The Red Address Book by Sofia Lundberg
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.
Paris for One & Other Stories by Jojo Moyes
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.
Mr. Gandy’s Grand Tour by Alan Titchmarsh
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.
The Bones of Paris by Laurie King
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.