April book reviews

Our pick of the month's French reads, from a Paris-based thriller to an atlas of natural beauty

I’ll Keep You Safe, Peter May, Riverrun Quercus, £18.99 ISBN: 978-1-78429-493-9

A CAR bomb in a Paris street tears Niamh Macfarlane’s life apart as it kills her cheating husband and his Russian mistress, designer Irina Vetrov.
Niamh and Ruairidh have been married 10 years and own a weaving company making an exclusive cloth that is much in demand from fashion houses, and especially Irina’s.
The couple have just had a fight in their hotel after an email told Niamh to challenge him about his affair. He storms out – and then Niamh sees him down in the courtyard with Irina and runs out after –them... just as their car blows up.
Suddenly, she is no longer a devastated betrayed wife but prime suspect in a double murder. Or as becomes clear, one of two prime suspects, with Irina’s husband.
But the police tell her she is free to head back home to Britain to try to pick up the threads of the business. Then, as she prepares for Ruairidh’s funeral the French woman detective arrives to look into her past and Niamh is no longer sure if she is still a suspect… or a potential target.
Unusually for a Peter May book, this feels loose and flashbacks upset the rhythm of reading but his real strengths are his descriptions of place, first of Paris and the aftermath of the bomb and the Hebrides.

An Atlas of Natural Beauty, Victoire de Taillac and Ramdane Touhami, Ebury Press, £20 ISBN: 978-1-78503-494-7

NATURAL beauty is shorthand for taking good, natural care of yourself and this encyclopaedia is a primer for a new lifestyle.
It looks at the ingredients at the heart of many common cosmetic products and reveals why they do what they do.
The authors own L’Officine Universelle Buly apothecary in Paris and here they reveal secrets that make beauty products work – and how to make recipes yourself.
In places it feels a little prescriptive “hygiene of hands, cloths, tools and various containers must be impeccable” or “water is a veritable breeding ground for certain bacteria” but it also advises daily facial massages, diluting shampoo and useful care regimes for skin and hair.
From acai to witch hazel it roams the world hunting down the berries, plants and minerals that make a difference. Decide for yourself what goes into your beauty products: how much acai or aloe vera for that mask, how much camomile for that bath…
Simply put, it is a beautiful book and a mine of information that could become the go-to guide for anyone looking to keep their body in top condition and with the simplest non-chemical products possible.

A Grand Old Time, Judy Leigh, HarperCollins Avon, £7.99 ISBN: 978-0-00-826919-7

WITH the subtitle Life Begins at 75, this is a book that slaughters the myths of oldies being boring fuddy-duddies interested only in dominoes and keeping warm.
For Evie Gallagher turns her back on ‘life’ in a Dublin care home and shows she can take care of herself, and more. She begins by telling her daughter-in-law Maura that her puckered mouth was like the opposite end of her alimentary canal…
Then, while everyone is asleep, she sneaks out of the home. A red beret and a surprise winning bet later and she is pretending to be Bono’s mum and heading off to Brittany.
She buys a campervan and then she is off, travelling and enjoying France... closely pursued by her son, Brendan, who is following her trail of texts and hoping to take her back to Dublin.
A remarkable character, Evie. She has a magic touch for other people and the author gives her some great lines; such as this, on priorities “It’s not called the present for nothing. It’s a gift.”

Passion for Provence, Gayle Smith Padgett, Eagle Owl Press $9.95 ISBN: 978-0999-429501

A honeymoon started this love affair with France, that and a glass or several of rosé.
Gayle and husband Ralph had been working in Germany when they chose France for a delayed honeymoon and found themselves in Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer along with a copy of Peter Mayle’s A Year in Provence.
Coupled with a spell in Saint-Rémy-de-Provence they had caught the bug and for the next two decades they criss-crossed the country finding the places they loved most.
But loving and living are two different things and being American meant getting residence papers. This is an eye-opener for most Britons, used to the European regime, and Gayle is a handy guide to French life.

Flavour, Bob Holmes, WH Allen, £20 ISBN: 978-0-75355-590-3

EVERYTHING is a matter of taste and whether or not a book that all but guarantees to improve your sense of flavour will appeal, is no different.
It might just be worth a try, however, as some of the information here is tastebud tinglingly brilliant – and simple.
It explains why pudding tastes better in a heavy bowl, why red wine works best with classical music and white for pop or even why, just like peanuts and beer, you could put some salt on your morning grapefruit.
Bob Holmes is a writer on New Scientist and this ‘User’s guide to our most neglected sense’ aims to help anyone who wants to be a better cook, get the best restaurant experience or just make better decisions in the supermarket.
Anyone who has attended a wine-tasting or whisky-tasting will have been told that smell is the most important sense but this makes a strong case for taste on its own with a tale of eating a burger and chips after both salt and sweet sensors had been blocked… it was “like eating a mouthful of textured clay or soft plastic pellets”. Finger-licking good it ain’t (yes, that is chicken but it would be the same).
It is surprisingly readable for such a potentially ‘heavy’ subject but it is not an idiot’s guide as there is a lot of reading.

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