Chocolat by Joanne Harris

chocolatVianne Rocher arrives in the French village of Lansquenet-sous-Tannes and opens a small chocolate shop, only to find that many of the townspeople — led by the domineering parish priest, Father Reynaud — are not welcoming to newcomers.  Yet through the magic of good food, confidences, and chocolate, Vianne begins to change her neighbors’ minds.

Quote:
“Places do not lose their identity, however far one travels.  It is the heart that begins to erode over time.  The face in the hotel mirror seems blurred some mornings, as if by too many casual looks.  By ten the sheets will be laundered, the carpet swept.  The names on the hotel registers change as we pass.  We leave no trace as we pass on.  Ghostlike, we cast no shadow.”

Author:
Joanne Harris is the author of Five Quarters of the Orange, Blackberry Wine, Chocolat, and its sequels, The Girl with No Shadow and Peaches for Father Francis.  She lives in Yorkshire, England.

Published:  1998
Length:  320 pages
Set in:  France

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The Club Dumas by Arturo Pérez-Reverte

club dumasLucas Corso is a professional book detective — he hunts down rare editions for his wealthy, often unprincipled clients.  When a notorious book collector is found dead and in possession of the original Three Musketeers manuscript, Corso’s investigation leads him into a strange world of secrets and devil worship, a world where Dumas’s characters have come to life.

Quote:
“One is never alone with a book nearby, don’t you agree?  Every page reminds us of a day that has passed and makes us relive the emotions that filled it.  Happy hours underlined in red pencil, dark ones in black.”

Author:
Arturo Pérez-Reverte is a Spanish novelist and former journalist.  His books include The Club Dumas, The Flanders Panel, and the Captain Alatriste series.  He splits his time between La Navata and Cartagena in Spain.

Published:  1992
Length:  362 pages
Set in:  Spain, Portugal, France
Translation by:  Sonia Soto

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Neither Here nor There: Travels in Europe by Bill Bryson

neither here nor thereBill Bryson first backpacked across Europe with his friend Katz (hilariously familiar to all who’ve read A Walk in the Woods) in the early 1970s.  Twenty years later, he sets out to retrace their steps.  As in any of his travel books, no country, city, or cultural icon is spared the bite of Bryson’s humor.

Quote:
“But that’s the glory of foreign travel, as far as I am concerned.  I don’t want to know what people are talking about.  I can’t think of anything that excites a greater sense of childlike wonder than to be in a country where you are ignorant of almost everything.  Suddenly you are five years old again.  You can’t read anything, you have only the most rudimentary sense of how things work, you can’t even reliably cross a street without endangering your life.  Your whole existence becomes a series of interesting guesses.”

Author:
Bill Bryson is the author of various travel books, including A Walk in the Woods and In a Sunburned Country, as well as non-fiction such as At Home and The Mother Tongue.  Bryson currently lives in England with his family.

Published:  1992
Length:  254 pages
Set in:  Norway, France, Belgium, Germany, The Netherlands, Denmark, Sweden, Italy, Switzerland, Liechtenstein, Austria, Yugoslavia, Bulgaria, Turkey

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French Milk by Lucy Knisley

french milkIn December 2006, Lucy Knisley and her mother rented an apartment in Paris. During the month they lived there, exploring the city’s sights, sounds, art, and food, Knisley kept a journal detailing her days.  Her black-and-white drawings are evocative and, by turns, funny and introspective.

Author:
Lucy Knisley is the author and illustrator of French Milk, Relish: My Life in the Kitchen, An Age of License: A Travelogue, Displacement: A Travelogue, and Something New: Tales of a Makeshift Bride (Spring 2016).  She lives in Chicago.

Excerpt:

french milkImage © Lucy Knisley and Epigraph Publishing.

Published:  2007
Length:  179 pages
Set in:  Paris, France

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Without Reservations: The Travels of an Independent Woman by Alice Steinbach

without reservationsAfter her divorce, Alice Steinbach decided that she no longer wanted to be defined by her relation to other people — as a wife, a mother, a neighbor — and set off to Europe to discover who she was on her own.  On her way through England, France, and Italy, she enrolls in classes, forges new friendships, and finds an unexpected romance.

Quote:
“As I set out each day, I felt like a young child again.  One who hadn’t yet learned the rules of manmade time; the rules of clocks and calendars, of weekdays and weekends.  Except the primitive markers of day and night, time lay ahead of me in a continuous, undefined mass.”

Author:
Alice Steinbach is the author of The Miss Dennis School of Writing, Without Reservations, and Educating AliceIn 1985, she was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Feature writing for her work with The Baltimore Sun.  She currently lives in Maryland.

Published:  2000
Length:  295 pages
Set in:  Paris, France; Oxford, England; Milan, Italy

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Educating Alice: Adventures of a Curious Woman by Alice Steinbach

educating aliceAfter her European adventures in Without Reservations, Alice Steinbach wasn’t done with traveling the world.  In Educating Alice, she combines her love of learning and new places, taking classes on French cooking in Paris, dog training in Scotland, traditional arts in Japan, and architecture in Cuba.

Quote:
“Never mind that I hadn’t a clue which path to follow or whether, to echo Robert Frost, the one I took would make all the difference.  The truth is, I’d bailed out of the right choice-wrong choice mentality a long time ago.  It seemed so clear to me — since I’d wised up to the idea that life is not a straight road with no exit ramps — that life presented opportunities all along the way for a person to change directions.  Besides, over the last ten years, I’d grown to like the idea of not knowing where a choice might lead me.”

Author:
Alice Steinbach is the author of The Miss Dennis School of Writing, Without Reservations, and Educating Alice.  In 1985, she was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Feature writing for her work with The Baltimore Sun.  She currently lives in Maryland.

Published:  2004
Length:  302 pages
Set in:  Paris, France; Scotland; Kyoto, Japan; Havana, Cuba

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Perfume: The Story of a Murderer by Patrick Süskind

PerfumeIn eighteenth-century Paris, an orphaned boy is born with the greatest sense of smell in the world.  As he grows, he becomes obsessed with capturing the most sublime scents on Earth — including those of beautiful young girls, who he stalks and kills to obtain their perfect scents.  A chilling, decadent book, Perfume will shock its readers through even the last page.

Quote:
“He devoured everything, everything, sucking it up into him.  But there were no aesthetic principles governing the olfactory kitchen of his imagination, where he was forever synthesizing and concocting new aromatic combinations.  He fashioned grotesqueries, only to destroy them again immediately, like a child playing with blocks–inventive and destructive.”

Author:
Patrick Süskind is a playwright and author of one novel, Perfume.  He lives in Germany and France.

Published:  1986
Length:  263 pages
Set in:  Paris, France
Translated by:  John E. Woods

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Paris in Love by Eloisa James

paris in loveParis in Love is a short memoir about the year James spent living in Paris with her husband and two children.  After selling her house and taking a sabbatical from her job as a professor, James is ready to soak up Parisian life with few obligations to stall her immersion.  Early on, she states that much of the book was pulled from her frequent Facebook posts about the year abroad, and the writing is thus lighthearted and anecdotal.

Quote:
“The sky is the color of gray flannel, the darkness broken only by the dormer window of another early riser.  The woman who lives in that attic painted her walls yellow, and the reflected light bounces out like a spring crocus.  If light were sound, her window would be playing a concerto.”

Author:
Eloisa James is the author of dozens of romance novels and has published academic works on Shakespeare.  She is currently a professor at Fordham University.

Published:  2012
Length:  272 pages
Set in:  Paris, France

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French Leave by Anna Gavalda

french leaveFrench Leave is the story of three siblings — Simon, Garance, and Lola — who ditch a tedious family wedding in order to track down their youngest brother, Vincent.  Along the way, feelings of camaraderie and nostalgia unite them, and they shed the facades of their adult lives for one idyllic day.  When the sun sets and they return to their obligations back home, they are forced to reexamine their lives and the family ties that hold them together. 

Quote:
“For how much longer will we have the strength to tear ourselves away from everyday life and resist?  How often will life give us the chance to play hooky?  To thumb our noises at it?  Or make our little honorarium on the side?  When will we lose one another and in what way will the ties be stretched beyond repair?  How much longer until we become too old?  And I know we were all aware of this. I know what we’re like.  We’re too shy to talk about it, but at that precise moment on our journey, we knew.”

Author:
Anna Gavalda is a teacher, author, and magazine writer.  Her books include Hunting and Gathering, I Wish Someone Were Waiting for Me Somewhere, and Someone I Loved.  She lives in Melun, Seine-et-Marne, France.

Published:  2011
Length:  108 pages
Set in:  France
Translated by: Alison Anderson

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Giovanni’s Room by James Baldwin

giovanni's roomGiovanni’s Room is set in 1950’s Paris, and is narrated by David, a young American grappling with his sexuality and his life’s direction.  At the start of the book, David meets Giovanni, a charismatic bartender from Italy.  Throughout the novel, their new relationship is tested by David’s uncertainty and Giovanni’s emotional instability.

Quote:
“The island of the city widened away from us, bearing the weight of the cathedral; beyond this, dimly, through speed and mist, one made out the individual roofs of Paris, their myriad, squat chimney stacks very beautiful and varicolored under the pearly sky.  Mist clung to the river, softening that army of trees, softening those stones, hiding the city’s dreadful corkscrew alleys and dead-end streets, clinging like a curse to the men who slept beneath the bridges — one of whom flashed by beneath us, very black and lone, walking along the river.”

Author:
James Baldwin (1924-1987) was born in Harlem, New York.  He was an author, poet, and social critic, and his best-known works are Go Tell it on the Mountain and Giovanni’s Room.  For a time during his teenage years he was a Pentecostal preacher, and in 1948 he left for France, where he spent most of his later life.

Published:  1956
Length:  169 pages
Set in:  Paris, France

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