Monday, January 22, 2024

Book review The Secret Pianist by Andie Newton

French Village Diaries book review The Secret Pianist Andie Newton
The Secret Pianist by Andie Newton

The Secret Pianist by Andie Newton


Sisters. Traitors. Spies.


When a British RAF Whitley plane comes under fire over the French coast and is forced to drop their cargo, a spy messenger pigeon finds its way into unlikely hands…


The occupation has taken much from the Cotillard sisters, and as the Germans increase their forces in the seaside town of Boulogne-sur-Mer, Gabriella, Martine and Simone can’t escape the feeling that the walls are closing in.


Yet, just as they should be trying to stay under the radar, Martine’s discovery of a British messenger pigeon leads them down a new and dangerous path. Gaby would do anything to protect her sisters but when the pianist is forced to teach the step-daughter of a German Commandant, and the town accuses the Cotillards of becoming ‘Bad French’ and in allegiance with the enemy, she realizes they have to take the opportunity to fight back that has been handed to them.


Now, as the sisters’ secrets wing their way to an unknown contact in London, Gaby, Martine and Simone have to wonder – have they opened a lifeline, or sealed their fate?


Readers can’t get enough of USA Today bestselling author Andie Newton:

‘A brilliant tale of resistance, sisterhood and dangerous secrets. Andie Newton is a master storyteller!’ Sara Ackerman, USA Today bestselling author of The Codebreaker's Secret


‘If you believe every WW2 story has already been told, think again. This one is special.’ Paulette Kennedy, bestselling author of The Witch of Tin Mountain


French Village Diaries book review The Secret Pianist Andie Newton
The Secret Pianist by Andie Newton

My review 

The three Cotillard sisters were forced back from Paris to Boulogne-sur-Mer, where they did their best not to be noticed as they ran their seamstress shop in a town under strict German control. The desperation and fatigue that Gaby felt at their situation under the Occupied forces came across clear and strong from the opening chapters. There was an air of sadness about her, having left her musical life behind in Paris, but as the sisters made plans to resist, she found a new strength and purpose to life, despite everything she had lost.

French Village Diaries book review The Secret Pianist Andie Newton
The Secret Pianist by Andie Newton

The role the pigeons played as messengers, drawing information not from trained agents, but ordinary residents, was an unusual and different take on other historical novels I’ve read set during this period. The risks were high, but the sister’s determination and courage to fight, while at every turn the Germans seemed to be closing in on them, made for compelling reading. 


Gaby’s piano music was the catalyst and driving force in this book and the connections and communication she made through her music were powerful, even those that caused distress and trouble for the sisters. Shunned by their friends when they had little choice but to obey the demands the Germans made on them, brought to life the pressures and conflicts that tore communities apart during the Occupation.


As the sisters were dragged into more and more dangerous situations, the twists and turns and ‘oh no’ moments came thick and fast. There were many occasions when it seemed their time was up, only for someone or something to step in unexpectedly, and suddenly who they thought they could trust, changed track once again.


This book has a different take on the risks and challenges ordinary people took to survive, and is one for those of you who enjoy historical fiction set during the Occupation.

Purchase links

Amazon UK link 


Amazon US

Amazon CA

French Village Diaries book review The Secret Pianist Andie Newton
Andie Newton


About the author

Author Bio: Andie Newton is the USA Today bestselling author of A Child for the Reich, The Girls from the BeachThe Girl from Vichy, and The Girl I Left Behind. She lives in the beautiful Pacific Northwest with her family. When she’s not writing gritty war stories about women, you can usually find her trail-running in the desert and stopping to pet every Yellow Lab or Golden Retriever that crosses her path. Andie is actively involved with the reading and writing community on social media. You can follow her on:





French Village Diaries book review The Secret Pianist Andie Newton
The Secret Pianist by Andie Newton

Publisher social media


One More Chapter








HarperCollins360 US




French-themed reading bingo

This year I’ve set myself a reading challenge bingo, with twenty-five different types of French themed books to tick off. Having already ticked off “A book set during The Occupation”, this book, set in Boulogne-sur-Mer, will be perfect for “A book set on the coast”. 

French Village Diaries book review The Secret Pianist Andie Newton reading bingo challenge
Reading bingo challenge 2024

Thursday, January 18, 2024

Book review The Girl from Provence by Helen Fripp

French Village Diaries book review The Girl from Provence Helen Fripp
The Girl from Provence by Helen Fripp

The Girl from Provence: Absolutely gripping and heartbreaking WW2 historical fiction by Helen Fripp


South of France, 1942. Twenty-one-year-old Lilou is selling lavender honey in the village square when the Nazis arrive in her beloved Provence. And when her best friend is dragged away simply for being Jewish, Lilou is horrified. As the village begins to take sides, Lilou secretly swears through angry sobs that she’ll sacrifice everything to fight for what’s right.

Drawn into the French Resistance, soon Lilou is smuggling hidden messages in fresh-baked loaves of bread and meeting Allied pilots in remote moonlit fields. She lives in fear that Kristian, a blue-eyed German soldier, knows about her work – but does he keep her secrets because he is undercover, too?

Everything changes when Lilou is given her most important task: to keep a frightened little boy, Eliot, hidden safe in her farmhouse. All alone in the world, Eliot refuses to speak as he clutches his treasured children’s book close to his chest. Inside is a beautiful story of stars, planets and the night sky. But why is this innocent child the one, among thousands, who Lilou must save?

When she is told Eliot’s book will help her decipher coded messages, Lilou knows he must have knowledge that could change the course of the war. But the day Kristian arrives at her farm searching for hidden Jewish families, Lilou is terrified that Eliot is in more danger than ever…

Can Lilou trust the one person who could tear her world apart? And will she ever help Eliot find his way home?

A totally stunning and heartbreaking read about the incredible sacrifices ordinary people are forced to make each day in wartime. Perfect for fans of Fiona Valpy and Rhys Bowen.

French Village Diaries book review The Girl from Provence Helen Fripp
The Girl from Provence by Helen Fripp


My review 

A book that starts with a scene on a bicycle, whooshing down into a Provence village, on market day, under a perfect blue sky – is a book I knew I was going to love, and I wasn’t wrong.


Lilou Mistral is a gentle soul, more in tune with nature and the seasons than the war and Occupation of German forces in northern France. It’s 1942 and the German’s sudden arrival in her village turned her world on its head. As those around her began to disappear, she pledged her allegiance to the local Resistance, and as strong as the wind that shares her name, she wasn’t afraid of the dangers she must face.


With so many historical novels set during the Occupation period, it was refreshingly different to have one set in the south of France rather than in Paris, but that wasn’t the only feature about this book that set it apart from others I have read. I am a huge fan of stories where characters from the real world appear, and snippets of their lives are woven into the storyline. Imagine my delight to encounter a legendary French aviator/author whose path crossed with Lilou and Eliot in this book, and the important role that was given to his best-known work. This gave a real magic to the storyline, where despite the atrocities Eliot witnessed, the secrets of the stars and the night sky relit his childhood innocence and wonder. The blurring of fact and fiction just added another dimension of intrigue to this book. I was gripped, but it was also brutally emotional too. 

Who can Lilou trust at a time when friends become enemies and the enemy isn’t always who they seem to be. As the net closed in on the Resistance cell, the heart stopping moments came in thick and fast and kept me turning the pages late into the night, hoping against hope.


I enjoyed the previous novels by Helen Fripp, The French House, set on wine domaine in the Champagne region of France, and The Painter’s Girl, set in 19th century Paris, but I think the magic woven into The Girl from Provence tops them both. She really drew me into the period, the setting, and the lives and feelings of her characters. If you enjoy historical fiction, please add this to your 2024 ‘must read’ lists – it’s one of those books that will stay with me for a long time.

French Village Diaries book review The Girl from Provence Helen Fripp
The Girl from Provence by Helen Fripp


Purchase links

Amazon link

Buy link 

French Village Diaries book review The Girl from Provence Helen Fripp
Helen Fripp


About the author


I love delving into the past and uncovering new stories, and in my writing, the tiniest historical detail can spark an idea for a whole chapter. My female characters rail against the social constraints to which they are subject and often achieve great success, but they are of course flawed and human, like the rest of us. It’s the motivations, flaws, loves and every-day lives of my characters that I love to bring life, against sweeping historical backdrops - and I will find any excuse to take off and research a captivating location or person for my next story.


My first novel is set in the Champagne region in France, and I’m currently working on my next one, set in late eighteenth century Paris. I spent a lot of time in France as a child, have lived in Paris and spent a year with my family in a fishing village in South West France, so that’s where my books have ended up being set so far. Who knows where next!


Author social media 



Author newsletter sign up 

You can read my reviews for Helen’s previous novels here:

The French House

The Painter’s Girl 

French-themed reading bingo

This year I’ve set myself a reading challenge bingo, with twenty-five different types of French themed books to tick off. I can now tick off “A book set during The Occupation”.

French Village Diaries book review The Girl from Provence Helen Fripp
French-themed reading bingo 2024

Tuesday, January 16, 2024

Book review Cultivating Change by Caro Feely

French Village Diaries book review Cultivating Change Caro Feely
Cultivating Change by Caro Feely

Cultivating Change by Caro Feely

This is the fourth memoir from Caro Feely set on her family’s organic vineyard near Bordeaux and once again, she has written a book that really hit home as I read it and spoke to me on a level not all memoirs do. 

Cultivating Change is so much more than an update on their family and wine-making journey, it is a punchy, inspiring read that highlights the climate change problem viewed from organic farmers on the front-line. Recent summers saw not only severe hailstorms hitting the vineyards around Bordeaux (something that is becoming more common), but the area has also been victim to huge forest fires that devastated acres of woodland as they burned for weeks. 

French Village Diaries book review Cultivating Change Caro Feely
Cultivating Change by Caro Feely


As well as sharing their interesting and inspiring life in France, Caro takes us along with her as she attends conferences to speak about climate change issues. It is an honest account of the good times as well as their stresses and personal struggles. I learned a lot from this book, about the issues they are facing on a daily basis, and also ideas on how to make more changes to our life. Thermals rather than too much heating, and bikes over cars have been the norm for us for many years, but I realise there is more we can do. It was good to know that there are others out that who share my fears about the gravity of the situation we have created in the world.


I hope that as well as her regular readers enjoying a catch-up on life at the vineyard, the climate change element in this book will give it the wider audience it deserves.

You can read my reviews of Caro’s previous memoirs here:

Grape Expectations

Saving Our Skins

Vineyard Confessions (previously known as Glass Half Full)

My France et Moi interview

Amazon purchase links for Caro’s memoirs can be found here:

Grape Expectations

Saving Our Skins

Vineyard Confessions 

Cultivating Change

Saving Sophia  

Wednesday, January 10, 2024

Book review Monsieur Moonlight by Lise McClendon

French Village Diaries book review Monsieur Moonlight Lise McClendon Bennett Sisters Mysteries
Monsieur Moonlight by Lise McClendon

Monsieur Moonlight by Lise McClendon


What a great start to a New Year of reading, slipping into the pages of a new book, with familiar characters and a cracker of a mystery. Monsieur Moonlight is the nineteenth book in Lise McClendon’s Bennett Sisters Mysteries series, that I fell in love with in book one, Blackbird Fly.


Merle and Pascal are busy people and adding a new property with a vineyard, Château des Corbeaux, only increased their workload, but they wouldn’t have it any other way. It was Pascal’s dream to make his own wine and in this book they continue to settle into life at château, tending the vines in spring as well as working on their accommodation. In a previous novel, they had found some long-hidden treasures on the land that they’d donated to a museum in Paris, and it seems that adventure isn’t quite done with them yet.


As Pascal spreads himself thinly between Merle, the vineyard and his wine fraud investigation work in Bordeaux, things take a sinister turn at work. While not directly involved in the enquiry that follows the sudden death of a collegue, he and Merle can’t help but feel something has been missed out and are soon delving into the detail.


As Merle busies herself making the château their special place, a mystery visitor makes an unexpected appearance, dragging up Pascal’s childhood. This proves to be yet another problem for him to solve, and Merle to cope with in her own way.

French Village Diaries book review Monsieur Moonlight Lise McClendon Bennett Sisters Mysteries
Monsieur Moonlight by Lise McClendon


I do love the chemistry between these two. Their enquiring minds, sixth sense for trouble, and dogged determination to solve a mystery and right a wrong, are perfectly balanced with their tenderness for each other and their pure enjoyment of a good wine, a delicious homecooked meal, or a special dinner out together.


Set in the Dordogne, Bordeaux and the Atlantic coast, both location and food play strong roles, and I couldn’t think of better destinations to escape to in January. This book would be best accompanied by a full-bodied glass of Bordeaux’s finest red wine.


Thank you, Lise for yet another gripping update to Merle and Pascal’s exciting lives.

Here are some Amazon purchase links: 

Monsieur Moonlight


Blackbird Fly 


Chateau des Corbeaux 


Bennett Sisters Mysteries series 


French-themed reading bingo

This year I’ve set myself a reading challenge bingo, with twenty-five different types of French themed books to tick off. Monsieur Moonlight fits for a few categories, but I think I’ll tick off “A mystery set in France”.


If you fancy joining in, here is my bingo card:


French Village Diaries book review French themed reading bingo challenge
My French-themed reading bingo card 2024


Monday, January 8, 2024

Free museum Sundays

French Village Diaries Free museum Sundays Musée Maritime La Rochelle Ile de Ré cycling
Free museum Sundays

Free museum Sundays 


On the first Sunday of the month, many national museums in France offer free entry to all visitors, something we have been making use of since Ed was much younger. I will admit we rather gave up on museum visits for several years, but working in one has reignited my passion once more, and Adrian is happy to indulge me. 


It is worth mentioning that not all museums are national ones and without the financial support from the government, locally or independently run places (like our little museum at the Château de Javarzay) do not have the ability to offer free entries. There are also often seasonal restrictions in the busy periods during the height of summer, or for winter closures.


Yesterday we were up early and on the road to La Rochelle by nine o’clock, marvelling at the delicate pastel colours of the sky, a much-needed improvement to the low cloud and mist that has consumed our skies recently. The roads were quiet, and it felt like it was just us and deer in the fields who were out and about. There was an excitement to escaping for a day out that instantly lifted the weight of claustrophobia, caused by the rubbish weather and our lack of plans for 2024.

French Village Diaries Free museum Sundays Musée Maritime La Rochelle Ile de Ré cycling
Île de Ré, by bike


Île de Ré, by bike

The morning was spent cycling on the Île de Ré, our first visit to this special island on the Atlantic coast since the beginning of 2020. Savouring every memory, our pace was gentle and relaxed as we enjoyed the fresh air, sea views and freedom. 


Our route took us to the pretty port of La Flotte, where narrow cobbled lanes weave between back-to-back cottages with white walls and green shutters, from the palest mint to a dark olive. I also noticed the trendy grey that is seeping into fashion all over is now adding its hues to the fifty shades of green found on the island houses. 


As we cut inland and explored new-to-us bike paths, we saw pheasants and the first hint of yellow to the buds on the frothy fronds of the mimosa trees. Colours caught my eye everywhere, from the bright reds of the camelias to the yellow of the forsythia. The island might get the full brunt of the Atlantic weather, which left our faces glowing a healthy pink, but the early season flowers bloom here weeks before they do at home.

French Village Diaries Free museum Sundays Musée Maritime La Rochelle Ile de Ré cycling
Île de Ré, January 2024


On the southern coast we climbed dunes and watched sea wading birds and herons, as we breathed in the unique scent of salty air, listening to the cry of the gulls and the crashing of waves. Even the concrete German blockhouse defences now have a vibrancy that masks their dark side, thanks to colourful graffiti. 


Lunch was a picnic on a sunny bench, sheltered from the wind with the view of a church spire and surrounded by parcels of tidy vines, already pruned for the 2024 season. It was the perfect recharge for the batteries and even the uphill push, into a biting headwind, on the return crossing of the bridge couldn’t shift the smile on my ruddy-cheeked face.


French Village Diaries Free museum Sundays Musée Maritime La Rochelle Ile de Ré cycling
Maritime museum, La Rochelle

Maritime Museum, La Rochelle

The afternoon took us into La Rochelle for a visit to the Maritime Museum, one of the national museums that opens its doors for free on the first Sunday of the month (except in July and August), saving us 16€ on two adult entry tickets.


It is a split location museum, with exhibits in two large halls and (more excitingly) three boats moored in the harbour. We began on the fishing trawler the Angoumois, before exploring the tug/pilot boat the St Gilles and then the star of the show France I, a meteorological vessel that was fascinating from the engine rooms all the way up to the bridge and the captain’s quarters. It was so much fun to climb, to pretend, to push buttons and to peek into life at sea, from the safety of a moored vessel.


Like all good museums it warrants a second visit as although the website suggested two hours for a visit, I’d recommend a full afternoon as there is so much to see. We hardly made a dent on the indoor sections, especially the history of the port of La Rochelle from the Middle Ages, through English rule, the Richelieu siege and on to the present day – where there was a lot to read and take in. There was also an interactive exhibition on climate change that deserved far more time than we had left in our day. Aside from climbing around onboard, Adrian was in his element at the current exhibition of Olympic sailing boats, as La Rochelle will host the sailing events this summer.


On the drive home I was in a reflective mood, inspired no doubt by a good day out and a fabulous sunset. As someone who spends most of the year checking our museums entry figures and comparing them to previous years, I asked myself if I felt guilty about getting free entry. Honestly, no. It helps us and many others to discover places we might not have otherwise visited and if they can afford to offer it, I’m happy to take them up on their generosity. I will certainly be recommending the Maritime Museum to our visitors this summer.


I have updated my annual French public and school holiday dates blog to include a bit about free museum Sundays and the European Heritage weekend that also offers free or reduced entry to many museums and other cultural sites, and this year will fall on 21st and 22nd September. 

Happy exploring.




Monday, January 1, 2024

French public and school holidays 2024

French Village Diaries public school holidays France 2024
French public and school holiday dates 2024

Here’s to a happy and healthy New Year to you all. 


January is the perfect time to start planning your French travel adventures and to make the most of them, it’s always useful to know when the public and school holidays fall. Things have changed a lot in the twenty years since we’ve been living here, but in many areas of rural France, shops are still likely to be either closed or only open in the mornings on public holidays.


The school holiday dates in France are split into three zones and most of the holidays are staggered so not everyone is trying to hit the ski slopes or beaches at the same time, although be prepared for extra traffic on the roads on all Saturdays during the school holidays, or better still avoid driving on these days.


This summer Paris will be home to the Olympics, with 329 events over 19 days in 41 venues, which will mean a busy city, plus it’s all change for the Tour de France and the Tour de France Femmes

Here is my guide to all the French public holidays, school holidays and other notable dates, plus how they are celebrated here in France, for 2024. 


Public Holidays in France 2024

1st January, New Year’s Day, jour de l’an 

31st March, Easter SundayPâques 

1st April, Easter Monday, lundi de Pâques (note there is no Good Friday holiday in France unless you live in Alsace or Moselle areas)

1st May, Fête du Travail (celebrated with lily of the valley)

8th May, Victory in Europe DayVictoire 1945 

9th May, Ascension Day, Ascension (note schools will have an extra day off on Friday 9th May for the bridge (pont see below)

20th May, Pentecost Monday, lundi de Pentecôte

14th July, Fête Nationale (a Sunday this year)

15th August, Assumption Day, Assomption 

1st November, All Saint's Day, Toussaint

11th November, Armistice DayArmistice 1918 

25th December, Christmas Day, Jour de Noël (note there is no Boxing Day holiday in France on 26th unless you live in Alsace or Moselle areas)


Faire le pont

Except for the holidays linked to Easter: Easter Monday, Ascension Day and Pentecost Monday, the above dates are the same every year and the holiday is always observed on the actual date rather than being moved to the nearest Monday (as the UK would do). Public holidays can therefore fall on weekends; to make up for this it is not uncommon for people to faire le pont (make a bridge) if a holiday falls on a Thursday (Ascension Day) or a Tuesday, by taking off the Friday or Monday to give themselves a four-day weekend. This leave will be part of their annual holiday entitlement, or the hours need to be made up, so while most businesses will be open on bridge days, some staff shortages can be expected. 

French Village Diaries public school holidays France 2024
French school holiday zones


School Holidays 


Here are the dates for 2024:

The winter holiday is from 10th February to 10th March

Zone C gets the first two weeks, Zone A the middle two and Zone B the last two.


The spring holiday is from 6th April to 5th May

Zone C gets the first two weeks, Zone A the middle two and Zone B the last two weeks.


Thanks to Ascension Day falling on 9th May, everyone is off for a five-day long weekend from Wednesday 8th May (Victory in Europe Day) to Sunday 12th May, with Friday being a bridge day.


The summer holiday for all zones is from 6th July until 1st September.


The October holiday for all zones is from 19th October to 3rd November.


The Christmas holiday for all zones is from 22nd December to 6th January 2025.


Other dates to note and celebrate

6th January, Epiphany, celebrated in France with a Galette des Rois (see here)

10th January, winter sales begin, soldes d’hiver. Sales are regulated in France and the winter sales will run from 10th January to 6th February 


2nd February Candlemas day, Chandeleur, celebrated in France with pancakes (see here)

13th February, Shrove Tuesday, Mardi Gras when carnival time begins in France and pancakes, or beignets (similar to doughnuts) are eaten.


24th March, Palm Sunday, Rameaux a day where our local boulangeries bake something different (see here)

31st March, clocks spring forward an hour to Central European Summer Time


1st April, Poisson d’avril celebrated in France with sticky fish (see here)


26th May, Mother’s Day, fêtes des mères

27th May, National Resistance Day, journée nationale de la Résistance

31st May, Neighbours’ Day, fêtes des voisins often celebrated in France with shared meals


6th June, 80th anniversary of the D-Day landings in Normandy that will be commemorated with a number of events this summer 

16th June, Father’s Day, fêtes des pères

21st June, world music day, fête de la musique, celebrated with free concerts in towns and villages all over France

26th June, summer sales begin, soldes d’été, and will run until 16th July


29th June to 1st July, Le Tour de France, with a planned depart in Florence, Italy, and a finish in Nice, NOT on the Champs-Elysées in Paris because of preparations for the Paris 2024 Olympic Games


26th July to 11th August, Paris 2024 Olympic Games with the Opening Ceremony on 26th July


12th to 18th August, Le Tour de France Femmes avec Zwift, begins in Rotterdam and finishes in Alpe d’Huez, in the Alps

21st and 22nd September, European Heritage weekend, Journées Européennes du Patrimoine, many museums and other cultural sites will be open to the public, often organising special events, and with free or reduced price entry


27th October, clocks go back an hour to Central European Time and Christmas will be with us before we know it

Free museum entry on the First Sundays of the month 

Did you know many national museums in France open for free on the first Sunday of the month? Whilst not exclusive, as there are often restrictions in July and August, and some museums will close for some of the winter months, this is certainly a secret worth knowing and we’ve had some interesting visits over the years, all for free. Note: not all museums are national and without the financial support from the government, locally or independently run places will not have the ability to offer free entries. If you fancy a cultural city break, it would be worthwhile checking the museum websites to see if they are taking part and plan your visit accordingly.


7th January

4th February

3rd March

7th April

5th May

2nd June

7th July

4th August

1st September

6th October

3rd November

1st December


I hope you’ve found this useful and that wherever in France 2024 takes you, you have a wonderful time. I’d love to hear about your adventures and new discoveries.