Tag Archives: Paris

The Light of Paris

the-light-of-paris

Title:  The Light of Paris
Author:  Eleanor Brown
Publisher:  G. P. Putnam’s Sons
Publication Date:  2016
ISBN:  978-0-399-15891

Book Summary:
Caught in an unhappy life, Madeleine has always allowed herself to be molded by others.  First, her mother shaped her school activities, scoffed at her love of painting, and created a persona that Madeleine struggled to maintain.  Her marriage to Phillip is no different; he dictates what she wears, criticizes her body image, and expects her to follow the standards of a high-society wife.

When she feels that she is at the breaking point, Madeleine escapes to her hometown.  Although her mother’s house has never seemed a refuge, Madeleine hopes for a sense of balance.  She is shocked to discover that her mother is preparing to sell the family home.  Swept up in helping to clear out over 50 years of memories and treasures, Madeleine discovers a diary written by her grandmother.  Although she passed when she was just a child, Madeleine remembers her grandmother as elegant and refined.  What she finds in the diary is a journal of one epic, memorable Parisian summer.

As Madeleine reads about her grandmother Margie’s exploits and awakenings, she too begins to explore who she was and who she had wanted to be.  Picking up a paintbrush for the first time in years and reconnecting with acquaintances from high school help Madeleine recognize the changes, challenges, and joys in everyone’s lives.  Before she can find her own dream and destiny, Madeleine must decide who she wants to be and what life she wants to live.

Book Commentary:
As I have been on a Parisian obsession recently, this book quickly caught my eye.  What made me read it however was the author, Eleanor Brown.  Her previous novel The Weird Sisters detailed the lives of three sisters whose father was a Shakespearean scholar; I loved this book and enjoyed the fluid and engaging writing style but I had to pick up this new book.

The Light of Paris is a bit different; both Madeleine and Margie’s stories are told separately, but the personal growth and discoveries parallel one another.  The author wrote Margie’s stories as though Madeleine retold them after she read the diary; it was an interesting perspective and style.  I am not sure if I liked it but it reflected how the primary story of Madeleine was influenced by Margie’s own evolution.  At times, I felt that Madeleine’s interpretation of Margie’s story was a bit biased but it provided great insight on Madeleine’s progress of self-discovery.

Who might like this book:
Although I didn’t feel as immersed in Parisian culture as some other novels I have read, The Light of Paris delves into the artists of Paris in the 1920’s.  I really liked the descriptions of the artwork through Margie’s innocent eyes and Madeleine’s artistic knowledge.

This would be a fun book for a book group.  There is ample fodder for discussion about life goals and the people and situations that both assist and interfere with their attainment; however, it is truly a story about the choices people make and that ultimately we must take charge of our own destiny.

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The Loveliest Chocolate Shop in Paris

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Title:  The Loveliest Chocolate Shop in Paris
Author:  Jenny Colgan
Publisher:  William Morrow
Publication Date:  2014
ISBN:  978-0-4022-8440-3

Book Summary:
After a ridiculous, yet horrifying, accident at the chocolate factory she works at as a supervisor, Anna Trent is surprised to find her hospital roommate is her old school French teacher, Claire Shawcourt.  As Anna struggles through her recovery, Claire is battling chemotherapy for cancer.  Because neither can really go anywhere in the hospital, they slowly build a friendship.  When Anna is released, she finds her life in a state of limbo; she can’t go back to her old job but is unsure where to go next.  Claire has the perfect solution.

Years earlier as a young woman, Claire escapes from her over-bearing, controlling Reverend father for a summer when she travels to Paris and works as a nanny to her mother’s pen-pal’s children.  While there, she meets and falls in love with a robust, handsome chocolatier.  At the end of the summer, Claire must return home to England and Thierry was sent to Algeria to serve in the military service.  They both went on with their lives but never forgot one another.

It is Claire who writes to Thierry and secures Anna a job in his famous Parisian shop, Le Chapeau Chocolat, and Anna heads across the channel for a grand new adventure.  Working in Thierry’s chocolate shop is nothing like the factory in England, and Anna must decide if she is truly committed to the artistic creation and temperament of a Parisian chocolatier.  With the help of Anna’s flamboyant costume designing flat mate, Thierry’s estranged and aloof son, and the other chocolatiers in the shop, Anna improves her chocolate making skills, her palette, and her view of life.

Book Commentary:
The Jenny Colgan books are so much fun!!  This is the fifth book I have read by this author and I admit that they do follow a similar formula — girl is in a stagnant place in life, something catastrophic (divorce, job loss, accident) occurs, girl embarks on a new adventure, meets new friends, and discovers a new path in life – but hey, it works!  Colgan creates relatable characters that the reader truly roots for and wants to find success.  There is a little romance, an interesting and unique setting, and quirky secondary characters that create an enduring and delightful read.

This particular book deviates a bit from the formula as it tells both Anna’s story and Claire’s past as they are woven together.  I enjoy how the author shows that as different as times and situations are, most people really just want a sense of purpose and to find happiness and love.

Who might like this book:
The books are perfect for the carpool line, a long flight, or the beach and provide a fun escape from reality.  I enjoy reading these because I know there will be a satisfying and happy ending.  Some days, you just need that.  Oh, and there are recipes . . . chocolate recipes . . . and that is always a good thing.

I have written review for two of her other books.  You can check them out here:
The Little Beach Street Bakery
The Bookshop on the Corner

Letters from Paris

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Title:  Letters from Paris
Author:  Juliet Blackwell
Publisher:  Penguin
Publication Date:  2016
ISBN:  978-0-451-47370-7

Book Summary:
After Claire Broussard’s mother dies in a car accident when she is just an infant, and her father is deemed an unfit parent, Claire is raised by her maternal grandmother, Mammaw.  As a child when she wanted to escape from the world, she would sneak up into the eaves of the attic.  It was there she discovered the wooden crate sent from Paris by her great-grandfather after World War II.  Inside was a mix of sawdust, crumpled scrap paper, and a life-size face of a lady.  The sculpture was broken in numerous places, but her serene demeanor and beautiful countenance provided a sense of peace and calm for Claire.

Years later, as a successful independent woman working for a software company in Chicago, she receives the call that Mammaw was dying.  She leaves her newly-ex boyfriend, quits her job, and heads back to Louisiana.  Mammaw had saved Claire as a child and she owes it to her grandmother to care for her; she also feels that there is something lacking in her life and something waiting in her future.  Mammaw and Claire share stories and memories, and Mammaw encourages Claire to seek out the secret of the woman’s mask.  Claire discovers that the piece was known as L’Inconnue de la Seine, the Unknown Woman of the Seine.

After Mammaw’s death and feeling compelled to find a purpose, Claire travels to Paris to the mold-making business from where the mask was sent.  At the Lombardi family business, Claire meets Giselle and her cantankerous cousin Armand.  Through a combination of need-to-know and want-to-help, Claire begins working at the Lombardi business.  Her Cajun French and American personality are the perfect combination to deal with both customers and Armand.

Through the letters that Claire writes back home to her Uncle Remy and the scraps of notes she discovers in Paris, a story of love and loss and hope is woven together across the generations.  As Claire delves further into the mystery of the unknown mask model, she un-knots the strings of her own past and seeks answers for her future.

Book Commentary:
Okay, loved, loved, loved this book!!!  I am a big fan of Juliet Blackwell’s Witchcraft Mysteries and was completely delighted by her first Paris book, The Paris Key; however, I think this book surpasses them all.  An absolutely beautiful and endearing story of love and hope and perseverance and redemption. My husband laughed at me when I finished the last page with a huge smile; the book comes to such a complete and satisfying conclusion.

Claire is a complex and yet very straightforward character.  There is so much in her life that she accepts at face value; she has questions from her past but they don’t ever overwhelm her in her life back in the states.  It is only when she comes to Paris that she discovers that there might be more to who is she and who she wants to be.  I loved watching her growth as a character; there were few shocking, slap-in-the-face revelations, but rather an evolution of understanding and acceptance.  Her quest of knowledge about L’Inconnue also isn’t an obsessive pursuit, but rather a series of clues and ideas that progress to a hidden meaning.

I certainly don’t want to give the impression that the book was slow; rather, quite opposite.  What I appreciated was how the author created such a warm and intoxicating story without having to traumatize the reader or create discord in the plot-line. So many novels rely on the shock factor to progress the story along; this story unfolded naturally. It was just a really, really great story.

Who might like this book:
The author obviously has an appreciation and love of Paris; the story is told with the sights, sounds, and impressions of a native, rather than a tourist.  The author is truly a gifted storyteller and engages the reader’s attention and interest without using clichés.  Although it is a completely independent novel, I also highly recommend the author’s The Paris Key as well.

The Paris Librarian

The Paris Librarian

Title:  The Paris Librarian (Hugo Marston 6)
Author:  Mark Pryor
Publisher:  Seventh Street Books
Publication Date:  2016
ISBN:  978-1-63388-177-8

Book Summary:
Hugo Marston receives a call from friend Paul Rogers at the American Library in Paris about an upcoming book sale.  Although the library’s twice monthly sales often include books well out of an embassy security agent’s salary, Paul informs Hugo that a first edition, autographed In Cold Blood is available and Hugo promises to stop by to check it out.  Paul directs him to a small storage room, he calls the atelier, in the basement, where he hides out every morning to write his book.  However, when Hugo arrives, the door is locked and Paul doesn’t answer.  After searching the library for his friend, Hugo’s concern is great enough to ask Michael Harmuth, the assistant director of the library, to help him into the room.  The men are shocked to find Paul dead, and given his history of a heart condition, the cause is understood to be natural.

Something does not sit right with Hugo though and he calls his friend Lieutenant Camille Lerens from the Brigade Criminelle for her assistance.  As she has a new recruit, she grudgingly agrees to check out the scene and provide an opportunity for her recruit to test out his sleuthing skills.  Although nothing out of the ordinary is found, when a janitor collapses and almost dies the next day in the library, more questions are raised.  When another related death occurs, it is apparent that there is much more to the story.

At the same time, old friend Merlyn arrives back on the scene with friend Miki Harrison.  Miki is a freelance journalist researching a book about movie star Isabelle Severin.  Recently, Severin was admitted to an elderly care facility.  At that time, most of her personal papers and past correspondence were donated to the American Library.  Severin’s history as an actress is well-known, but rumors have circulated that Severin was also a spy for the Allies during the war and was able to use her star power to pass secrets from the Vichy government to the Americans, the British, and the Resistance.  There is even a story that when two Gestapo officers caught her delivering secrets, she killed one of them with his own dagger.  Miki is determined to search through the papers and artifacts, and hopefully find the evidence of her involvement and perhaps even the dagger itself.

Hugo becomes embroiled in both the mystery of his friend Paul’s death and the rumors of the Severin collection.  When the possibility of a link between the two mysteries leads Hugo down a different path, it becomes clear that the history behind this case is one that the guilty party does not want solved and is actively eliminating threats to its discovery.

Book Commentary:                       
This is the sixth book in the Hugo Marston series and it does not disappoint.  Hugo is a very likeable character with a true sense of honor and loyalty.  He ingratiates himself into the investigations without being pushy or obnoxious, and although other characters may find him a bit annoying, it is never out of malice or arrogance.  His naturally perceptive nature enables him to not just observe the evidence and anomalies, but also to piece them together.

This story had Hugo working more closely with Camille Lerens than in some previous books and I really enjoyed the contrast between her hard-fought acceptance as an investigator and Parisian perspective and Hugo’s American inquisitiveness and Southern charm.  They really make a formidable pair.  Camille has her own secret, but you are going to have to read to find that out.

It was fun to see Merlyn again; she is a free-thinking, yet secretive young woman we were first introduced to in The Button Man.  Her youth and rather bohemian lifestyle provide a humorous contrast to Hugo’s more staid demeanor.  Hugo’s friend Tom and on/off girlfriend Claudia also make appearances; however, on a much smaller scale.

Pryor is a great storyteller and he pulls the reader in with just enough clues to keep us hooked.

Who might like this book:
I am pleased to have gotten my husband hooked on the Hugo Marston books; he definitely appeals to both male and female readers.  I did warn him though that there was one big plus in this story, and one big negative.  The plus was a hint at the end about a future story involving Tom and Hugo that digs up something from their past.  I love their rather unusual friendship and shared history and can’t wait to read about a past adventure.  The negative was that after reading about the American Library in Paris, I now need to go.

You must start at the beginning of the series and read the books in order.  Seriously.  I won’t talk to you if you don’t.

The Hugo Marston books in order:
The Bookseller
The Crypt Thief
The Blood Promise
The Button Man
The Reluctant Matador

The Red Notebook

The Red Notebook

Title:  The Red Notebook
Author:  Antoine Laurain
Publisher:  Gallic
Publication Date:  2014
ISBN:  978-1-908313-86-7

Book Summary:
As Laure arrives home late at night, she is mugged and her purse is stolen.  Although her head was knocked against the wall, she is more distraught about the loss of her purse and all the memories . . . her entire life . . . that the purse contained.  She stumbles across the street to a small hotel and begs for a room, explaining what happened and her intent to contact a friend who has a key to let her in the next morning.  She looks out the window across the street to her flat and can see her cat sitting in the window.  In the morning, when she doesn’t answer the door, the maid finds her unconscious.

While walking to a local café to enjoy a morning espresso, bookseller Laurent discovers a discarded purse in the rubbish bin.  A beautiful purse, Laurent feels that no one would just throw it away.  With his mother’s words that “a man should never go through a woman’s handbag” haunting his thoughts, he takes the purse to his home.  With great apprehension, Laurent opens the purse in an attempt to discover the owner.  He finds no wallet or cell phone, but instead a myriad of objects that define the woman who owns the purse: a lipstick tube, an envelope of photographs, a few smooth stones, an autographed copy of a well-known writer, a generic dry-cleaner receipt, and a red notebook full of the owner’s thoughts, dreams, fears, and desires.

With nothing but the items in the purse, Laurent is intent upon finding the owner of the purse.  He wants to return her belongings, but more importantly he wants to meet the woman behind the words in the red notebook.  And so, a quest through Paris begins.

Book Commentary:
One of the most enjoyable books I have read in a very long time.  A beautiful story, part romance, part mystery, part quest-adventure, and all Parisian.  At only 159 pages, it is a quick read but an absolutely beautiful story.  Written in very short bursts of chapters, the story fluctuates between Laure, Laurent, and numerous other people who are part of their lives.  I am so impressed at the skill of the author to create such depth in his characters though the lives of the other characters.

Written originally in French, there are numerous subtle nuances of Parisian life and culture.  As I have mentioned previously, France has never been on my list of places that I want to visit but recently as I have read so many books set in France, my interest is piqued.  I am curious how those who have visited this country and Paris in particular would enjoy this book.  There is a fair about of satire about modern life that was both poignant and mildly embarrassing as the author truly grasps the flaws and foibles of humanity.

The mystery lover in me thoroughly enjoyed how Laurent, not even a novice detective, uses the items in Laure’s purse to discover who she is and what the items say about her personality and character.  He seems to fall in love with this woman he has never met simply through what is represented in her purse.  It makes me wonder what people would think of me based on the contents of my purse!!

The romantic in me loves how Laurent painstakingly searches for Laure and how his analysis of each of the items in her purse guides his pursuit; a pursuit for the owner, but also a quest in which he discovers so much about himself as well.

Who might like this book:
Like I mentioned, it is a quick read for anyone who likes a simple life mystery, a sweet love story, or an immersion into Parisian life.  But don’t think this is a unassuming book; the depth of human frailty and desire, the question of who we are and where are lives take us, the items that represent our lives, beliefs, and passions are all presented in a straightforward, and at times, brutally honest manner.  I haven’t been touched by a book this much in a while.

The author has written another book, The President’s Hat about President François Mitterrand’s hat, that I am very excited to read, and French Rhapsody to be released in October 2016.

Four FAVORITE BOOK SETTINGS on Friday

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Four FAVORITE BOOK SETTINGS on Friday
I have to admit that I am Buzz Feed Quiz junkie.  You know, the ones that have you answer questions to determine which Disney Princess you are, which Hogwarts House you belong in, and which decade should you have lived in.  In order, Belle (no surprise there), Gryffindor (I wish I was that brave), and the 1950’s (pencil skirts and cocktail hour all the way!).  I recently saw one that “determined” your book interests based on travel preferences, and it got me thinking about settings.  I went through my list of all my favorite mystery writers . . . of course I have a list . . . and not too surprisingly, there was a lot of overlap of locations.  An honorable mention list must include New Orleans, Washington DC, and New York, but here are the four that made the final cut.

The United Kingdom
Big surprise there!  Obviously London – past and present – is number one of my list.  I have been an Anglophile forever, and although I have only had the opportunity to travel to the UK once, I love the juxtaposition between old and new, ancient and modern.  The history combined with all the cultural influences makes the setting full of literary opportunities.  With such a rich history, mysteries can be set in so many different time periods.  I love to read about the social customs and class mores that are indicative to each era.  Some of my favorite authors include maps of historical London and it is fascinating to see what has changed and what has stayed the same.

I love to read about modern London in Deborah Crombie’s Duncan Kincaid and Gemma James New Scotland Yard adventures, Regency London through the eyes of C. S. Harris’ Sebastian St. Cyr, and Victorian London’s Charles Lenox series by Charles Finch.

Of course, the great thing about the UK is that you can include Scotland, Wales, and Ireland.  My favorite mystery writer, Anna Lee Huber, sets her Georgian Lady Darby series in Scotland.  A modern day Wales is seen in Elizabeth Dunnett’s Penny Brannigan series and Rhys Bowen’s Evan Evans mysteries.

San Francisco
You have probably also noticed my love of San Francisco.  Ah, if money were no object . . . actually, it is an object, just one I don’t have a lot of!  Once again, it is a city with a lot of history and diversity.  With influences from the West and its role in the American Gold Rush and westward expansion history, there is a wealth of potential for conflict and personality.  The cultural and ethnic enclaves within the city are so vibrant that they are also individual and unique settings within the larger city.

I love Juliet Blackwell’s witchcraft series that is set in the Haight-Ashbury district of San Francisco; the author does a great job at describing the tone and feel of this vibrant neighborhood.  Kate Carlisle is another favorite author of mine; her stories are set all around the heart of the city but she also travels up 101 across the Golden Gate Bridge to the wine country as well.  I just discovered Nancy Herriman’s novel of Old San Francisco set post Gold Rush and I look forward to more in that series.

New England
The crisp fall air.  The smell of apple pie.  The sound the pounding surf.  The sight of a dead body.  Don’t you love New England!!  Having lived in the Northeast, I quickly fell in love with the region and it truly does provide a wonderful backdrop to a great crime!  Seriously though, the history, the topography, and customs of decades old generations makes New England a great setting.

Quintessential New England towns provide the perfect setting for Julia Spencer-Fleming’s Russ VanAlstyne and Clare Fergusson contemporary mysteries that feature a small town cop and an Episcopalian priest, and for Jenn McKinlay’s Library Lovers mysteries set in coastal Connecticut.  Kaitlyn Dunnett channels a Scottish heritage in the fictitious Moosetookalook, Maine.

France
Ironically, France had never been a place I had a huge desire to visit, until I was introduced to two great mystery series sent in this beautiful and culturally rich country.  Wine, cheese, the French Alps, the French Riviera.  Seriously, what was I thinking?  Of course I would love to go there!!

Two writers that I really enjoy include Mark Pryor and M.L. Longworth.  Mark Pryor’s Hugo Marston series is set mainly in Paris and I enjoy reading about both the famous and infamous stops that he visits within the city.  M.L. Longworth’s Verlaque and Bonnet series takes place in Aix-en-Provence, which is in southern France not too far from Marseille.  I really enjoy the contrast between the two geographically and culturally diverse areas.

Interesting . . . I have lived in two of these locations; perhaps it is time to move again?  As I wrote this, it got me thinking about specific places from novels that I have read that I would like to visit.  I think I see another blog post topic!  How about you?  What are your favorite book settings?

A Paris Apartment

Title:  A Paris Apartment
Author:  Michelle Gable
Publisher:  Thomas Dunn Books
Publication Date:  2014
ISBN:  978-1-250-06777-7

Book Summary:
Running away from problems in her marriage, April Vogt jumps at the opportunity to travel to Paris.  As Sotheby’s furniture specialist, she is thrilled to inspect and catalog furniture in a ninth arrondissement Paris apartment that has been closed up for 70 years.  Digging through the dust and dirt and decay however, it is not the furniture that catches her eye. Instead, it is a previously unknown portrait of renowned courtesan Marthe de Florian by master of the Belle Epoque period, Giovanni Boldini.  What is even more exciting is the collection of letters and journals by Marthe that chronicled her life.

April becomes swept up in Marthe’s story of how she started as an orphan, got a job as a barmaid at the Folies Bergere, and went on to become a very well-known demimondaine, the highest possible level for a courtesan.  Her interaction with some of the famous contemporaries of the time, as well as her deep seated rivalry with Jeanne Hugo, daughter of Victor Hugo, create a truly amazing life story.

April’s own life takes interesting twists and turns as she meets the estate lawyer, Luc.  He slowly provides her with information about Marthe’s heir who is selling the estate and April begins to put the pieces of the puzzle of the past together.  Her own marriage to Troy teeters as well but there is also some hope for the future.

Book Commentary:
I had read about this book when it came out in hardback.  I rarely buy hardbacks and never seemed to get it from the library, so it kind of fell off my radar.  I was thrilled when I discovered it paperback.  It is an amazing story based on a true-story of a treasure-stocked Parisian apartment that had been closed up for decades.  I enjoyed how the author made the reader feel like a treasure hunter as secrets and surprises were unearthed.  I admit that Paris has never been a “must-see” destination for me, but this book, along with the Hugo Marston series, has really piqued my interest.  The setting descriptions from both the past and present are very detailed and I love how, in many cases, there is little change between the two.

The story is very plot driven, both in the past and present, and I really liked how they were written together without being dependent upon one another.  Often what a character learns from the past changes how they perceive the present and then all is right and comes together perfectly – rather unrealistic.  Although April learns about the past and it does reflect on her present, the two are still very separate stories that don’t have to intertwine.  I liked how that was different from a lot of other stories that are written in two time periods.

Another thing that surprised me was how I liked and empathized with Marthe’s character much more than April’s.  I didn’t really care for April and her choices, which is different for me.  I usually really relate to and appreciate the protagonists.  This however in NO way made me enjoy the book less.  The book was a departure for me and I liked the change.

Who might like this book:
This is a great book for lovers of Parisian history, art, and culture.  I think if I had ever been to Paris, I would have enjoyed this book on a completely different level, as many of the local references were lost on me.  I also liked how April was a historical furniture expert; once again, a departure from the typical art experts that are often seen in novels.  It presented the story in a different light.

Fans of stories that interweave the past and present may also like this book; although, I didn’t feel it was as much interwoven as parallel.  I would be curious to see what others think.