Tuesday, 28 October 2014

The French for Christmas by Fiona Valpy

Out now
Published by Bookouture
Purchase from Amazon here

The Blurb:

A year to forget. The perfect escape. And a little Christmas magic…

Touching, uplifting, and filled with delicious French cooking, The French for Christmas is the perfect Christmas treat.

Evie used to LOVE Christmas, but this year she can’t wait for the tinsel and presents to be a distant memory.

When her best friends offer the use of their cottage in the beautiful French countryside, Evie jumps at the chance. With her soon-to-be-ex-husband, celebrity chef Will Brooke, plastered over the news with his latest ‘love interest’, leaving the country seems like the perfect plan.

Armed with her French grandmother’s tattered notebook of recipes, Evie is determined to ignore Christmas altogether and bake herself back to happiness.

And when Evie meets her next-door neighbour – the très gorgeous doctor Didier she finds a very willing taste-tester. But is it possible that he could be interested in more than just her Tarte Tatin?

With snow falling, a special Réveillon dinner and a little Christmas magic in the air, could Didier even be the one to thaw Evie’s heart? Or will a visit from the ghost of Christmas past change everything?

My Review:

I have to start by confessing that the reason I picked this book out was the gorgeous cover, and the word christmas in the title! I had no idea what the book was about and how touching I would find it. The book is beautifully written and within the first couple of chapters I was hooked. I know I am going to find it hard to do justice to this book in my review without giving the storyline away, so I will try my best as I don't want to give spoilers away and ruin it for readers.

The main character is Evie. We meet her in the lead up to Christmas, a time which is usually associated with joy and celebration. However, last Christmas Evie lost her daughter who was stillborn. We also learn that the strain has led to the breakdown of her marriage. As Evie's life is stuck in pain and grief her husband is launching a tv show, and has been snapped with another woman in magazines. Evie's sister is pregnant and Evie seems to worry about her as well as it triggering memories of her own experience.

Understandably Evie's world seems to have collapsed around her, and she just wants to get away from Christmas and all the bad memories. Her best friends come up with the idea of Evie using their french cottage, an idea which appeals to her. We follow her trip, via Paris, to a beautiful cottage in the middle of nowhere. It made me feel desperately sad that she is in a remote cottage, all on her own, suffering with this unimaginable grief. However, as she settles in we begin to meet some characters who may just give her hope....

We meet Didier who lives next door to the cottage. He is a Doctor who has also moved there in sad circumstances. He comes to Evie's rescue when she gets sick, and it starts a friendship and attraction between them. Didier also spends alot of time in his garage at all hours banging around which is all very mysterious. What he is up to does get revealed and it is wonderful. I think it played a big part in my love of Didier. A kind, loving, strong man who wants to do his bit to make a difference in a cruel world. We learn that he has spent time in Africa helping out as part of Medecins Sans Frontieres (Doctors without Borders). It was a stark reminder of how lucky we are to have a great health system which is of a high standard and accessible to all.

We also meet another set of neighbours, an older couple who are very strong, self sufficient. They grow their own food, keep animals and are real down to earth wise folk. But behind this strength there is real sadness.

These three characters all become very important to Evie and the story. What brings them all together is food funny enough. Evie ran a restaurant when she was married and the couple grow all their own fruit, vegetables and meat. Evie is looking to reignite her love of cooking, and after she gets ill and befriends her neighbours their shared love of food leads to plans to share Christmas together. The talk of food in the book was delicious and I would definitely love to sit down to dinner with them!!

I felt a real affinity to Evie. I was genuinely moved when reading of her losing the baby, and then the breakdown of her marriage. I can't even begin to imagine how awful it must feel to lose a child and to have to carry on living afterwards. The book is so beautifully written that it allowed me as a reader to glimpse how Evie may have been feeling, but in a respectful, non voyeuristic way.

I know the book might sound a depressing read, and anything but festive, but it's not! Yes, the background is horrible, but to me, this was a book that gave hope, and showed that with love and support, in time, life is worth living. As Christmas approaches we see a shift in Evie and its almost as if she starts to blossom again.

One of the scenes I connected with most was one set in the local church. Evie went in and saw the children all singing on St Nicholas's day. This stirred memories in her and she remained in the church after the service. The priest sees she is upset and comes over to speak to her. When Evie explains her situation to him he provides really wise words which felt like the start of the healing process for her.

The way the author has portrayed the relationships Evie forges with Didier and the older couple was fabulous. Sharing their stories with Evie re-enforced the words of the priest and told how, even when you think things cant get worse you can survive, and learn to smile and build your life again. Towards the end of the book we see Evie start to make plans for the future, and not to be held back from going for her goals.

Whilst this book is a work of fiction the reality is that people experience loss every day. It is of course devastating and you naturally want to run away and hibernate to get through it. But we can help support eachother through those darkest days by being there and supporting them.

I also found it humbling to read and reflect on the work  Medecins Sans Frontieres does in such hard and poor conditions. It must be terrible for those who are ill, but also for the medical staff working out there in such terrible conditions.  I moan about the NHS but it has made me appreciate the healthcare I receive.

This is a wonderful book which explores not only loss and grief, but also forgiveness, love and compassion. The story left me feeling moved but also inspired and with the belief that with love, determination and courage you can achieve whatever you want.  I should add that it is not all seriousness, there are some fun and warm scenes that will have you smiling. By the time I finished I had a warm and fuzzy feeling of contentment and happiness.

Thank you to Bookouture who provided a this in return for an honest review.

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