“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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“One Paris Summer” Denise Grover Swank

Rated 5 stars ***** ARC. Published June 7, 2016. Blink.

OneParisSummerSophie’s mom forced her and her older brother to spend the summer with their father in Paris. Neither wants to go since he abandoned them a year ago and is now getting remarried, but they don’t have a choice. Filled with anger at her father for leaving her behind, she also has to deal with her stepsister Camille’s hatred at her presence.

Sophie knows her time in Paris with her father’s new family would be bearable if she could release tension by playing the piano, but her father doesn’t have one. When she meets Camille’s friend Mathieu, Sophie gets two of her wishes answered. Not only is Mathieu incredibly handsome and interested in her, he also has a piano she can play.

As Sophie navigates the waters of distrust in her Parisian home, she finds herself enjoying the city and maturing in ways she’d never thought possible. When an invitation arises to audition for a spot at a conservatory for high schoolers, she has to decide if she’s willing to forgive her father and Camille in order to begin a new path towards her musical dreams. Change has never come easy for Sophie but, with summer coming to an end, she will have to make a decision that will forever change everything she’s ever known.

I really enjoyed “One Paris Summer.” Swank did a wonderful job recounting what first love feels like for a 16-year-old girl in a place as romantic as Paris, while her love for music and piano playing is also well documented. As Sophie travelled throughout the city, the realistic descriptions took me back to my time spent there, making me nostalgic and wishing I could turn back time. Anyone who has been to Paris will recognize her beauty, while those who haven’t will be aching to go by the final pages.

Highly recommended for ages 14 and older.

“Consent” Nancy Ohlin

Rated 5 stars ***** ARC. Ebook. Simon & Schuster. 2015.

ConsentBeatrice lives with her father who is always working and hardly ever home. Her mom died when she was born, and her older brother moved out years ago, so she spends most of her time secretly playing the piano and hanging out with her best friend Plum. Bea has never told anyone about her love for the piano, and how it makes her feel when she plays, because of how her mom died. It is her secret.

Now that it’s their senior year Plum has pulled out all the stops in her plans for them to attend the same college, but Bea doesn’t know what she wants to do with her life. When she meets Mr. Dane Rossi, her incredibly young and handsome music history teacher, his love for music and the piano awakens a dormant part of herself that she never knew existed. Amazed by her musical prowess, Dane is determined to get her to envision a future that revolves around the piano but, as they begin to spend time together to plan for her musical future, they fall in love. Bea now has another secret.

Bea is 17 going on 18 and, though Dane is just a few years older, she knows people will think their relationship is bad. She loves him and knows he loves her but, as events build to a crescendo, Bea’s decisions will forever change the trajectory of both of their lives.

Is it okay for a student and teacher to have a sexual relationship? Ohlin addresses this question by giving readers an opportunity to see this situation from all angles through Bea’s point of view, and to draw their own conclusions. The open ending allows us to think about the clues Ohlin dropped, which give answers to what will happen in their future. “Consent” is very thought provoking, and will stay with you long after the final page is turned.

Recommended for ages 16 and older.