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Nov 21 2014

Belle Epoque by Elizabeth Ross

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Novel: Belle Epoque by Elizabeth Ross | Goodreads
Release Date: June 11, 2013
Publisher: Delacorte Books for Young Readers
Format: Hardcover
Source: Library
Originally  Posted At: Forever Literary

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.

“There are two ways of spreading light: to be the candle or the mirror that reflects it.”

In 1902, Edith Wharton published these insightful words, and in 2013, Elizabeth Ross presented them as a preface to her debut novel. As I peeled back the first few pages of Belle Epoque and encountered this quote, I stopped for a moment to think, its truth and connection to my own life ringing in my ears. When it comes to literature, I never create light, never write brilliant books with eloquent speech and inventive plots. However, when I encounter someone who does, I do my best to reflect his or her glow. This is the case with Belle Epoque—it is a beautiful novel, and while I may not have been the candle who created it, I hope to spread its light to other readers.

This novel’s most obvious source of beauty is its rich historical setting, drenched in details of Parisian culture. Just like the protagonist, who flees from Brittany to the capital of her country, I fell into the rush of the city’s art scene and the glamour of the aristocrats’ balls. Ross brought her backdrop to life with meticulous research and imagery, decorating it with the smallest facts about 1800s Paris.

However, the most beautiful aspect of Belle Epoque is its themes of perceived beauty that still resonate today. The agency is almost allegorical, a symbol for our own society. Not only does it push the traditionally ugly down, ridiculing them in front of clients, but it tells the naturally beautiful that even they are not good enough, that they need the company’s services to outshine their friends. While today’s world may not feature beauty foil agencies, it overflows with similar means of engulfing girls in a sense of inadequacy. Almost every reader will relate to Maude’s struggle to feel attractive and see snippets of herself in the wealthy women who will do anything to appear prettier. Even those who do not will be left with plenty to think about, as Belle Epoque poses a plethora of questions: “What does it mean to be pretty?” “Why do we place so much emphasis on beauty?” “How can we overcome society’s obsession with looks?”

The cherry in top of this shining story is its relevant subplots that accentuate its messages about beauty. Ross set her novel against the building of the Eiffel Tower, a calculated choice that gave her the opportunity to show how standards of beauty change with time. While we now view the statue as an icon, a gorgeous symbol of Paris, those who lived during its building considered it a hideous mark on their skyline. Each time a character complains about the structure, readers are reminded how transient beauty ideals can be. Ross also incorporates a budding passion for photography into Maude’s character, allowing the protagonist to discover a love of capturing other people’s attributes. This subplot proves the opening quote true; emphasizing the beauty of others—both physical and otherwise—is as valuable as creating it. Accents like these always indicate that the author and editor put in a little extra effort beyond what was required, and Belle Epoque makes marvelous use of them.

With its absorbing setting and themes that transcend time, Ross’s debut makes my list of favorite historical tales. Belle Epoque is a stunning novel, with or without the help of a beauty foil.

Nov 20 2014

Ten Illuminations {16}: Books About Siblings

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Ten Illuminations is a bi-weekly feature hosted by Lit Up Review where we recommend our ten favorite books that fit under one topic. Inspired by The Broke and The Bookish’s Top Ten Tuesday, Ten Illuminations gives you five people’s recommendations in one!

Going with a family theme in celebration of Thanksgiving in the United States, we are recommending books that deal with sibling relationships.



The Space Between Us by Jessica Martinez | Goodreads

In this book, Martinez captures a lifelike dynamic between two teenage sisters in all its messy truth. There are secrets and fights, but there is also love and support, and the story ultimately left me wishing that I too had a sister close to my age.


Going Vintage by Lindsey Leavitt | Goodreads

One of my favorite things about this book about is the relationship between the protagonist, Mallory, and her sister, Ginnie. When Mallory swears off technology, Ginnie helps her resist the temptation to jump online, and their meaningful interactions help the author show how important fact-to-face communication in a world of Tweets and texts.


The Walled CityThe Walled City by Ryan Graudin | Goodreads

I can’t even tell you how sad it made me to realize how few books I’ve read focus on sibling relationships and how even fewer have it as a main part of the story; thus, my two picks are ones in which sibling relationships are important but not necessarily the most important or most focused on in the story. But anyway, in this book, there’s a large focus on Jin trying to find her sister, Mei Yee, and almost all of her actions are either directly or inadvertently related to finding and saving her sister. We don’t see much of their interactions itself, but as an older sister, I completely understood where Jin was coming from. I think the book really shows the lengths siblings will go to for one another, especially older siblings for their younger siblings.

Rites of Passage

Rites of Passage by Joy N. Hensley | Goodreads

This one’s even more of a reach, and there’s SO much more that goes on in the story, but the sibling relationship is also important in the book. First there’s Sam’s relationship with Amos, her deceased brother, who’s dare is a large part of what leads her to Denmark Military Academy, and we learn of how close they were. It’s really an important relationship in the novel. In addition, there’s Sam’s relationship with her other brother Jonathan. It’s more than rough for most of the book, and there are times you’ll probably wonder how in the world he could possibly do whatever to her (it’s hard to specify without spoiling). But at the end, it becomes much more apparent; readers can start to understand his side, and the exploration of their relationship is really well done. (And there are other sibling relationships, though less focused on; as is the case in many military families, siblings influence one another within and outside the military and a military career.) Also the book itself is just so fabulous that you should read it regardless.

20820994I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson | Goodreads

I’m in love with this book. It’s the story of Jude and Noah, twins who over the years have drifted apart. This book is about their life, their memories, and why they aren’t as close, and in Jandy Nelson fashion, it’s beautiful. I would read this book over and over again, simply because it’s that incredible. Go read this book. Now. You can see my review here.

17987215The Sound of Letting Go by Stasia Ward Kehoe | Goodreads

Kehoe is one of my favorite writers because she writes in verse, and this book is my favorite of the two she has published. The Sound of Letting Go is about Daisy and her complicated relationship with her brother, who is autistic. Throughout the book she battles between her reputation and the way in which Daisy wants to act. It’s a beautiful story of siblings, love, and growing up. My review here.

Nov 17 2014

Isla and the Happily Ever After by Stephanie Perkins

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9627755Novel: Isla and the Happily Ever After by Stephanie Perkins | Goodreads
Series: Anna and the French Kiss #3
Release Date: August 14th, 2014
Publisher: Dutton
Format: Hardcover
Source: Publisher
Also Posted On: Willa’s Ramblings

Love ignites in the City That Never Sleeps, but can it last?

Hopeless romantic Isla has had a crush on introspective cartoonist Josh since their first year at the School of America in Paris. And after a chance encounter in Manhattan over the summer, romance might be closer than Isla imagined. But as they begin their senior year back in France, Isla and Josh are forced to confront the challenges every young couple must face, including family drama, uncertainty about their college futures, and the very real possibility of being apart.

Featuring cameos from fan-favorites Anna, Étienne, Lola, and Cricket, this sweet and sexy story of true love—set against the stunning backdrops of New York City, Paris, and Barcelona—is a swoonworthy conclusion to Stephanie Perkins’s beloved series.

I fell in love with Stephanie Perkin’s writing with Anna and the French Kiss and that love carried through Lola and the Boy Next Door, so I had high hopes for Isla. But I had also heard from some people that the book wasn’t what they were hoping, and so I was torn. Do I read it? Eventually, after I got a copy from the publisher and urged to read it, I did. I read this book in two and a half hours. I couldn’t stop.

Stephanie Perkins is the master of hilarious, awkward, and adorable conversation, I’ve decided. In Isla and the Happily Ever After, Isla and Josh are a prime example of this talent of hers. Isla is hilariously awkward, Josh introverted and nerdy, and they’re a perfect match. This book chronicles them falling in love, the trials of a long distance relationship, and how they cope with the pressures of college.

Isla is different from Anna and Lola in so many ways, but also similar. From all of the girls I got this sense that they had no idea what they wanted to do after high school and were struggling with that lack of a plan. What separated Isla for me though, was her friendships and her sisters. Kurt, her best friend, was one of my absolute favorite characters, and both of her sisters gave Isla an element of family in Paris that I enjoyed. Isla was also a fiercely loyal friend to Kurt, and as we learn more about her and Kurt’s past, you see moments when she sacrificed other friendships for Kurt, because she cared that much about him.

Josh is a character from Anna and the French Kiss who comes back, and so therefore Anna, St. Clair, Lola, Cricket, Meredith, and other characters come back into the story, which I loved. Perkins finished this series off in such an incredible way – I couldn’t expect anything more from her.

Go find yourself a copy of this book. It’s absolutely amazing.

Nov 16 2014

The Weekly Blaze {63}: November 10-16

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Happy Sunday, Litlets! This week was another slightly slow one, but we all have good excuses for being behind on blogging, especially Jessica, who is buried under a pile of college applications, and Grace, who is endeavoring to write an entire novel’s worth of words this month for NaNoWriMo.

Tuesday, November 11: Willa’s review of Wildlife by Fiona Wood: “This book is pitched for fans of Melina Marchetta, so I assumed – hey, I’ll adore this. However, I was quite disappointed with this book.”

Saturday, November 15: Graces NaNoWriMo tips: “It’s November, and y’all know what that means. It’s the time of year when everybody picks up their pens, their computers. You are ten thousand times more likely to see writers hunched over laptops in cafes, camped out for hours until they reach their word counts.”

Nov 15 2014

NaNoWriMo Tips from Grace

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It’s November, and y’all know what that means. It’s the time of year when everybody picks up their pens, their computers. You are ten thousand times more likely to see writers hunched over laptops in cafes, camped out for hours until they reach their word counts. November is when the magic happens. Why?

NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) is a nonprofit organization and more specifically, a challenge for participants to write 50,000 words in thirty days. It gets tons of coverage because it produces gorgeous, incredible, radiant novels. Water for Elephants is a NaNo novel and so is The Night Circus! If you have a circus book, you might be in luck!

I’ve done it for three years now – mostly working on portfolios, little stories, things I’ve wanted to try for a while. It’s not hard. If you’re a first-timer, the prospective of 50,000 can seem daunting or overwhelming but I have some tips that can definitely help. I did it for the first time in 2011 or 2012, I believe, and it was a struggle to get there.

My problem was that I didn’t write every day and I didn’t have much organization. I attempted to write a longer project, but because I didn’t know what scenes I wanted to write, it ended up dissolving into poetic – although jumbled – moments. Now, I believe I have a much better handle on disciplining my writing, and I’ve collected some tips to help you survive NaNo:

1. Don’t take it too seriously.

NaNoWriMo is meant to be fun. What’s the worst that happens? You don’t win? You get a smaller word count than you wanted? It is one monthly challenge to help you supplement and motivate your writing but you can write in EVERY SINGLE OTHER MONTH. November is not the exclusive month that you can write a novel, so unless you’re on deadline, it’s not this huge pressure cooker. It’s fun. You can network with other writers, challenge yourself. I don’t consider myself a very intense writer but November flips a switch inside me. It’s a project; it’s a challenge. It is not a lifestyle that demands a huge amount of time or stress if you do it in intervals. The trick to getting 50,000 words is that you have to love the journey.

2. Get ahead so you can fall behind.

This month, I’m working on my portfolio. I’m in Washington, D.C. right now for a youth journalism conferenceand so I missed my word count goal on Wednesday because I was packing. Because I was about 2000 words ahead, I just had to hit my word count goal yesterday and didn’t have to worry about catching up. You do not have to write 4000 words in a day – just writing a few extra words, following the flow of your narrative, builds up after time. Even writing a hundred extra words a day helps loads when you fall behind, and then you aren’t struggling for 50,000 words all at once.

3. Don’t be afraid to work on other things.

Despite the title, National Novel Writing Month doesn’t have to be about novels. I personally use it mostly to reinforce my portfolio. I’m on deadline for about three or four different submissions/contests so I need to write so many essays, short stories, and poems. Even blog posts are okay. The challenge is for writing 50,000 words; it doesn’t mean that you have to write about one thing.

4. Write every day.

Jackson Pearce has fantastic videos and posts on the subject. National Novel Writing Month doesn’t work unless you can write every day. On a busy day, I go straight from school to work to lacrosse to homework. Now, since it’s November, I write. It’s easy to discipline myself when I have a goal; sleep deprivation is easy to get over when it means that I can see the word count climbing. That’s why I do NaNo – I write often, I write sporadically, but I’m teaching myself discipline. If you write 1667 words a day, it is inherently easier than writing 5000 words because you missed a day.

5. Be patient — revise.

So you’re done. You finished your NaNo project. You have a novel. I may be sixteen, but even I can tell you that querying directly after you write your 50,000 word novel is a bad, bad idea. Not only is revision important, but a NaNo first draft is often messier than a “normal” first draft. Agents are forever tired by the inevitable rush of query letters that clogs their mailboxes come December. I’ve noticed that many self-published (not most – I love and support self-published works) and quickly-queried works are sloppier than those that are meditative. It seems like common sense but it’s easy to get too excited and want to push your work into the world right away; don’t release it right away. Don’t query. Take the time to make those 50,000 words count and have a shot.

Any Lit Up readers doing NaNo? Comment below and tell us about your project!



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