Ah, spring in Paris. Immerse yourself in the City of Light with these seven historical novels, all released in the past few years, and set in one of the most beloved and storied places in the world.
There are also loads of new books out this spring that are set more generally in France, particularly during WWII, including The Diamond Eye by Kate Quinn, the author of The Alice Network, about a quiet bookworm who becomes a deadly sniper in WWII.
And among the Paris books coming soon? The Last Dress From Paris by Jade Beer (June 21), and The Ghosts of Paris by Tara Moss (June 7). The latter is set just after WWII and features Australian private investigator Billie Walker, whose search for answers to a few mysteries (including what happened to her missing husband) takes her throughout the city, from Notre Dame and into the catacombs below.
The 7 books listed below are all out in paperback.
The Women of Chateau Lafayette
This is a history-sweeping story encompassing the French Revolution and both world wars, woven around a mix of fictional and real-life characters, including Adrienne Lafayette, the wife of the Marquis de Lafayette, whose ancestral home was in Auvergne (actually the Château de Chavaniac). The other two main characters are (real-life) New York socialite Beatrice Chanler, who cared for sick children there during World War I; and Marthe Simone, a fictional fighter in the French resistance who uses the castle to help Jewish residents hide from the Nazis. It’s a long, satisfying book, deeply researched by this wonderful historical novelist.
The Paris Apartment
Bowen’s immersive 2021 book features a modern-day woman, Lia, who inherits a dusty Parisian apartment from a grandmother she didn’t know well, Estelle, that’s been undisturbed since WWII but holds a stash of incredibly valuable paintings. She and an art restorer named Gabriel discover clues about the lives of Estelle and one of his relatives, an Englishwoman named Sophie — revealed to us as the novel jumps back in time to Sophie and Estelle’s secret wartime life. There’s a romantic spark between Gabriel and Lia, but it’s not the focus of the story, which may surprise Bowen’s fans (the author is known for her historical romances, including I’ve Got My Duke to Keep Me Warm). Note that there’s another book with the same title by Lucy Foley, a thriller about a young woman who shows up at her brother’s (yes) Paris apartment and finds him missing.
The Paris Library
Janet Skeslien Charles
True, this is yet another historical novel that juggles between the modern-day and wartime France, but it does it better than many. A best-seller last year, it’s in part about Odile, a librarian at the American Library in Paris who helps smuggle books to their Jewish patrons when the Nazis occupied the city. A young girl in Montana uncovers her story decades later and makes some surprising connections. The author worked at the library herself, and the story is based on real-life events that occurred there during the war.
The Age of Light
The café society of the ‘30s glitters to life as Scharer mixes fact and fiction in her debut novel to tell the story of real-life famed photographer Lee Miller, Man Ray's young model turned muse and then lover, who fought to be a serious artist in her own right. With cameos from Cocteau, Picasso and femme fatale Kiki de Montparnasse, The Age of Light illuminates the gorgeously creative culture of Paris, as well as war-torn battlefields in the later years when Lee — a troubled, complex character — and her career evolve. The 2019 novel is now available in paperback. (2019).
The Black Swan of Paris
Robards’ World War II novel gives us an occupied Paris full of cabarets and battlefields, as singer Genevieve Dumon infiltrates the Nazis while spying for the Resistance. But when her mother is captured, members of the Resistance fear she'll spill secrets and want her killed, leaving the horrified Genevieve — and her long-lost sister — to find and rescue her mother before it's too late. The book offers an emotional tapestry of divided loyalties and love (2020).
The Paris Hours
Want a quick 24-hour stopover in 1920s Paris? George's delicious new novel (2020) takes place in just one day in 1927, when four diverse characters struggle with love, loss and memory. A refugee tries to drown his memories in his puppet shows; a celebrity journalist is haunted by the unfinished book he's writing about his vanished baby daughter, a debt-ridden man searches for the love of his life, and a woman — Marcel Proust's maid — desperately tries to find the writer's missing notebook before it can reveal her terrible secret.
All the Ways We Said Goodbye
Beatriz Williams, Lauren Willig and Karen White
A writer could hardly find a more fabulous setting for a love story than the famous Ritz hotel in Paris. It's at the heart of this sweeping saga, full of betrayal and romance, that's centered on three women: Daisy, a glamorous member of the French resistance; Babs, an American widow; and Aurelie, an heiress. They separately end up at the Ritz during three time periods — the two world wars and the 1960s — but their lives turn out to be closely linked. Released in 2020, it's the third collaboration by the three bestselling historical fiction authors.
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Christina Ianzito is the travel and books editor for aarp.org and AARP The Magazine, and also edits and writes health, entertainment and other stories for aarp.org. She received a 2020 Lowell Thomas Award for travel writing.
Editor's note: This article was originally published on April 21, 2020. It's been updated to reflect new information.