Get ready to load up your nightstand because this list of books set in Paris are full of historical intrigue, love affairs, loss, murder, bookstores and fish out of water. Paris itself is the main character in so many of these books that you’ll find yourself falling in love with her. So, dig in, start reading and lose yourself in Paris.
“The whole of Paris is a vast university of art, literature and music…” —James Thurber
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These books about Paris add up to a pretty epic reading list- we have 50 ideas for you! We’ve included selections for novels set in Paris, books set during WWII, historical novels, books set in bookstores, mysteries, spec/fic and fantasy, memoirs and histories of the City of Light.
So, if you have a particular genre that you prefer, skip down to that section using the table of contents below. However, I encourage you to scroll through the full list, because you might find some surprising finds in unexpected genres.
Contemporary Fiction Set in Paris
Books Set in Paris During WWII
Other Historical Fiction About Paris
Books About Parisian Bookstores (& Libraries)
Mysteries & Thrillers Set in Paris
Parisian Spec/fic and Fantasy
Histories About Paris
Contemporary Fiction Set in Paris
The Elegance of the Hedgehog, Muriel Barbery
This book is one of my favorite novels set in Paris. The setting’s frosty and posh Parisian digs, belie the warm heart of the book. It features a cantankerous building concierge and a young teenager who live in the building. Both are very carefully hiding their pain and intellectual talents from other building residents who seem not to notice (or much care).
If you’ve already read and loved Hedgehog, try Barbery’s newer book Gourmet Rhapsody. It features a different character from the same building.
The Yellow Eyes of Crocodiles, Katherine Pancol
When Josephine’s husband takes off on an improbable boondoggle to start a croc farm in Kenya, she is forced to figure out how to make ends meet. She’s never made quite enough money as a 12th century researcher. So, when her author sister cooks up a scheme to have Josephine pen her next historical novel, she reluctantly agrees.
For fans of rich people problems and fraught family dynamics.
Hunting and Gathering, Anna Gavalda
For some people, families aren’t found but rather they are made. Gavalda’s quartet of misfits find themselves connected initially by need– and then by love.
“This story is about love in all the places it can be hidden.”
Paris for One and Other Stories, Jojo Moyes
Moyes’ collection consists of a novella and several short stories. The novella features a women stood up by her boyfriend for a weekend getaway to Paris. She surprises herself by carrying on and diving into what might be the most adventurous weekend of her life.
“No need to worry where this road trip is headed. Just sit back, roll down your window and enjoy being a passenger.”
Paris in the Present Tense, Mark Halperin
74 year-old Jules is a cellist, Holocaust survivor, father and grandfather. He loves his work and his family, and dearly misses his late wife. When his grandson develops leukemia, Jules cooks up a way to get his hands on some money to help pay for the treatment. And it’s this deceit that drives much of the action.
But it’s not just about that. The book is very rich in character development and it features a lot of sacrifice, tragedy, and emotions. It covers Jules’ love of music, affairs of the heart and it features Paris as a key character.
Paris Time Capsule, Ella Carey
Who was Isabelle de Florian? And why did she bequeath her Belle Epocque Paris apartment to photographer Cat Jordan?
Cat leaves New York (and her boyfriend), and travels to Paris to find out what’s going on. She finds that the apartment is a perfectly preserved time capsule from WWII. Florian’s local family should be the rightful owners of the apartment, so Cat sets out on a journey of discovery to learn how she ended up with it.
This read has lots of mysteries to unravel, remarkable characters, and a bit of romance with Paris as the backdrop.
Someday in Paris, Olivia Lara
In a riff on the “Before Sunrise” / “After Sunset” movie series, Lara has written a love story full of chance meetings over the course of 20 years.
In it, Leon and Zara are only 15 when they meet in an art museum experiencing a power outage. Zara thinks he’s her soulmate. And they do indeed meet again later. But circumstances, time and fate keep intervening. This book is a great sentimental read and it has all the feels.
“…nothing is more important than love. In all its shapes and forms, at all ages and no matter what the ending. Love is the destination, the journey. Love is the reason.”
Giovanni’s Room, James Baldwin
This novel is considered a classic of gay literature. While his fiance is away, David embarks upon an affair with Giovanni. He finds himself caught between his repressed desires and conventional 1950’s morality. The book covers the struggle for sexual identity, finding true kinship, and the hard truths about societal burdens.
“People who believe that they are strong-willed and the masters of their destiny can only continue to believe this by becoming specialists in self-deception.”
Books Set in Paris During World War II
All the Light We Cannot See, Anthony Doerr
This novel is set in Paris during World War II and it features a blind Parisian girl and a young German orphan. She’s struggling to live within the German occupation, and he is a German enlisted to root out the resistance. This book basically won all of the awards, including the Pulitzer and National Book Award long list
“It has been a while since I have found a book that I wanted to read slowly so that I could soak in every detail in hopes that the last page seems to never come. “
Read this for book club and use our discussion guide to the get the conversation going.
If you enjoy reading prize winners, check out our reading guides and book lists that feature winners and nominees of the Pulitzer, National Book Award and Booker.
Sarah’s Key, Tatiana de Rosnay
This book is also set in Paris during WWII. It features a ten year old girl whose family is brutally arrested during the Vel’ d’Hiv’ Jewish pogrom. The story skips forward to 2002 when journalist Julia is tasked with writing an article about the pogrom and she uncovers long hidden secrets.
The Paris Architect, Charles Belfoure
Parisian Architect Lucien Bernard has little empathy for the Jews. But when he’s offered a large sum of money to design secret hiding places, he takes up the challenge.
When one of his hiding places fails horribly, he’s faced with the reality of what’s going on and he finds himself in over his head.
Bernard is a pretty heartless protagonist (at least initially) and the book is unflinching about the animal nature of war and the insidious darkness that it perpetrates. But the book also offers a beacon of hope and redemption throughout the narrative.
Suite Francaise, Irene Nemirovsky
Sandra Smith, Translator
This story begins in Paris on the eve of the Nazi occupation in 1940. It features a collection of Parisians attempting to flee in advance of the occupation. What makes this novel particularly poignant is that the author herself was caught up in the round up of Jews and later died in Auschwitz.
“…because all happiness is contagious, and disarms the spirit of hatred.”
The Nightingale, Kristin Hannah
This book won accolades as Good Reads’ historical fiction book of the year, a Wall Street Journal best book of the year and it sat on the NY Times bestseller list for a good long time. It features two sisters forced to make impossible choices in order to survive the occupation.
“The author says on her website that ‘In war, women’s stories are all too often forgotten or overlooked.’ I had never thought about how true that really was until I read this book.”
Read it for book club and use our Nightingale discussion guide to get the conversation started.
The Keeper of Happy Endings, Barbara Davis
Soline is the owner of a bridal salon in Paris. The dresses that she and her family have made for generations are supposed to bring a lifetime of joy to those who wear them. During WWII, Soline is forced to close up shop, tragedy strikes and her life is forever changed.
Decades later, Rory takes a lease on the property where the salon used to be. She has her own recent grief. While setting up her art gallery, Rory finds letters and a vintage dress which lead her to cross paths with Soline.
This cross-genre book has some mystery, romance and just a touch of magic.
The Dressmaker’s Gift, Fiona Valpy
This book is partially set in Paris during the 1940 Nazi occupation. But, like The Keeper of Happy Endings, there is a modern day storyline crisscrossing the narrative.
Claire, Mireille and Vivienne are dressmakers in Paris during the occupation. They become close friends but each is hiding secrets. Claire has entered a dangerous liaison with a German officer and Vivienne and Mireille are supporting the resistance.
Modern-day Harriet washes up in Paris, struggling to figure out her place in the world. She comes across some old letters of her grandmother and the author uses this device to tell the backstory of the dressmakers.
“The story was about how friendships can be formed, tested, and destroyed. How people can be broken, healed and find inner strength in the darkest of hours.”
The Room on Rue Amelie, Kristin Harmel
This book set in Paris during WWII is a good read-alike for folks who like Kristin Hannah books.
It tells the story of an American newlywed, a Jewish girl, and an RAF pilot. Ruby (the newlywed) and Charlotte (the girl), work together to help RAF Pilot Thomas find his way home. Fate brings them together…and together, they fight to survive.
“…Sometimes, we only discover our calling in life when things are darkest.”
If you really like WWII fiction, be sure to check out our list of books similar to The Rose Code for a lot of related picks.
Other Historical Fiction Set in Paris
Paris, Edward Rutherfurd
Rutherfurd’s books are great for people who can’t take the dry prose that typifies a lot of historical nonfiction. He’s written historical fiction books set in Paris, London, Ireland, New York and Russia. This one follows a thread of interviewing blood lines from Roman time through post WWII.
The Paris Wife, Paula McLain
This novel imagines what life was like for Hemingway’s wife, Hadley. They married in 1920 and then moved to Paris to experience the wild Jazz Age life featured in his book, The Sun Also Rises. McLain was inspired to write the book after reading A Moveable Feast (noted below). She wanted to capture Bohemian Paris, Hemingway’s mercurial nature and their tempestuous relationship.
This book is good on audio.
Quartet, Jean Rhys
In Quartet, Rhys also presents a version of 1920’s Bohemian Paris. This is a fictionalized account of Rhys’ own abandonment by her imprisoned husband and her fraught affair with a married man. It’s not all nightclubs and champagne for her. She has to scrape by using whatever means possible.
The Sisters of Versailles, Sally Christie
The Sisters of Versailles is part of an 18th century trilogy centered around King Louis XV’s court.
There are five Nesle sisters and (gasp!), four of them became Louis’ mistresses. You get each sister’s perspective in turn. And there is a lot of court scheming, bedroom shenanigans and juicy drama packed into this novel…which is based upon real sisters.
This book is great for fans of The Other Boleyn Girl.
“The king raises his goblet. ‘To my favorite sisters. All so different, yet all so charming. Would that we could be together like this, every evening.’“
Ribbons of Scarlet
Co authored by Kate Quinn, Stephanie Dray, E. Knight, Laura Kamole, Sophie Perinot, Heather Webb and Allison Pataki.
It’s the 1700’s and women in France have no power. As the revolution begins to build, the series of women featured in this novel take their opportunity to have their voices heard. You follow Sophie (who advocates for education and equal rights), Louise (who leads marches), Manon (who takes up the pen), and four other characters who each fight the fight.
The book is a collaboration by six authors and it’s tied together with themes of feminism, passionate idealism, and fierce strength.
The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Victor Hugo
Before the sixteen screen adaptions of the Hunchback of Notre Dame (I’m not kidding, Google it), there was the original. This is an epic melodramatic love story set against the backdrop of medieval Paris. Hugo lays bare hypocrisy, suffering, compassion, melancholy and human spirit.
“He reached for his pocket, and found there, only reality”
If you are traveling to Paris, be sure to visit the Victor Hugo museum, located on the Place Vosges in the Marais.
Books about Bookstores in Paris
I’m a sucker for books about books, bookshops and libraries. And Paris is such a literary city that it’s no surprise that bookshops and libraries feature frequently in books about Paris.
And if you also like this sort of meta fiction, start with our list of books set in bookstores and then move on to books about books and also books about libraries and librarians.
The Paris Library, Janet Skeslien Charles
The Paris Library is another crossover between WWII fiction and bibliophilic fiction. Although it’s based upon real people who worked in the library.
In the book, Odile is a librarian at the American Library in Paris. The library comes under attack for housing the (long) list of banned books and also providing subscription services for people that the Nazis disapprove of. Odile and her co-worker resist and while they survive the war, she bears scars.
We meet Odile again in 1983, where she is now living in Montana. She and her neighbor Lily become friends and Odile begins to trust Lily with her story.
The book’s theme cover love, loss, longing and (always) the love of books.
“After the darkness of war, the light of books.”This historic motto for the American Library in Paris.
The Little Paris Bookshop, Nina George
The main character of this book owns a small bookshop housed in a barge on the Seine. He considers himself a “literary apothecary” and rather than selling his customers the books that they think they want, he sells them the books that he knows they need.
But he has his own needs and he soon embarks upon a watery adventure to discover his great love.
A Novel Bookstsore, Laurence Cosse
Alison Anderson, Translator
The Good Novel Bookstore simply wants to offer its customers literary masterpieces. They shun commercialism in favor of a quality selection of works, carefully curated by a secretive committee of authors.
But it’s not all uppity airs and “litrachure”, because there is a compelling mystery at the heart of this book with plenty of dark suspense and whodunnit to keep the plot moving.
The Paris Network, Siobhan
This book is a crossover between the WWII genre and books about books, bookstores and bookstore owners.
In 1939, bookseller Laurence Sidot has turned her family store into The Book Dispensary, which features books on the Nazi banned list. Laurence is also part of the Resistance and she uses the books to pass messages. She meets Wendell, an American pilot who was shot down.
In the modern-day segments, Jeanne was raised by Wendell. After her mother’s funeral, she is surprised to learn that she has inherited the bookstore. She goes to France to learn the truth about her history.
The book has great pacing and atmosphere, and there’s a satisfying build to the story.
The Red Notebook, Antoine Laurain
Jane Aitken and Emily Boyce, Translators
This quintessential French romance follows a bookseller on a delightful quest to return a lost notebook to its owner. He falls in love with her along the way, well before he meets her. This charming book is a cozy armchair read for a rainy day.
And if you’ve already read and liked The Red Notebook, you can look at his more recent book Vintage 1954, which involves some fine wine, time travel and is also set in Paris
Time Was Soft There: A Paris Sojourn at Shakespeare & Co, Jeremy Mercer
Mercer was broke in Paris when he got invited to a party with some riffraff from Shakespeare & Co. The bookstore is the oldest English language bookstore in Paris and they have a quirky habit of simply letting people move in, which Mercer does. This memoir features his time in the store and the whacky cast of characters that inhabit it.
While I didn’t move in, I did hang out at the store on my most recent visit to Paris and you should definitely do the same when you visit.
“In Paris they simply stared at me when I spoke to them in French. I never did succeed in making those idiots understand their language.”Mark Twain
Thrillers & Mysteries Set in Paris
The Paris Apartment, Lucy Foley
Jess needs a fresh start and she heads off to Paris hang out with her brother. But all is not well in this Paris apartment building. When Jess arrives, she finds her brother missing and her efforts to find out what happened is thwarted by…well…pretty much everyone who lives there.
In addition to residents who are creepy schemers, this Paris apartment also houses a pile of lies, closets full of skeletons, shadowy figures and dank cellars.
Read it for book club and use our discussion guide to fuel the conversation.
Murder in the Marais, Cara Black
This mystery novel set in Paris is the first in Black’s Aimee Leduc series. Aimee is a private investigator unafraid to take on dirty cops, cold cases and deathbed secrets.
Murder in the Marais finds a simple investigation going sideways when old secrets start surfacing in Paris’ historical Jewish quarter. You don’t have to read these books in order, but it’s best if you do. However, each book is set in a particular neighborhood. So, if you are traveling to Paris, choose the title related to where you are staying.
The World at Night (Night Soldiers #4), Alan Furst
Furst is a master at suspenseful historical thrillers. This mystery is set in Paris in 1940. Prosperous filmmaker Jean Casson has some trouble adjusting to the rude reality of Nazi occupied Paris. But he ultimately finds himself willing to gamble it all on on missions for the British Secret Service.
Perfume: The Story of a Murderer, Patrick Suskind
John E. Woods, Translator
Jean-Baptiste Grenouille is born with a rare gift of absolute smell. He finds the smelly Parisian streets (and even his job at the tannery) to be fascinating. He apprentices himself to a perfumer, but his skill turns truly macabre when he becomes obsessed with the smell of a virgin.
He resorts to murder on his single-minded quest to attain the perfect smell.
The book has a menacing, hypnotic tone as it barrels to a compelling conclusion.
Lost and Found in Paris, Lian Dolan
When Joan learns about her husband’s infidelity (and his secret twins), her marriage blows up in a spectacular way. She decides to change it up. She takes a job as an art courier, and heads off to Paris transporting a valuable portfolio of sketches.
She chats up her seatmate Nate…they have dinner…and then a one night stand. In the AM, she the finds that the portfolio has gone missing and she receives a mysterious missive which refers back to the artwork of her father, who died in 9/11.
Joan and Nate set off on a madcap scavenger hunt around Paris in an effort to retrieve the lost works.
” This is a beach read with bite, an art heist with pizzazz, a family drama, a romance and an immersion into all things fancy and French.”
Have Mercy on Us All (Commissaire Adamsberg #1), Fred Vargas
Sian Reynolds, Translator
Someone is drawing chalk circles on the streets of Paris, placing strange objects at the center. Adamsberg is called in when things escalate and a dead body is found in one of the circles.
Commissaire Adamsberg is a fascinating character who others consider to be quite strange. He follows his own peculiar logic for solving crimes and Vargas renders the reveal with a slow burn.
The Phantom of the Opera, Gaston Leroux
Leroux’s Phantom is the original mystery novel set in Paris. It was published in 1910 and follows chorus girl Christine. She is taught to sing by the Phantom. He becomes enraged when Christine is reunited with a childhood friend and a drama of Gothic proportion ensues.
The book is definitely more dark and twisty than the musical version.
An Officer and a Spy, Robert Harris
This historical spy thriller set in Paris in the 1890’s is fueled by dramatic action and moral complexities. Georges Picquart believes that Aldred Dreyfus has been duly convicted of treason. That is, until Picquart is promoted to the head of the French spy agency and he soon uncovers evidence that the spy is still at large.
Parisian Speculative Fiction & Fantasy
The Girl With No Shadow (Chocolat #2),
(This book is sometimes called The Lollipop Shoes)
In this follow-up to the mouth-watering Chocolat, Vianne (now called Yanne) opens a small chocolaterie in Montmartre. She is seeking security and normalcy for her two children after the events in the first book.
Their lives change when they’re befriended by the mysterious and free-spirited Zozie de l’Alba (the girl with no shadow). Zozie is certainly not who she claims to be and she has plans…plans that may not go well for Vianne.
The book has a heavy dose of magical realism and the ending packs a big punch.
Rooftoppers, Katherine Rundell and Terry Fan
Did you know that there is a secret world in Paris where street urchins live on the rooftops? This story follows one such kid, Sophie, who’s evading the French authorities while searching for her long lost mother.
The book doesn’t feature hard magic, but the book feels like an urban fairy tale and it features love, hope and belief.
Die for Me (Die for Me #1), Amy Plumb
After the death of her parents, Kate moves to Paris to live with her grandparents. She’s brought out of her shell by the charming and handsome Vincent, and she begins to fall for him.
But then she discovers that he’s a revenant, part of the undead. Well…that’s complicated. And he might be kind of a hot zombie, but he’s a hot zombie with purpose.
This book is a fun YA paranormal book with plenty of French romance to keep you turning the pages.
The Gilded Wolves (The Gilded Wolves #1),
This book was described by one Goodreads reviewer as “…Six of Crows mixed up with the best bits of a Dan Brown book. In short, it’s full of friendship, scheming, and lots of puzzles to solve”
Séverin Montagnet-Alarie is the one solving those puzzles as he searches for the Horus Eye. If he can find it, the Order of Babel will accept him and grant him his inheritance, which has been denied him because of his mixed heritage.
Séverin goes off to Paris with a merry band of misfits, which include: his brother from another mother (who likes tarantulas), a feisty Indian dancer (and pastry chef with a secret power), an introverted genius (and puzzle-solver), a French-Haitian drama queen, and a bi-sexual mixed race history buff.
The book has solid found-family vibes, heisty overtones and a dash of romance.
Submission, Michel Houellebecq
Lorin Stein, Translator
This book was written in 2015 but it takes a forward look to the 2022 political season.
The protagonist, Francois is a bored, drunk, middle-aged university professor. Through an improbable set of circumstances, the conservative Muslim Brotherhood party comes into power, and it moves to transform France’s secular political culture to an Islamic one.
Francois finds himself on the outs. He loses his university position and his Jewish girlfriend. But then, he’s presented with an opportunity by the new administration, who needs his expertise. To take the position however, he must convert. Francois hesitates. He prevaricates. He worries. He resists submission.
This novel is deeply satirical and it isn’t for everyone. It says a lot (of critical things) about modern-day French values and complacency, and the book forces readers to become uncomfortable with themselves.
Memoirs About in Paris
The Piano Shop on the Left Bank, Thad Carhart
Carhart’s personal story follows his discovery of the Desforges Piano shop (and it’s imperious owner). His time in the shop and engagement with the owner offers a biography of the piano itself and also the author’s own reintroduction to his childhood passion.
Me Talk Pretty One Day, David Sedaris
Sedaris didn’t speak a lick of French when he moved to Paris. This memoir shares his attempts to learn the language…and also how it is to be an expat in Paris. It’s full of his usual keenly observed encounters, his weird obsessions and even features a taxidermy shop. I strongly recommend that you listen to this (and all of his books) on audio.
Sedaris’ books also make our list of best memoirs on audio (read by the author). There are some really great listens on that list.
Pancakes in Paris, Craig Carlson
Craig fell in love with Paris during a study abroad program. He later returned to Paris, but he really missed his American breakfast. So, he strived to open an American-style diner in Paris.
He’s the only one who thinks it’s a good idea. And he struggles to find ingredients, navigate the bureaucracy, learn the biz and buck the prevailing food snobbery in Paris.
Don’t read the book on an empty stomach.
The Only Street in Paris: Life on the Rue des Martyrs, Elaine Sciolino
This is less a memoir than an homage to Sciolino’s favorite street in Paris. There are a lot of ghosts on the Rue des Martyrs, including Degas, Zola, Renoir and the Jesuit martyrs themselves.
“Paris . . . is loath to surrender itself to people who are in a hurry; it belongs to the dreamers, to those capable of amusing themselves in its streets without regard to time when urgent business requires their presence elsewhere…”
A Moveable Feast, Earnest Hemingway
Hemingway’s Paris exploits in the 1920’s were a critical factor in his development as a writer. Cafe living on $5 a day, and all of the Bohemia that you can handle! This book is a who’s who of the 1920’s literati with drop ins from Gertrude Stein, James Joyce, F Scott Fitzgerald and Ezra Pound.
“If you are lucky enough to have lived in Paris as a young man, then wherever you go for the rest of your life, it stays with you, for Paris is a moveable feast.”
History Books about Paris
Parisians: An Adventure History of Paris, Graham Robb
Robb tells the history of Paris through stranger-than-fiction stories ranging from the Revolution to modern day. Each of the twenty people featured is a mystery which Robb unravels though narrative vignettes.
The stories are dishy and they illuminate the distinct character of Parisians.
How Paris Became Paris, Joan DeJean
Between the seventh and eighteenth centuries, Paris was transformed from a swampy series of disconnected neighborhoods into a truly modern urban wonder. This deliberate urban planning created the public spaces and walkable boulevards that brought Parisian citizens together.
Each chapter of the book picks a topic (such as a landmark) and then explores how that topic was developed.
Read this book, and then when you visit Paris, take a tour through the Sewer Museum. It’s not as smelly as you might think and their exhibits underscore DeJean’s exploration of how Paris’ infrastructure transformed the city. (Hot tip though: don’t wear sandals).
The Seven Ages of Paris, Alistair Horne
Horne explores pivotal moments in Paris’ history. He focuses on an idiosyncratic phylum of ages (such as medieval and Renaissance Paris, Napoleonic Paris and the Belle Epoque era). The book covers not only hard historical facts, but also social and cultural life.
The Mistress of Paris: The 19th Century Cortesan Who Built an Empire on a Secret, Catherine Hewitt
The Comtesse Valtesse de la Bigne managed to amass a small fortune during hedonistic Paris of the 19th century. She came from lowly beginnings but scandalously managed to catch the eye of Napoleon III, Manet and Zola.
This is a portrait of hedonistic glory during the mid-to-late nineteenth-century.
Explore More Armchair Travel
If you like exploring beyond your backyard or like reading books in translation, check out our other destination guides. It includes books set in Australia, Sri Lanka, Spain, Scotland, Colombia, Iceland, Ireland and Jordan.
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