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Sunday, March 4, 2018

Sea of Memories by Fiona Valpy - Book Review, Interview & Giveaway

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Review by Suze

Kendra's grandmother is old and doesn't have long to live anymore, but she has one last wish. She wants Kendra to write down her memories. Kendra has a busy life, being the breadwinner at home and taking care of her autistic son, but she's intrigued by her grandmother's request and decides to give it everything she has. Ella's lead an interesting life and before Kendra knows it she's entirely enthralled by her grandmother's story.

It's 1938 and seventeen-year-old Ella is excited. She's going to France for the summer. On Île de Ré she can improve her French by spending time with twins her own age. She immediately falls in love with Christophe, who teaches Ella about beauty, freedom and art. He's a brilliant artist, but his father has other plans for him. The weeks they have together are glorious and Ella's sad when she has to go home and promises she will return to him next summer, which is exactly what she does. Their time together is precious, as Europe is on the brink of war and Ella has no idea what will happen to them in the future.

Ella can't stay in France and Christophe joins the army. There's no way for them to be together and they lose contact. Ella can't sit still and do nothing, she wants to contribute and joins the WAAF. There she meets Angus, a man who would do anything to keep her safe. Ella's life with Christophe seems like a dream, a memory she will cherish forever and due to the war she will never get it back. She has to move on and look at the future, but will she be able to do it? Can she ever leave Île de Ré and everything it meant behind her?

Sea of Memory is a beautiful poignant story. I was greatly impressed by this deep and multilayered love story. Because of the war Ella loses the love of her life and this is something she will never completely get over. She isn't complete when she's in Scotland, even though there's a lot of love in her life. Her time on Île de Ré has left a lasting impression. It was truly special and these memories made me smile and brought tears to my eyes at the same time, because there was so much to lose. The war has brought misery and unrest, but there was also bravery, selflessness and community spirit and Fiona Valpy has perfectly translated these subjects into a fantastic story.

Sea of Memory is tragic and sad, but also hopeful and filled with unconditional love, miracles and friendship. It's a bittersweet story that immediately found its way into my heart. Fiona Valpy's gorgeous descriptive writing style makes the story come to life in an amazing way. She effortlessly captures the magic of Île de Ré and I love how she skillfully creates her atmospheres. She combines this with a perfect thorough exploration of emotions. That makes Sea of Memory a terrific heart-rending story, it's a book that will stay with me for a very long time.


If you love emotional love stories set in the past and the present, Sea of Memory would be a perfect choice.

About Fiona Valpy

Fiona Valpy spent seven years living in France, having moved there from the UK in 2007. She and her family renovated an old, rambling farmhouse in the Bordeaux winelands, during which time she developed new-found skills in cement-mixing, interior decorating and wine-tasting.

All of these inspirations, along with a love for the place, the people and their history, have found their way into the books she’s written, which have been translated into German, Norwegian, Czech, Slovenian and Turkish.

Fiona now lives in Scotland, but enjoys regular visits to France in search of the sun.



1) Can you tell our readers a little bit about yourself? 

I grew up in the UK, but spent seven years living in France, having moved there in 2007. It was a complete change of lifestyle – up until then I’d worked in marketing & communications in Edinburgh. We found an old, rambling farmhouse in the Bordeaux winelands which we renovated, doing a good deal of the work ourselves. Wine-tasting had always been a passion of mine, and for a while I sold wine into England on behalf of local producers. I also love yoga and began teaching while I was in France. Being free to try different things unleashed a lot of creativity and that was when I started writing. Sadly, though, my marriage ended and I moved back to Scotland a few years ago. But I keep in touch with the friends I made in France and love going back at regular intervals. Living there was – literally – a life-changing experience and one that I will always remember with great fondness.

2) Sea of Memories is partially set in France, what inspired you to choose Ile de Re as your main setting? 

All the books I’ve written so far owe a lot of their inspiration to France. I’ve written extensively about the South-West, the area where I lived, but for SEA OF MEMORIES I wanted to explore a different region. The Ile de Ré is a magical place – one visit and I was hooked! I’ve been back since that first trip to do more research and love the way the sea pervades every aspect of life on the island.

3) Can you describe the main characters of Sea of Memories in seven words each?

Ella – brave, determined, loving, gentle, strong, perceptive, wise

Christophe - romantic, artistic, passionate, wild, unconventional, a rebel

Angus – loyal, steady, strong, patient, caring, a family man

Kendra – dutiful, reliable, kind, courageous, sad, fearful, loving

4) What’s the inspiration behind the poignant love story you’ve written?

The main inspiration for SEA OF MEMORIES came from listening to my grandmother’s reminiscences of her life. She lived to the age of 102 and it was incredible to think how much the world had changed during her lifetime. The war years, in particular, were quite extraordinary for everyone who lived through them: suddenly the world was turned upside down. Some of my own experiences of love and marriage also found their way into the story, although I didn’t set out to write about them – I’ve discovered these things just have a way of creeping in when you’re not looking! 

5) How did you handle the research for your story?

My first three books were all contemporary novels, so SEA OF MEMORIES was my first book with a historical element. I did extensive desk-based research into the war years, both in France and in Britain, and read widely around the subject as I wanted to try to be as accurate as possible in setting my stories within the historical context. I also travelled back to the Ile de Ré and spent time on the west coast of Scotland – they’re both places I love, so immersing myself in them was no hardship.

6) You’ve lived in France and the UK, how do you use these experiences for your stories and do both counties feel like home?

Both countries have provided a great deal of inspiration for my writing. Wherever I am, I try to absorb the details of the physical environment as well as the intangibles too, the feelings and sensations a place can evoke, which help make the reader feel they are really there. I feel very much at home when I go back to France, but Scotland is where my roots are.

7) You combine contemporary and historical fiction, how do you find a good balance and what do you like most about this combination?

Finding the balance can be challenging! I was fortunate to have an excellent editor who tactfully pointed out sections that needed re-working. Funnily enough, I got so involved in the historical aspects of the book that it was the modern-day strand that I found I needed to focus on most during the editing stages.

I love interweaving the two strands, contemporary and historical, in my books. They provide rich opportunities for exploring contrasts, as well as for making connections between past and present.

8) How did your writing journey begin?

I’ve always been an avid reader and would finish a great book and think, ‘I wish I’d written that!’ When we moved to France I finally had more time on my hands, and so my passion for wine and my love of the country led me to write THE FRENCH FOR LOVE. The book was a success and my publisher gave me a contract straight away for the next two books, which make up ‘The French for…’ series.

9) You write about complex love in different forms, what does true love mean to you and how do you translate that into your stories?

I think there are many different kinds of love – almost as many as there are different kinds of people – and SEA OF MEMORIES is an exploration of some of them. Personally though, in recent years divorce has meant I’ve had to re-think everything I thought I knew about love, so I guess I’m still learning! But I’m a romantic at heart, and I believe you should always hold out hope for a happy ending, no matter what life throws at you. Drawing on my own experiences, and listening to other people’s stories as well, is a way of deepening and sharing an understanding of the complexities of relationships. I’ve received some very moving feedback from people who have found comfort and hope in my books and that is the most rewarding thing of all about being a writer.

10) What are your plans for the future?

I have an exciting year ahead as my next book, THE BEEKEEPER’S PROMISE, is due out on 16th May. It’s another novel which interweaves the historical with the contemporary, set in the South-West of France once again. And I have more ideas in the pipeline too, so it looks like my writing will be keeping me busy for the foreseeable future


One very lucky reader of With Love for Books will receive a signed paperback copy of Sea of Memories by Fiona Valpy.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

The winner will be notified by email and has 3 days to respond. All of our giveaways are international.


  1. Sea of Memories sounds like a beautiful, sensitively written story that really tugs at the heart strings and totally immerses you without being buried by sentiment.

  2. It sounds so lovely.I love the idea of writing down memories to share with family.

  3. This sounds like a beautiful emotional read, looking forward to reading it.

  4. I love books with interweaving past & present stories!

  5. This looks very interesting and absorbing!

  6. I do enjoy books that includes some history as well as a lot of varying emotions. It would no doubt be a great, heart-rending book to read.

  7. sounds lovely Fiona and I like the cover

  8. Every day I wish that I had done this with my own grandmother and my mother. There are so many stories and now things that I will never know.

  9. Love a good book (Jan)

  10. great giveaway - sounds like a lovely read

  11. Beautiful cover! I'm so excited to read it.

  12. Your descriptions of the main characters make me want to read their story.

  13. this books sounds like a fab read

  14. Thanks for the great prize and competition. Good luck everyone!

  15. This book looks great, fingers crossed

  16. This sounds a lovely read. Can't wait to see what secrets the memoirs unearth. What a great idea for a novel.

  17. I would love to read this xx

  18. i would love to read this book, it sounds really lovely xx