The Paris Architect by Charles Belfoure – Pre-pub Preview, Part III

Today I’m previewing an October book for which I’m very excited for, The Paris Architect by Charles Belfoure. Go on, check out the publisher’s description and tell me that you aren’t intrigued:

Like most gentiles in Nazi-occupied Paris, architect Lucien Bernard has little empathy for the Jews. So when a wealthy industrialist offers him a large sum of money to devise secret hiding places for Jews, Lucien struggles with the choice of risking his life for a cause he doesn’t really believe in. Ultimately he can’t resist the challenge and begins designing expertly concealed hiding spaces-behind a painting, within a column, or inside a drainpipe-detecting possibilities invisible to the average eye. But when one of his clever hiding spaces fails horribly and the immense suffering of Jews becomes incredibly personal, he can no longer deny reality.

The Paris Architect by Charles Belfoure will be released October 8. It is an October Indie Next Pick, a Library Journal starred review, and a National Reading Group Month Selection.

Pre-order:
Indiebound
Amazon
Barnes & Noble

I’m sharing part three of a four part excerpt. For the first two parts, visit Beth Fish Reads and Erika Robuck’s Muse. The final part will be on Linus’s Blanket tomorrow.

The Paris Architect by Charles Belfoure
Excerpt, Part 3 of 4

Lucien checked his watch as he opened the massive wood door of 28 rue Galilee. It gave him a great sense of satisfaction that he was one minute early for his appointment. What other man could walk all the way across town, almost get shot by a German, clean a dead man’s blood off his jacket, and make it in time? The experience reinforced his belief that one should always budget an extra fifteen minutes to get to a client appointment. His prized Cartier watch, which his parents had given him upon his graduation from college, said 2:00 p.m., which was actually the time in Germany. The Germans’ first official act had been to impose the Reich’s time zone on occupied France. It was really 1:00 p.m. French time. After two years of occupation, the forced time change still annoyed Lucien, even more than the swastikas and ugly Gothic-lettered signs the Germans had plastered on all the city’s landmarks.

He stepped inside and was relieved to be in the dark, cool shade of the foyer. He loved these apartment blocks, created by Baron Haussmann when he tore down medieval Paris in the 1850s to re-create the city. Lucien admired the stonework and the strong horizontal lines created by the rows of windows and their metal balconies. He lived in a building on the rue du Caire that was similar to this one.

Since 1931, Lucien had abandoned all historical and classical references in his work to become a pure modernist architect, embracing the aesthetic of the Bauhaus, the style created by the German architect Walter Gropius that pioneered modern architecture and design (the one instance in which Teutonic taste definitely triumphed over the Gallic). Still, he admired these great apartment blocks that Napoleon III had championed. His admiration had grown when he’d visited his brother in New York before the war. The apartment buildings there were junk compared to those in Paris.

He walked to the concierge’s apartment, directly to the left of the entry. The glass door yawned open, and an old woman smoking a cigarette was sitting at a table covered with a garish yellow-flowered cloth.

Lucien cleared his throat, and she said, without moving a muscle and still gazing into space, “He’s in 3B…and the lift’s out.”

As Lucien climbed the ornate curving stair to the third floor, his heart began to race-not only because he was out of shape, but also because he was so anxious. Would Manet have a real project for him, or would this meeting lead to nothing? And if it was a project, would it be a chance to show his talent?

Lucien knew he had talent. He’d been told by a couple of well-known architects, whom he had worked for in Paris after graduating from school. With a few years’ experience and belief in his ability, he then went out on his own. It was hard to build up a practice, doubly hard because he was a modernist and modern architecture was just beginning to be accepted. Most clients still wanted something traditional. Nevertheless, he was able to earn a steady living. But just as an actor needed a break-out role to become a star, an architect needed a career-making project. And Lucien, now thirty-five, hadn’t managed to land that one all-important project. He’d come close only once, when he’d been a finalist for a new public library but had been beaten out by Henri Devereaux, whose uncle’s brother-in-law was the deputy minister of culture. Ability wasn’t enough; one needed the right connections like Devereaux always seemed to have-that and luck.

He looked down at his shoes as they scraped the marble treads of the great stair. They were his client shoes, the one good pair he wore to meetings. A little worn, but they still looked shiny and fashionable, and the soles were in good shape. With leather in short supply, once a Frenchman’s shoes wore out he turned to wooden soles or ones of compressed paper, which didn’t fare so well in winter. Lucien was glad he still had a pair of leather-soled shoes. He hated the sound of wooden soles clattering on the streets of Paris, which reminded him of the clogs worn by peasants.

Lucien was startled when he looked up and found a pair of very expensive dark brown shoes on the third floor landing right in front of his face. Lucien’s gaze traveled up the sharply creased trouser legs to a suit jacket, then to the face of Auguste Manet.

“Monsieur Bernard, what a pleasure it is to meet you.”

Before Lucien reached the top step, Manet extended his hand.

Lucien pulled himself up the railing until he stood next to a lean, white-haired man in his seventies, with cheekbones that seemed to be chiseled from stone. And tall. Manet towered above Lucien. He seemed even taller than de Gaulle.

“The pleasure is my mine, monsieur.”

“Monsieur Gaston was always raving about the office building you did for him, so I had to see it for myself. A beautiful job.” The old man’s handshake was strong and confident, something you’d expect from a man who’d made millions.

They were off to an excellent start, Lucien thought as he took an instant liking to this elderly, aristocratic businessman. Back in 1937, he’d done a building on the rue Servan for Charles Gaston, the owner of an insurance company. Four stories of limestone with a curving glass-stair tower. Lucien thought it was the best thing he’d ever designed.

“Monsieur Gaston was very kind to refer you to me. How can I help you?” Most of the time, Lucien was open to the usual small talk before getting down to business. But he was nervous and wanted to see whether a real job would come out of this.

Manet turned toward the open doors of 3B and Lucien followed. Even the back of Monsieur Manet was impressive. His posture was ramrod straight, and his suit was expensive and fit him impeccably-the German major would’ve wanted the name of his tailor.

“Well, Monsieur Bernard, let me tell you what I’ve got in mind. A guest of mine will be staying here for a while, and I wish to make some special alterations to the apartment to accommodate him,” Manet said as they walked slowly through the place.

Lucien couldn’t imagine what the old man would want. The vacant apartment was gorgeous, with high ceilings and tall windows, ornate wood paneling, huge columns that framed the wide entries into the main rooms, beautiful fireplaces with marble surrounds, and parquet floors. And all the bathrooms and the kitchen looked up to date with porcelain-on-steel sinks and tubs with chrome fixtures. The unit was large by Parisian standards, at least twice as large in floor area as a normal apartment.

Manet stopped and faced Lucien.

“I’ve been told that an architect looks at a space differently from the rest of us. The average person sees a room as it is, but instinctively the architect envisions how it could be changed for the better. Is that true?”

“Absolutely,” replied Lucien with pride. “A man would view a run-down, out-of-date flat as very unappealing, but an architect, in his imagination, would renovate that space into something quite fashionable.”

Lucien was getting excited. Maybe the old man wanted him to redo the place from top to bottom.

“I see. Tell me, monsieur, do you like a challenge? To solve a unique problem?”

“Yes, indeed, I love to come up with a solution for any architectural problem,” said Lucien, “and the more challenging, the better.” He hoped he was telling Manet what he wanted to hear. If Manet asked him to fit the Arc de Triomphe in here, he’d say it was no problem. You didn’t turn down work in wartime. Any fool knew that.

“That’s good.” Manet walked across the salon and put his hand on Lucien’s shoulder in a fatherly way. “I think it’s time to give you a little more background on this project, but first let us talk about your fee. I have a figure in mind-twelve thousand francs.”

“Twelve hundred francs is most generous, monsieur.”

“No, I said twelve thousand.”

There was silence. Digits formed in Lucien’s mind as if a teacher were writing them methodically on a blackboard-first a one, then a two, a comma, and three zeroes. After he mentally verified the number, he said, “Monsieur, that…that is more than generous; it’s ludicrous!”

“Not if your life depended on it.”

TO BE CONTINUED TOMORROW at Linus’s Blanket

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The True Memoirs of Little K by Adrienne Sharp – Book Review

The True Memoirs of Little K by Adrienne Sharp
Published by Picador, an imprint of Macmillan

Little K was a prima ballerina, the lover of the last Russian tsar. A woman whose determination brought her into the beds of many members of the imperial family, but whose brilliant future was derailed when Russia as she knew it began to disappear, along with her beloved Tsar Nicholas II, and something where the concubine of the Romanovs was a dangerous thing to be. But perhaps it would be best to let Little K introduce herself in her own words, as this is a story she has been endlessly remembering for the past 50 years:

My name is Mathilde Kschessinska, and I was the greatest Russian ballerina on the imperial stages. But the world I was born to, the world I was bred for, is gone, and all the players in it are also gone – dead, murdered, exiled, walking ghosts. -p. 3

Mathilde Kscessinska is a fascinating subject through whose eyes the reader can explore the fall of tsarist Russia. As a member of the Imperial Ballet and daughter of well-respected Catholic Poles as well as the mistress of Tsar Nicholas II and at least two other members of the imperial family, she had a unique point of view for the fall of the empire, particularly as she also had the benefit of hindsight from her Parisian exile. Sharp excelled in creating Little K’s voice. There was a sort of learned regal quality to her thoughts, a self-aware verbosity that spoke of a women reaching to achieve a higher station. Occasionally this resulted in mild distraction, such as when commas extended sentences far too long, or when Little K would digress into future events while telling her story. Still, overall it was done to good effect.

Although some of the more minor characters are easily confused, Little K’s story is a dramatic and interesting one that is told well. Recommended.

Buy this book from:
Powells | Indiebound*

Source: Publisher for BOOK CLUB.
* These links are all affiliate links. If you buy your book here I’ll make a very small amount of money that goes towards hosting, giveaways, etc.
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Chicago Publishers: Spotlight on… Featherproof Books

There are some really great publishers in Chicago which is, of course, why I am doing these spotlights. One of the most creative I have found during this feature is featherproof books. I mean, come on, the first sentence in their about statement is “featherproof books is an indie publisher dedicated to doing whatever we want.”

featherproof books was formed about five years ago by Zach Dodson and Jonathan Messinger while they worked on the launch of the TimeOut Chicago book section launch. Initially, featherproof books was all online mini-books which could be printed out and folded together. They do publish print books as well, and they treat each as an unique object of art. Zach tells me “We just didn’t see too many places publishing what we liked when we started, so we decided to make our own niche and fill it.”

Some of featherproof books most recent print books:

featherproof books also has a free iPhone app called Triple Quick fiction. Not only can you download short stories (only 333 words long!), but you can also compose your own story and submit it to the featherproof editors. Don’t forget to check out the mini-books as well!

Chicago Publishers: Spotlight on… Other Voices Books

In addition to talking about Chicago authors this month, I also want to highlight some of the great publishers based out of Chicago.

For my inaugural Chicago Publisher Spotlight, I wanted to tell you all about a fairly recent discovery of mine, Other Voices Books. I’ve chosen to start with them for a number of reason: I cannot wait to read some of their books, particularly after Margie and Sue from The Bookstore talked so much about Billy Lombardo’s “How to Hold a Woman” (more about this title later this month!); they are a Chicago press with a number of Chicago authors; in 2005 they were one of the first fiction-centered independent publishers to emerge in Chicago, and; they are highly committed to the Chicago literary community and to helping Chicago become more prominent in the publishing community.

But let me tell you why you should care about Other Voices Books!

The genesis for Other Voices Books was the literary magazine Other Voices (1984-2007) by the magazine’s Editor Gina Frangello and a contributing editor, Stacey Bierlein. The mission of the press is to champion short fiction, whether in short stories, novels in stories, or themed anthologies. They feel this is an important goal in an industry that, as they say, “has increasingly marginalized the short story form.” It all started when they held a contest and published the winning short story collection as a book. That first book, “Simply,” ended up the only indie book to be a SCIBA Award finalist that year. Frangello tells me that their “interest is in bold and vibrant literary fiction that is rich in character, takes emotional risks, and is accessible and engaging.”

Another thing I find very interesting about Other Voices (although maybe this is just me, dork that I am), is their operating model. They were essentially the first imprint of Dzanc Books, another independent publisher. There are now 7 not-for-profit imprints of Dzanc, which now all collaborate on printing, design, and marketing, and share a distribution channel. I could be wrong, but this seems like an incredibly smart model for a boutique press like Other Voices which publishes 1 or 2 titles every year, giving that author or two their full attention.

Other Voices’ books, beginning with the most recent:
Currency” by Zoe Zolbrod* (Chicago author)
Other Resort Cities” by Tod Goldberg – one of the stories from this collection has been optioned by FX for a tv series
How to Hold a Woman” by Billy Lombardo (Chicago author)
Things That Pass for Love” by Allison Amend – IPPY Bronze Medal winner (Chicago author)
A Stranger Among Us: Stories of Cross-Cultural Collision and Connection” edited by Stacy Bierlein – IPPY Gold Medal and International Book Award winner
O Street” by Corina Wycoff – Lambda Award finalist
Simplify” by Tod Goldberg – SCIBA Award finalist

*Note: “Currency” is Other Voices Books’ first novel, and the first book in their Morgan Street International Novel series. They are in the process of expanding their vision to include novels set outside of the United States, another area in which they feel American literature is in deficit.

Addicting Series – The Results

On Tuesday I asked you all to recommend some addicting series, and boy did you come through! By Thursday afternoon we had 49 comments (including a few replies of mine) for a total of 48 series recommendations. The most-mentioned series by far was “Outlander” which I am reading now, with seven mentions, followed by a handful of series which were mentioned 4 times. Apologies if any are mis-cataloged here, but I was going off either what people said or a very cursory Google search. Historical mysteries are listed with historical fiction. Without further ado, here they are:

Mystery/Crime fiction

  • M.C. Beaton – Hamish Macbeth series
  • Lee Child – Jack Reacher series (2 mentions)
  • Arthur Conan Doyle – Sherlock Holmes
  • Janet Evanovich – Stephanie Plum series (2 mentions)
  • Tess Gerritsen – Rizzoli and Isles
  • Sue Grafton – Kinsey Milhone series (2 mentions)
  • Martha Grimes – Richard Jury series
  • Charlaine Harris – Harper Connelly series
  • Arnaldur Indridason – Reykjavik murder mystery series
  • P.D. James – Adam Digliesh series
  • Faye Kellerman – Peter Decker/Rina Lazarus (2 mentions)
  • Laurie R. King – Mary Russell/Sherlock Holmes series
  • Stieg Larsson – The Millennium Trilogy
  • Jeff Lindsay – Dexter series
  • J.D. Robb – Eve Dallas/In Death series (2 mentions)
  • Dorothy L. Sayers – Lord Peter Wimsey series (3 mentions)
  • Alexander McCall Smith – Number 1 Ladies’ Detectives Agency series
  • Jacqueline Winspear – Maisie Dobbs series (2 mentions)

Historical Fiction

  • Sarah Donati – Into the Wilderness series
  • Ariana Franklin – Mistress of the Art of Death mystery series
  • Margaret Frazer – Sister Frevisse mystery series
  • Diana Gabaldon – Outlander series (7 mentions)
  • Sandra Gulland – Josephine trilogy
  • Patrick O’Brian – Jack Aubrey series (3 mentions)
  • Ellis Peters – Brother Cadfael mystery series (2 mentions)
  • Deanna Raybourn – Lady Julia Grey mystery series (2 mentions)
  • Penny Vincenzi – No Angel

Speculative Fiction: Dystopian/Science Fiction/Paranormal/Fantasy

  • Ilona Andrews – Kate Daniels series
  • Libba Bray – The Gemma Doyle series (YA)
  • Patricia Briggs – Mercedes Thompson series
  • Jim Butcher – Harry Dresden series (4 mentions)
  • Cassandra Clare – Mortal Instruments series (YA)
  • Jasper Fforde – Thursday Next series
  • Jeaniene Frost – Night Huntress series
  • Charlaine Harris – Sookie Stackhouse series (4 mentions)
  • Kim Harrison – The Hollows series
  • Robert Jordan – Wheel of Time series (2 mentions)
  • Stephen King – The Dark Tower series
  • John Marsdon – Tomorrow series (YA, 4 mentions)
  • George R.R. Martins – A Song of Fire and Ice
  • Lisa McMann – Wake series
  • Karen Marie Moning – MacKayla Lane series (3 mentions)

General/Christian Fiction

  • Jan Karon – The Mitford Years series
  • Sophie Kinsella – Shopaholic series
  • Debbie Macomber – Cedar Cove series
  • Brendan O’Carroll – The Mammy series
  • Francine Rivers – The Mark of the Lion trilogy
  • Ann B. Ross – Miss Julia (Christian fiction)