Yeah, so . . . I pretty much love any book written about, or set in, Paris.
About a month ago, I read Time Was Soft There: A Paris Sojourn at Shakespeare & Co. by Jeremy Mercer (Picador) and loved it. Read it in one sitting because Shakespeare & Company is my favorite bookstore and the pages of Mercer’s book brought me back to my many visits to 37 rue de la Bucherie Paris V.
The Paris Key by Juliet Blackwell (NAL) paired nicely with Mercer’s book bringing me not one, but two great escapes to the City of Light. The Paris Key audiobook on Audible, narrated by Xe Sands is particularly good. Listening to a sample will give you a sense of Blackwell’s writing. (To have a listen, click here.)
Watch for a careful blending of the French language in the English narrative, adding richness to the novel without losing sight of the reader.
Here’s an example:
“I think you are . . . Vous etes l’americaine, n’est pas?” said the man. “You are the American niece, I think?”
But do be warned about moments of French agitation toward Americans. Not my favorite passages in the novel, but, perhaps, necessary to capture the essence of an American living in Paris. (Can’t we all just get along?) At times (e.g. Chapter Thirty-three), character conversations about history, political correctness, and race relations in America made me wonder why some of these elements were in the story (felt like the writer talking not the character?), but in learning more about the author, Juliet Blackwell, who values ‘cultural exchange to open hearts, minds, and souls’ I see why she explored these issues. I just wish Genevieve had defended her home country a bit more. But that’s just me; an American reader. And yes, absolutely, many of the conversations about cultural differences were directly linked to events in the story. Those were essential. A few others could have been cut.
The opening paragraph from Chapter One reveals the theme of the novel carried throughout main character Genevieve’s journey from copyediting to locksmithing, her chance to walk through locked doors and among ghosts of the past:
Her uncle Dave always used to say: “Remember the locksmith’s code, Genevieve. Never reveal the secrets you find behind locked doors, and never – ever! – abuse the power to open a lock.”
Favorite moments in the novel? The walk Genevieve (pronounced Zhohn-vee-ev) and Sylviane took through Montparnasse cemetery (been there, loved it). And I especially enjoyed the Angela and Xabi storyline, told in chapters set in 1983. Fascinating.
My favorite aspect of The Paris Key by Juliet Blackwell? The vast content she brought to the novel. She covers a lot of ground with this story and explores a variety of events in history while also deepening character development, story arcs, and resolutions between characters. The charm of a locksmith shop in Paris was another reason I was so captivated by Blackwell’s book. Will definitely read more by this author.
LEARN MORE ABOUT THE BOOK: As a girl, Genevieve Martin spent the happiest summer of her life in Paris, learning the delicate art of locksmithing at her uncle’s side. But since then, living back in the States, she has become more private, more subdued. She has been an observer of life rather than an active participant, holding herself back from those around her, including her soon-to-be-ex-husband.
Paris never really left Genevieve, and, as her marriage crumbles, she finds herself faced with an incredible opportunity: return to the magical city of her youth to take over her late uncle’s shop. But as she absorbs all that Parisian culture has to offer, she realizes the city also holds secrets about her family that could change her forever, and that locked doors can protect you or imprison you, depending on which side of them you stand.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Juliet Blackwell was born and raised in the San Francisco Bay Area, the youngest child of a jet pilot from New York and an editor from Texas. She graduated with a degree in Latin American Studies from University of California, Santa Cruz, and went on to earn Masters degrees in Anthropology and Social Work from the State University of New York, Albany. While in graduate school she published several articles based on her research with immigrant families from Mexico and Viet Nam, as well as one full-length translation: Miguel León-Portilla’s seminal work, Endangered Cultures. Juliet taught Medical Anthropology at SUNY-Albany, was producer for a BBC documentary about Vietnamese children left behind by US soldiers, and worked as an elementary school social worker in rural New York. Upon her return to California she became a professional artist and ran her own decorative painting and design studio for more than a decade. Juliet sold her first novel in 2006 and has been writing fiction ever since. In addition to mainstream novels, Juliet pens the New York Times Bestselling Witchcraft Mysteries and the Haunted Home Renovation series. As Hailey Lind she wrote the Agatha-Award nominated Art Lover’s Mystery series. She is past president of Northern California Sisters in Crime and former board member of Mystery Writers of America. She makes her home in Northern California, but spends as much time as possible in Europe and Latin America. Juliet believes in the magic of language, travel, and cultural exchange to open hearts, minds, and souls.