“Belle epoque” Elizabeth Ross

Rated 4 stars **** 2013. Delacorte. 327 p. (Includes “Author’s Note.”)

BelleEpoqueUnwilling to submit to an arranged marriage to a 40-year-old man, sixteen-year-old Maude Pichon runs away from her small, seaside village. Adrift in the large city of Paris and with her limited money running out, she seeks work at the Durandeau Agency where she reluctantly becomes a repoussoir – a person who is so ugly she repels others to makes her client look beautiful.

The Agency is filled with poor women and girls who have no money, but who Durandeau deems ugly enough to earn him a few francs. Maude becomes the repoussoir for Isabelle, a Countess’ rich daughter she plans to marry off during her upcoming debutante season. The only catch to her job is Maude must gain Isabelle’s confidence and report back to the Countess, but not let Isabelle know her true role. As months go by and the Countess transforms Maude’s life, she finds herself drifting into fantasies where she has become the debutante and finds herself a rich husband.

As she begins to befriend Isabelle, she looks down on her former life and friends at the Agency in favor of a new, imagined life with the Countess. However, the more time she spends with them, the more she will have to come to terms with her true self and decide if the rich life is really where she’s meant to be.

I enjoyed reading “Belle Epoque,” and learning about life in 1800’s France. Though based on a fictional story about repoussoirs written in 1866, it’s a shame that we still judge others by appearances rather than by what they offer society.

Recommended for ages 16 and older, including Adults.

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“The movie version” Emma Wunsch

Rated 2 stars ** ARC. Published October 11, 2016. Amulet Books. 354 p.

themovieversionSeventeen-year-old Amelia and her older brother Toby have always been more like best friends than brother and sister. They love watching all kinds of movies, and their movie quotes drive everyone crazy. Toby comes up with fun, silly ideas of things to do, is the life of the party, and always has an entourage of friends.

She and Toby have always been there for each other so, when he starts cutting school, smoking pot, staying in his room, and acting strangely, Amelia covers for him. She starts to put her own life on hold for him, getting mad at her boyfriend and best friend for suggesting something might be wrong with him. When Toby is diagnosed with schizophrenia, Amelia has to learn how to deal with his diagnosis and to live her life without her brother by her side.

It took some time before I could really get into this book. I started it, put it down for a few months, and then decided to try again one more time. The constant movie quotes, titles of movies I’d never heard of, and constant references to movies at inopportune times were very off putting. It wasn’t until Toby was diagnosed and Amelia decided to stop living her life like a movie that the book became bearable. Only then was I finally able to read without the constant distraction of movie titles and quotes. I also didn’t think the author needed to be so explicit when describing Amelia and her boyfriend’s sexual antics. I thought it was an unnecessary distraction, and the book could have stood alone without their relationship.

I wasn’t a fan of this book, and the only reason I gave it two stars instead of one was because I thought it important for readers to learn about how mental illness affects teenagers.

“This is our story” Ashley Elston

Rated 5 stars ***** ARC. Published November 15, 2016. Disney-Hyperion. 312 p.

thisisourstoryJohn Michael, Shep, Henry and Logan are accused of murdering their friend Grant. During a hunting trip he was shot and killed, but none of them will admit to it. Kicked out of their prep school, the four rich boys are now attending public school to finish out their senior year while the district attorney works out the legal details of their case. Everyone expects their case to be dismissed because of their daddies’ money and closeness to the DA.

Kate is devastated, as she and Grant had been texting for weeks and she’d fallen for him. Her mother works for Mr. Stone, the assistant district attorney, where she has a part-time intern position. When the DA recuses himself and gives the case to the ADA, it is with the assumption he will not find the boys guilty. Kate is angry at what happened to Grant, and Mr. Stone is angry at being expected to lose. Together they work hard to find whatever evidence they can to incriminate the boys.

As Kate takes photographs, and sifts through transcripts and testimonials, she begins to realize the five best friends were leading double lives. The more she learns, the more she finds herself mixed into their lives. Soon the real killer decides she knows too much and, as time ticks closer towards a conviction, plots ways to get away with more than one murder.

This murder mystery kept me on the edge of my seat. I thought I knew who killed Grant but, when the truth was revealed, I was completely wrong. Bravo to Elston for crafting not only a very interesting read, but giving readers excellent descriptions of what goes on behind the scenes in a murder case. It was also intriguing to read the killer’s thoughts after almost every chapter, dropping hints about the case.

Highly recommended for ages 14 and older.

“1999: A novel of the Celtic Tiger and the search for peace” Morgan Llywelyn

Rated 4 stars **** 2008. Irish Century Novels #5. Tom Doherty Associates. 399 pp. (Includes alphabetical list of Historical Characters,Source Notes and a Bibliography.)

1999 AnoveloftheCelticTigerandthe searchforpeaceBarry Halloran’s personal fight as a photojournalist against Ireland’s occupation by the British continues in the last book of The Irish Century series. In “1999” readers are infused with information about the various IRA Republican factions which continued their battles for a united Ireland, contrasted with crimes committed against Catholics by British and Protestant organizations aided and abetted by local police.

As usual, Llywelyn summarizes information covered in previous books to bring the reader “up to speed.” However I found a glaring error in “1999,” which disappointed me since the author has always been very good at seamlessly joining all her books.

The error was a complete changing of an event that happened in “1972” in which Barry woke Barbara Kavanagh from a deep sleep and proposed to her. Afterwards they both woke up his best friend Séamus to ask him to be the best man.

I was very dismayed to have the marriage proposal be completely changed in “1999”, as the proposal now occurs while Barbara is having an argument with her mother over the telephone. Later that evening, Séamus returns home and is asked to be Barry’s best man.

I am at a loss as to why Barry’s proposal was changed from one book to the other. Did an editor not catch the change? If Morgan Llywelyn were to read this review I would ask why she changed such a romantic proposal from “1972” into this “ho hum” proposal in “1999.” In my opinion, a change was not necessary.

Other than having a problem with this change, I enjoyed “1999.”

Recommended for Adult readers.

“1972: A novel of Ireland’s unfinished revolution” Morgan Llywelyn

Rated 5 stars ***** 2005. Irish Century Novels #4. Tom Doherty Associates. 365 pp. (Includes alphabetical list of Historical Characters, the Bipartisan Declaration from 1949, Source Notes and a Bibliography.)

1972Barry Halloran, Ursula’s son and Ned’s grandson, now takes up the centuries long fight for Ireland’s independence in Llywelyn’s latest book.

Eager to fight for his country Barry joins the IRA as a foot soldier, and is soon enamored with the feeling of camaraderie amongst the men in the army. He has hope for his country’s future but, when he actually killed someone, Barry decided there had to be a way to make a difference without killing. In time he became a demolition expert for the IRA, but insisted his targets be places where lives would not be lost. Soon, he became the best demolition expert in the army.

With Northern Catholics experiencing severe civil rights violations, various political factions within the country sought to copy the nonviolent civil rights movement undertaken in America in an effort to reunite the country. Now an experienced photojournalist, Barry is in the midst of the action as Northern extremists clash with Catholics. Ireland and Barry’s coming of age story are uniquely joined, culminating in the terrible events known to history as Bloody Sunday.

Recommended for Adults.