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Off the Shelf Book Review: French By Heart by Rebecca S. Ramsey

Will wonders never cease? Talk about the ultimate ‘indie’ achievement! The meaning behind these statements becomes clearer when I tell you I am talking about the book French By Heart, (320pp., Broadway Books, April 2007, ISBN-10: 076792522X) from first-time author Rebecca S. Ramsey, the whimsical blogger behind Wonders Never Cease 

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Most families of five-plus-cat (and including a baby) wouldn’t find themselves moving from the deep south of the US of A to France for four years. Most stay-home moms probably wouldn’t find themselves navigating a new continent after just one week while hubby is off on a business trip. And surely hardly anyone would have the chops to write about it all and get a book deal.

But Becky Ramsey isn’t just anyone. She’s an amazing writer, clearly an intelligent human being with a self-deprecating sense of humor, a full-time mom, a regular blogger, and a good-natured observer of the world and its peoples, even when they are a little too close for comfort in her own tres francaise front yard. Becky is also one of my blog friends (disclaimer here about the good review to follow), and I was thrilled when she asked me to review her book for Vintage Indie and sent me an autographed copy.

Free copy aside, I promised her and myself that I’d be as brutally honest in my review as she was in describing how it felt when her overbearing French neighbor of four years pointed out that Becky was getting a little “poochy” in the tummy. I’m not sure of the French word for poochy! But apparently horror with an extra pound or two is a universal problem that knows no language barrier.

This is just a darling story, a darling book. Let me say that from the beginning. Whether you choose it because of a love of France, a curiosity about international living or travel, an interest in first-time books, or for the charming memoir or even the charming cover, you can’t help but enjoy it.

I was aghast at a couple of the reviews on Amazon, by readers who apparently take things much too seriously. Although the Ramseys were relocated from Greer, South Carolina to Clermont-Ferrand, France for four years for her husband’s job with Michelin, the book is hardly intended to be either a Michelin travel guide or a handbook for displaced families.

It’s just a charming memoir, people. Lighten up! What I enjoyed most about the book is that because of some of the unbelievable hazards of the language barrier, customs that don’t translate ‘across the pond,’ and the concept of a ‘nosey neighbor’ which translates all too well, the story reads like it could have been written by Everywoman, or Everymom. I could totally picture myself in Rebecca’s “clunky black clogs” among the tres chic soccer moms at the French schoolyard.

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It also reads like great fiction, a great comedy or farce, a play, and I kept having to remind myself to stop looking for a plot or a resolution and to remind myself this was not only non-fiction, but written by someone with a face and a name. Someone I know! That made it extra fun.

But even if you are not familiar with the Ramsey family or the ‘Wonders’ blog, you’ll be able to empathize with the language and custom gaffes that follow shipping your belongings (cat and piano included) ‘cross country or halfway around the world to settle into a rental house.

Moms can relate to settling two kids into elementary school along with a baby in a stroller, never mind the haughty French teachers, haughty French moms and the food and language barriers she and her kids must navigate.

There were plenty of heart-tugging moments in the book, and again, I had to remind myself: THIS ISN’T FICTION! It is written that well. It sucks you in, and with Rebecca’s friendly, cozy style and excellent imagery you are easily transported into her world across the way.

As a daydreamer who lusts after Paris, I welcomed the less-than-romantic, yet realistic view of France. It was good to read a book set there that did not include eating crusty bread at outdoor cafes while admiring handsome strangers.  Once again, the power of this non-fiction work is the fact that it is non-fiction, yet it is delivered in such a charming (there’s a French sentiment), folksy way.

Call it what you will: memoir, travel guide, diary, essay, travelogue. French By Heart is for me a novel, un-novel novel. I’m thrilled for anyone who can get published, and this time I am thrilled to not only count the author as a friend but also thrilled to recommend this book to anyone.


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- Contributing Editor Gina Smith aka Lilly*s of London*ish, started making jewelry about six years ago and has since tied this in with a love of vintage finds, Blythe, crochet and altered art in her etsy shop. Growing up in an antiquing family gives her a background and appreciation for all things vintage, especially dinnerware, jewelry and Americana advertising prints and products

{All contributed content Gina Smith © Lilly*s of London*ish}

Visit the Vintage Indie Book Store to purchase French by Heart  or to see other books reviewed by us.

Comments

jerusalem

oh I can't wait to read that! I have a friend who just moved to Holland with her wee babes. Will have to recomend this to her!

Mary

I cannot wait to read this book! I've travelled to France and Italy countless times and it is my dream to someday make my home in a tiny village in France, complete with boyfriend, six basset hounds and six cats in tow. Becky's story sounds positively inspiring--kudos to her for taking on such a challenge. She must have a wonderful sense of humor about her!

Sandy Garrison

I asked for the book for my birthday, and I'm about half-way through. It's terrific -- funny, honest and very engaging! Sandy Garrison/rhubarb reign

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