Imagination’s Vacation: Books That Take You to France

After more than a month under social distancing guidelines, many of us are feeling the pang of loss for our canceled travel plans. But there’s an age-old way to experience travel’s joys, no matter what our circumstances—storytelling. Of all the freedoms our imagination brings us, this is one of the most precious: the power of the imagination to set sail around the world on the winds of a good story. You can check out a digital or print book right now that will take you on a far-away adventure from the moment you turn the first page.

Every vacation needs a good tour guide, and we are enchantée that CALS patron and former deputy director Linda Bly has put together this wonderful tour of stories set in France.

Bon voyage, et vive la France!

Meet Your Tour Guide, Linda Bly

I am retired from CALS after a 40-year career, which began when I was hired as the Assistant Reference Librarian for what was then the (much smaller) Little Rock Public Library and ended as Deputy Director.  My affinity for France and all things French may have come from my love of the Madeline books, which were childhood favorites.  When I’m not reading, you can look for me on the back of a horse.


Elizabeth Adler – Invitation to Provence

A family reunion in the south of France…fabulous food, beautiful landscape, family secrets…

Jean-Luc Bannalec – Death in Brittany (first in the Commissaire Dupin series)

Commissaire Georges Dupin has been “relocated” from Paris to Brittany.  This is the first of a series of satisfying mysteries that also beautifully evoke Concarneau and its surroundings in this corner of Brittany.

Melanie Benjamin – Mistress of the Ritz

A novel based on the life of an American woman who was married to the manager of the Ritz Hotel in Paris from the Jazz Age to the 1960s. Though the book touches on the entire time span, the years of WWII and the Nazi occupation of Paris—and of the Ritz—comprise the heart of the story and the mutual deceptions that strain their marriage.

Cara Black – Murder in the Marais (and following Aimee LeDuc series)

Fast-paced action and a quirky PI are features of these mystery novels set in Paris.  The reader is rewarded with not only a satisfying plot in each adventure, but also a sense of immersion in various areas of the city—and not always those usually visited by tourists.

Juliet Blackwell – Letters from Paris, The Paris Key, The Lost Carousel of Provence

Though unrelated, all three novels involve young American women who find purpose and happiness in France, while working respectively in a centuries-old mask-making atelier, as a locksmith, and as a photographer.

Eleanor Brown – The Light of Paris

After discovering her grandmother’s diaries from her life in Paris between the two world wars, Madeleine goes to Paris to escape family expectations and a controlling husband. There she finds new self-confidence and the ability to make hard choices for herself.

Alexander Campion – The Grave Gourmet (and following in the Capucine Culinary Mystery series)

Commissaire Capucine Le Tellier of the Paris Police Judiciaire and her food-critic husband find themselves involved in murder, but always with fabulous food on the side.

David Dodge – The Last Match

A handsome con artist working the French Riviera meets an heiress, who pursues him around the world—along with the police—with the hope of reforming him.

Nina George – The Little French Bistro

A more-than-middle-aged woman flees to France from a loveless marriage, first to Paris and then to Brittany, where she makes new friends and learns that it is never to late to start a happy life.

Joanne Harris – Chocolat: A Novel

Chocolate, hints of magic/sorcery…The village priest denounces a newcomer and purveyor of chocolate as a serious danger to his flock at the beginning of Lent. Later titles continue the story.

Diane Johnson – Le Divorce , Le Mariage 

In the first novel, an American woman goes to France to support her pregnant sister in this clash of French and American mores. The second, involving two couples in Paris, offers witty insights on love, marriage, and Anglo-French relations.

J. Longworth – Death at the Chateau Bremont (and following in the Verlaque and Bonnet series)

This is the first in a mystery series involving chief magistrate Antoine Verlaque and law professor Marine Bonnet of Aix-en-Provence. The descriptions of fabulous food and wine and the history of the area are every bit as engaging as the mysteries themselves.

Pierre Magnan – Death in the Truffle Wood and Messengers of Death

These cozy mysteries are set in Provence and feature Commissaire Laviolette.

Sarah Morgan – One Summer in Paris

Ever-cautious Grace, alone in Paris for what was to be a surprise 25th anniversary gift to her husband, is instead surprised to be dumped by him. She bonds with a troubled London teen, as they both learn new lessons of love, understanding, and self-confidence.

Susan Vreeland – Lisette’s List

A young Parisian bride cares for her husband’s ailing grandfather in Provence during World War II.  The art of Provence-inspired masters forms the backdrop of this touching story.


F.K. Fisher – Long Ago in France: The Years in Dijon

Noted American food writer Mary Frances Kennedy Fisher richly describes the time and the food she and her new husband discovered in their stay in Dijon from 1928-1932.

Suzy Gershman – C’est la Vie: an American Conquers the City of Light

“An American woman begins a new life in Paris and becomes—Voila!—almost French.”

Mary S. Lovell – The Riviera Set: Glitz, Glamour and the Hidden World of High Society

The story of the Chateau de l’Horizon, a mansion built by an American woman in Cannes in the 1920s, covering its first 40 years. Among the regular guests were Winston Churchill, Coco Chanel, the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, and Rita Hayworth and Aly Kahn.

Peter Mayle – Year in Provence (and others)

Englishman Mayle and his wife buy a house just outside a village in Provence. This memoir details their first year there as they deal with local craftsmen working on their house, meals in restaurants that tourists will never discover, and the unexpectedly fierce winter weather.


list by Linda Bly

feature introduction by Rosslyn Elliott