This Week’s Book Review - Once Upon a Villa

Looking for a good read? Here is a recommendation. I have an unusual approach to reviewing books. I review books I feel merit a review. Each review is an opportunity to recommend a book. If I do not think a book is worth reading, I find another book to review. You do not have to agree with everything every author has written (I do not), but the fiction I review is entertaining (and often thought-provoking) and the non-fiction contain ideas worth reading.

Book Review

Americans in the Riviera

Reviewed by Mark Lardas
May 26, 2024

Once Upon a Villa: Adventures on the French Riviera” by Andrew Kaplan, Smugglers Lane Press, March, 2024,‎ 386 pages, $32.95 (Hardcover) $9.99 (E-book)

By 1985 Andrew Kaplan successfully sold two thrillers. The first, “Scorpion” sold well. Kaplan asked the question many writers ask after early success: do I quit the day job and write full time? A wife and two-year-old child made Kaplan reluctant to take that step. Then the day job quit Kaplan and he was unemployed.

“Once Upon a Villa: Adventures on the French Riviera” by Andrew Kaplan tells what happened next. Stuck at home, unable to drive due to a broken foot, Kaplan could not job hunt. He was frustrated. His wife Anne asked him what he would do if he could do anything. His dream was to move to the French Riviera for a year and write full time. Anne also wanted to live in France.

He had a severance package. He sent his literary agent an outline of a new thriller asking her if it was marketable. Using his sample chapters and the outline his agent sold the book to a London publishing house. A sizeable advance, his savings and selling his Southern California house provided enough money to move to France and live for a year. All he had to do was write the novel.

The adventures of an American family abroad follow. They rented a villa on France’s Mediterranean Coast, initially in Cap d’Antibes (previously rented by Roman Polanski) and later one in Eze near where Nietzsche wrote “Thus Spake Zarathustra.” Kaplan settled down to write his book.

The book captures the struggles a Middle America couple experienced living and working in the billionaire’s playground of the Cote d’Azur. Getting the residence permit to remain a year led to a prolonged struggle with the French bureaucracy. The Challenger explosion, the America’s bombing of Libya and Chernobyl all occurred during their stay, affecting their experiences. Chernobyl created the same anxieties Covid would spawn in 2020, the perils of invisible radiation substituting for invisible viruses.

It also shows the spirit of everyday life in France: searching for the perfect bouillabaisse, learning the intricacies of bicycle racing and finding incredible baguettes baked by an 80-year-old village baker. The Kaplans encounter Americans on the lam, eccentrics of all sorts, and form enduring friendships with the local French. Kaplan also recounts his efforts writing his novel.

“Once Upon a Villa” is a delightful read, humorous and poignant. It portrays the dreams, struggles, adventures, and successes of a young American family abroad.

Mark Lardas, an engineer, freelance writer, historian, and model-maker, lives in League City, TX. His website is This review appeared in a different form in Epoch Times.