Summer Beach Reads for Expatriates

Beach season is finally here! For those of you who haven’t yet amassed your pile of summer beach reading material, we’ve compiled a list of great reads for Americans in France. Whether you prefer fun “chick lit” or something a little more substantial, you’re sure to find the perfect companion to take along while you soak up the sun and sea spray on whatever French coast you find yourself on this summer.

Fun Fiction

Le Divorce by Diane JohnsonLe Divorce (1998) Diane Johnson

Isabel Walker, eerily reminiscent of Henry James’s Isabel Archer, is a young film-school dropout who travels to Paris to aid her stepsister, who is going through a divorce. Isabel’s California cool, American freedoms, and feminist slants comingle, successfully and fractiously, with the customs, biases, and complex sexuality of modern Europe. The result modulates between introspection and hilarity, and a quick, Hollywood-inspired sweep of violent action in the end doesn’t undermine the author’s mastery of Old World vs. New–in fact, it provides an ironic scrim. Other great reads by Diane Johnson include Le Mariage, L’Affaire, and Into a Paris Quarter.

Rowdy in Paris (2009) Tim Sandlin

When Rowdy Talbot loses his silver belt buckle—the prize for winning the Crockett County bullriding championship—to two Frenchwomen he met in a bar, he hops on a plane to the City of Light to get it back, only to tangle with disaffected French revolutionaries, a turquoise-peddling CIA operative, a middle-aged courtesan, and a plot to destroy an American fast-food franchise. As Rowdy discovers in the chaos, ther‛s a whole other world beyond the back of a bull.

The Vintage Caper by Peter MayleThe Vintage Caper (2010) Peter Mayle

From Hollywood to Marseille with delicious stops in between, Peter Mayle’s latest novel is filled with the culinary delights and entertaining characters that make him our treasured chronicler of French food and life. The story begins high above Los Angeles at the impressive wine cellar of lawyer Danny Roth. Unfortunately, after inviting the Los Angeles Times to write an extensive profile extolling the liquid treasures of his collection, Roth finds himself the victim of a world-class wine heist. Enter Sam Levitt, former lawyer and wine connoisseur, who follows leads to Bordeaux and Provence. The unraveling of the ingenious crime is threaded through with Mayle’s seductive rendering of France’s sensory delights—even the most sophisticated of oenophiles will learn a thing or two from this vintage work by a beloved author. Other great reades from Peter Mayle include his autobiographical A Year in Provence, Encore Provence, and A Dog’s Life

Left Bank by Kate MuirLeft Bank (2006) Kate Muir

Olivier and Madison Malin have what most celebrity magazines would call the perfect life. Olivier is a telegenic version of Sartre: philosopher, gourmand, and media personality—the darling of Paris’ most exclusive cafés, as well as the darling of more than one mistress. And Madiso‛s celebrity has eclipsed even her husband‛s. An American film star turned Parisian It girl, Madison has buried her Texas upbringing—along with a few years from her true age—beneath the trappings of an exquisitely decorated salon, an impeccable French accent, and a collection of couture gowns. Together, Olivier and Madison are the toast of Paris’ Left Bank, where the perfect couple and their friends indulge in fine wines, bon mots, and some exceptional cheeses. Everything looks flawless, if a touch pretentious. But when their precocious trophy daughter Sabine goes missing at a European mega-amusement park, her self-centered parents are finally forced to focus on something other than their own reflections.

Historical Fiction

The Virgin Blue by Tracy ChevalierThe Virgin Blue (2003) Tracy Chevalier

Meet Ella Turner and Isabelle du Moulin — two women born centuries apart, yet bound by a fateful family legacy. When Ella and her husband move to a small town in France, Ella hopes to brush up on her French, qualify to practice as a midwife, and start a family of her own. Village life turns out to be less idyllic than she expected, however, and a peculiar dream of the color blue propels her on a quest to uncover her family’s French ancestry. As the novel unfolds — alternating between Ella’s story and that of Isabelle du Moulin four hundred years earlier — a common thread emerges that unexpectedly links the two women. Part detective story, part historical fiction, The Virgin Blue is a novel of passion and intrigue that compels readers to the very last page.

Sarah's Key by Tatiana de RosnaySarah’s Key (2008) Tatiana De Rosnay

Paris, July 1942: Sarah, a ten-year-old girl, is brutally arrested with her family by the French police in the Vel dHiv roundup, but not before she locks her younger brother in a cupboard in the family’s apartment, thinking that she will be back within a few hours.

Paris, May 2002: On Vel dHivs 60th anniversary, journalist Julia Jarmond is asked to write an article about this black day in France’s past. Through her contemporary investigation, she stumbles onto a trail of long-hidden family secrets that connect her to Sarah. Julia finds herself compelled to retrace the girl’s ordeal, from that terrible term in the Vel d’Hiv’, to the camps, and beyond. As she probes into Sarah’s past, she begins to question her own place in France, and to reevaluate her marriage and her life.

Autobiographies & Biographies

Words in a French Life by Kristin EspinasseWords in a French Life (2007) Kristin Espinasse

Based on the popular blog French-word-a-day and newsletter comes a heart-winning collection from an American woman raising two “very” French children with her French husband in Provence, and carrying on a lifelong love affair with the language.



Me Talk Pretty One Day by David SedarisMe Talk Pretty One Day (2001) David Sedaris

Completely autobiographical and, as always, hilarious, Me Talk Pretty One Day is a David Sedaris favorite. The first half of the book focuses on his childhood in North Carolina and his very unusual family; the second half details his move to Paris with his boyfriend Hugh. While in France, Sedaris prides himself on his refusal to learn any useful French — even though he has spent six summers plus two years in the country. He finally decides to devote himself to learning ten new words per day — and the words he chooses  don’t cease to surprise and amuse.

My Life in France by Julia ChildMy Life in France (2007) Julia Child & Alex Prud’homme

An inspiring look at the life and times of the culinary genius, Julia Child’s My Life in France is a good-humored memoir of her influential and transformative early experiences in France with her then new husband, Paul. Julia’s devotees, as well as those less familiar, will equally enjoy the wit of her storytelling, and her gift for describing a great meal.


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