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A Junior Library Guild Selection
“Both touching and fun, this is a story about many things—true friendship, real beauty, being caught between two worlds—and it will delight fans of historical fiction.”—Publisher’s Weekly
“A refreshingly relevant and inspiring historical venture.”—Kirkus Reviews
“A compelling story about friendship, the complexity of beauty, and self-discovery…full of strong female characters.”—School Library Journal
“With resonant period detail, elegant narration, and a layered exploration of class and friendship, this provocative novel is rife with satisfaction.”—Booklist
“Much to offer a contemporary YA audience…flirtation and match-making to tantalize romance fans…prime book-club fare.”—The Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books
"This delectable Parisian tale left me sighting with sweet satisfaction. J'adore Belle Epoque!"-Sonya Sones, author of What My Mother Doesn't Know and To Be Perfectly Honest
"This is an excellent cross-genre read that many will appreciate for its themes on how young women view themselves and the world around them."-Historical Novels Review, Editor's Choice
From the Hardcover edition.
Posted July 5, 2013
Belle Epoque , the debut novel by Elizabeth Ross was not the book that I was expecting to read when I opened it. I allowed myself to be misled by the synopsis and thought that I was getting a Cinderella/Ugly Duckling story. I am so glad that I was mistaken.
Maude Pichon was a girl who ran away from an arranged marriage in the north of France (yes, I had to cheat to see where Brittany actually was, geographically speaking) to the glitz, glamour, and beauty of Paris. The book opens with Maude learning that the world is a much bigger place than she ever imagined. Despite grabbing what she believed to be a large amount of money from the till at her father's store, she quickly finds that life in the big city is expensive and cruel. In order to make ends meet in the most undemanding way possible, she finds herself working as a repoussoir - an ugly individual hired to make the employer more attractive by comparison. She is initially against the degrading work, but finds herself playing a poor country cousin debutante for the Parisian social "season".
Before I say anything else, I want to touch upon how beautifully Ross crafted the setting of the novel. I felt like I was deep in the narcissism of nineteenth century Paris, surrounded by class division, worship of beauty, obsession of art, and derision of the new (like the mid-constructed Eiffel Tower). I've never been to Paris in person, but I felt like I had almost been there while experiencing it with Maude in Belle Epoque .
I had a lot of respect for Maude doing what was necessary to survive on her own terms, far away from her comfort zone. Though she did thought being a repoussoir was distasteful, she did her job to the very best of her ability. Her treatment of her unknowing "charge", Isabelle, also made me think higher of Maude. She managed to stay true to herself in the face of Paris' intoxication, having few missteps.
I think Belle Epoque is a book that speaks volumes about society, despite being set more than a century ago. It analyzes what it means to be beautiful, and where the importance of it should fall in comparison to other things such as self-respect, honesty, friendship, and loyalty. I think Elizabeth Ross did the very best possible thing with the book by not turning it into a fairy tale. Maude was treated as a real girl, with real issues, with who twenty-first century teens can easily relate.
I recommend Belle Epoque to anyone who is looking for a heroine who strives to make her life her own or enjoys reading historical fiction that comes across very realistically. While being a young adult novel, I think it can also appeal to adult readers with it's beautiful setting. I look forward to reading more works by Elizabeth Ross in the future.
*To satisfy FTC guidelines, I am disclosing that I received an advance copy of the book briefly for reviewing purposes through DAC ARC Tours in exchange for an honest review. The book was likely provided to the tour by the publisher or author, which has in no way affected the outcome of my review. All opinions expressed are rambling, honest, and completely my own.
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Posted July 12, 2013
What a unique subject-repousser(ugly women). Inspired from a story written by an 18th century writer Emile Zola. Ugly women (repousser) are hired by the aristicratic belles to make them stand out. So, they are noticed by future spouses. I enjoyed reading this book.
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Posted August 4, 2013
This is an extremely beautiful book that I have no quips with. It explains Paris like a dream to me, and makes me yearn to fall back into history and live among the Parisians. Note that I've never really cared about Paris or ever going there, but it makes me ache that these people and their lives that no longer exist within modern society today.
When the book opens, I really felt for the main character, Maude -- a plain looking girl who is just trying to earn an honest day's living. At first I wondered why she wouldn't take a job as a repoussoir if she was so poor. But would anyone want to take a job where you would constantly be told how ugly you are in comparison to a beautiful person? Think about how that would work among Hollywood socialities, to rent an ugly person for a day so that they may appear pretty?
What I love about this is the writing and how simple it is with all of its layers and complexities. Mrs. Ross has woven a beautiful story about the beauty and ugliness of the rich juxtaposed regular people trying to look in from the outside. Both the rich and poor have good qualities to them; both have their ugly sides. I love the balance the author proposes through Maude's eyes and how everything in this novel has a purpose to it.
If you like shows like Downton Abbey, I believe you will love this book. I encourage Mrs. Ross to continue writing, Lord knows we need all the good books we can get considering how many terrible bad ones I've read. Please, please continue writing. Thank you!