Thursday, August 18, 2011

Gotham Gal Review: TOUT SWEET

Title:  Tout Sweet
Author:  Karen Wheeler
Pub. Date: August 2011

Publisher: Sourcebooks, Incorporated
Format: Paperback , 320pp

Synopsis:  In her mid-thirties, fashion editor Karen has it all: a handsome boyfriend, a fab flat in west London, and an array of gorgeus shoes. But when her boyfriend, Eric, leaves she makes an unexpected decision: to hang up her Manolos and wave good-bye to her glamorous city lifestyle to go it alone in a run-down house in rural Poitou-Charentes, central western France.

Tout Sweet is the perfect read for anyone who dreams of chucking away their BlackBerry in favor of real blackberrying and downshifting to a romantic, alluring locale where new friendships–and new loves–are just some of the treasures to be found amongst life's simple pleasures.

About the Author:  Karen Wheeler is a former fashion editor for the Mail on Sunday and current writer for the Financial Times 'How to Spend It' magazine and London's Daily Mail. Her work has appeared in the Evening Standard and You magazines, Sunday Times Style and numerous international publications. Visit Karen at and Twitter @mimipompom1

Gotham Gal says:  Sourcebooks asked me to review this book weeks ago, and due to work and putting together book proposals, I only managed to read the book this past weekend.  It was just the palate cleanser that I needed after reading severa historical novels and non-fiction books in succession. This was a light, fun read that had surprising depth at times. On the surface, Wheeler has led a life that most of us would envy, she works as a beauty and fashion editor for a leading London magazine (which she does not name), filled with beautiful parties, countless shoes and dresses.  When her plans to marry her handsome French boyfriend fall through, she decides at 35 to change her life. She buys a fixer-upper with no heat or hot water in a remote French village on impulse—"a long way from anyone's idea of the charming French house."

Although her relationship with her boyfriend is long over, Wheeler finds it hard to recover, especially after she finds out some devastating information that makes her question everything. What I found interesting about the book was how quickly Wheeler adapted to life in a small village where everyone knows your business. She quickly settles into a routine and makes friends incredibly easy. I was impressed by the fact that she took her time improving her French in twice weekly classes before she made the move, instead of just relying on some weird version of Franglais like some of the Europeans that she describes in the book.  I found it rather strange that she lived on bread and cheese for months until she has a functioning kitchen, when she had new friends who were more than willing to feed her.

The book only became bogged down when it dealt with her dating life. It seemed like every man she met was either a heel or a loser. The book came to life when it chronicles the details of how she transformed an unloved and neglected house into a cozy home. The house in a sense serves as a metaphor for Wheeler's broken heart.  As the house starts to become more like a home, Wheeler starts to heal and become more whole. Wheeler proves to have a sharp eye for social commentary, her views on the ways on which ex-pats either don't adapt to France or they try to make France more like Britain (which begs the question why some of them chose to retire in a foreign country in the first place) are priceless.  Some of the scenes in the book were priceless, particularly when she makes a discovery about the hunky baker in town, and a fun weekend she spends with friends bunked down in suite at the Plaza Athenee.  I almost began to envy her life, being able to breeze to London and Paris for work, and in between settled down into her cozy country village, even without a Marks and Spencer food hall (don't they one in Paris?).

This book certainly deserves a place on the shelf of any armchair traveler.

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