When Maude Pichon runs away from provincial Brittany to Paris, her romantic dreams vanish as quickly as her savings. Desperate for work, she answers an unusual ad. The Durandeau Agency provides its clients with a unique service—the beauty foil. Hire a plain friend and become instantly more attractive.
Monsieur Durandeau has made a fortune from wealthy socialites, and when the Countess Dubern needs a companion for her headstrong daughter, Isabelle, Maude is deemed the perfect foil.
But Isabelle has no idea her new "friend" is the hired help, and Maude's very existence among the aristocracy hinges on her keeping the truth a secret. Yet the more she learns about Isabelle, the more her loyalty is tested. And the longer her deception continues, the more she has to lose.
I wasn't sure what to expect from Belle Epoque, I haven't been interested in reading it despite seeing it on a lot of blogs after the US release. However, this cover caught my eye and when Hot Key Books emailed asking if I'd like to review it I though 'What the heck? Let's give it a chance'. This book definitely took me by surprise, it was a great read with a fantastic underlying moral.
It actually took me a couple of attempts to get into this book since I'd been reading some really fast paced paranormal style books and I initially didn't think that I was enjoying it, however after a few chapters I really started to get into Maude's character. Maude is a proud young woman who is desperate enough to work as a repoussoir and thsi book is about Maude (and the other repoussoirs) finding their inner beauty and learning that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. This idea is put across so subtly in the book and I especially liked how Ross put the construction of the Eiffel Tower in the background, as something that everyone thinks is ugly but a hundred years later is considered to be beautiful, this serves as a metaphor for the repoussoirs.
I actually really liked the spunky Isabelle the most, she is witty and strong-willed and I think that she teaches Maude a lot about sticking up for herself. I had a few issues with the romance though, I liked Paul but we didn't see him enough and we didn't really get to know him that well, so the big romantic declaration near the end fell a bit flat for me. This book isn't about Maude finding love though, it's about her finding herself.
One technical issue that I found was that though the novel is set in France and the dialogue is all meant to be perceived to be in French, this made things a bit awkward. Okay, i'm totally willing to let English idioms and sayings pass, but when Maude meets a girl called Hortense and states that she remembers the name because she looks like a horse, I was a bit uncomfortable - the word 'horse' is English but in French it's chevalle I think, so it makes no sense that the word horse would help Maude remember the name Hortense.
Overall, despite the romance falling flat and a few technical issues with the English/French language thing this book was a pleasant surprise for me. It wasn't the greatest, most exciting read, but it's a meaningful book with a fantastic message.
Overall Rating: B
Book released 5th September 2013 by Hot Key Books
Book received from the publisher in exchange for an honest review