Reading this book, a sequel to the savory A Year in Provence, is like returning with great expectations to a restaurant where you once had a magical meal. There is nothing wrong—the waiters haven't gone surly, the foie gras isn't chopped liver, the wine has not gone to vinegar—but it doesn't measure up to the memory.
This book, while readable and charming, lacks the shapeliness of A Year in Provence, introduces fewer colorful characters and seems padded.
Mayle celebrates his 50th birthday with a picnic of Rabelaisian proportions, attends a wine tasting in August heat, meets a gourmet who dines in a track suit. Between meals, he digs for gold and meets a man who swears he will get his toads to sing the "Marseillaise" for the French bicentennial.
Mayle is best in citing local customs, such as how the locals see time: "The Provençal prefers to drop in and surprise you rather than call first to make sure you're free...if you tell him you have to go out he is puzzled. Why rush? Half an hour is nothing. You'll only be late, and that's normal."
Less special are stories of a Pavarotti songfest and acquiring a new dog.
Overall, though Toujours Provence isn't the feast A Year in Provence was, it's a perfectly respectable repast. (Knopf, $20)