Yay! April’s here!

There’s something special about April, with its exuberant celebration of spring—flowers blooming, trees blossoming, leaves unfurling, reaching for the sun.

I can appreciate that feeling, and love that this is the time of year when we can step outside and tilt our faces up to the sky and feel the warmth of the season on our skin. Like those aspiring leaves, I often feel recharged and regenerated this month, prepared to shake myself out of the quasi-hibernation I’ve fallen into during the cold, dark days of winter.

Rejoice in April, sings my heart! For so many reasons.

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Aside from the lavish party Mother Nature throws at this time of year, April is also the month I began dating my now-husband so many years ago, and it’s the month when I came home from France two years later—almost to the day—to get engaged.

Someday I know I’ll have the opportunity to experience April in Paris with the Darling Husband, but since that hasn’t happened yet, I try to honor my love for the City of Light with at least one post each April that touches somehow on Paris.

Until last year I hadn’t returned to my favorite city in the world since I left over twenty years ago. Then I had the joy and honor to be a speaker at the first-ever Romance Novel Festival hosted by Les Romantiques, a popular romance blog in France, in collaboration with a number of other bloggers I’d met online and who were simply incroyable

Anyone who’s in this business—bloggers, writers, editors, agents, PR types—in any capacity will likely tell you that the best part of what we do is getting to meet other romance fans and sharing our love of these books.

Sometimes we’re lucky enough to meet people who become friends, whether online or in person. Occasionally, we become friends with people online and then we meet them in person, and they’re even more wonderful and amazing than we’d thought.

What an incredible, soul-affirming gift.

My trip to Paris for the Romance Novel Festival was such an experience, and it was chock-full of finding out that people I really liked online, I liked even more in person.

This was true of a number of the bloggers and reviewers who were coordinating and participating in the festival, and it was also true of a particular writer I’d become friendly with online.

A couple of years ago, when I wrote one of my April “Paris, Je t’aime” posts, Samantha Vérant contacted me on twitter and asked me if I’d take a look at her book, Seven Letters From Paris, a memoir about how she’d found love twenty years after she’d met a Frenchman in Paris and completely ignored the letters he’d sent her in America after they’d spent an unforgettable day together.

I was particularly intrigued, because her initial meeting with the sexy Frenchman occurred the same year I spent most of my summer in France. I, too, had met a Frenchman who had asked me to keep in touch, who had sent me letters that arrived in my college mailbox in August after I returned to campus, ready to begin my senior year. And I too had failed to respond.

It was eerie that we’d had such similar experiences, that same year. After I’d read her book, which I loved, we connected on Facebook and had a series of chats about our long lost summers.

(Unlike Samantha, I hadn’t felt the urge to reconnect with my gardener from Avignon. I do sometimes wonder about the beautiful garçon from Nice, and the fun Swedes I met in Paris who turned out to be some variation of military spies, and the Parisian I met a few years later, but, well, those are all stories for a warm April night over a good bottle of red, aren’t they? And in the end, I married an American who turned out just right for me.)

But I digress. ;o)

Samantha lives in Toulouse, in Southwestern France, yet when I told her I was coming to Paris for the romance festival, she made arrangements to meet up with me and we wound up having an interesting French Thai meal somewhere on the Rue de la Republique and then a bit of a slumber party in my tiny but charming hotel room. We stayed up way too late talking and comparing notes, even in the face of my jet lag and otherwise sleep deprived body.

That night, that weekend with my reviewer friends, and the months of online conversations leading up to it, was one of the loveliest experiences of my career. Connecting with people halfway across the world whom you’ve met through social media over the greatest books in the world, and then discovering they’re even better in person? Priceless.

So here we are in April again, and Samantha has a new book, How to Make a French Family ~ A Memoir of Love, Food, & Faux Pas, which released last week.

4.13 Inletters Where Seven Letters From Paris is about the courtship and reconnection, this one begins at the wedding and moves forward through a string of years, during which Samantha has to learn the language (at least enough to curb some very embarrassing mistakes and mispronunciations - heh…); forge a new life in a land where she can barely communicate at first and knows no one save her husband and his two children; and navigate being a newly minted step-parent to one pre-teen and one young teen who have some parent and step-parent baggage (and manage that navigation mostly in French!)

In the midst of these internal and external challenges, Samantha and Jean-Luc decide to try to have a baby, but agree to just sort of let nature take its course and not stress about it. Unfortunately, nature’s course is pretty heart-wrenching and stressful.

Now, let’s be clear. I’ve been very transparent that Samantha and I are quite friendly, and I try very hard to keep my personal feelings separate from my professional reviews. As you can imagine, mixing those can potentially be a little messy. However, I decided to talk about this book because a) it’s non-fiction—and since those aren’t books I ever review for Kirkus, I felt I had a bit more leeway—and b) the story really spoke to me.

What I truly love about How to Make a French Family is also what I love about Samantha, and about 90% of the people I meet in the romance community.

People who honor romance, who celebrate romance? These women and men tend to be kind, supportive, enthusiastic, and optimistic.

The author of this book goes through some really, really hard things, but more than anything, it’s her attitude that saves her. Her intention not to wallow, to plow through, to take steps to change.

These choices—and the overall decisions to be optimistic, open-hearted, and to breathe— are what saves her. So in effect, she saves herself—through her very determined yet loving resolve.

I love this, and not just because someone I consider a friend wrote it.

(This may be a good time to say that the Kirkus reviewer wasn’t a big fan, but I respectfully disagree and in many ways, feel s/he missed the point. You can find the review here.)

I love it because it’s a good reminder that no matter how many people or things cause us to stumble, or whatever is in front of us that seems to be in the way—all of these things can be overcome, somehow or other.

Yet everything is easier when we let love in—in fact, when we stand for love—and face challenges with hearts wide open.

And yeah, really good food helps along the way, too! (Yummy recipes included.)

*****

This is a bit longer than usual, but I wanted to mention at least a few more Paris-based books.

4.13 LettersfromParis I recently read Alyson Richman’s novel, The Velvet Hours, which I loved. I’ll probably be talking more about it in a later post, but suffice it to say here that, so far, this is my favorite book loosely based on the remarkable Paris apartment that was abandoned just before World War II and was an untouched Belle Epoque treasure trove when it was unsealed a few years ago. Richman creates a lovely imagining of the actual owners of the apartment and her beautiful, evocative writing brings each of them to life in rich, jewel tones. (Kirkus doesn’t seem to have reviewed this title, but if you’ve somehow missed the amazing story of the apartment, you can read about it here.)

I listened to Juliet Blackwell’s The Paris Key a few months ago (thanks, Tantor audio!) and really enjoyed the story of a woman who resettles in Paris after she inherits a locksmith shop from her uncle. I hope to have the chance to catch Letters from Paris soon. Kirkus describes it as a “compelling story of Paris, art, and love throughout history” — which hits a bunch of my reading buttons!

4.13 ParisYear In June, Janice MacLeod releases A Paris Year: My Day-to-Day Adventures in the Most Romantic City in the World, the follow up to her gorgeous and inspiring Paris Letters. Part memoir, part watercolor/sketchbook, Paris Letters was the culmination of MacLeod’s determination to create a fulfilling life, preferably in Paris. She succeeded. A Paris Year is described as the author’s “sojourn in the world’s most beautiful city. Beginning on her first day in Paris, [MacLeod]…began a journal recording in illustrations and words, nearly every sight, smell, taste, and thought she experienced in the City of Light. The end result is more than a diary: it’s a detailed and colorful love letter to one of the most romantic and historically rich cities on earth. Combining personal observations and anecdotes with stories and facts about famous figures in Parisian history, this visual tale of discovery, through the eyes of an artist, is sure to delight, inspire, and charm.”

If you like inspiring memoirs, Samantha also recommends:

The New Paris: The People, Places & Ideas Fueling a Movement by Lindsey Tramuta — The city long-adored for its medieval beauty, old-timey brasseries, and corner cafés has even more to offer today. In the last few years, a flood of new ideas and creative locals has infused a once-static, traditional city with a new open-minded sensibility and energy.

My Good Life in France: In Pursuit of the Rural Dream by Janine Marsh — One grey dismal day, Janine Marsh was on a trip to northern France to pick up some cheap wine. She returned to England a few hours later having put in an offer on a rundown old barn in the rural Seven Valleys area of Pas de Calais. This was not something she'd expected or planned for.

My (Part-Time) Paris Life: How Running Away Brought Me Home by Lisa Anselmo — In the vein of Eat, Pray, Love and Wild, My (Part-time) Paris Life is a story for anyone who’s ever felt lost or hopeless, but still dreams of something more.

Bonjour Kale: A Memoir of Paris, Love, and Recipes by Kristen Beddard  — The story of how one expat woman left her beloved behind when she moved to France—her beloved kale, that is.