My thanks go out to Sarah, representing publisher Bookouture, for saving me a place on this lovely ‘Books On Tour’ schedule.
I also need to thank the great NetGalley team, for always making life so easy when downloading review copies.
THE PARIS NETWORK
He pressed the tattered book into her hands. ‘You must go to the café and ask at the counter for Pierre Duras. Tell him that I sent you. Tell him you’re there to save the people of France.’
Sliding the coded message in between the crisp pages of the hardback novel, bookstore owner Laurence slips out into the cold night to meet her resistance contact, pulling her woollen beret down further over her face. The silence of the night is suddenly shattered by an Allied plane rushing overhead, its tail aflame, heading down towards the forest. Her every nerve stands on end. She must try to rescue the pilot.
But straying from her mission isn’t part of the plan, and if she is discovered it won’t only be her life at risk…
America, years later:
When Jeanne uncovers a dusty old box in her father’s garage, her world as she knows it is turned upside down. She has inherited a bookstore in a tiny French village just outside of Paris from a mysterious woman named Laurence.
Travelling to France to search for answers about the woman her father has kept a secret for years, Jeanne finds the store tucked away in a corner of the cobbled main square. Boarded up, it is in complete disrepair. Inside, she finds a tiny silver pendant hidden beneath the blackened, scorched floorboards.
As Jeanne pieces together Laurence’s incredible story, she discovers a woman whose bravery knew no bounds. But will the truth about who Laurence really is shatter Jeanne’s heart, or change her future?
Inspired by true events, an epic and emotional novel about one woman’s strength to survive in the most difficult circumstances and the power of love in the face of darkness.
As a child, Siobhan’s parents never invested in a television, so she quickly learnt to love books. Inevitably her love of reading grew into a love of writing and the dream of one day having a shelf of her own books.
Siobhan set of for University to study English Literature, but two years into her degree, her confidence failed her and she dropped out.
After four years of working in a series of jobs which she hated, she came to an important realisation: “life can be a very dull and dark place when you don’t dare to dream.” So she dusted off her literary dreams and instead of seeing writing as some kind of rarefied world, she decided to approach it as she would any other job, starting small and working her way up. She began her quest writing short stories and articles for weekly women’s magazines and having these published gave her the confidence to finally have a go at writing her first book.
That book was published in 2000. Fast forward 20 years and Siobhan has a string of best-selling books and book awards, for both adults and young adults, under her belt.
Siobhan enjoys helping other people with their writing, in her work as a content writer, editor, ghost writer and writing coach.
She has also written for many newspapers, magazines and websites; has been a guest on various radio and TV shows; and spoken at businesses, schools, universities and literary festivals around the world!
“life can be a very dull and dark place when you don’t dare to dream.”
Keep up with all Siobhan’s latest news at her website
Connect with Siobhan on Facebook
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The novelist Gustave Flaubert once wrote that there is not a particle of life that does not bear poetry within it. As I sit huddled in the corner of the room that has become my prison, I try desperately to find something – anything – that be construed as poetic.
LAURENCE – SEPTEMBER 1939
Once upon a time, my darling maman told me that we humans need stories more than we need food. I was seven years old and we were engaged in an epic battle of wills over pain au chocolat and school homework. Madame Bonheur, who owned the boulangerie next to Maman’s dress shop, had just baked a fresh batch of the chocolate pastries and their scent was wafting through the open door on the breeze. How was I supposed to concentrate on my homework – writing a story about what I had done at the weekend – when the tantalising aroma was sending my taste buds into such a frenzy? But Maman would not be budged. ‘We need stories more than we need food.’ she said again, twisting my long hair into a plait and handing me a pencil.
“But buying a book is like choosing a friend or, if I may be so bold in spite of having tragically little experience, a lover. They’re all so different. You have to be certain it’s the right match before you can take it home”
“It felt as if Jeanne’s world as she knew it was being shaken like a pair of dice and she had no idea how things were going to land”
“I keep reciting your poetry prescription – I’ve read that Rilke poem so many times now, I know it by heart. I’m sure I’m not telling you anything you don’t already know, but for someone who has never really understood poetry, I want you to know that I finally see what the big deal is. Poems are like the eau de parfum to the eau de cologne of a novel; you don’t need nearly as many words to have such a powerful impact”
“I realise the bittersweet irony. Shakespeare’s wonderful words might have been twisted to fit Hitler’s hate, but now they are being used to help France resist. In spite of my tension, I can’t help smiling, as yet again I am reminded of the magical power of books”
“But stories always win. A wiser voice speaks from somewhere deep inside of me. Why else would the Germans want to ban books? Why are they so scared of them? Stories live on far longer than any humans. I slump down at my desk and take a breath. I can’t lose my faith in the written word. If I do that, I have nothing”
“It’s fine. Working here, in his cafe, I’m always reminded of what happened to him. But I want to be reminded. I don’t ever want to forget what can happen when people turn a blind eye to hated and prejudice”
“I look at them all smiling down at me and I wonder how I ever felt alone before. Somehow, through the magic of books, I’ve created my very own family”
“A sudden breeze whips through the square, sending sparks from the pile flying into the air. I imagine that every spark is the soul of a book and I realise that no matter how many books they burn or people they kill, the Nazis will never win. Because they will never be able to kill the spirit of the free. We will keep on loving and writing and imagining a better world and they can never stop us”
“She wanted to save her country. She would risk her life for love”
Warning! I’m not usually much of a crier over books or films, however I defy this story not to bring tears to the eyes of the most steadfast reader!
Whilst the ‘bare bones’ of this WWII premise may sound all too familiar, believe me, there is an amazing twist in this particular telling of the tale, which for all my fellow bibliomanes and bibliophiles, will take this story to a whole new level, as well as evoking some pretty strong feelings and emotions – but to say any more would give away far too many ‘spoilers’!
This multi-layered story is so much more than a poignant and beautifully portrayed war time romance, although that is obviously its core theme. However, wrapped around that, there is a layer of social and cultural history, which shines a spotlight on just how frightening it was to live in a war time occupied France, how terrifying it was to be Jewish in a Nazi occupied country, how dangerous it was to belong to the local French Resistance movement and how courageous were the allied forces who sought to help liberate an oppressed population. Peel back the layers even further and surrounding all of that, there is a contemporary coming of age story, of finding oneself, discovering your family roots and experiencing a true and honest sense of belonging and inclusion; that totally connective feeling of coming home!
A small town, just outside Paris, France in 1939: –
The war is no longer a distant and passive event for this small rural population, as the German troops flex their military muscle and invade France. Their mighty, destructive footprint spreads way beyond the Parisian environs, as the troops make themselves at home and settle in for the duration. The new regime is harsh and unforgiving as it takes what it wants from the community, is brutal and swift in meting out justice against any form of subversion, whilst at the same time being more than willing to openly bestow benefits on those who would collaborate with their new masters, pitting friends and family against one another. For Laurence there is much to lose, as her ‘Bookshop Dispensary’ immediately comes under intense scrutiny, with whole shelves of books whose authors and content the occupiers deem to be inappropriate, needing to be removed from sale. For Laurence and a small group of trusted friends, what begins as any small acts of defiance they can commit to disrupt the newly imposed status quo, soon becomes a much more organised, if small scale off-shoot, of a quickly spreading French Resistance Movement. Can Laurence keep her heart, her head and show her true courage, when the situation becomes desperate and the reprisals are too terrible to countenance?
Fast forward to the USA in 1993: –
A deliberately vindictive, throw-away comment at her late mother’s wake, sets off an unimaginably traumatic and emotionally charged chain of events for Jeanne and her father Wendell, as Jeanne goes in search of a past she doesn’t remember, Wendell seeks the answers to questions he has been unable to ask, and they both try to connect with the one person who shaped their lives together and made them the people they are today. A distraught Wendell, comes clean with Jeanne about the truth of her birth and shares with her the scant few possessions he was untrusted with by her mother, during his dangerous mission to rescue the most precious of cargo from a certain death. Jeanne and Wendell decide to return to France, in search of the closure they both so badly need, little knowing that the experiences they are about to share, will forge a new and even stronger bond between them and despite the individual decisions they consequently make about their respective futures, the new and genuine friendships they make along the way will change them forever.
Author Siobhan Curham has crafted a fluid and richly atmospheric, desperately intense, dual timeline story, with strong women at its heart; which tells of bravery, courage, happiness, loss, love and longing; together with a powerful strength and resilience in the face of adversity, of loyalty to friends and those who are held most dear, a sense of doing the right thing and of fearlessly and selflessly fighting for a just cause against the common enemy.
The alternating timeline of the story, was beautifully structured and seamlessly written in short, well signposted chapters, which drew me into the action, totally immersed me in the unfolding events and held me captive in its thrall until the very last page; when the slightly claustrophobic air of suspense, suspicion and tension, finally gave way like a gentle sigh and the release of a long-held breath, to a future full of calm fulfilment and promise. The compelling and profoundly touching words of the narrative and dialogue flowed effortlessly from the pages, surrounding me and allowing me to bask in their vividly visual descriptive sense of time and place, which had me at Laurence’s shoulder as she typed her ‘prescriptions’, sat in front of the fireplace as the the ladies discussed their latest illicit reading and rushing to the forest clearing with the brave Pere Rambert, as he discharges his final promise to Laurence and places his precious bundle into safe hands.
Siobhan affords that same attention to detail and and visual inclusion, to her cast of characters, no matter how small a part they play in the whole. They are well developed and defined, and whilst not all are easy to connect or empathise with, the overall dynamics and synergy between them, makes them completely investable, genuine and authentic in their individual roles. A complex jigsaw of human emotions were laid bare, when the fragility of the lines between life and death, defeat and survival, love and hate, trust and duplicity, were drawn. However a raw addictive passion and the will to survive, overcame all the odds making them stronger, determined and more united as time went on.
Ultimately, this strangely uplifting tragedy, is the culmination of an all too brief affair between a man and a woman, whose everlasting love transcends everything, including death and whose enduring memory lives on in the life of their daughter. I was afforded a unique and individual experience, by an author who fired my imagination and stimulated my senses beyond all expectations, making this a journey which you really need to make for yourself, to see where it leads you!
A complimentary download of this book for review purposes, was made available by Bookouture and supplied by NetGalley
Any thoughts or comments are my own personal opinion and I am in no way being monetarily compensated for this, or any other article which promotes this book or its author.
I personally do not agree with ‘rating’ a book, as the overall experience is all a matter of personal taste, which varies from reader to reader. However some review sites do demand a rating value, so when this review is posted to such a site, it will attract a well deserved 5 out of 5 stars!