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Belle Epoque

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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 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.


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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 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.

30 review for Belle Epoque

  1. 5 out of 5

    Khanh, first of her name, mother of bunnies

    "'Mother Nature is not democratic. Look at the orchid compared with the dandelion: one exotic and rare, the other a common weed...And so with beauty. Some have an advantage, some a cross to bear. Some just fade into the background, forever plain and obscure---invisible, inconsequential.'" What a beautiful, unexpected little book. I came in without much expectations, since the premise of a "repoussoir" is not a commonly used concept in fiction. I suppose in modern terms, one could refe "'Mother Nature is not democratic. Look at the orchid compared with the dandelion: one exotic and rare, the other a common weed...And so with beauty. Some have an advantage, some a cross to bear. Some just fade into the background, forever plain and obscure---invisible, inconsequential.'" What a beautiful, unexpected little book. I came in without much expectations, since the premise of a "repoussoir" is not a commonly used concept in fiction. I suppose in modern terms, one could refer to the DUFF. The Designated Ugly Fat Friend. Someone the more-narcissitic than usual beautiful or merely average girl use to enhance their looks. Bring along an ugly fat pal, instantly look better. It's a fairly vile method of using someone, but next to someone who is ugly, a plain person looks better in comparison. Well, in this book, the DUFF is actually a repoussoir, and instead of an actual friend, they are hired companions. Paid to accompany a society lady, paid to blend in, but at the same time, enhance their patron in every way. They are considered to be no more than an accessory. A hat, a brooch, a dab of scent, a repoussoir. They're barely considered human by the people by whom they are hired. Reluctantly dragged into this despicable scene in turn-of-the-century Paris is our heroine, Maude Pichon. She is originally from a small Breton town, she lives with her grocer father. Growing up, she has starry-eyed plans of visiting Paris and having a future outside of her little village, but her dreams draw to a sudden close when she overhears plans being made to wed her to the fat old butcher. She runs away to Paris, where her dreams are shattered. She doesn't dream big; Maude just wants a job, to be able to support herself. Without a reference, she can't even get a job as a shop attendant, one of the few career options open to a young lady at this time. Initially drafted to be a repoussoir, Maude is repelled by the repugnance of the job until she realizes that her pride will not keep her fed, nor will it keep a roof over her heads. With truly no other choice, she swallows her pride and agrees to be a repoussoir. She is employed as a repoussoir by a countess for her daughter. The catch: Maude is not to tell Isabelle of her true job: to enhance Isabelle's looks and personality without her knowledge, and to act as the countess' spy. Being a repoussoir is a horrible existence. Degradation is the job. The women working there are altogether unremarkable, plain, even grotesque in their appearance, and Maude is bitter with shame at where she is in life. Humiliation is a daily occurrence. During their training to be repoussoirs, the women and girls constantly have their faults pointed out to them. Their fatness. Their plainness. Their piggish eyes. Their bony features. Every faulty featured is pointed out---and ironically, prized, since it is that unremarkableness that makes the women so valuable as repoussoirs. Their self-esteem broken, their inner confidence is destroyed, their every fault is crucified. It is all part of the training process (literally, a training exercise comprises the women pointing out to each other their most unattractive features). As hard as the training is, the job itself is much, much harder on the soul. Being a repoussoir itself is an art; the repoussoir does not serve merely as a foil, but to subtly enhance. The repoussoir has to blend into society themselves, they must not be seen as "hired," they must blend into the environment and become one of society perfectly while subtly elevating their employer's assets and features. And the employers can be so cruel. "'You are a doll to be thrown across the room in a tantrum. Hearts will be broken and feelings trampled on. You have to be stronger than that.'" I found Maude and Isabelle to be excellent characters. Both are strong, willful in their own way, and both are so well-built as to be completely sympathetic and perfectly imperfect. Their character development and growth are wonderfully done, and completely believable. I loved both characters immensely. Maude herself won me over very quickly. Her story is not an unusual one, a young girl dreaming of a better life, but like so many others, her dreams are destroyed before they even have a chance to grow its wings. I love her spirit. I love her determination. She is determined to make it, to at least survive in Paris, on her own. She needs to prove to the people she left behind that she is worth more than what they think. Her drive, her resolve stands, however much she falters through the humiliation of her work. Maude has so many doubts about herself, thanks to the job; her fragile self-esteem is further degraded by the daily lesson ingrained in her intrinsic in the position of a repoussoir. "My position at Durandeau's has confirmed what I always feared. He has managed to solder into my mind with certainty that which my father always implied: that I wasn't good enough, I wasn't pretty enough, that I was unlovable. Like other facts so uncomfortable to face, I have decided to fold it away in a drawer in my heart, along with the death of my mother and other hurts. That drawer is locked shut." Lest you think she is a hopeless romantic dreamer, she is not. She is practical...even so, her job and the beauty of the world she is exposed to through being around Isabelle gives her wild flights of fancies which she knows is impossible. She is not stupid; Maude completely recognizes the futility of her highest hopes as well as her own hypocrisy at times. Still, a girl can daydream. Maude's conflict over the job for which she is hired and her true friendship with Isabelle is well-written, well-developed, and entirely believable. Isabelle is an equally enjoyable character. I would say her character is more developed throughout the book than Maude's despite the fact that she is not the narrator. Initially, we see Isabelle as Maude sees her, a spoiled, willful heiress who doesn't appreciate how lucky she is. She is initially hateful, sulky, a brat in every sense of the word. Over time, as we get to know her better, we learn that Isabelle is so much more than what she seemed. She is not an enfant terrible, she is a brilliant young woman who, like Maude, wants more than what life is trying to give her. They may have different backgrounds, different dreams, different aspirations in life, but deep down Maude and Isabelle are not so dissimilar in their need for something better. The setting is so beautiful. One can really visualize late 19th century Paris from the lovely and atmospheric descriptions. From the lowly and poor neighborhood of Montparnasse, to the salons, to the gilded opera houses, everything is exquisitely depicted. I particularly enjoyed the wisecracks concerning the Eiffel Tower as it is being built. "'Eiffel's tower is becoming a monstrosity indeed,' says a man with military posture. 'A blight on the skyline with each day that passes.' 'It won't last: it will be torn down in a year and we'll get our Paris back,' assures a woman with a shimmering sapphire at her throat.'" The writing is spectacular, stunning. Maude's emotional states and feelings are so incredibly well-described. The quality of the writing here is truly a work of art. I'd give more examples, but I don't want to end up quoting entire paragraphs, you must read this for yourself. My only complaint with this book is the forced insta-love with the artist Paul Villette, the "disheveled bohemian," the constant drunkard, the failed artist that nobody truly gets. They just don't understand my work, man! He's the definition of a turn-of-the-century hipster, he dresses in dirty, ill-fitting suits, he gets drunk, he calls (out loud) for his muse to grace his works...the romance between him and Maude felt so incredibly forced, and I find it unbelievable that the practical Maude would even give that drunk wastrel wanna-be-artist a second glance.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Sarah Mac

    Mere words can't explain how awful this was, so I've selected some visual aids to fully convey the Belle Epoque experience. First, the heroine: ...Because she spends the entire time whinging, judging, moping, & moo'ing. Apparently this is supposed to make her a relatable narrator and/or a keen observer held down by circumstance. I say it makes her annoying or a bitch who needs to STFU, but what do I know? *shrug* Now, the hero: ...Because he spends the entire time being drunk, planning to get drunk, Mere words can't explain how awful this was, so I've selected some visual aids to fully convey the Belle Epoque experience. First, the heroine: ...Because she spends the entire time whinging, judging, moping, & moo'ing. Apparently this is supposed to make her a relatable narrator and/or a keen observer held down by circumstance. I say it makes her annoying or a bitch who needs to STFU, but what do I know? *shrug* Now, the hero: ...Because he spends the entire time being drunk, planning to get drunk, being hungover, or sleeping off hangovers in public places whilst dressed in baggy suits with unkempt grooming. Apparently this makes him a bohemian artist type and/or sexy. I say it makes him useless or an unwashed alcoholic slob, but again -- what do I know? The plot: ...Because the blurb makes this sound really soapy & dramatic & exciting. But the blurb lies. There's absolutely nothing soapy, dramatic, or exciting about this story. It's boring. It's predictable. It has no distinctiveness & no flair. It makes grocery shopping at Walmart seem like an exciting afternoon. (Unless you enjoy reading about a whingy moo wandering from one building to another, sometimes in the company of an alcoholic slob...?) The narrator's philosophic crapola: ...Because Captain Obvious got nothing on this moo. It's a repetitive spew of self-congratulatory epiphanies that the narrator inexplicably labels as profound, including such gems as ugly people aren't necessarily ugly inside or treat others as you'd like to be treated. I'm in awe of her depth of feeling! Oh, wait...she's 16, not 5. *facepalm* Overall reaction: ...Yeah, I hated this book more with every chapter. Literally. My optimism was foolish, seeing as how Belle Epoque is YA, so shame on me. 50% is more of a chance than I give to most DNFs -- but enough is enough. I refuse to waste more time plodding through it. In the immortal words of Ghostbusters: You can keep the five bucks. 1 star for a boring story, unlikable characters, & zero personality. Goodbye & good riddance.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Amanda Sun

    This book is absolutely fantastic. The time period has been clearly well researched and comes off as very genuine and fascinating, in both the descriptions of Paris, the life of the high society, and the voice/thoughts of the narrator. There were some very lovely revelations throughout the book that moved me, and I came away from the book feeling very understood and validated as an artist and an individual. The plot of the booked arced beautifully, the pressure building at just the right pace in b This book is absolutely fantastic. The time period has been clearly well researched and comes off as very genuine and fascinating, in both the descriptions of Paris, the life of the high society, and the voice/thoughts of the narrator. There were some very lovely revelations throughout the book that moved me, and I came away from the book feeling very understood and validated as an artist and an individual. The plot of the booked arced beautifully, the pressure building at just the right pace in between the luxurious descriptions of historical Paris and the social lives of both the upper and lower class. Maude is a loveable protagonist and her actions were always genuine and believable. The changes in her were delicate and subtle, and the ending was very satisfying. A wonderful treat to read.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Cora Tea Party Princess

    5 Words: Beauty, poverty, aristocracy, Paris, friendship. I absolutely could not put this down. I loved it. Belle Époque was a charming and challenging read. As much as I loved reading about the lavish styles and how opulent everything was, the dark undercurrent of Durandeau's agency was constantly there in the background, a stark comparison. This was excellently written and I could easily picture myself wandering the streets, attending a ball or working in a dark room. This book is lavish and indu 5 Words: Beauty, poverty, aristocracy, Paris, friendship. I absolutely could not put this down. I loved it. Belle Époque was a charming and challenging read. As much as I loved reading about the lavish styles and how opulent everything was, the dark undercurrent of Durandeau's agency was constantly there in the background, a stark comparison. This was excellently written and I could easily picture myself wandering the streets, attending a ball or working in a dark room. This book is lavish and indulgent and by the end a thoroughly feel-good tale.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Mary

    "I smile back, noting that her putrid, mustard-colored dress is worse than mine. I stand beside her. Maybe by comparison I look less terrible. It's fine if you have flaws-I prefer my heroines to have them because I dislike speshul Mary-Sue. Maude isn't the kind of heroine with flaws I like. The book is about a special job for unattractive women who follow around pretty nobles in order to enhance their beauty. I get it. This is an ugly, uncomfortable topic. And considering how much appearances play "I smile back, noting that her putrid, mustard-colored dress is worse than mine. I stand beside her. Maybe by comparison I look less terrible. It's fine if you have flaws-I prefer my heroines to have them because I dislike speshul Mary-Sue. Maude isn't the kind of heroine with flaws I like. The book is about a special job for unattractive women who follow around pretty nobles in order to enhance their beauty. I get it. This is an ugly, uncomfortable topic. And considering how much appearances play a role in society, Maude was vindictive, cruel, and rude. I hated her perspective. I don't understand how she could love a drunk after so many deprecating thoughts she has, how many girls she feels the need to use as a comparison to her own beauty. So much fat shaming....like Maude STAHP. Yes, it reflects the theme of this book, but Maude was unbearable. She doesn't understand the obvious, is cruel to the other women, and frankly is someone I'd be happy to smash into the ground. The only praise I can offer is the development of Isabelle and the gorgeous writing. Such a shame I had to listen to Maude whine and complain about EVERYTHING.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Lauren

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. Historical fiction is my crack right now, so I was very excited to read this book. I found the plot intriguing and wanted a glimpse at 19th century French culture. I was disappointed. My biggest problem was that I did not care for Maude at all. She was the typical plain, nerdy girl who was always ignored, but when people actually spoke to her, realized that she has the soul of an artist and is really super special. The problem with that is that I found her to be anything but special. Her "artist Historical fiction is my crack right now, so I was very excited to read this book. I found the plot intriguing and wanted a glimpse at 19th century French culture. I was disappointed. My biggest problem was that I did not care for Maude at all. She was the typical plain, nerdy girl who was always ignored, but when people actually spoke to her, realized that she has the soul of an artist and is really super special. The problem with that is that I found her to be anything but special. Her "artistic observations" were, to me, very unoriginal and rather obvious. I found little personality in her outside of a bratty woe-is-me-I-deserve-so-much-more attitude. I can appreciate her desire to run away from her village to avoid a marriage to a man whom she believes will be abusive. That is a brave and admirable action. Unfortunately, that little bit of goodwill was erased by the rest of her actions and attitude in the book. She believes herself to be superior to everyone with the possible exception of Isabelle (more on her later). She couldn't possibly be a repoussoir! No sir. She's far too special for that! She doesn't deserve to work in a laundry despite having no references or previous work experience. Can't people see how much she deserves to be noticed? She is so above these rich people who are so shallow and only care about material things except for all of the lovely clothes and jewels she gets to wear and the rich foods she gets to eat and the amazing parties she gets to go to. It's not fair that she has to sit in the shadows at these parties. Shouldn't these shallow people whom she is so superior to realize how wonderful she is and give her their approval? And why doesn't Paul, the bohemian musician who is so deep because he is a musician, notice her in that incredibly busy cafe while he's talking to a large group of friends and she's not even in his eye-line? How dare he not notice her and make her feel smaller and smaller as he talks to his friends (one of whom happens to be an attractive woman)! Speaking of Paul, I was not exactly thrilled with him as a love interest. Showing up on her doorstep after they have had all of two conversations is not romantic; it's stalking. This has been a disturbing trend in literature lately. Granted, she told him the street she lived on (which was stupid given that she didn't know him), but she never gave him her actual address nor did she tell him that she'd like for him to come over. By showing up on her doorstep, he took that option away from her. And his anger at her when he thought that she was a mistress was actually scary to me. Yes, she was not completely honest with him about her profession, but instead of asking her why she felt she had to lie to him, he said some pretty nasty things to her and all but called her a slut. I'm sorry, I don't remember them ever saying that they were an exclusive couple and that there should be no secrets between them. Did I miss that? He was presented as a tortured musician with a sensitive soul when in reality he came across as possessive and unstable. The ending was way too pat. All of the girls at the agency went on to have careers! They got to live their dreams as independent women! That happened ALL THE TIME IN 19TH CENTURY FRANCE!!! Oh wait, no it didn't. Some women made their own way in the world at that time, but it wasn't exactly common. It would have been far more believable if one or two of the girls had found a husband. Was the author trying to subtly claim that these women had to have careers because they were too ugly to find husbands? Probably not. I believe that she was trying to send a positive message about having a career and how women are so much more than brides. The execution was just terribly flawed. Apparently, only Maude was special enough to have a career and a man to be interested in her. This book would have received a 1 star review from me if it were not for one character: Isabelle. She was the one character in the book who came across as a multidimensional person. She was intelligent, determined, and interesting. Her character evolved in a natural way from the mean girl we first meet in the hat shop to the bored and angry debutante at the family dinner to the scholar who wants more in life than parties and to be an ornament to a man more interested in what status she can give him than who she is as a person. She was the clever, admirable character, not Maude. She was the thinker who used every asset she had to make a future for herself. She was also the character who kept me reading and once her story was wrapped up, I didn't really care about anything else. Sure, I finished the book, but only because I was close to the end and would have felt silly to read that far and not finish. Terribly disappointed.

  7. 4 out of 5

    usagi ☆ミ

    4.5/5 stars! This was actually a really educational read for me - the author's notes at the end of the book were wonderful, and it was so gratifying to see that Ross did her research on the topic of which I had no idea existed. "Belle Epoque" is a gorgeous tale of finding beauty in ugliness, ugliness in beauty, and most of all, finding yourself in a sea of what people want you to be. This was one of my most anticipated spring/summer 2013 titles, and it definitely did not disappoint. If you're loo 4.5/5 stars! This was actually a really educational read for me - the author's notes at the end of the book were wonderful, and it was so gratifying to see that Ross did her research on the topic of which I had no idea existed. "Belle Epoque" is a gorgeous tale of finding beauty in ugliness, ugliness in beauty, and most of all, finding yourself in a sea of what people want you to be. This was one of my most anticipated spring/summer 2013 titles, and it definitely did not disappoint. If you're looking for a well-researched and generally awesome YA historical book this summer, go for "Belle Epoque". Fitting in "tough stuff" issues into a historical novel isn't easy, but Ross did it with surprising grace and made it the basis of her novel. Generally, girls have been feeling "unpretty" in Western culture for years, but I posit that it only got really bad within the last 200 years or so - and only really really intensifying within the last 30 years. That's where the whole subject of this book, the repoissoirs, comes in - or the "beauty foils". The idea of capitalizing on girls' self-loathing and turning into gold is still pretty repugnant, but at least in this book (and in Zola's original tale on the same phenomenon), it's honest and said right out there from the jump. In our culture today, we've totally hidden (or tried to hide) Durandeau's greed on making money with "ugly" girls, so it was really quite a breath of fresh air to read something so honest. If anything, it makes me wish that there were more Durandeaus in the world (terrible as that sounds) - it actually might give girls MORE self-esteem about their body image or dysphorias through jobs like these. Which is what eventually happens in this book through various events (which I won't spoil). I won't lie when I say that I do feel like Maude does most of the time throughout the book - unpretty, unremarkable, and forgettable. But at least she's getting paid for those traits. Maude was one of the most relatable and sympathetic main characters I've stumbled across in YA (not just historical YA) in the last few years, and I really got attached to her. I was sad when I got to the last page - but at the same time, happy, because she finally found her groove (so to speak), and it kind of gave me hope that I'll (hopefully soon) be able to do the same thing. Where to start? All of the technical areas in this book (worldbuilding, character building, sensory imagery and language, plot/arc) are more or less flawless so I won't linger too much on those as I really don't have too many complaints. The pacing is great, too - not too slow nor fast, and gives us just enough time to linger in the places where we should be lingering. While I wish that Paul had a little bit more character development (considering the larger role he plays in the resolution of the story), what I got was adequate, and enough to go on in terms of the semi-open ending. The other thing that bothered me a bit - Isabelle, her mother, and Maude's big confrontation at the climax of the story (I think you guys can figure it out from the blurb on the book as I don't want to spoil you) felt a little rushed, and even though the pace was snowballing into a big finish, I do think that it could have been slowed down just a bit and not lose any of the impact it had on the reader emotionally. I can't really pinpoint why it felt so fast, only that it did. My favorite thing in this book aside from Maude and rest of the main cast has to be the sensory imagery. My god, it was as if I was really there - and I've never been to Paris! At least, not yet. Ross did an absolutely fantastic job capturing fin-de-siecle French culture, and everything thing felt, tasted, smelled like Paris. If anything, it's made me want to go there even more. Otherwise? This is a wonderful, wonderful book, and I can't wait to get my copy of it. Definitely a favorite of 2013 so far, "Belle Epoque" hits shelves today in North America from Random House, so definitely be sure to check it out when you get the chance. (posted to goodreads, shelfari, and birthofanewwitch.wordpress.com)

  8. 4 out of 5

    Jessica

    Belle Époque Belle Époque by Elizabeth Ross is historical fiction taking place in late 1800's when "Everything is for sale in Paris." It is a book with a lot of promise and possibility that is, unfortunately, wasted in telling rather than showing. There is no heart and little substance to follow it up. The premise of the book is that when something average is placed next to something less than or uglier the average becomes better or more beautiful "the rule of comparison." In the case of the book Belle Époque Belle Époque by Elizabeth Ross is historical fiction taking place in late 1800's when "Everything is for sale in Paris." It is a book with a lot of promise and possibility that is, unfortunately, wasted in telling rather than showing. There is no heart and little substance to follow it up. The premise of the book is that when something average is placed next to something less than or uglier the average becomes better or more beautiful "the rule of comparison." In the case of the book the average happens to be the wealthy of high fashion Paris and the less than are young women in need of reliable work in order to live. Maude Pichon is one of the young girls highered out to be a "repoussoir" for the daughter of a countess. Her assignment is a little different from normal as the young Isabelle is not to know that Maude is anything more than a new friend. Maude struggles with her double life more and more as she begins to get to know Isabelle and the other repoussoirs. And this is where the novel begins to struggle, I see no reason to like Maude let alone care that she is struggling. She never becomes three dementional, even with everything we are told about her she never takes life. Her actions are portrayed as those of a typical self-centered 16 year old. She is always acting in the moment with no care for those around her. The internal monologue is nothing more that a continuation of this mixed with out of character rambleings about beauty and self worth that come across preachy and excessive. I personally preferred Isabelle, she had such true potential. She was so much more alive than Maude in fact she was the only character that came alive we were "told" so much less about her and "shown" so much more. I would love to see more of her, and her type of character in Young Adult. She is not focused on her love life nor some helpless twit who does not think of her actions. She is strong, willing to go against the system and go up against a mother who not only is a forces of nature but also used to getting what she wants with out question. Yet, while the book came off as a bad PSA on what true beauty is, the writing has potential. I would have loved to see what the story could have been had the characters been alowed to be who they were ment to be instead of forced to fit a mold. Review based on advanced reader copy.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Cheryl

    YA Historical novel based on the short story "Les Repoussoirs" by Emile Zola ( link to story: http://www.101bananas.com/library2/co... ). The Durandeau Agency is the place where rich society women of Paris can hire a plain or ugly woman to act as their friend in social situations. This is so that, by comparison, the rich woman looks even lovelier to rich men who are potential husbands. Plain penniless Maude, desperate for a job, sees Durandeau's ad in the paper and applies for a position with th YA Historical novel based on the short story "Les Repoussoirs" by Emile Zola ( link to story: http://www.101bananas.com/library2/co... ). The Durandeau Agency is the place where rich society women of Paris can hire a plain or ugly woman to act as their friend in social situations. This is so that, by comparison, the rich woman looks even lovelier to rich men who are potential husbands. Plain penniless Maude, desperate for a job, sees Durandeau's ad in the paper and applies for a position with the agency. She's lucky to be hired as a companion for Countess Dubern's debutante daughter, Isabelle, for the entire social season. (Isabelle is told Maude is a distant relative and doesn't know the real truth.) But as Maude gets to really know Isabelle, she becomes increasingly uncomfortable with the Countess' game of marrying her daughter to the man with the highest social standing. Can Maude continue to influence Isabelle to marry a man she doesn't even like? A well-written novel that even Zola himself would like. Highly recommended.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Amelia

    I’m not usually a fan of historical fiction, but the concept of BELLE EPOQUE drew me in immediately: women rented out as ugly foils to society debutantes in 19th century Paris? It seems just absurd (and repulsive) enough to have been true! Elizabeth Ross certainly makes it feel true as she brings country girl Maude Pichon to life in this dazzling, Bronte-esque novel that lives up to the promise of its brilliant premise. When I was teaching English at an all girls’ school, I would have added this I’m not usually a fan of historical fiction, but the concept of BELLE EPOQUE drew me in immediately: women rented out as ugly foils to society debutantes in 19th century Paris? It seems just absurd (and repulsive) enough to have been true! Elizabeth Ross certainly makes it feel true as she brings country girl Maude Pichon to life in this dazzling, Bronte-esque novel that lives up to the promise of its brilliant premise. When I was teaching English at an all girls’ school, I would have added this to reading lists immediately: not only is it a beautifully written and a well-paced, compelling story, but its themes offer so much potential for teens to connect. Who manages to escape feeling like a repoussoir (French for “repulsor,” and the name given to the agency “rentals") in their adolescence? The book is not just about beauty and societal pressure (though it explores that very well) but also a moving story about the power of friendship and loyalty -- and the courage to pursue one’s dreams. I’ve been spoiled by a run of very good books this year, but Belle Epoque was one that I was especially sad to finish. I wanted to spend more time wrapped up in its lush, cinematic world, and I loved how much it made me think. It’s always wonderful, too, to find a book that makes me feel like I’m becoming a better writer just by reading it. I feel so lucky to have had an early peek at this stunning debut.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Lilliam Rivera

    I was lucky enough to read Belle Epoque and I can't rave enough about it. It's a beautiful, well written debut. Elizabeth Ross captures the bohemian world of Paris with a lead character who is strong but torn, who is seduced by a wealthy society but also wants to do the right thing. She's totally believable. I love the world of the Durandeau Agency where the privileged set is able to rent a friend. The wonderful thing about Belle Epoque is that it's a perfect novel for someone who finds historic I was lucky enough to read Belle Epoque and I can't rave enough about it. It's a beautiful, well written debut. Elizabeth Ross captures the bohemian world of Paris with a lead character who is strong but torn, who is seduced by a wealthy society but also wants to do the right thing. She's totally believable. I love the world of the Durandeau Agency where the privileged set is able to rent a friend. The wonderful thing about Belle Epoque is that it's a perfect novel for someone who finds historical fiction to be boring. This is far from it. So detailed, you feel you are living the grand balls and the extravagant dinners with the protagonist Maude. It's truly cinematic. I really loved it and wanted more.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Tandie

    I liked the premise of Belle Epoch. An agency that rents out ugly girls to be companions for society debs. Foils to make a gal look prettier in comparison. Runaway Maude is finding it harder to make a living in France than she expected. She takes a position at the agency out of desperation and it humiliates her. I enjoyed all the female friendships and Isabelle's determination to attend the Sorbonne instead of marrying. Maude was selfish and ambitious, not caring about anyone else's feelings. Pe I liked the premise of Belle Epoch. An agency that rents out ugly girls to be companions for society debs. Foils to make a gal look prettier in comparison. Runaway Maude is finding it harder to make a living in France than she expected. She takes a position at the agency out of desperation and it humiliates her. I enjoyed all the female friendships and Isabelle's determination to attend the Sorbonne instead of marrying. Maude was selfish and ambitious, not caring about anyone else's feelings. Petty jealousy & pity parties kept me from liking her. Overall, a good look at France in the 'Beautiful Age'. Could've been a bit more fun. 3 stars.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Wendy Darling

    2.5 stars Fascinating topic, but this is a story that could have used a great deal more liveliness, emotional depth, and resonance.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Rayne

    3.5 stars What a strange, lovely novel Belle Epoque turned out to be. Not a particularly fun or entertaining novel, definitely not as profound as it could've been, but still, thoughtful and original in a sense that YA rarely is. Instead of focusing on the romance or getting lost in the beauty of the times, instead of using the story to bring another tiring, perfect main character who does nothing wrong, the author didn't shy away from giving us a flawed and average main character in a strange, em 3.5 stars What a strange, lovely novel Belle Epoque turned out to be. Not a particularly fun or entertaining novel, definitely not as profound as it could've been, but still, thoughtful and original in a sense that YA rarely is. Instead of focusing on the romance or getting lost in the beauty of the times, instead of using the story to bring another tiring, perfect main character who does nothing wrong, the author didn't shy away from giving us a flawed and average main character in a strange, emotionally and psychologically taxing situation who ends up being, essentially, the eyes through which we learn about situations and characters a whole lot more interesting than herself. That in itself was a pretty big risk. I commend the author's commitment to the story where she would rather make a point than make up this ridiculously perfect main character that never grows, develops or makes mistakes, but, ultimately, Maude herself suffered as a character because, pretty much, everyone else was more interesting than she was and it was a bore sometimes to go through her scenes of introspection. At times, I really liked that the author purposely made Maude so average and unassuming so that we could better enjoy the strong characters around her, but at others, I struggled with actually caring about Maude at all. What I appreciate the most about this, however, was that this was a perfect technique to avoid the infuriating girl-on-girl hate that pervades in YA, but it had the downfall of making Maude rather uninteresting and, for some reason, also softened the impact of her emotions on the reader. Maude felt like such a passive observer for so much of the novel, than when it was her time to deliver on the big emotions and make big leaps in characterization, it almost fell flat for me. It wasn't that I didn't care about her, but simply that I didn't care enough to make a difference. I did generally like what the author did with Maude as a character, and I enjoyed that Maude was allowed to grow and develop by making mistakes, by making bad choices and turning into a unlikable person because it made for great characterization and it felt natural. I really enjoyed the way Maude got caught up in the fantasy of living this life that was never meant for her, which is when she came off as the most realistic for me. What struck me the most powerfully about Maude was her need to survive, how she was willing to do anything to hold on, and her development as a character felt natural, and I know there aren't many authors out there willing to tarnish the perfection of their main characters so they can learn. But, ultimately, Maude was still a two-dimensional character at times. Aside from her need to survive and prove the people from her past wrong, the other big emotion I perceived from her was the emotional blow working as a repoussoir had on her self-steem, which I suppose is the very point of the novel, certainly, but never went as deep as I would've liked it to go and was mostly static and repetitive. There's not a particular focus on romance in this novel, which was a refreshing change, and a definite spotlight on friendship, which was one of the strongest aspects of the novel for me. While not developed further more than was necessary, Marie-Josée and Isabelle were two very compelling and strong characters that reinforced the message of the novel. Far more interesting that Maude herself, they often carried the weight of the scene, the chapter and even whole sections of the story. They even embodied the message of the novel more strongly than Maude herself. They were not fully-fleshed and sometimes even felt like a draft of their own characters, but reading about Maude in their company were often the most engaging parts of my reading experience. Belle Epoque is a very original novel with an unusual take on what could've been a recycled story. I was expecting for Maude to have a Cinderella story, for her to go from ugly duckling to beautiful swan like many other novels, and I was very pleased when, not only did that not happen, but when I realized that setting itself apart from that was one of the points of the novel. Slightly heavy-handed in delivery, sure, but this book still made very important points on beauty and shallowness, in personal strength and self-steem, in fighting for your dreams and yourself as a human being with feelings and dignity, and all that endeared me to the novel. Definitely slow, Belle Epoque could've used a bit more liveliness, a more engaging current to Maude's narrative and more emotional strength behind her voice. It's not a novel that will have to reading deep in to the night, not one that will deliver thrills or excitement. It's a slow, thoughtful process the reading experience for this novel, and I think that was precisely the point. I think it could've been better, but that's just me wanting to derive more enjoyment, more meaning from this novel, to make it a whole lot more memorable and give it a lot more impact than it had, because, in the end, I think Belle Epoque is exactly the type of novel it wants to be and that, even if it does not make me love it as desperately as I wanted to, it does deserve my respect.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Kayla Beck Kalnasy

    Review originally posted on Bibliophilia, Please. 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, glamo Review originally posted on Bibliophilia, Please. 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.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Jen Ryland

    Beautifully written and thoroughly researched, Belle Epoque was inspired by a short story by Émile Zola called Les Repoussoirs. In Zola's story, a salesman rents out unattractive girls to serve as companions for young society women on the marriage market, making their employers seem lovelier by comparison. The story opens as Maude -- who has fled to Paris to escape an unappealing arranged marriage -- answers a newspaper ad and learns about the repoussoir concept. At first, she's insulted and horr Beautifully written and thoroughly researched, Belle Epoque was inspired by a short story by Émile Zola called Les Repoussoirs. In Zola's story, a salesman rents out unattractive girls to serve as companions for young society women on the marriage market, making their employers seem lovelier by comparison. The story opens as Maude -- who has fled to Paris to escape an unappealing arranged marriage -- answers a newspaper ad and learns about the repoussoir concept. At first, she's insulted and horrified, but she needs the money and eventually accepts a job as companion to Isabelle, the daughter of a countess. Isabelle thinks that Maude is a distant relative of her mother's close friend, but Maude has actually been hired to help Isabelle make an advantageous marriage. But when Maude learns that Isabelle's plans are at odds with those of the countess, she'll have to decide where her loyalties lie. Belle Epoque is rich in sensory description and full of wonderful details about turn-of-the-century Paris. At the time the story takes place, the Eiffel Tower was being built, and I loved the way that the book wove in historical information about its construction -- and the strong objections at the time about its design. I also liked the fact that the story looked at love and romance with a somewhat jaded eye. As much as I love some swooniness in a book, this story takes place at a time during which most women had little freedom or education and were subject to the whims and expectations of men. So, as romantic as the Season and the marriage market are made to seem in some fiction, I liked the fact that this book pointed out the other side of the story. The first third of the book is spent on Maude's training to enter society, and I thought that part of the story could have been compressed into fewer pages. The main source of tension in the plot revolves around the fact that Isabelle is unaware that Maude is her paid companion, and for me that wasn't quite enough plot to sustain a 300+ page story. That, combined with the absence of much romantic tension as described above, made the book feel rich with description and atmosphere, but a bit thin on plot. Belle Epoque takes place during a time period I find particularly fascinating -- a time when cities like New York, London and Paris were becoming important centers of culture and commerce. Though YA readers who crave lots of romance and drama may find this book a bit too languid for their taste, I wholeheartedly recommend Belle Epoque to Francophiles and fans of historical fiction.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Anna

    Maude runs away from her father's house and shop in Brittany after overhearing his plans for her marriage at 16 to the local butcher. After she arrives in Paris, Maude realizes that her stolen funds would not last very long and she would need to find work to survive. She stumbles across an ad for a position that she does not fully understand, but gets the job anyway. Once she is employed by the agency, she is repulsed by the girls and their acceptance of their positions. She is lucky, in some re Maude runs away from her father's house and shop in Brittany after overhearing his plans for her marriage at 16 to the local butcher. After she arrives in Paris, Maude realizes that her stolen funds would not last very long and she would need to find work to survive. She stumbles across an ad for a position that she does not fully understand, but gets the job anyway. Once she is employed by the agency, she is repulsed by the girls and their acceptance of their positions. She is lucky, in some respects, because she is hired by a prominent lady to "befriend" her debutante daughter Isabelle. Her role becomes very complicated as she is pulled into the intricacies of high society and the marriage game and as she and Isabelle seem to be starting a real friendship. Maude also has a glimpse of the bohemian lifestyle through her acquaintance with Paul, a musician and struggling composer. It's a good introduction to this era of the Belle Epoque as the Eiffel Tower is being constructed for 1889 World's Fair and serves as a flashpoint of controversy. In this story, Ross uses it as a symbol of changing tastes, standards of beauty, social standing. Ross' inspiration for this book, was Emile Zola's short story, "Les Repoussoirs". She even uses the original agency owner Durandeau from Zola's story. This is a tamer version , a glimpse, into Zola's world of shocking realism and probably a good stepping stone into the realist literature of Hardy and Zola.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Nenia ✨ I yeet my books back and forth ✨ Campbell

    I'm kind of obsessed with this cover I'm kind of obsessed with this cover

  19. 4 out of 5

    LibraryCin

    When Maude leaves her home in the countryside of France, she heads to Paris. The only work she is able to find is to work as a “repoussoir”, or as a sort of “foil” to a pretty girl. That is, Maude is the ugly or plain girl who is hired to accompany a debutante to one or more events in order to make the debutante look better by comparison. Maude is hired by the Isabelle’s mother, but Isabelle doesn’t know that that’s why Maude is there. They become friends and Maude wants to help Isabelle in the When Maude leaves her home in the countryside of France, she heads to Paris. The only work she is able to find is to work as a “repoussoir”, or as a sort of “foil” to a pretty girl. That is, Maude is the ugly or plain girl who is hired to accompany a debutante to one or more events in order to make the debutante look better by comparison. Maude is hired by the Isabelle’s mother, but Isabelle doesn’t know that that’s why Maude is there. They become friends and Maude wants to help Isabelle in the things she wants, but she is forced to help Isabelle’s mother encourage Isabelle to marry, as that is her job. I really liked this. I was wondering if it was based on a real agency that hired out girls for this purpose, so I was looking forward to the author’s note at the end (it was based on a fictional agency in a short story). It was also set during the time the Eiffel Tower was being built, which is interesting. The book has some strong girl characters.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Christina (Confessions of a Book Addict)

    Maude Pichon grew up in the country and leaves her old life behind for the glamour of magical Paris. She doesn't have any connections when she comes to Paris and has to fend for herself. She responds to an advertisement looking for work and when she arrives at The Durandeau Agency she has no idea what she is in for. This agency provides the upper class with an "ugly" girl to showcase how beautiful their client is by having the two be out socializing together. Once Maude figures out what exactly Maude Pichon grew up in the country and leaves her old life behind for the glamour of magical Paris. She doesn't have any connections when she comes to Paris and has to fend for herself. She responds to an advertisement looking for work and when she arrives at The Durandeau Agency she has no idea what she is in for. This agency provides the upper class with an "ugly" girl to showcase how beautiful their client is by having the two be out socializing together. Once Maude figures out what exactly The Durandeau Agency is all about, she is horrified, but realizes that she needs the money desperately or she'll be out on the streets. Her other job as a laundress proves to be long hours, hard work and very little money. Even though her job at the agency is degrading, she can't deny the fact that she would make decent money. On her first day, Countess Dubern hires her to be a companion to her stubborn daughter, Isabelle. The catch is that Maude must not tell Isabelle who she truly is; instead, Isabelle must think that Maude is a friend of the family. Over time, Maude finds herself befriending Isabelle, but she can't forget that she works for the Countess and the Countess has one thing in mind: to marry Isabelle off whether she wants to be married or not. Maude's loyalties are tested, especially since she has a lot more at stake than just her job. Belle Epoque by Elizabeth Ross is an engaging debut that fans of historical fiction with enjoy. Maude is a heroine who reminds me a lot of classical heroines from Bronte or even Jane Eyre. She wants more for her life than to be married off to someone her father chooses, which is why she leaves the country for Paris. She has so many dreams and hopes when she intially gets to Paris, but they are all thwarted by the fact that she needs to simply survive. Paris isn't as glamourous as it seems if you don't have money, which is why she takes the demeaning job at the agency. I couldn't help but root for her as she deals with many trials and tribulations, especially when she is up against the Countess. The setting of 19th century Paris is fantastic in Belle Epoque. I think Ross did a great job bringing it to life and showing both the beautiful aspects as well as the hardships that the poor faced. One thing that I found so fascinating about Belle Epoque is the concept of a "repoussoirs" (French for repulsor). I had never heard about that before and I found the whole concept to be equally disturbing as well as compelling. Belle Epoque explores so many different things about life, such as peer pressure, beauty, society's expectations, parents' expectations, finding yourself, and finally pursuing your dreams. I highly recommend Belle Epoque to fans of historical fiction this summer. It would be the perfect escape to 19th century Paris and I promise that you will be rooting for Maude, too.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Cee

    Set during the building process of the now world-famous Eiffel tower, Belle Epoque is a lovely historical young-adult novel about beauty and friendship. After running away from home Maude Pichon can't find a job in Paris. The only agency that will hire her is one for ugly girls. They are rented to society ladies that will look even more beautiful next to their deformity. I LOVED the repoussoir (to repel in French) business. As stated in the Author's Note in the final page of the book, Belle Epoqu Set during the building process of the now world-famous Eiffel tower, Belle Epoque is a lovely historical young-adult novel about beauty and friendship. After running away from home Maude Pichon can't find a job in Paris. The only agency that will hire her is one for ugly girls. They are rented to society ladies that will look even more beautiful next to their deformity. I LOVED the repoussoir (to repel in French) business. As stated in the Author's Note in the final page of the book, Belle Epoque is based on a short story by Émile Zola. Knowing now that he has thought up such a wonderfully bizarre yet believable concept, I'm looking forward to read some of his work. Back to Belle Epoque; Ms Ross deserves massive kudos for using Zola's idea and making it her own. The novel is highly original, especially in the way it deals with being and/or feeling ugly or inadequate. It was lovely to read about historical Paris this way. I actually knew that Parisians thought the Eiffel tower was grotesque and couldn't wait for it to be destroyed again (which was scheduled for a few years later). This construction works perfectly as a backdrop of Maude's story, and of the changing era. There is some clear girls' oppression - emancipation kind of theme going on, but I was glad it didn't turn into a massive "girls should all go to college!" rant. Ms Ross keeps the characters within the bounds that constitute the characters, and doesn't use them as sock puppets just to make a point. Belle Epoque had some very strong parts where I felt connected to the main character and her thoughts. At moments though I missed a bit more introspection, and I wanted some more thoughts and a bit less descriptions of actions. It's a minor flaw which didn't stop me from enjoying the book, but it's just that tiny difference that didn't make it a 5-star read for me. Absolutely lovely historical young-adult book set in Paris (and light on romance, for those of you that like a more story-focussed book) with an amazing concept that's executed well.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Arianna M

    I wasn't a fan of historical fiction before, but this book changed that. Even though it's set in Paris in 1888-1889, I found that many of the topics were very relevant today: 1) How a person's beauty is often compared and rated against others instead of individually seen and accepted 2) How strong women are negatively perceived by some 3) How too much of a good thing isn't a good thing 4) How easy it is for your personal perception to be affected by others' perception of you 5) How you can exceed ex I wasn't a fan of historical fiction before, but this book changed that. Even though it's set in Paris in 1888-1889, I found that many of the topics were very relevant today: 1) How a person's beauty is often compared and rated against others instead of individually seen and accepted 2) How strong women are negatively perceived by some 3) How too much of a good thing isn't a good thing 4) How easy it is for your personal perception to be affected by others' perception of you 5) How you can exceed expectations others have for you if you have the courage to think bigger and better for yourself. (view spoiler)[ I thought Maude was a very relatable character. While being hired for being plain may not be the most relatable scenario, it's definitely relatable to think of the world as a competition and to not feel like enough when measured against others. I loved Isabelle. She was a great, strong character with ambition. I liked that she came across as bratty in her first scene, because you have to dig deeper with her. I also thought the Eiffel tower being a metaphor for unconventional beauty was perfect. (hide spoiler)] Overall, I loved everything about this book. Not only did it open up a new genre for me, it touched on so many important points in an interesting way. I read a library copy of this book, but this is one I'd definitely buy.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Nicki

    I'll start this off by saying that Samantha and I recently had a conversation and we're not thrilled with the Morris books this year. Samantha commented that if these are the best, maybe they shouldn't be giving out the award this year. Joking aside, they probably should have just stopped at 4 books and not nominated this book for the category. It was boring and the most predictable book I've ever read. "I hope I don't fall in love with a boy I'm not supposed to." Guess what happened? "I hope my I'll start this off by saying that Samantha and I recently had a conversation and we're not thrilled with the Morris books this year. Samantha commented that if these are the best, maybe they shouldn't be giving out the award this year. Joking aside, they probably should have just stopped at 4 books and not nominated this book for the category. It was boring and the most predictable book I've ever read. "I hope I don't fall in love with a boy I'm not supposed to." Guess what happened? "I hope my boss isn't really mean." Oh, really? And I can deal with predictable, to a degree. But there weren't even any characters I liked or any real drama. This is a story about Maude, a plain girl who has run away to make a life for herself in Paris. And she finds work at an agency who matches ugly girls up with young, pretty debutantes to make them look even prettier. One line that really bothered me was when a group of people were talking about being pretty or not and Maude (or maybe it was her love interest?) replied, "Maybe we're just as pretty as we need to be." Huh? Ugly or not, Maude. Answer the question. I don't even know who I would suggest this to.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Mara

    Cover Blurb: Yes or No? I love, love, love the pretty filigree border. However, not only is there a character impersonator on the front, it also gives the incorrect indication that this is a romance novel. And in fact, the romance is hardly part of the plot. Characters: Maude Pichon is a girl with big, yet practical, dreams. It's hard to not like her and her wish to be more than what she is. A plain girl who struggles with being accepted for her intelligence or her looks, Maude is also a very eas Cover Blurb: Yes or No? I love, love, love the pretty filigree border. However, not only is there a character impersonator on the front, it also gives the incorrect indication that this is a romance novel. And in fact, the romance is hardly part of the plot. Characters: Maude Pichon is a girl with big, yet practical, dreams. It's hard to not like her and her wish to be more than what she is. A plain girl who struggles with being accepted for her intelligence or her looks, Maude is also a very easy girl to relate to. It is also very easy to get frustrated with her. We Readers know that she shouldn't trust Countess Dubern, and we Readers know that Maude's attempt to fit in among the higher echelons of society will only end in grief. So when Maude ignores good advice and falls further and further into this new way of life among the Duberns, Readers will experience frustration and disbelief. However, this doesn't lessen Maude's overall good personality and commendable desire to pursue her ambitions. Isabelle Dubern initially came across as a brat - as she was supposed to. I felt that I really was not going to like her. But then, like Maude, I got to know her much better, and Isabelle soon became a strong-willed young woman with her own commendable ambitions. Her and Maude's lack of interest in marriage does not come across as a femi-Nazi "girl power" attitude, but more that marriage simply doesn't fit into their future plans. If it did, they would marry, but it doesn't, so they won't. On the other end of the spectrum, we have Countess Dubern playing the role of the story's villainess, and may I say that she is totally despicable. Every little action and bit of dialogue made me hate her more and more. The Romance: Surprisingly, there is no love triangle! Maude develops a bit of a crush on the Duke d'Avaray, but the Duke doesn't pay all that much attention to Maude, and Maude thankfully doesn't spend all that much time pining for him. Then there's Paul, a bohemian artist/musician who I didn't mind all that much, though I had difficulty attaching to him in any fashion. He didn't lack personality, but I found nothing especially attention-grabbing about him. The Reader, of course, knows that Paul will represent a love interest, but even this is very gradual and doesn't really make an appearance until the end. In some ways, the romance was almost too subtle in Belle Epoque. But at the same time, I'm glad the story focused on something else. Plot: When Maude's father plans to marry her off to the local butcher, Maude decides to take matters into her own hands and runs off to Paris. She has no objections to marriage itself, but the butcher is definitely not her idea of a good husband, and she has other interests she wants to pursue in France's grand and modern city. Seeking work, Maude answers an advertisement in the newspaper - an advertisement calling plain and ugly girls to the Durandeau agency. These girls are then hired by society ladies to offset their beauty. An ugly stepsister to enhance the beauty of a debutante, or a silver foil placed behind a jewel. Humiliated at the idea of being hired for her plainness, Maude rejects the job, but it soon forced back to the agency's doors when the need for money becomes greater than her pride. Maude is immediately hired by Countess Dubern to act as her daughter Isabelle's companion for her Season debut. However, Isabelle doesn't know that Maude is a repoussier, and it is Maude's duty not only to become Isabelle's confidante and convince her into accepting a marriage proposal, but also to make sure Isabelle never finds out that Maude actually works for her mother. However, what at first begins as a mere job, soon develops into a real friendship, as Isabelle shares her secret passion for photography and the sciences. Tempted into silence by the Countess Dubern's extravagant gifts of jewels and dresses, and tortured by her secret betrayal to Isabelle, Maude doesn't know what to do. The Countess is desperate for Isabelle to marry the Duke d'Avaray, while Isabelle has plans to attend the Sorbonne and pursue her studies. And Maude is caught in the middle. To disobey the Countess would cut Maude off from the allure of society balls and concerts and pretty things. And to obey her would destroy her friendship with Isabelle. This is a more character-driven than plot-driven story. The plot wholly consists of attending balls, banquets, concerts, and shopping, with Maude struggling with her conscience the entire time. But the backdrop is so rich and the characters so interesting that I happened to love it. This era - 1888 - is one of my absolute favorites, so reading countless pages of social protocol and decadence was a treat for me. Added onto that are characters with strong personalities, stronger ambitions, and interesting backgrounds. Did I also mention that Eiffel's tower is being built? Believability: Maude and Isabelle, the two main girls, have no real interest in marrying. And many of the other girls in this story have plans other than marriage for their futures. However, as I have said earlier, they do not have an unrealistic attitude for the era. To say that women in 1888 had no dreams beyond marriage is simply not true. 1888 is a year that is right smack in the middle of an era that meant change for society, industry, education - positively everything. Doorways to opened, amazing contraptions were being invented, roadways in medicine and science cleared. And contrary to popular belief, there were a lot of job options open to women. So why do so many people assume that women didn't have dreams beyond marriage? Few probably realized their dreams (depending on their situation in life; higher society women actually had fewer liberties than middle-class), but that doesn't mean they didn't have them. And in fiction, an Author can make them realize their dreams. The other historical details in this book - social protocols, the sort of inventions that existed then, people's general opinion of Eiffel's tower - are all well researched. Writing Style: First person, present tense. It worked surprisingly well. At times the dialogue had a bit too much of a modern flavor to fit into the era, but it wasn't all that bad. The descriptions were a pure literary feast of beauty and glamour - the Author actually made me fall in love with Paris; a city that I've never been all that enchanted with, not even in a different era. Content: None. Conclusion: The end is, perhaps, a bit predictable. We all know Maude's trust in the Countess will end in misery. And we all know that in the end Maude will find her way in the world. Even so, the end has a realistic feel to it. It's not cookie-cutter perfect, and no characters make unrealistic and sudden rises in their stations in life. I expected Belle Epoque to be a historical romance, when I first saw it. So I was pleasantly surprised to find it to be a story about two young women looking for a way to make their own way in the world, and to explore their era's amazing discoveries. Recommended Audience: Girl-read, fourteen-and-up, great for fans of historical fiction that explore historical facts that aren't very well known.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Sandra

    Why oh why did I wait so long to read this book? I got it out of the library as soon as the had it available then renewed it twice, ran out of time and returned it. I immediately checked the book out again then renewed it twice and decided it was now or never - I read this book two days before it was due and as soon as I'm done typing up this review, I'm driving to the library to return it. Guys, GUYS - don't make the same mistake I made, I absolutely loved and adored this book and I'm mad at my Why oh why did I wait so long to read this book? I got it out of the library as soon as the had it available then renewed it twice, ran out of time and returned it. I immediately checked the book out again then renewed it twice and decided it was now or never - I read this book two days before it was due and as soon as I'm done typing up this review, I'm driving to the library to return it. Guys, GUYS - don't make the same mistake I made, I absolutely loved and adored this book and I'm mad at myself for renewing it for twelve weeks, preventing anyone else from checking it out and loving it, too. Maude, a spunky young girl in France during the mid-ninteenth century, runs away from home when she discovers her father has betrothed her to the butcher. Knowing there's more for her in this life than to be a wife to a small town butcher, she flees to Paris with a vague job ad in her hand. But when she applies for the job in person and is accepted she learns what the job is really about - she's now a repoussoir. The agency hires unattractive young women who are then rented by wealthy families to stand near their debutante daughters at society events to make their daughters look more attractive. This concept was a little stunning to me. Sure in real life people sometimes make friends with the less attractive to feel better about themselves - hello, it's called middle school - but I had no idea this was an actual business is nineteenth century France, and the authors note at the end of the book confirmed it. I immediately felt for Maude. It must be humiliating and horribly bad for one's self esteem to be reminded of one's flaws every single day. However, the pay was excellent and Maude took it in such stride most of the time that I was much more interested in her interactions with her client and her client's family. Maude is immediately hired out by a countess for her daughter, whose first season is about to start. But the catch here is that Maude has been hired for the entire season and the daughter is never to find out. Maude is to befriend Isabelle and then report back to her mother about potential suitors. Plots like this never end well, in books or real life, so I knew some high class drama was on the way and was it ever. But aside from that, we learned a lot about Isabelle, who wasn't your standard young debutante. In fact, I absolutely adored Isabelle! She had her own dreams and she wasn't going to let her mother's dream of her marrying rich get in the way - until Maude stepped in and suddenly had the moral dilemma of doing her job, or helping a new friend. I won't spoil it - but you'll be surprised and you must read this book! Five stars! I love you, Belle Epoque, and I'm sorry I neglected you for so long. It's back to the library now where hopefully someone else will pick you up and love you just as much.

  26. 4 out of 5

    colleen the convivial curmudgeon

    After running away from a provincial town where she was to be married off to an older and potentially abusive husband, Maude comes to Paris to follow her dreams - and the dreams of her departed mother. But she finds life harder than expected, and so answers an add looking for women for easy work - not realizing there's a word missing. "Ugly". But Maude doesn't consider herself ugly, not like the *others*, so runs off... only to later return when life continues to be hard. And so Maude gets hired After running away from a provincial town where she was to be married off to an older and potentially abusive husband, Maude comes to Paris to follow her dreams - and the dreams of her departed mother. But she finds life harder than expected, and so answers an add looking for women for easy work - not realizing there's a word missing. "Ugly". But Maude doesn't consider herself ugly, not like the *others*, so runs off... only to later return when life continues to be hard. And so Maude gets hired and gets to experience the life of a debutante through the Season, but she is there to make her secret client, Isabella, attractive. (Secret because Maude is hired by Isabella's mother without her knowledge.) But Isabella is difficult because, shockingly, she wants to be more than a painted adornment, and Maude just can't understand. Except she bloody well should, because isn't that why she ran away from her life? The biggest problem with this book is Maude. She's whiny and unsympathetic. She often looks down on the other women of the agency, even her supposed friend, because she is ugly and 'crass' - crass here meaning forthright and not cowed by people's opinions. Maude is also petty and spiteful and jealous and seems to often forget that the Season is not for her. But aside from being "plain" (because we can't have our heroine actually be "ugly"), she doesn't have much else going for her, either. She's not a good friend. She's not intelligent or witty. We're told she has the soul of a poet and an artist, but I'm not sure it says good things about poets and artists if that's the case. Anyway - The good thing is that Maude is meant to be in the wrong, and she does learn, but only after having burnt her bridges. But that's ok, because the bridges are very - *very* - easily mended, and everything wraps up all neat and nice and pat and entirely unrealistically. *** The story tries to have some themes of beauty being only skin-deep and true beauty lying within, but doesn't seem to really live up to the themes it's trying to convey. *** Also, it never really felt very French. It read like the many other YA historical fictions I've read, most of which have been set in England. The Britishisms don't help. And the random words and phrases in French are distracting, since they're meant to be speaking French the entire time. Overall, rather a disappointment - and I'm almost sorry I asked the library to get this one for me. But it's not all bad, and other people might enjoy it more, so there's that.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Michele

    This, and other reviews can be found on Just a Lil' Lost Maude runs away from home to escape a future that would not be her own. She makes her way to Paris and answers a job posting before realizing that the job was to be plain. An unusual agency hires out “ugly” females to their rich clientele with the idea that when the rich are next to someone bland, they would look more attractive. Maude soon realizes that her client has hired her for her daughter, who has no idea that she’s paid for. The two This, and other reviews can be found on Just a Lil' Lost Maude runs away from home to escape a future that would not be her own. She makes her way to Paris and answers a job posting before realizing that the job was to be plain. An unusual agency hires out “ugly” females to their rich clientele with the idea that when the rich are next to someone bland, they would look more attractive. Maude soon realizes that her client has hired her for her daughter, who has no idea that she’s paid for. The two young girls become friends and Maude is conflicted on where her allegiances lie. In all honesty, this story really snuck up on me. I knew the premise was interesting and I had wanted to check it out, but I had no idea just how much it would pull me in. There is so much more psychology than what might appear on the surface with how Ross writes each of the girls in the agency. Being a repoussoir, or a “repulser”, would certainly take its toll on a person’s mental state. While I’m not sure if the girl on the cover is supposed to represent Maude, I certainly don’t consider her “plain” nor “ugly” in the least! In fact, Maude and all the other characters really came across as strong women, despite their position in life. They all had their individual shortcomings and flaws and yet all shone past that as well. Even the title itself, Belle Epoque, is French for “beautiful era” which holds so much more significance in the context of this novel. In a way, the basis of the story is not necessarily a novel one. There are many stories where the protagonist pretends to be someone they’re not. What makes Ross stand apart from all of that is that the intentions of said protagonist in Belle Epoque are not motivated by a romantic relationship but rather a platonic friendship. And looking back on my initial comment about how it caught me off guard with how invested I became with the story, it’s actually not that surprising after all. I love stories that have strong, yet vulnerable, characters that rise above their circumstances in life and show the world what they’re really made of. This is exactly that kind of book.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Christie

    First sentence: "Perfect, just perfect," says the stout man. Maude Pinchon has run away from home and an arranged marriage to make her way in the world in Paris. Looking for work, she answers an unusual ad looking for young girls for light labor. She leaps at the chance to not have to work as a laundress anymore, but the job is not all it seems. The Durandeau Agency provide beauty foils, ugly girls are hired to make their rich clients look better in comparison. Maude is hired by a countess as a First sentence: "Perfect, just perfect," says the stout man. Maude Pinchon has run away from home and an arranged marriage to make her way in the world in Paris. Looking for work, she answers an unusual ad looking for young girls for light labor. She leaps at the chance to not have to work as a laundress anymore, but the job is not all it seems. The Durandeau Agency provide beauty foils, ugly girls are hired to make their rich clients look better in comparison. Maude is hired by a countess as a foil for her daughter, Isabelle, but Isabelle has no idea her new friend has been bought to make her look good. Will Maude be able to play the charade well enough to earn her paycheck and maybe a permanent place among the aristocracy? So this book is pretty predictable, but it is a charming read regardless. Both Maude and Isabelle are strong women and it is easy to sympathize with each of them. Even the girls at the agency and other supporting characters are well-drawn and easy to relate to. The view of Paris in the 1880s and Bohemian culture reminded me a great deal of Moulin Rouge. The book has a good message about beauty, friendship, and finding your place in the world. Though the book is pure fiction, the author did a great job of working in of historical elements such as the construction of the Eiffel Tower (which most people at the time believed was an eyesore and that it would be dismantled in a few years) and the emergence of photography as an art form. The story is also based on a short story by Emilie Zola. I may try to get my hands on that. I highly recommend this book for anyone looking for a light, quick summer read or fans of other YA historical fiction authors such as Ruta Sepetys or Jennifer Donnelly. It was a highly enjoyable read.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Rachel

    I really enjoyed Belle Epoque by Elizabeth Ross. The story is set in Paris from 1888-1889. Maude Pichon ran away from her small village in Brittany, France. She came to Paris hoping to live the good life, but she quickly learns that life is not as easy as she hoped. Out of desperation she relies to an ad for ugly girls to hang with debutantes in order to make them look prettier. They are the foils that make the jewels stand out. Maude is assigned to Isabelle, but Isabelle does not know Maude's r I really enjoyed Belle Epoque by Elizabeth Ross. The story is set in Paris from 1888-1889. Maude Pichon ran away from her small village in Brittany, France. She came to Paris hoping to live the good life, but she quickly learns that life is not as easy as she hoped. Out of desperation she relies to an ad for ugly girls to hang with debutantes in order to make them look prettier. They are the foils that make the jewels stand out. Maude is assigned to Isabelle, but Isabelle does not know Maude's real purpose; she thinks Maude is a provencal relative of her mother' friend. Maude struggles between her hired duties to Isabelle's mom and her new friendship with Isabelle. Ross' story draws you into the historical city life. I really felt like I was in the city streets, the cafes, and the homes. Her attention to historical detail seemed spot on. I also really liked her comparison of the Eiffel tower to the "foils". When the Eiffel tower was first built for the World's Fair, most people thought it was ugly and an eye-sore, but decades after it should have been torn down, it has become the landmark of the city. It represents the glamour and beauty of the city. As Maude learns beauty is in the eye of the beholder. I also liked how Ross described the early photography of the late 19th century. It is amazing to think about how the things we take for granted used to be novel and new. I highly recommend Belle Epoque. Ross wrote a beautiful and flawless story that places the reader into turn of the century Paris and teaches a valuable lesson about inner beauty. Intelligence, kindness, and loyalty are more important than physical beauty. Fans of Rupta Septys' novels, Between Shades of Grey and Out of the Easy, will really enjoy this novel (and vis versa). This is a great historical fiction for both adults and young adults.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Morgan

    Initially my reaction was much the same as Maude's when she learns the true nature of the Durandeau Agency. He rents society ladies repoussers. These women were to serve to highlight the beauty of the "ladies" they were with through their own plainness, ugliness, or various other "less desirable" traits. Just reading about these so-called "ladies" and M. Durandeau speak about the women in his employ... *shudders* It felt like a physical blow, and that was how it felt to Maude. You watch her not o Initially my reaction was much the same as Maude's when she learns the true nature of the Durandeau Agency. He rents society ladies repoussers. These women were to serve to highlight the beauty of the "ladies" they were with through their own plainness, ugliness, or various other "less desirable" traits. Just reading about these so-called "ladies" and M. Durandeau speak about the women in his employ... *shudders* It felt like a physical blow, and that was how it felt to Maude. You watch her not only grow to see beyond the physical appearances of the women she works with, but also to grow a bit of a tougher skin herself. Maude isn't some pillar of morality, and is realistic in how she gets caught up in the glittering world of her unknowing "client" Isabelle. It does come to a good end and what feels like a more realistic one with Maude not being perfect throughout the book. There was a bit of repetitiveness that might have been edited down (the jewel and the foil the jewel and the foil the jewel and the foil the jewel and the foil.....), but it didn't really take much away from it. Isabelle and Maude also have a good friendship, if on a shaky base with Isabelle not knowing her mother is paying M. Durandeau for Maude's company. Apart from the occasional talk of her mother frothing at the mouth for Isabelle to make an advantageous marriage in her first season, the two girls have lots of conversations that have nothing to do with boys.

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