Kathy Manos Penn is a native of the “Big Apple,” who settled in the “Peach City” – Atlanta. A former English teacher now happily retired from a corporate career in communications, she writes a weekly column for the Dunwoody Crier. Read her blogs and purchase her book, “The Ink Penn: Celebrating the Magic in the Everyday” on her website theinkpenn.com.
As usual, I've been preparing for our upcoming vacation, a river cruise through the South of France, by reading books set in that locale. In a few instances, I've ventured beyond the South of France into other regions, and I've also been reflecting on past books I've enjoyed.
There are two mystery series I return to from time to time: M. L. Longworth's Verlaque and Bonnet Provençal mysteries and Martin Walker's French countryside series set in set in the Dordogne region of central France. The Longworth series set in Aix-en-Provence features Judge Antoine Verlaque and law professor Marine Bonnet tangled in various crimes. The descriptions of the countryside and the gastronomic delights are as entertaining as the whodunnit aspect.
Walker's series features Chief of Police Bruno Courrèges, and the countryside has the same appeal. Bruno was wounded in the French peacekeeping force sent to Bosnia during the siege of Sarajevo before he settled in his fictional town to become Chief of Police. In the third book in the series, I discovered that tension exists today between the Chinese and Vietnamese communities in France, and I also learned a tremendous amount about the Algerian War 1954 - 1962.
I find that readers of what they consider serious literature often diss' mystery lovers, but I enjoy my mysteries as much for the settings and what I learn about the history of these locations as I do for the mysteries that must be solved. I plan to download at least one of Walker's books to my Kindle to take along.
Who knows how I stumbled across Jean-Luc Bannalec's "Death in Brittany," the first in his Commissaire Georges Dupin series. Brittany borders Normandy, where we cycled in 2014. Because Normandy was beautiful, I'd like one day to explore Brittany as well. For now, that exploration will have to come via books. This series is set on the Breton coast in Pont-Aven, a town that Gaugin visited. The descriptions of the people, the food, and the seaside colors paint a vivid picture.
One of my favorite books starts out in Paris and travels French waterways to Provence. It's "The Little Paris Bookshop," and it's not a mystery. I'd describe it as sad, whimsical and uplifting all-in-one. I especially enjoyed the setting because our bike and barge trip in Burgundy sailed some of the same rivers.
Another enjoyable read was Mark Pryor's "The Paris Bookseller," a thriller set on the banks of the Seine. Because I'd shopped the stalls along the river and seen the booksellers, I could envision it all in my mind as I read.
Finally, I can't forget the many books I've read that are set in France during WWII. Two stand out for me: "The Nightingale" and "All the Light We Cannot See." I've read so many books that detail the horrors and hardships of that period, that I'm finding it more and more difficult to get through them. I picked up an Alan Furst book, "A Hero of France," and after reading fifty pages, I thought to myself, "I just can't do this."
Instead, I read "A Year in Provence," an entertaining true story of the adventures you can have when you decide to live in a spot where you've always vacationed. I'm ready to start my tour of Provence and perhaps even dream of living there, but I'm sure the visit and some daydreaming will be enough for me.
Look for Kathy's new book "Lord Banjo the Royal Pooch"
due out in late August and find her collection of columns, "The Ink Penn: Celebrating the Magic in the Everyday,"
. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org