September 16, 2013

Belle Epoque - Elizabeth Ross

Belle Epoque - Elizabeth Ross
Belle Epoque by Elizabeth Ross
Publisher: Delacorte Books for Young Readers
Publication Date: June 11, 2013
Source/Format: DAC ARC Tours || ARC
[I received this book from the publisher. This in no way affects the thoughts expressed in my review.]

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. (from Goodreads)

The first thing that truly caught my eye about Belle Epoque was the potential discussion it could ignite about beauty. The concept of having a "foil" for a beautiful girl was an intriguing one. When a few glowing recommendations popped up on my radar, I just had to read it. 

The novel was certainly a change of pace. It took a while to settle in, but once I did, I was swept up in the story that unfolded in front of my eyes. There are two particular things that stood out to me - the concept of a beauty foil and Maude's friendship with Isabelle. 

Beauty foils are secretly acceptable in the society of this novel, but the concept, to me, is slightly horrifying and definitely sad. Someone is hired for their marked plainness in comparison with certain society debutantes -- isn't that crazy? The novel really allows readers to think about what it means to be beautiful or not so beautiful as society marks you, and I really liked that.

Honestly, this is probably the driving force behind this novel. Beauty foils are a reality. They are also a potentially immoral position, and thus, it didn't surprise me to discover that the novel has a bit of a preachy note, with a "moral" to the story at the end. 

Maude is certainly a wallflower when around higher society, but she's also interesting. She's got an independent streak, and she's also got a good head on her shoulders. While she does get turned off the right path for a while, lured in by wealth and beauty, her good personality wins out in the end. This is what sets her apart from the other beauty foils in the novel, and also what starts her friendship with Isabelle.

I adored seeing Maude and Isabelle truly get along. While Maude might certainly have been more reserved and manipulative at the start, Isabelle's vivacious personality really brought her guard down and allowed a tentative friendship to form. Isabelle was an inspiration, and an annoyance to Maude in equal turns, but it was lovely to see an actual friendship forming between the two.

While there's not much more going on than Maude being hired to befriend Isabelle and make her shine, and discovering her own path in life along the way, there's still an intriguing level of relationships between the characters and interesting subplots woven here and there. Quiet as it was, I enjoyed Belle Epoque. It might have something to do with the questions it inspired me to ask about beauty and what it means. It might have also been that female friendship was a big part of the novel, which is something I feel a sore lack of in YA novels. It could also have been the setting, which was perfectly, wonderfully French. But all in all, this novel was really as good as I'd hoped, even though it was quite different, and slightly more subdued.


  1. I loved the friendship between Isabelle and Maude! You're absolutely right: it's so rare to find this in YA!
    I was shocked by the idea of a beauty foil and it also made me a little sad... It's kinda depressing realising how much influence appearances have on the way society views you.

  2. Ohhh! This one sounds good. It was recommended to me by someone, but I was waiting to see a review of it before I made my decision or not. I think the concept of beauty foils is fascinating and it'll be interested to see that portrayed in this book. I like how it's about friendship, too! I mean, romance is awesome, but I think we need more good friendship stories out there. Great review, Alexa!

  3. I do have to applaud the fact that commendable female relationships are both present and highlighted in this book, because you're right, there isn't enough of that in YA. As interesting as this book sounds, I'm more of an action-y kind of girl so I think I'm going to have to give it a pass, but I would probably recommend it based on the message alone. Glad you enjoyed it, Alexa!

  4. I've been curious about this one, and I've heard pretty good things. But I'm not sure if I will like it if it gets too preachy. Preachy books, even when I agree with what is being preached, tend to be a big turn-off for me. I might try it anyway, though.

  5. I haven't seen any reviews of this one yet and I think this sounds so unusual for a plot, but really interesting. The cover is so pretty and I love that you liked it. It does sound kind of "quiet" like you mention, and I think that sometimes I crave that in a book. Really interested in this beauty foil! Great review Alexa. (:

  6. I love the premise of this. Beauty foils for hire...that's unusual. But I know plenty of women who like having less attractive women around, for the exact same reason. I'll have to read this.

  7. Sometimes the more subdued and quieter plots can work well for a book. Particularly those where the atmosphere and character relationships are key. This sounds fantastic! I've heard pretty good things about it too, and now you're review has me really eager to pick it up soon. I'm glad t worked for you, Alexa! :)

  8. I have this book out from the library and can't wait for the opportunity to start reading it soon. The whole concept of beauty foils is fascinating, although I don't think it's so crazy, especially when you consider all the things that women have done over the ages to appear more beautiful. This is certainly an easier alternative than surgery or some other drastic procedure.
    I primarily have wanted to pick this up due to its promised discussion on beauty, but that's wonderful to hear that a strong female friendship is also present.
    I'm glad this worked out for you, despite being slightly different than your expectations. I'm even more eager to read this for myself now!

  9. It's an interesting concept and I can't wait to see the friendship between these two :)

  10. Hmm... this one sounds interesting! I like the cover, and the idea of someone being a "foil" for someone else is really interesting. And I love what you mention about the friendship! That's one of my favorite things to find in books. I haven't seen any reviews for this one, so I'm really glad you highlighted it here. This book sounds like it's discussable, too!


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