Reviewed by Tori
Favorite Quote: “You are late.”
Clare Harris reinvented herself from dirt poor farmer’s daughter into a dazzling socialite. She marries into money only to find out that her husband requires her to use her beauty and considerable charms on his clients. Claire has spent her whole life burying her emotions; this is a walk in the park for her. But when her past catches up with her, she knows that she must escape her husband before he forfeits her life. So she uses her wiles and wickedly ways to secure passage to Paris in hopes her former lover Laurent will be glad to see her.
She arrives in Paris just as it surrenders to the Nazi’s and soon finds herself with no money, no papers, and no Laurent. When the owner of an elegant flower shop offers her employment and a place to live, she begins to find purpose to her life beyond being a rich man’s trophy. When it becomes apparent that she has no papers she is approached by the French Resistance and made an offer-work for us and she’d be supplied with a new identity with paperwork to match. As Claire moves deeper into the Resistance, she is asked more and more to risk her life for information. When she is betrayed and an English man she has befriended and begun to love is captured, Claire risks everything to bring him home safely.
The Last Time I Saw Paris is a compelling and bittersweet novel of a young pragmatic woman’s journey of self discovery through war torn Paris during the Nazi occupation. Ms. Sheen does a wonderful job of conveying the beauty of Paris against the despair of the war to life for me. It does start out a little slow as we spend a bit of time getting to know Claire and seeing Paris through her eyes, but the pacing picks up once Claire is deep in the resistance and the action and suspense becomes more viable.
I found Claire’s character to be an enigma. When we are first introduced to her, you find yourself put off by her matter of fact attitude towards life. She is beautiful and intelligent and has no problems with exploiting that for what she wants. As the old saying goes, “butter would not melt in her mouth.” As the story progresses and we spend more time with her in Paris and in the resistance, you see her values start to slowly shift. She begins to see and identify with Parisian’s strength and courage as they struggle to survive against the rising nightmare that has invaded their beloved city. She is not the most important person in her world anymore. It isn’t an instant epitome. Ms. Sheen doesn’t change Claire but merely peels back the layers to unearth a core that was there the whole time.
When she is accused of betraying the resistance and viewed traitor, we see her determination and courage rise to the surface as she offers up her own life to ensure the survival of many others.
Our secondary characters all play in an important role is fleshing out Claire’s character but aren’t fleshed out well themselves. I believe because this is told from Claire’s POV so the only interaction you get with other characters is when she interacts with them. I found myself wanting more of an in depth look into the historical aspects of the French Resistance and to see more of what the other characters were doing behind the scenes.
The romance surprised me. While I saw it coming I didn’t quite expect the emotional lasso that it would cast upon me. Though it isn’t inherently romantic; the sexual tension was never quite there and yet it worked for me. During a time when you didn’t know if you would live to see tomorrow, two people come together and in that one moment realize THIS is what they have been risking their lives for. The romantic aspect comes into play later as when Claire realises that her lover has been captured and the resistance will not help. Her actions in attempting to locate and free him are the ultimate act of love. She doesn’t do it for her…she does it for him.
The ending is filled with dramatic suspense and heart stopping action as we watch Claire race through Paris, one step ahead of death, to a climatic finale that had me holding my breath and emitting small sob.
All in all a wonderful debut contemporary that captivated me from page one. If you are a fan of historical romance fiction, then The Last Time I Saw Paris will be a wonderful edition to your bookshelf.