“Code name Verity” (Verity #1) Elizabeth Wein

Rated 5 stars ***** 2013. Hyperion. 339 p. (Includes a “Brief Bibliography.”)

CodeNameVerityThe story opens with Verity, a secret agent sent to Occupied France by the British, being held prisoner by the Gestapo during World War II. After being tortured for weeks, Verity struck a deal which allowed her to regain a modicum of civility but which also included having her write all she knew about the Royal Air Force (RAF) and her role with the British.

As Verity’s story unfolds we meet Maddie, a rare female pilot in the RAF who became Verity’s best friend. As their stories of bravery, friendship, and survival in the midst of fear and the unknown are revealed, readers will be hard pressed to keep their tears and emotions in check.

“Code Name Verity” won the Michael L. Printz Honor Award in 2013, given by YALSA (the Young Adult Library Services Association). It also was listed on the 2013 YALSA Best Fiction for Young Adults Top Ten list, and won numerous other awards. All are well deserved.

Highly recommended for ages 16 and older, including Adults.

“Belle epoque” Elizabeth Ross

Rated 4 stars **** 2013. Delacorte. 327 p. (Includes “Author’s Note.”)

BelleEpoqueUnwilling to submit to an arranged marriage to a 40-year-old man, sixteen-year-old Maude Pichon runs away from her small, seaside village. Adrift in the large city of Paris and with her limited money running out, she seeks work at the Durandeau Agency where she reluctantly becomes a repoussoir – a person who is so ugly she repels others to makes her client look beautiful.

The Agency is filled with poor women and girls who have no money, but who Durandeau deems ugly enough to earn him a few francs. Maude becomes the repoussoir for Isabelle, a Countess’ rich daughter she plans to marry off during her upcoming debutante season. The only catch to her job is Maude must gain Isabelle’s confidence and report back to the Countess, but not let Isabelle know her true role. As months go by and the Countess transforms Maude’s life, she finds herself drifting into fantasies where she has become the debutante and finds herself a rich husband.

As she begins to befriend Isabelle, she looks down on her former life and friends at the Agency in favor of a new, imagined life with the Countess. However, the more time she spends with them, the more she will have to come to terms with her true self and decide if the rich life is really where she’s meant to be.

I enjoyed reading “Belle Epoque,” and learning about life in 1800’s France. Though based on a fictional story about repoussoirs written in 1866, it’s a shame that we still judge others by appearances rather than by what they offer society.

Recommended for ages 16 and older, including Adults.

“Romancing the dark in the city of light” Ann Jacobus

Rated 2 stars ** 2015. Thomas Dunne. (St. Martin’s Griffin). 276 p. (Also includes Suicide Prevention Resources, and Discussion Questions.)

RomancingTheDarkInTheCityOfLightForced to move to Paris to live with her very rich mother after being kicked out of four high schools, eighteen-year-old Summer is not a happy camper. In order to inherit a lot of money, her grandfather’s will mandates that she graduate from a private high school and finish college by the age of twenty-two, but Summer can’t muster up the interest needed to finish the last five weeks of her senior year. She’d rather spend time drinking, and dreaming of the Parisian boyfriend she absolutely MUST find so she could have a purpose for her life.

After a suicide on the Metro she meets the very handsome Kurt, who she soon decides is going to be the boyfriend she’s been seeking. She also feels the same way about Moony, a fellow student at her high school. As time goes on, Summer spends more time getting drunk and hanging out with Kurt than she does with Moony – even though he’s the one who makes her heart flutter. With just a few weeks left before she’s supposed to graduate, Summer makes a decision that will forever change not only her life, but also Moony’s.

I wasn’t a fan of this book. I knew Summer had big problems, but some of what happened to her seemed a bit far fetched as well as fantastical. I also had a problem with her constant neediness and the way she couldn’t handle rejection – even something as simple as someone saying they had to go to a doctor’s appointment when she’d invited them to coffee.

Though I enjoyed the descriptions of Paris, which reminded me of the time I’d spent there many years ago, Moony was the only one that really grabbed my interest as I found Kurt and Summer to be clichés. It is because of Moony that I gave this book two stars instead of one.

I’ll leave it up to those of you in the 16 and older range to decide if you want to read it or not.

“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.