Hi there everyone!
Did you know that this is the second year I’ve participated in the Debut Author’s Challenge? Well it is! I really enjoy this particular challenge because it allows me to read at least 12 debut books by new authors each year. Through completing this challenge I’ve been introduced to some really awesome new authors.
One of those awesome new authors is Elizabeth Ross. When I saw the cover (isn’t it pretty?!) for her debut Belle Epoque I just knew. Then I read the summary and I just knew.
When Maude Pichon runs away from provincial Brittany to Paris, her romantic dreams vanish as quickly as her savings. Desperate for work, she answers an unusual ad. The Durandeau Agency provides its clients with a unique service—the beauty foil. Hire a plain friend and become instantly more attractive.
Monsieur Durandeau has made a fortune from wealthy socialites, and when the Countess Dubern needs a companion for her headstrong daughter, Isabelle, Maude is deemed the perfect foil.
But Isabelle has no idea her new “friend” is the hired help, and Maude’s very existence among the aristocracy hinges on her keeping the truth a secret. Yet the more she learns about Isabelle, the more her loyalty is tested. And the longer her deception continues, the more she has to lose.
I adored this book!
One of the things I love about Belle Epoque is how unique the whole idea of a “repousser” is. It took me a while to understand, so let’s tease this definition out a little. Imagine you have a pile of nice looking peaches sitting in a bin. They’re all decent so none of them stand out amongst one another. But when you take one of those decent peaches and sit it next to a bruised and broken peach suddenly the normal looking one become beautiful and more desirous! It’s the same with a hired repousser. Really interesting right?!
And all tied in with this repousser theme is the juxtaposition between the building of the Eiffel Tower (because Belle Epoque is set in the late 1880s while the tower was being built) and Maude (our main character). When the Eiffel Tower was first introduced many Parisians thought it was hideous and declared it a blight on the beautiful city scape. Likewise, when Maude is first introduced to the Agency, she is seen as an ugly, or plain, girl. As the tower gets taller and taller Maude grows as well…it’s so good!
In particular I was so happy to read a book set in Paris after I visited there for the first time this past November. The city of Paris is such a huge part of Maude’s experience in the story. Being a hired repousser Maude gets to see two sides of Paris first hand: the luxurious, gilded aristocracy as well as the bright and seemingly vulgar bohemian nightlife (very Moulin Rouge!). As Maude plays dress up in one, she slowly comes to realize her passion for the other. Just being able to picture the streets Maude walks down made the story that much more enjoyable for me.
Speaking of Maude, I thought she was a very true-to-life character. Throughout the book, Maude tries to hold onto what she knows to be truth but is so easily distracted (as anyone would be) by the shininess and glitter of what is on display before her. I mean who wouldn’t want to wear gorgeous gowns while being wooed by dukes and viscounts at French chateaus?! Additionally, Maude is a young lady who can grow and make her way on her own, while also accepting help from loved ones.
All in all, Belle Epoque was a fabulous debut and I hope to read more of Elizabeth Ross’ work in the future. This one comes to you with the BookTasty stamp of approval, so if you’re looking for a good period drama read you should definitely check it out!
Also a huge thank you Elizabeth Ross and Delacourt for the digital ARC!
Author: Elizabeth Ross
Publisher: Delacourt Books for Young Readers (June 11, 2013)
Format: e-book (ARC)
Length: 336 pages
Buy the Book: Belle Epoque