Friday, September 16, 2016

My take on: Letters From Paris

Claire Broussard doesn't know what to do with her life. She's never felt quite right with her choices. She's triumphed over tragedy, surviving a trauma that took her mother's life. Rising up from her small Louisiana hometown, going to a "fancy" college and getting a good job in Chicago. But none of it's been satisfying. Now, with the death of her beloved grandmother aka "Mammaw," Claire doesn't have the solution to it all. But Mammaw had an idea, go to Paris!

Claire's journey to the City of Lights is at the heart of Letters From Paris by Juliet Blackwell.

Shortly before Mammaw's death, Claire gave up her job and her life in Chicago. Leaving behind a boyfriend and a lucrative career. Upon her return to Louisiana, Claire discovers a long-forgotten piece of artwork in the attic. The sculpture was long ago broken into several pieces, but Claire can't stop thinking of the beautiful woman's face. Claire's great-grandfather bought the sculpture in Paris during World War II. Who was this woman? What's her story? This beautiful woman is only known as "L'Inconnue" or "The Unknown Woman." Maybe Claire should just let it go. Forget about unearthing the history behind this sculpture. Mammaw didn't think so. In their final conversation, Mammaw encouraged Claire to go to Paris. At first she sees this as the ranting of a dying woman but Claire decides she has nothing else to lose.

As the story shifts to Paris, the author tells us who the mystery woman was. Alternating chapters between the past and the present, we learn that the woman forever immortalized in sculpture was Sabine. A young, impressionable, and vulnerable woman. Desperate for money, Sabine became the muse and model for a violent artist. He preyed upon her innocence and often beat her into submission. Sabine wants to find her own voice, but is unsure how.

In present day Paris, Claire finds the workshop where the sculpture was originally made. The shop is a long-running family business, operated by the surly Armand and his cousin Giselle. Soon Claire finds herself working and living in the small shop, in exchange for information on "L'Inconnue." It sounds crazy. Even though her new "job" is meant to be short term, Claire begins to feel a connection not just to the shop but to Armand and Giselle. Underneath Armand's rough exterior, is a caring person. Armand and Claire learn not just how to work together but to respect each other.

The story starts out a little slow, but in the end this is a well-rounded and satisfying book. I liked the relationship between Armand and Claire the most. At first, Armand seems like a jerk. But he just believes in being direct. He doesn't have time to waste on foolishness. Claire learns to look past his surly demeanor. While others might be put off or scared of Armand, Claire is intrigued by him. She tells him stories about Louisiana. Stories about her family. Stories about her life. Sabine's story was just all around sad. You want Sabine to find her voice and break free. Chapter after chapter, I was thoroughly engrossed in this story. Read it, I'm sure you'll like it!

Rating: Superb

Note: I received a copy of the book from the publisher (Berkley) in exchange for an honest review.

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