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Storied Paris

New Fiction for Springtime Reading

Cosmopolitan, sensual, violent, beautiful and romantic, are all words that could be used for Paris, France, historically and currently.  Try these five new novels for springtime and glimpse a Paris that is these things and more.  Happy reading!

April in Paris, 1921: A Kiki Button Mystery by Tessa Lunney
Katherine King Button, otherwise known as Kiki (or the other Kiki, and the blonde Australienne), returns to London two years after the Great War on the pretext of finding a husband in one last debutante season.  Arriving with freshly bobbed hair, Kiki looks up her wartime friend and sometime lover, Bertie, a journalist for his family’s newspaper.  Kiki’s family connections and Bertie’s sponsorship land Kiki a plum assignment as a columnist on the social scene in Paris.  Her new assignment takes her far from the prying eyes of extended family while providing the income she needs lest her family finally disinherit her. 

Within months Kiki is the talk of the bohemian set.  Her notoriety brings her within the circle of another Paris darling, Pablo Picasso, who makes her his model and lover and finder of a missing portrait of his wife, Olga.  Kiki’s visibility also brings a brilliant and sinister former army surgeon back into her life, her former Keats quoting spymaster, Fox.

Racier than the Phryne Fisher novels by Kerry Greenwood, with the added nuance of espionage in Interwar Paris, this debut to a new series is not to be missed.

The Room on Rue Amélie by Kristen Harmel
A terraced apartment building with a view of the Eiffel Tower, its large red doors facing a street resonant with church bells is a memorable waypoint for RAF pilots looking to escape capture.  A newly married French art dealer with a leg withered by polio does his part for the Resistance by secreting the pilots in a hidden room.  His American wife, looking to do her part as well, is helped by an 11 year old Jewish girl in continuing her husband’s mission to care for and conduct the British pilots down the escape line.
Inspired by the life of Virginia d’Albert-Lake who hid Allied soldiers in Paris and survived the women’s concentration camp, Ravensbruck, The Room on Rue Amélie is a sweeping tale of love, friendship and an individual’s tremendous will to be a part of something much greater than one’s self.

Paris in the Present Tense: A Novel by Mark Helprin
Jules Lacour has kept himself youthful and fit with lifelong rigorous daily workouts along the Seine. Born in hiding during World War II and having witnessed the murder of his parents at the hands of German soldiers, Jules has honed his body to be prepared for anything, but his fitness masks a secret; Jules has an inoperable aneurysm. With the death of his wife from cancer still fresh, Jules hatches a plan to provide medical treatment for his Leukemia stricken grandson that involves his own death in Paris. While executing his plan the cellist and former soldier is able to come to the aid of others, share his life’s story, and fall in love, repeatedly.
Mark Helprin crafts a quiet, poignant and, sometimes, humorous look at a full, well-lived life that intersected with others, mostly for the good.

The Age of Light: A Novel by Whitney Scharer
It’s 1966 and Lee Miller is preparing a lavish 7 course meal for house guests and her British Vogue editor, Audrey Withers.  Audrey remembers when Lee was one of the most striking subjects ever photographed and a leading talent in photojournalism.  So does Lee’s husband, artist and art critic, Roland Penrose. Lee’s beauty has changed and she now struggles with shell-shock, an after effect of her work during World War II.  Lee is also an alcoholic unable to take on the few writing assignments that come her way.  Roland and Audrey conspire to pull Lee out of her malaise and save her sinking reputation.  As a drunken and slurring Lee prepares to bring out the dessert course, Audrey gives Lee an ultimatum; write a piece on her former mentor, collaborator and lover, Man Ray or face a renegotiation of her contract. Lee acquiesces.

The Age of Light, like The Room on Rue Amélie, draws inspiration from the life of an extraordinary American in Interwar and war time Paris. Lee Miller’s little known contributions to Surrealism, innovations in photography and war correspondence and her later writings on food are as much the story as her famous love affair and years as a model.  Lee Miller is less party girl and more complex artist in this can’t put down novel.

For more on Lee’s life and times read, Lee Miller: A Life by Carolyn Burke. To see some of her photographs, checkout Lee Miller: A Woman’s War, curated by Hilary Roberts and 4 Saints in 3 Acts: A Snapshot of the American Avant-Garde in the 1930s by Patricia Allmer.

Adèle by Leila Slimani; translated by Sam Taylor
The idyll that is the City of Light disappears entirely to be replaced by a city that is bestial and sordid, in and out of doors.  A woman feverishly rushes about a crowded city of human detritus to get her fix, one that is free, but costly.  Everything Adèle Robinson used to live for—family, career, friends, gets replaced by an all-consuming compulsion for sex.

Far grittier than the previously listed novels, Adèle is also more personal. The reader descends with Adèle as her addiction lays bare her feelings of revulsion, release and despair.  Powerful and relatable this 2019 translation of the 2014 best-selling French novel will appeal to fans of psychological thrillers.