“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.


“Ashes” Laurie Halse Anderson

Rated 5 stars ***** ARC. Seeds of America #3. Published October 4, 2016. Atheneum Books for Young Readers. (Appendix includes Questions and Answers as well as lists of books and websites for more reading.)

ashes“Ashes” continues the stories of escaped slaves Curzon and Isabel. First introduced in “Chains,” more of their lives and the cruelty of slavery was documented in “Forge.”

After escaping from their masters once again, the two have spent years making their way through the wilderness seeking news about Isabel’s sister Ruth who’d been sold away from her by a cruel mistress when she was just a little girl. Their plans of a reunited and peaceful life are interrupted by war and the cruelties of fate. The Patriot’s fight for independence causes Isabel to question how those seeking freedom for themselves could deny it to thousands of their slaves, while Curzon is sure the war will mean freedom for all.

As time passes, Isabel’s former closeness with Curzon dissipates as they remain at odds over the war and its meaning to them as slaves. As they learn to survive in the midst of chaos, they are left wondering and hoping about a future in a world turned upside down.

Anderson has done her research well, bringing readers fully into Isabel and Curzon’s time and place. The plight of escaped slaves, found on both British and Patriot’s sides, black soldiers fighting for General Washington, and other historical events are incorporated into the storyline of “Ashes.” If Laurie should choose to continue Isabel, Curzon and Ruth’s story in another set of books about their life after the war, I would be a very happy reader of them. Laurie can you hear me?

Highly recommended for ages 11 to 15.




“My book of life by Angel” Martine Leavitt

ARC (Advance Reading Copy). On sale September 4, 2012. Farrar Straus Giroux. 244 pp. (Includes Author’s Note).

In this novel-in-verse, mature high school readers will learn the sad story of Angel, a teenage runaway. Angel meets Call in a mall, who gets her hooked on drugs. She runs away to be with him, and soon is forced into prostitution. She doesn’t dare run away from Call’s physical abuse and her new life because there is no place for her to go and because he threatens to hurt her little brother if she leaves.

Soon, women and young girl prostitutes begin to disappear, but the police refuse to believe a killer is loose on the streets. To make matters worse, Call has found a young 11 year-old-girl who he has decided will join Angel’s line of work. The cloud of despair deepens as Angel tries to find a way out for young Melli. As she strives to think of a plan that will free little Melli it seems as if there will be no escape until, through reading Milton’s “Paradise Lost” every time a certain john comes to pick her up, Angel gradually comes to realize a form of hope and understanding of herself and what she can do to better her life and also save Melli.

“My book of life by Angel” brought tears to my eyes, realizing the plight of thousands of young girls who find themselves without hope and caught in the same world as Angel. In her author’s note, Leavitt educates readers on the underlying story behind Angel’s story which is based on true facts from the Vancouver prostitute murders which took place between 1983 and 2002 in Downtown Eastside. She also includes the names of 48 missing women from that timeframe, which further brings their stories to life.

“Missing” Catherine MacPhail

Bloomsbury, 2000. Hardcover. 191 pp.

Maxine feels like she’s going crazy. Her older brother, Derek, ran away from home and has been missing for 10 months. Sweeney, the school bully, had made his life, and others, into a living hell, never getting the punishment he deserved. Not knowing what happened to him has torn her family apart, and she feels guilty for wanting him to be dead so they would pay attention to her. When the police discover a body and her father identifies it as Derek, things seem to get worse. After the funeral, her parents seem to forget all about her and Maxie is left even more alone.

However, she’s not really on her own because Maxie feels like someone is watching her and starts to get strange phone calls from someone who says it’s Derek. Maxie has to keep telling herself that Derek is buried. Derek is dead. The voice insists he’s really alive, but won’t show himself to her. Maxie wonders if ghosts can come from beyond the grave. As if worrying about Derek and the strange phone calls wasn’t bad enough, Sweeney has decided she is going to become his next victim. Maxie doesn’t know where to turn or who she can confide in to get advice.

This is a quick and easy read for middle schoolers. The mystery of what happened to Derek, and what keeps happening to Maxie, will keep reluctant readers eager to find out what happens next.