Posted in Cultural, French, General Fiction, Historical Fiction, World War I

The Vineyards of Champagne by Juliet Blackwell

Publication Info: Published January 21, 2020 by Berkley. Kindle Pre-Pub edition courtesy of Berkley and NetGalley. Other editions now available.

Summary: Rosalyn Acosta works as a wine sales rep for her friend Hugh in California. He offered her the job and some essential financial support after her husband died of cancer, leaving her grieving and bankrupt. She dislikes sales and is an artist at heart, but it’s hard to support herself and make enough money to pay back creditors by painting.

Hugh sends Rosalyn to a sales conference in the Champagne region of France. She doesn’t want to go since she dislikes champagne and has too many painful memories of her honeymoon in Paris.

On the plane, Rosalyn is befriended by a boisterous, wealthy Australian woman, Emma, who offers her assistance. Rosalyn just wants to be left alone, but becomes intrigued by some old letters that Emma is trying to organize and translate. The letters were a legacy from Emma’s great Aunt, written to a young soldier in France during WWI, as part of the marraines de guerre project. Emma was captivated by the soldier’s love of a young woman named Lucie Marechal, who lived in the wine caves under Reims during the war. Emma is traveling to France for both business and research.

While helping Emma translate the letters, lonely, grieving Rosalyn is pulled into the simpler pace of the French vineyards and people. With the help of new friends, she discovers her true calling and begins to heal.

Comments: There are so many things that pulled me deeply into The Vineyards of Champagne. In this warm and lovely novel, I deeply related to Rosalyn’s numbed feelings of grief and betrayal. Emma is such a bright light despite her own issues. The determination of Lucie and the other townspeople to make champagne and and thrive amidst daily bombings and shootings tugged at something deep within me. I couldn’t help but wonder if I would survive or give up in despair in similar circumstances. I was reminded of my paternal grandfather, himself a soldier during the Great War.

And bright and shining, flowing through the grief and loss, is a sparkling reminder of the many joys and celebrations in life: the champagne.

Highly recommended for readers of Historical Fiction, General Fiction and novels about World War I, as well as those with an interest in France, champagne and wine history.

My Rating: 5 STARS

Posted in Arabic, French, Literary Fiction

The Godmother by Hannelore Cayre

Publication Info: Published September 3, 2019 by Black, Inc. First published March 9, 2017 by Anne-Marie Métailié. I purchased and read the Kindle edition. Other editions available.

Summary: The Widow Patience Portefeaux is a middle aged French woman plodding along on the treadmill of life. She works as a poorly paid Arabic translator — first for the courts and then for the police. She struggles to pay for her mother’s Alzheimer care facility while keeping a shabby roof over her own head. Having grown up in a dysfunctional family on the fringes of society, Patience has great survival and coping skills, but much needed cash is in short supply.

Patience spends her days listening to, and then translating, transcripts of conversations between drug dealers, most of whom are complete idiots. They rant, rave and threaten each other, more interested in machismo than intelligent planning. When a more level-headed and business-minded family group of drug dealers crosses Patience’s desk, she starts to pay closer attention.

She discovers that she has an unexpected personal connection to one member of the family. This sets off ideas in her head that lead to her solving her cash-flow problem by becoming the Godmother of the local drug crime district.

Comments: This tightly written, darkly humorous and very clever novel crossed my path because it is this month’s book club selection for a discussion group I am joining. My description doesn’t begin to do justice to the wry observations and wit sprinkled throughout The Godmother. Stephanie Smee obviously did a fantastic job of translating from the original French.

Very highly recommended for readers of Literary Fiction.

My Rating: 5 STARS