Paris

“On more than one occasion,” writes Michelle Moran, bestselling author of The Second Empress, “Napoleon’s sister Pauline Borghese went so far as to make statements to foreign diplomats hinting at an illicit relationship between her and her brother. But there is no doubt that Pauline loved to titillate. Whether or not such a relationship existed, she enjoyed the power this kind of speculation gave her. By linking herself sexually to the most powerful man in the world, she accomplished what even Joséphine couldn’t: a reputation as the most alluring woman in Europe. A woman whose own brother couldn’t resist her.”

“In my view, The Human Comedy is the best restaurant guide you could ask for, for the era,” suggests Anka Muhlstein, author of Balzac’s Omelette. “Balzac was a regular at some forty restaurants, and he sent his characters off into the most refined establishments, as well as into the lowliest ones. The result is both an ideal Michelin Guide of gastronomical delights (and disasters) in nineteenth-century Paris, and an enchanting introduction to the work of one of the greatest French novelists.”

Death in the City of Light begins at 21 rue La Sueur in the heart of Paris’s fashionable 16th arrondissement. It is a March evening in 1944 when two police offers arrive at a townhouse after receiving complaints of a thick, black smoke emanating from the building. Upon entering, they discover a horrific scene – hands, feet, skulls, and bodies in various states of decomposition. Down in the basement they discover the source of the smoke: two coal stoves stuffed with charred remains. Within minutes the search is on for Marcel Petiot, the owner of the home . . . Here, author David King shares with Read It Forward how he stumbled upon this incredibly gripping true-crime thriller, which has already been compared to the likes of Eric Larson’s incredible narrative nonfiction.

“After spending more than a year working on my debut novel, Before Ever After,” writes Samantha Sotto, “emerging from the safety and solitude of my little writer’s cave was daunting. Remaining holed up in it, however, was not an option. If I wanted readers and reviewers to discover this book, then I needed to buckle down and treat social media the same way I had treated school. In short, it was time to brush my hair, change out of my pajamas, and start interacting. First stop, the Blogosphere.”

When my sister and I arrived at the final room of Madame Tussaud’s Time Square, I saw her: Marie Tussaud. She wears a simple white dress with a subtle blue floral pattern and she’s been sculpted later in life, not the woman in her twenties and early thirties who occupies the pages of Michelle Moran’s Madame Tussaud. But I knew her instantly. She tilts her head to one side while holding out a hat, as if she’s about to set it upon icy Napoleon who’s standing a few feet away from her. Her expression is proud and peaceful, a woman who has overcome incredible hardship.