Belle Epoque by Elizabeth Ross; Delacorte Press $17.99 (226 pages) Age 12 and up.


This fascinating work of historical fiction set in 1888-89 Paris was inspired by an 1866 Emile Zola short story titled “Les Repoussoirs,” about a businessman named Durandeau who opened an agency loaning out homely women as beauty foils for the daughters of the filthy rich.

Ross takes Zola’s plot and moves it about 20 years ahead, to Paris on the eve of the Exposition Universelle, as the citizenry debated the merits of an Eiffel Tower then under construction.

Maude Pichon is a shopkeeper’s daughter, who ran away from an arranged marriage in provincial Brittany to make a life in Paris. Desperate for money, she answers an ad to serve as a beauty foil and is matched with Isabelle Dubern, a headstrong young woman rebelling at her mother’s plans to marry her off to a duke and quietly planning to enter the Sorbonne to study science.

Ross offers fascinating period detail, memorable characters, an interesting theme of beauty vs. ugliness and a revealing look at class divisions and the chasm between the wealthy and working class people in Bohemian Paris.

– Jean Westmoore


William Shakespeare’s “Star Wars” by Ian Doescher; Quirk Books, 176 pages ($14.95)


If you are scared of a summer reading slump for your media-obsessed student – or game-obsessed adult – there’s a solution: Shakespeare a la George Lucas.

In other words, take “William Shakespeare’s ‘Star Wars’” by Ian Doescher for a spin. He has adapted “Star Wars” (otherwise known as “Episode IV, A New Hope”) in the style of the great Bard of Avon.

This can lead to some hilarious reading.

In the movie, for example, when the pirate aka free trader Han Solo boasts about an easy “escape” from the deadly Death Star, Princess Leia shoots him down, pointing out that the Empire let them escape. “It was the only reason for the ease of our escape,” she says grimly.

In Doescher’s “Shakespeare,” it goes more like this:

“HAN: Thy rescue has been marvelous, think’st thou not? Say I: at times I do myself amaze.

“Amazing has my rescue of thee been, Amazing is my hand at piloting, Amazing is my part in this escape Amazing — ay, it’s true- my amazing looks.

“LEIA: Amazing is thy pride and love of self!

“Thus stand I now amaz’d that e’er thou shouldst allow thou great amazing self to stoop so low that thou wouldest rescue such as I.”

In true Shakespearean style, the internal thoughts of even Darth Vader are to be voiced.

When confronted with Imperial bureaucracy on the Death Star, he thinks, aloud, “O, how these politicians irk me so! Of governors and territories care I not.

But I retain their company for mine own purposes, and though their talk doth tire my mind, I do confess that naught I’ve found hath on their counsel yet improved.”

In the movie, all that verbiage is hidden behind Vader’s black mask.

Even the ‘droids get into the act.

British actor Anthony Daniels says C-3PO’s first lines in the film: “Did you hear that? They’ve’ shut down the main reactor. We’ll be destroyed for sure. This is madness!”

Those simple statements are now shamelessly converted into “Now is the summer of our happiness made winter by this sudden, fierce attack!” (Thank you, “Richard the III.”)

His partner, R2-D2’s, cogent reply? “Beep, beep. Beep, beep, meep, squeek, beep, beep, beep, whee!”

It’s not just for kids. Set up a Shakespearian-style picnic, with “Star Wars” overtones — blue milk, flatbread, exotic desserts, or maybe, just a couple of bottles of wine, and settle in for a rehearsal.

You have the makings of a rip-roaring party that will only get funnier as a storm trooper tells Luke Skywalker in the film, “Move along ... move along.”

Or in “William Shakespeare’s ‘Star Wars,’” “Go thy merry way!”

– By Tish Wells, McClatchy Newspapers