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Book Review: The Paris Library by Janet Skeslien Charles

Fans of Kristin Hannah’s The Nightingale and Melanie Benjamin’s Mistress of the Ritz will thoroughly enjoy Janet Skeslien Charles’ new book The Paris Library.

I received an advanced copy of the book from the publisher via NetGalley; all opinions are my own. This post contains some affiliate links that may earn me a commission if you purchase through them.

Book Details and Synopsis

Book Review: The Paris Library by Janet Skeslien CharlesThe Paris Library by Janet Skeslien Charles
Published by Hodder & Stoughton on February 2, 2021
Genres: Fiction, Historical, World War II, Women
Pages: 336
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Buy from your local independent bookstore via IndieBound

IN THE DARKNESS OF WAR, THE LIGHT OF BOOKS 'A wonderful novel celebrating the power of books and libraries to change people's lives' Jill Mansell 'A book about books, lovers and book lovers - what's not to love?' Ruth Hogan'I devoured The Paris Library in one hungry gulp . . . charming and moving' Tatiana de Rosnay'An irresistible, compelling read' Fiona Davis

Based on the true World War II story of the heroic librarians at the American Library in Paris, this is an unforgettable story of romance, friendship, family, and the power of literature to bring us together, perfect for fans of The Lilac Girls and The Paris Wife.

Paris, 1939: Young and ambitious Odile Souchet has it all: her handsome police officer beau and a dream job at the American Library in Paris. When the Nazis march into Paris, Odile stands to lose everything she holds dear, including her beloved library. Together with her fellow librarians, Odile joins the Resistance with the best weapons she has: books. But when the war finally ends, instead of freedom, Odile tastes the bitter sting of unspeakable betrayal.

Montana, 1983: Lily is a lonely teenager looking for adventure in small-town Montana. Her interest is piqued by her solitary, elderly neighbor. As Lily uncovers more about her neighbor’s mysterious past, she finds that they share a love of language, the same longings, and the same intense jealousy, never suspecting that a dark secret from the past connects them.

A powerful novel that explores the consequences of our choices and the relationships that make us who we are—family, friends, and favorite authors—The Paris Library shows that extraordinary heroism can sometimes be found in the quietest of places.


My Thoughts On The Paris Library

I’ve been on a binge of historical fiction novels and loved this one. The Paris Library is both a love letter to libraries (and to book lovers). It also introduced me to a bit of WWII history that I was unaware of. As dual timelines go, generally one grabs my attention more than the other, and this was the case in this novel.

The primary storyline is set in France in 1939, leading into and during Nazi occupation of Paris. Based on real characters, the story revolves around the main character Odile. She is an independent young woman who gets her dream job at the American Library of Paris. Odile and the supporting characters were flawed, intriguing, endearing, and well developed.

This was yet another bit of WWII resistance history that both delighted and saddened me. The efforts the librarians took to get books to supporters and soldiers was clever and thrilling. Likewise, watching characters as they were betrayed to the Nazis was heartbreaking.

Charles does a lovely job of developing a sense of place. Her research is wonderfully evident. As the war progresses and the characters fight to survive, some skated upon and crossed previously drawn morality lines. Likewise, other characters take greater chances in resistance and are constantly crossing dangerous lines.

The second storyline is set in Montana in 1983. This slower moving storyline features a teenager named Lily and the now elderly Odile. I found this storyline slower. I loved Lily’s character. Her resilience and insistence reminded me of a younger Odile. Here, the now elderly Odile displays a reclusive and sometimes bitter personality – she seems a different person from the other timeline.. However, as their story progresses, Lily begins to soften Odile and we finally learn how she came to Minnesota.

The second storyline serves well to bring Odile’s story to a more satisfactory ending than perhaps it would have been if left to just one timeline. Nevertheless, I was generally anxious to get back to Paris and Odile’s life there.

The Paris Library is an engrossing tale of resistance, resilience, survival, betrayal, and friendship, and a love letter to libraries.

For other historical fiction set during WWII Paris, check out Dragonfly by Leila Meacham, and Melanie Benjamin’s The Mistress of the Ritz

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