The Paris Library by Janet Skeslien Charles

“Books and ideas are like blood; they need to circulate, and they keep us alive.”

One of my absolute favorite genres to read is historical fiction, but this particular book hits the jackpot because it is also about libraries and the amazing people who work in them! Just published in February, The Paris Library, by Janet Skeslien Charles, weaves together two primary narratives spanning across time and place to create a beautiful and haunting story about the strength of friendship, family, and libraries in the face of betrayal, loss, and war.

This story begins in 1939 France with the narrative of Odile Souchet, a fresh graduate of library school who interviews for a librarianship position at the American Library in Paris (ALP). She quickly finds herself at home in the stacks and among several new friends, including fellow librarians, devoted library subscribers, a volunteer who quickly becomes her best friend, and a police officer who becomes her beloved beau. Before long, however, Odile loses a part of herself as her twin brother, Remy, goes off to war and everything she loves, including the library, is endangered.

The second central narrative takes place in 1980s Montana through the eyes of a young teenager named Lily. After the death of her mother and her father’s eventual remarriage, Lily finds herself both lost and trapped in a small rural town she desperately wishes to escape. She eventually finds a sense of liberation in the friendship she develops with her elderly neighbor, who teaches her French, shares her love of literature and books, and essentially becomes a second mother during some of her darkest moments. Before long, Lily becomes curious about her neighbor’s past, as all she (and the rest of the town) knows is her status as a widowed war bride who left her entire life behind in Paris to come to Montana with her husband after the war. Despite the difference in age and background, these two characters have more in common than meets the eye and share a kinship of love and understanding that truly stands the test of time.

Overall, this novel is a heart-wrenching and tragic, albeit beautiful, story filled with memorable characters who are tested by unimaginable hardships. I reveled in the development of several characters, especially since I felt I was able to connect with their complex and flawed personas. While you learn the fate of many of these individuals, I definitely found myself wanting more information on others! I also really enjoyed Charles’s writing style – in addition to writing beautifully, it is obvious how much research she did in the creation of this book by the way she is able to truly whisk you away to another time and place as you read.

While I definitely loved the fictional aspects of this novel, I was delighted to learn that several librarians in the story, along with their remarkable and heroic actions, were based on real individuals. Despite the dangers and risks war posed to both the people and resources of the library, the ALP stayed open to subscribers, maintained a service in which they delivered around 100,000 books to soldiers fighting overseas, and risked their own lives to deliver books to Jewish subscribers who had been barred from entering the library. Charles first learned about this incredible history upon becoming the programs manager at the ALP and, feeling wholly inspired, decided to delve deeper into the history by writing this book. The result? An ode to the truly incredible and impactful roles libraries will always have in our society.

All in all, I highly, highly recommend this book to anyone who loves libraries and books, remarkable character development, and experiencing the strength and resiliency of the human race, especially through relationships formed with others.

The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by V.E. Schwab

A life no one will remember. A story you will never forget.

The tagline for V.E. Schwab’s latest book The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue is one of the best I’ve seen at perfectly distilling a book down to its essence. V.E. Schwab is mostly known for her children’s and young adult fiction that she published under the name Victoria Schwab, but The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue  is a wonderful addition to historical fantasy for adults that you’ll want to cozy up and read as soon as you can get a copy.

France, 1714. Addie LaRue is desperate. Growing up in a small town in France, Addie thought she had successfully avoided marriage until she is promised to a man with young children. Knowing if she marries him she will be live and die in this same small town, Addie manages to slip away before her wedding. Stumbling in her desperation, Addie kneels in the woods and prays for freedom to a god who only answers after dark. This god, or is he a devil, answers Addie’s call and makes a deal with her that she so desperately wants. Over time, Addie learns the limits of the deal and regrets it: she will live forever, but she will be forgotten by every single person she meets. Every time they turn away, every time they close a door, Addie will slip from their memory, a person or a thought always just out of reach. She will spend her years traveling the world, never quite feeling at home anywhere, and never able to make her mark on the world. Addie must get creative in order to leave her legacy as she visits artists of all types and notices that the seven freckles that dot her cheeks can be found throughout history, like a scattering of stars.

Flash forward 300 years. Addie is searching for something new, anything new that will shake up what she’s already discovered in her 300 years. Walking the streets of New York, she yearns. Suddenly, Addie finds a bookstore that she has never seen before. In it, a boy named Henry will change her life with three little words, ‘I remember you’.

Those three words. How is it possible? Did Luc, the god who made her deal, mess up? He must have. She yearns to be remembered, yearns to belong to someone. She has found the one her soul has been searching for after 300 years. Both Henry and Addie have been yearning for years to not be alone, though Henry’s life has been considerably shorter than Addie’s, but his desire is just as strong. Wanting to feel that connection while they have been alone for all this time is something pressed deep into their souls. Addie and Henry are fearful of what they’ve discovered, that fear running strong in Addie as the anniversary of her deal approaches. Knowing that Luc may show up at any second, whenever the mood hits him, Addie is desperate that Henry remember as much of her life as he can before Luc makes him forget.

This novel tore me apart. It’s not a thriller or a swift ride through the characters’ lives. Instead Schwab introduces both Addie and Henry’s lives in a wonderfully leisurely way, one where readers get to know the characters as they work through whatever newness they uncover. Schwab mixes the past with the present, switching between long stretches of Addie’s 300 years with Henry’s exquisitely awkward and painful shorter life. These moments are presented in a way that tugs at your heart as you wish for peace and comfort for both Henry and Addie in the end.

This book is also available in the following formats:

One By One by Ruth Ware

Ruth Ware is one of my favorite authors writing primarily mysteries and psychological thrillers.  With many titles being published in this genre over the last few years, Ware is unique among authors with her innovative twists and turns.  Her titles are always among the best.  If you are intrigued by this genre and don’t know where to start, I highly recommend Ruth Ware.  Each of her books is a stand alone title and any would be a good place to begin, including her latest release, One By One.

When One By One  opens, we meet Erin and Danny, caretaker and chef respectively, of a picturesque chalet in the French Alps.  They are preparing the chalet for a new tech start up group who will be arriving from London and will be renting the chalet.  The CEO has rented the house for the inner circle of the company with the intention of team building, presentations and strategizing.

As voyeurs to the group and the changing dynamic between its members, Erin and Danny soon sense tension as old secrets start to emerge. The group conducts their annual business meeting and during the meeting a faction of employees announce their intention to take a buyout deal that would make millions for a select few.

After the tense meeting, the guests try to settle in at the chalet.  Just as they start to relax, an avalanche quickly and violently destroys the chalet’s access to the outside world.  To make matters worse, one of the guests was on the slopes when the avalanche hit and did not return to the chalet.  With the group being isolated, Erin and Danny frantically try to keep the guests calm while simultaneously trying to contact the authorities for help.  They soon realize that help may not be coming and the most dire threat may be from one of the guests as their numbers start to dwindle one by one in a variety of suspicious circumstances.

The book wraps up with a thrilling ski scene that makes you feel like you are right on the slopes of the French Alps.  Again, another winner from Ruth Ware!

One By One is also available as an eBook and eAudiobook on Overdrive.

Book Club @ Night – August 12

Are you missing book clubs? We are! Lucky for all of us, the Davenport Public Library has book club options available! On Wednesday, August 12th at 6:30p, Book Club @ Night will be meeting virtually to discuss Revolution by Jennifer Donnelly. Information about how to join in and discuss this book is listed below. Copies of the book are available at the Eastern Avenue Library. Stop at the desk to pick up a copy to borrow and read for the book club.

Revolution by Jennifer Donnelly is a young adult fiction book published in 2010. Jennifer Donnelly is a best selling author with fifteen published books. Want to know what Revolution  is about? Check out the following description provided by the publisher:

An angry, grieving seventeen-year-old musician facing expulsion from her prestigious Brooklyn private school travels to Paris to complete a school assignment and uncovers a diary written during the French revolution by a young actress attempting to help a tortured, imprisoned little boy–Louis Charles, the lost king of France.

Book Club @ Night

August 12th – ‘Revolution’ by Jennifer Donnelly

Book Club @ Night
Wed, Aug 12, 2020 6:30 PM – 7:30 PM (CDT)

Please join my meeting from your computer, tablet or smartphone.
https://global.gotomeeting.com/join/301873461 

You can also dial in using your phone.
United States: +1 (872) 240-3212

Access Code: 301-873-461

New to GoToMeeting? Get the app now and be ready when your first meeting starts:
https://global.gotomeeting.com/install/301873461 

The Poppy Wife by Caroline Scott

Edie believes her husband Francis died in 1918 in a horrific battle near the end of World War I when he is declared “missing, presumed killed”. But in 1921 she receives a photo of Francis in the mail with no letter or return address and she begins to wonder if he made it out alive and is waiting for her. She contacts Francis’s brother Harry, and asks him to help her, to either find Francis or find his grave.

Harry, who was with Francis when he was wounded, does not believe Francis is still alive, but he is in love with Edie and will do what he can to help. Harry has been working as a photographer, taking pictures of graves and battle-sites for grieving families back in England and he understands just how chaotic and devastated the French and Belgium countryside is – entire villages have completely disappeared, while others struggle to rebuild, fields are littered with shells and mortar and bones and whole forests are nothing but burned and broken stumps.

Returning to the places that Harry and Francis (and Will, their younger brother who was killed early in the war) fought is difficult for Harry as he is flooded with memories of what they had been, what they went through and what happened to them. It is obvious that Harry is suffering from what we now call PTSD but that he is coping and that Francis also suffered and was broken by the war. In addition, Harry is burdened with the fact that he has been in love with Edie for years and, while nothing happened between Harry and Edie, Francis cannot forgive him.

Edie and Harry, traveling both together and separately, meet a wide range of people suffering in the aftermath of the war – widows and families searching for lost soldiers (many that died were never identified or found) trying to find closure with a grave or memorial, veterans haunted by what they had witnessed, ordinary people struggling to survive.

The Poppy Wife paints an unapologetic portrait of “the Great War” and it’s devastating and long-reaching affects. The chapters move between the three brothers during the war and Harry and Edie’s search for Francis in 1921. Scott’s writing is calm and collected, almost poetic, but the horror and senselessness of what happened on those foreign fields is never far from the surface. And it is nearly impossible to put down as the tension and mystery builds. Highly recommended.

If you are interested in learning more about this time period, I highly recommend Vera Brittan’s Testament of Youth (which is not fiction but actually happened to her) which has been made into a mini-series, to watch A Very Long Engagement starring Audrey Tautou, and Peter Jackson’s brilliant documentary They Shall Not Grow Old in which footage from the war has been remastered, bringing the time vividly to life.

The Lost Girls of Paris by Pam Jenoff

Some sacrifices are never known. Lives are saved, missions completed because of anonymous acts of courage. The deeds slip into forgotten history, yet the bravery and the actions may have made all the difference.

1946. New York City. Grace Healey is rushing to work, when a car accident snarls traffic and forces her to make a detour through Grand Central Station. There she finds a small, abandoned suitcase wedged under a bench. Inside the suitcase she finds a dozen photos of ordinary young women, each of whom stare into the camera with determination. Grace is intrigued and begins searching for the missing owner and, she hopes, the mystery of the photographs.

Soon Grace is pulled into a story of intrigue and secrecy as she learns about the owner of the suitcase, a woman named Eleanor Trigg who lead a network of women acting as secret agents in Occupied Europe. Their assignments ranged from couriers to radio operators in aid of the resistance in the weeks leading up to D-Day and the invasion of France. Twelve women – the young women in the photographs – never returned, their fate a mystery.

Based on true events, The Lost Girls of Paris crackles with tension. The women are resourceful and brave, but face many obstacles and difficulties. Their contribution to the war effort is mostly forgotten now, but brought vividly to life again here. Author Pam Jenoff focuses on a few key members of the unit, creating a story that is intimate and real. It is an incredible story of friendship, bravery and betrayal and the strength to carry on.

This story of World War II was new to me, but it hasn’t been forgotten. A new non-fiction book about these brave women has just been published:  The D-Day Girls: the Spies Who Armed the Resistance, Sabotaged the Nazis and Helped Win World War II by Sarah Rose which you can find at the Davenport Library.

French Country Cooking by Mimi Thorisson

I have been following Mimi Thorisson’s blog for over two years now, and although it is changing and she is moving on to a website with future endeavors alongside her husband, I’m always excited to go back to it and find recipes and inspiration for travel. That said, her latest cookbook, French Country Cooking, published in 2016 and new to our shelves at Davenport Public Library this past autumn, are just as inspiring and wonderful to read. The exquisite photos taken by Oddur Thorisson, Mimi’s husband, inspire one to daydream to the shores and lands of another place……to France, the Médoc region with world class wines and local markets provisioning its patrons with fresh produce, seafood and meats of the current season.

One will enjoy the mostly easy to follow recipes…I say mostly, in that some of the ingredients might be hard to come by in the states unless you’re in a big city or on the east or west coasts or you can always order hard to find items online.

The recipe we tried, pg. 194, Pork Shoulder Grilled over Grapevine Branches turned out wonderfully. We have a small grill which worked just fine versus Mimi’s open fireplace grill. The recipe is straight forward and easy to follow. If you don’t have grapevine branches, try some type of fruit tree dried wood to add to the fire such as  dried apple, apricot, or pear dried tree branches to add flavor to the smoke from the fire.

Ingredients: 1 1/2 lb Pork Shoulder cut into 4 slices; Fine Sea Salt & Freshly Ground Pepper; 1 Tbsp. Unsalted Butter; 2 Garlic Cloves.

  1. Prepare medium-hot fire in a grill. Add dried grapevine branches, if desired to increase the smoky flavor.
  2. Season the meat with salt and pepper. Grill the pork until browned, golden, and cooked through, about 7 minutes on each side.
  3. Just before serving, spread the butter over the pork and scatter the sliced garlic on top.

Try one of the main courses over the holidays or for fun for New Years! The desserts are always a fun way to start if you have never tried French cuisine.  I’m looking forward to trying Mimi’s Pomegranate meringues recipe for the new year.

Bon appétit! Happy eating!

Cruising Through the Louvre by David Prudhomme

cruisingthroughthelouvreAre you someone who enjoys art? Or maybe you are one of those who feels like you don’t know much about art, but would be interested to learn more if your interest was piqued in just the right way. Consider yourself piqued.

I think you may enjoy taking a vicarious walk through one of the world’s most famous museums. Notwithstanding the hour of the day (past museum hours? no problem!) or the number of miles between you right now and the Louvre in Paris, you can do just that by reading the book Cruising Through the Louvre by David Prudhomme.

The book is a vehicle that, while telling a brief but entertaining story about human behavior in relation to art in graphic novel form, highlights just some of the 70,000 works of art in the Louvre. You can even catch your glimpse of them without having to pay admission (library cards are free, after all!) or navigate through any of the 8.8 million annual visitors. Although, if you like people-watching that may be the best part of all. Fortunately, Prudhomme recognizes that and manages to create characters arguably as interesting as the works of art they visit.

Sound like a good deal? Then I implore you to check this book out! When you read it please tell me what you think of the ending. It has a strange twist that I think lends itself to multiple interpretations.

The Crimson Field

the crimson fieldIn The Crimson Field, viewers are introduced to the daily lives of doctors and nurses in a tented field hospital right on the front lines of France during World War I. Right at the start, you are introduced to three volunteer nurses, Kathleen, Rosalie, and Flora as they make their way to a field hospital on the coast of France close to the front lines of fighting. At this field hospital, they are the very first volunteer nurses; a fact that rankles the established medical team already in place. Kitty, Rosalie, and Flora must find ways to deal with the new world that they have been thrust into where they quickly realize that the training that they have received is nowhere near adequate for the job they must do. With their addition to camp, everyone’s lives start to shift and clashes quickly crop up between the way that things have always been done, the hierarchal structure within the camp, and a new way of thinking. While the girls quickly find out that they are underprepared for this new way of life, they also discover that they, just like the others around them, are able to use this as a new start and to break away from everything that held them back in their hometowns.

PBS and the BBC have found ways to make interesting a subject that would have been dreadful to read about in a history textbook. By illuminating such topics as World War I, the day-to-day life of people in front-line field hospitals, and the tensions between the Allied and the Central Powers, viewers realize just how tumultuous life was during World War I and how people had to be aware of even their smallest actions. This PBS television show has a unique way of pulling people into the lives of the characters while simultaneously making the events that they are going through a wide and layered character unto itself.

The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah

nightingaleAfter their mother dies and their father virtually abandons them, Vianne and Isabelle must learn to forge their own way. Vianne marries and starts a family in an idyllic country setting outside of Paris while Isabelle becomes rebellious, expelled from one boarding school after another. When the Germans occupy Paris in 1939, Isabelle is sent to live with her sister but the horrifying experiences of escaping with other refugees opens Isabelle’s eyes to the pain and suffering the war will bring.

The changes brought by the Germans are inexorable – the men are sent away to prison camps, food is rationed, soldiers are billeted in private homes, valuables ruthlessly taken, Jews and other “subversives” are persecuted then transferred to prison camps. Vianne, in the countryside, desperately walks a line between loyalty to her friends and neighbors while remaining unseen by the occupying soldiers. Isabelle joins the French Underground and risks her life again and again in an effort to make a difference. Their stories intertwine as they struggle to survive and protect those they love.

There are a lot – a lot – of books about World War II both fiction and non-fiction. It’s one of the most popular subject areas at the library. And while most of us learned the basic facts about the war from school and history books – dates, countries, famous battles – the stories of what it was like to actually live through the war are slowly disappearing as that generation ages and passes away. The Nightingale may be a dramatic, fictional account of living in war torn France, but the messages it sends are very real – remember for those that no longer can. What they did to survive, to change the course of events, whether big or small, mattered. We should not forget.

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