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.
Four friends and longtime coworkers Billie, Natalie, Mary Alice and Helen are on a cruise to celebrate their early retirement when they spot another coworker and find a bomb. So much for a relaxing vacation! 40 years ago, when the women were 20, they were recruited to work for a nongovernmental organization that provides justice outside the law. In other words, they are assassins selected and trained to take out the very worst criminals and leaders. Flashbacks to their training and early missions make for compelling reading.
In the present, the foursome go on the run, after evacuating the ship. The only ones that could have targeted the group are the directors of their organization, known as the Museum. Boltholes in New Orleans and rural England lack the luxury of the cruise ship, and there’s tension among the group. Missions in New Orleans and the catacombs of Paris are well described, along with an art auction. As expected, there is a fair amount of violence, narrated from Billie’s point of view, along with clever detecting and planning, and an intensifying pace. This is an appealing group of very smart and dangerous women. While Helen seems a bit frail for only 60 and Billie has daily aches and pains despite doing yoga two hours every day, it’s refreshing to read about middle-aged protagonists who still move like action heroes when needed. I feel like the women probably know Elizabeth of Richard Osman’s Thursday Murder Club. Will there be a sequel? Unknown, but I think there’d be plenty of interest. To be published September 6.
Kate Rees was raised on an Oregon cattle ranch, and became a crack shot with a rifle. In 1940, she’s testing rifles in a munitions factory in Scotland’s Orkney Islands when she’s recruited for a special mission in Paris, where she studied on scholarship at the Sorbonne. Mourning her husband, Kate agrees, and almost kills Hitler during his three hour tour in Paris. Why she is sent to Paris, after a very brief training that includes tips for quick disguises, and why she fails are just the background for what comes next. Kate wasn’t the only operative parachuting into France that June, and she makes contact with allies, an injured fellow spy, her former tutor at the Sorbonne, and the intriguing Philippe. While Kate is on the run in a beautifully described Paris, Nazi detective Gunter Hoffman is searching for a sniper, and MI6 handler Stepney is scrambling for options to salvage his operations in France. Readalikes include Munich by Robert Harris, Dragonfly by Leila Meacham, Basil’s War by Stephen Hunter, Under Occupation by Alan Furst, and the mid-20th century spy novels by Helen MacInnes. This stunning and suspenseful historical thriller is almost impossible to put down, and great escapist reading.
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.
Leah and Robert are raising their daughters Ellie and Daphne in Milwaukee. Leah, once a film student, is a speechwriter at a university. Robert writes books for children and teens, and often disappears for days to write, simply leaving a note. One time he doesn’t return. Leah finds tickets for a long-promised trip to Paris, and takes the girls, 12 and 14, to France. Daphne speaks fluent French, Ellie and Leah only a little. With unexpected ease, they end up running an English language bookstore in the Marais district, living in an apartment upstairs, and taking care of young British twins. Robert and Leah connected over the Madeline books by Ludwig Bemelmans and Albert Lamorisse’s film The Red Balloon. Leah and the girls looks for clues all over Paris, hoping for a glimpse of Robert, while the police back home think he may be dead. The main focus of the story is about Leah, Ellie, and Daphne and how they adapt to life in Paris while dealing in their own ways with the mystery of Robert’s disappearance. This is a good choice for readers who enjoy contemporary novels about parenting, books about Americans abroad, lovers of Paris, or fans of Madeline.
This sequel to The Expats is pure adrenaline, taking place over a single day in Paris. Sirens and bomb threats put CIA agent Kate Moore on high alert after dropping her kids off at school on the day of a birthday party. When a tech CEO goes missing, and her husband Dexter is questioned by the police, Kate wonders if their nemesis from Belgium is behind the terror threats. Great, twisty plot and intensifying pace make for a quick, heart-pounding read.
Almost impossible to put down, this emotionally intense first novel is a compelling, character-driven story. Doris, 96, pages through her address book in her Stockholm apartment, remembering people encountered throughout her life in order to share her stories with Jenny, her American great-niece. Over the years, Doris experienced poverty and loss, but also love and luxury, having worked as a maid and a Parisian model, helped raise her niece and great-niece, and kept house for an artist friend. Jenny chats with Doris weekly but is kept too busy caring for her young family to remember her earlier dreams of being a writer. When Jenny and her young daughter fly to Sweden to visit Doris, she tries to find out what happened to Doris’ long lost love. A charming, ultimately heartwarming read.
A thoroughly enjoyable collection of eight short stories and a novella, set in England and Paris. All the stories are told by women, while the novella gives two points of view. Nell, who gives talks on risk assessment, splurges on a long weekend in Paris, surprising her boyfriend Pete. When Nell arrives in Paris alone, she would prefer to stay in her hotel room all weekend, except that she’s unexpectedly sharing her room with an American woman, and there’s no room service. With help from a hotel receptionist and handsome waiter Fabien, Nell takes a chance and explores Paris. An employee stays calm during a jewelry store robbery with startling results, another woman finds someone has switched gym bags and left her expensive high heeled shoes behind, and Chrissie finds a kind London cabbie giving her a new perspective on Christmas shopping for her unappreciative family. I really enjoyed the novella and hope that the author turns some of the short stories into novellas or novels. I listened to the audiobook, and enjoyed Fiona Hardingham’s narration of these appealing, humorous, and heartwarming stories.
Finally, a feel-good novel perfect for summer reading. Set in England, Paris, Monaco and Italy, it’s also great for armchair travelers. Tim Gandy is feeling overlooked. At 55, he’s facing early retirement and must admit that his marriage to Isobel is rather blah. He’s close to only one of his three children, although Rosie is pregnant, so there’s happily a grandchild in his future. Tim has always dreamed of traveling in Europe, and Rosie encourages him to make his Grand Tour, even without Isobel, who dislikes travel. Despite feeling a bit guilty indulging himself, he’s off to Paris. Sketching at Versailles, he meets Francine, a gallery owner, who fascinates him. In Monaco, he meets Archie, a young yacht salesman, and poses as a consultant in a very funny scene aboard a superyacht. Afterwards, Archie takes him to meet his Aunt Rosamund, an elderly novelist who give Tim some good advice. The author is known in Great Britain for his gardening books and television shows, and does an excellent job with the gorgeous scenery and giving the story a strong sense of place. The characters are appealing, the story is not too predictable, and it’s quite charming. Perfect escapist reading, although it may make you long to escape to the Riviera, Paris, or Italy for a stroll in a garden or to enjoy a fabulous meal.
This novel takes place in Paris, France in 1929. The main character is a American “down at his heels” Private eye named Harris Stuyvesant. He is currently in Paris on an assignment to find a missing American young woman who has not contacted her parents in months, which is totally out of character for her. The parents want her found and contract with Stuyvesant to find her.
Paris during this time seems to be one big Party/Pick up scene. In the course of his investigations, Stuyvesant encounters some big name American expatriates including author Ernest Hemingway and photographer Man Ray. Besides the investigations into the American girl’s disappearance, we are also treated to some of the more morbid history of Paris, including mass cemeteries, Catacombs, the Danse Macabre (The Dance of Death), Adipocere (wax made from human corpses), the Theater du Grand-Guignol in Montmartre (where murders are staged to shock and amuse the audience), and a number of gruesome suspects. Is it the Avant-Garde photographer who favors pictures of tortured/dying women, or is it the timid bone collector who keeps vats full of corpses being aided in decomposition by flesh eating beetles? Or is it the famous respected Count, a wealthy French hero of World War I, who runs the Theater Du Grand Guignol for the amusement of his mass of jaded followers?
This is a superbly written, darkly disturbing book.