The Paris Apartment
by Kelly Bowen
Release Date: April 20, 2021
Reviewed by PJ
2017, London: When Aurelia Leclaire inherits an opulent Paris apartment, she is shocked to discover her grandmother’s hidden secrets—including a treasure trove of famous art and couture gowns. One obscure painting leads her to Gabriel Seymour, a highly respected art restorer with his own mysterious past. Together they attempt to uncover the truths concealed within the apartment’s walls.
Paris, 1942: The Germans may occupy the City of Lights, but glamorous Estelle Allard flourishes in a world separate from the hardships of war. Yet when the Nazis come for her friends, Estelle doesn’t hesitate to help those she holds dear, no matter the cost. As she works against the forces intent on destroying her loved ones, she can’t know that her actions will have ramifications for generations to come.
Set seventy-five years apart, against a perilous and a prosperous Paris, both Estelle and Lia must unearth hidden courage as they navigate the dangers of a changing world, altering history—and their family’s futures—forever.
My advice to readers: If you begin Kelly Bowen's The Paris Apartment early in the day, be prepared to toss your to-do list out the window. Start it in the evening? You'll be up all night. And when I say all night, I mean all night. I tried putting this book down at midnight, at 1:00 AM, and again at 2:AM. These compelling characters absolutely refused to allow me to stop reading until they had shared their entire perilous journey. I turned the final page at 4:00 AM, in awe of the courage of these brave souls who placed their lives on the line day after day to gather information, protect the wounded, hide the persecuted, and aid the Allies in the fight against the Nazi regime.
Dual timelines don't always work for me but Bowen's transition from present to past and back to present is seamless, enhancing the overall story. Both timelines are anchored by strong, compelling, and intriguing women. I was emotionally invested in all three of them: Estelle and Sophie in the past and Lia in the present. I loved how Bowen weaved their stories together while also giving each a complete story arc of her own. By the end of the book, I felt as if I knew each of them intimately, as if they were my friends. I had shared heartbreak, fear, rage, hope, despair, love, and joy with all of them, especially Estelle and Sophie. I knew I would not soon forget them.
Bowen also brings the city of Paris to life in this book, especially the Paris that was occupied by the Nazis. She creates an immersive experience that places the reader in the setting, allowing all the emotions of that dangerous time to flow through me as though I was walking those streets alongside her characters. There are so many small, but important, details that expand the reading experience. I loved all the information about art, couture fashion, architecture, and history. It's clear this book was impeccably and thoroughly researched.
And then there are the secondary characters, some with minor roles, others with substantial impact, like Gabriel. I really enjoyed his storyline with Lia, how they both connected to the events - and characters - of the past and to one another, the impact those past events had on their lives today, and their potential for a shared future. The entire group of secondary characters contribute to the overall impact of this story. Even those with only a paragraph or two have significance, a purpose. Some of those characters are heartbreaking, some offer lightness and humor, some are chilling in their evil supremacy and careless disregard for human life, while others remind us not to give up hope, to keep fighting for what is right and just. Bowen's ability to create well-developed, realistic characters who elicit a vast range of emotions in readers is one of her best skills and a key facet of this novel. It isn't only the main characters that I will have a hard time forgetting.
The Paris Apartment is one of the most compelling and unforgettable WWII historical fiction novels I've read. I highly recommend it.