Ironically, having to rush down to Bordeaux due to a family crisis has made me late taking part in the France Book Tours virtual tour for the latest in the Winemaker Detective series, in which Bordeaux has previously featured. Events were entirely beyond my control but here I am now, a little late and still stressed to the eyeballs, but delighted to be sharing this lovely book with you.

Requiem in Yquem sees Benjamin Cooker and assistant Virgile back in action in this newest wine-centred cozy mystery. This time we are in Sauternes region, where a brutal murder of an elderly couple has shattered the locality. Virgile has some history in the area, which comes in handy, and this together with a wine connection and Benjamin’s tenacity soon has them on the trail of the killer.

As always with this series, there is plenty of good food and wine to relieve the dramatic tension, and also superb descriptive writing, and our two imperfect heroes with their problems and quirks keep these stories realistic and totally absorbing.

Here’s an atmospheric excerpt so you can see for yourself just how enjoyable the writing of Jean-Pierre Alaux and Noel Balen (pictured above) is.

From Requiem in Yprem

It was a rustic bed. Resting on a pine frame, the thin mattress had served for more than sleep. Lovers had coupled in the night here, and children had been birthed in white-hot pain. Under the goose-down comforter, the sheets were heavy and rough. A crucifix above the bed attested to a faith filled with incense and rosary beads. A frond secured behind it awaited Ash Wednesday, when it would be reduced to gray dust—a reminder of mortality.

An antique clock with a brass pendulum ruled over the dreary room, which was steeped in darkness day and night. Éléonore and René Lacombe were too discreet to let the sun reveal their furrowed faces, skeletal torsos, and arthritic joints. The couple anticipated death with resignation mingled with apprehension.

On this late-autumn morning, the two old creatures were lying side by side, with waxy faces, half-closed eyes, gaping mouths, and limp, fleshless arms. Éléonore and René looked like marionettes abandoned by a puppeteer who had rushed offstage. Except for the blood.

The bullets had been carefully aimed. Had Éléonore and René awakened? Had they seen the murderer’s face? Clearly, there hadn’t been enough time to switch on the lamp or let out a word or a cry. And certainly not enough to grab the shotgun below the bed, which René hadn’t used since he stopped pigeon hunting five years before. No, the scenario had unfolded without a hitch. No mess in the house. No closets forced open or drawers rifled through. The covers were even pulled up, as if to keep the victims from getting cold before moving on to the afterlife.

Was it possible that someone was after the couple’s modest possessions? A postal employee’s pension, combined with the meager savings of a seamstress, was hardly enough to motivate a crime like this.

They kept no wads of euros tucked beneath their mattress. The small savings they had managed to accumulate was safely deposited at a bank in Preignac, a commonplace town in the Sauternes appellation of southwestern France. The Lacombes’ nest egg was available for withdrawal if anything happened. But nothing ever happened. Theirs was a humdrum life permeated with silence, small grimaces, groans, and occasional laughter. Some bickering, of course, but nothing serious.

Éléonore and René had sometimes joked that they would be inseparable even in death. And when the first officer on the scene carefully pulled down the covers, it was confirmed. Éléonore and René were holding hands.

Here’s your chance to win a copy of this very entertaining mystery that really does keep you guessing right up to the end.

 

 

Jean-Pierre ALAUX and Noël BALEN

on Tour

September 11-22

with

REQUIEM-IN-YQUEM cover

Requiem in Yquem

(mystery)

Release date: September 12, 2017
at Le French Book

215 pages

ISBN: 9781943998104

Website | Goodreads

SYNOPSIS

The intricate taste of greed and remorse.
The “addictive” Winemaker Detective series returns with a French mystery set in Sauternes, home of one of the world’s finest dessert wines, Yquem, known to some as liquid gold.
In the mist-covered hills of Sauternes, where the wine is luscious and the landscape beguiling, the brutal murder of an elderly couple intrigues the wine expert Benjamin Cooker and awakens memories for his dashing assistant Virgile Lanssien. Drawn into the investigation, the two journey through the storied Sauternes countryside, where the Château d’Yquem has reigned for centuries. Will the murder go unexplained and the killer remain free? The Winemaker Detective’s discernment and incessant curiosity pushes investigators to look deeper, while Virgile rekindles memories of his days at school and questions the meaning of his life.
In another satisfying wine novel with a French flair, authors Jean-Pierre Alaux and Noël Balen give readers a perfectly intoxicating combination French wine, gourmet meals, and mystery in the gloriously described Sauternes wine region with all the scenery, scents, and sounds of France. This light, fun mystery combines amateur sleuths, food, and wine in a wonderfully French mystery novel that doubles as a travel guide.
It is a new kind read on the international mystery and crime scene: a pitch-perfect, wine-infused, French-style cozy mystery.

ABOUT THE AUTHORS

Alaux-Balen

©David Nakache

 

Jean-Pierre Alaux and Noël Balen,
the authors of the Winemaker Detective series
are epicures.
Jean-Pierre Alaux is a magazine, radio and TV journalist
when he is not writing novels in southwestern France. |
He is the grandson of a winemaker
and exhibits a real passion for wine and winemaking.
For him, there is no greater common denominator than wine.
He gets a sparkle in his eye when he talks about the Winemaker Detective mystery series,
which he coauthors with Noël Balen.
Noël lives in Paris, where he shares his time between writing,
making records, and lecturing on music.
He plays bass, is a music critic,
and has authored a number of books about musicians
in addition to his prolific novel and short-story writing.

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ABOUT THE TRANSLATOR

Sally Pane studied French at State University of New York Oswego and the Sorbonne before receiving her Masters Degree in French Literature from the University of Colorado where she wrote Camus and the Americas: A Thematic Analysis of Three Works Based on His Journaux de Voyage. Her career includes more than twenty years of translating and teaching French and Italian at Berlitz and at University of Colorado Boulder. She has worked in scientific, legal and literary translation; her literary translations include Operatic Arias; Singers Edition, and Reality and the Untheorizable by Clément Rosset, along with a number of titles in the Winemaker Detective series. She also served as the interpreter for the government cabinet of Rwanda and translated for Dian Fossey’s Digit Fund. In addition to her passion for French, she has studied Italian at Colorado University, in Rome and in Siena. She lives in Boulder, Colorado with her husband.

 

***

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Other genres, such as mismem and griplit, come and go in popularity, but cosy mysteries remain constantly popular. These require creativity, ingenuity and humour on the part of the author, which make for a winning formula for readings. You find some really excellent writing.

Dying for Dinner Rolls by Lois Lavrisa is no exception. This is a short, delightful read. Our heroine Cat works in the family organic food store. She’s recovering from the recent violent death of her father, but her supportive husband and lively children have kept her going. Also she’s making an effort to be there for her Korean mother, Yunni. When Lucy is found dead after nipping home to fetch dinner rolls for Cat and the other members of the Chubby Chicks Club, a group of friends who get together for pot luck suppers and chats, a chilling clue seems to link her death with Cat’s father’s. The police consider it to be a suicide but Cat is convinced otherwise. Annie Mae, the chubbiest of the chicks, joins Cat for a day’s eventful sleuthing which threatens to land them both in jail. Handsome cop José keeps a nervous eye on proceedings and rushes in to rescue the crimebusting pair when the difficult situations they get themselves into threaten to get out of control. They do get a little carried away at times! However, they also get the murderer, but Cat is still determined to track down her father’s killer, whatever the cost.

Once you start this novella it’s hard to put it down. The characters are quirky, diverse and fascinating. Cat is a lively, likeable heroine with strengths and flaws that make her so utterly identifiable with. Annie Mae, twenty years her senior and, by the sounds of it, twenty times her weight, makes for the perfect sidekick for her. The plot twists and turns, just as it should, and the result is a clever, original cosy that has you gasping in horror and chuckling in delight in equal measure. I highly recommend it, and I’m now off to read the next two books in the series.

Just a couple of tiny nitpicks – well, I am an editor! There were just a couple of typos, but that’s quite acceptable as the error-free book has yet to be published, and the cover is a little too cluttered. The image is clean and classy but the quote and the Chubby Chicks logo rather spoiled the overall effect for me.

Formidable! I thoroughly enjoyed this book from start to finish.

Joe, his French wife and bilingual son leave California for Paris. Joe seems well-prepared for what French life will throw at him on the whole, but the quest for a French driving license leads him a merry dance and becomes all-consuming. It’s from this point of view that we follow Joe’s adventures in the land of shrugs and snails.

He has a sharp eye for detail and a lovely, lively style. He clearly relishes the foreignness and frequent inexplicability of France. The result is a very readable and entertaining book that will have you chuckling every few pages. For example, he hilariously describes the frustrating vagaries of French road signage, details delicious but interminable meals (with helpful ‘how to survive them’ tips), and gives wonderful accounts of nervous-tic inducing encounters with bureaucrats. He throws in lots of fascinating facts along way, for example about car ownership and vehicle-related revenues, and about the Strange French Names Club aka Asso des communes de France aux noms burlesques. He teaches us some slang and swear words and weaves in plenty of helpful information too, such as about the dreaded priorité à droite rule. All excellent stuff.

For me the book was also a look at ‘how the other half lives’, the other half being employed people in France whereas I’m from the self-employed sector. All those paid days off and holiday vouchers, I’m green with envy!

The only thing I took issue with was where Joe says that if a car fails its contrôle technique it has to be repaired immediately before it goes back on the road. You actually have two months to do the necessary work. Only a minor quibble but worth mentioning in case it causes panic to would-be expats!

A splendid book, well presented and written, and most definitely a must-read.

From 2011: The Year of All Things Wild and Woolly

Talking about sad episodes, it’s time to mention our polytunnel. Our earnings were a little healthier now that we were with Angling Lines, but there still wasn’t a lot of spare cash. Now, we’d been mulling over the idea of getting a greenhouse or polytunnel for several months. We ate a lot of tomatoes and lettuces but these didn’t thrive outdoors. Despite digging lots of poop from assorted animals into the area of ground we designated as the vegetable patch, the soil remained poor. The only things that did grow were courgettes and pumpkins, and you can definitely have too many of those. Hence, the desire to grow a wider variety of veggies. After a lot of pondering, we opted for a low budget polytunnel off eBay. Stop laughing and bear with me. It looked good in the advert, and was the right sort of size so we paid up and eagerly awaited its arrival. It wasn’t too long coming and we got it up in one afternoon. Given the number of bits of framework and the unhelpfulness of the instructions, that was surprisingly fast. We chose a south-facing spot behind the barn. It was in the female llamas’ field and they were delighted. They had a very interesting time watching us grapple with poles and plastic. Llamas are so wonderfully inquisitive. Once it was finished they seemed very pleased with the new addition to their field and inspected it every now and again. We’d have to make sure to keep it closed, or they’d be in like a shot.

We got to work constructing some workbenches from recycled building materials and quickly covered them with seedlings in yoghurt pots. My inner gardener blossomed. I spent many happy hours pottering around potting things up in there, and Chris likewise. It started to look very impressive and productive. We took the precaution of wiring the framework to two very heavy iron bars that had come with the farm. We had no idea what their original purpose might have been, but we knew they’d come in handy one day and so we left them where they were, on the grass beyond the hangar, and regularly tripped over them. However, all those stubbed toes were worth it as the bits of iron now came into their own.

They, the bits of wire and a few bits of bent framework were all that were left after the first slightly windy night we experienced after erecting the polytunnel. A few moderate gusts of wind and the whole thing fell apart. The plastic ripped and fluttered off around the farm, sending our seedlings flying, only to be consumed or trampled on by the llamas. What a disaster. All that hard work wasted. Evidently the polytunnel was intended for indoor use only. We sighed and collected up any salvageable pieces of debris, and they weren’t many, ignoring the llamas’ giggling.

We learnt our lesson from that act of cheapskateness and decided we would have to invest in a real, proper, heavy-duty polytunnel with thick plastic and a weighty metal framework. It would be worth dipping into our savings if it meant we bought something that would last longer than a couple of weeks and withstand a gentle breeze. And so our new polytunnel duly arrived. This was more like it. It came on two pallets and weighed a ton. Never mind several hours, it took several weeks to erect. The main supporting framework needed concreting in place, wooden doorways had to be constructed and it took the whole family to help with fitting the rest of the frame together and fitting the plastic over, stretching it carefully to fit and cutting off the excess. Leaving a central walkway, Chris built a raised bed to each side which, over a few days, we filled with barrowfuls of llama and chicken poop. The ten-metre long and four-metre wide polytunnel accommodated an awful lot of poop, I can tell you. We were delighted, and, although a bit late, set to on a second splurge of growing seedlings. We hung up a thermometer and marvelled at the tropical temperatures reached in the polytunnel. On a cloudy day when it was 20 degrees outside, the tunnel clocked up 35 degrees. And when it was hot and sunny outside around the 30 degree mark, the thermometer showed upwards of 45 degrees. Surely our lettuces and tomatoes would flourish now.

Word must have got round about our polytunnel because out of the blue, a young man turned up. He explained he was a neighbour, relatively speaking – he lived a good few kilometres away but there weren’t many other habitations between us and him so I guess that did make us neighbours – and that he’d just taken over Les Chapotiers and planned to make a living growing bio (organic) fruit and veg. We’d detected a hint of hippie. He had a polytunnel on order and asked if we’d come and help him erect it when he arrived. We replied that so long as he wouldn’t object to a good bit of swearing going on during the process, then no problem, count us in. We’d found from our few years of heavy labour in France that swearwords are as crucial an ingredient in constructing something as the physical constituents. Cussing concentrates the mind. We weren’t the first to think so. I remember from my childhood Dad going round to help our neighbour, who I knew as Uncle Will, with a car problem. “Damn, I won’t be able to swear so it’ll take ages,” Dad grumbled as he set off. Uncle Will was indeed a gentle soul. We’d often call round as kids and be treated to a biscuit in the kitchen. I only saw the living room once, and the walls were festooned with beautiful embroidered pictures. All Uncle Will’s work.

The young guy never turned up again.

Another #SampleSunday, another extract from my forthcoming ‘Total Immersion: Ten Years in France’. We’re in March 2009, and we get to meet our first home-born baby llama and Chris has a very close encounter with a fox.

We’d moved Gabby, the mother llama, into a stable so she’d be warm and cosy when delivery time came and we checked on her frequently. We coated the stable floor with hay, and counted the days. We were starting to give up. She seemed intent on exploding rather than giving birth, just to spite us.

This cria is actually Sir Winter, born Jan 27 2017. My photos of baby Lulin are on another computer. But he’s equally as cute as she was!

It was a fine, sunny morning during the kids’ winter holiday fortnight so we decided to go for a walk. We did one of our local strolls, the Chambon shuffle we call it (ch = sh in French, so it’s a nice alliterative name). Coming back along the green lane between fields, we spotted a fox in the hedgerow, but it didn’t run away. We peered close and saw that it had a metal snare around its stomach, getting tighter and tighter every time the animal moved. It was probably stupid of us, but we couldn’t leave it like that. Chris had gloves on and tried to free the fox but it bit him, not surprisingly really, and we were forced to abandon the rescue mission for the time being. When we got back, Chris went to put Germolene on his bite and then find thick gloves and wire cutters for a second attempt. I went to look in on Gabby. And there, in a hideous, spindly heap, was a llama cria. Gabby had chosen the darkest, dirtiest corner of the stable to deliver in, studiously avoiding the birth-friendly hay carpet we’d put down.  The baby was cold and grubby. Caiti and I got busy with towels drying the little female down while the boys went off to deal with the fox.

Both missions proved successful. Caiti and I soon transformed the baby into a clean, dry, fluffy cria. She was mainly white with some pretty brown splotches on her face and back. At the time Comet Lulin was visible, and we thought that Lulin was the perfect name for a little llama. Again with the alliteration. Benj and Chris came back, fortunately with no more bites, thanks to the thick gloves. But we still had the one bite to worry about. And worry a lot about, as France was then still officially a rabid country.

We hopped in the car to go to the doctor’s. We explained what had happened, and he asked us if we had the fox’s head. I stared at him blankly. No, he can’t have said that. I must have misunderstood something there. I asked him to repeat the question at a non-Francophone-friendly speed, and the same words came out. Chris and I shot other a ‘what the heck’ look. I warily replied that we didn’t have the head. We’d left it on the fox as it clearly had need of it. There didn’t seem a lot of point in freeing a fox from a snare only to immediately decapitate it, not the thought of doing so would ever have occurred to us.

The doctor sighed and told us, in a long-suffering tone, that if you get bitten by a fox, or any other possibly rabid animal, you’re meant to kill it and bring its head with you for testing. As with so many things in France, you’re meant to instinctively know this. Well, we didn’t, and we hadn’t got a vulpine head with us, so what next? The doctor quickly cheered up and said that Chris would need to go to Guéret hospital for rabies-neutralising shots. These would start at the rate of several a week, then one a week, then one a fortnight and so on at increasingly long intervals for at least the next six months. He might have said years, I was too shocked to listen properly. This really was a blow. We’d been expecting Chris would need a few injections, but not that many or for so long.

Lulin today

The doctor phoned the nearest Department of Information about Rabies and we watched as the smile dropped from his face. Our hearts were in our boots. He must have underestimated the treatment process. But it turned out that Boussac was a rabies-free zone. There hadn’t been any cases reported here for some officially sanctioned period of time, so we didn’t need the injections after all. The doctor was clearly very disappointed about this. I think he’d been quite looking forward to having a case of rabies to tell all his medical chums about. Or maybe, odd as this may sound, he liked seeing English people suffer. All that needed doing was to give Chris some antibiotics. Our anti-tetanus shots were up to date, so no more jabs were necessary. Talk about relief. The incident has, however, left Chris with an intense dislike of foxes. He also vowed he would never try and free another animal from a snare, a vow he steadfastly kept until Christmas when we came across our next case of a snared animal, a deer this time, which, of course, we set free.

Snaring  is legal in France, under certain conditions, and also trapping. Our local friendly farm supply shop, run by incredibly nice people, has a whole rack of gruesome looking devices for these very purposes and obviously they don’t give it a second thought. It’s still a way of life for some country dwellers. We haven’t come across any trapped animals for a long while now, it has to be said. However, I don’t suppose the practice has died out, just that whoever’s setting the snares is keeping them off our usual stamping grounds. The snarer has possibly worked out that the proximity of our farm to the cut-through snares they’d laid was more than coincidental. Because they were quite close to us, the only inhabitants in a sizeable chunk of very many square kilometres. Mine were the only local chickens, or in fact livestock of any kind, that a fox might have helped itself to, so I can’t see the need for anyone to have set a snare in that location. OK, deer eat crops which must be annoying if you’re a farmer, but this snare was on a bit of fencing (erected by the gas board) bordered by scrub land. Unnecessary and unpleasant.

Now that the first draft of Haircuts, Hens and Homicide is in the bag, I’ve been able to return to part Deux of my memoir of our lives in France, Total Immersion. To whet your appetites here’s an extract from the chapter ‘2012: The Year of the Pig’.

The Big Freeze of 2017 is going on as I write about the Even Bigger Freeze of 2012 so it’s helping to put me in the mood. It’s brought back precise memories of exactly how flipping cold it was.

The year started off harmlessly enough. Once New Year was over, the kids headed back to école primaire (Rors), lycée (Caiti) and fac (Benj) and Chris and I settled into our daily routine of this time of years of jobs around the farm, lake maintenance and our online businesses. However, Chris’s inner swineherd was proving hard to ignore. He’d been becoming more and more interested in getting pigs, and talking about them to such an extent that some returning angling clients of ours gave him a book about pig ownership. Perhaps that was the deciding factor, or maybe he just felt ready for a new challenge as by now, between us, we’d mastered llama and alpaca, goat, sheep and poultry ownership. It was time to conquer another animal species.

Chris did some research and found someone who did pig management courses in Poitou-Charentes, about four hours away. He booked himself in on the next available session and sorted out a night’s accommodation nearby as there was an early start to the day’s training. All he had to do now was wait.

January was ridiculously mild, to the extent that the daffs were coming up, the chickens were laying fit to bust and buds were starting to appear on many trees. What a lovely short winter we’ve had this time, we thought with a smile. But Mother Nature had the last laugh.

Chris set off on a sunny Sunday afternoon, waved off by me and the two youngest. Once he was gone we pottered around in the warmth, doing the farm chores and getting some fresh air before focussing on getting everything ready for school next day. For Rors this was just making sure there were clean clothes ready and waiting, but for Caiti it was the usual painful process of packing the suitcase for a week of boarding. We should have had it down to a fine art by now, and we had done with Benj, but somehow every week seemed like the first with our daughter. She always left packing till the very last minute, long after parental patience had been ground down. I’ve never been a late night person and since moving to France and taking up a much more physically exhausting lifestyle, then bed starts calling at nine o’clock, sometimes earlier. So things would tend to get fraught on a Sunday evening. But Caiti inevitably produced the proverbial rabbit from the hat and was all ready for the off, although she regularly resembled the proverbial slow snail and reduced me to a nervous wreck on Monday mornings. However, as it turned out miraculously we only ever missed the bus once.

This particular Monday morning was very chilly but with Chris away I had no alternative but to load a warmly wrapped sleepy Ruadhrí into the car to be taken for the ride when delivering Caiti to the bus stop in Clugnat. The road sparkled with frost and it was nippy. One low, hill-bottom stretch of the road was, as usual, particularly cold. We called it the ‘frost bucket’. This arose from a very young Caiti mishearing us using the expression ‘frost pocket’. Well, since ‘frost bucket’ is so much better we adopted that one as a family saying. The car showed a temperature of minus three or so. Brrr.

Meanwhile Chris was getting up to minus five, which came as a bit of a shock. Fortunately he’d taken plenty of warm clothes with him as a lot of the training was done outside and the day itself was sunny and bright. He had a wonderful time learning about the finer points of pigmanship with trainers David and Lorraine. They specialised in English old breed pigs and so Chris got to meet Gloucester Old Spots, Berkshires and Oxford Sandy and Blacks. He got to eat them at lunchtime too but not the ones he’d just met, obviously! The whole point of getting pigs was to become self-sufficient in pork. We weren’t going to be a pig sanctuary – we were going into this venture with hardened hearts and a love of sausages.  Chris was immediately struck with how much nicer the pork from these old breeds was than what we were used to eating from the supermarket.

Chris learned about fencing, handling and breeding pigs, and about all the relevant legislation. There was plenty of hands-on experience of rounding up and feeding. He was struck with how intelligent the pigs are. You can interact with a pig. Llamas, alpacas, goats, sheep – not so much. The action with them is one way, i.e. from the human, with the creature in question simply regarding you vacantly as The Mysterious Being That Dispenses Food. A pig, though, will come over for a chat. A pig will listen. A pig will scrutinise you and size you up with those shrewd eyes, rather than just gaze dumbly at you. A pig is altogether a different kind of animal from other farm livestock.

Temperatures began to plummet as the day wore on. I distributed extra hay to the animals and took a hat for Rors with me when I walked to Nouzerines to meet him from school. It was the walking-to-and-from school season in the winter, but the rest of the year we cycled him in and out. Despite living the furthest away, and Chris and I being the oldest set of parents by at least a decade, we were the only ones who were able to get to and from under our own environmentally-friendly steam rather than resorting to car or bus. As well as allowing us to feel morally superior to the rest of the world, it kept us all fit and we enjoyed the exercise as a family activity.

Chris got back quite late and reported freezing fog and icy roads all the way. It was by now a good few degrees below freezing, and it was going to be several weeks before it warmed up. The Big Freeze had begun.

It seemed to come out of nowhere. Admittedly we didn’t watch the Météo, weather forecast, regularly. We’d tried and failed to adapt to French television generally. With its love of short and frankly bizarre (‘quirky’ doesn’t come close) vignettes, and its overly-verbose chat and quiz show hosts, it just wasn’t for us. The culturally divide turns into a chasm when it comes to the TV. But we soon started watching it every night. And the news, where ice-bound scenes from around the country filled most of the half-hour slot. However, we were far more concerned with our own ice-boundness, which was dramatic and wholesale.

(The artwork for the cover of Total Immersion is by the incomparable Roger Fereday. The photo is of our own Berkshire pigs, Rosamunde and Oberon.)

The author describes this as a dozy mystery, rather than a cozy mystery, which right from the start gives you the idea that the book is likely to be quirky and fun. And it is. It’s a very enjoyable, well written and easy read.

Ron, our laid back hero, who only panics now and then such as when it looks like he’s been snugly stitched up as the perpetrator of the crime, leads us through the story. He’s determined to find out who did actually sink a machete into Old Pete’s head, and so he sets about the task, very unably assisted by Sam, his colleague at The Jolly Jester. He encounters various other shady but fascinating characters along the winding way. He discovers, as do we, that there’s a lot more going on in the village of Duckley than meets the eye.

Well worth a read, and many thanks to the author for keeping me thoroughly entertained.

Available from all the Amazons.

I came across this book via Twitter (so take heart, indie authors, it does pay to Tweet regularly about your books!) and I’m so pleased I did. As a keen cyclist I was immediately attracted by the inclusion of ‘peloton’ in the title. Actually, I liked all of the catchy title with its alliteration, rhythm and assonance. The cover is also not a run-of-the-mill romcom cover, with quirky artwork and fancy italics for the typeface. This one is fresh and clear,and also intriguing. Why when we have ‘two’ in the title do we only have ‘one’ in the image? The hint is that this is a resourceful, independent heroine, who’s bound to be interesting. I had to read this book.

‘Peloton of Two’ is a light-hearted romantic comedy set mainly in rural France. Catherine Pringle, a journalist, has the chance to write her own column whilst cycling around France with her explorer boyfriend Nick. The tour will further her career, she hopes, and also improve her slightly shaky relationship with Nick. However, the tour gets off to a shaky start and most definitely does not go as planned. But all isn’t lost for our empathetic, well-meaning heroine. Life has a way of throwing up surprises.

We get to see a lot of France and human nature on the way, and there are many entertaining characters to meet. It’s a super read, well written and thoroughly entertaining.

Available at all the Amazons for Kindle and as a paperback.

I was pretty certain I was going to like this book even before I started reading it. First up, it’s a Christmassy romcom that manages not to have ‘little’ in the title! The author could have jumped on the bandwagon with ‘Christmas at the Little Village Pub’ or similar, but thank goodness she doesn’t! ‘Little’ is currently one of the most overused words in book titles, or at least I think so. Instead we have ‘Christmas at the Dog & Duck’, and the novel is as unpretentious and down to earth as the pub’s name, although we get our magic sprinkling of festive happiness at the end which we and the protagonists all deserve.

As well as the title, the book cover is also distinctive. There’s a definite craze for Christmas romcom covers to be shades of blue with a snowy house in the centre. At the bottom of this review you’ll see four such covers that I found within a few minutes of searching! Christmas at the Dog and Dog bucks this trend. We have a striking, unique look for this book, and it’s equally as Christmassy as all those snow scenes.

The book turns out to be equally as impressive. The story is beautifully and intelligently written. I notice some reviewers have grumbled about this not being a very Christmassy book as a lot of the action takes place during the months preceding the festive season. The plot of this novel is such that this needs to be the case, and quite frankly it doesn’t disqualify it from being a seasonal story at all. We see characters and their relationships develop over time, and a chain of events unfold. The action culminates on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day in a superbly warm and cosy way. This is most definitely a Christmas romantic comedy.

Heroine Ellie is smart and sensible, and taking time after a redundancy to sort herself out. She’s returned to the village she grew up in to housesit for her absent parents and sets up a dog walking business to tide her over. She also works at the Dog and Duck, and the pub is central to the story. The main love interest comes in the form of Max, a local landowner. They first bump into each other in less than flattering circumstances, at least for Ellie, and we get our share of mishaps and misunderstandings that are crucial to the romantic comedy. There are some endearing animals in cameo roles, but we stay well clear of the mawkish cutesiness that’s all too rampant in this genre.

This a measured, classy and immensely enjoyable novel. Three cheers for Jill Steeples, and five stars for her book.

 

Here are those other covers I mentioned earlier:

nineladiesNine Ladies Dancing by Cat Lavoie is a complete delight!

It’s everything you want from a Christmas novella – a seasonal setting (the office party in this case), charming and quirky characters, a handful of mishaps but a happy ending. The bonus is that the writing is sparkling and witty. The author comes up with some wonderful words – adorkable and Quinn-tervention (they’ll make sense when you read the book!) – and gives us, I suspect, an insight into her own creative process when Casey, the heroine, who is a closet would-be novelist, talks about how her characters ‘take on a life of their own … and move on to another story’!

This is a little gem of a Christmas book and your twelve days of Christmas just won’t be complete if you don’t read it.

Available as an ebook from all the Amazons for 99 cents or as a Kindle Unlimited book to ‘borrow’.