrian made a rather shocking discovery while reading Two Wheels and a Will by Colin Hunter, a travel memoir set around an extreme Pyrenean cycling challenge. According to the author, it turns out that the toughest climb in France isn’t in the Alps, the Hautes Pyrenees or even Le Mont Ventoux (1910m), but the pretty much unknown Col d’Arnostéguy (1239m), in the Pays Basque. This is an area we keep returning to with our bikes and home to the first mountain pass I ever attempted, the Col d’Ispeguy, that crosses from France to Spain. This is a gradual climb of 6%, over its eight kilometres, with no nasty surprises, just stunning scenery and a bar at the top. I’ve climbed it four times and it remains my favourite.

French Village Diaries Lazy Sunday Lost in Books Two Wheels and a Will Colin Hunter Col d'Arnostéguy Pays Basque
The face of pain climbing the Col d'Arnostéguy

I now know that not all cols in the Pays Basque are equal. Last year, high on the adrenaline rush that came with conquering several Haute Pyrenean cols on our Bromptons, including the Col du Soulor (1471m), Col d’Aubisque (1709m) and the Col du Tourmalet (2115m), we spent a couple of nights in the Pays Basque on our way home. With one full day to enjoy ourselves, we set off on a circuit from St Jean-Pied-du-Port, following the Camino route towards Spain. The smile on my face as I got to dip my toes once more on this pilgrimage route was almost as big as the lunch packed in Adrian’s saddle bag, but as the narrow road began to climb, my smile vanished. We climbed and climbed. My breath ragged, my body ready to give up, my mind losing all my mantras and coherent thoughts. With a maximum of gradient of 35% and a fifteen kilometre stretch that regularly hit between 25% and 30%, with little or no flat or downhill sections to rest and recover, it was brutal - it was the infamous Col d’Arnostéguy. I am in total agreement with it being the toughest climb in France and although I might need persuading to tackle it again, I’d head back to the Basque with my bike anytime. I can’t wait to read this book for myself.


French Village Diaries Lazy Sunday Lost in Books Voyage le long de la Charente Serge Sanchez
Voyage le Long de la Charente by Serge Sanchez

Closer to home, but no less exciting is another travel memoir I’m reading, in French, borrowed from the library. Voyage Le Long de la Charente, avec un chat, un poney, et un dauphin (ou pas), by Serge Sanchez, is his journey following the Charente River from its source to the Atlantic coast. This is a local river to us and the familiarity of the places he visits makes up for the unfamiliarity of some of the new (to me) vocabulary. Serge is a journalist, and from the beginning of the book, his humour and honesty had me hooked, especially when he explained the rather unusual title: A journey along the Charente, with a cat, a pony and a dolphin (or not). Desperate to improve his fortunes by writing a best-seller (unlike his previous book that sold only twenty-eight copies), he discovered books featuring cats tended to sell well, and ponies and dolphins ranked second and third. My only disappointment with this book (so far) is that despite the river Charente having a marked cycle way (La Flow Vélo) for most of its length, Serge chose to travel by car. It has certainly given me food for thought about cycling adventures we could do following our local rivers from their sources. 


French Village Diaries Lazy Sunday Lost in Books Under the Mistletoe Sue Moorcroft
Under the Mistletoe by Sue Moorcroft

Not all my recent reads have been cycling or French travel related. Sue Moorcroft’s Christmas novels are one of my secret guilty pleasures at this time of year. In real life I don’t do snow or cold, and I’m not much of a Christmas fan either, but if there is one thing that will warm my winter mood and give me back a bit of my sparkle, it’s a winter escape to Sue’s fictional village, Middledip. In Under the Mistletoe, I was able to get completely wrapped up in the emotional battles Laurel and her family are trying to cope with, as the Christmas preparations in the village hit full speed. There are difficult decisions and lots of soul-searching for many of the characters, especially Laurel, as the past she has tried so hard to forget, catches up with her. Set against a snowy backdrop, this book has passion, emotion, family loyalties and community spirit that certainly warmed me up as I read it. I didn’t want this book to end.


If you haven’t yet discovered Middledip, you are missing a real treat, but if you are quick, Under the Mistletoe is priced at only 99p on kindle UK, until the end of November.

What all these books, and the others I’ve read recently, have done, is to help clear the doldrums from my head and for that I thank the authors, who maybe don’t realise the difference they can make.

Saturday, November 27, 2021

Book review of A Leap of Faith at the Vineyard in Alsace by Julie Stock

French Village Diaries book review A Leap of Faith at the Vineyard in Alsace by Julie Stock
A Leap of Faith at the Vineyard in Alsace by Julie Stock

A Leap of Faith at the Vineyard in Alsace by Julie Stock


It’s winter at The Vineyard in Alsace, and wedding bells are in the air


How do you know when you’re ready for love?

Ellie Robinson has spent her life running from commitment following the breakdown of her parents’ marriage when she was young. She doesn’t believe in happy ever afters and the last thing she wants is to settle down in one place when she could be travelling the world.


Having moved from place to place throughout his childhood, Henri Weiss now calls the vineyard in Alsace home, and he loves the stability the vineyard and the people on it give him. While he enjoys travelling, it’s always good to come home again.


Following an extended travelling trip together, Ellie and Henri find their differences more marked than before, despite their love for each other being even stronger. Then a series of shocks in Ellie’s personal life throws things into turmoil, leaving Ellie unsure as to how to get everything she wants. And Henri facing the loss of the future he has dreamed of.


Can Ellie and Henri reconcile their very different desires and take a leap of faith on their love for each other? Will they get the happy ever after they’ve both been longing for?


Escape to The Vineyard in Alsace once again for this uplifting, romantic read and enjoy Christmas at Domaine des Montagnes.


French Village Diaries book review A Leap of Faith at the Vineyard in Alsace by Julie Stock
A Leap of Faith at the Vineyard in Alsace by Julie Stock

My review


This is the third book in The Vineyard in Alsace series, and it was great to be back with characters who now feel so familiar, it’s like slipping back to visit old friends. 


Each book in the series has centred on a different couple and the parts they play at the vineyard, alongside their back stories unfolding and their new relationships developing. The first book (The Vineyard in Alsace) brought Fran and Didier (whose family own the vineyard) back together, while the second book (Starting Over at the Vineyard in Alsace) focussed on Fran’s sister Lottie and her unexpected pregnancy. This book is mainly about their friend Ellie, who manages the renovation project on the family chateau, and Henri, who works alongside Didier. 


Ellie is down in the dumps after a five-month travel adventure with boyfriend Henri, and life back at the vineyard doesn’t have quite the sparkle for her that it does for him. At first, I didn’t really understand her reluctance to settle down and embrace life in Alsace, with Henri and her close friends around her, but as the story unfolded, and traumas from her past were revealed, I felt for her and her confused emotional state. At times it seemed as if everyone around her was happily launching themselves into bright, blossoming futures, while she was stuck trying to cope with past mistakes that weren’t even hers. Add in some unexpected proposals for potential direction changes for her future, and I certainly didn’t envy her decisions, although I would have liked to have seen and felt some more passion from her. 


I spent most of the book willing Ellie to have the courage to move forward and trust in Henri, and their relationship, as well as hoping the vineyard would weave it’s magic once more. 


Off season at the vineyard means there is less work to do on the vines, but with the new visitor’s centre, café, website and marketing events, there is plenty to do to keep the six friends busy. As Christmas approaches, we get to enjoy the festive markets, food and wine that Alsace is famous for. There is nothing quite like a Christmas market with pastries and mulled wine to get me in the festive spirit.


I’m crossing my fingers that there will be more from Julie Stock and this rather special vineyard in Alsace.


If you’ve enjoyed the previous books in this series, and are looking for a gentle, easy read to give you some winter festive fun, A Leap of Faith at the Vineyard in Alsace should be on your wish list.


You might like to read my reviews of the first two books here:

The Vineyard in Alsace

Starting Over at the Vineyard in Alsace


Purchase Link  

A Leap of Faith  

The 3-book series page  

French Village Diaries book review A Leap of Faith at the Vineyard in Alsace by Julie Stock
Julie Stock

Author Bio   


Julie Stock writes contemporary feel-good romance from around the world: novels, novellas and short stories. She published her debut novel, From Here to Nashville, in 2015, after starting to write as an escape from the demands of her day job as a teacher. A Leap of Faith at the Vineyard in Alsace is her eleventh book, and the third in the Domaine des Montagnes series set on a vineyard.


Julie is now a full-time author, and loves every minute of her writing life. When not writing, she can be found reading, her favourite past-time, running, a new hobby, or cooking up a storm in the kitchen, glass of wine in hand.


Julie is a member of the Romantic Novelists' Association and The Society of Authors. She is married and lives with her family in Cambridgeshire in the UK.


French Village Diaries book review A Leap of Faith at the Vineyard in Alsace by Julie Stock
Blog tour for A Leap of Faith at the Vineyard in Alsace

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Giveaway to Win a signed copy of A Leap of Faith at the Vineyard in Alsace plus some festive goodies (Open to UK Only)

French Village Diaries book review A Leap of Faith at the Vineyard in Alsace by Julie Stock
Giveaway UK only

Prize contains the following:

  • a signed paperback copy of A Leap of Faith at the Vineyard in Alsace
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  • a RHS Christmas bauble with a snowdrop decoration on it.


*Terms and Conditions –UK entries welcome.  Please enter using the Rafflecopter box below.  The winner will be selected at random via Rafflecopter from all valid entries and will be notified by Twitter and/or email. If no response is received within 7 days then Rachel’s Random Resources reserves the right to select an alternative winner. Open to all entrants aged 18 or over.  Any personal data given as part of the competition entry is used for this purpose only and will not be shared with third parties, with the exception of the winners’ information. This will passed to the giveaway organiser and used only for fulfilment of the prize, after which time Rachel’s Random Resources will delete the data.  I am not responsible for despatch or delivery of the prize.

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Tuesday, November 16, 2021

Book review of Sister's Behaving Badly by Maddie Please

I am back in Brittany for a second book review this week – lucky me, it’s been like having a mini-break from the comfort of my favourite armchair. 

French Village Diaries book review Sister's Behaving Badly Maddie Please
Sister's Behaving Badly by Maddie Please


Sisters Behaving Badly by Maddie Please


Sisters Kitty and Jenny haven’t spoken since a very disappointing Carvery lunch. Kitty, sixty-two, thinks Jenny is turning grey. Jenny, sixty-six, thinks Kitty needs to grow up!

So when both sisters inherit a farmhouse in rural France, it gives them the perfect chance to heal the rift between them. Except the farmhouse is a wreck, the garden is terrorized by a flock of chickens, not to mention a donkey with a serious flatulence problem!

Kitty is determined to enjoy herself, especially when she meets gorgeous French builder, Leo. Ooh la – la! And Jenny finds the fully stocked wine cellar helps enormously with missing horrible husband Paul – hic!

And as the two sisters begin to repair their fragile friendship, they discover that being bad is actually very good for the soul.

French Village Diaries book review Sister's Behaving Badly Maddie Please
Sister's Behaving Badly Maddie Please


My review


Sisters Jenny and Kitty are very different. Fun-loving Kitty has a string of failed marriages; sensible Jenny has been with husband Paul for over thirty years. Forced to spend time together in Brittany, they have a lot of work ahead of them in this book, which neatly combines multiple storylines and all sorts of relationship dramas - lots of action to keep the pages turning.


As they battle the dust of a renovation project and the weeds of the unkempt garden they have inherited from Aunt Sheila, they can’t ignore the need to rebuild their once-close relationship. Pausing only to sip from a decent bottle of Sheila’s French wine, they start the soul-searching process of unpicking their past mistakes, understanding each other and looking to where the future will take them. 


The characters in this book often made me smile, despite the fact some of the situations were anything but funny. I warmed to Kitty immediately and the more I discovered about Jenny’s family life, the more I felt for her too. Life’s not always plain sailing, but there are plenty of entertaining moments cleverly crafted into the story as they try to cope with events that are often outside their comfort zones. I especially enjoyed the hilarious antics of the assorted animals (and Frenchmen) they seem to pick up along the way. 


This book was a dream read and the more I read, the more I loved it. I enjoyed the family dramas, the French magic, the humour and the love (in all its forms) that shines through. Add in a well-described location, a few handy and rather dashing locals, plus some tasty regional food treats, and this book had a lot to offer me.


I rarely quote from a book, but I think we could all do with remembering this simple, but powerful quote:


“It is never too late to be happy, to fall in love, to change things.”


If you need a pick-me-up book to keep you entertained now the nights are drawing in, I can recommend Sister’s Behaving Badly. I will be looking out for more books by Maddie Please.


Purchase Link 




French Village Diaries book review Sister's Behaving Badly Maddie Please
Maddie Please

Author Bio   


Maddie Please is the author of four bestselling romantic comedies, having had a career as a dentist and now lives in rural Devon where she enjoys box sets, red wine and Christmas. She will be taking a new direction in her writing for Boldwood with joyous tales of older women.

French Village Diaries book review Sister's Behaving Badly Maddie Please
Sister's Behaving Badly Maddie Please


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French Village Diaries book review Sister's Behaving Badly Maddie Please
Sister's Behaving Badly Maddie Please

Monday, November 15, 2021

Book review of All That We have Lost by Suzanne Fortin

French Village Diaries book review All That We Have Lost Suzanne Fortin
All That We Have Lost by Suzanne Fortin

My review today is for All That We Have Lost by Suzanne Fortin, a dual timeline novel set in a small village in Brittany. 


In alternating chapters, we follow two very different women as they cope with life-changing events. Eighteen-year-old Simone is angry at the hardships her family are forced to cope with under the German occupation during the Second World War. Her brother Pierre is ill, but they don’t have the money to pay for the doctor’s visits or the medicine required. There is little food for her mother to sell in her shop and everyone is hungry, except the German soldiers who have taken over her village. 


In the present day, young widow Imogen forces herself to learn to live again, as she takes the brave decision to realise the French dream she shared with her husband. While searching for a simple cottage in Brittany, an abandoned chateau steals her heart, but the more she tries to discover about its history and the fire that destroyed part of it, the more the locals shut her out. 


The characters in this book were strong and likable, with many of them surprising me as the stories progressed. Simone had difficult decisions to make, including knowing who she could trust, but her loyalty, independence and fighting spirit were what shone out for me. Imogen also needed to learn who to trust and whose stories to believe as she attempted to discover the dark secrets surrounding the chateau. Imogen’s character won my heart from the beginning, and I was as intrigued by Laurent’s story and air of mystery in the present day, as I was by what would happen to Simone in 1944. 


I am a big fan of dual timeline, and this book ticked all the boxes for me. Each chapter gave just enough to draw me in deeper, before switching me back to the other storyline. It was one of those books that kept me guessing and quite quickly I reached the dilemma of not wanting to put it down, but not wanting to rush through it either. The benefit of a well-written dual timeline is that it draws out the enjoyment longer and this book was a very good at that.


In places this book is heart-breaking, in others, heart-warming and it left me with a huge smile on my face.


If you enjoy historical fiction and love a book with a good pinch of French magic for the broken hearted, I am sure this book will be a great accompaniment to a cosy autumn evening.


Thursday, November 4, 2021

An Autumn ride from Aigre to Angouleme

French Village Diaries cycle touring Charente Autumn Aigre to Angouleme
Angouleme at sunset

November arrives in a flurry of changes

They say a change is as good as a rest, but so much has changed, in such a short space of time, that I’m finding it exhausting. 


We have said goodbye to October, which means my four-month contract working at the library is over, and the clocks have changed. It still amazes me how sensitive my body clock is to just a one-hour time adjustment and the gloomy early evenings really haven’t helped my mood. The first few days without the routine of work were busy, but then my motivation deserted me. I cleaned out the fridge, Adrian defrosted one of the freezers and we battled the crowds to do the weekly shop, foolishly thinking that as Lidl had decided to open all day on a public holiday, we’d be the only ones there – wrong – I’ve not seen a supermarket so crowded since life pre-Covid. I baked a cake, made a couple of batches of soup and tried my best to plan some exciting meals using food we’ve found in the freezer. I’ve got books to read and lists of jobs to do, yet for now, nothing seems quite as appealing as serving customers at the library.

French Village Diaries cycle touring Charente Autumn Aigre to Angouleme
Autumn colours


Even without this huge change to my daily routine, November and December are my least favourite months of the year and it’s always been a challenge to keep my mind focussed. The weather has been changeable too, the sun has shone, the wind has blown, and the rain has poured down, sometimes all at once, but we’ve enjoyed the autumn colours on dog walks and bike rides.


French Village Diaries cycle touring Charente Autumn Aigre to Angouleme
Our studio apartment in Angouleme

Aigre to Angouleme

As a pick-me-up to take my mind off the end of my library work, we did manage to escape for an overnight mini adventure. The plan had been to finish work at lunchtime and cycle the sixty kilometres from home to Angouleme, enjoy a meal out, stay the night and then return the following day. Short, but sweet, however, things don’t always quite go to plan. 

French Village Diaries cycle touring Charente Autumn Aigre to Angouleme
Bright and breezy Autumn days in the Charente

Despite checking the weather forecast before making the last-minute booking, what looked like a breezy, dry, two days had changed for the worse by the day we left. The breeze had become a headwind of thirty to forty kilometres an hour, with bright sunshine, on day one and the return was looking to be wet and wild with stronger gusts of wind. They do say there is no such thing as bad weather, just badly equipped cyclists, however low autumn sun combined with wind creates flickering leaves and shadows, which is particularly risky for my photosensitive epilepsy. To say Adrian was concerned with me attempting a sixty-kilometre ride in these conditions was an understatement, so we took the disappointing decision to take the car part of the way in order to reduce the risk of an incident.  

French Village Diaries cycle touring Charente Autumn Aigre to Angouleme
A Charente village cemetery for All Souls Day


I can’t deny it was hard work battling into the wind, but the autumn colours were beautiful as we passed through villages, churches, cemeteries and vineyards. The villages may have been quiet, but the cemeteries were busy as family members placed colourful potted chrysanthemums on the graves for All Saints/All Souls Day

French Village Diaries cycle touring Charente Autumn Aigre to Angouleme
Sunset in Angouleme

The benefit of only having a forty-kilometre ride meant we’d arrived at our town centre AirBnB with plenty of time to wander around Angouleme in the daylight, catch a dramatic sunset and treat ourselves to an outdoor apero before dinner. 


French Village Diaries cycle touring Charente Autumn Aigre to Angouleme
Angouleme street art

Angouleme is a pretty town to walk around, with an impressive cathedral, a town hall that looks like a fairy tale castle, and superb views over the ramparts. It is home to an annual bande dessinée (comic book) festival and I especially love the themed wall art decorating entire building facades around the town. The apero treat soon turned into an eye-opening experience that was equally shocking and terrifying. To find ourselves amidst so many people out socialising, many in large groups, the students all greeting each other with multiple (unmasked) cheek kisses, almost made me run back to the sanctuary of our quiet rural village life. 


French Village Diaries cycle touring Charente Autumn Aigre to Angouleme
Le Bruleau Charentais restaurant Angouleme

We ate at Le Bruleau Charentais, a small, family-run traditional restaurant where the speciality is steak cooked on an open-fire, in full view of the diners. Most of their produce is locally sourced. For a grand total of fifty-five euros, we enjoyed a glass each of the local Pineau aperitif with a shared charcuterie platter, followed by entrecote steaks served with chips and a half litre of house red wine. This was our second visit here and easily lived up to our experience two years ago.


French Village Diaries cycle touring Charente Autumn Aigre to Angouleme
Breakfast in Angouleme market

Breakfast the following day was coffee and a croissant in the (almost deserted) covered market, surrounded by the deliciousness of the fresh produce. We made our escape before the rain started and although we’d lost the clear blue skies and sunshine of the day before, it was still a lovely cycle, criss-crossing the river Charente and returning to the car in Aigre, damp, but not as soaked as we’d feared.


French Village Diaries cycle touring Charente Autumn Aigre to Angouleme
River Charente in Autumn 

New beginnings

With a clearer head and an empty diary, the time has come to plan the next step in the adventure that is life. My dream job might belong to someone else, but I feel privileged to have been given the opportunity to look after it for her this summer. Life is too short not to make every day count, something that hit home this week when I learned of the sudden death of someone who had been a good friend to us since we moved to France. Her enthusiasm for life was contagious and over the years she taught me so much about French food, culture and the language, as well as sharing her gardening and sewing skills. If it wasn’t for her, I’d probably still only be able to speak French in the present tense. 

RIP Fatima

RIP Fatima. You were colourful, kind and caring, and lived life at such a fast pace, finding photos of you where you aren’t blurred in movement, or talking, was a challenge.