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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Margot by Jillian Cantor – Book Review

Margot by Jillian Cantor
Published by Riverhead Book, an imprint of Penguin

We all know the story of Anne Frank, thanks to the diary she kept, published by her father. Less attention is typically paid to Anne’s older sister, Margot, although we know that she, like her sister, died before the end of the war. But what if Margot survived?

In Jillian Cantor’s Margot, Margo Frank is, indeed, still alive and living in Philadelphia after the war. She no longer goes by Margot, though. Now she is Margie Franklin, a Gentile who works in a Jewish law firm and refuses to ever remove her sweater, even in the heat of summer. Margie believes she is relatively comfortable in her life, but in 1959, the film version of The Diary of Anne Frank is in theaters and everyone Margie knows is seeing the movie and wants to discuss it, bringing up memories that Margie has worked so hard to bury.

Margot is an incredibly engaging read. At its core, it is a story of identity, of the ways you can and cannot change who you really are. What most concerned me, going into the book, was how Cantor would find a plausible way to get Margot to Philadelphia and even more so to make her deny her past, but the character motivations make sense, and even Margot’s survival contains echoes of the stories of other Holocaust survivors. What ended up being the best part about Margot, though, were the ways in which Margie’s circumstances challenged her to reexamine the life she lived Before, as well as the decisions she had made after coming to America.

Margot is a really lovely book, well-written and with real heart. Highly recommended.

Buy this book from:
Powells | Indiebound*

Source: Publisher.
* 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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City of Women by David Gillham – Audiobook Review

City of Women by David Gillham, narrated by Suzanne Bertish
Published in audio by Penguin Audio, published in print by Amy Einhorn Books, both imprints of Penguin

Synopsis:

By 1943, Berlin is essentially devoid of men. Those who are left are mostly far too old or far too young to go to war, or they’ve been left behind for some other reason. Sigrid Schroder is just one of the many women left in Berlin, living with her bitter old mother-in-law while her husband is at the front. Although she may seem like a good German wife, Sigrid is not satisfied with her life as it is, first beginning an affair with a Jewish and then befriending a somewhat odd young girl nannying for a family in her building.  Before long, Sigrid’s world view – particularly her understanding of her country and the war in which it is engaged – has been turned on its head, making her do things she would have never previously considered.

Thoughts on the story:

You may be “ho-hum”ing about yet another World War II novel, but Gillham does come at the subject with a fresh set of eyes by concentrating on the German home front. There is a quiet, slow build to City of Women that can make the early pages somewhat of a slow start, which may cause some readers to have difficulty getting into the story, I certainly did. It took me twice as long to listen to the first half of this as the second half, because I just didn’t find myself making time for it. As Gillham’s story unravels, though, I became increasingly invested in Sigrid’s life, and curious to see how her character would continue to develop. There is a pretty major character arc throughout the book, but it is all set up very well and is quite believable.

Thoughts on the audio production:

Suzanne Bertish is, I believe, a new-to-me narrator, but she does a wonderful job narrating City of Women. Part of the believability of Sigrid’s character arc is attributable to Bertish’s excellent vocal characterization. Bertish also does a great job of making clear which pieces of text are dialog, so that it is easy to follow what is happening at any given time.

For more, see my review for Audiofile Magazine.

Overall:

Quite enjoyable after the slow beginning. I do think I might have connected earlier in print, but I suppose that isn’t something I can really know.

By the way! If you’re now thinking you want to read this book, but not listen, the ebook will be $2.99 on all ebook platforms on Sunday, October 21 (or so I’m told).

Buy this book from:
Powells: Audio/Print*
Indiebound: Audio/Print*

I’m launching a brand-new meme every Friday! I encourage you to review any audiobooks you review on Fridays and include the link here. If you have reviewed an audiobook earlier in the week, please feel free to link that review as well. Thanks to Pam for creating the button.

Source: Audiofile Magazine.
* 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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I Am Forbidden by Anouk Markovits – Audiobook Review

I am Forbidden by Anouk Markovits, narrated by Rosalyn Landor
Published in audio by Random House Audio, published in print by Hogarth Books, both imprints of Random House

Synopsis:

From the publisher:

Sweeping from the Central European countryside just before World War II to Paris to contemporary Williamsburg, Brooklyn, I Am Forbidden brings to life four generations of one Satmar family.

Opening in 1939 Transylvania, five-year-old Josef witnesses the murder of his family by the Romanian Iron Guard and is rescued by a Gentile maid to be raised as her own son. Five years later, Josef rescues a young girl, Mila, after her parents are killed while running to meet the Rebbe they hoped would save them. Josef helps Mila reach Zalman Stern, a leader in the Satmar community, in whose home Mila is raised as a sister to Zalman’s daughter, Atara. As the two girls mature, Mila’s faith intensifies, while her beloved sister Atara discovers a world of books and learning that she cannot ignore. With the rise of communism in central Europe, the family moves to Paris, to the Marais, where Zalman tries to raise his children apart from the city in which they live.

When the two girls come of age, Mila marries within the faith, while Atara continues to question fundamentalist doctrine. The different choices the two sisters makes force them apart until a dangerous secret threatens to banish them from the only community they’ve ever known.

Thoughts on the story:

There are times early on in I am Forbidden when the reader may wonder exactly what is going on and have trouble following the threads of relationship. By the time the family moves to Williamsburg, however, Marouk’s narrative straightens itself out and becomes increasingly engaging. That Satmar society is not one I am familiar with, and it was fascinating to learn more about them through Mila and Atara and their differing views on their faith. Markovits seems to be very respectful of the culture, even when he seems to disagree with some of the specifics – or at least his characters do. As a result, I am Forbidden is filled with genuine emotion and a quiet drama.

Thoughts on the audio production:

In I am Forbidden Rosalyn Landor is, as always, fabulous. She brings poise and a quiet dignity to the story, which works very well with the world Markovits creates. Landor is one of those narrators I could simply sit and listen to for hours, she’s just that good, and I am Forbidden is no exception.

For more on the audio production, please see my review for Audiofile Magazine.

Overall:

I am Forbidden is a lovely, quiet novel that works very well in audio, largely thanks to Rosalyn Landor’s performance. Recommended.

Buy this book from:
Powells: Print*
Indiebound: Print*
Audible.com

I’m launching a brand-new meme every Friday! I encourage you to review any audiobooks you review on Fridays and include the link here. If you have reviewed an audiobook earlier in the week, please feel free to link that review as well. Thanks to Pam for creating the button.

Source: Audiofile Magazine.
* 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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Jack 1939 by Francine Mathews – Book Review

Jack 1939 by Francine Mathews
Published by Riverhead, an imprint of Penguin

At the beginning of 1939 Jack Kennedy is a 22 year old Harvard student, FDR is in his second term as president, and Hitler is preparing to change the face of Europe. Although he is frequently ill, Jack plans to travel across Europe for his senior thesis during the spring semester – he isn’t about to let either Hitler or his own body stop him. For FDR, Jack represents the perfect opportunity: he is a smart and savvy young man with a reason to talk to nearly anyone in Europe and a diplomatic passport, thanks to the fact that his father, Joe Kennedy, is the US ambassador to England. Since the US has no spy service in 1939, FDR is handpicking a few select men to help keep him informed on what is happening in Europe. He recruits Jack, who quickly finds himself much more personally embroiled in what he is investigating than he could have ever expected.

John F. Kennedy is a figure who continues to loom large in the American psyche, but primarily as an adult who would be president, and less as a young man still in school. The existence of his university thesis, Why England Slept, which chronicled England’s failure to stop Hitler, is fairly well known, but I personally had no knowledge of his journey across Europe just as Hitler was beginning to launch what would become World War II.

Mathews’s version of Jack’s trip across the continent mostly follows his real itinerary, although some creative license is taken to fit her storyline. The story Mathews concocts to go along with Jack’s travels is both interesting and exciting. Jack is caught up in espionage and both he and his family are being threatened by an extremely dangerous man, a Nazi. The stakes couldn’t be higher – Jack’s life, family, and country are all in danger – and the tension keeps the pages turning.

Jack 1939 is an extremely engaging historical thriller, made all the more engaging for being set against a backdrop of real events

Buy this book from:
Powells | Indiebound*

Source: Publisher.
* 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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