Tag Archives: The Paris Key

Letters from Paris

letters-from-paris

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.

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The Paris Key

The Paris Key

Title:  The Paris Key
Author:  Juliet Blackwell
Publisher:  Penguin
Publication Date:  2015
ISBN:  978-0-451-47369-1

Book Summary:
After her mother passed away when she was a teen, Genevieve Martin traveled to Paris to stay with her uncle Dave.  Dave is a locksmith and Genevieve spends a glorious summer learning about Paris and the art of locksmithing.  Years later when her marriage begins to crumble, she escapes to Paris to sort out her relationship with her husband and her understanding of herself.  Her Uncle Dave has recently passed away and her cousin Catharine invites her to stay in her late uncle’s home and take over her his shop.

Dealing with the French bureaucrats becomes overwhelming so Genevieve attempts to turn away customers, but to no avail.  Uncle Dave’s cliental and friends rely on Genevieve to finish his uncompleted work.  As she remembers the skills that were taught to her, she is able to meet new people and become more comfortable with herself.  She assists Irish neighbor Killian after he locks himself out of his apartment, and her uncle’s friend Phillipe needs her to finish cleaning and carrying for the locks in his family’s house.

As she works on Phillipe’s house, Genevieve discovers a small door.  The lock is old but she is able to open it and discovers a basement full of treasures, one of which is a grate in the floor with a specialized lock that she knows was her uncle’s work.  Genevieve wonders what is hidden under that door and is she brave enough to face the discoveries.  As her locksmith skills come back to her, so do her memories of her own past and she begins to unravel secrets about her family.  The more she discovers, the more she must decide how her future will proceed.  Will she be imprisoned in the past or will she break the lock and face the future?

Book Commentary:
I am a fan of Juliet Blackwell’s witchcraft mysteries, but this is a totally different story and a complete delight.  The author does a fabulous job at interweaving the past and present while subtly maintaining the metaphor of keys and locks throughout the story; the English teacher in me loves this!  The story is told from three different perspectives:  Genevieve’s present visit to Paris, her visit to Paris following her mother’s death, and her mother’s visit to Paris before Genevieve was born.  The three different vantage points are blended so well that the story really moves seamlessly.  Sometimes flashbacks can be distracting to the reader and the continuity of the plot-line can be lost; this is not the case for this book at all.

I love Genevieve’s character.  She definitely goes through a lot of self-discovery and although she learns some pretty interesting things about her past and her family, she is relatable.  There are times when the emotions of the story could become melodramatic and overdone but instead are very poignant and touching.  She takes responsibility for her actions and her emotions.  I especially like her interaction with her soon-to-be ex-husband and how she takes ownership of some of the flaws in her marriage; this part could have also been trite and stereo-typical but instead is very mature and refreshing.

As much as I loved Genevieve, the secondary characters are so much fun!  Sylviane is a straightforward, charismatic Frenchwoman with lots of personality and panache.  I would love to have her take me shopping!  Cousin Catharine brings in a reality-check on Genevieve’s memories of her uncle and her mother, and Phillippe is a dashing older gentleman.  His attention of detail and his Parisian charm make him an ideal dinner companion; the reader wishes she could also be at the table enjoying the French cheese and wine and baguettes.

The undercurrent of dissatisfaction of life forces the reader to reflect on the questions of what truly makes us happy.  The idea that the grass is greener elsewhere takes on both a complimentary and contradictory tone. This dichotomy is a really interesting way to address the question of who makes the joy in life and what joy itself constitutes.

Who might like this book:
Great book!!  There is a strong mystery tone throughout the novel; however, it is not about the death of a person but rather the death of happiness.   The author’s descriptions of the food, wine, architecture, and fashion of Paris make the book very visually stimulating and again once again my interest in traveling to France has been piqued.  Another great aspect of the book is the history of Paris and France’s choices following World War 2; it made me realize my own limited knowledge of Europe and its choices following the war and made me curious to learn more.

I would love to talk about this book with someone who has visited Paris to see if the author created the feel as well as I think she did.  Any Paris natives or travelers out there?