From the Camargue to the Alps: A Walk Across France in Hannibal's Footsteps
Bernard Levin, Summerdale, €11.48, ISBN: 978-1840247428
This book appeals in all sorts of ways. Originally published in the 1980s and republished in 2009, it is redolent of an almost forgotten France, when the franc was still in circulation and returnable glass wine bottles had moulded stars around the necks.
It is also one of a very few travel books written about the Camargue, one of my favourite places in France. Untamed, harsh, beautiful and unchanging, the salt flats, the endless skies and the unique culture make it quite different from anywhere else in the world.
Another attraction is Bernard Levin's sly wit. I like the jokes he slips in. Why are a sailor's trousers like two French cities? They are Toulon and Toulouse. Just the kind of quip that appeals to me. And then there's the elephant thing; as we all know Hannibal had nellies. Levin, not so. But the mention of them hangs about, scenting the pages with essence of pachyderm.
Bernard Levin himself looms out of an even earlier age; these days do people even have inflatable coat-hangers? He also packed drip dry shirts, and a supply of paperbacks. And seriously, who on earth only ever wears silk socks? So bonkers. Do silk socks even exist? (In the end, especially for the journey, he bought six pairs of pure wool socks from Harrods.)
It's a multi-layered kaleidoscope of a book. Reading it is also an armchair journey through the south of France over the Alps to Italy and what could be better than that?
An Escape to Provence
Sophie Claire, Hodder, €11.98, ISBN: 978-1529350067
An Escape to Provence covers familiar territory. Daisy Jackson is the cynical townie who inherits a tumbledown French farmhouse and reluctantly travels to Provence to oversee the renovations. Gabriel Laforet is the local builder who has reasons for resenting Daisy (he feels he should have inherited the house) and wanted to prevent any works being done on the house.
So no prizes for guessing the rest of the romantic plot, but that's not the point. Sophie Claire's legions of fans agree that she has a way of telling the story that just makes you feel as if you're there in France, practically able to smell the lavender. She is also mistress of the slow burn, managing to keep her hero and heroine tantalisingly at odds with each other right to the end.
Daisy is not initially very likeable. She's a tough divorce lawyer who thinks money is always the solution. As for Gabriel, he's angry, hurt and refusing to listen. Nevertheless the spark between them is convincing and reading it, you soon find yourself rooting for them to put aside the past and get it together.
Light, engaging, easy to read, this is a welcome addition to the growing collection of this author's novels set in France. Sophie Claire has also written several novels set in France during the winter, which are excellent refuges for anyone wanting to curl up in front of the fire with a good book.
Thirty-Five Minutes from St Tropez
Jane Dunning, Kindle, €1.17
This is the first of three books about a family living in France. The central couple in the saga are Richard and Helen who live in Provence.
Helen's widowed sister is on the brink of a new romance, Richard's brother and sister-in-law enjoy a life of luxury in Monaco, and the family's younger generation are variously working on glam yachts and going to uni in Aix.
This sets the scene for a satisfying saga which stretches all over France, and even into Italy, because there's a classic sports car for sale in San Remo and Richard has a yen to snap up a bargain.
The book contains lovely descriptions of the south of France, particularly the more glamorous bits of it, and meals in restaurants, and scenery and descriptions of villages you've probably been to on holiday.
It's soothing and relaxing to read. A perfect bedtime book, and best of all once you've finished it you can dip into the next two novels in the series; Stolen Summer (the second one), and Sunshine and Shadows at the Vineyard (the third one which came out this summer).
You can find more literary inspiration at the Facebook group 'Novels set in France'.