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December 2019
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Best value MAPS of FRANCE, and keeping the children amused

Christmas with Whitman, Malcolm, Pippa, Anton, Butch and Obi

By Nick da Costa

The Dogs were talking. As usual, they were sitting around the base of the old

oak tree in the early evening.

“Christmas soon,” said Malcolm.

“I love Christmas,” said Pippa.

“Roast Turkey,” said Anton.

“Chipolatas,” said Butch.

“Foie gras,” said Obi, whose Owners had made the mistake of introducing him to the finer things.

“Goose,” said Malcolm.

The group fell silent as they contemplated all the spiritual wonders of Christmas.

“One year, my Owners hung chocolates on the Christmas tree,” said Anton.

“That was thoughtful,” replied Butch.

“Yes, I thought so, too. Only it turned out they weren’t for me.”

“Ah,” said Whitman.

“Mind you,” Anton continued, “I’d cleared most of the lower branches before they noticed.”

“Were they very cross?” Pippa asked.

“A bit. But it was Christmas, so it wasn’t too bad.”

“Lucky,” said Butch.

“In fact, I thought I’d got away with it…”

“You did?” said Pippa

“…but the empty wrappers gave me away.”

“Ah,” said Whitman again.

“So the next year,” Anton continued, “they just hung them higher up the tree.”

“That’s exactly how Giraffes came to evolve their long necks,” said Whitman, “to reach the sweeter, juicier leaves at the top of the tree.”

“Do you think we could evolve longer necks?” Anton asked.

“Not in time for this Christmas, I suspect,” said Whitman.

What Dogs Really Talk About – available at all good bookshops . . . but it’s easier from Amazon – CLIK HERE ! and a great stocking filer for dog lovers everywhere.

What do the French do at Christmas ?

Like in the UK ,on 1 December children open their first ‘window in their Advent calendar.

In the evening of December 24th French families sit down together for ‘Le Réveillon’ to celebrate Christmas and enjoy festive French foods and wines. This can last for up to six hours.

A church mass is held on Christmas Eve. It is an important Christmas tradition in France and many people try to attend the mass, although there are also services on Christmas Day.

Traditional French food is a big part of French Christmas traditions. It depends on the region but some common French Christmas foods include smoked salmon and oysters with bran bread and (real) butter, foiegras (goose or duck liverpate), goose, capon or turkey stuffed with chestnuts and of course servings of vegetables such as green beans cooked with garlic and butter and provincial herbs sautéed potatoes.

To finish the feast you will get the amazing looking and tasting a Yule Log, the ‘La bûche de Noël ‘ which is a sponge cake made of chocolate and chestnuts. In Provençe the French Christmas tradition is very different. It’s ‘Les Treize ‘ which is 13 desserts after the main Christmas feast.  In France they are important as they symbolise Christ and the 12 apostles at the Last Supper.

During Christmas dinner a very good wine is required and Champagne is imperative.

It’s common to decorate the Christmas table with three candlesticks to represent the holy Trinity. A Christmas tradition to knot the ends of the tablecloth so the Devil can’t get under the table.

Like the UK a Christmas tree is decorated some time before Christmas Day. French children put their shoes near the fireplace so that Father Christmas ‘Père Noël’ can find them and fill them with small presents. Then typically everyone open their presents on the morning of Christmas Day.

Here it’s worth mentioning Le Père Fouettard or ‘Father Spanker’ who is the partner and helper of Saint Nicolas. He decides if each kid behaved good or bad. He is the one who does the ‘spanking’ to bad behaving children. Frightening.

Mistletoe is popular in French Christmas traditions and used as an important decorative item. People hang it above the door during the Christmas season, where it is supposed to bring good luck for the coming year 

Then there are Santons de Noël These are the nativity scenes or crèches displayed in many French homes. There are little clay figures called santons or little saints in the crèche, which you can buy from Christmas markets. Very often villages will transom their Lavoir into a stable with cut-out figures. The baby Jesus only appears on Christmas day – until then the crib will be empty

 And then on 6th January, the 12th night – a day to celebrate the arrival of the Three Kings. Some places in France perform a street procession of the Three Kings for children to watch. The ‘king’s cake’ celebrates Epiphany in France. There are three versions of this cake and the most popular consists of flaky puff pastry layers with a center of frangipane or apple. There is also a sablé galette which has a type of sweetcrust pastry and brioche cake with candied fruits and sugar. The cakes are usually sold in special bags with the paper crown for the ‘king’ who finds the fève – a small figure/bean hidden in their piece of cake.

Traditionally, it is always the youngest in the family who distributes the pieces of cake hiding below the table and shouting the name of the person who should get each piece.

 French people wish each other Joyeux Noël or Bonnes Fêtes.

BUT PLEASE TAKE NOTE – It’s important never to wish anyone a Bonne Année (Happy New Year) before midnight on New Year’s Eve as this brings bad luck.


Tip Number 16. A tastier Christmas Cake

You’ve probably organised your Christmas Cake for this year – so take heed of these instructions for preserving the taste of your effort(s)

Cut from the centre in slices like in the diagram above. Don’t do the cheese slices from the outside. When you put it away till the next day clamp the two sides together with elastic or cling film. It really makes sense and it really does work.

Your reading for December – from Susan Keefe

The Liberal Record: Everything You Need to Know

by Marcelo Brazzi
“This book explores the history and differences between political parties,” the author Marcelo Brazzi summarises in his prologue. Then this “card-carrying independent,” a well-travelled man, who holds a master’s degree in systems engineering, and who has accomplished so much in his careers as a spacecraft engineer on NASA’s Apollo program, and a computer science instructor at California State University, goes on to share with his readers a wealth of well researched information, which, when studied, enables them to come to a cognizant conclusion.

To understand the two major parties better, Marcelo Brazzi takes his reader back through history, reflecting on their past performances. These studies allow us to understand fully how the parties have evolved throughout the years, and examines their instigation, and implementation of various important political decisions which have been made, on subjects such as the vote for women, slavery, gun laws and workers’ rights.

It was also very interesting to see how the various forms of media, with politics, like other things, have used their ability and power to influence the public. The media have the ability to manipulate the facts either way, and in return affect the bias, resulting in a remarkable influence on peoples decisions on which way to vote in an election, and an impact on the economy.

Other important issues which are considered are the environmental impacts caused by our actions, and the increase in population growth, both of which are hot topics at the moment. These two subjects which are intertwined, are having an incredible influence on the future of our planet, and the political decisions we make today will affect the health not only of our planet, but everyone on it. It is vitally important to take ownership of the problems we have caused, and the duty of those in power to ensure that changes are made not only for our generation, but for those to come, and indeed for this planets long-term survival.

In summary, this book offers the reader a comprehensive insight into the two major parties. The author explains clearly, throughout the book, and also in the Appendix, in various ways such as graphs, charts, tables, quotes, and references, how these parties have evolved and work. Highly recommended for readers who have a sincere interest in politics.

Dynomike: Pay It Forward: (Children’s Book on Being Kind) 

by Frankie B. Rabbit
The message Dynomike is spreading in this bright and engaging children’s book is that it’s good to help others, not for reward, just to be a friend to someone in need.

When Dynomike goes to get some of his favourite strawberry pickles he is disappointed that the shop keeper Robyn has run out. However, being nice, Dynomike doesn’t let this setback ruin his day, instead, when he spies his friend Spunky having trouble, quick as a flash he’s to his aid. What does he want in return? Nothing! “Just pay it forward. Help someone today,” is his reply.

Well Spunky follows Dynomike’s advice and throughout the day the help is paid forward. All the small gestures mean a lot to the recipients, and just take a little time and consideration. What’s more, at the end of the book the young reader discovers that sometimes, small random acts of kindness can reap wonderful rewards!

My granddaughter loved me reading this colourful book to her, she adores Dynomike and all his friends, so of course, we download each book as soon as it is released.

As a mother and grandmother it is nice to have found a series of children’s books which are suitable for young children, and are also colourful and engaging for them. Most importantly, I can always be assured that each one will cleverly lead her train of thought towards being a nicer person as she grows up, and that it will encourage her to have compassion, and understanding, to others.

Gunfight in Abilene 

by Joe Corso
Joe Corso has written many great books and this new western which continues the adventures of The Calico Kid, now Sheriff Cal Rhymes of Cheyenne, is a must read for all wild west fans.

The book opens with a solemn notification in the Cheyenne Leader that a ranch has been plundered and the pregnant wife of the owner attacked and killed. The owner is none other than Cal, called away on business he is in Laramie, however as soon as he receives the editor’s telegraph he heads home – one thought in his head, kill the men who killed his wife and stole his happiness.

Hardly glancing at the trail riders he passes on his way to Cheyenne, he is soon to learn that they were in fact the murderers. Leaving Cheyenne with his deputy and friend Spud it’s not long however before they are hot on their trail and Cal has the opportunity to start gaining his revenge, discovering not only the names and descriptions of the culprits but also their destination, Abilene. But why Abilene?

The trail travellers and residents of the towns they pass through recognise The Calico Kid, and uneasily he faces the twin evils of being revered as a peacekeeper, but also being the target of every gunslinger, finding himself challenged to duels by those who cannot resist the chance that they might win.

As their journey progresses they join a family wagon through Indian territory their beautiful daughter Loretta is smitten with him, however, revenge is paramount in Cal’s mind, nothing can distract him from his mission…

Why Abilene? Well these men are not just killers, they have other cards at play and it is the task of Cal, Spud, the sheriff of Abilene – Wild Bill Hickock, Jesse James, and their followers to ensure that the law is upheld and the guilty brought to justice – but what a challenge!

This story has it all, gunfights, outlaws, Indians, settlers and even romance, and with plenty of excitement throughout I am sure that this story will enthral all Wild West fans.

Lights Out (Super Speed Sam Book 6)

by Monty J. McClaine
Lights Out (Super Speed Sam) (Volume 6)In this special Super Speed Sam book mom is cooking the dinner and suddenly there’s a flash of lightning and the kitchen light goes out, the bulb has gone! Being a mom she tries to act cool so her children, little princess Molly, and her older brother Jack are not scared. Dad’s at work so she decides to change the bulb, even though she’s scared of electricity and heights!

Jack gets his torch and she climbs up, onto the kitchen table to change the bulb…

What happens next brings tears of worry to the eyes of Molly and Jack, however someone else is in the kitchen, and watching the proceedings, their Basset Hound Sam. Sam has secret abilities which he earnt one very special Christmas eve, but that’s another story, which fans like us of Super Speed Sam can read in Santa’s Rescue Dog (Super Speed Sam Book5).

Quickly sizing up the problem, and what he can do to help, Sam accesses which abilities he will need and in the twinkle of an eye he changes. In super speed mode he uses these abilities, then returning to his normal self, without the children even noticing. Then in his very special way indicates to his young master Jack what he must do next.

What follows are very important messages to children, about how to act, what to do in the case of an emergency, and also a little tip about safety.

My granddaughter and I love these books, we read one each time she visits. She loves them because they are brightly illustrated and we love dogs, and I love the messages the author manages to weave into the story, and the bond which Jack and Sam share, although some would say they are partners in crime.

I highly recommend this book to all children who love animals, I am sure, that like us they will enjoy this, and the other Super Speed Sam adventures in this series.
I Believe: It Is Ok to Be Afraid and Talk About My Fears, Just Like Sparky, the Amazing Dog.
by Suzanne Mondoux
I Believe: It Is Ok to Be Afraid and Talk About My Fears, Just Like Sparky, the Amazing Dog.In this inspirational story two horses, Carlo and Teddy, are yet again on their adventures when they hear whimpering. Being inquisitive they decide to investigate, and discover a little black dog, hiding, head in paws.

The little dog is scared, and so being caring souls they suggest that he should come with them so he is not alone and afraid anymore. Eagerly he joins them on their journey and is happy when they suggest the name Sparky for him.

Teddy explains to Sparky that although he is scared, he has in fact already taken his first brave step by lifting his head from his paws and talking to them. Teddy believes that he knows just the place where Sparky will be at home, loved and encouraged to overcome his fears by the children and animals who live there.

After hearing about this amazing place Sparky is keen to go there, and when they arrive Sparky is immediately made to feel safe, at home and loved by everyone there.

In this ‘I Believe’ book, through interactive drawing and positive affirmations children discover that although facing their fears is scary at first, if they can take the step to bravely talk them over, they will be able to overcome them.
At the special place Sparky is invited to, and in the book, the author invites her readers to write for 30 days about the fears they have, and things which they can do to overcome them, and then also each day they are encouraged to think what they can do to help animals.

The author, Suzanne Mondoux is an explorer, environmental professional and author, and her love for animals and her dedication to being a voice for them shines through in this wonderful series of incredibly motivational children’s books.

France’s 2020 budget introduces an income tax cut

By Rob Kay, Senior Partner, Blevins Franks

Autumn is the time of year when we find out what tax changes we will be faced with the following year, and wait for parliament to debate and finalise the proposed budget.  We hope for tax cuts, but often get tax rises.  This is a good year, however, as President Macron’s government has announced €9 billion worth of tax cuts for families in France.

France’s draft budget for 2020 was revealed at the end of September.  The bill has begun its progress through parliament, which will take a final vote late in December.  Here is a summary of French taxation in 2020, based on the budget, but of course there could be amendments along the way.

Reduced tax rate for lower income

The main change is a reduction in the income tax rates for calendar year 2020.

Since all income tax used to be paid in arrears, under the old system the tax rates announced in the 2020 budget would been for 2019 income (tax paid in 2020).  However now, with introduction of PAYE, the 2020 budget includes the income tax bands and rates for both 2019 and 2020.

2019 income – tax rates remain the same as last year but bands have been indexed for inflation:



Up to €10,064 0%
€10,064 to €27,794 14%
€27,794 to €74,517 30%
€74,517 to €157,806 41%
Over €157,806 45%

2020 income – starting tax rate reduced from 14% to 11%:



Up to €9,964 Nil
€9,964 to €25,405 11%
€25,405 to €72,643 30%
€72,643 to €156,244 41%
Over €156,244 45%

This will save taxpayers in this bracket around €350 per year.

Flat tax on investment income

The tax rate for investment income remains unchanged at 30% for 2020 income.

Social charges

No changes were announced for social charges, so it looks like they will remain:

  • 7% for employment / self-employment income
  • 1% for pension income
  • 2% for investment income including rental income.

Remember that that 30% flat tax above already includes social charges.


The initial budget draft did not include any reforms for the taxation of assurance vie.   Four early amendments were then proposed, which would have introduced significant changes, but the good news is that the first three were promptly rejected.  The fourth was debated but it looks like it was also rejected, so hopefully we will not see any changes to assurance-vie next year.

Real estate wealth tax and succession tax

The current threshold of €1,300,000 for the ‘IFI’ real estate wealth tax will stay in place for 2020, with no changes to the scale rates of tax. The 75% limitation also remains unchanged.

The budget did not include any reforms for succession tax rates and allowances.

Taxe d’habitation

The changes to this local residence tax, announced in 2017, continue to remove households from taxe d’habitation.   While some already escape this tax, the number increases so that next year only 20% will have to pay it and by 2023 it will be completely abolished.

Corporation tax

The main rate of corporation tax remains at 31%, but it is reduced to 28% for companies with turnovers under €250 million.

Pressure from the EU?

When the budget was launched at the end of September, French Finance Minister, Bruno Le Marie, explained that the aim was to boost investment and consumer confidence.  He said that faced with a slowdown of growth across Europe, “investment is the only effective response”.

  1. Le Marie defended the government’s fiscal stance, claiming that the 2020 budget deficit would be the lowest in 20 years, and that the burden on taxpayers was falling faster than expected.

“Raising taxes is not an option,” he said. “Just when our tax policies are yielding results… you have to be consistent. The signal is very important.”

Later in October, however, the EU wrote to the finance minister, requesting urgent clarification on the government’s 2020 budget as it does not respect its spending cuts commitments made to Brussels.

The EU commission could potentially reject a budget and demand a new draft, but it is unlikely it will come to that.

We will update you if parliament makes amendments or additions to the 2020 budget, before it is finalised at the end of December.

The tax rates, scope and reliefs may change. Any statements concerning taxation are based upon our understanding of current taxation laws and practices which are subject to change. Tax information has been summarised; an individual is advised to seek personalised advice.

You can find other financial advisory articles by visiting our website here


Rives-Blanques wines recommended in Hugh Johnson’s iconic Pocket Wine Book 2020

An extraordinary amount of information is packed into this little  pocket-sized reference, a constant companion for wine buffs and novices alike ever since it was first published 43 years ago, including food and wine pairings, vintage reports, grape varieties, some very good general bons mots from the author himself, and quite a lot of “a little learning”.

The wines of the world are covered in this single slim volume – the lion’s share goes to France – making it a whirlwind tour of the world of wine in engagingly breathless shorthand.  Entertaining snippets of information also find their way on to these pages (‘Meursault’ derives from Muris Saltis …), though no answer is given to the conundrum on the “R” page just above the Rives-Blanques entry : “Egg-shaped wine tank: coque au vin … or vin à la coque?


What’s that on your wrist?

By Nick da Costa

I love watches. Always have done.

For me, the fascination lies in the endless permutations on precisely the same theme: twelve numerals or markers around a circle or square, with two or three hands to point to them.

Right now, we are in one of the most exciting periods ever for original watch design and you don’t need deep pockets to enjoy some very special timepieces.

This is because the watch industry has undergone a revolution which has brought fresh design talent into the market to challenge the astronomically-priced big names.

The best way to explain this is by comparison to cars. In a car, by far the most complex and expensive component is the engine. These take years to design and develop, at enormous cost. Which is why many marques have engines made by other manufacturers, or develop them jointly.

The same has happened in the watch market. Independent manufacturers of high quality movements, usually Swiss or Japanese, have liberated entrepreneurs and designers to focus entirely on the look, confident that the engine is reliable. In some cases, even well known brand names sell their movements to other makers.

So the real excitement today lies between £125 and £400 and in some cases well below. And you can take accuracy for granted.

Some of the sharpest designs are coming out of Scandinavia. Well worth a look are Bering, Skagen and Obaku, all Danish. From Sweden, Triwa. All share those hard-to-define Nordic design cues, bringing ice-coolness to your wrist. Both Skagen and Triwa, for example, have a wide range well under £100.

From Switzerland, look at Wenger, inventors of the Swiss Army knife and Mondaine who have some stunning designs based on the iconic design of the Swiss Railway Clock.

A relative newcomer is Lilienthal, manufacturing in Berlin and awarded a German Design Award in 2018. Also from Germany are Zeppelinwatches, with some nice retro touches. Bravely, one of their range is named Hindenburg, but there are no reports of it bursting into flames.

From Italy, look at Breil, but look carefully since there is dross among some real finds. From the USA, Hamilton just scrapes in to the price range here producing some classic timepieces. Very Scott Fitzgerald.

Also outside our range, but not by much, are Shinola watches, made in Detroit, re-employing many people laid off from the automobile industry. These are fabulous watches, launched with the one of the best headlines ever: ‘A watch so smart you can tell the time just by looking at it’.

I reserve a big soft-spot for Timex. While a fair number of their designs are lacking in any merit, they are still brilliant at producing graphically clean watch faces for as little as £35. The Timex Originals Unisex watch, or their Weekender range, for example, are modern-day classics.

Seiko, of course, can’t be ignored. Great watches – but for me – they are a little like Japanese cars, varying from super-stylish to hideous (without seeming to understand the difference). They need to introduce a second brand in the same way that Toyota split out Lexus. Sure, they created Grand Seiko for the States, but that’s rather missing the point.

My rules: (1) Never buy a watch from a company that didn’t start out making watches. Just because you can knock out a decent shirt or headscarf, doesn’t make you an authority on timekeeping. Stick to the day job.

(2) Gentlemen, be careful about size: watches have been getting bigger and bigger, many reaching 45mm in diameter. Substantial forearms required, or they just make you look weedy. 38/40mm or Unisex sizes are more classic.

(3) Ladies, ignore (2)

A great site to look at (and indeed buy) most of the watches mentioned here (and many others) is  I have no connection with them.


© Nick da Costa 2019




Your reading for November, by Susan Keefe

Bad Love Strikes

by Kevin L. Schewe MD

This book is not only a wonderfully exciting science fiction story, it is an experience, which takes you back in time, with adventure, historically accurate facts, and probably most uniquely by the author suggesting sound tracks to listen to whilst reading it.

Set in 1974, it tells of the first adventure of the “Bad Love Gang,” a group of teenagers with the world at their feet, itching for adventure, and the author kindly invites you to join them for the duration of this story.

Back in October 1939, Albert Einstein had warned President Franklin D. Roosevelt, that Nazi Germany was trying to make an atomic bomb, and urged him to ensure that America made one first. Because of Einstein’s advice, but just in case this didn’t happen, the President decided to set in place a backup plan, and in 1942 he instructed Einstein to make a time machine, code named “White Hole Project.”

This project steeped in secrecy, is lost in time, lying quietly dormant, that is until one of the Bad Love Gangs summer jaunts leads them to discover it. The discovery and their resulting actions unleash a chain of events which changes them, and the lives of others in ways they could never have imagined…

The historical accuracy of this story makes it stand out above other science fiction stories, elevating it from great to outstanding in my opinion. The gang has a clear mission – to save the Jews and Gypsies at Chelmno extermination camp from the Holocaust. They use the machine to travel back thirty years to Chelmno in Poland, which was the first place that the Nazi’s gassed the Jews and Gypsies in their WWII genocide. In embracing the gang’s experiences, the reader, through the vividly descriptive writing of this talented author, is transported back through time, into WWII. As the story unravels and the tension mounts, our senses are aroused so much so that it is easy to imagine you are there, amongst the sights, sounds and horrors of this time. The question is, as the engines of the U.S. Air Force B-17 bomber, known as “The Phantom Fortress,” drone in your ears, as it flies its rescue mission over occupied territories, will you as a fly on the wall member of the gang succeed in your quest, and if you do, and you survive, will you all be able to return to 1974?

The Bad Love Gang is the author’s debut novel, it has an amazing storyline, which really draws the reader in, and listening to the sounds tracks suggested is something which I highly recommend. A real gem which stands out as a shining example of excellent storytelling. I look really look forward to their next adventure.

Available from Amazon


The Climate Change Adventure (The Rescue Elves Book 3)

by Monty J. McClaine

This is the third book in ‘The Rescue Elves’ series of children’s books. The Rescue Elves or ‘Relves’ have a very important job at one particular time of the year, Christmas. They are Santa’s Elves, and it is their job to ensure that Santa and his reindeer get their presents to the children of the world, however, to be fit enough for this once a year job, they are given special focused activities, in different parts of the world, throughout the year by Mrs. Claus.

The setting for this adventures activity is one of their favourite, Island Castle, which is set in the middle of a big lake. Relves Charlie, Jack, Sparkle and Holly are very excited, and are looking forward to catching up with friends who live in the lake. However, when they arrive they are greeted with a mystery, the lake water has disappeared, and not only that, but their friends lives are in danger! What could be the cause?

As parents, grandparents, and carers of the world, we have a duty to protect it for the generations who follow us. The dangers the world face through global warming are real to us, its wildlife and environments. Being very aware of this danger I was delighted to discover this book to read with my granddaughter who has just turned five. This Relves adventure in an engaging way clearly explains what global warming is, however importantly, this is not all, it also explains what we can all do to stop it.

Educating our children through wonderful story books like this, which explain very simply the effects that everyday things have on the planet, and how the introduction of new technology can reduce the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, is vital for the future of our planet, and everyone and thing which lives on it. I highly recommend this to families who wish to educate their children on the importance of environmental awareness.

Available from Amazon:


Faery: The Tiend

by Igo Rab

Faeries at the bottom of your garden? Do you believe in them, some people do, some insist they have seen them, and others like Milo, the 10 year old protagonist of this excellent middle grade fantasy story have their very own tale to tell.

You see Milo has been left in the care of his Uncle Jon for a few days. Uncle Jon is a strange man, some would even say that at times he is “away with the faeries,” a strange turn of phrase sometimes, but not in this story…

The first evening Uncle Jon is in charge, as night begins to fall, Milo notices the light is strange, and then the room grows cold. Condensation begin to spread across the window, and a poem starts to appear on the glass. It is a poem he knows, and as he recites the words to himself he hears a young girl’s voice, and to his surprise he sees her on the other side of the glass.

The girl is unlike any other he has seen and she entices him to follow her on an adventure. An adventure which is to lead him into another world, into the land of the faeries.

However, once there he discovers he is not alone, other children have been chosen, but why? When Milo discovers the faeries terrible and dark secret, he realises that the evil underworld has them trapped in a terrible pact, and now is the time of the tiend, when a faery champion must be chosen, they have no choice.

As Milo and the other children travel across strange lands, encountering creatures only heard of in myths and legends, Milo wonders if the fate of the faeries is sealed forever, or if he can discover the inner strength to help them?

Igo Rab, the author of this spellbinding middle grade fantasy takes his readers on a wonderfully perilous journey where excitement waits at the turn of every page.

Available from Amazon


Capitalism for Democrats: Why The Country Needs It Now

by Martin Lowy

Martin Lowy writes this informative book from a lifetimes experience as a lawyer. Banker, entrepreneur and writer. A lifelong centrist Democrat he asks his readers to take a little time out of their busy lives to consider what capitalism has achieved.

He then goes on to point out that capitalism works because it puts the control of the market into the hands of millions of people allowing them to make billions of decisions for the good of the people and economy, rather than entrusting that power to a few elites.

This book examines capitalism in depth. The author, using examples, graphs and references to three of his previous publications, explains the fundamentals of capitalism, and scrutinises it in detail. In doing so he looks at how capitalism affects and the lives of everyday people, its social impact through history, assesses its highs and lows, its global impact, equal opportunities, the free market and much more, and in doing so gives his readers all the information they require to make their own informed decision on the subject.

For me before reading this enlightening book the moral basis for choosing capitalism was simply because it puts the power into the hands of the ordinary people, however, reading this book I realised that this premise is naïve. Reading the author’s detailed examination of the subject, I finished his book feeling empowered by the knowledge of the subject gained from its pages.

At the end of the book, it is this paragraph which for me makes a very important and true point, ‘All human institutions are imperfect. The questions social scientists wrestle with are how to create institutions that work for large majorities of people to help them to live productive lives with respect and freedom from unwarranted intrusion. In creating such institutions, contradictions are inevitable. It is only through persistent good will that we can succeed in charting the best course through a changing world.’ In a nutshell, this is what capitalism aims to achieve.

This is an extremely educational and helpful book which clearly explains capitalism in an easy to understand format. Highly recommended.

Available from Amazon:


I Believe: It Is Ok to Be Afraid and Talk About My Fears, Just Like Sparky, the Amazing Dog

by Suzanne Mondoux

In this inspirational story two horses, Carlo and Teddy, are yet again on their adventures when they hear whimpering. Being inquisitive they decide to investigate, and discover a little black dog, hiding, head in paws.

The little dog is scared, and so being caring souls they suggest that he should come with them so he is not alone and afraid anymore. Eagerly he joins them on their journey and is happy when they suggest the name Sparky for him.

Teddy explains to Sparky that although he is scared, he has in fact already taken his first brave step by lifting his head from his paws and talking to them. Teddy believes that he knows just the place where Sparky will be at home, loved and encouraged to overcome his fears by the children and animals who live there.

After hearing about this amazing place Sparky is keen to go there, and when they arrive Sparky is immediately made to feel safe, at home and loved by everyone there.

In this ‘I Believe’ book, through interactive drawing and positive affirmations children discover that although facing their fears is scary at first, if they can take the step to bravely talk them over, they will be able to overcome them.
At the special place Sparky is invited to, and in the book, the author invites her readers to write for 30 days about the fears they have, and things which they can do to overcome them, and then also each day they are encouraged to think what they can do to help animals.

The author, Suzanne Mondoux is an explorer, environmental professional and author, and her love for animals and her dedication to being a voice for them shines through in this wonderful series of incredibly motivational children’s books.

Available from Amazon


Is time running out for tax-free pension transfers?

By Rob Kay, Senior Partner, Blevins Franks

If you have chosen to retire in France, take steps now to review your pension options before Brexit potentially changes the rules.

With still no certainty on the timing and form of Brexit – be it hard, soft, no-deal or even no Brexit at all – it is difficult for expatriates to plan accordingly. We are often asked, for instance, what will happen to UK pension rules for expatriates after Brexit, but the reality is that no-one, not even the UK government, knows for sure.

However, when it comes to rules for expatriate pension transfers, it is likely that things may change. So if you are already retired or planning to retire in France, take steps now to review your pension options under current rules.

The option to transfer overseas

Many expatriates have chosen to transfer their UK pensions to a Qualifying Recognised Overseas Pension Scheme (QROPS). Since QROPS’ introduction in 2006, over £11.4 billion was sent through 128,100 transfers up to April 2019 – £640 million in the past year alone.

Transferring to a QROPS can consolidate several UK pensions under one tax-efficient roof suited to your country of residence and unlock other benefits. Funds are sheltered from UK taxation on income and gains, and immune to future changes to pension rules.

Usually, a QROPS provides greater investment diversification compared to UK pension schemes and more freedom to vary income. Many also offer multi-currency flexibility, letting you hold and draw your funds in your currency of choice. Meanwhile, as UK pension payments are usually made in sterling, the income remains sensitive to volatile exchange rates during these uncertain times. And, while most UK pensions are payable only to your spouse on death, a QROPS allows you to include other heirs in estate planning.

Taxation of QROPS transfers

Currently, most expatriates in the EU can transfer to a QROPS completely tax-free, but there are two key situations in which tax is payable.

First, if your combined UK pension benefits exceed the UK’s lifetime allowance – currently £1.055 million – you would face a 25% tax penalty on anything transferred over the limit, even if you are non-UK resident. Once in a QROPS, your funds would never be subject to LTA charges – or indeed any UK taxes – again.

The second taxable scenario is if you transfer to a QROPS based outside the EU/EEA (European Economic Area). In this case (unless you live in the same jurisdiction as the QROPS), the UK would apply a 25% ‘overseas tax charge’ on the whole amount transferred.

Expatriates in France can escape this tax by transferring to a QROPS based here or in another EEA area, such as Malta. However, this may change with Brexit.

A closing tax-free window?

As Brexit eliminates Britain’s current EU commitments – including freedom of movement for capital – the Treasury gains more scope to recoup revenue from UK nationals abroad. Many speculate this will prompt the UK government to impose widespread penalties on pension transfers, even within the EU.

The UK government has offered reassurance that expatriates will keep the right to make overseas transfers, whatever happens with Brexit – but has stopped short of making any tax promises. Last year, economic secretary to the Treasury, John Glen, confirmed that tax-free exemptions would be “dependent upon the terms of future exit agreement between the UK Government and the EU”.

What you need to consider

Without a guarantee that tax-free transfers will continue, it is sensible for anyone considering transferring to act sooner rather than later. Timing is especially important here as the administrative process for pension transfers can take several months to complete.

However, it cannot be overemphasised that transferring is not appropriate for everyone. Also, all QROPS are not the same – there are differences between providers and jurisdictions that can affect the benefits. Alternative investment structures could offer expatriates in France comparable benefits to QROPS, so take personalised, regulated advice to establish the most suitable approach for you.

Pensions are likely to play an important part in your long-term financial security, so it is crucial that you only use a fully authorised and regulated provider. An alarming number of people have lost retirement savings through pension scams or by reinvesting in failed, unregulated investments that offer no protection. Your adviser should take into account your unique circumstances, income requirements, goals and tolerance for risk – as well as the cross-border tax implications – to establish the right solution for you and your family.

Even if transferring is not right for you, with so much uncertainty ahead, now is the time to review your pension arrangements so you can secure the retirement of your choice in France, whatever happens with Brexit.

Tax rates, scope and reliefs may change. Any statements concerning taxation are based upon our understanding of current taxation laws and practices which are subject to change. Tax information has been summarised; individuals should seek personalised advice.

You can find other financial advisory articles by visiting our website here


Your reading for October, by Susan Keefe

Halloween Howler (Super Speed Sam Book 10)

by Monty J. McClaine
My little granddaughter and I just love the Super Speed Sam stories which feature Sam the superhero basset hound and his family, dad, Marty ( I mean Monty) McClaine, his wife, their young son Jack whose always getting into trouble, and little Molly, Jack’s younger sister.
This special Halloween Howler story brings all the excitement of Halloween, and the theatrical abilities of Super Speed Sam together in a story which will captivate every child who reads it, just like it captivated my granddaughter when she visited the other day.
The stage is set straight from the start for an exciting Halloween night in the McClaine household, all the family are cleverly dressed in suitably scary costumes, and their English neighbour, after telling them about the tradition of Guy Fawkes in the UK have promised some amazing fireworks.
Everyone is looking forward to a fun evening, however Sam is a little sad at being kept indoors. The family know that fireworks will scare him and it is for his own good, however he decides to watch the proceedings from Jack’s bedroom window, and it is a good job he does…
Times have been hard for the wolf pack which live in the local woodlands, and hunger has forced them into the outskirts of the town. Keeping to the shadows the wolf pack nervously creep about searching for something to eat. Of course, they don’t know its Halloween night, and they can’t know the difference between the sound of fireworks going off, and sound of the guns which cruelly hunt and kill them.
When they unwittingly arrive in the McClaine garden, scared and very defensive, Sam is instantly alerted to his family’s danger, but what can he do, and will his super powers be enough to overcome these wild animals and save his family?
Excitement and fun is the name of the game in this wonderful children’s book which celebrates this special ‘scary’ night of the year.


by Joe Corso
THE STARLIGHT CLUB 10:: LOVE, ROMANCE, AND MURDER IN ANAHEIM by [CORSO, JOE]Bobby has driven up from Florida to spend Christmas with his daughter Lynn, her husband Ted, and their three children in Connecticut. These are special times as the years go by for Lynn and Bobby to spend time together, and for Lyn to hear tales of the glory days of the famous Starlight Club in Brooklyn, New York.
This story begins in 1962 with an unpleasant patron causing Ernie the bartender to take physical action against him. However, it appears that there is more to this incident that at first meets the eye, and when Red hears who is behind the problems and that the reason behind it is money laundering, he realises that it is time to take the matter in hand. Surrounded by loyal men who do what they must do in this underground world, Red realises that it is also important to keep the police and judicial system happy with pay-outs to smooth over any problems, even if is becoming increasingly expensive.
Meanwhile Joey is asked to once again look after movie mogul daughter June Morganstein in Los Angeles, something he is happy to do as he is madly in love with her. After an attempt on her life, Joey gets to the bottom of the mystery of why she needs protection and discovers that she has a gambling addiction which has got out of control. However, calling for assistance from other members of Red’s workforce unveils dirty deeds at the gambling club she frequents, and the owner’s alliances with villains and a Mexican drug cartels.  Seizing the opportunity to nip trouble in the bud Red and his men take matters into their own control, with the unofficial backing of the new Captain of the 10th Precinct Captain Lou Garner.
Reading the Starlight Club series is a real delight, within the pages of each of the books you are transported back in time to Brooklyn, and into a world where crime bosses rule the streets and yet are respected, even by the law. Through Red, Trenchie, Joey and all the characters who have been so important to the structure of the stories the everyday lives, loves, dangers and even celebrities of the time come alive. The comradeship these brothers in arms share, dangerous and often deadly activities, and underhand dealings are revealed. However, running through every story are strong veins of loyalty and respect which span generations.
Whether you are looking to read a really good story, love crime and gangster novels, or enjoy this period of history, I can guarantee you will not want to put down this exciting story, and it will leave you wanting more.


by Okefenokee Joe
When I finished reading this incredible book, I turned to my husband and said, “WOW, how can a review ever give this book the acclamation it deserves?”
The author had his first real taste of nature and the natural world when he was sent aged 9 to the YMCA Camp Carson, in the beautiful Appalachian Mountains. At first he missed his mum and dad, however, before long, it was the wildness and natural world of Camp Carson he craved when back home. He loved being amongst the natural world, discovered a fascination for it — especially snakes. With this came, a deeper understanding of God’s work in giving us the wonderful natural world, which is all around us.
After a successful career as a singer/songwriter/entertainer for over twenty years, burnt out and tired of the Nashville scene, his marriage in tatters, he cancelled his remaining shows. A broken man, at the age of 41, in desperation, while others would have started on the way to ruin, he remembered those years he had spent at camp in childhood, and the love he had of camping. Searching for answers and with only a tent and other essentials provided by a friend, he set off in his jeep into the swamps of South Central Florida. Alone with his thoughts, he began to ask God for guidance and became one with nature. He learned how to trap and sell snakes, surviving by his skills, he was beginning to find inner peace.
It was the offer of work by another friend who managed the famous Okefenokee Swamp Park near Waycross in Georgia which was to take him onto the next stage of his life.
The great Okefenokee Swamp is in the south east of Georgia. It is not really a swamp and contains many small islands. Covering about seven hundred and fifty square miles, it is a large designated wilderness area east of the Mississippi River, and is an area of outstanding natural beauty, with all its wildlife protected by law. Heaven indeed, and the place which the author would call home for the next nine years. And what an interesting nine years they were.
Through the vividly descriptive writing of this talented man, we the readers are treated to some amazing stories and observations about the animals who live with, and around him. We discover how he befriends the abandoned dog, who is to become his canine companion Swampy before he moved to the park in South Central Florida, and how the next day Swampy appeared in the jeep ready to go with him on the adventure to his new home. Indeed, it is Swampy who finds the little calico kitten Skeeter, who becomes part of their small family, in the picnic area of the park.
However, we also learn through these tales of the animals, which are truly wild and live alongside him, and through his example realize that their territory is not automatically ours to walk over and claim. As he says, true wild animals are born to be self-reliant and self-sufficient; it is the way God intended them to be.
I loved the way that throughout this amazing book the emphasis is on understanding nature, living with it, respecting it, and recognizing that the creatures around us have just as much right to be on this earth as we do. There is so much to learn at the turn of every page, and even more if you read between the lines and take away from it the understanding that the natural world is out there for all to enjoy.
However, in the natural world there is also cruelty, and the author doesn’t hide this side from his readers; after all, ‘nature is not cruel, it is just sublimely indifferent’ as anyone with a pet cat will tell you.
After over nine years at the Okefenokee Swamp Park, ‘Okefenokee Joe’ as he had become known decided to spread the word, and for over four decades he has done just that. He has delivered his “Earth Day Every Day” message to school children of all ages, bringing along with him a selection of native venomous and non-venomous snakes, to help as visual aids, and in teaching the children to be ‘swampwise.’ He has written, recorded and sang songs praising all God’s creations, and now he has written this truly amazing book, and I for one am in total awe of what this man has achieved.
The author has also released an audiobook “Swampwise Secrets Songs and Stories from the Land of the Trembling Earth!” and will soon be releasing “Snake Hunter Snake Talk.”
In Summary: Throughout this amazing period of his life the author learned how to be ‘swampwise’ – really looking at, studying and taking notice of his surroundings. In this modern world, where ‘Mindfullness’ is very much the ‘in’ word, how I wish more people could be like the author and learn to appreciate the amazing natural world around us the same way. Highly Recommended!

I Is God: The Journey Begins

by Geir Gigja
I Is God: The Journey Begins by [Gigja, Geir]This deeply psychological book, is the methodical reinterpretation of the metaphor of the Bible. The author Geir Gigja was born in Iceland, a country known since ancient times as the land of fire and ice, the gateway to heaven and hell, the beginning and the end. Since childhood he has had a fascination with language, its influences on the bible and Icelandic sagas, and the different meanings which can be attributed to words. Then as a young man an accident resulted in him being in a coma, that period of time, when he was aware yet unable to communicate led him to a lifetime’s journey of discovery and to the meaning of ‘I,’ and the culmination of this is this book, I IS God.
The author believes that ‘I’ is our inner spirit, the ‘us’ which makes each one of us unique, even before consciousness, when we were in a state of oblivion, the time when we were a very small child, that time when we existed, but before our state of awareness arrived.
By explaining why I IS God, the author believes that his readers will be able to use their new awareness and understanding to discover for themselves the true meanings of some of the classic biblical stories such as the Garden of Eden, Cain and Abel, the Flood of Noah, and the Tower of Babel.
Because the uniqueness of each person’s I, no one can see the I which lies within every one of us, it is our very being, our essence. He explains that all everyone or thing else sees as us, is in fact simply our image, a representation of us and not who we are really are.  Its presence is with us always as we evolve throughout our lives, awakening our minds, making us conscious of the decisions we make, and of the resulting consequences of them, and in doing so it continually influences our destiny, making us the people we are.
In conclusion: This is an extremely thought provoking and enlightening book. “I IS God” is the first book in a series, and I eagerly await its sequel which is called “Out of The Mist: The Story of Abraham and the Twelve Tribes.”

Odell’s Fall

by Norman Bacal
As soon as I opened the first page of this exciting legal thriller I knew I wouldn’t be able to put it down. Straight away the lead character Odell Moore’s incredible presence and power as one of New York’s most successful lawyers captured my attention. Little did I realise that underneath the formidable, confident, presence which is Odell’s face to the world, lies a much more complex character, one which continues to unravel and offer new surprises right until the very last page.
The story begins with a celebration, it’s champagne all around as the lawyers at the prestigious international firm TGO congratulate themselves on having won the “Bounty” deal, and as their leader Odell Moore, affectionately known as The General, must celebrate this a major victory with them.
However today Odell’s mind is elsewhere, it is with his new wife, beautiful southern belle Dee. The couple have just returned from their secret wedding in Vegas and Dee is on her way to break the news of their marriage to her parents. How will her mother react, and what impact will their marriage have on her father, a deeply racist Alabama senator, when he learns her new husband is an African American?
Odell’s rise to the top of his profession has been achieved by sheer determination and he has fought for recognition and respect every step of the way. This is the way it is if you want to succeed in this business, in a profession which is ruthless, cut throat even. However, Odell is not the only one fired with a deep hunger and ambition. Jackson Sherman, Odell’s young underling, is hungry for success, sure of his own potential and unwilling to let anything get in his way. His rise through the ranks at TGO seems destined to succeed, but will it? When the seeds of doubt are planted in Jackson’s mind he discovers his darker side, a side which will stop at nothing in order to succeed.
The author’s best-selling first book “Breakdown” told the story of the rise and fall of the iconic Canadian law firm Heenan Blaikie, and in this his first work of fiction he uses his vast experience in the world of law to treat his readers into a glimpse of what life is really like for these high achievers, the glitzy and glamor, the toll on relationships, and what really happens in their lives both inside and outside the boardroom.
This story is a modern day take on Shakespeare’s famous tragedy Othello, and Odell like Othello  is soon to learn that you can trust no-one, and when you are sitting high up on your pedestal, there are plenty of people who are watching, and waiting for you to fall.
I just loved this exciting fast-paced thriller. Right from the first page there’s a wonderful mix of excitement, revelation and expectation as the plot evolves and new discoveries about the characters are made. Highly recommended!

Barbecue Blunder (Super Speed Sam Book 8)

by Monty J. McClaine
Barbecue Blunder (Super Speed Sam Book 8) by [Monty.J.McClaine, Monty J McClaine]Everyone loves a barbecue, and what’s more fun than a barbecue party? This is what the McClaine family thought, although the barbecue they were arranging was for a sad reason, they were saying goodbye to their good neighbours Pete and Sally Johnstone, and their five year old son Matthew, who were moving away.

After all the busy preparations, the day arrived, the barbecue was set up, and mum had made her special burgers. Dad Monty was of course in charge of the barbecue, and the guests were arriving bringing their contributions to the event.

What a lovely atmosphere, the adults were laughing and talking, and the children playing at the bottom of the garden and drinking soda, everything was perfect! The only one who was a bit sad was Sam their basset hound, his young master was busy playing with the other children, not him. So, as dogs do, he settled down in a shaded area for a nap.

However, we all know that dogs have a sixth sense, and sure enough, when harmless playing led to a dangerous situation Sam was awake in a flash. Jack was in danger, what could he do?

Now we’re great fans of Super Speed Sam in our family, but new readers are about to discover that this is no ordinary basset hound (If there is such a thing.) Sam is a superhero, with powers given to him one Christmas Eve night when he helped Santa Claus, but that story is in book 5 and is called Santa’s Rescue Dog. In a flash, the clever canine susses out the situation, acts, and saves the day!

However, as can often be the case, things happen so quickly that Sam’s actions are misread and instead of hero, he becomes a villain who injured his young master. Luckily though, their neighbour Pete had seen what really happened, and he puts the record straight, earning the canine hero a magnificent treat!

My granddaughter just loved this book, yet another wonderful story in the Super Sam Series which never fail to amuse her, and yet subtly impart important life lessons. Highly recommended.