Who can resist the allure of France? Not me. If you too find yourself in that kind of mood, here are three novels to consider.
The Light of Paris by Eleanor Brown. Of these three novels, this one appealed to me the least, mainly because I found Madeleine (the main character with the lovely name) so unappealing. Her marital woes were supposed to conjure sympathy, I think, but instead I found her situation irritating and her lack of pluck depressing. While it’s true that it was these very things that subsequently inspired the changes that propelled the story forward into Madeleine’s exploration of her grandmother’s story — and its intriguing glimpses into a Jazz-Age Paris — I was never able to drum up enough positive vibes to allow me to enjoy the novel as I was meant to.
The House of Dreams by Kate Lord Brown. This one drew me in with its “true-life story of Varian Fry, called ‘the artists’ Schindler.'” It opens with plenty of intrigue, unanswered questions, and an overall sense of tension and conflict that drives the story forward. For my taste, the pace was a bit slow, but I often find this to be the case for me with histfic. True histfic aficionados will likely revel in all the telling detail. There were also a few stylistic habits that distracted me (too many “she says”), and I didn’t sense the lurking danger that was supposed to be there. But I liked the optimistic direction of the narration, as well as its intriguing yet satisfying conclusion.
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The French War Bride by Robin Wells. Here’s why this novel earns my praise: One, for its plucky main character, Amelie, whose grace and spirit I immediately admired. Two, for the author’s clever knack at narrative structure and set-up. Three, for the revealing of pieces of World War II I’d not known before. In both tone and context, it reminded me a bit of Sarah’s Key — in fact, they both include the Rafle du Velodrome d’Hiver, the roundup of Jews by the French police in July 1942. There were some stretches of narrative in which the pace flagged a bit. But I enjoyed the touching love story that beats at the heart of The French War Bride. While it’s mainly a remarkably clean novel, bits toward the end are definitely for mature eyes — though, for me, the context made these more acceptable than they might otherwise have been. All in all, The French War Bride is a novel with sympathetic characters bound in a memorable story conveyed by a writer who knows what she’s doing.
After words: What are some other novels about France you’ve read lately? Any you’d recommend?