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Five Flights Up: Sex, Love, and Family, from Paris to Lyon

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“How can you be sick of living in Paris?” Life unravels when American psychotherapist Kristin Louise Duncombe faces being uprooted again—to follow her husband from their secure nest in Paris to bourgeois Lyon. The result is a touchstone memoir for anyone facing a move, dealing with marital ghosts, or confronting the professional death of starting anew. Duncombe’s unique spe “How can you be sick of living in Paris?” Life unravels when American psychotherapist Kristin Louise Duncombe faces being uprooted again—to follow her husband from their secure nest in Paris to bourgeois Lyon. The result is a touchstone memoir for anyone facing a move, dealing with marital ghosts, or confronting the professional death of starting anew. Duncombe’s unique specialty is helping “trailing spouses” maintain their sanity while following their other half around the globe. But she must reconfigure everything she thought she knew about her "expat expertise" when her child sinks into existential crisis, addiction to Lyonnais cream puffs blooms, and tea time is to be had with glamorous French moms whose sex lives include swingers’ parties. This boisterous, big-hearted book provides a compelling glimpse into love, family, and sex in France, and a modern family grappling with the inevitable downs - and ups - of building a new life. “An insightful memoir of life in France in which the author and her multi-cultural family embrace the wisdom, step by step, that home is where the heart is.”—Meg Bortin, author of Desperate to be a Housewife “Five Flights Up is hilarious and brave. With her trademark honesty, Kristin Louise Duncombe reveals the imperfect yet privileged world of being a foreigner in France.”—Lizzie Harwood, author of Xamnesia “A must-read for any woman coping with monumental transitions, and who has felt they have lost their way along this trajectory we call life.”—Samantha Vérant, author of Seven Letters from Paris


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“How can you be sick of living in Paris?” Life unravels when American psychotherapist Kristin Louise Duncombe faces being uprooted again—to follow her husband from their secure nest in Paris to bourgeois Lyon. The result is a touchstone memoir for anyone facing a move, dealing with marital ghosts, or confronting the professional death of starting anew. Duncombe’s unique spe “How can you be sick of living in Paris?” Life unravels when American psychotherapist Kristin Louise Duncombe faces being uprooted again—to follow her husband from their secure nest in Paris to bourgeois Lyon. The result is a touchstone memoir for anyone facing a move, dealing with marital ghosts, or confronting the professional death of starting anew. Duncombe’s unique specialty is helping “trailing spouses” maintain their sanity while following their other half around the globe. But she must reconfigure everything she thought she knew about her "expat expertise" when her child sinks into existential crisis, addiction to Lyonnais cream puffs blooms, and tea time is to be had with glamorous French moms whose sex lives include swingers’ parties. This boisterous, big-hearted book provides a compelling glimpse into love, family, and sex in France, and a modern family grappling with the inevitable downs - and ups - of building a new life. “An insightful memoir of life in France in which the author and her multi-cultural family embrace the wisdom, step by step, that home is where the heart is.”—Meg Bortin, author of Desperate to be a Housewife “Five Flights Up is hilarious and brave. With her trademark honesty, Kristin Louise Duncombe reveals the imperfect yet privileged world of being a foreigner in France.”—Lizzie Harwood, author of Xamnesia “A must-read for any woman coping with monumental transitions, and who has felt they have lost their way along this trajectory we call life.”—Samantha Vérant, author of Seven Letters from Paris

30 review for Five Flights Up: Sex, Love, and Family, from Paris to Lyon

  1. 5 out of 5

    Lizzie Harwood

    Ooooh, this book really gives so much to the reader. Not only do we get the French stuff - what it's like to live in Paris, in the 11th arrondissement the bohemian side of town where apartment buildings are mini communities for their inhabitants who are mainly French but welcome neighbors from all over - but we also get an endearing story of a marriage between two people who have been there for each other and at times not been there for each other. The honesty with which Kristin Duncombe describe Ooooh, this book really gives so much to the reader. Not only do we get the French stuff - what it's like to live in Paris, in the 11th arrondissement the bohemian side of town where apartment buildings are mini communities for their inhabitants who are mainly French but welcome neighbors from all over - but we also get an endearing story of a marriage between two people who have been there for each other and at times not been there for each other. The honesty with which Kristin Duncombe describes her own foibles is beautiful and hilarious - "This is great teamwork," notes her husband to the barage of texts she fires at him when she wants to live in a certain apartment that is five flights up with no elevator. Yet it is great teamwork that the two of them enjoy, and this memoir celebrates family, love, and yup, sex, in all of the crazy messy ways these things operate in our lives. Duncombe is such a talented author because she makes you feel like you are right there with her and she'd never judge you for any "non-teamwork" behavior of your own. I loved her first memoir Trailing - and now I love Five Flights Up equally if not more. If you haven't read Trailing you could easily start right here with Kristin's life in France. Grab a pastry, preferably something sticky and oozy from Pignol in Lyon, and escape your life to go hang out with Kristin in hers. This is life-affirming, warm and real.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Susan Joyce

    The Balancing Act As an ex-pat living in my 10th foreign country I have also gone through many frustrating adjustments to new cultures, environments, and situations—some less stressful than others. It's easy for me to relate to Kristin on many levels. On the outside, life looks perfect. But when one looks closer, one sees the tangled web of struggle for healthy relationships with family and friends in new places. After following her doctor husband around the world, Kristin decides to leave a seemi The Balancing Act As an ex-pat living in my 10th foreign country I have also gone through many frustrating adjustments to new cultures, environments, and situations—some less stressful than others. It's easy for me to relate to Kristin on many levels. On the outside, life looks perfect. But when one looks closer, one sees the tangled web of struggle for healthy relationships with family and friends in new places. After following her doctor husband around the world, Kristin decides to leave a seemingly secure life in Paris to join him in Lyon in hopes of finding home and happiness. Facing her family struggles head-on she learns to embrace uncertainty, follow her heart, and treat herself often to a sticky French pastry from Pignol in Lyon. The title and the cover design of this book speak volumes about Kristin's adjustments and desires for more cohesive relationships in life. It's a steep climb … but she's willing to work to make the parts of the whole fit together well in this important balancing act.

  3. 5 out of 5

    J. A. Lewis

    Kristin Duncombe's second installment of her life as the wife of a Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) doctor was equally as interesting as her first, "Trailing". Met with the opportunity to save her marriage and move from Africa to Paris opens the door to a new and more fulfilling life. She lives in Paris for a number of years working as a counselor and repairing her marital relationship as well as adding another child to the family. When her husband is given an opportunity for a career move to Lyon Kristin Duncombe's second installment of her life as the wife of a Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) doctor was equally as interesting as her first, "Trailing". Met with the opportunity to save her marriage and move from Africa to Paris opens the door to a new and more fulfilling life. She lives in Paris for a number of years working as a counselor and repairing her marital relationship as well as adding another child to the family. When her husband is given an opportunity for a career move to Lyon, it becomes obvious that she struggles with letting go of her life in Paris. She continues to commute to and from Lyon to Paris to continue her practice, while her children adapt to their new home and schools. Kristin has a wonderful sense of humor and is blatantly honest about her feelings. One feels quite at home with her writing style.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Melissa Daniels

    Funny Loved this book, read i n one day. Not what I thought it would be, about the French life but more about being an expat who longed to feel at home and about being a Mom who wanted her kids to feel at home also. Very fun read.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Vicki Lesage

    I love books about France, but so many are about Paris! This was a great inside look at life in Lyon (and of course a little Paris too). But more than that, it was an honest look at one woman's life as she navigated life's struggles -- marriage, kids, jobs, moving -- with the added layer of complexity of doing it all abroad. One minute you're laughing, enjoying a sweet pastry and vivid descriptions of life in her corner of France, the next minute you're turning pages non-stop to see what happens I love books about France, but so many are about Paris! This was a great inside look at life in Lyon (and of course a little Paris too). But more than that, it was an honest look at one woman's life as she navigated life's struggles -- marriage, kids, jobs, moving -- with the added layer of complexity of doing it all abroad. One minute you're laughing, enjoying a sweet pastry and vivid descriptions of life in her corner of France, the next minute you're turning pages non-stop to see what happens next in her life's story.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Samantha Verant

    Full of heart, Five Flights Up is a brave and honest memoir about coming to terms with the many roles we play in life (wife, husband, parent, career-driven business maverick, or friend), coping with monumental transitions like moving, and how all these adventures, along with deep reflection, can change and transform you, ultimately bringing you back to the person you may feel you have lost along the way: yourself. I loved, loved, loved this book and I really connected with her story, her voice, Full of heart, Five Flights Up is a brave and honest memoir about coming to terms with the many roles we play in life (wife, husband, parent, career-driven business maverick, or friend), coping with monumental transitions like moving, and how all these adventures, along with deep reflection, can change and transform you, ultimately bringing you back to the person you may feel you have lost along the way: yourself. I loved, loved, loved this book and I really connected with her story, her voice, and her sly humor.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Ruth Dresher-Brown

    Having just completed "Trailing" I immediately loaded this second book to see how this family's life continued. The shift from Africa to Paris had come at the cost of true disintegration in the life of our couple. As the family now has two children they learn that Paris is their home. Kristin has always wanted to have a home base where her family could enjoy the stable lifestyle she was not able to have for herself as a child of a diplomatic person. It's is interesting how as the book moves thro Having just completed "Trailing" I immediately loaded this second book to see how this family's life continued. The shift from Africa to Paris had come at the cost of true disintegration in the life of our couple. As the family now has two children they learn that Paris is their home. Kristin has always wanted to have a home base where her family could enjoy the stable lifestyle she was not able to have for herself as a child of a diplomatic person. It's is interesting how as the book moves through her thoughts on what her Mother may have felt and endured crystalize in her mind as she continues to fret about the state of her life and self. The opportunity to work in her field and be recognized by her professional peers that she is quite good at her job lifts her soul. Finding out the next assignment has been offered in Lyon does not thrill her in the least. She's fulfilled, her kids are happy, but trying to keep a foot in Paris through commuting two days a week, unknown events occur, life happens, and she is at last choosing to let Paris go. The wonderfully humorous scenes laid out of the up town neighborhood she decides to live in, five flights up, tells a great tale of the climb, not only up those stairs, but of the climb to engage her life again. To get her work life back in order, to have the consistency and stability she cherishes for her children and also the re-bonding with her husband is a terrific achievement. Great read!

  8. 5 out of 5

    Eva Thieme

    Five Flights Up is the sequel – if you can call it a sequel in this genre – to Trailing: A Memoir, a book I couldn’t put down when I first stumbled upon it. While Trailing spoke to me deeply in terms of my own identity as a trailing spouse who gave up her career to follow her husband to various international assignments, Five Flights Up resonated in different ways. As I said in my earlier review of Trailing, you don't have to move abroad to wonder where your life has led you and whether you've b Five Flights Up is the sequel – if you can call it a sequel in this genre – to Trailing: A Memoir, a book I couldn’t put down when I first stumbled upon it. While Trailing spoke to me deeply in terms of my own identity as a trailing spouse who gave up her career to follow her husband to various international assignments, Five Flights Up resonated in different ways. As I said in my earlier review of Trailing, you don't have to move abroad to wonder where your life has led you and whether you've become what you wanted to be, and this sequel to Trailing further explores that theme. The author, now older and with two children in tow, is once again put to the test of moving her entire household and abandoning her hard-fought-for career, albeit on a smaller scale: Her husband Tano, a Medecins Sans Frontieres (MFS) doctor, is offered a new position in Lyon, just a two-hour high-speed train ride away from Paris, the city where the family had made their home after their adventurous years in Africa. The upsides are more stability – the new office job would curtail his travels to high-risk areas of the world – and more space than their cramped Paris apartment, but the downside is obvious: Kristin would have to abandon her successful counseling practice and once again start over if she wanted to retain a professional life, and she would have to deal with the guilt of uprooting their children from the place they considered home. The story of how she comes to terms with this dilemma and does in fact begin a new adventure in a fixer-upper apartment on Lyon’s equivalent of Fifth Avenue five flights – or more precisely, 98 steps – up from street level makes for an enjoyable and entertaining read that also gives delightful glimpses into French culture. I’m not a big fan of the subtitle “Sex, Love, and Family…” in that order. It suggests a juiciness that simply isn’t there, even if I understand the temptation of the more attention-grabbing title. This book really isn’t about sex. It is, however, about family and relationships and the difficulty of carving out an identity for yourself apart from the other people in your life. And a good bit of it is about the wonderful idiosyncrasies of the French, their language, and not least their pastries. I enjoyed the older and wiser Kristin of Five Flights Up, perhaps because I find more kinship between us now that we are both dealing with that all-consuming task of raising children, teenagers especially. Moving households is one thing when you’re just responsible for yourself and a suitcase, but entirely different when older children are part of the equation, children who have their own opinions and worries and friendships. Kristin also touches on the realities of raising Third Culture Kids (TCKs) – children who are reared in a country different from the one(s) their parents were born in – though she doesn’t use the term. As a parent, I felt her heartbreak when her daughter revealed her frustration at feeling neither French nor American. I felt her despair when her son clung to her before school every day, not wanting to go because “I’m just not good at making friends.” And then I also felt her non-plussed “huh” when she started her weekly routine of commuting as a compromise between her husband’s and her own career and realized, counter to all her most dire predictions, that the world did not come crashing down, her children were fine and even having fun without her, and life went on. Five Flights up is poignant, humorous, and most of all relatable to anyone who is raising a family and juggling work/life balance, wherever it may be.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Jacqueline

    Having enjoyed Kristin’s first memoir Trailing, I was keen to find out what had happened to this very international family, who when we left at the end of Trailing, had settled in Paris. This was an important move for Kristin as most of her life has been spent moving from location to location, first with her Father’s work and then her husband’s. She is happy in Paris. They have an apartment, a sense of belonging and an extended family relationship with the other families that live in the apartme Having enjoyed Kristin’s first memoir Trailing, I was keen to find out what had happened to this very international family, who when we left at the end of Trailing, had settled in Paris. This was an important move for Kristin as most of her life has been spent moving from location to location, first with her Father’s work and then her husband’s. She is happy in Paris. They have an apartment, a sense of belonging and an extended family relationship with the other families that live in the apartment block. Kristin has her own practice and more importantly, financial independence and a sense of worth. The children are settled at school and happy and all is well in their relationship. Then her husband Tano gets a job in Lyon, the money is better and he wants to relocate the family there, but Krisitin desperately wants to stay in Paris. The family becomes divided, firstly with Tano commuting each week and then, when she finally agrees to the move, Kristin returns regularly to Paris for her work. This is the emotional, honest, amusing and very readable account of everything that goes right and wrong as they make a new life in Lyon. We discover their new city, meet the interesting new acquaintances they make and witness all their teething problems. Then there are a few other little things France throws at them, just when they thought things were settling down nicely. I enjoyed this memoir as it’s well written and Kristin’s family really does have a different story to tell than most expat families. I’d also love to visit Lyon.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Meg Bortin

    Who would willingly rent a place where the living room – and kitchen and bedrooms, for that matter – are up five flights of stairs (no elevator)? The uphill climb is a metaphor for the challenges encountered by Kristin Duncombe when, after rebelling against having to follow her husband around the world, she decides to leave a secure life in Paris to be with him in Lyon. Duncombe, a psychotherapist as well as an author, is a specialist in the problems faced by ‘trailing spouses,’ among other expa Who would willingly rent a place where the living room – and kitchen and bedrooms, for that matter – are up five flights of stairs (no elevator)? The uphill climb is a metaphor for the challenges encountered by Kristin Duncombe when, after rebelling against having to follow her husband around the world, she decides to leave a secure life in Paris to be with him in Lyon. Duncombe, a psychotherapist as well as an author, is a specialist in the problems faced by ‘trailing spouses,’ among other expat issues. Her first book, ‘Trailing,’ catalogued her misadventures in East Africa with Tano, her wayward Argentinian spouse, a doctor with a well-known nongovernmental medical organization that sent him to Kenya and Uganda. In that first book, Duncombe seeks to find herself. Ten years down the road, in ‘Five Flights Up,’ she grapples with the notion of home. The narrative swings from funny to heart-warming to heart-rending as she and her family negotiate the twists and turns of being foreigners in a strange land (France). Will they manage to adapt while remaining true to themselves? in this charming, candid and insightful memoir, the author learns, step by step, to embrace the wisdom that home is where the heart is.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Jennie Goutet

    The author's first book called "Trailing" was one of the first memoirs I ever read. (I was late to the game). And as much as I loved that one, I think I love this one even more. The first had the pull of Kenya, and I had spent a year in East Africa (and 4 months in Kenya) so I connected to the stories and struggles in it. This one has France, which is where I live now as an American expat, having many of the same experiences - both frustrating and delightful - which I discovered anew through the The author's first book called "Trailing" was one of the first memoirs I ever read. (I was late to the game). And as much as I loved that one, I think I love this one even more. The first had the pull of Kenya, and I had spent a year in East Africa (and 4 months in Kenya) so I connected to the stories and struggles in it. This one has France, which is where I live now as an American expat, having many of the same experiences - both frustrating and delightful - which I discovered anew through the author's eyes. The voice is perfect - so much vulnerability, emotion, and HUMOR. I laughed so many times while reading this book - sometimes while simultaneously wiping away tears. If you read Five Flights Up, do so on an empty weekend because you might find you're unable to put it down.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Theresa

    Kristin recounts her move from Paris to Lyon, one of many during her lifetime and not the last one, with humor and honesty. Along with her own reactions to the move and the new city (nice but not Paris), she includes those of her husband and two children. Adjusting to the new life was not always easy. Her descriptions of the three typically French mothers she met at her son's new school were hilarious. Having lived in this part of the Europe for a long time, I feel Kristin was spot on. I really Kristin recounts her move from Paris to Lyon, one of many during her lifetime and not the last one, with humor and honesty. Along with her own reactions to the move and the new city (nice but not Paris), she includes those of her husband and two children. Adjusting to the new life was not always easy. Her descriptions of the three typically French mothers she met at her son's new school were hilarious. Having lived in this part of the Europe for a long time, I feel Kristin was spot on. I really enjoyed the book and highly recommend it.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Wesley

    Raw insights into the real life of a global family The story is a window into what the life of a family looks like when cross border relationships takes places in the modern world we live in. Global in nature, the book provides glimpse into the humans emotions that come to surface when dealing with transplanting oneself from city to city while trying to maintain a sense of order and belonging in foreign lands.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Jennifer

    This Book Totally Sucked Me In & Wouldn't Let Me Go The best compliment I can give a book is this -- I was sad when it ended. Actually, I loved the ending itself, I was only sad it was over. The book transports you abroad and engages you right away. I read it while I was home sick & it was exactly when I needed to lift my spirits. I'm buying Trailing -- the author's other book -- right now. This is a must read title! One of my favorite books I've read in a long time. This Book Totally Sucked Me In & Wouldn't Let Me Go The best compliment I can give a book is this -- I was sad when it ended. Actually, I loved the ending itself, I was only sad it was over. The book transports you abroad and engages you right away. I read it while I was home sick & it was exactly when I needed to lift my spirits. I'm buying Trailing -- the author's other book -- right now. This is a must read title! One of my favorite books I've read in a long time.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Marie

    Love Kristen's writing. She's so real! Love Kristen's writing. She's so real!

  16. 5 out of 5

    Alison

    continuation of her memoir Trailing

  17. 5 out of 5

    Liralen

  18. 4 out of 5

    Ana Fitzgerald

  19. 4 out of 5

    Maureen Oswald

  20. 4 out of 5

    Lauren

  21. 5 out of 5

    Stephanie Cook

  22. 4 out of 5

    TrishO

  23. 4 out of 5

    Andrew

  24. 5 out of 5

    Joana

  25. 5 out of 5

    Renee Miller

  26. 4 out of 5

    rachel kerr

  27. 5 out of 5

    Georgia G. Yarnall

  28. 4 out of 5

    richard santoro

  29. 4 out of 5

    Donna Barnett

  30. 4 out of 5

    Megan M Voss

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