The Paris Architect by Charles Belfoure

Bonjour Bookworms,

Look at me! I read the book for Wine and Whining (one of my IRL book clubs) this month! Wahoo! I’m doing a little dance in celebration of being a responsible book club member. Today we’re going to France… During WWII. The Nazi occupation was a nasty time, y’all. We’re going to talk about The Paris Architect by Charles Belfoure.

Full Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of this book via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. Because I do not live in a society policed by the Gestapo, I have no fear of reprisal should I have any negative commentary. Wahoo, freedom of speech!

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Lucien Bernard is an architect. He lives in Paris under the Nazi occupation and lives tries to maintain something approaching a normal life. It’s tough to get a gig when your homeland is controlled by a hostile army, and money is a pretty big deal when you’ve got both a wife and a fancy mistress. Lucien starts out as a pretty big jerk. In addition to being a big fat cheater face, he’s pretty antisemitic. The Nazis are easy to pinpoint as the worst of the worst in terms of antisemitism (deservedly so, I mean, HOLOCAUST.) However, Europe (in addition to other parts of the world) have been pretty unfriendly to the Jewish people throughout history. Spanish Inquisition, anybody?

Lucien meets up with a wealthy man named Manet about a job. In exchange for putting in a good word with the Germans and getting Lucien a commission to build a factory, Manet would like Lucien to design a hiding place for Jewish refugees. Lucien is appalled, but he’s also greedy. He doesn’t care about the Jews he may be helping, he cares about money. He also cares about his ego, and likes the idea of outsmarting the Gestapo. Nobody likes having their country invaded.

As it turns out, designing hiding places is Lucien’s gateway drug into becoming a decent human being. One hiding place leads to another and another. Lucien’s cold dead heart slowly begins to thaw and he sees the plight of the Jews for what it is- a horrendous abomination that needs to be stopped.

I kind of loved this book, you guys. It reminded me a bit of Sarah’s Key by Tatiana de Rosnay, as it was one of the first books I read about French Jews during WWII. I have read so much about the Jews in Poland and Germany, but for some reason France’s situation came as a surprise to me. It shouldn’t have, I mean, it was OCCUPIED BY THE NAZIS. Could this war have GOTTEN any uglier? Makes me ashamed to be a human… But then I read a lovely story of redemption like The Paris Architect, and I think humanity may not completely suck.

Since we’re on the subject and there’s no lack of material, what are some of your favorite books that explore WWII? Tell me about them, Bookworms. I’d love to get some more recommendations. 

If you are interested in purchasing a copy of The Paris Architect for your own collection, please consider using this link and purchasing through Book Depository. Any purchases you make garner me a small commission, the proceeds of which I fully intend to invest in the purchase of more books. 

War (HUH) What Is It Good For? (Literature, Actually… In a Roundabout Way)

Holla At Ya Bookworms!

It’s Tuesday and you know what that means… It’s list time! The ladies at The Broke and The Bookish have a super fun topic for us today. They’ve asked us to list out our top ten books in a particular setting. I’m choosing books set during wars. No, I’m not talking bloody gory combat tomes. I’m talking about the tales of what happens on the homestead during the wars. And there are a bunch of AMAZING titles with this setting. Are you ready?!?!

toptentuesday1. Stones From the River by Ursula Hegi. This book is so, so good. Trudi Montag is a dwarf living in Germany during World War II. She runs a library with her father. It’s a haunting look at what happened to the German people during the war who weren’t necessarily thrilled about the Nazi regime, but couldn’t do a whole heck of a lot about it.

2. Gone With The Wind by Margaret Mitchell. Ah, the American Civil War this time. Who can forget Scarlett’s finest moments while rebuilding Tara with nothing but a ragtag band of survivors and pure gumption? She’d be more likable if she were permanently under such extreme duress… Not that I want her to go hungry again, it’s just she’s a pretty horrible human being in polite society.

3. The Book Thief by Markus Zuzak- We’re back to WWII and this book’s themes were very similar to Stones from the River. However, since it focused more on the lives of children, it was poignant in an entirely different way. It’s a whole lot of awesome story that’s served best with a box of tissues.

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4. The Girl You Left Behind by Jojo Moyes- This time we spend half the book during WWI in German occupied France. In case you were wondering, living in an occupied town sucks pretty hard. It makes for good heart-wrenching fiction, though.

5. Les Miserables by Victor Hugo- This was absolutely NOT set during the French Revolution. The warring in question was more of a thwarted uprising than anything. However, where there are muskets, there is war.. At least in my opinion. And this book? Oh this book. So much good. And so many tragic musket wielding fellows…

6. Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein- More WWII? Well, yes. It was such a huge and horrible war it affected EVERYTHING, okay? We shouldn’t be surprised to read so much about it, now should we? This was a different take on the war than what I’ve read. Spies and airplanes, you guys! SPIES AND AIRPLANES! LADY SPIES! AND LADY PILOTS! Badass.

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7. Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller- This one was set during the Trojan War. How’s that for a change of pace? Jump back in time a few thousand years and visit Achilles and Patroclus and their epic love story. Just… Sigh. Love love love. Plus, you know. Centaurs and Sea Nymphs run amok.

8. Winter Garden by Kristin Hannah- Yep. You guessed it. WWII again. Only this time we’re in Russia. That whole laying siege to a city and preventing supplies from going in? Yeah, that’s an effective tactic because you STARVE people. That’s not cool. Having to peel the wallpaper to boil and eat for dinner? SERIOUSLY not cool. However, this book was really good.

9. Outlander by Diana Gabaldon- We could talk about the whole series really, because there are wars all over the place. Claire served as a nurse during WWII, but when she goes back in time (totally by accident, of course) she ends up in the midst of some serious Scottish-English skirmishes. Plus, when we last left our crew? They were on the cusp of the American Revolution. Seriously, these guys cannot catch a break. Oh yeah, there are totally muskets again. (On an unrelated note, the word “musket” reminds me of “muskrat” and thus does not strike fear in my heart. “Fire Breathing Projectile Shooter of Death” would have been a better marketing strategy, Musket Company. I’m just saying.)

10. World War Z by Max Brooks- Yes, the friggin Zombie Apocalypse counts as a war! It totally was a war, you guys. A war for the survival of humanity! The rules have changed- zombies fear nothing. Zombies eat nothing… But YOU. You can’t lay siege to a zombie city and starve them out. You can’t use psychological warfare. You can’t even use standard shooting techniques! I’m really glad it’s fictional because zombies are scary as all get out.

So there you have it! Top Ten Books set during Wars! Do you have a favorite, Bookworms?

PS- Did you enter my contest of pure awesomeness yet?! Check it out!!!

Kiss Me, Hardy: Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein

Pssst!

Hey Bookworms. We’re being super secretive today because we’re talking about SPIES. This blog will self destruct in 15 seconds. Not really. I watched way too much Inspector Gadget as a kid. Anywho. I just finished reading Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein and WOAH.

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We begin our tale with a young Scottish woman who has been arrested in Nazi occupied France. She’s totally a spy and had the bad luck to be arrested after looking the wrong way while attempting to cross the street. (Funny story- in London, the streets all have warnings written in BIG YELLOW LETTERS on the pavement telling tourist pedestrians which way to look. Quite thoughtful, really.) Our Scotswoman is being tortured and has agreed to write a detailed confession in order to stave off the torture and buy herself some time before she’s executed.

It is through this confession that we learn her story. Our spy, who we may as well call by her code name, Verity, was recruited for special operations thanks to her exceptional language skills. Verity’s success as a polyglot (speaking English, French, and German) and her fair hair and complexion make her an ideal candidate as a secret operative. A blonde, blue eyed girl could pass for a Nazi, and the best way to undermine an operation is to infiltrate it. (On a side note, are the Scottish especially gifted with languages, or am I getting erroneous impressions thanks to delicious fiction? I mean, Jamie from Outlander spoke like every language ever. And looked good doing it. Mmmmm… Jamie…)

Verity’s BFF is named Maddie. Maddie is a badass lady pilot. World War II opened up a lot of opportunities for women, as such an enormous chunk of the menfolk were fighting. Spies. Pilots. Rosie the Riveter. You know how it is. Sisters stepped up and proved themselves every bit as capable as men. It makes my inner feminist so proud! Maddie and Verity met while serving in the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force. Few things bind a friendship like mortal terror, and few things bring on mortal terror the way air raids do. Being shot at from the air and the intense conversations you have when you think you’re about to die create some serious bonds.

I can’t get too much into the story without revealing spoilers, so I’m going to keep this short. It’s so good I don’t want to spoil it! I will tell you that it reveals a side of women’s history that is rarely explored. It makes you put yourself into impossible situations and wonder how you’d hold up. Could you hack it? Could you make the tough choices? Could you do the unthinkable for your friend? Intense. Awesome. Read it!

So, Bookworms. Tell me. Do you have what it takes to be a spy? Do you think you’d crack under torture? I’m sure I’d make a horrendous spy, and I wouldn’t last a minute without spilling all the beans. Better not apply for a job in the CIA. But what about YOU?!

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak: A Good Read, A Dignified Cry

I’m baaaaaaaaack! I hope all of my fellow American bookworms have come out of their food comas! I know I’m still struggling. A 4-day-weekend is a glorious thing, but I want a weekend to recover from my weekend. Can we make that happen? Ah, well. I knew it was a long shot.

In the few months I’ve been wandering aimlessly about the blogosphere, I’ve been hearing about The Book Thief by Markus Zusak. In fact, I was told that I absolutely HAD to read it so often that I entered a contest to win the book for free. Lo and behold, my craptastic gambling luck abandoned me just long enough so that I could WIN. Many thanks to Jessica of The Bluestocking Society for running the contest!

In case you, like me, have been living in a literary cave… The Book Thief is about a young German girl who is essentially orphaned and lives with a foster family during World War II. Delightful plot quirk: the entire story is narrated by Death. You know, Death. As in, the Grim Reaper (although Death is amused and annoyed by the inaccuracies of humanity’s interpretations of his likeness.) I realize as I write this that I’m using a masculine pronoun to describe a genderless being, and my inner feminist is protesting. Whatever, Inner Feminist, “Death” in my head is a dude, okay? Gosh. Where were we? (Important Note! My Inner Feminist is NOTHING like Ana Steel’s “Inner Goddess” in 50 Shades of Grey. In fact, my Inner Feminist wants to beat the crap out of Steele’s “Inner Goddess.” Cage Match?)

Our protagonist, Liesel, grows up living a nomadic life. Though she doesn’t understand why, her father has disappeared and her poverty stricken mother moves Liesel and her brother around constantly. Though Liesel is 9, she’s never attended school properly and thus cannot even read. It’s revealed that Liesel’s father (at least, perhaps her mother too) was a Communist (or accused Communist… the truth of things never seems to matter much to totalitarian regimes.) Being an open Communist in Nazi Germany is a one way ticket to persecution, and probably death. Liesel’s mother is concerned for the welfare of her children so she travels to Munich to give up custody. Tragically, Liesel’s 6 year old brother doesn’t survive the journey, and his death fuels her desire to learn to read. This is the first time Death encounters Liesel. (Seriously though, Liesel’s Communist parents weren’t exactly picking between Club Med and Sandals. Escaping the Nazis to join the Communists? Stalin was damn near as murderous as Hitler, he was just quieter about the genocide. Humanity. What a mess.)

Excellent cover art! Death and Liesel are dancing!

Once Liesel is established in her foster family, the war begins to escalate. For young German children, that means school and compulsory participation in the Hitler Youth program. Even though Liesel and her foster family’s hearts are NOT into the Nazi party ideology, they have very little choice other than to do what is expected of them. German people who didn’t participate as expected were treated with suspicion at best- dissenters didn’t have a long life expectancy. Which is why the plot thickens so heavily when Liesel’s family takes in and hides a Jew. Max is the son of Liesel’s foster father’s WWI army buddy (seriously, what a CRAPPY time to be alive to deal with BOTH World Wars.)

In a lot of respects, The Book Thief reminded me of Stones from the River by Ursula Hegi (which is amazing and you should totally read it if you liked The Book Thief.) War is a big fat steaming pile of suck. Poor Death is worked to… well, death… with all the warfare and chaos and genocide throughout this book. Anyway, what I think is interesting about these books is that they go behind “enemy” lines. Normal German people weren’t necessarily awful people by any means. They were stuck in a crappy situation. Some of them took the incredibly brave step of hiding their Jewish friends. Some resisted in other ways by refusing to participate in party requests. Some of them stole books out of Nazi bonfires (cough cough Liesel.) Most just tried their best to keep themselves and their families alive.

When I received this book in the mail, I couldn’t wait to tackle it. Jessica was kind enough to include a short note warning me that I’d need tissues toward the end… And oh, how right she was! I’m not going to go into major spoiler territory because I’m just not feeling like it. I will tell you, however, that I cried and cried while reading the end of this book.

It sounds really stupid to say that you love when books make you cry, but I do. I mean, a book must be exceptionally well-written in order to elicit that sort of response. Plus, my literary cry is very dignified. Unlike my real life someone was mean/something tragic happened/someone died cry, my book and movie cry is quite stoic. Minimal mucus production. Classy tear stream. No hiccups and/or howler monkey sobs. It’s my “dab with a hanky” cry. And I love it.

Anybody read The Book Thief? Anybody notice a difference between their book cry and their serious emotional cry? Tell me I’m not alone here!