One Day, One Year, Two Books

I’m pretty sure that if a cute stranger offered to take me to a romantic European city for the day, I would probably say “No, but thank you. I’m just too awkward for that.” And I wouldn’t even fret about possibly missing out on an experience of a lifetime because, luckily, there are plenty of young adult romances that can satisfy my “but what would have happened?!” curiosity. Just One Day by Gayle Forman (and its companion book, Just One Year) is the perfect choice for armchair travel because the heroine just happens to be quite introverted herself, and thus, very relatable to us classic Librarian-types ūüėČ

Just One Day begins with sensible, quiet Allyson feeling ready for her graduation trip around Europe with a teen tour group to be over so she can go home to the States. Yeah, that whining-about-being-in-Europe part isn’t that relatable to me, but granted her best friend has gotten a little bit wild/annoying, and the tour skipped over Paris–the one city Allyson wanted to see on the tour. But then she runs into a cute street actor who had flirted with her during his performance the night before…AND HE OFFERS TO TAKE HER TO PARIS! YES! YES! YES! So Allyson tells him her name is Lulu and hops on the train to Paris with him (and then promptly has several panic attacks on the train about him leaving her, killing her, making a fool of her, etc–this is actually the moment where I went from liking the book to LOVING the book). Lulu/Allyson and Willem spend an amazing day running around Paris and then live happily ever after. Swooooooon.

Well, until the next morning when Allyson wakes up alone in an empty Paris art studio.

With lots of tears and panic, Allyson finds her way back to London and her tour group and then back home to the United States. We then follow her through her first year of college as she learns to overcome her broken heart and embarrassment. After a long self-inflicted isolation, new friends help Allyson discover that she needs to revisit Paris and find Willem–partly because she believes that there is a mystery surrounding the morning Willem left her and partly because she needs to prove to herself that she is in control of her life.

Sorry, I can’t tell you if she finds Willem…BUT I will tell you that the companion book Just One Year tells the story of what happened to Willem during his year apart from Lulu. He does quite a bit more traveling…that is all I will say.

These two books are a must read for fans of Stephanie Perkins, John Green and Maureen Johnson and anyone else who likes a little independence and a little travel with their romances.

The French Market Cookbook by Clotilde Dusoulier

french market cookbookCook from the farmer’s market with inspired vegetarian recipes – many of which are gluten-free and dairy-free – with a French twist, all highlighting seasonal produce.

Beloved Chocolate and Zucchini food blogger Clotilde Dusoulier is not a vegetarian. But she has, like many of us, chosen to eat less meat and fish, and is always looking for new ways to cook what looks best at the market. In The French Market Cookbook, she takes us through the seasons in 82 recipes and explores the love story between French cuisine and vegetables. Choosing what’s ripe and in season means Clotilde does not rely heavily on the cheese, cream, and pastas that often overpopulate vegetarian recipes. Instead she lets the bright flavors of the vegetables shine through: carrots are lightly spiced with star anise and vanilla in a soup made with almond milk; tomatoes are jazzed up by mustard in a gorgeous tart; winter squash stars in golden Corsican turnovers; and luscious peaches bake in a cardamom-scented custard. With 75 color photographs of the tempting dishes and the abundant markets of Paris, and with Clotilde’s charming stories of shopping and cooking in France, The French Market Cookbook is a transportive and beautiful cookbook for food lovers everywhere. (description from publisher)

The Lady and the Unicorn by Tracy Chevalier

Bewitching art experts and enthusiasts alike for centuries, the Lady and the Unicorn tapestries hang today in the Cluny Museum in Paris. In each, an elegant lady and a unicorn stand or sit on an island of grass surrounded by a rich background of animals and flowers. Little is known about them except that they were woven toward the end of the fifteenth century and bear the coat of arms of a wealthy family from Lyons.

In The Lady and the Unicorn, Tracy Chevalier takes readers back to the tapestries’ creation, giving life to the men who designed and made them, as well as the wives, daughters, and servants who exercised subtle (and not so subtle) influences over their men. Like the many different strands of wool and silk that were woven together into one cloth, the lives and fates of these people entwine in complex patterns, crisscrossing as they seek desires sensual and spiritual, temporal and eternal.

An extraordinary story exquisitely told, Tracy Chevalier’s The Lady and the Unicorn weaves history and fiction into a beautiful, timeless, and intriguing literary tapestry that rivals in grace and grandeur the masterpiece that inspired it. (description from publisher)

The Little Paris Kitchen by Rachel Khoo

little paris kitchenRachel Khoo moved to Paris, studied patisserie, fell in love with the city, became a restaurateur in a very tiny space, then, a television star, and is now a bestselling author. Not every lover of Paris experiences this career trajectory, but cooks of all skill levels with a taste for French fare will be inspired by The Little Paris Kitchen to try an updated approach to French cuisine.

In this charming cookbook, Khoo demystifies French cooking with 120 enticing recipes for simple, classic, and fresh French dishes, from gouter (snacks) to elegant desserts. More than 100 breathtaking photos shine a spotlight on the delicious food and the City of Light, and capture Khoo interacting with her purveyors and friends.

We all can’t have springtime in Paris, but we all can enjoy this delectable, do-able food! (description from publisher)

The Painted Girls by Catherine Buchanan

painted girlsCatherine Buchanan writes a heartrending, gripping novel about two sisters in Belle √Čpoque Paris in The Painted Girls.

1878 Paris. Following their father‚Äôs sudden death, the van Goethem sisters find their lives upended. Without his wages, and with the small amount their laundress mother earns disappearing into the absinthe bottle, eviction from their lodgings seems imminent. With few options for work, Marie is dispatched to the Paris Op√©ra, where for a scant seventeen francs a week, she will be trained to enter the famous ballet. Her older sister, Antoinette, finds work as an extra in a stage adaptation of √Čmile Zola‚Äôs naturalist masterpiece¬†L‚ÄôAssommoir.

Marie throws herself into dance and is soon modeling in the studio of Edgar Degas, where her image will forever be immortalized as¬†Little Dancer Aged Fourteen. There she meets a wealthy male patron of the ballet, but might the assistance he offers come with strings attached? Meanwhile Antoinette, derailed by her love for the dangerous √Čmile Abadie, must choose between honest labor and the more profitable avenues open to a young woman of the Parisian demimonde.

Set at a moment of profound artistic, cultural, and societal change,¬†The Painted Girls¬†is a tale of two remarkable sisters rendered uniquely vulnerable to the darker impulses of ‚Äúcivilized society.‚ÄĚ In the end, each will come to realize that her salvation, if not survival, lies with the other. (description from publisher)

The Greater Journey by David McCullough

greater journey

The Greater Journey is the enthralling, inspiring – and until now, untold – story of the adventurous American artists, writers, doctors, politicians, architects, and others of high aspiration who set off for Paris in the years between 1830 and 1900, ambitious to excel in their work. After risking the hazardous journey across the Atlantic, these Americans embarked on a greater journey in the City of Light. Most had never left home, never experienced a different culture. None had any guarantee of success. That they achieved so much for themselves and their country profoundly altered American history. As David McCullough writes, “Not all pioneers went west.”

Elizabeth Blackwell, the first female doctor in America, was one of this intrepid band. Another was Charles Sumner, who enrolled at the Sorbonne because of a burning desire to know more about everything. There he saw black students with the same ambition he had, and when he returned home, he would become the most powerful, unyielding voice for abolition in the U.S. Senate, almost at the cost of his life. Two staunch friends, James Fenimore Cooper and Samuel F. B. Morse, worked unrelentingly every day in Paris, Cooper writing and Morse painting what would be his masterpiece. From something he saw in France, Morse would also bring home his momentous idea for the telegraph. Pianist Louis Moreau Gottschalk from New Orleans launched his spectacular career performing in Paris at age 15. George P. A. Healy, who had almost no money and little education, took the gamble of a lifetime and with no prospects whatsoever in Paris became one of the most celebrated portrait painters of the day. Medical student Oliver Wendell Holmes wrote home of his toil and the exhilaration in “being at the center of things” in what was then the medical capital of the world. From all they learned in Paris, Holmes and his fellow “medicals” were to exert lasting influence on the profession of medicine in the United States. Writers Ralph Waldo Emerson, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Mark Twain, and Henry James were all “discovering” Paris, marveling at the treasures in the Louvre, or out with the Sunday throngs strolling the city’s boulevards and gardens. Almost forgotten today, the heroic American ambassador Elihu Washburne bravely remained at his post through the Franco-Prussian War, the long Siege of Paris and even more atrocious nightmare of the Commune. His vivid account in his diary of the starvation and suffering endured by the people of Paris (drawn on here for the first time) is one readers will never forget. The genius of sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens, the son of an immigrant shoemaker, and of painters Mary Cassatt and John Singer Sargent, three of the greatest American artists ever, would flourish in Paris, inspired by the examples of brilliant French masters, and by Paris itself.

Nearly all of these Americans, whatever their troubles learning French, their spells of homesickness, and their suffering in the raw cold winters by the Seine, spent many of the happiest days and nights of their lives in Paris. McCullough tells this sweeping, fascinating story with power and intimacy, bringing us into the lives of remarkable men and women who, in Saint-Gaudens’s phrase, longed “to soar into the blue.” The Greater Journey is itself a masterpiece. (description from publisher)

Death in the City of Light by David King

Death in the City of Light is the gripping, true story of a brutal serial killer who unleashed his own reign of terror in Nazi-Occupied Paris. As decapitated heads and dismembered body parts surfaced in the Seine, Commissaire Georges-Victor Massu was tasked with tracking down the elusive murderer in a twilight world of Gestapo, gangsters, resistance fighters, pimps, prostitutes, spies, and other shadowy figures of the Parisian underworld.

The main suspect was Dr. Marcel Petiot, a handsome, charming physician with remarkable charisma.¬† He was the “People’s Doctor,” known for his many acts of kindness and generosity, not least in providing free medical care for the poor.¬† Petiot, however, would soon be charged with 27 murders, though authorities suspected the total may have been as many as 150. Who was being slaughtered, and why?¬† Was Petiot a sexual sadist, as the press suggested, killing for thrills?¬† Was he allied with the Gestapo, or, on the contrary, the French Resistance?¬† Or did he work for no one other than himself?¬† Trying to solve the many mysteries of the case, Massu would unravel a plot of unspeakable deviousness.

Death in the City of Light is a brilliant evocation of Nazi-Occupied Paris and a harrowing exploration of murder, betrayal, and evil of staggering proportions. (description from publisher)

The Paris Wife by Paula McLain

I went into reading The Paris Wife by Paula McLain¬†with¬†a blank slate.¬† I had¬†never read any of Ernest Hemingway’s novels, and I knew only the bare minimum of biographical information about his life.¬† This book is a fictionalized account of Hemingway’s first wife Hadley.¬† It details all of the highs and lows of their complicated relationship, from their first meeting in Chicago in 1920 and subsequent whirlwind marriage¬†to their years of living in Paris and the unraveling of their once happy life together.¬† Their lives seem glamorous on the surface: spending time with the Fitzgeralds and Gertrude Stein, writing in chic Paris cafes, and taking extended vacations to exotic locales around Europe.¬† But boiling below the surface is a host of problems.¬† As attentive and accommodating as Hadley tries to be, she simply cannot contend with Ernest’s ambition, neediness, and thirst for the drink.

The story is told through Hadley’s point of view.¬† She grew up in a very different setting, much more conservative and traditional than the Jazz Age Paris of the 1920s, so we’re learning about this time and place through brand new eyes.¬† The writing is lovely and McLain¬†is very successful in making¬†the time period come alive.¬† Plus, the English major in me got giddy every time a different historical figure popped up in the story.¬† I actually listened to the audio version of¬†The Paris Wife¬†and it was very well done.¬† Even though anyone who knows even a little bit about Hemingway has an idea of how this story ends, it’s still a compelling and engaging read that I would recommend to fans of historical fiction, novels about love and marriage, and Ernest Hemingway.

Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins

Anna is happy in Atlanta where she lives with her mother and little brother Рlooking forward to her senior year of high school,  hanging out with her best friend and working at the local movie theater with her could-be boyfriend. All that changes when her father decides that she should spend her senior year at a boarding school in Paris and no amount of pleading will change his mind.

Paris, of course, turns out to be not such a bad idea – she soon makes friends, starts exploring the city and works on her dream of becoming a film critic. And she meets Etienne St Clair, he of the beautiful hair and charming personality. But wait – he has a girlfriend and what about her crush back home in Atlanta? Will they just be friends, or something more?

Anna and the French Kiss follows Anna through the year, from her first nervous days to her blossoming confidence and growing circle of friends. At first, it’s a little hard to sympathize with Anna – forced to live in Paris! I should have such problems! But her initial loneliness and homesickness are universal emotions and her courage to overcome them soon have you rooting for her. She’s smart and funny and determined – exactly the kind of person you’d like to have as a friend.

While Anna and the French Kiss is light and funny, it’s also well-written and sharp, with a diverse cast of characters and realistic emotions. The opening chapters, when Anna is still learning about her new city, are actually a good introduction to Paris and Parisian culture; the visit to Pere Lachaise Cemetery is especially funny and educational. It’s the perfect combination – great city, great characters, great fun.

 

The Last Time I Saw Paris by Lynn Sheene

The Paris of World War II comes to life again in Lynn Sheene’s The Last Time I Saw Paris, as seen through the eyes of an American ex-pat searching to find her own place in the world.

Manhattan socialite Claire Harris has secrets to hide; when those secrets threaten to expose her, she escapes her glittering cage for Paris and the promises made by a summer fling. However, instead of lavish parties and luxury, she arrives in Paris just as the Germans approach, bringing war and depravation, fear and cruelty. Claire stays, scrambling to survive, making friends, finding a place in a world suddenly turned upside down. When her papers expire, she makes a deal with the Resistance, providing information about the Germans in exchange for forged documents.

Sheene keeps the tension high and the action moving briskly. The terror of living under Nazi rule is shown as harsh and random, the fear of not knowing who to trust is vivid. People are realistically portrayed – Claire is a reluctant freedom fighter, only gradually leaving her shallow dreams behind for the good of others; the Resistance is shown as ruthless and not above blackmail; and the ordinary citizen is often simply struggling to survive. This is a quick read – it’s hard to put it down when you can’t wait to find out what will happen!