Review: Last Train to Paris by Michele Zackheim

About the book, Last Train to Paris


Inspired by the story of a distant cousin who was murdered in Paris in 1937, award-winning author Michele Zackheim’s Last Train to Paris is a gripping epic about a half-Jewish female reporter from Nevada who writes for the Paris Courier in the 1930’s. The sole woman in the newsroom, she lives with both sexism and anti-Semitism. Then she meets Leo, a German radical and anti-Nazi and realizes that while Paris is interesting, the truly vital historical story is taking place across the border. Rose undertakes an assignment in the Berlin press office, where she is initially happy and in love until Kristallnacht and the growing threat of Nazism. When World War II is declared, Americans are forced to leave the country and Rose must make an agonizing choice: Who will go with her on the last train to Paris?

Zackheim, acclaimed author of Einstein’s Daughter, tells her story from vantage point of Rose as an elderly woman, Last Train to Paris is at once a historical epic, a love story, and a psychological portrait of one woman’s gradual discovery of who she really is after years of being invisible to herself.

Last Train to Paris will enthrall the same large audience that made In The Garden of Beasts by Erik Larson and Suite Française by Irène Némirovsky bestsellers.

Buy a copy

Amazon | Barnes & Noble

About the author, Michele Zackheim

Michele Zackheim

Michele Zackheim is the author of four books.

Born in Reno, Nevada she grew up in Compton, California. For many years she worked in the visual arts as a fresco muralist, an installation artist, print-maker, and a painter. Her work has been widely exhibited and is included in the permanent collections of The National Museum of Women in the Arts in Washington, D.C.; The Albuquerque Museum; The Grey Art Gallery of New York University; The New York Public Library; The Hebrew Union College Skirball Museum, and The Carlsbad Museum of Art.

She has been the recipient of two NEA awards, and teaches Creative Writing from a Visual Perspective at the School of Visual Arts in New York City. Her first book, Violette’s Embrace, was published by Riverhead Books. That book is a fictional biography of the French writer Violette Leduc. Her second book, the acclaimed Einstein’s Daughter: The Search for Lieserl (Penguin Putnam, 1999), is a non-fiction account of the mystery of the lost illegitimate daughter of Mileva and Albert Einstein. Broken Colors (Europa Editions, 2007) is the story of an artist, whose life takes her to a place where life and art intersect. Her fourth novel, Last Train to Paris, will be published in January 2014. Zackheim lives in New York City.

Connect with Michele

Website | Facebook

My Thoughts

When it comes to armchair traveling, one of my most frequent destinations is France (in general) and Paris (specifically). Outside of my imagination, I’ve never spent much time in Paris, as most of my trips to France take me to places like Montpelier, Bezier, and Carcassone. Like most people, especially those of us who love words, Paris holds a special place in my heart, and I’ll read almost anything that takes place there.

Michele Zackheim’s novel has only increased that love. Bookended by glimpses of the main character as an elderly woman, the novel takes us to the Paris of the late 1930’s, where the echoes of Hemingway’s footsteps still ring out, though they’re being slowly overtaken by the marching cadence of black-booted Nazis.

First in Paris, and later in Berlin, we get to witness history through R. B. Manon’s eyes, to an often-chilling result, but even before things get grim there are descriptions of people and places that simply sing. In the first few pages of Last Train to Paris, for example, Zackheim describes the hotel where R.B is living, and we meet a host of people who share common spaces with her. Some of them, we may never see again, and some go one to become important, but either way, I felt as if I could see the neighbor waving, smell the cabbage, hear the cacophony of life in crowded residential hotel in a crowded, bustling city.

If you, as I did, loved Midnight in Paris, or if you’ve ever, as I have, watched old movies and fantasized about being a foreign correspondent, then you simply must read Last Train to Paris. You will not regret it.

Goes well with espresso with a twist of lemon on the side, and a butter croissant.

TLC Book Tours

This review is part of a blog tour hosted by TLC Book Tours. For the tour page, click here.

Review: Fiesta of Smoke by Suzan Still

About the book, Fiesta of Smoke

Fiesta of Smoke

Against a backdrop of rebellion and intrigue, love between Javier Carteña, commander of insurgent Mexican forces, and Calypso Searcy, an American novelist at the pinnacle of her career, sizzles with passion across a broad sweep of history. Encompassing time from the Conquest of the 1500s to the present, the story races across space as well, from the forests of Chiapas to the city of Paris. There, an international investigative reporter named Hill picks up the swiftly vanishing trail of Calypso’s disappearance, and unwittingly becomes involved in one of the great dramas of the twentieth century and one of the great love stories of any age.

Buy a copy from Amazon.

My Thoughts:

It seems appropriate that I’m posting this review on November 1st – Dia de los Muertos is in full swing in La Paz, BCS, Mexico, where my parents live – and I’m still bearing traces of Halloween glitter as I write this morning. Not that Fiesta of Smoke is a Halloween story – it’s not. What it is is a genre-bending epic that takes us to Mexico in the present, recent past, and ancient past, Paris, and points between. It’s part adventure, part fiery romance, part historical, part political…but in this case the actual novel is much, much, more than the sum of those parts.

In fact all those different aspects provide the setting and history we need in order to truly understand the dynamic between the lead characters, Javier, Calypso, and Hill. The first two have a relationship that reminded my of my loud Italian relatives, screaming at each other one moment, making out in the next, all with an underlying connection that is largely invisible to outside observers. (Though, in my family, gunfire was generally not on the menu.)

Then there’s Hill, who falls for Calypso the first time he sees her – which may or may not be the first time WE meet her, as she’s doing perfect developpes on the Pont Neuf. (That scene really captured my attention. I haven’t been in shape enough to be a proper dancer in decades, but I remember what it’s like to want to combine a perfect setting with a perfect movement.)

The three leads move around each other in ways that often reminded me of a Celtic knot, coming together, falling away, their patterns and adventures a great dance through history, geography and passion. Politics, too are involved, and reading this novel while listening to my mother describe the various modern political parties (I think PAN is in power right now), was a bit of a trip.

If my description is vague, it’s because it’s so hard to take a 500+ page novel that is beautifully written – and let me interrupt myself here to mention that author Suzan Still’s depictions of food are as tantalizing as her use of language – this book reads like an opera, truly – and condense it into a few paragraphs.

Read Fiesta of Smoke. If you’re not doing NaNoWriMo, read it this month – it’s the perfect November novel – it’ll keep you warm on cold nights, and fuel your imagination on dark mornings. If you ARE doing NaNo, read it anyway. Writers have to read, right? Either way, you will be swept away, as I have.

I’m supposed to be spending Christmas with my parents in Baja Sur, but suddenly my itch to go south of the border is stronger than ever.

Goes well with: chicken mole, grilled chayote, and Indio beer.

About the Author, Suzan Still

Suzan Still

Text taken from the author’s website: Suzan Still holds a masters in art and writing and a doctorate in depth psychology. A retired university art professor, she also taught creative writing in a men’s prison, where she became increasingly concerned with issues of social disenfranchisement–as the reader of Commune of Women will discover. She continues to explore this theme in her novel-in-progress, Fiesta of Smoke, which focuses on the coming revolution in Mexico, where she has traveled for over thirty years. As a writer, she favors the novel form but also has published poetry and nonfiction and is an avid journal-keeper. Also, she has led dream groups for over twenty-five years. Her fascination with dreams will be evident to the reader of Commune of Women, while, as an artist, she is delighted to introduce her artwork to the world as the cover image for the novel. Her interests include painting and collage, sculpting in marble, photography, foreign travel, gardening, cooking, antiques and all things French. Suzan lives in the foothills of California’s Sierra Nevada Mountains on land that her family pioneered, with her husband and an assortment of rescued fur children, who take her for her daily walk in the woods.

Connect with Suzan:

Facebook: Suzan.Still

Special thanks to the folks at TLC Book Tours for giving me the opportunity to read Fiesta of Smoke. Here’s an opportunity for you: the first person to comment on this post can get a copy of Suzan Still’s previous novel Commune of Women.

I feel compelled to add: for the average American tourist, Mexico is very safe. Yes, there are “drug wars” but those are mostly around the US/Mexico border, and mostly involved drug cartel members killing each other. Most of Mexico has fewer fatalities in a whole year than major U.S. cities do in a month. Be smart, be aware, but don’t be afraid.

TLC Book Tours

Book Review: Immoveable Feast: A Paris Christmas, by John Baxter

Immoveable Feast: A Paris ChristmasImmoveable Feast: A Paris Christmas
John Baxter
Get it at Amazon

John Baxter has long been one of my favorite essayists, and not just because he writes about life as an ex-pat living in Paris.

In his most recent offering, An Immoveable Feast, (and yes, the title is a reference to a certain Hemingway publication) Baxter is his usual charming self, as he writes of his adventures in planning the Christmas Feasts to end all Christmas Feasts, for his wife’s very picky, very French family.

While the entire book is incredibly amusing, my favorite chapters involve the hunt for a whole pig, still in its own skin, to be roasted for dinner. Apparently, it is not the custom to serve pork in its skin, in France, and only something extremely un-French will be able to really impress the family. Baxter relays the expressions of butchers and other vendors so well that you can hear the accents and see their gesticulations.

The flaw in this book? It made me so hungry I had to keep putting it down so I wouldn’t drool on the pages.

Goes well with: Bacon. Lots and lots of bacon. And a slice of mince pie.

A Dangerous Dress

by Julia Holden

I bought A Dangerous Dress after reading Julia Holden’s other novel One Dance in Paris a couple weeks ago, and exchanging comments via her MySpace page. She’s kindly consented to do an emailed interview for me, when she has a few free moments, and I’m sure you’ll all enjoy it.

Anyway, this book shares with the other a trip to Paris, and is still a chick-lit coming of age story, but there are no trips to anything like Caesars Palace this time, though there is a movie set, a news set, and a bank involved.

The lead character, Jane, is working in her uncle’s bank, and feeling a bit humdrum, when she gets a call from a French movie director (who happens to be her college roommate’s father), asking her to please come to Paris and find the perfect 1928 dress for the star of his film. Her expertise, he says, comes from the college paper she wrote years before, about her late grandmother’s very own flapper dress – a dress so exotic, so unique, that it is literally dangerous. Dangerous in that edgy, seductive sort of way.

The dress is, of course, merely a catalyst. Jane jets off to find love, adventure, new skills, more adventure, and a lot of self-awareness, in an entertaining read that goes by way too fast.