This book was another Morris Award Nominee. Unlike Sex & Violence, I had some sense of what this book would be about before I read it. First, the cover is much more expressive of the story within. The picture of the girl, looking either bored or disenchanted, the art deco design and font, both drew me in immediately. Often, when reading books from a list, I won’t read the description first. If I’m going to read a book anyway, why ruin anything? For some reason, whether accidental or intentional I can’t remember, I read the description of the book. I was intrigued.

There were a lot of things that I enjoyed about this book: (SPOILERS ABOUND IN THE REST OF THE REVIEW!)

  • The friendship between Maude and Isabelle. It starts based on a ruse, but it becomes a real friendship in the end. Nothing about their relationship has anything to do with a man (except for the fact that Maude was hired by Isabelle’s mother to help Isabelle secure a husband).
  • That it is not an ugly duckling story. Maude is not revealed to be beautiful. She simply comes to terms with the fact that she has other talents.
  • The setting came wonderfully to life for me throughout the book. I loved the details about the building of the Eiffel Tower and the public’s perception of it. It loved its symmetry with Maude’s story.
  • The Author’s Note at the end that explained the research undertaken to write this book and how the background events influenced the novel.

There were also a couple of things that I didn’t love.

  • How easily Maude integrated into Parisian society. She came from a small country town and easily fit in with an upper class society. There were token situations where she did or said the wrong thing, but nothing that blew her cover.
  • The ending. I think it tied up a little to easily. I would have liked to have seen Maude run into some reasonable hurdles after making a decision, maybe have to adjust her plan.
  • It was too easy to blackmail Isabelle’s mom. She was not a nice woman, but she was completely defenseless to two teenage girls? A woman like that would be well-versed in how social blackmail works, and would not be such an easy victim.

This book was a win for me. It was quieter than I expected, and didn’t wow me in any big way, but it keeps pulling at the edges of my thoughts. Check out the trailer, below. I think it does a wonderful job of capturing the mood and feel of the story.

Title: Belle Epoque
Author: Elizabeth Ross
Pages: 336
Age level: YA
Illustrated: No
Who I would give this book to: Fans of historical fiction, female characters/relationships, or art deco. I would suggest this as an easy, quiet read for a vacation or break from school.
Setting: Paris, 1889
Favorite Character: I want to say the Eiffel Tower. It’s such a wonderful example of how tastes change over time, how we shouldn’t rush to judgement. But, if you want me to choose a human character, I would have to say Maude. I know that she might not be as interesting as Isabelle for many readers, but I think that is just because she has not had as many opportunities, mainly educationally. Maude takes her lessons at photography seriously, she comes up with a brilliant solution to her situation, and she manages to strike out on her own and succeed.
Favorite Moment: When Maude takes the first photograph of the girls at The Durandeau Agency. It is a light hearted moment during an otherwise dark period in the plot. It reminded me that the girls and women at Durandeau’s could still let their guard down momentarily.
Rating: 3 stars
Book Source: Library