Armchair Travel in France with Robert Louis Stevenson

Bored at home? Missing France? Here’s a pleasant way to while away a few hours.

Known for his classic novels like Treasure Island and Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Robert Louis Stevenson was an adventurer. Born into a family of lighthouse designers in Scotland, as a young man he longed to see the wider world. As he put it,

“I have been after an adventure all my life, a pure adventure, such as befell early and heroic voyagers.”

His first great adventure was in France, in the wild and rugged region known as the Cévennes. At the age of 27 he made his way to the tiny village of Le Monastier, where he gathered (too many) provisions, had a sleeping bag made, and bought a donkey named Modestine. Then he set out—admittedly, not really knowing what he was doing—on a 12-day march into the unknown.

Read all about this fun book in France Today!

Book Review: Lavender, Loss & Love at the Villa des Violettes

“Families come in all shapes and sizes.”

This phrase, spoken by one the women in Patricia Sands’ new novella, is a good summary of what this lovely book is about. And what families they are! United by love, friendship, and sometimes even biology. Sands shows us how families bind us together, forming the center of a life well-lived.

As with all of her books, Sands does a wonderful job of capturing the sights, smells, and flavors of this unique part of the world. We see the stunning ocher mines of Roussillon, the austere beauty of the Abbey de Senanque, and the magical sound & light show inside the Carrières de Lumières. We learn about Provencal traditions like la vendange—the grape harvest—where each new vintage begins with a joyous celebration. And of course, there are meals, lots of meals, with tables bursting with the bounty of Provence.

Learn more about this fun new book at Perfectly Provence!

Reading in French–How to Get Started

French is a beautiful language, but like any foreign tongue, it can be intimidating. I remember the first time I was in Paris and a local spoke to me. I froze because I had no idea what she’d just said! It was so embarrassing. Let me tell you how reading in French can help you, as it helped me, no matter what your level.

I didn’t begin studying French in earnest until I was in my late 40s.

I improved little by little and today, a dozen years later, I can speak the language comfortably. I subscribe to a French newspaper and watch French news. And one of the things that has helped me is reading.

When I first started, I could only read the short handouts I got from my French teacher. Eventually, I tried newspapers and magazines, and finally made it to simple books—my first one is very popular with 12-year-olds!

Now I’ve enjoyed a number of French novels, including some of the classics.

I offer my tips for getting started with French reading in My French Life.

Try a Graphic Novel for Easy French Reading

Let’s say you know some French and would like to try reading something more challenging that a magazine article. Here’s an idea for you: a bande dessinée, or BD, what we call a graphic novel in English.

When native English-speakers think of illustrated stories, comic books like Batman and Spiderman usually come to mind.These are considered ‘kid stuff’ rather than something an adult would read. Sure, there is the occasional graphic novel that reaches an adult readership, like Persepolis or Maus (winner of the Pulitzer Prize), but those are exceptions.

Not so in France.

No, in France the BD is a serious and respected art form, with an annual festival in Angoulême that attracts hundreds of thousands. And while comic-book-style BDs are popular, those dealing with adult themes are also widely read. And they are a great way for a French learner to read in French. The text is limited and the illustrations help you understand the story.

I’ve written an article on the advantages of BDs for French learners, along with an explanation of the different kinds that are available (history, humor, contemporary social issues, and more.) You can read all about it at My French Life!

Discover Marcel Pagnol, the Bard of Provence

Jean de Florette…My Father’s Glory…Marius and Fanny. These and other beloved works were all written by Marcel Pagnol, the bard of Provence. Ask a local what author best describes their part of the world and chances are they’ll name Pagnol.

A fascinating character, Marcel Pagnol was not only an author but also a great filmmaker, the first to be elected into the prestigious Académie française. And he’s my favorite French author. No one else can conjure life in the south of France the way he can.

Want to learn more? Read my article about Pagnol in Perfectly Provence!

Audiobook Giveaway—Enter Now!

I’m thrilled to let you know that the audio-book version of Are We French Yet? has just been published. The reader is Doug Schuetz, a talented voice actor who just happens to be my old college roommate! We’ve stayed in touch over the years, mostly holiday cards and such, and this was a wonderful opportunity to reconnect, share memories, and have fun during the recording.

Doug and I live on opposite coasts so he would record a few chapters, send them to me for review, and then make any corrections. His only stipulation when he agreed to the project was that I not “go all Martin Scorsese” and try to tell him how to do his job. As Doug put it, “You’re a terrific author but not an actor or a director—I’m the professional. Let’s each do what we’re good at.” He said it in a lighthearted manner but I got the point.

And I love the result! He made my funny stories even funnier by the way he read them. A few times while listening, I would call Val into the room and tell her, “You’ve just got to hear this!”

The audio-book is available from Amazon here and would make a great Christmas gift for the France-lover in your life. And to get things rolling, I have six copies to give away. Just let me know in the comment below that you’d like one , by next Wednesday the 11th, and I’ll pick the winners from those who enter.

A Forgotten French Classic

The New York Review of Books called it, “The runaway best seller of nineteenth-century France, possibly the greatest best seller of all time.”

The Washington Post described it as, “Aristocrats with secrets, a prostitute with a heart of gold, criminals nicknamed the Schoolmaster and the She-Wolf, an evil lawyer, thwarted love, blackmail and conspiracy—this is a sprawling novel that packs in everything and then adds more.”

What is it? Les Mystères de Paris / The Mysteries of Paris, the book that inspired Victor Hugo to write Les Misérables. Almost as interesting as the book is the author himself, a man born to privilege (his godmother was Empress Josephine) who became one of the leading Socialists of his day.

The book is ripping good fun in either French or English. Read all about it at My French Life!

The Greatest French Book of All Time?

France is known for great literature. Think of all those famous authors–Hugo, Balzac, Proust, Camus, Flaubert, and more. Ok, maybe we haven’t read a lot of them but Les Mis was terrific, wasn’t it?

Out of all the books written by French authors, which one is the best? Maybe Madame Bovary? The Stranger? In Search of Lost Time? Or maybe the beloved Little Prince?

I decided to find out. You might be surprised by what I learned.

Read all about it in My French Life!

Book Review: A Season of Surprises by Patricia Sands

Patricia Sands is at it again! The author of the popular Love in Provence series has just published a novella, A Season of Surprises at the Villa des Violettes.

Readers are treated to a new chapter in the lives of our favorite Love in Provence characters—newlyweds Kat and Philippe, their wise neighbor Simone, Kat’s wacky friend Molly, and all the rest of the gang. Kat is opening a bed and breakfast at the Villa and preparations are frantic as the first customers are about to arrive. But then something goes terribly wrong…

Read all about it at Perfectly Provence!

How to Become a Parisian in One Hour

One of the hottest shows in Paris in Olivier Giraud’s How to Become a Parisian in One Hour. Over half a million people have seen it…and even the Parisians love it!

If you can’t make it to Paris, Giraud has written a funny book that covers the same material. Ready to try your hand at some French reading? The French version is an easy place to start (there are lots of pictures!)

Read all about the book and the show (including a video clip!) at My French Life.