Jacqueline Bouvier, before she met JFK, spent her junior year of college in Paris. This well-researched biographical novel brings postwar Paris to life in rich detail. In 1949 and 1950, Paris is still very much in recovery mode. There is still some rationing, the food is not yet plentiful, and Jacqueline is often served soup by her host mother, Comtesse de Renty, along with bread and cheese. The apartment, shared with the Comtesse’s two daughters, young grandson and two other American students is also very cold, with the repairman unable to get parts for their heater.
Jacqueline’s family has connections in France, and she often spends weekends in the countryside, riding horses. Gradually, Jacqueline learns more about the sacrifices and suffering of the Parisians during the war, and has a political awakening as well. Described as intelligent, introverted, observant, and a bit naïve, she is also charming. Her first serious romance does not go smoothly, but she learns much from the relationship. Author Mah walks a fine, smooth line between biography and fiction, making this novel a sure bet for fans of historical fiction or Francophiles.
I recently had the good fortune to read two new collections of mystery short stories. This is my idea of perfect armchair or bedtime summer reading, as the stories are focused on character and setting, but not so much on a detailed plot.
If you’d like to read about Bruno, Chief of Police visiting the weekly market in St. Denis France, and then cooking or enjoying the local food and drink with a collection of villagers, then look no further. Berries from a local French or farmer’s market make an excellent accompaniment to the stories. Occasional trips around the southwest region of France, horseback riding, and a cave in Lascaux add to the ambience. The mysteries are slight and easily solved by Bruno and company. The other 14 books begin with Bruno, Chief of Police. Some of these get rather dark in tone, though the writing and setting are always top notch.
If you’d rather visit Melbourne, Australia in 1928 or 1929, the delightful Miss Phryne Fisher will be your guide. Elegant, witty, and streetwise, Phryne is delightful and extremely well-dressed company, who occasionally takes justice into her own hands. Raised poor and currently rich and generous, Phryne shines in a wide variety of settings and mysteries. Sometimes the mystery is simply to discover if there’s actually been a crime, or just an accident. Another story features an eloping couple and no crime at all. Four of these stories are brand new; some older stories have been recently revised. Phryne is popular for the television series Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries, and has delighted mystery readers in 21 other books, beginning with Cocaine Blues and (so far) ending with Death in Daylesford.
I thoroughly enjoyed listening to this memoir about a Londoner who relocates to the Seven Valleys area in northern France with her husband, where they spend over a decade renovating a rundown old house. Susan Duerden narrates the audiobook (available from Hoopla Digital). While Janine and Mark live in a tiny village, their life there seems very lively, with festivals, seasonal markets, eccentric neighbors, and the antics of farm and domestic animals. Even frustratingly slow internet is humorous here. Janine is a travel writer, and often travels by train to a different region, to discover its charms, then comes home to realize that France’s Opal Coast is where she wants to stay. Readers will feel well acquainted with many of the residents in the village, and long to travel there, or at least want to try some of the seasonal pastries or local cheeses mentioned. Excellent armchair travel with warmth and humor, with wonderful descriptions of food and drink.
Vanessa has 26 first and second cousins, but no siblings. Working as an accountant in Palo Alto, Vanessa struggles with visions of the future, sometimes predicting death. Her Aunt Evelyn, who has the same talent, brings Vanessa to Paris for several weeks to help with the opening of Evelyn’s tea shop and to teach Vanessa how to handle her visions. Vanessa would rather tour Paris with fellow Asian-American Marc; foodies and Francophiles will really enjoy their sightseeing and delicious meals. Readers of Sarah Addison Allen and Joanne Harris may also find the hints of magic appealing. I would have enjoyed more scenes with Vanessa’s many interfering but well-meaning aunties, who enjoy bargaining at antiques stores and are as comfortable at a tiny café as at a lavish banquet. Vanessa also shows skills at matchmaking, but has been told she’ll never have a lifelong romance. I found some of the descriptions in the book a bit much; I didn’t need to know the size of Vanessa’s condo or the exact number (75) of oysters appearing on a platter. I also wanted to learn if Vanessa’s sometimes dire visions of the future could be averted. This is a good summer read that’s sure to be popular. This book will be published on August 4; her earlier book is Natalie Tan’s Book of Luck & Fortune.
In 1955 actress Grace Kelly takes refuge from a photographer in Sophie Duval’s perfume boutique in Cannes, France. Sophie then meets James Henderson, the British photographer desperate for a photo. Sophie and James’ stories, including their work, are framed by the love story of Grace and Prince Rainier of Monaco. The settings are gorgeously drawn, the storyline is not predictable, and the epilogue in 1982 is short but very satisfying. The Gown by Jennifer Robson is a good readalike.
Winter is a perfect time to read this first mystery set in the picturesque Luberon region of Provence, France. Middle-aged Brit Penny, recently divorced, buys an old stone house near a charming village, only to discover a body in the swimming pool. Helped by her exuberant friend Frankie and estate agent Clémence, forensic-trained Penny investigates the murder while restoring her house and getting involved in village life. Penny is excellent company, and the food and scenery descriptions are luscious. More books are planned, and will be very welcome. Visit the author’s website for photos of Penny’s Provence.
Historical fantasy readers will enjoy this richly detailed novel. Vampire Marcus must stay away from his young fiancée Phoebe for 90 days after she becomes a vampire. In Paris, Phoebe’s struggle to adapt to her new strength, speed, and interests are often funny. While staying in the French countryside with his parent Matthew and Matthew’s wife Diana, Marcus relives his years as a boy and young man in the American Revolution, where he learns to be a medic. Matthew and Diana, a witch, have their hands full with twin toddlers Becca and Philip as their powers emerge. Becca has a tendency to bite and Philip has summoned a griffin named Apollo. This book is a good introduction to Harkness’ novels. Her All Souls trilogy begins with A Discovery of Witches. Francophiles may also enjoy Time’s Convert, as well as Outlander fans, with an intriguing blend of history, magic, and romance.
A heartwarming book about second chances and dealing with a serious illness set in southwest France. Jess broke up with Adam a few weeks after their son William’s birth. He didn’t seem interested in being a father or settling down. 10 years later, Jess, a creative writing teacher in Manchester, takes William to spend the summer with Adam at the chateau and cottages he’s remodeled in the Dordogne region. Jess’ mother Susan is quite ill and it’s her wish that William and Adam develop a close relationship. Adam is quite busy, but two of Jess’ friends arrive for vacation, along with three children. Full of gorgeous scenery, good food, and family drama, this is an engaging summer read. Along the way, there are cookouts, castles to tour, a waterfall to slide down, along with some romance.
Artist Zoe makes a long overdue visit to her friend Camille in France, and impulsively decides to hike the Camino de Santiago from central France to the Spanish border. Her budget is small and she is hiking because of a recent death in her family. Martin, a British engineer working in France, decides to test his design for a one-wheeled cart by hiking with it from Cluny to Santiago. Better equipped and organized, Martin often stays in inns and enjoys gourmet meals while Zoe’s budget barely covers hostel dormitories. However, the trail keeps bringing the unlikely pair together, especially when they are both dealing with upsetting news from home. The scenery is dramatic, the other hikers a quirky bunch, and the dialogue is witty and funny. I enjoyed this charming romantic comedy inspired by a three-month hike of the Camino in 2011 by Rosie Project author Graeme Simsion and his wife, writer Anne Buist. Film rights have been sold.
Tom Hazard only travels through time in his memories, but they are vivid and go back to Elizabethan England. A member of the Albatross Society, Tom ages very, very slowly. As he has to move and reinvent his life every eight years to keep his condition a secret, he isn’t supposed to fall in love. Back in London as a history teacher, Tom has only to look out the window to see places from his own history, where his true love Rose was a fruit seller, and where he played the lute at Shakespeare’s Globe theatre. French teacher Camille thinks Tom looks familiar and may tempt him into a relationship, but Hendrich, the head of the society, sends Tom on a quick trip to Australia to recruit surfer Omai, who Tom first met while sailing the Pacific with Captain Cook. Enthralling yet bittersweet, full of history and adventure, a sure bet for readers of historical fiction or time travel. This novel is a February Library Reads pick.