Parisian Page Turners - P’Niche’s Top 10 Books Set in Paris or France (so far…)
For Yesenia - the in the words of Anne Shirley "a truly kindred spirit," and a treasured friend...
Oh, P’Nichers, what a pleasure to share this top ten list of books from our book club (so far). The Parisian Niche blog itself was born out of my book club, Parisian Page Turners / Frite Reads (of a French Frye in Paris fame). Us bookworms are around 50 books deep at the time of this post (that’s around 20,000 pages!) with no end of page turning in sight. We, the proud Francophile readers, approach each new book as one beholds a new delicacy from a French patisserie, with utter delight, anticipation, and captivation.
Happiness is a library card. Reading holds an intrinsically dear place in P’Niche's heart. Overwhelmingly small and shy as a child and young adult, friendships were difficult to establish. But books, books, and their heroines were always there. I still have very clear memories of my mom and I sitting on the couch reading (and re-reading scores of times - thanks, Mom ❤️) Beauty and the Beast, with it’s enchanted rose and life lessons. And the library!
From my constant best friend and personal mentor, Anne Shirley from Anne of Green Gables, to the “cool girls” of the Babysitters Club, not to mention my dear twin sister friends Jessica and Elizabeth Wakefield, from Sweet Valley High. Together, we went to school, faced the bullies, enjoyed the popular dances,
solved mysteries, fell in love for the first time, recovered from heartbreak/s, and traveled the world. I'm forever grateful for their friendship through literature.
These days, I get to share this passion for reading with others through this book club and often share special evenings of reading aloud so we can enjoy this love of literature together. P’Niche is the luckiest.
So let’s get to it! Planning for a trip to Paris and need / want to get inspired (or pack a read in your carry on for the airplane?) P'Niche sees you (and raises her own hand). Can't seem to get away right now, but need to scratch that Parisian itch? Totally get that, too!
I will include a link for each book, with the note that these are all non-sponsored, personal favorites. Also note, whether you prefer the get the book in paper, kindle, or audio format, all provide the same literary escape to France, with no judgement for one over the other. It’s whatever works for each P’Nicher. Remember, Paris (and her literature) are for everyone.
We’ll count backward from 10 to 1 (with #1 being P’Niche’s top pick so far)…
10. The Seine by Elaine Sciolino
Honestly, we went in to this book thinking "how much can one really learn about a river, even one as lovely as the Seine?"
P'Nichers, you can learn a lot! The river, she's a goddess (Sequana), her running waters helped save Notre Dame (merci, sis!) from the fire, and on... She has a nearly immeasurable history.
Meticulously researched, one of P'Niche's highlighted quotes reads, "I overcame anxiety and loneliness and moved forward in my life, like the Seine in its course. The river allowed me to begin a journey of discovery—of Paris, of the French people, of myself. Its energy pumped deep into my veins; its light gave me strength."
P'Niche PSA: : you'll want to read before the 2024 Olympics, where the Opening Ceremony will be held on the Seine!
9. A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway
This list simply wouldn't be complete without a masterpiece by Hemingway.
This memoire, while written in the last chapters of his life, will draw you in and help you to experience Paris through his supremely poetic eyes.
Of course, one of his most popular and employed quotes remains, "If you are lucky enough to have lived in Paris as a young man, then wherever you go for the rest of your life, it stays with you, for Paris is a moveable feast."
What do you say P'Nichers, how do you experience Paris as a moveable feast?
8. The Widow Cliquot by Tilar J Mazzeo
We tackled this book during the darkest, terrifying days of the first Covid lockdown as a read aloud, shared together.
What we found was an unbending strength of spirit and will to overcome - just what we needed at that moment.
According to the story, “Madame Clicquot…in order to have her land protected, gave Napoléon’s officers Champagne and glasses. Being on their horses, they couldn’t hold the glass while opening the bottle.” So they lopped off the necks of the bottles with their swords, and sabrage was born.”
Sip, Sip, Hooray - Cheers, P'Nichers!
7. Waking up in Paris by Sonia Choquette
Have you ever been at the end of a chapter in your life, panicked and thought, "uh-oh, now what?" So did Sonia Choquette, who decided to find out what lie ahead - in Paris. Her story went through tears and cheers - the ultimate Parisian pick me up.
So stated, "I believe that is the secret gift of Paris and the real reason it casts such a spell on people all over the world. It demands that you recognize and insist on the most beautiful version of life, inside and out. Like polishing a diamond, living in Paris casts off the shadow and forces your true light to shine"
Shine on - if possible, in the City of Light!
6. Mistress of the Ritz by Melanie Benjamin
Based on true events of World War II, and reflecting some of the atrocities of the time, this story centers itself in one of the most glamorous addresses in Paris - the Ritz Hotel.
"And he began to comprehend, then, how murky it all was going to be; how many choices Parisians were going to have to make on a daily basis, questions they would have to ask themselves that had no correct answers."
You will feel as though you are living through The Occupation with the main characters, from shallow gasps of pain and terror to overwhelming cheers of victory.
5. Abundance by Sena Jeter Naslund
P'Niche makes no secret of her absolute passion for all things Versailles and rococo. J'adorrrrrrrrre...
This book displays Marie Antoinette and her court as what they were - human beings, seeking connections, answers to life's questions, to be loved, peace...
As Marie Antoinette asked in this book, "Is there anything so luxurious as long conversations? They are the true hallmark of friendship."
You will feel absolutely transported to the decadent halls of Versailles and find yourself sorry when the story is over.
PS - She never said "Let them eat cake!"
4. Josephine Baker’s Last Dance by Sherry Jones
This book was fascinating on so many levels. We voted to read this just as Josephine Baker was honored as the first black woman to be inducted into the Panthéon. This book captured us from page one; from the unbearable poverty she faced, to the glamor of the stage, to undercover fighting for her new home of France during World War II's Resistance.
In her words, "France made me what I am. The Parisians gave me their hearts, and I am ready to give them my life."
She was, and remains, a legend and example for tenacity, dignity, strength, and love for humanity as a whole.
3. Women of the Chateau Lafayette by Stephanie Dray
This book follows three separate time lines, during three critical wars - The American Revolution, World War I, and World War II.
That said, given the amount literature on the latter two, the highlight on Adrienne Lafayette, wife of the war hero Marquis de Lafayette, was a real first for the group.
If we tell tales of glory of the Founding Fathers, we should not forget her Founding Mothers, and Adrienne was one of America's proudest revolutionaries.
In her wise words, "glory is a bittersweet wreath of both flowers and thorns."
2. Paris by Edward Rutherfurd
This mammoth book is simply not to be overlooked. An absolute wealth of Paris history and exquisite details, it swings as a pendulum back and forth in time with varying timelines of several family lines.
At over 800 pages, you will want to dedicate some proper time to really letting your imagination capture the best that our beloved city has to offer.
To quote, "Paris. City of love. City of dreams. City of splendor. City of saints and scholars. City of gaiety. Sink of iniquity. In two thousand years, Paris had seen it all."
We cannot wait to hear what you think of this epic novel.
1. Ribbons of Scarlet by Kate Quinn, et al.
P'Nichers. P'Nichers. This book! We loved this book so much, we read it twice for our book club. Six individual authors crafted this unique telling the story of the French Revolution from the point of view of six different women (from the poorest of peasants to the king's own sister.)
You will feel the cobblestones underfoot as you meander through times tumultuous and unsteady - it was un-put-down-able!
"Revolutionaries boldly trumpeted the equality of citizens and fought for the expansion of rights, both civil and human. They largely, if not surprisingly, meant the rights of men. Liberty, equality, fraternity, after all. But what of the sisterhood?"
Honorable Mention: A Life Less Ordinary by Krystal Kenney
I was honored to have been able to chat with and interview author Krystal Kenney for our book club (which was miraculously held in Paris - thanks again, Lori!)
Krystal's tale is a personal coming of age, from weeping in the rain to a thriving photography business, and will bring you from tears of frustration to tears of laughter (and maybe booking your next ticket to Paris!)
Per Krystal, "As melodramatic and clichéd as it sounds, my whole being was connected to this space without any reasoning, I felt pulled into this city by some unexplained force. I needed to be here." We totally get that sentiment, right, P'Nichers?!
If you wish to see what the Parisian Page Turners are reading and when we are discussing, just click here, all are welcome! (And you don't have to have finished a book to join in book club - so long as you don't mind spoilers in an open - and non-political - discussion...)
Not a reader, but still wish to receive weekly Paris based content? Click here to subscribe and we'll be delighted to share all things Paris with you...
What do you think P'Nichers? Have you indulged in any of these great reads? What was your favorite? What would you add to this list? Looking forward to hearing in the comments below et à bientôt!