Tag Archives: wine

Mayhem in Margaux is Another Great Cozy Winemaker Detective Mystery from French Duo


Mayhem in Margaux, by Jean-Pierre Alaux and Noël Balen, is another great episode from the television series airing in France, and in the line of novels based on the shows, featuring the winemaker detective Ben Cooker, his sidekick Virgile, and other members of his friends and family. I’ve not seen the episode of course, but I just read the book.

In this novel, which is number six, it’s even more personal for Ben. The book takes right off with the mystery without much delay other than for setting the scene. As always, it’s a cozy mystery full of beautiful scenery of France and mouth watering descriptions of delectable food and wine. An added plus in this edition is that we also visually tour several wine estates.

Action ensues when a car accident occurs, almost killing Ben’s daughter, Margaux, who has come from New York to visit her family in France. But someone in the car is murdered, and so Ben and Virgile set out to find why. In addition to this mystery, there is also the underlying issue with the vintners at the vineyards, which are having difficulty enduring the heat wave. The heat could cause them to lose their vines. Both of these issues within the book are related and you’ll have to enjoy the book to see how it all intertwines as I don’t want to give away any spoilers. These books are little pocket sized quick reads and perfect for an evening at home with a glass of your favorite wine.

The characterization of Ben is ever increasing, as we get to know him in more connective fashion, as well as with this book, his family members too. We meet Marguax for the first time, as well get to know his other immediate family on a more intimate level. I appreciate that. The authors filled this book well, for its size, with a well-rounded mystery plot and background character development that left me fulfilled and entertained. They kept me guessing until the later chapters and perked my interest in the mystery.

I’m interested to see where the next book takes us, especially in regards to his relationship with Virgile. I still think the wine detective series is a unique and fun idea and look forward to continuing on in reading the rest of the series.

Mayhem in Margaux

Release date: May 14, 2015
at Le French Book

153 pages

ISBN: 978-1939474384

Website | Goodreads

Mayhem in Margaux, Synopsis~

It’s summer in Bordeaux. There’s a heat wave, the vineyards are suffering, vintners are on edge, and wine expert Benjamin Cooker’s daughter is visiting. A tragic car accident draws the Winemaker Detective and his assistant Virgile into a case where the stakes are very personal, and they uncover the dirty secrets hiding behind some of Bordeaux’s finest grand cru classé wines from Margaux. [provided by the publisher]

An episode in a long successful French mysteries series that is a hit television series now in its fourth season
and attracting an audience of over 4 million. The series is a huge success in France, Belgium and Switzerland.

Jean-Pierre Alaux and Noël Balen, Biographies~


Jean-Pierre Alaux and Noël Balen, wine lover and music lover respectively, came up with the idea for the Winemaker Detective series while sharing a meal, with a bottle of Château Gaudou 1996, a red wine from Cahors with smooth tannins and a balanced nose.

About the Translator~

Translator Sally Pane studied French at State University of New York Oswego and the Sorbonne before receiving her Masters Degree in French Literature from the University of Colorado. She has translated several titles in this series.
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Cognac Conspiracies is Another Great Edition to Winemaker Detective Series, Based on French Television Show

Read below for excerpt and giveaway!

Last month I read a really fun mystery that is outside of my element, but something about the words “France” and “Cognac” drew me in and made me curious! I always love a good foreign mystery. I hadn’t realized at first that it was a series, with the others featuring wine in their mysteries, or even that it’s a popular TV mystery series abroad! However, I can see how this would make a great French TV series, full of dramatic flair and a likable wine expert turned amateur detective named Benjamin Cooker and his side-kick, handsome and astute Virgile. Cognac Conspiracies is book five in what looks to be a twenty-part mystery series based on the television show.

It’s a pretty slim book, compared to novels that I generally read, so it doesn’t go too far in-depth with various outside plots, but rather, takes the reader on an interesting meandering ruse through the business world and history of cognac. During the reading, the mystery seeps slowly in, and though short on pages, it still had time for multiple twists and turns that kept me guessing. It did visualize as a television episode to me, which I loved. Some of the back story, as on TV, featured relations or issues in Cooker’s own life. As an American, I loved getting my fix for foreign TV through this book.

There is a good balance between character development, plot, and mystery, as well as dining with cognac, but from what I’ve heard of the other mysteries, I think there was a little less dining on delectable foods in this novel, but it did feature a few areas, so no worries!

The novel made up for this with its wonderful description of cognac, especially the various types of cognac and how they are made with herbs and flowers. I was pleasantly surprised by this practice, which reminded me of fragrance-making, and I could almost smell the various types of brandy and feel the liquor melt on my tongue; the details opened my senses. Cognac certainly held its own for me against the other wines featured in previous mysteries, as I am sure it does in its wine-making region as well, which was the area featured in this novel.

The authors really focused on grand descriptions of the river and village and countryside that were very lovely, as well as their character development of the supporting cast. They were smart, sly, conflicted, and quite often scandalous, which of course, make for good TV murder mysteries and follow through with the books as well. Anyone could have “who-done-it” and we feel suspicious of them all. There is an air of intrigue, deceit, and suspense that makes you anxious to the turn the pages.

This novel is an entertaining petite paperback, or a quick electronic read, and is just perfect for when you have a few hours during a train or airplane ride in which you wish to escape reality. Or maybe you need a free evening at home by the fireplace, glass in hand, in which to escape to the French countryside? I know I can’t wait to get my hands on the rest of this series!

Read an excerpt!

“Pierre Lavoisier. Mr. Cooker, I presume?” Benjamin shook his hand and said, “This is my associate, Virgile Lanssien.”

The man, who appeared to be in his forties, adjusted his gold-rimmed glasses and gave the winemaker’s assistant a thorough look-over before moving his lips almost imperceptibly. It was difficult to tell whether he was smiling or brooding.“ Beauty is the promise of happiness, is it not?” “That’s exactly what Stendhal said,” replied Benjamin, always confident of his literary knowledge.

Pierre Lavoisier began to tremble ever so slightly, and sweat beads formed on his forehead. So, Benjamin thought, he didn’t know how to play this game. Arrogance was not his métier, much less pedantry.

“My sister will see you, if you will kindly wait here,” was all that he said before leaving. “Have a seat, please.”

“We’re not really tired,” Benjamin responded as he inspected a large lithograph of Jarnac in 1830.

The winemaker, a connoisseur of antiques and an occasional historian, reached for his glasses. With great interest, he examined this panoramic view of a former chateau, which had been sacrificed for a suspension bridge spanning the Charente River. On the embankments, imposing homes reflected the good fortune of their owners. Along the river’s edge, only a few trees dared totip their boughs, lest they hinder the passage ofthe barges. Benjamin took a few steps back to better appreciate it and then turned his attention to a family photo. He recognized Pierre, standing proudly next to a beautiful woman with blonde hair. Seated in front of them was an elderly man—presumably the patriarch. Off to one sidewas another man, whom Benjamin presumed was the infamous Claude-Henri.

“Strange, very strange,” Benjamin mumbled.

Virgile wasn’t paying much attention. He was busy staring out the window at this Pierre, who had undressed him with his eyes, like a slave trader.“There’s something suspicious about him.”

“What’s that, my boy?”

“I’m saying that he’s strange, too.”


The door opened, and Marie-France entered the room. She was wearing a pink silk suit that complemented her astonishingly radiant complexion.

Her wrists and neck were unadorned, butshe had several extravagant diamond, sapphire, and ruby rings on her fingers. Her handshake was firm and formal. Ms. Lavoisier knew how to holdher own.

“So, gentlemen, what can I do for you?”

Benjamin shot a glance at his assistant before tactfully and a bit solemnly explaining the assignment he had been given. He confessed that he had not met his client, Shiyi Cheng, in person.

“We have only exchanged correspondence,” the winemaker said, hoping to gain a semblance of consideration from Lavoisier. Her pale eyes were making him uneasy. “I believe your shareholder simply wishes to know the status of the accounts.”“I don’t have to tell you that there are certified public accountants for that, Mr. Cooker.”

She lashed out his name, and Benjamin could almost hear a whip cracking. Then her eyes fell on Virgile. She stared not at his face, but at his body, from sternum to crotch. Benjamin could feel his assistant’s embarrassment. Virgile crossed his legs and pulled himself straighter in his chair as she continued her indecent and perverse inspection. Benjamin tried to correct himself. “PerhapsI did not make myself clear, Ms. Lavoisier. Our assignment has more to do with how we can help the company evolve. We’re here to study the business. Cognac is going through difficult times. I hope, in the framework of this mission, you will consider us allies, rather than enemies.”

cognac-conspiracies-coverCognac Conspiracies

Jean-Pierre ALAUX and Noël BALEN

(cozy wine mystery)

Release date: February 18, 2015
at Le French Book

140 pages

ISBN: 978-1939474322

Website | Goodreads


The heirs to one of the oldest Cognac estates in France face a hostile takeover by foreign investors. Renowned wine expert Benjamin Cooker is called in to audit the books. In what he thought was a sleepy provincial town, he is stonewalled, crosses paths with his first love, and stands up to high-level state officials keen on controlling the buyout. Meanwhile, irresistible Virgile mingles with the local population until a drowning changes the stakes. [provided by the publisher]

An episode in a long successful French mysteries series that is a hit television series now in its fourth season and attracting an audience of over 4 million. The series is a huge success in France, Belgium and Switzerland.

Alaux-BalenJean-Pierre ALAUX and Noël BALEN, Biographies~

The authors of the Winemaker Detective series, are Epicures. Jean-Pierre Alaux is a magazine, radio and TV journalist, when he is not writing novels in southwestern France. He is the grandson of a winemakerand exhibits a real passion for wine and wine making. For him, there is no greater common denominator than wine.

He gets a sparkle in his eye when he talks about the Winemaker Detective, which he coauthors with Noël Balen.

Noël lives in Paris, where he shares his time between writing, making records, and lecturing on music. He plays bass, is a music critic and has authored a number of books about musicians in addition to his novel and short-story writing.

Translator Sally Pane, Biography~

Translator Sally Pane studied French at State University of New York Oswego and the Sorbonne before receiving her Masters Degree in French Literature from the University of Colorado where she wrote Camus and the Americas: A Thematic Analysis of Three Works Based on His Journaux de Voyage. Her career includes more than twenty years of translating and teaching French and Italian at Berlitz and at Colorado University Boulder. She has worked in scientific, legal and literary translation; her literary translations include Operatic Arias; Singers Edition, and Reality and the Untheorizable by Clément Rosset. She also served as the interpreter for the government cabinet of Rwanda and translated for Dian Fossey’s Digit Fund. In addition to her passion for French, she has studied Italian at Colorado University, in Rome and in Siena. She lives in Boulder, Colorado with her husband.
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Gracianna by Trini Amador is the Story of a Woman’s Strength During Nazi-Occupied France


Gracianna is the true story of author Trini Amador’s great-grandmother, named Gracianna, a woman of the WWII-era who was adventurous, courageous, and had, in what I sensed, a beautiful spirit. As well, this was the story of his great-grandfather Juan and her sister, Constance.  I certainly feel after reading this book that Gracianna spoke through the pages of this novel in a way that I imagine she must have mostly walked through life, gracing people with her presence–a hard-working, forward-thinking woman from the mountains with a zest for life and learning that was contagious.  Through family stories and research, Amador captured her and brought her three-dimensionally to my home in a way that inspired me and has left a permanent imprint on my heart.

Not only did I cry many times through reading this novel, I also smiled at her innocence and her small joys, at her independence, her perfectionism, and then as the story continued, her growth and bravery which catapulted into her having to take on doing things that most would have never thought possible. Her innocence lost, her dreams halted due to horrible circumstances, I could feel her emotions, her quiet or silent thoughts, as she went through many painful experiences that history should not forget.

Gracianna Arrayet was born in the Pyremees, which are the mountains that serve as a tangible border between France and Spain.  She lived in a village with her grandmother (after seeing her mother dead from childbirth when she was 8) and her younger sister Constance. She was Basque. Most of the country men around her were either isolated shepherds or sea-faring marine workers, both jobs which left them unmarried, but sometimes wanting the affections of women, so many women lived with children produced by them. Life was hard, even if the scenery was beautiful and supplied healthy weather.  They grew up to be independent, strong, and hard-working as they had to care for themselves.

I admired Gracianna as she was always learning about the world and thinking of new places that she’d like to visit. She made up her mind in 1940, when she was 18, that she wanted to go to the American Riviera (in California) she had heard about so she moved to Paris to work to save money to afford her trip. She took a job in a cafe waiting tables and scrubbing floors, with a smile in her heart and a dream on her soul.

My favorite parts at the beginning were her letters home and her thoughts about the world around her. I wish more people felt as these messages in the book. I felt I related so much to Gracianna and I was moved by Amador’s beautiful, eloquent sentences and thoughts written for her.  The belief of treating others with kindness resonated with me.  “Even though we did not learn much about other kinds of people, I am glad how we learned to be tolerant of others no matter their difference.” —Gracianna, page 46.

The novel juxtaposes with the story of Amador’s great-grandfather Juan as well. In his side of the story, growing up in the area with Gracianna, he always held a fondness for her in his heart. As a lonely shepherd at such a young age, he often thought of her once she had left so he took up himself one day and moved to Paris to be with her. He surprised her and though she was happy to see him, Gracianna wasn’t one to depend on a man so she enjoyed his friendship (usually more than she let on) and he waited patiently for her to return his longing affections.

As the war heated up, the Nazi regime overtook France and set-up headquarters in a hotel near the cafe where Gracianna worked.  She was from the French countryside and if anything, Catholic, but just a wrong look or action from anyone could get people into trouble.  Soon Constance, Gracianna’s whirlwind of a sister, also came to them and married a local rich man.  After Gracianna endured a horrible experience with an SS officer, and another situation which put Constance on a train to the Nazi Auschwitz-Birkenau camp (where one million people were ultimately abused, tortured, murdered or died), Gracianna becomes embroiled in the work of the French resistance. It’s an amazing story that you’ll not want to miss reading.

I don’t want to give more away with details, but the strength and resolve of Gracianna left me gasping in disbelief. I began wondering if I could act the same if lives depended on it? Even if I wanted to, could I do it? I enjoyed reading about her courageous actions, as well as Juan’s turmoil for her. In the midst of it all, they were married quickly, but really not able to even celebrate their nuptials. Someone told Juan that in relationships one must be the lover and one must be the fighter. I could see that worked for them and I admired him for always being there for her, yet giving her distance as well. What a wonderful patient and loyal individual he must have been.  Though he loved her unconditionally, she rarely returned it, but instead withdrawing into herself.  She seemed to be in constant perfectionism mode and unable to show love as she believed she didn’t deserve love herself.  Yet, she did love and she was grateful for Juan.  The ending of the book, in fact, portrayed this so well.

It must have been a very scary time of upheaval not only for them, but for the many common residents who never knew if they might live from day-to-day or see a family member shot point-blank. An occupation as what I read about in Gracianna gave me chills all over again and reminded me of all the horrible movies and information I watched and read for Holocaust classes during the pursuit of my history degree. But there is so much more out there that people don’t remember or think about. The chapters that switched and focused on Constance’s time in the concentration camp, where she was “lucky” enough to become a cook, were harrowing. I could imagine their distress and confusion and fear, and yet also their will for survival.

I am so grateful that Amador decided to put his family story into words so that his family will never be forgotten.  Not only is it a lasting legacy for his family, an ode to the grace and gratefulness that his great-grandmother Gracianna exuded, but it’s a moving historical story that allows readers a glimpse into the average streets and citizens who endured occupied-France and who died or survived the concentration camps.  It’s a toast to those who survived the unspeakable and also to immigrants who dreamed a dream of America and then made it happen.

Once I opened it, I stayed up all night reading it as I couldn’t bear to put it down.  This book will go onto my favorites shelf and I’ll treasure it. It reminded me of so much and the voice I heard through this novel will stay with me long-lasting, as well as her words and thoughts on life and the treatment of others that were brought to the page.

Thank you, Trini, for sharing your family with us.

GRACIANNA, Synopsis~

GraciannaPublication Date: July 23, 2013
Greenleaf Book Group Press
Hardcover; 296p
ISBN-10: 1608325709

The gripping story of Gracianna–a French-Basque girl forced to make impossible decisions after being recruited into the French Resistance in Nazi-occupied Paris.

Gracianna is inspired by true events in the life of Trini Amador’s great-grandmother, Gracianna Lasaga. As an adult, Amador was haunted by the vivid memory of finding a loaded German Luger tucked away in a nightstand while wandering his great-grandmother’s home in Southern California. He was only four years old at the time, but the memory remained and he knew he had to explore the story behind the gun.

Decades later, Amador would delve into the remarkable odyssey of his Gracianna’s past, a road that led him to an incredible surprise. In Gracianna, Amador weaves fact and fiction to tell his great-grandmother’s story.

Gracianna bravely sets off to Paris in the early 1940s–on her way to America, she hopes–but is soon swept into the escalation of the war and the Nazi occupation of Paris. After chilling life-and-death struggles, she discovers that her missing sister has surfaced as a laborer in Auschwitz. When she finds an opportunity to fight back against the Nazis to try to free her sister, she takes it–even if it means using lethal force.

As Amador tells the imagined story of how his great-grandmother risked it all, he delivers richly drawn characters and a heart-wrenching page-turner that readers won’t soon forget.

Praise for Gracianna

“Gracianna is a riveting and remarkable narrative. The characters come alive through their unassuming but compelling stories, as Nazi-occupied Paris unfolds before our eyes. We come to care deeply about the characters, which makes putting down the book almost impossible. Highly recommended.” – Stacey Katz Bourns, Director of Language Programs, Dept. of Romance Languages and Literatures, Harvard University

“While wine is obviously a significant part of life’s enjoyment, the story behind the wine can be even more gratifying. You will be fixated on this thrilling story written by Trini Amador which was inspired by Gracianna, his great-grandmother, the French Basque namesake of his family’s award-winning winery in Sonoma County.” – Bob Cabral, Director of Winemaking & General Manager, Williams Selyem Winery

Author Trini Amador, Biography~

Trini Amador AuthorTrini Amador vividly remembers the day he found a loaded German Luger tucked away in a nightstand while wandering through his great-grandmother’s home in Southern California. He was only four years old at the time, but the memory remained and he knew he had to explore the story behind the gun. This experience sparked a journey towards Gracianna, Amador’s debut novel, inspired by true events and weaving reality with imagination. It’s a tale drawing from real-life family experiences.

Mr. Amador is a traveled global marketing “insighter.” He is a sought-after guru teaching multinational brand marketers to understand how customer and consumer segments behave based on their needs, values, motivations, feeling and values. He has trained over five thousand brand marketers on how to grow brands in over 20 countries in the last 15 years. His counseling has been valued at global brands including General Electric, Microsoft, AT&T, Yahoo!, Sun Microsystems, Google, Jack Daniel’s, The J.M. Smucker Co., DuPont, Mattel, and Rodale, Inc..

Amador is also a founding partner with his wife and children of Gracianna Winery, an award-winning winery located in Healdsburg, California. The winery also pays tribute to the Amador Family’s maternal grandmother, Gracianna Lasaga. Her message of being thankful lives on through them. The Gracianna Winery strives to keep Gracianna’s gratitude alive through their wine.

Learn more at: www.gracianna.com, like Gracianna Winery on Facebook or follow them on Twitter @GraciannaWinery.  Amador resides in Sonoma County with his family.

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