Monday, June 26, 2017

Armchair Travels: French Edition

In case my last post got you dreaming about a trip to France, (but it's not quite in the cards for you to book something in the near future), you might just enjoy this first installment of "Armchair Travels".

Today I'll share several of my favorite books that are set in France, or about French culture! Many of my favorites are about expats that go and live in France...There's a backstory as to why this is the case...

You see, back in 2013 we actually bought a house in France. In a village called St. Denis de Gastines to be exact. That may sound like a crazy thing to have done, but for about 5 years prior to that we had dreamed of owning a vacation home in another country. We had our eyes on Italy for several years, before we began considering France. And no, it was nowhere near Paris or the posh areas of Provence. In many of the small rurual areas of France, you can purchase homes for as little as $50,000. Many of them need some structural work and updating, but it is possible! Perhaps we had watched one too many episodes of House Hunters International, but during the summer of 2013 we took the leap. We didn't want to get involved in foreign financing or anything, and my parents and brother were also interested. So, we found a larger home and split the costs three ways. The process of buying in France takes months and months. And there is a TON of paperwork!

Here is the home we purchased. A three-bedroom terraced house across the street from the most picturesque boulangerie you ever ever did see!

A week after closing, we were scheduled to be in France to celebrate my mom's 60th birthday. We'd miss the signing, but our trusted Scottish realtor (who had lived in the Loire Valley and sold real estate for years) had power of attorney and would be signing on our behalf. We had wired the money in the months prior. We had completed long and tedious inspections for lead, termites, energy efficiency, etc etc.

On the morning of the signing, the realtor headed to the property beforehand to do a final walk-thru, ensuring it was in the condition described in the contract. She walked in and immediately fell through the floor, down to the cellar below! She actually got trapped and ended up having to call out for help! To make a very long story short, the home had a dry rot condition. Something that is quite common in older homes in France. However, it was something the owner had been continually hiding throughout the sales process and therefore hadn't been detected.

Our realtor (being such a kind and honest woman), refused to sign on our behalf and immediately began the work of having our money wired back to us. By not signing, she forfeited her 3,000 euro commission and five months of work was done without compensation. I'll be forever grateful for her integrity in how she handled this situation.

But I won't lie, once we arrived in the village and began walking down the street past "our house", I cried for what we had lost. The week was meant to be spent buying furniture, choosing paint colors, and setting up "our home". I envisioned going there with the kids on summer vacations. Maybe spending Christmas there once in awhile. But that little dream died. Well, not died. Maybe it's just on hold as I still scour the internet regularly for homes abroad!

During the time we were involved in the buying process, I got hooked on reading books about France! One of my favorite authors turned out to be a British gal named Karen Wheeler. Her first book, Tout Sweet: Hanging Up My High Heels for a New Life in France, was one I read as soon as we made the offer on the home. I was hooked immediately! A journalist living in London that somehow found herself in the French Countryside, buying a fixer upper? Yes please.

As soon as I finished her first book, I ordered Toute Allure: Falling in Love in Rural France (Tout Sweet Book 2) and Tout Soul: The Pursuit of Happiness in Rural France, the remaining two books describing her new home and life in rural France.

I really loved reading about her journey, the community of friends that she made, and the personal ups and downs she experienced during her time in the French countryside. Book three is definitely a tear jerker! I enjoyed reading about a single, independent woman who made her dreams a reality - despite having to take ferries back and forth to her native England for last minute meetings and such in London. Her style of writing really made you feel as if you knew her, and I could truly envision myself in her little village with each page I turned!

Around this time I also picked up The Sweetness of Forgetting. To be honest, my expectations were quite low. I had read a few books previously by Kristin Harmel, and found her to be kind of a fluff, chick-lit author. Nothing wrong with that, I just didn't find her previous books to be very memorable or worth my time. This book was perfection. I still recommend it to friends who are looking for a good vacation read. And it completely changed my opinion on Kristin Harmel!

This book is about a young baker named Hope, who lives in Cape Cod. Through a series of events, she finds herself retracing her grandmother's footsteps in Paris. Visiting bakeries, learning about different cultures within the city, and also the harrowing reality of the Holocaust and her family's history. It's truly a wonderful book!

There are so many wonderful books about the French! How they eat, how they stay thin, how they cook, the topics are endless! Below are some of my favorites, and a few I've received recently and can't wait to read on vacation! If you're dreaming of France but can't get there quite yet, pick up a book or two and enjoy some armchair travel! (You can click on the book covers below and they'll take you straight to Amazon!).

If you have any favorite books to add to the list, please leave me a comment below and let me know!

Until next time...


  1. I loved reading this post down memory lane. But, what about the first book you read on France written by an American who buys an old home, fixes it up and gives cooking lessons? It was non fiction with recipes, too. Thank you for sharing some great titles. Hugs, Mom

  2. Oh yea! On Rue Tatin! Thank you for being a faithful blog reader, mom!

  3. I love your book recommendations! I enjoyed Paris, a novel by Edward Rutherford (historical fiction and kinda loooong). And I've been wanting to get and cook through Ina Garten's Barefoot in Paris! Cooking Club theme night, maybe??

    1. I love that idea, Kjersten! Let's discuss it next month for sure! On Rue Tatin that my mom reminded me of above is another good one...I'll have to look up the one you recommended too! Thanks!