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Title: Escape to the French Farmhouse
Author: Jo Thomas
Published: 1st of June 2020 – Transworld Books
Format: Kindle (Netgalley eARC) – 352 pages
Hello Hello! How are you?
The days seem to be flying by so quickly and apparently where I live people have just stopped lockdown and are walking about without any masks on anymore, talking close to other people etc, but thankfully, we’ll be heading back home to France on Saturday and should be home for tea on Monday evening! To go hand in hand with this news of going home to France, what better book to read than Escape to the French Farmhouse by Jo Thomas?
I’m so happy to be on this #RandomThingsTours organised by Anne Cater today and this book brought so much sunshine in my life, I really have missed my sunny France! Thank you so much to Anne for letting me take part in this tour and thank you to the publisher and Netgalley for providing me with an eARC of the book for review. All opinions are my own.
Can she find her recipe for happiness?
Del and her husband Ollie moved to a beautiful village in Provence for a fresh start after years of infertility struggles. But six weeks after they arrive, they’re packing the removal van once more. As Del watches the van leave for England, she suddenly realises exactly what will make her happier…a new life in France – without Ollie.
Now alone, all Del has is a crumbling farmhouse, a mortgage to pay and a few lavender plants. What on earth is she going to do? Discovering an old recipe book at the market run by the rather attractive Fabian, Del starts to bake. But can her new-found passion really help her let go of the past and lead to true happiness?
Escape to the French Farmhouse by Jo Thomas is a standalone contemporary romance, chick-lit about a woman who decides that her marriage is over and that she needs to be in France, alone in her house, Le Petit Mas de la Lavande. As soon as I saw the email about this book I knew I needed to read it. I have lived in France since I was 18-months-old and even though I am proud of my Britishness, I’m also proud to say I’m bilingual and in some cases are more French than some of the natives. I’ve been missing my little slice of France back home since I’ve been in Scotland, so I knew that I needed to read this book, and I’m so glad I did.
Della (“Del”) and her husband Ollie have just moved to the South of France after many failed attempts at IVF and her mother’s death. But after only 6 weeks in their new house in sunny France, Ollie and Del decide to go back home to the UK – yes, a lot of English people come over to buy French houses and then decide to go home to the UK because France is too French and people stop everything for lunch (it was so funny to see this reflected in the book). But Del decides that their marriage is over and that she needs to stay in their little house, Le Petit Mas de la Lavande, a former lavender farm. I loved this element in the book because lavender is one of my all-time favourite scents, it’s very French and France wouldn’t be France without lavender. The day after her husband leaves for England with all their belongings, she goes to a brocante in the town in which she lives to get some essentials now that she knows that she will be staying in the house, and she comes upon a little homemade recipe book, where every recipe includes lavender as an ingredient, and this is where this book starts (very long explanation aha!).
This book is set in the South of France in “Ville de Violet” if I remember correctly, it seems like the name is made up for the sake of fiction, but the town in which Del now lives is reminiscent of every quaint little French village in the South of France, especially Provence.
Del’s house, Le Petit Mas de la Lavande – a lot of French houses have cute little names, our first house was called Maison Neuve (even though it was very old) and a lot of houses are called “Petit Mas …” which sort of means little homestead. Jo Thomas did an amazing job with all the Frenchness, she captured everything perfectly and I suppose that only someone who lives in France already can truly appreciate just how perfect the setting and the characters were. I’m sure anyone else can understand perfectly and live this book just as much, but with my knowledge of the country, language and traditions, this book was just that bit more special and it felt like I had come home while I was reading it. I also couldn’t help laughing at the English “invading” this town and talking about how everyone stops for lunch (a 2-hour affair in most of the country), it made me laugh so much because we moan about this ourselves, even though it’s more of a joke now that a serious complaint.
You’re probably already bored by this review, but I just have so much to say, so you’ll have to humour me and keep on reading, I do apologise, but anything French takes a long time, so we have to be patient. I loved the little village – Ville de Violet – and it was SO French. I’ve read a lot of books set in France that don’t capture the Frenchness that resides everywhere in the country, but this book did it perfectly and it actually made me proud to say I live in the South of France. Lavender is such an important part of French culture, especially in the part of France in which the story is set, and it was all so perfect I could nearly smell the lavender while reading it.
I’m not going to go over ALL the characters, even though I want to because I loved them all, but it would take too long, so I’ll just focus on my favourites (this might be harder than I expected).
Del: She is the main character and the type of person that makes me glad to be an English national living in France. She tries to fit into the community because she sees what an important and wonderful place it is, and she does an amazing job. I loved her right from the start, she is such a well-developed, lovely, caring, considerate person and I wish she was real because I want to meet her. She has gone through a lot of pain and uncertainty in her life, but thanks to Le Petit Mas de la Lavande and the people around her, she blossoms and becomes an essential part of the community.
Fabien: Oh Fabien! He is a proper French guy, not the weird type, but the lovely, charming type and I loved watching his and Del’s relationship evolve. He helps her as soon as he meets her and it was so lovely to see them both getting to know each other, to learn about him and his life.
Stephanie: I don’t want to say how and when Stephanie comes into the story because I don’t want to spoil you, but I really liked her as soon as she appeared. She is a young mum to Tomas and ends up helping Del so much and becoming the family that she never had. I have to say it was a surprise to see so many French people talking English so well because it’s clearly not the case where I live in France, but that was the only little thing that wasn’t 100% perfect about this book. A lot of people do speak English, but mostly it’s not this well-developed and as common as it is in this community. I really loved Stephanie and little Tomas though!
Henri: He is the owner of the little bistro in the town and he helps Del out a lot. I also don’t want to say too much about him, but he comes across as an amazing person, and actually turns out to be wonderful, caring and such an important member in the community. He is definitely a type of father figure to Del and her “extended family” and it was great to see how all these characters came together in this community and helped each other out, all because of a little cookbook.
As I said, this book has tonnes of amazing characters, all very French and perfectly depicted, but if I talked about every single one we wouldn’t see the end of this review, so for your sake, I won’t keep blabbing, as long as you go read the book aha!
France/Frenchness: I’ve said it before, this book is very French, and even if you’re worried you won’t understand everything (there are some French expressions) or even truly grasp the setting or the events, I can assure you that you will still love it. Every country has good and bad things, at the start of the book when Ollie was moaning about everything being French I laughed because we say that too, but this book made me realise just how much I miss France and how great it is to live there. Sure, people stop for lunch on the stroke of 12 (more like 11.30 if they can get away with it), spend 2 hours wining and dining themselves in the local bars, restaurants and bistro, tottering back to work after 2pm, but French communities are very strong, especially in little villages like this one. I could keep talking for ages, so I’m going to reign myself in, but I loved just how perfectly Frenchness was depicted in this book.
Family/Community: Family and community as such an important part of this book and it was so lovely to read about it. Not so much in big towns anymore, but definitely in little villages, family and community are at the centre, everyone knows everyone and everyone helps everyone out. I loved seeing this community come together behind Del, Stephanie, Fabien and Henri.
Cooking: What would France be without food? This book made me HUNGRY and I long to be back home in France and eat some cheese, god, I never thought I’d miss French stinky cheese, but golly I do! I also really miss my mum’s baking even though I don’t have a sweet tooth, but this book made me want to scoff everything that Del and Stephanie baked and then again when Henri or Del cooked savoury dishes. Everything sounded French and scrumptious and delicious and now I’m craving all the French dishes I love.
English stupidity: This is so true, and I’m ashamed to say that us English are absolute idiots when it comes to living in France. Not everyone does this, but most English “invade” France and try to make it their own, without realising that the key is to embrace French life, its food, its language and dialects and its inhabitants. Del does an amazing job of fitting in, but some character in this book don’t and it annoyed me so much because I know for a fact it’s true and it really saddens me. In my family, we often moan about France, but it’s only a joke really, but I know some people want to have their slice of Blighty in sunny France and it’s just not very fair, nice or considerate, but Jo did a perfect job once again of depicting this.
MY THOUGHTS AND RATING
So, after a very long, long, long review, I’m sure you’ve guessed that I loved this book. I’ve been meaning to read some of my dad’s favourite book’s – Peter Mayle’s A Year in Province series – but haven’t gotten to them yet. This book, however, was exactly like I imagine those books to be and I loved every minute of it. I loved every minute of this book, and I can rarely say that everything that happened is absolutely true, totally relatable and even though the story is fiction, I can imagine this happening somewhere in France.
This book was so nostalgic to me and while reading it, I’ve never wished more to be back home in France. I could hear the birds chirping, smell the lavender in the fields, the sound of people at the market place, see people lounging about in the afternoon sun and savouring one too many glasses of wine, it was such a great reading experience and transported me back to my home from start to finish. I want to give Jo a great big hug because she brought me a slice of my France while I’ve been down and longing to go home and craving all my French specialities. I’m definitely having a charcuterie, quiche, cheese, bourguignon, tuiles, fondant au chocolat, wine, etc, day when I get home (I hope you have that all written down mum 😊).
Overall, I adored this book from start to finish and gave it 5 stars, I would have given it more if my rating system was different, so for the sake of things let’s say 5.5-stars. In our house, when something is exceptional we always add on one point to the maximum just to say it’s perfect. This was just such a lovely book to read and thoroughly entertained me, even though it made me very hungry and I highly recommend it to everyone.
Thank you so much to Anne and Jo for letting me take part in this tour and for sending me a copy of this book, it’s been such a pleasure to be on this tour, but now I’m going to stop talking because we’ll be here until the cows come home otherwise.
That’s all for now, sorry for this really long post but I hope you enjoyed it. See you soon, stay safe,
ABOUT THE AUTHOR – JO THOMAS
Jo Thomas worked for many years as a reporter and producer, first for BBC Radio 5, before moving on to Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour and Radio 2’s The Steve Wright Show. In 2013 Jo won the RNA Katie Fforde Bursary. Her debut novel, The Oyster Catcher, was a runaway bestseller in ebook and was awarded the 2014 RNA Joan Hessayon Award and the 2014 Festival of Romance Best Ebook Award. Jo lives in the Vale of Glamorgan with her husband and three children.
If you would like to purchase this book, you can find it here: Amazon UK (affiliate link) – Amazon FR (affiliate link) – Book Depository (affiliate link) – Audible FR (affiliate link) – Amazon US – Waterstones – Audible UK – Kobo