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The French for Christmas (2014)

Evie used to love Christmas, but last year she and her husband mourned the loss of their baby daughter. With her marriage now in tatters, she flees to a friend's holiday home deep in the French countryside to escape from all the Christmas festivities this year. There she discovers that with the help of her neighbours, including the dashing doctor Didier, it may be possible to come through her dark days and celebrate the festive season once more. Evie has suffered a terribly tragic loss. The stillbirth of her daughter Lucie haunts her daily. I get that, I can relate to it. There were points in the story that were so poignant I found them difficult to read. But then it appears that Evie has an epiphany while speaking to a priest, and she moves on from that point forwards. It felt abrupt and unrealistic to me that she went from heartbroken to determined in a second. I did enjoy the story, it took me on a journey. I didn't feel it was particularly festive despite the title, it wasn't the fun Christmassy read I was expecting. It was moving and enjoyable, but at times quite a heavy read. (LO)

The French for Always (2014)

Sara and her fiance, Gavin, made the decision to leave their comfortable life in the UK and are now making their dreams come true in France. They used their life savings to buy a wonderful chateau in a small French village in order to turn it into a thriving wedding venue. A lot of work needs to be done, but with enough weddings booked for their first season, Sara is excited and ready to turn their new business into a success. However, when Gavin suddenly decides to leave, Sara is left alone with no idea how to do it all on her own. And, without Gavin's financial help, Sara knows she will have to eventually sell her beloved Chateau Bellevue. The only thing left to do is try to make the absolute best of the five weddings still planned until the end of the season, to show everyone what she is capable of. The book has some amazing descriptions that immediately make it feel like summer: the descriptions of Chateau Bellevue, the surroundings, the small village and its inhabitants... The main character, Sara, was easily likeable, just like the supporting characters. The storyline, which revolves around Sara and her attempts to save Chateau Bellevue, was really enjoyable, especially because of the five weddings that are organised at the venue while the story enfolds. Each of the weddings featured a specific couple, all of them different from one another with their own background. Fiona Valpy's writing is great; well-paced, detailed and captivating. The French for Always is a wonderfully warm and thoroughly enjoyable read, and definitely the book to pick up if you are looking for a taste of summer. (JoH)

Second Opinion

The French for Love (2013)

Francophiles will love this story of Gina, unexpectedly unemployed, suddenly single after her boyfriend cheats on her and the new owner of a ramshackle old cottage in France. After the death of her father and then her favourite aunt Liz, Gina decides to re-group and take a break from life whilst studying her Masters of Wine course. She anticipates after a break in France in her aunt's house, she'll sell it and move on with her life back in London. What she doesn't expect is to acquire quick knowledge about DIY, fall in love with Bordeaux, discover a family secret that has the potential to tear her mother apart or to meet the handsome Cedric. Whilst her grasp of French is good, there are some funny faux pas as she struggles to engage with the locals. Just when life has placed some unexpected obstacles in her path, it rewards her with the realisation that love is greater than work and family more important than anything else. Those who enjoy a tipple will like the detailed references to wine making. (LF)

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