Tuesday, 21 October 2014

Guest Book Review: Rachel Hore - A Week in Paris

Reviewed by Emma Crowley

The streets of Paris hide a dark past...

September, 1937. Kitty Travers enrols at the Conservatoire on the banks of the Seine to pursue her dream of becoming a concert pianist. But then war breaks out and the city of light falls into shadow. 

Nearly twenty-five years later, Fay Knox, a talented young violinist, visits Paris on tour with her orchestra. She barely knows the city, so why does it feel so familiar? Soon touches of memory become something stronger, and she realises her connection with these streets runs deeper than she ever expected. 

As Fay traces the past, with only an address in an old rucksack to help her, she discovers dark secrets hidden years ago, secrets that cause her to question who she is and where she belongs...A compelling story of war, secrets, family and enduring love.

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Just when you think what else could possibly be written about World War Two along comes Rachel Hore with her new novel A Week in Paris. A fascinating, gripping, intriguing tale that kept me turning the pages as quick as possible keen to discover the mystery surrounding Kitty and Fay. Rachel Hore is amongst one of my favourite authors and having read all her previous releases I have been waiting impatiently for her new book and thankfully after such high expectations Rachel once again delivers another stunning unputdownable novel. There is something for everyone here romance, mystery, history and a strong plotline that will keep fans happy but will also create plenty of new readers for Rachel.

A Week in Paris opens with a brief glimpse of a five year old girl in an orphanage in Norfolk, England. Who is she and why is she there? Next we meet the main characters Kitty and Fay Knox. Fay is a teenager on a school trip to Paris when in Notre Dame Cathedral she experiences an uneasy feeling that leaves her shaken. She feels she has been here before but as far as she knows she has never previously travelled to Paris. What is going on and why does Fay feel her mother – Kitty, has not told her the truth about her past?  Fast forward a number of years to England, Kitty now a music teacher goes about her daily life having raised Fay on her own after the death of her father Eugene in wartime Paris. Kitty has tried her best to raise Fay supplementing her income giving piano lessons. But Kitty hides a deep, dark secret that if exposed will turn the Knox’s entire world upside down.

Unable to cope with the years of pressure and secrecy Kitty has a nervous breakdown and is placed in a home in an attempt to overcome her issues. Fay herself is now a musician and due to go on tour with her orchestra to Paris for a week. Upon hearing this Kitty tells Fay of an old rucksack which when opened Fay discovers an old dress and a torn card with the name of a convent in Paris written on it. And so begins a journey of discovery for Fay. What happened in wartime Paris that Kitty has kept so close to her chest for over twenty years?

I love novels which have an historical element and that go forward and back between the past and present. In this book the time gap is not as big as in other novels I have read. It is only twenty years since the war has ended when Fay reaches Paris and struggles to find out what the significance of the convent is. I liked this fact because it made the reader realise that although the war may have been fought and won, years later the effects were still being felt in Paris. The first section of the novel was a bit slow setting the scene but after Fay discovers the rucksack the action really picks up and never stops until we reach the final page. Soon the story is being told from two viewpoints - Fay as she plays for the orchestra and discovers the secret and Kitty as she lived in wartime Paris with her American husband Eugene.

The author has clearly done lots of research into Paris after it was invaded by the Germans and I don’t think I have ever read a book from this viewpoint before and to be honest it was a fascinating if at times hard read to discover what the people had to endure. The convent plays a key role in this novel for many reasons which I won’t go into as it would really give too much away but I felt it was the perfect setting for a lot of the story to take place. Through such rich, detailed descriptions I felt I was both Kitty and Fay as they experienced Paris at such different times in the history of the city. Having never been to Paris the author did such a good job of explaining everything I had a strong, clear picture in my head of the daily grind and hardships Kitty was going through during the war. We have all learnt in history lessons about World War Two but to read of events from the characters viewpoint fresh in their eyes as they learn and deal with events for the first time was really interesting. We know the horrors of the concentration camps yet Kitty and her friends read about it in the paper, they don’t act blasé yet they have no idea of the true horrors taking place miles away whilst they are in Paris. I did find the scene where Kitty attempts to get out of Paris on the train hard to read, it was really well written but upsetting yet I know this was the reality of the time. This is a novel of mystery, secrets and memories. 

Memories are key to the story and help Fay in her quest to find out what exactly did happen in Paris that has left Kitty so traumatised. Kitty meets Adam (an old school friend) who helps her trace the past, you can tell a bit of romance starts to creep in here but I felt this wasn’t the most important element of the story and I wasn’t that bothered about what happened between the pair as the mystery held me firmly in its grip. The mysterious Madame Ramond (wife of piano player Serge) is a key player in the story and I was just as eager as Fay to hear her recount her story. Fay doesn’t know who she really is but I admit to figuring this out pretty early on but nonetheless I kept reading keen to find out how her role developed.

A Week in Paris is a novel where the past is clearly making itself felt in the present and if this hadn’t been the case, Fay may never have discovered the amazing, heroic, compassionate tale of her parents time in Paris. This book had a superb cast of characters who each had their own role to play and I can say they served that purpose well. One minor gripe was I felt the ending was dragged out a bit too much, there seemed to have been a natural conclusion yet the story continued on for a few more chapters in order to relate back to the prologue, this didn’t distract from my enjoyment of the novel but a page or two would have sufficed. 

If historical fiction with a mysterious tale is your kind of read then you won’t be disappointed, Rachel Hore has written another wonderful, skillful, satisfying read with characters that have stayed with me for several days. Let’s hope it is not as long before her next release.

I'd like to thank Emma for this fab review for this eBook which we received from the publisher via NetGalley.

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