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Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Thick, Rich, Family Secrets Novel Long on Detail, Short on Story

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

When Genevieve Martin discovers her husband is cheating on her, she's understandably upset.  But she's not as devastated as everyone thinks she should be.  Truth is, her marriage has been cooling for some time now and Jason's betrayal offers her the perfect opportunity to walk away.  The timing, in fact, could not be better.  Genevieve's beloved uncle has just passed away in Paris, leaving his apartment vacant, his locksmith shop closed.  With Dave's widow in an Alzheimer's care facility and their only child uninterested in the property, Genevieve's cousin has been urging her to move in.  The idea is a tantalizing one for Genevieve, who spent the happiest summer of her life in Paris learning the locksmith trade by her uncle's side.  She's longed to return ever since.

Genevieve is welcomed into the fold in the quaint Village Saint-Paul, one of the oldest neighborhoods in Paris.  Her neighbors help her discover both the pitfalls and the pleasures of living in one of the world's most vibrant cities.  As Genevieve gets settled into her new life, she goes to visit her Aunt Pasquale.  While Pasquale's mind is slowly being devoured by her disease, she mutters a cryptic comment that seems almost lucid.  Her words make Genevieve wonder about the brief period her mother, Angela, spent in Paris when Angela was a young wife and mother.  Whatever happened then caused a fall-out between Genevieve's mother and Dave, her older brother.  None of Genevieve's neighbors can fill her in, so she goes on her own hunt for clues.  The shocking truth will change everything she thought she knew about her mother, her family, and herself.

Nothing piques my interest more than a thick, rich, family secrets novel.  I adore sinking into these sagas and discovering all the intricacies that make a family tick.  The Paris Key by Juliet Blackwell sounded like just this kind of story, which made me eager to give it a go.  In doing so, I found that the novel is indeed thick (the ARC is 358 pages long), rich (Blackwell describes every morsel Genevieve eats, every move she makes in minute detail), and chock-full of family secrets (To where does the mysterious grate in Philippe's basement lead?  Why is it secured with one of Uncle Dave's fancy locks?).  While, as I mentioned, I love thick, rich, family secret novels, I need these three elements to work together to keep the book interesting.  When a story spends, say, the first 200 pages describing Paris in all its guts and glory, but only the last 150 or so on the family secrets (which is the most interesting aspect of the tale, at least for me), I tend to get bored.  This is exactly what happened with The Paris Key.  Although Blackwell offers lovely descriptions of the City of Light, giving the reader a very complete and authentic picture of the place, and making the colorful Parisians come to life, the book often feels more like a travelogue than a novel.  I kept reading only because of the promised family secrets.  Before I got to Page 200, I had put the book down numerous times, with little intention of picking it back up; after that point, my interest finally piqued and I finished the novel in a rush just to see what would happen (although, really, the big "secret" is fairly obvious).  If I hadn't promised to review this one, I probably would have quit around Chapter 5 or so.  The story just felt sooo long and drawn out.  A 150-page chop would have made The Paris Key a much tighter, more enjoyable read for me.  In the end, it bugged me more than thrilled me.  Bummer.

(Readalikes:  The premise reminded me of a Kate Morton novel; the execution, not so much.)


If this were a movie, it would be rated:

for brief, mild language (no F-bombs), some violence, and mild sexual innuendo/content

To the FTC, with love:  I received an ARC of The Paris Key from the generous folks at Berkley & NAL, a division of Penguin Random House.  Thank you!


  1. What a let down. I'm sooooo tired of books forgetting to have a plot. I'll avoid this one.

  2. I love a good fammily secrets book myself. But I don't think I could handle all that detail especially if it is slow and you can put it down. Sorry it was a bummer - Great review!


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