In this glittering tale of forgotten treasures and long-held secrets, international bestseller Karen Swan explores one woman’s journey to discovering the truth behind an abandoned apartment and a family whose mysteries may be better left undiscovered.
When high-powered fine art agent Flora Sykes is called in to assess objets d’art in a Paris apartment that has been abandoned since WWII, she is skeptical at first—until she discovers that the treasure trove of paintings is myriad…and priceless. The powerful Vermeil family to whom they belong is eager to learn more and asks Flora to trace the history of each painting.
Despite a shocking announcement that has left her own family reeling, Flora finds herself thrown into the glamorous world of the Vermeils. But she soon realizes there is more to this project than first appears. As she researches the provenance of their prize Renoir, she uncovers a scandal surrounding the painting—and a secret that goes to the very heart of the family. The fallout will place Flora in the eye of a storm that carries her from London to Vienna to the glittering coast of Provence.
Xavier Vermeil, the brusque scion of the family, is determined to separate Flora from his family’s affairs in spite of their powerful attraction to one another. Just what are the secrets he is desperately trying to hide? And what price is Flora willing to pay to uncover the devastating truth…?
Paperback: 416 pages
Publisher: William Morrow Paperbacks (November 14, 2017)
The Paris Secret is the second book about, or based on the discovery and opening up of the real abandoned Paris apartment which had sat untouched for 70 years after the owner fled at the outbreak of World War II. (My review for that book The Paris Time Capsule is here.) I find the subject so intriguing, the description of the book sounded different enough from the other and I was curious to see what this author would do with the inspiration and I was not disappointed. Karen Swan puts the emphasis on the art in this book and the descriptions of it and the history she imagines surrounding the apartment and its occupants easily transported me to present day Paris, as well as made me imagine what it must have been like at the dawning of the war. I liked Flora, although she is focused on her work as an art agent (which sounds fascinating), she cares for her family, especially her older brother who is facing a life-changing accusation. The family that owns the apartment and who Flora is working for is interesting, even if most of its members are not totally likable and Flora's research uncovers deep secrets and scandals that could easily topple them. These side plots add to the drama of the story of the treasures in the Paris apartment and where they came from. I enjoyed the focus on the apartment and artwork more than the romance that formed for Flora--which didn't quite click for me--but there was enough in the story that did to make me overlook it. I don't know a lot about art, other than to appreciate it, but I could follow along and I felt like I learned something about fine art and the auction world which had me checking out some things on line along the way--always a good sign of how interested I am in a subject.
With the beautiful writing and intriguing story, The Paris Secret made for a nice escape and had me not wanting to set it down as I really wanted to find out what would happen. If you like art, fashion, history, mystery and/or romance, you should enjoy this one. It's my first book from Karen Swan but I will definitely be checking out her other work.
Author Notes: Karen Swan worked as a fashion editor before moving into writing fiction. She is married with three children and lives in the Ashdown Forest in East Sussex, writing her books in a treehouse overlooking the South Downs. She is the author of the novels The Summer Without You, Christmas at Claridges, and The Perfect Present.
Follow Karen on Facebook and Twitter.
There is more detail on fashion and art than there is on food in The Paris Secret but there were some food mentions including “chamomile lawns,” langoustines, tea, yoghurt, lemon mascarpone cheesecake, rosemary, figs, pomegranate, molasses, olive bread “club salad”, avocado, lime soda, jars of pickled fruits and vegetables, a tagine, tequila, Diet Coke and jelly babies, a sushi bar with salmon nigiri and tuna maki, chicken, frappes, macaroons, apple and pear trees, champagne, potatoes, beans and carrots grown on a hidden rooftop, rib of beef, chili, pie, espresso, croissants, orange juice, truffles, a bowl of fruit, sausages, ice cream, moules (mussels), shepherd’s pie, ice wine, bowls of ratatouille, pancakes, and vodka tonic.
The only thing that really called to me to make was the ratatouille which was served at a town “ball”—really an outside dance in a town on the coast of Provence where the crowd sat at wooden tables and the “delicious but rustic” food with bowls of ratatouille were passed down the benches. I love a good bowl of ratatouille and even though it is turning into December, I can still get good local basil, eggplant, zucchini and even tomatoes.
Since it is Potluck week at one of my blogging events—I Heart Cooking Clubs, I looked to see which of our many featured chefs had a good ratatouille recipe that I hadn’t yet tried and although there were several that tempted me, I ended up with an Ellie Krieger recipe for Ratatouille with Red Snapper. There’s no fish beyond shrimp and mussels mentioned in the book, but the heart wants what the heart wants. ;-) There was no local snapper (onaga or opakapaka) and the other local Hawaiian fish at the market didn’t look that great so I decided to swap in salmon from my freezer instead. I also didn’t Ellie would mind if I added in a couple of my favorite veggies--fennel and red bell pepper--to her recipe. My changes are in red below.
Ratatouille with Salmon
Slightly Adapted from Ellie Krieger via FoodNetwork.com
3 Tbsp olive oil, divided
1 large eggplant (about 1 lb), trimmed & cut into small dice (about 3 cups) (I used 2 Japanese eggplant)
1 medium onion, cut into small dice (about 1 1/2 cups)
2 cloves minced garlic (about 2 teaspoons)
2 medium zucchini (1 lb total), trimmed, cut into small dice (about 2 1/2 cups)
(I added 1 fennel bulb and 1 red bell pepper)
(I added 1 fennel bulb and 1 red bell pepper)
1 (14.5-oz) can no-salt-added diced tomatoes (I used fire-roasted)
1 tsp herbs de Provence (or 1/2 tsp dried thyme & 1/4 teaspoon each dried rosemary & dried marjoram)
3/4 tsp salt, plus more for seasoning
1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup chopped fresh basil leaves, plus more for garnish
4 (5-oz) fillets red snapper, skin on (I used 2 5-6 oz salmon fillets, skin on)
2 tsp lemon juice
2 tsp rosemary (or other herb) infused olive oil, optional (I omitted)
In a large nonstick skillet, heat 1 tablespoon olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the eggplant and cook, stirring, until eggplant has softened but not completely lost its shape, about 5 minutes. Remove the eggplant from skillet. Heat another tablespoon of oil in the same skillet over medium-high heat. Add the onions and cook until soft and translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and zucchini to the pan and cook, stirring occasionally, until the zucchini is soft, about 6 to 7 minutes. Return eggplant to pan and add tomatoes, herbs de Provence, 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Simmer approximately 10 minutes. Season with additional salt, to taste. Stir in basil and remove from heat.
To cook fish, preheat broiler. Sprinkle fillets with 1/4 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Combine the remaining tablespoon olive oil with the lemon juice and brush on fillets. Broil until fish is cooked and firm, about 7 minutes. (I added a sprinkle of herbs de Provence to the salmon along with Ellie's salt, pepper, oil lemon) and cooked in until just done on a pan on the stovetop.)
Mound 1 cup ratatouille on 4 plates; top each mound with 1 fish fillet and drizzle with 1/2 teaspoon herb infused oil, if using. Garnish with additional basil.
Notes/Results: This is a simple and tasty ratatouille—nicely flavored with the garlic and herbs de Provence and the salmon stands up to the chunky vegetable stew quite well. I sprinkled a bit of my herbs de Provence on top of the salmon, seasoned it as per Ellie’s recipe and cooked it in a pan on the stovetop. Since I halved the recipe, I didn’t need to fire up the oven that way. Any good firm fish will work here, or you could leave off the fish and add a can of beans to the ratatouille for a veg-friendly version. Easy enough for a weeknight dinner, healthy, and delicious, I would happily make it again.
I'm linking this recipe up to Potluck at I Heart Cooking Clubs. You can see what everyone made by following the picture links on the post.
I'm also sharing this post with the Weekend Cooking event at Beth Fish Reads, a weekly event that is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share. For more information, see the welcome post.
Note: A review copy of "The Paris Secret" was provided to me by the author and the publisher, Harper Collins, via TLC Book Tours. I was not compensated for this review and as always, my thoughts and opinions are my own.
You can see the stops for the rest of this TLC Book Tour and what other reviewers thought about the book here.