Online Reading Challenge – January Wrap Up

Welcome Challenge Readers!

How did your Challenge reading go this month? Were you able to transport yourself to Paris and immerse yourself in some of it’s history and atmosphere? There are certainly no shortage of books set in Paris! Let us know in the comments what you read.

Our main title this month was Revolution by Jennifer Donnelly. Moving between Paris of the 1790s and modern day, this book brings us a unique perspective of the horrors of the French Revolution, and brings greater understanding and compassion to our modern protagonist.

Andi and her family have suffered a traumatic event that has torn them apart. Her mother has withdrawn into obsessive painting and her father has left and started a new family. Andi, grieving and guilt-ridden is angry and acting out, her grades falling, with only her musical talent keeping her moving forward.

When her Father discovers that Andi is about to be expelled from school, he insists that she come with him on a business trip to Paris where she can do research on her thesis away from the distractions at home. Andi is furious, of course, but has no choice. In Paris their hosts gift Andi with a very old, beautiful guitar (Andi’s instrument of choice) While poking around in the guitar’s case she discovers a very old diary and the tiny portrait of a child.

In reading the diary, Andi is plunged into the world of the French Revolution, its horrors and cruelty and uncertainty. The diary writer, Alexandrine, is also an angry young woman, also grieving and fighting back the only way she can. Andi finds herself empathizing with her counterpart and becoming invested in her story.

Revolution plunges the reader into a huge range of experiences – the catacombs beneath the city, both as they are now with paths and in the past when the bodies were still new. We visit the lights and chaos of an illegal underground nightclub, the hushed reverence of a historical library, explore the intricacies of musical creativity and it’s continuing influence and a traditional bar with live music.

While I very much enjoyed the historical parts of this book, I had a little trouble with Andi and her teenage angst. The fact that she matures and grows into a responsible young adult, finding her own worth and talents greatly makes up for this. Paris is truly the star here though, especially the Paris of the Revolution.

January Online Reading Challenge – Paris

Ernest Hemingway called Paris “a moveable feast”. Audrey Hepburn advised us that “Paris is always a good idea”. Humphrey Bogart promised us in Casablanca that “we’ll always have Paris”. Victor Hugo claimed that “Paris nourishes the soul”. Paris, it seems, has a hold on us, even if we’ve never been.

Paris is far from perfect, struggling with many common urban problems, but it seems to rise above with its beauty, sophistication and effortless elegance. Rich in history and long known as the center for art and fashion, what exactly is it about this city that makes so many love it?

Hello and welcome to the first month of the 2023 Online Reading Challenge! This month we’re traveling to Paris. Our main title is Revolution by Jennifer Donnelly. This fascinating book combines the stories of a contemporary teenager and a young woman living during the French Revolution. From the publisher:

Andi Alpers is on the edge. She’s angry at her father for leaving, angry at her mother for not being able to cope, and heartbroken by the loss of her younger brother, Truman. Rage and grief are destroying her. And her father has determined that accompanying him to Paris for winter break is the solution for everything.

 But Paris is a city of ghosts for Andi. And when she finds a centuries-old diary, the ghosts begin to walk off the page. Alexandrine, the owner of the journal, lived during the French Revolution. She’s angry too. It’s the same fire that consumes Andi, and Andi finds comfort in it—until, on a midnight journey through the catacombs, words transcend paper and time, and the past becomes terrifyingly present.

Revolution artfully weaves two girls’ stories into one unforgettable account of life, loss, and enduring love. Revolution spans centuries and vividly depicts the eternal struggles of the human heart. 

You can find copies of this title plus many more set in Paris (and there are lots!) on displays at each of our locations.

The Paris Apartment by Lucy Foley

“It’s not about where you came from. What kind of shit might have happened to you in the past. It’s about who you are. What you do with the opportunities life presents to you.”
― Lucy Foley, The Paris Apartment

The Paris Apartment is a locked room mystery that centers around the people living in a Paris apartment building. Jess needs a fresh start, especially since she doesn’t have a job anymore. After calling her half-brother Ben to ask if she can come crash with him, Jess is surprised that he isn’t there to greet her when she eventually shows up to his apartment building in Paris. He didn’t sound excited that she wanted to come last minute, but he’s family. Ben always keeps his word and would never leave her stranded.

When Jess eventually makes her way inside the building, she finds a very nice apartment that she is honestly surprised that Ben can afford. After all, he’s a journalist who mainly writes restaurant reviews and this is a fancy place. She searches his apartment, but there is no sign of Ben. Time passes and Ben still doesn’t show up. Jess starts digging into Ben’s life, starting with his neighbors. They are a slightly weird bunch, eclectic to put it nicely. Plus they’re not friendly. Jess’s innocent questions about Ben’s whereabouts put them on edge, which only prompts her to ask more questions. Why are they acting so cagey? And where is Ben?

This book is also available in the following formats:

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:

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 Great Believers by Rebecca Makkai

Rebecca Makkai’s latest novel, The Great Believers  is one the New York Time’s 10 Best Books of 2018. Recently, I heard speak Makkai when she gave a reading at Prairie Lights bookstore in Iowa City.

Her novel explores a time in Chicago’s history that is little documented, according to the author.  A native of Chicago, she spoke of the difficulty of finding primary and secondary sources about the AIDS crisis in her hometown. New York and San Francisco were much more likely to be  the subjects and settings of the print and film record of the time. So, of necessity,  she ended up interviewing survivors, healthcare workers, caregivers, residents of Boystown, as well as doing other research for several years. She attributes the emotional resonance of the book to the fact that she was forced to seek out and talk to people, getting the telling detail and anecdote, rather than just reading about the crisis.

The book’s thread is Fiona, the sister of an early victim of AIDS – before it even had a name. As a young girl, she appears in both the eighties portion of the book as well as the sections dealing with the more immediate past. These chapters are set in 2015 when Fiona goes to Paris to try to connect with an estranged daughter, now involved in a cult. Makkai weaves Fiona through the lives of the principal characters of the book; for example, when she’s in Paris, Fiona stays with a now-famous photographer who chronicled the early days of the AIDS epidemic.

I found the chapters set in the eighties by far the most compelling. The main character here is Yale Tishman, who is a development director for an art gallery. His personal story is shadowed by  the fear he feels about every cough or fever – every possible sign of illness.  He and his friends try to deal with the mysterious and little understood disease in different ways. Told from Yale’s point of view, you get a small inkling of the paranoia and confusion of the time.

Because Yale is involved in obtaining an art collection owned by an expat living in  Paris of the twenties, the novel finds parallels with that time and place. The book’s title refers to a line by F. Scott Fitzgerald about the generation that was decimated by World War I and the flu epidemic that followed. After this time period, artists and others who didn’t necessarily fit into mainstream society gravitated to Paris of the twenties:  “We were the great believers. I have never cared for any men as much as for these who felt the first springs when I did, and saw death ahead, and were reprieved—and who now walk the long stormy summer.” – F. Scott Fitzgerald, “My Generation”

The Paris Opera on DVD

I love taking a peek behind the scenes of anything creative – movies, fashion, art, crafts. I love to see how the magic is made, the skill and passion and focus that goes into creating something special. If you feel the same be sure to check out The Paris Opera on DVD.

The Paris Opera follows new director Stephane Lissner as he navigates through his first season at the world famous art institution. The Paris Opera actually comprises two major venues, the opulent Palais Garnier and the more modern Opera Bastille as well as schools and training centers for both opera and ballet plus extensive craft workshops. Ballets, operas and concerts are regular events at both locations and require intense coordination on multiple levels. Amidst this controlled chaos, Lissner must negotiate politics, strike threats, wage disputes, replacing key personnel at critical times and, after a massive bull is hired to appear in an opera, calm the fears of the chorus who will be on stage with him.

The film focuses on what goes on backstage, long before and after a show is presented. The rigorous training the ballet dancers undergo, the auditioning of a new, young opera singer, the hammering out of new choreography, the building of sets and sewing of costumes. The Paris Opera relies heavily on new technology – lights run by computers, for instance, but also the more traditional skills – wig making, costumes, makeup. You see very little of any performances, just glimpses and usually from the wings of the stage – the utter exhaustion of a ballet dancer after she has finished her solo, the opera singer soaked with perspiration trying to make herself presentable before taking her bows, the lighting director singing along with the singers on stage, the maids who clean, the chorus practicing just before going on stage, the cleaning and ironing of the costumes. It is an endless cycle of creation and recreation and while talent plays a part, it is mostly possible through hard work and dedication.

The Room on Rue Amelie by Kristin Harmel

After falling in love with and marrying a Frenchman, California girl Ruby moves to Paris despite her parents’ concerns. It’s 1938 and Europe is on the verge of war. Ruby insists on staying, even after war is declared and soon finds herself involved in the French Resistance, facing great danger and heartbreak.

The Room on Rue Amelie by Kristin Harmel takes a look at the homefront in Paris, the deprivations, the very real danger and the fear. At first, the French residents have difficulty believing that anything awful will happen to them, that the French government will protect them. The reality is that the French government flees before the invading Germans, food becomes scarce and citizens turn a blind eye to the rounding up and deportation of Jews.

Ruby, however, cannot look away; she agrees to shelter a Jewish child and begins helping the Resistance smuggle downed Allied pilots out of the country. Along with the stress and struggles of daily life, she and her husband grow apart, watches neighbors and friends fall to Nazi aggression, suffers personal loss and falls in love.

As expected, I enjoyed the setting and the time period and found the glimpse of the French home front to be very interesting. However, I never really connected with the heroine – she seemed very detached and almost untouched by the events surrounding her. I think that descriptions of conditions and hardships were minimized which made everything somewhat distant. But maybe that’s just my interpretation. Did any of you read this book? And if so, what did you think?

If you’re looking for other books about the homefront in France during World War II, I’d highly recommend All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr (one of my very favorite books), The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah or Sarah’s Key by Tatiana Rosnay.

Online Reading Challenge – “Comment allez-vous?”*

Bon jour! We’re halfway through the April Reading Challenge – have you found a good book set in Paris yet? There is no lack of excellent books (and movies) set in Paris, but if you’re still searching, here are a more couple of ideas.

For non-fiction lovers, try Les Parisiennes by Anne Sebba which is about how the women of Paris survived the Nazi occupation during World War II. With few non-German men left in the city, it was the women who dealt with the Germans, making life or death decisions on a daily basis, just to survive. From collaborators to resistors, famous to ordinary, it’s a complex, fascinating story. Or try The Only Street in Paris by Elaine Sciolino who lives on Rue des Martyrs and shows you the charming, everyday world of Parisians away from the tourist sites.

Fiction readers should check out The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery just for the title alone but also because it’s a sharp look at the various lives of an elegant Parisian apartment building as observed by the concierge who is smarter and more sophisticated than anyone suspects. The Race for Paris by Meg Clayton is about three journalists who are following the American liberating forces in Normandy. If they can arrive in Paris before the Allies, they will have the scoop of their lives, but at what cost?

As for me, I’m finding the selection to be an embarrassment of riches – there are almost too many to choose from! However, my plan is to watch Coco Before Chanel starring Audrey Tautou (of Amelie fame) and to finish reading The Perfume Collector by Kathleen Tessaro but I’m also eyeing My Life in France by Julia Child. Obviously, I will be reading books about Paris long after April!

Now it’s your turn – what are you reading this month?

*”how are you?”

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