Once upon a time, many years ago, I spent a summer in France. I was young, in college, sans boyfriend (though pining for a boy), and all alone in Paris, then Avignon.
Oh the stories I could tell about that summer in France! But unfortunately this space is about books and has a limited word count, so I won’t go into too much detail. However, I will say that the last week I was in Avignon, I met a boy—a man actually; I wasn’t quite 21, he was 27. It was heady and fun, and he was gorgeous and sweet!
I left Avignon, and traveled around Europe. I’d given him the address I’d have when I returned to campus in the fall, but I didn’t honestly expect to ever hear from him. So it was quite a surprise to receive a letter almost immediately. How he missed me. How he wished I’d come back to Avignon. When I was finished school, I could move back to France to be with him.
Oh my! I was navigating credits, classes, and a work-study schedule, and this sounded—well, very “real world.” I never responded, and I received one more letter with basically the same message. It was a little overwhelming, really, and it seemed a little too much, too fast.
I spent so much time trying to figure out what to say, that in the end I never said anything.
Two days ago was Bastille Day. Twenty-six years ago I was in the South of France, celebrating the Bicentennial of the French Revolution. Feeling nostalgic, I picked up a book an author sent me after she’d seen the Paris blog I did last summer.
I was completely charmed by Seven Letters From Paris by Samantha Vérant, an extremely romantic memoir of the author’s journey to true love. “When she was 19 years old, Samantha Verant met a handsome French scientist named Jean-Luc on a brief trip to France. They spent one day together on the streets of Paris and when she returned home, he wrote her seven beautiful love letters. But she never wrote him back.”
The book is delightful and lovely. And for me, it was almost like reading a novel, since it so closely mirrored my own experience in some ways (we were even in France the same year), but in the end took a completely different direction. (Now maybe if it had been the boy I met in Nice who’d sent me those letters…? One does wonder.)
I especially enjoyed the arc of reinvention Samantha weaves into the story. We’ve become a little used to it in memoir (failing marriage, lost job, life falling apart), but as a starting point for brand new opportunities and a chance to completely change from the ground up, it’s pretty perfect. And wow, if any of the men I met in Europe had written me the kinds of letters Jean-Luc writes Samantha, I’d probably be living in Paris myself these days!
It’s a slim little book, and a very sweet, romantic story. Romance fans looking for a quick little Parisian jaunt or an inspiring tale of determined change might fall in love with it.
Another Paris-themed memoir of reinvention with a romance thread, plus a lovely though limited visual component, is Paris Letters. Author Janice MacLeod decided to change her life by doing more of what she loved, paring down her expenses to save up, and creating a product people would love. And she did. It’s another worthwhile and uplifting read.
Looking for a little French-based fiction? I like author Anita Hughes, and her recent release French Coast is a fluffy, Nice-based concoction that is a quick, fun read. Despite a few too many high-fashion name-drops and some eyebrow-raising plot twists (and some annoying French mispronunciations on the audio version), I enjoyed the story, though the second half is stronger than the first. Her upcoming Rome in Love releases in a couple of weeks and has an Audrey Hepburn spin that looks delicious.
Some other Paris-themed novels I have my eye on:
The Paris Apartment by Michelle Gable. Conceptually, this novel is based on the very real story of an apartment abandoned at the start of World War II. I read the story when it broke and remember thinking, “Wow, this would make a great novel.”(Read more here.)
Hidden in Paris by Corine Gantz. “Three women running away from their lives become unlikely friends in a beautiful house in the heart of Paris.”Almost sounds like Enchanted April in book form and set in Paris.
The Little Paris Book Shop by Nina George. As if the title alone isn’t enough, how about the back copy? “Monsieur Perdu calls himself a literary apothecary. From his floating bookstore in a barge on the Seine, he prescribes novels for the hardships of life. Using his intuitive feel for the exact book a reader needs, Perdu mends broken hearts and souls. The only person he can't seem to heal through literature is himself; he's still haunted by heartbreak after his great love disappeared. She left him with only a letter, which he has never opened.”
So what about you? What are you reading? Do you love Paris? Any other books I should keep in mind?