“One Paris Summer” Denise Grover Swank

Rated 5 stars ***** ARC. Published June 7, 2016. Blink.

OneParisSummerSophie’s mom forced her and her older brother to spend the summer with their father in Paris. Neither wants to go since he abandoned them a year ago and is now getting remarried, but they don’t have a choice. Filled with anger at her father for leaving her behind, she also has to deal with her stepsister Camille’s hatred at her presence.

Sophie knows her time in Paris with her father’s new family would be bearable if she could release tension by playing the piano, but her father doesn’t have one. When she meets Camille’s friend Mathieu, Sophie gets two of her wishes answered. Not only is Mathieu incredibly handsome and interested in her, he also has a piano she can play.

As Sophie navigates the waters of distrust in her Parisian home, she finds herself enjoying the city and maturing in ways she’d never thought possible. When an invitation arises to audition for a spot at a conservatory for high schoolers, she has to decide if she’s willing to forgive her father and Camille in order to begin a new path towards her musical dreams. Change has never come easy for Sophie but, with summer coming to an end, she will have to make a decision that will forever change everything she’s ever known.

I really enjoyed “One Paris Summer.” Swank did a wonderful job recounting what first love feels like for a 16-year-old girl in a place as romantic as Paris, while her love for music and piano playing is also well documented. As Sophie travelled throughout the city, the realistic descriptions took me back to my time spent there, making me nostalgic and wishing I could turn back time. Anyone who has been to Paris will recognize her beauty, while those who haven’t will be aching to go by the final pages.

Highly recommended for ages 14 and older.

“Villa America” Liza Klaussmann

Rated 2 stars ** ARC. Published August 4, 2015. Little, Brown & Company. 412 pp. (Includes “Author’s Note.”)

VillaAmericaGerald and Sara Murphy came of age in the 1920’s, hosting extravagant parties in their Villa America estate on the French Riviera with family friends like Ernest Hemingway, Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, and many others. After spending their youth as outsiders laced into a form of conventionality by their parents and society, their new way of living freely was a way to recoup those lost years.

Despite outward appearances, all is not as it seems in the Murphy household as secrets are eating away at their foundation. Scott and Ernest create dramas of their own while Owen Chambers, a handsome American pilot with a tragic story, is soon irretrievably mixed in with Gerald and Sara’s confusing lives with unfortunate results.

I found Villa America to be as long on the discussions and short on the action as Owen described it to Gerald. Before I was halfway through reading it I was as tired of the Murphy way of living as was Owen.

The book had its moments but, in general, I wasn’t a fan. Therefore I will leave it up to you to decide if you want to read it or not.

“Avenue of Spies: A true story of Terror, Espionage, and one American family’s heroic resistance in Nazi-occupied France” Alex Kershaw

Rated 5 stars ***** ARC. Ebook. Crown Publishers. Published August 4, 2015. (Includes Maps, Notes and a Bibliography.)

AvenueOfSpiesThe story of the bravery shown by American doctor Sumner Jackson, his Swiss-born wife Charlotte (who he called Toquette), and his son Phillip during World War II is recounted in “Avenue of Spies.” When the Germans invaded France in 1940, the Jacksons lived on the beautiful Avenue de Foch in Paris where Sumner was in charge of the American Hospital of Paris. Within days of their arrival, Nazi officers had taken over homes in the area leaving Sumner and the hospital temporarily out of their crosshairs.

Using the hospital as cover Sumner began to treat, then sneak, select patients out of the country. He and his wife joined the French Resistance, and played an important role in the movement. With agents betrayed regularly, the Jackson’s were soon captured and forced to endure the Nazi’s form of justice.

Using clear and descriptive narratives, along with eyewitness accounts, Kershaw tells a powerful story of light and strength during a dark period of world history. Though I had not previously heard of him, I am glad the work of the Jackson family during World War II is now coming to light. His story is one that should be read by all lovers of freedom and bravery.

Highly recommended for Adults.

“The Da Vinci Code” Dan Brown

2003. Doubleday (Random House). 454 pp.

TheDaVinciCodeWow! Wow! Wow! Dan Brown, once again, leads adult readers on a tour of historical sites and rollercoaster adventures with our favorite symbologist Robert Langdon. This time Robert is in Paris and is supposed to meet with Jacques Sauniere, curator of the Louvre. Unfortunately, Jacques is found dead, and Robert is the primary suspect.

Before he died, however, Sauniere managed to leave numerous clues for Sophie Neveu, his granddaughter which he hoped would lead her to the Holy Grail. As Grandmaster for a secret society known as The Priory of Sion, and knowing that three other top leaders who also knew the secret location had been murdered, Sauniere knew the Grail’s location would die with him unless Sophie could figure out his clues and save it from the murderer.

Relentlessly pursued by the French Police, as well as the murderer and his team who would do anything to get their hands on the Grail, Robert and Sophie wind through the historical bowels of Europe as readers are educated on the ancient Priory of Sion group,  and the important secret they guarded for centuries which was rumored to be so important the Catholic Church would kill to keep it secret.

As Sophie and Robert uncover more layers of the Priory’s secrets, much is revealed about Leonardo da Vinci and other historical figures which will leave his readers speechless. This thrilling, action packed mystery is a must read and, when finished, will continue to be the subject of much conversation and debate.

PS – to find out more about the secret society known as The Priory of Sion, read this 60 Minutes report. It’s an eye opener.

“Odette’s Secrets” Maryann Macdonald

ARC (Advance Reading Copy). Published February 26, 2013. Bloomsbury Children’s Books. 216 pp. (Includes a Timeline, period photographs and an Author’s Note.)

Odette'sSecretsBorn in 1934, Odette was just a young child when Hitler came to power and invaded Paris where she lived with her Jewish mother and father. When she was just 5 years old, her father left to join the French army but Germany soon began their occupation of France. With the Nazis in power, Jews were forbidden to do many of the things Odette had taken for granted. When thousands of Jews were rounded up and deported to death camps, Odette’s mother sent her to the country to live with a Christian family. There, Odette learned to reinvent herself and live a life of secrecy so no one would find out she was really Jewish.

“Odette’s Secrets” is based on the story of of Odette Meyers and her struggles to survive during Hitler’s reign of terror. Unlike Anne Frank, she survived the war yet their lives recount a similar story.

Odette’s childhood lived on through her writings, rediscovered by Macdonald, and is told in touching, poetic prose. Students aged 10-14 will gain insight into the stormy lives faced by young Jewish children attempting to live normal lives in wartorn France, and the bravery of those willing to risk everything to hide them.

“Paris: A Love Story” Kati Marton

ARC (Advance Reading Copy). Published August 14, 2012. Simon & Schuster. 191 pp.

In this no holds barred memoir, Marton chronicles her loves and losses in Paris, the city of her heart. Paris was where Kati found herself when facing loss, where she found love, and where she was happiest. After her husband Richard Holbrooke died in 2010, Morton was like a boat which had lost its anchor. Paris was where she went to find herself.

Using a cache of letters written years ago and saved by her parents, Marton told of her life in Paris as a young college student in 1968, her struggles to break through the all-male wall of reporting as she worked towards becoming a Foreign Correspondent, meeting, marrying and divorcing Peter Jennings, and her courtship with her next husband Richard Holbrooke. Along with past memories, Marton inserted present-day struggles of a widow trying to live life while missing the person who gave life its joie de vivre.

While reading “Paris: A Love Story” I alternately cried and laughed, feeling Kati’s struggles to be herself as well as her loves and losses. It is a love story, beautifully told, which made me fall in love with the Paris of my youth once more.

This is a good read for adult book groups.