The first: The Highest Tide, by Jim Lynch. What if a giant squid washed ashore in the shallows of Puget Sound? That's what happens to the protagonist here, and it is followed up by a number of other strange and biologically unlikely happenings. Even though he rhapsodizes a little too much about Rachel Carson, the book never gets offensively preachy about ecology. Instead it is a beautiful and funny love song to the tide flats, waters, and local color of small-town Puget Sound. As this is also my favorite place on Earth, I felt jealous that I have never written about the Sound like that. Also, the whole thing is told from the point of view of a geeky 13-year-old boy, yet is not really "young adult" fiction, but a very honest and sweet coming-of-age. Thanks to my mom for sending that. Marine biology rules!
And the second: Jean de Florette and Manon of the Springs by Marcel Pagnol. Technically two novels, but the second is a direct sequel to the first and would be a mystery without it, so they're packaged together and might as well be read as one. (Total is only 440 pages anyway.) When two scoundrels plug up a spring near their farm in rural Provence, hoping to claim it for their own private use later, they start a snowball of events that turn into a life or death matter for pretty much everyone in the village. A beautiful and relaxing portrait of a slow-paced but hard-working lifestyle--let's walk ten miles daily to get water, but through hills of lavender; with a picnic of bread, sausage, and white wine--and also a great moral story of crime, punishment, love, family, and community. Really want to see the film version, but Netflix doesn't have it yet. Is marked "Saved." Thanks to dirae for recommending this one, once upon a time.
Perhaps I should send a copy of the latter to my mom for Mother's Day, since I was in her womb for the six months they spent in Aix-en-Provence. (My dad had a temporary nuclear-power-related job over there for some reason.) So technically I have been shaped by the fresh Provencal cuisine and climate, to some extent. Not that I got to see it or anything.