Friday, November 1, 2013

What I've Read This Week Part II

What I've Read This Week Part II . . .

Belle Epoque by Elizabeth Ross -- Young Adult Historical Fiction

Based on a short story by Emile Zola, this novel set in 1880s Paris is about Maude Pichon, a country girl who dreams of a better life. She has run away from her country village in Brittany to escape her narrow life and domineering father. In Paris, she hopes all her dreams will come true. She discovers that real life in Paris is not so easy. She must live in the grimy Left Bank area and work as a laundress. She discovers an ad for girls needed for undemanding work. Curious, she goes to the agency in question to inquire. There she discovers that ugly girls are needed for rich ladies to hire as their companions in order to enhance their own beauty. Maude is horrified and can't bring herself to accept the job. Soon, she has no choice and becomes a repoussoir, a repellent, an ugly one. Her first client is a countess who desires Maude to be a companion for her daughter Isabelle. There's a catch, Isabelle doesn't know Maude is a hired spy for her mother. Soon Maude finds herself flying high with the aristocrats. Maude lives a double life, moving through bohemian Paris with a young musician named Paul and identifying with the other repoussoirs by day and socializing with aristos at night. Isabelle is difficult to get along with at first, but soon she discovers what Isabelle values most is honesty and intelligence. How can Maude bring herself to tell Isabelle the truth? If Maude is honest with Isabelle, she'll be out of a job. If she's honest with the Countess, she'll be without a friend. At first I identified with Maude and her yearning for life beyond a small town. Then Maude becomes someone entirely unlikeable by the middle of the book. She has to in order to go on her journey of self-discovery. I found this part of the plot heavy-handed and cliched. A lot of the story was typical of young adult novels. Isabelle is another example. Like Maude, she dreams of a different life beyond the narrow confines of her society. Unlike Maude, I really admired Isabelle and her determination to break free from her mother's determined plans. She's a wonderful character and I wish there had been more about her. In addition to the cliched and predictable plot, there's also a lot of symbolism and a strong message. This is a typical young adult novel for young teens but it's made better by the amazing period details. I especially loved the descriptions of Paris: the building of the Eiffel Tower, the bohemian society, the artistic, scientific and cultural advances are all interwoven into the story. The author did an amazing amount of research and skillfully worked her information into the story. I enjoyed the period details more than the actual plot. I liked the idea, but I think it might work better as a story for older teens or adults. I'll have to look for the original Zola story. 

Stolen Magic (Book Three in the Kat, Incorrigible Series) by Stephanie Burgis -- Middle Grades Historical Fantasy

Kat and her family are back in this third and final volume. It's nine months after the events in Bath and change is in the air for the Stephensons. Angeline's wedding day approaches and no one must do anything to offend the Carlyles. Kat is looking forward to her Guardian initiation, which keeps getting delayed as they struggle to find a new Head. Kat tries her hardest to practice her powers but finds a stumbling block in the form of her brother Charles! Newly sober, Charles has decided to take up his role as the head of the family and this means trying to curb Kat's behavior. Well, we'll see about that! When the Stephensons arrive in Devon for the wedding, disaster upon disaster occurs. The Guardians have a secret task for Kat and she must work with her dreaded nemesis to save England.  Angeline faces an uphill battle with her fiance's family. A mysterious Marquise arrives for the wedding and Kat suspects the woman has big secrets that could tie her to the Stephensons in a most shocking way. A distraction for dear Charles arrives in the form of Frederick's beautiful cousin Jane. However, as soon as Kat escapes her brother she encounters a dangerous enemy whose power is greater than her own. When he threatens to kill Kat and hurt the ones she loves, she's ready to attack, but how can she when she isn't fully trained? Can she protect her family and save England without being killed or stripped of her powers?  I had been dying to read this book since the end of Book 2. I stayed up WAY too late reading it. The magical mystery plot kept me turning the pages. I also wondered about the mysterious Marquise though I guessed who she was right away. There's also a non-magical mystery plot that absolutely confounded me and shocked me. It was somewhat predictable in a way but in the context of the story it wasn't so easy to figure out. I found the ending really rushed and the best part was rather skimmed over which disappointed me a LOT. I also found the new secondary characters really two-dimensional. The mysterious villain's plot was interesting but too quickly resolved and a bit too predictable and juvenile. There's also a big moral spelled out at the end. These factors made me love the book a lot less than the previous two. I still loved Kat and her family. I especially liked Angeline in this one. I wished the ending had been fleshed out more. I was really interested in what was about to happen and then... a brief summary. This book, out of the three reads the most like a typical middle grades novel. I liked the first two because they were different and fun. I'm sad to see the series end and I hope Stephanie Burgis has more Regency magic stories planned. I'd love to see Kat as an older teen or maybe Angeline's daughter romping through late Regency Society! It would be fun to see how Angeline handles her new responsibilities.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Leave comments and or suggestions for QNPoohBear, the modern bluestocking.