Saturday, 17 April 2021

Emma's Review: A Postcard from Paris by Alex Brown

Reviewed by Emma Crowley

Annie Lovell is keen to put the spark back into her life and when her elderly neighbour inherits an abandoned Parisian apartment she goes to Paris to discover more. Her curiosity takes an unexpected turn on discovering a bundle of secret diaries hidden within the walls, detailing the life of a young English woman, Beatrice Crawford, who volunteered in 1916 to nurse the soldiers in the fields of France. 

Captivated by the romantic City of Light, Annie realises first appearances are not always as they seem. Following Beatrice’s journey from the Great War, through the Roaring Twenties and to a very different life in Nazi-occupied Paris, Annie must piece together the events from the past, if she is to fulfil the legacy that Beatrice left for her to find…

Book Links: Kindle or Paperback

Many thanks to Harper Collins via NetGalley for my copy of A Postcard from Paris to review and to Sharon for having my review on the blog.

It feels like we have been waiting forever for the next book in the Postcard series from Alex Brown but at last I had the absolute pleasure of reading A Postcard from Paris. I’ve always loved Alex’s writing ever since her debut and look forward enormously to each book that she publishes. I love that with her last few books that she has begun to weave some elements of the past into a modern day story. I feel she is only getting into her stride with regard to this as this was the only minor issue that I found with this story. I found that I wanted more of it to feature in the past and to hear more from Beatrice’s viewpoint not just through recounts in the form of diary entries invaluable though they proved to be. I found myself searching for more sections directly featuring Beatrice as there were long periods that focused on the present. The balance between past and present was just ever so slightly off for me but it didn’t detract from my overall enjoyment of the story. I hope with her next book that Alex will include even more from a character in the past perspective if writing in a similar vein to this book. 

Pushing the only little issue I had with this book aside, I found the book to be a page turner and it’s a story that you will want to read in one sitting if at all possible as you will be swept away to the city of lights. Our main character Annie Lovell is asked to complete a task and in doing so she goes on her own personal journey. It’s not one she had until that point realised that she needed to take but arriving in Paris sees her shedding her old self. She became like a butterfly emerging from its chrysalis. A new and improved Annie, one who was more open began to see the light of day and it would never have happened if her elderly neighbour had not inherited an apartment in Paris which has remained unchanged since the day its long term resident left the building. 

The opening takes us to a familiar setting for long term fans of this author, that of Tindledale, which really holds a special place in my heart as the books set there were absolutely brilliant. It’s 1916 and Beatrice Crawford is 18 and she craves adventure, clearly wanting to break away from the confines of the small rural village and find her place in the world. It was a time when the suffragettes were campaigning for women’s rights and women were taking a more active role especially in their desire to do more for the war effort. Despite the misgivings of her family, as they would much rather she marry someone her father has selected for her, Beatrice soon finds herself on the western front working in a field hospital. Beatrice knows her own mind and is in charge of steering her own destiny but the war and its consequences will have far reaching repercussions for her and it will truly alter the course of her life.

I felt like Beatrice was an enigma for most of the book and that we only got to know her through what Annie discovers. The opening was strong and we got to know a good bit about her, what she wanted to achieve and why she felt the need to do this but then I felt this dropped off and it’s only through the diaries that Annie discovers hidden in the apartment that we got glimpses into her life post war. The clues and hints dropped throughout were tantalising and as Annie inched ever to closer to the truth I was just desperate to know what exactly was going on and what kind of life did Beatrice lead which ultimately led some of her neighbours to believe she was a collaborator with the Germans. Surely from what we read of her through letters and diary entries that was not the kind of person she was. 

I was confused but in a good way as I found my thought process behind the entire story focusing on Beatrice veering off in so many directions with endless possibilities. I love when a book really takes you on a journey and you are never sure until that very last moment of reveal what exactly will happen. It’s even more enjoyable when you are left reeling in shock when all the little hints join together to make brilliant connections that you had never even contemplated. All the while whilst reading, I kept trying to figure out what was the connection between Joanie and Beatrice and I was very far off the mark when the moment of truth came around. As with Alex’s last book, I found the twists and turns to be brilliant although slightly rushed as we neared the end. It felt at one point even though I thought said twists were just genius that they were coming just slightly too thick and fast in order for me to absorb their consequences and to connect them with what I had read throughout the story. I found myself having to reread several pages towards the end just to make sure I had comprehended everything correctly. But still I thought they were brilliant even though perhaps a little fleshing out was needed.

As for the more modern day aspect of the book, I loved Annie as a character. I thought she went through such a genuine and worthwhile transformations throughout the book. She really ventured out of her comfort zone and tried new experiences casting her old life aside and she was all the better for doing this. Annie has been on her own ever since her husband Mark left when her two children were young. She works as a bookkeeper in the accounts department of a solicitors and likes to spend her time at home focusing on decorating and interior design. But Annie is lonely now that her best friend and confidant Beth has left to work in Australia. She doesn’t like putting herself out there either socialising or dating and to be honest what’s wrong with that if you are comfortable with what you are doing? 

But maybe deep down although she won’t admit it to herself Annie needs a change. She regularly visits her neighbour Joanie and on one of those evenings they spend together, Joanie breaks the news she has inherited an apartment in Paris that she knows nothing about nor who is the Beatrice that has left it to her in her will. Joanie is elderly and not able to travel so Annie accepts her offer and will travel to Paris to take care of everything on Joanie’s behalf. Little does Annie realise this trip will be a turning point in her life with many surprises along the way.

The descriptions of Paris were just stunning and so vivid and having never been there and with the current pandemic halting all thoughts of travel, it was brilliant to be whisked away to whole new city and to see it from Annie’s viewpoint. Instantly you could see when she landed in France that there was a spring in her step and that with time she would gain her confidence back. She had always wanted to travel but slipped too far into her comfort zone and now was the opportunity she had needed to be a little braver. Phoebe was Annie’s daughter whom I found to be very overbearing and pushy. She made demands on her mother which seemed unreasonable and in my mind it was almost as of she was trying to make her old before her time. It’s only as the story develops that my opinion of Phoebe did a complete 360 and things made so much more so sense. This aspect of the plot was dealt with very well with great sensitivity and tact but still strongly getting the message across. It fitted in well with the overall development of Annie both as an individual and as a mother.

I loved the café where Annie met Maggie and Kirsten. Initially I thought they formed an unlikely trio as they had such varying emotional complexities but as they navigated their way through uncovering all the secrets the apartment had to offer up, their bond became strong and it really felt like they were there for each other. The descriptions of the apartment were just so beautiful and it was like time had stood still. When Annie discovers some hidden diaries it becomes clear there was a lot going on at the apartment all those years ago and we are taken on a whirlwind of a story that has you desperately trying to join the dots. There are lots of similarities between Beatrice and Annie and as Annie uncovers more and more secrets hidden for so long she starts to come to terms with the fact that her life has been basic and she had gotten herself stuck in a rut. She needs less reserve and more openness. She never thought doing a favour for Joanie would lead to such changes and discoveries but accepting a task and doing the right thing leads her on a journey of friendship, love and one which uncovers remarkable bravery.

Alex Brown is definitely on top form with A Postcard from Paris. Old and new readers will be very pleased and I would definitely recommend it. I just hope she doesn’t leave as long until her next book is published because reading anything by this wonderful author is always such a treat.

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