Book chat: ‘The Little Paris Bookshop’ by Nina George

The Little Paris BookshopFloating on the Seine is a very special barge: a bookshop tended by Monsieur Jean Perdu, a brokenhearted bookseller nursing his decades-long heartache by “prescribing” must reads for the patrons passing through Paris. This literary apothecary has medicinal tales for young idealists, overworked businessmen, widows starting over. Perdu presides over the bookshop like an eager pharmacist, ready with a recommendation at every turn.

Long accustomed to a solitary life, Perdu isn’t prepared for the sudden appearance of an equally vulnerable — and beautiful — neighbor. Believing his one true love, Manon, to have abandoned him 20 years earlier, Perdu has thrown himself into work . . . and scarcely looked up until Catherine arrived on the scene.

When their burgeoning relationship awakens old feelings, he panics — and runs. The floating bookshop takes its inaugural run. Accompanied by a young writer in a slump and many friends he picks up along the way, Perdu embarks on a journey to discover the truth about Manon — and to finally find a way to heal.

Enchanting, warm and populated with memorable characters, Nina George’s The Little Paris Bookshop is a delightful read for francophiles and literary lovers alike. With a touch of magical realism and many fantastic quotes to delight readers, I fell in love with this story.

A melancholy man now in his fifties, Perdu isn’t the type of hero I’m accustomed to following. He’s initially cold, distant, despondent. In the decades since Manon departed, he has never come to grips with what made her go. Jean has not discovered — or even tried — to find love again, and all he has is his canal boat filled with books: self-help, literary fiction, memoirs. Something for everyone.

His apartment building is filled with unusual folks. Max, a popular young author, is now one of them: but he’s stricken with vicious writer’s block, dreading having to churn out his sophomore story. He turns to Jean as a type of mentor and friend, arriving at the bookshop needing guidance and support. Having never had the chance to have children, Jean takes him under his wing — and together, when the going gets tough, they take to the waters.

The French countryside, Provence, Paris . . . all come alive in The Little Paris Bookshop. The setting is so fragrant and beautifully rendered by George, it’s impossible not to feel as though you’ve gotten lost on the Seine yourself. It was the perfect opportunity for armchair traveling with a tenderhearted hero, and I loved George’s descriptions of everything Jean and Max experience. The towns they find, the meals they cobble together . . . everything is a sensory experience.

At its heart, though, the novel is about the redemptive power of love. Even decades later, Jean is still in love with Manon: and the mystery of their separation is a guiding principle of his life. I was as curious to discover the truth as our hero, somehow hoping for a happy ending for the pair even when I knew it couldn’t possibly be so. When they take off on the river, Jean doesn’t realize the journey fate is already taking him on . . . and by the close of the story, I was in tears.

Without spoiling a thing about this lovely tale, the ending was just so satisfying. Loose ends were tied in beautiful but understated bows; characters we’ve come to love find their meandering way to happiness. It was exactly the sort of sweetly enveloping read that’s perfect for a Sunday afternoon, and I really didn’t want it to end.

Interspersed with the narrative are gorgeous quotes about the power of reading — and the ability of books to be both “medic and medicine at once.” Jean takes his job as a bookseller very seriously. This was an instance when I wished I had a physical copy rather than a digital one; if I was holding The Little Paris Bookshop, I would have been dog-earing and highlighting and starring like a madwoman.

As it stands, I want you to discover this novel for yourself. It’s not one I’ll soon forget.

4.5 out of 5

Pub: June 2015 • GoodreadsLibraryThingAmazonAuthor Website
Review copy provided by publisher for review consideration


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Book review: ‘Paris Letters’ by Janice MacLeod

Paris LettersIf ever there were a book I’d love to climb inside, an author through whom I could live vicariously, it’s Janice MacLeod. And Paris Letters.

After climbing the metaphorical advertising ladder in Los Angeles, Janice realizes her “dream job” — and dream life — aren’t quite what she imagined. Worn out by her 9-to-5 and dreaming of so much more than a dull commute and another birthday cake for a coworker, she begins to fantasize about a life beyond the square walls of her office. Encouraged to journal her thoughts and think about something more, a question rises to the surface: How much money does it take to change your life?

The answer is roughly 60K, actually — enough to quit her job, sell most of her worldly possessions and leave California for a walkabout in Europe. By scrimping wherever possible, she amasses enough to arrive in Paris and walk sip creamy lattes in the sidewalk cafes just as she imagined. Though she speaks no French, her arrival in the City of Light isn’t burdened by language barriers. She soon meets Christophe, a handsome butcher, and begins her French education rather romantically.

When she considered her talents back in America, one passion kept returning to her: art. Painting. With the time and freedom to now explore those dreams, she sets to work cultivating and fashioning an entirely new life for herself. And the results are pretty extraordinary.

Oh, friends. How to describe my love for Paris Letters? Picture me in my pajamas sipping coffee on a snowy day, imagining what it must feel like to step off a plane with only a tiny suitcase in a foreign city — unburdened, untethered, totally free. Though I love my own work, I know the constraints of a desk job all too well. The idea of abandoning it all to chase your passions — in Paris! — holds an allure I can’t deny.

For Janice, shedding her old skin and finding love in France is revelatory. Who among us can’t relate to holding that holy grail of professional accomplishment — that “I did it!” cup declaring you finally met a longstanding goal — only to realize . . . you’re not happy? It isn’t what you wanted after all? If the joy is in the journey, reaching the end of that journey — job stability; boring routines — isn’t actually so joyous in the end.

And that’s okay.

Janice’s experiences in Europe are absolutely enchanting — and I’m going to be honest here. It’s been a long time since I read a Paris- or London-themed book that didn’t make me green and rage-y with jealousy. Usually when I read a memoir about an American/Canadian upending their lives to eat macarons, write and paint abroad with a seemingly unending pile of cash, I think, Oh, golly — must be freakin’ nice.

Snidely. Like, in a really mean voice.

But here? All I felt about Janice’s story was complete enchantment. She’s down-to-earth, friendly, funny, interesting. Writing honestly about both her feelings on leaving behind her old life and the stress of beginning a new one (and with a new man), I bonded with Janice immediately — and that’s all to say nothing of her actual Paris letters, which she paints, writes and addresses to subscribers through Etsy. When I finished Paris Letters, I made a mad scramble to see if her work is still available online — and it is! My first letter is en route.

If you need me, I’ll be lingering around my mailbox.


4.5 out of 5!

Pub: Feb. 4, 2014 • GoodreadsLibraryThingAmazonAuthor Website
Review copy provided by publisher in exchange for my honest review


P.S. As Janice works to save enough cash to explore her wanderlust abroad, she makes many financial sacrifices and decisions (both big, like selling her car, and small). I was thrilled to see some of her tips at the end of the book! A few of my easily-attainable favorites:

1. Used up her beauty samples and creams that were just “so-so” before buying her favorites.
2. Stopped buying things just because they were on sale and a “good deal.”
3. Stopped buying decorative things for her apartment.
4. Invited friends out for hikes, coffee, or frozen yogurt, rather than wait until they invited her to pricey dinners.
5. Drank all the tea in her house before buying more. (And hey, sound familiar?)
6. Had car-free weekends, using her bike instead and saving gas. (Not feasible for all, but an interesting idea.)
7. Said no to dinners at restaurants, choosing to cook at home instead.
8. Did her own nails with already-purchased nail polish.
9. Got a cheaper phone plan — and a cheaper phone.
10. Stopped believing in storage solutions. The solution is to clean out closets.


Book review: ‘Paris In Love’ by Eloisa James

Paris In LoveI love daydreaming about Paris.

It’s one of my favorite pastimes, in fact. The people, the architecture, the desserts . . . all tantalizing. Intoxicating. Absorbing. If I had the funds and vacation time (both quite elusive these days), I’d be on a transcontinental flight faster than you can say macaron.

But alas. Until I can sip wine beneath the Eiffel Tower in person, I’ll have to settle for delightful stories like Eloisa James’ memoir Paris In Love.

After surviving cancer shortly after her mother recently died of the disease, Eloisa James convinces her husband, son and daughter to move abroad for a year to discover what the Parisian life is all about. With Anna and Luca settled in a new school and Alessandro learning the local ropes, Eloisa settles in to absorb the city and work on several books.

A popular and prolific romance novelist, Eloisa makes no bones about her French journey: though she may wish she and her family came away from the experience with amazing “life lessons” or a greater appreciation for family or the passage of time, what their year abroad really taught her was to try and be in the moment. Life is just life. Told as a series of vignettes, Paris In Love is a compilation of her skillfully-crafted Facebook and Twitter updates from their time in the City of Light — occasionally expanded into short essays about subjects as diverse as Anna’s burgeoning friendships, French food, a nearby dance school and more.

It was a different reading experience — and a quick one. James’ thoughts are shared in paragraph-long snippets that, while chronological, don’t necessarily connect from one page to the next. The results felt like reading someone’s travel journal: little glimpses of day-to-day life for a stranger in a strange land, trying to blend with the locals while getting some work done. The most charming passages focused on Luca and Anna, Alessandro and Eloisa’s children, and I looked forward to hearing about their ex-pat adventures in school.

Francophiles and armchair travelers will find Paris In Love to be a fast, delightful read — and James’ fans will welcome an opportunity to know the author better through her memoir. If Paris lacks sparkle for you, you’ll likely find the descriptions hum-drum — but if you’re looking to escape to the other side of the Atlantic for a few hours, James’ invitation to come along is a fun one.


4 out of 5!

ISBN: 0812981901 ♥ GoodreadsLibraryThingAmazonAuthor Website
Review copy provided by publisher in exchange for my honest review


Book review: ‘Paris, My Sweet’ by Amy Thomas

Writer and foodie Amy Thomas has a longstanding love affair with Paris. The macarons, the handsome men, the atmosphere . . . si belle. After she embarks on a week of sweets for fun, an opportunity to return — full-time — sets her on a new path. As an advertising writer for Louis Vuitton, Thomas trades her busy life in New York City for a walk-up in the City of Light. And that’s only the beginning.

Amy Thomas’ Paris, My Sweet: A Year in the City of Light (and Dark Chocolate) is a sweet-as-candy, fun and hunger-inducing look at one woman’s journey through France’s capital city. Thomas is my kind of friend: someone with a talent for words and an insatiable hunger. I mean, her sweet tooth is epic — and after cautioning not to read some books on an empty stomach, this would absolutely fall into that category.

Thomas’ memoir is, in many ways, an exploration of what makes a place “home.” Coming from New York, where Amy is a successful singleton who doesn’t have much time or inclination to date, journeying to Paris means bidding adieu to her many friends and family — and discovering what it means to truly be on your own. Especially without a common language to bond them, Amy’s work environment is challenging — and interacting with the French can be difficult and confusing. She becomes more self-assured with time, eventually branching out to make new friends and puzzle out French behavior, but it takes a while. As all good things to do.

Though I adored the many mentions of Paris’ insanely awesome desserts (and New York’s, too), I ultimately finished this story wanting a little more. Amy is very likeable and kind, but the story lacked a certain je ne sais quoi. I suppose I was naively waiting for her to fall in love, get a big promotion, stumble into ownership of a bakery. Something. I read too much fiction, I guess. Because I’ll say this for Paris, My Sweet: Amy feels very authentic, and her tale is realistic. For most, a handsome foreigner doesn’t lock eyes with us across a vanilla cupcake and bed us within the hour. A snooty widow doesn’t take a shine to us, leaving her beloved bistro to the adorable American upon her death. If we stumble, no one is there to catch us. We just figure it out.

Yes — for most of us? We’re just taking chances. Putting one foot in front of another. Looking for opportunities with the knowledge they may not come. And as Amy cavorts through Paris — sometimes muddling through as an expat; sometimes having the croissant-eating time of her life — I was right there with her. Paris comes alive through Thomas’ tales, and I loved visiting as she pedals the winding streets, slogs up to her apartment and plunks down to watch the city come alive from her window.

It all felt very intoxicating. And though I wish the plot itself was a little more exciting, I state that knowing life is often that way: sometimes a sweet frosted thing, perfect and knowable — but more often a gamble, a few stolen chances. Thomas does a great job of drawing you into her tale . . . and getting you hungry for those lovely macarons. Francophiles, foodies and armchair travelers will find Amy a willing and lovely narrator, and her memoir a sweet adventure.


3.5 out of 5!

ISBN: 1402264119 • GoodreadsLibraryThingAmazonAuthor website
Review copy provided by LibraryThing Early Reviewers in exchange for my honest review


La Vie En Fleurs: The City of Light in ‘The Last Time I Saw Paris’

A fellow blogger and fellow Meg (good name!) created a feature I’m thrilled to run with: Literary Locales, which focuses on the settings of the books we’re currently reading. Visit her site to join in the fun.


As I’m currently thick in the middle of the Indie Lit Award’s Fiction shortlist for judging in March, you might have noticed a dearth of book reviews around here — but I promise my reading life is alive and well! I’m just having to stay focused. Nose to the grindstone and all that.

My latest read is Lynn Sheene’s The Last Time I Saw Paris, set in Nazi-occupied Paris during the 1940s. It’s a dangerous and unsteady time for the French when a young, beautiful American socialite arrives to make a fresh start. She’s swept into the Resistance movement and eventually falls in love, though fate drags her into endless turmoil before the book’s smash of a conclusion. I was up early to finish it before work Wednesday, determined to learn Claire’s fate before I was back at my desk.

Though I enjoyed the story (and will have a review coming after the Indie Lit Awards’ Fiction winner is announced in March), the character I actually loved best in The Last Time I Saw Paris was Paris itself. Described as steadfast, loyal and lovely — even in the darkest of times — the novel only made my desire to visit the City of Light more powerful. The descriptions of Parisian cafes and blossoms in the spring were tantalizing, and I could clearly picture the awful juxtaposition of Hitler’s forces and the tender blooms of new trees come April.

When Claire arrives in Paris, she accepts temporary work at a flower shop — La Vie En Fleurs, or “Life In Bloom” — and studies the art under the stoic eye of Madame Palain. As the story progresses, La Vie En Fleurs’ role becomes increasingly important — and I could almost smell the fragrant blooms Claire assembled as she passed through dangerous Nazi-occupied zones. It was intoxicating, and now I’m determined to visit a Parisian flower shop myself.


{Having never been to Paris (sadly!),
the lovely photos above are copyright their respective owners.
Click each image for the original file and additional information.
}


Book review: ‘French Lessons’ by Ellen Sussman

Three French tutors meet with pupils one day in Paris, and the lessons and experiences they share — some isolating; some intimate — come to define them in unexpected ways.

Ellen Sussman’s French Lessons was . . . fine. Have you ever felt that way about a book? Neutral, vanilla, “meh.” I read it quickly and enjoyed it well enough at the time, but I’ve delayed writing this review. Two weeks later and I’m sitting here with my head cocked to one side, finding myself with little to say about it.

Sussman’s writing is lyrical, but I got to know her characters in such a limited, superficial way that no one person has stuck with me. Weeks after finishing, I had to physically open the book to remember anyone’s name. That doesn’t bode well. I tweeted a few weeks back that I never thought a book about sex — and make no mistake: this one oozes with trysts, sensuality and attraction — could be so dull.

Nico was probably my favorite character, but only because he was the one person I got to know. His love for Chantal, a fellow Parisian and tutor, was touching at times — and I did like the book’s conclusion. But everyone else was either selfish and dull or ridiculous and campy. I hated and felt no empathy for Josie, a grief-stricken teacher dealing with the death of her married (and not to her, natch) lover. If anything, I only felt sharp twinges of anger toward her.

But those were fleeting. I waited for French Lessons to make me feel something, especially since I’m caught up in a tailwind of obsession with Paris at the moment. (By the way, I think I’ve narrowed my big trip down to France. Hence why I eagerly plucked a copy of this one from my bookshelves.) But in the end, all I felt was a listless desire for this book to be over.

The book’s one strength is the gorgeous portrayal of Paris, a character unto itself. I could feel the breeze ruffling my hair from atop the Eiffel Tower and taste the warm goodness of a croissant while seated at a French cafe. In Sussman’s hands, the city becomes the glittering and glamorous array I imagine it to be. It’s the characters — the human characters — that leave much to be desired.

I did finish French Lessons, though. And I have no problem tossing books aside, so I give it points for that. But unless you’re a diehard francophile, I would probably head for more alluring pastures.


2.5 out of 5!

ISBN: 034552277X ♥ GoodreadsLibraryThingAmazonAuthor Website
Personal copy won from a blog giveaway