You Can Still Get to Provence This Year

Take a vicarious tour, courtesy of new books by Juliet Blackwell and Georgeanne Brennan.


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Juliet Blackwell’s latest offers fast-paced storytelling from multiple persepectives.

Photo courtesy Juliet Blackwell

So you didn’t make it to Provence this year? Neither did we. That doesn’t mean there isn’t a way to take an October book-ation (aka a literary staycation). Two recent books buddy up to accomplish the deed: New York Times bestselling author and Bay Area native Juliet Blackwell’s The Lost Carousel of Provence and Georgeanne Brennan’s Windows on Provence: Musings on the Food, Wine, and Culture of the South of France.

Charming or gruff French people and culture, the real life history of French carousel maker Gustave Bayol, and the fictional Cady Drake, a young American woman and photographer who grew up in 21st century Oakland in the foster care system, combine in Blackwell’s swift-paced storytelling. Told from three perspectives — Drake’s contemporary tale, that of a rare, 1900s female wood carver, and Fabrice Clement, the owner of the chateau where the lost carousel languishes in disrepair — long-held secrets and mysterious liaisons surface in this tale. Along the way to restoring the carousel, Drake discovers her adult identity and the people and places that come to define for her the meaning of family and home. Blackwell stacks the narrative with historic details about France, World War I and II, wood-carving, women’s employment struggles, and more. Authoritative and robust without becoming heavy-handed or pretentious, Lost Carousel leaves only a reader’s desire to see the glorious landscapes, castles, ruins, and foods Blackwell describes.

Which makes Brennan’s image-filled Windows a perfect companion book. Twelve short essays and four recipes are generously embellished with photographs taken mostly by Walnut Creek’s Lisa McGuinness. Giving gorgeous display to the area’s notable features — cafes, markets, textiles, cuisine, wine, architecture, and coastal and rural landscapes — the author uses her having lived or visited Provence for over roughly 50 years to add insight. Her suggestions about shops to visit, neighborhoods in which to linger, and scents and tastes to enjoy establish Provence as a place to understand and appreciate.

Of course, we easily recognize the pleasures of Provence, some of which we find here in California. With proper planning and these books to remind us, summer 2019 could be the year of double indulgence.

The Lost Carousel of Provence by Juliet Blackwell (Berkeley, September 2018), 384 pp., $15; Windows on Provence: Musings on the Food, Wine, and Culture of the South of France by Georgeanne Brennan (Yellow Pear Press, April 2018), 256 pp., $29.95.

This report was originally published in our sister publication, the East Bay Monthly.

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