Sunday, February 27, 2022

Book review The Life You Left Behind by Debbie Howells

French Village Diaries book review The Life You Left Behind Debbie Howells
The Life You Left Behind by Debbie Howells

The Life You Left Behind by Debbie Howells


Two strangers.


One missed flight.


It only takes a moment to change a life.

One year ago Casey Cassidy was happy. She had great friends, a wonderful teaching job and a busy life - until with one missed flight, everything changes.


One year later Casey knows what it means to find that once-in-a-lifetime love people dream of. But when Ben leaves, her heart is shattered.


Left facing a year of firsts without him, piecing her life back together seems impossible. But then a friend offers her a home in rural France.


In the solitude and emptiness, Casey needs to comes to terms with what’s happened and find a way to move forward. She has no idea where that will take her one year later...


French Village Diaries book review The Life You Left Behind Debbie Howells
The Life You Left Behind by Debbie Howells

My review

This is a powerful book, one that left me needing a moment to absorb all I had read. It is about loss and grief, but it is also about love, friendship and kindness. 


We follow Casey through two tumultuous years of change in this dual timeline novel; the year she meets Ben and her first year after he has left her. The spark of a new romance and the excitement of discovering that special someone, contrasting against the dark days of loneliness and feeling lost. So much has changed, she is unable to go back to where she was just a year before, but she is equally as uncertain about where her future lies. I really enjoyed the way the past and present are interlinked and the slow reveal this gives to exactly what did happen to Casey and Ben.


With so many layers woven into this book, it creates a strong plot, with depth and emotions that left me quietly contemplating the bigger questions in life. It enriched my mind and my soul – powerful words for a book review, but it is a powerful read that touches on issues like grief and loss, but also gently maps out the journey, understanding and change that comes from losing someone special. Many emotive subjects are treated with a sensitivity that will hopefully help readers understand and be more aware. I learned a lot reading this book.


Casey’s journey is interlaced with that of her friends, and it is the power of friendship and its love that I felt strongly as I was reading it. It also raises important questions about the planet, the way we treat it, and how we interact with each other. Seeing as I only tend to pick up the blog tours where books have a link to France, I am so glad that author Debbie Howells chose a remote cottage in France as the peaceful haven Casey needed to escape to. To think I could have missed this book if Devon or Spain had been used instead – it was a sign and I like signs.


The Life You Left Behind is a beautiful read that I really hope you will enjoy and get as much out of as I did.


Purchase Links  



French Village Diaries book review The Life You Left Behind Debbie Howells
Debbie Howells

Author Bio


While working as long-haul cabin crew in her twenties, Debbie trained as a pilot and qualified as a flying instructor.  But as the mother of two small children, she wanted a career she could fit around them and started a wedding flower business, Country Flowers.  For thirteen years, Debbie created the natural, seasonal designs she became known for to venues throughout the South East.


It was towards the end of this time she started writing, in a notebook in the shade of her garden on her days off, self-publishing three women’s fiction novels, the third of which, Wildflowers, almost but not quite found her a literary agent. 


Pursuing her dream of a traditional publishing deal, she went on to write her first psychological thriller, the Sunday Times bestseller, The Bones of You.  Four more have followed including the e-book bestseller The Vow, but it’s another long-awaited dream come true that her women’s fiction novels have now found a home with Boldwood.


French Village Diaries book review The Life You Left Behind Debbie Howells
The Life You Left Behind

Social Media Links





Bookbub profile 


French Village Diaries book review The Life You Left Behind Debbie Howells
The Life You Left Behind blog tour

Saturday, February 26, 2022

New beginnings at the Chateau de Javarzay

French Village Diaries Chateau de Javarzay Chef-Boutonne
Early spring at the Château de Javarzay, Chef-Boutonne

As a child we visited a lot of museums. Mum was a primary school teacher, so as well as being at home with us all summer, she knew we needed educational days out as well as playing in the garden or on the beach. There is something about glass topped museum display cases, crammed with collections that remains engrained in the happy place in my head. So much to see and take in, return visits were always necessary.


As 2021 drew to a close, I had a surprise phone call from the Mairie in Chef-Boutonne, asking if I would be interested in working at the Château de Javarzay this year. The Château, set in a park with a fishing lake and arboretum, bordered by the Boutonne river, dates from 1515 and was the first Renaissance château in the Poitou region. What remains now is just a small part of the original structure and houses a multi-themed museum. In the last few years, the building has been extensively refurbished, inside and out, and the museum has been upgraded to an interactive, multi-media experience that bears little resemblance to the dusty glass cabinets and costumed mannequins that were there before. Bien sûr, I said yes!


We officially reopen to the public on 18th March 2022, but with two preview weekends for local residents, enabling on the job training for our team of three, I am delighted to be back at work and speaking French. 


I feel privileged to be able to call this magnificent building my office and although many of you won’t live near enough to come and pay me a visit, I will be sharing the secrets of the Château with you here as I get to witness spring, summer and autumn at the Château de Javarzay. If you could see the smile on my face as I write this, you’d know how happy I am this opportunity has come my way.

Thursday, February 24, 2022

Book review of The Paris Network by Siobhan Curham

French Village Diaries book review The Paris Network Siobhan Curham
The Paris Network by Siobhan Curham

 The Paris Network by Siobhan Curham


Paris, 1940: He pressed the tattered book into her hands. ‘You must go to the café and ask at the counter for Pierre Duras. Tell him that I sent you. Tell him you’re there to save the people of France.’

Sliding the coded message in between the crisp pages of the hardback novel, bookstore owner Laurence slips out into the cold night to meet her resistance contact, pulling her woollen beret down further over her face. The silence of the night is suddenly shattered by an Allied plane rushing overhead, its tail aflame, heading down towards the forest. Her every nerve stands on end. She must try to rescue the pilot.

But straying from her mission isn’t part of the plan, and if she is discovered it won’t only be her life at risk…

America, years later: when Jeanne uncovers a dusty old box in her father’s garage, her world as she knows it is turned upside down. She has inherited a bookstore in a tiny French village just outside of Paris from a mysterious woman named Laurence.

Travelling to France to search for answers about the woman her father has kept a secret for years, Jeanne finds the store tucked away in a corner of the cobbled main square. Boarded up, it is in complete disrepair. Inside, she finds a tiny silver pendant hidden beneath the blackened, scorched floorboards.

As Jeanne pieces together Laurence’s incredible story, she discovers a woman whose bravery knew no bounds. But will the truth about who Laurence really is shatter Jeanne’s heart, or change her future?

Inspired by true events, an epic and emotional novel about one woman’s strength to survive in the most difficult circumstances and the power of love in the face of darkness. Fans of The Alice NetworkThe Nightingale and The Lost Girls of Paris will be completely gripped from the very first page.


French Village Diaries book review The Paris Network Siobhan Curham
The Paris Network by Siobhan Curham

My review

Having enjoyed reading her previous books, it was great to be back in a Siobhan Curhan novel. 


A dual timeline always excites me, and I can’t wait to discover how and when the links between past and present will be made and how they will affect our characters – I say ‘our’ as Siobhan’s writing really does draw me into her books. Her storytelling, descriptions and characters wrap me up and I am not an observer reading the pages, I am amongst them, feeling their fear and emotions. It is a treat to get to inhabit her creative world, all be it briefly.


The characters instantly became ones whose stories I wanted to know, whose journeys I had to follow. For Jeanne and Wendall as they revisit France in the 1990’s, it is his journey to heal and make peace with the past, while it is her journey to discover so much she never knew. For Laurance and her book club friends it is about doing what they can to survive the Occupation in body and spirit. Laurence’s bookstore is like a warm hug in dark and difficult times, and I certainly felt the love and sense of community it brought to her and her town. In fact, I wanted to visit, to browse the shelves and the see just what kind of book she would prescribe to me. 


This book is engaging, emotional and with a compelling storyline. It is pure book magic from page to page and a feast of literary love to nourish the soul. It is a great reminder to never underestimate the magical power of books.


Having now consumed three Siobham Curham novels, all I can say is I want more.


The Paris Network is a must for this year’s reading list for book lovers and book worms, especially those who enjoy historical novels with family secrets to unravel.


Purchase Links 






Listen to a sample here

French Village Diaries book review The Paris Network Siobhan Curham
Siobhan Curham


Author Bio


Siobhan Curham is an award-winning author, ghost writer, editor and writing coach. She has also written for many newspapers, magazines and websites, including The Guardian, Breathe magazine, Cosmopolitan, Writers’ Forum,, and Spirit & Destiny. Siobhan has been a guest on various radio and TV shows, including Woman’s Hour, BBC News, GMTV and BBC Breakfast. And she has spoken at businesses, schools, universities and literary festivals around the world, including the BBC, Hay Festival, Cheltenham Festival, Bath Festival, Ilkley Festival, London Book Fair and Sharjah Reading Festival.




Monday, February 14, 2022

A Valentine's Day bike ride for two

French Village Diaries Love is...a Valentine's Day bike ride for two
A Valentine's Day bike ride for two

Love is…

Today might be a busy day, running a training course for Adrian and census counting for me, but yesterday turned out to be the perfect day to celebrate St Valentine’s Day. As the washing danced around on the airer in the garden, we set off for a special bike ride.


Adrian is used to my whacky requests, and I’m used to his eye-rolling response to them, but he still created a 35km Valentine’s Day heart-shaped bicycle route for us. Isn’t he fab!


We left home to the sight and sound of migrating cranes serenading us overhead as they circled above the house on the thermals. We stood and watched as they reformed into deep V shapes, constantly calling to each other before continuing their journey north. It is something we look forward to seeing every February and it never loses its magic. Just outside the village we startled two deer in a field by the road, slowing our speed in case they bolted across our path. Thankfully they just disappeared into a thicket of woods, safely away from the road and hunters. 

French Village Diaries Love is...a Valentine's Day bike ride for two
Lavoir in Hanc


We passed by chateau towers and church spires, delighted to see the first hellebores in the woods and winter aconites in the roadside ditches, their flowers encouraging a pair of cavorting butterflies. The iris stems are also appearing in the streams that fill the local lavoirs (wash houses), although it will be a while before their flowers arrive. 

French Village Diaries Love is...a Valentine's Day bike ride for two
The view from our picnic bench, Couture d'Argenson


At the halfway point to our heart, we paused at a picnic bench to enjoy a homemade flapjack. Out of the wind, we could feel the warmth in the sun, thankfully the feast of springtime promises we saw made battling the headwind worth it.


Adrian wasn’t impressed that the route looked like a flabby, messy heart, but I loved that it was our heart route, centred around our village. It is true we had to compromise using the roads available to us, but what is love if it’s not about compromise? What is important is to accept that reality isn’t always neat and perfect, and that what really counts is to have fun and make memories together. 


Happy Valentine’s Day 

Wednesday, February 9, 2022

Book review of Autumn Paths: An Anthology

French Village Diaries book review of Autumn Paths: An Anthology
Autumn Paths: An Anthology

Autumn Paths: An Anthology


Nine writers - Seasonal Collective - from both sides of the Atlantic, including best-selling and award-winning authors, have created this miscellany of stories.


These tales of family, mystery, intrigue, adventure, and suspense will take you across continents, through time and space in this world and others.  With a linking theme of autumn, discover new landscapes, encounter new and intriguing characters, uncover secrets and lies, and witness the resolution of old enmities.


Take the first step on this roller-coaster of an emotional journey, and you won't be disappointed.


French Village Diaries book review of Autumn Paths: An Anthology
Autumn Paths: An Anthology

My review

Having read and enjoyed novels and previous short stories from author Angela Wren, I was tempted by this collection, even though it I knew it was going to be something a little different from my usual reads and with only a small connection to France.


I love a good short story, one that draws me into its character’s lives immediately, gives me a mystery or some fast-paced action, and then ties up all the loose ends in a neat conclusion that leaves me satisfied. This collection might have deviated from my normal reads, but I enjoyed the variety of scenarios and plot twists. Each story introduced me to a different set of characters in a different location (including the life of a bookseller in France), as well as visiting different eras too. There were sad times and hardships, revenge and reconciliation, fantasy, history and so much more. Some of the stories left me wanting more, some let my mind wander as I imagined more, and one in particular left me with a huge grin on my face. 

I was right to take the chance on this book and found it refreshingly different. 


Autumn Paths would be a great choice if you are looking for a book that is easy to dip in and out of at the end of a busy day.

French Village Diaries book review of Autumn Paths: An Anthology
Autumn Paths: An Anthology blog tour


Purchase Links  

Amazon UK 

Amazon US 

French Village Diaries book review of Autumn Paths: An Anthology
Autumn Paths: An Anthology authors


Author Bios

Sandra Bunting

Sandra Bunting's publications include two books of short fiction, a poetry collection, a non-fiction book besides articles, poems and stories in numerous literary magazines. Sandra is on the editorial board of the Irish-based literary magazine, Crannóg, and worked at NUI Galway where she set up the Academic Writing Centre and taught Creative Writing and TEFL teacher training. Now living in Atlantic Canada, she is a member of The Writers Union of Canada, New Brunswick Writers Federation, Words on Water Miramichi, the Grand Barachois group Women Who Write and the Galway Writers' Workshop.


Pierre C Arseneault

The youngest of eleven children, Pierre C. Arseneault grew up in the small town of Rogersville New Brunswick. As a cartoonist, Pierre was published in over a dozen newspapers. As an author, he has five titles published so far: 

Dark Tales for Dark Nights (2013) 

Sleepless Nights (2014) 

Oakwood Island (2016) Poplar Falls – The Death of Charlie Baker (2019) Oakwood Island - The Awakening (2020)


Chuck Bowie

Chuck Bowie graduated from the University of New Brunswick in Canada with a Bachelor Degree in Science. His writing is influenced by the study of human nature and how people behave. Chuck loves food, wine, music and travel and all play a role in his work. His publisher has just launched his latest novel, set in Ireland and England, entitled Her Irish Boyfriend, fifth in the international suspense-thriller series: Donovan: Thief For Hire. He has just completed and published the second novel in a new cozy mystery series, set in a fictional town in New Brunswick, and is now finishing the follow-up in this series. - Chuck recently completed tenure on National Council of The Writers' Union of Canada; - Acted as Writer in Residence at Kingsbrae International Residence for the Arts, 2019; - Acknowledged as an author of note in the Miramichi Literary Trail installation, 2021.


Steve C Eston

Steve C. Eston always had a conflicting love for the fantastical and the scientific, which led him to write both fantasy and science-fiction. He has three published books: Deficiency (2020), The Conclave (2018) and The Burden of the Protector (2016). He also has several short stories available for free download on his website. He lives in Fredericton with his wife and children.


Angela Wren

Angela Wren is an actor and director at a theatre in Yorkshire, UK. An avid reader, she has always loved stories of any description. She writes the Jacques Forêt crime novels set in France and is a contributing author to the Miss Moonshine anthologies. Her short stories vary between romance, memoir, mystery and historical. Angela has had two one-act plays recorded for local radio.


Monique Thébeau

Monique Thébeau is retired and lives in Riverview, New Brunswick. She has published a murder mystery In the Dark of Winter (which she is currently translating) and a French historical novel of her hometown, Saint-Louis-de-Kent. She is as passionate about building suspense in her stories as she is about gardening and being a grand-parent.


Jeremy Thomas Gilmer

Jeremy Thomas Gilmer is a writer of short fiction and nonfiction. He has been longlisted for the CBC Canada Writes Short Story Prize, won the inaugural Short Story Day Africa Flash Fiction Prize and was selected as the writer-in-residence at the KiRA residency in 2018. Jeremy is the Art and Literature editor-at-large for The East magazine. Gilmer has spent over twenty-five years as an Engineering Consultant on environmental, energy, and mining projects. Born in New Brunswick, Gilmer grew up in Nigeria, Northern Ireland, and Canada and has lived and worked in over forty countries. He splits his time between Eastern Canada and Brazil.


Allan Hudson

Allan Hudson was born in Saint John, New Brunswick. Growing up in South Branch he was encouraged to read from an early age by his mother who was a school teacher. He lives in Cocagne with his wife Gloria. He has enjoyed a lifetime of adventure, travel and uses the many experiences as ideas for his writing. He is an author of action/adventure novels, historical fiction and a short story collection. His short stories – The Ship Breakers & In the Abyss – received Honourable Mention in the New Brunswick Writer's Federation competition. He has stories published on, The Golden Ratio and his blog - South Branch Scribbler.


Angella Cormier

Angella Cormier grew up in Saint Antoine, a small town in south east New Brunswick, Canada. This is where her love of reading and writing was born. Her curious nature about everything mysterious and paranormal helped carve the inspiration for her passion of writing horror and mystery stories. She is also a published poet, balancing out her writing to express herself in these two very opposing genres. Previous titles include: Oakwood Island - The Awakening (2020), Oakwood Island (2016), A Maiden's Perception - A collection of thoughts, reflections and poetry (2015) and Dark Tales for Dark Nights (2013, written as Angella Jacob).

Tuesday, February 8, 2022

Book review Chateau des Corbeaux by Lise McClendon

French Village Diaries book review Chateau des Corbeaux Lise McClendon
Château des Corbeaux by Lise McClendon

Château des Corbeaux


Locations: Dordogne and Bordeaux


Lise McClendon has done it again. I can’t remember what year I read Blackbird Fly, book one in the Bennett Sisters series, but I can still recall where I sat and how much I enjoyed it. Every new book, and this one is number seventeen, deepens my relationship with Merle Bennett and her French partner Pascal d’Onscon, as well as leaving me wanting more.


As Pascal nears his 50th birthday, life is getting him down. He loves his job as wine fraud investigator but detests that he is now more office based than out in the field. The tiny rented flat close to his office in Bordeaux holds no appeal, but neither does the alternative of leaving Merle alone during the week, in her cottage in a bastide town in the Dordogne. His dream of growing his own grapes and making his own wine seems impossible, but driving between Bordeaux and Merle, he can’t help but be drawn to one vineyard in particular, Château des Corbeaux. 


Life is never dull for Merle and Pascal, there is always something cropping up in their personal lives that overlaps somewhat with Pascal’s work. When trouble hits the British owners of Château des Corbeaux, they might just need Merle and Pascal’s assistance to unravel a mystery, right a wrong and save the vines.


Pascal and Merle now feel like good friends, and I enjoy every page back in their company, sharing a chilled glass of rosé or a meal cooked by Merle, as well as seeing France through their eyes. I love the little nuances of ‘real’ France and French ways that Lise weaves into the storyline, giving her books a rounded sense of place. I feel I am there, with someone who has a deep understanding of how things tick in France. 


Travelling to France with Lise is more than just reading a romantically penned location in a novel.


I can’t wait to join Merle and Pascale for more adventures again soon. If you enjoy a good mystery with lots of delicious food and wine on the side, I’m sure you would love Château des Corbeaux, or any of the Bennett Sisters books. You can read more about the books in this series on Lise’s website here or follow her on Facebook here



Monday, February 7, 2022

Counting chickens and other census fun

French Village Diaries recensement counting chickens
Some of the residents of the village free range egg farm

Counting chickens

I’m just over halfway through census month, attempting to count how many of the 235 houses in the village are lived in full time and how many people live in them. I have made countless tours around the commune, on weekdays, weekends and at different times of the day (clocking up over 150km on my bike), speaking to as many people as possible and leaving gentle reminders. After an initial flurry of online responses, and several requests for the paper versions, I’m pleased to say only 10% of households have yet to respond. I now seem to have reached the point however, where it might be easier to individually count the 9000 chickens at the organic free range egg farm, than get the remaining households to fill in their forms. 


We are an international community, and the census applies to everyone who is a permanent resident, whatever their nationality, family situation or employment status, and whether they rent or own their property. I’m happy to report my fellow Brits have all been accounted for, requiring very little hassling. The Romanian builders who share a rented house were polite and welcoming, and thanks to a Romanian translation available from the national statistics office, all filled out their forms with no issues. Many of the older residents have been happy just to see someone at their door and have taken the time to spell out their names in slow, careful French (like you would when talking to a child) so I could fill in their forms for them. 


The ones I’m having a hassle with are the younger French families. Time and again I’m hearing the same story, “I work, I have children and I don’t have time to fill it in”. It takes about five minutes per person and another five minutes to complete the details about the house, and is carried out every five years. If they chose the online option, it can be done any time, not there and then when I knock at their door, which I appreciate might be an inconvenient time. Many of these families have children under ten who benefit from a gift from Père Noel every Christmas. The commune spend 25€ on each child and the shopping and delivering is all organised by a team of volunteers. One of the benefits of counting as many people as possible is that the more inhabitants we have, the more funding we will get from the State, so the more money we will have to spend in the commune budget. Can you tell that their apathy is beginning to irritate me slightly?

French Village Diaries recensement counting chickens volunteers
Our team of volunteers enjoying delivering the Christmas gifts


In the UK it is a legal requirement to complete the census and non-compliance carries a fine of up to £1000. In France it is obligatoire (obligatory), but I’ve yet to find out what (if any) the penalties are for those ‘who are too busy’. What about where you live, is there a census and is it compulsory to complete it?


For the next ten days, I will keep knocking, and reminding, and can only hope those who have promised me they will complete the form online, will remember to do so.