“There is no Frigate like a Book / To take us Lands away,” Emily Dickinson wrote, and though she rarely left Amherst or even her home, she was so right. Many of us had trouble reading when the pandemic first hit—days at home with no appointments, no running around, seems like the perfect time to read until it descends, dusted with anxiety and uncertainty. But that sense has eased for me, and I hope for you, too.
Mr. Right and I had a grand adventure in January, traveling to Paris to see the Louvre’s exhibit commemorating the 500th anniversary of the death of Leonardo DaVinci in France, in 1519. Besides spending the day at the exhibit, which was truly magnificent, we walked, wandering Paris, getting lost, finding churches and statues and gardens we might never have found with a plan. So in May, I found myself craving a touch of Paris. The only unread book on my shelves set there was an ARC (advance review copy) of Mission to Paris by Alan Furst, historical espionage set in 1938-39, following an Austrian-born American actor in Paris to make a movie who finds himself the target of German operatives who need a mole in the industry. I have no idea how I got the book—most likely a promo copy in a mystery convention book bag—but it was great fun. The actor’s home base in Paris is a hotel in the First—la Premiere—the district where we stayed, and I enjoyed tracing his travels through the city with the map on the frontispiece and my own memory. Furst has written a series of novels set in Europe in the run up to WW II and during the war, and they’re worth searching out.
Then a friend gave me The Little French Bistro by Nina George, author of The Little Paris Bookshop. Though Bistro starts and ends in Paris, much of the book is set in a small town on the Breton coast, a part of the country I haven’t visited. Not in person, anyway. It’s delightful—the story of a woman blossoming at 60 after a lifetime of oppression, finally making her own choices and finding joy in happy accidents.
I loved New Orleans on my one visit and am eager to return with Mr. Right, but visiting on the page is great—no heat, no bugs! Plus it’s so easy to get out of the city—just turn the page! The Orion Mask by Greg Herron is an homage to the gothic mysteries of Victoria Holt and Mary Stewart, following a young gay man who discovers that the mother he never knew came from a family with a grand history and a terrible secret that could have consequences for him all these years later. Set partly in NOLA and partly on a plantation a short drive away. Spooky, atmospheric, and fun.
If there were a prize for best title, The Murderess of Bayou Rosa by Ramona DeFelice Long would win. How can you not pick that up? Set in the early 1920s in a small town southwest of NOLA, with later scenes in Baton Rouge and Memphis, it’s the story of Geneva Amais, a young teacher, and her mother, Joelle, the murderess. Family secrets drive this book, too, and it’s a great trip.
Where to next? So many choices! Where are you booking your travel these days?