Monday, March 1, 2021

Review: Meet Me in Monaco by Hazel Gaynor and Heather Webb

Just saying 1955 Cannes evokes glamour and style, doesn't it? And who better to epitomize that old Hollywood glamour than Grace Kelly? How hard must it have been to be so sought after, so in the spotlight, all the time. But even as Kelly was embarking on what was seen as a real life fairy tale, another, quieter love story was happening around her in Meet Me in Monaco, a charming historical novel by Hazel Gaynor and Heather Webb.

Sophie Duval runs her family's boutique parfumerie in Cannes. The shop and Sophie are both struggling after the death of Sophie's beloved father. But on a day when the film festival is in town, Grace Kelly ducks into Sophie's shop in an effort to elude a very persistent British photographer. Sophie makes the split second decision to protect the star, kicking off a warm connection between the women that will change Sophie's life. The photographer, James Henderson, snaps a photo of Sophie instead of his intended subject and after he abruptly returns to England, he will not be able to forget the beautiful parfumeur and the brief, happy time they spent in each other's company before he was called home. Given a second chance to photograph Grace Kelly, this time for her wedding to Prince Ranier, James contacts Sophie in hopes of meeting her again.

There is a love story, the threat of financial ruin, duplicity, soul mates, Hollywood, and royalty all wrapped into this story about two people brought together by chance in the orbit of Grace Kelly. It is far more Sophie and James' stories than Grace Kelly and Prince Ranier's but the glamour of the moment swirls around the lesser known couple too. Love is won and lost and never forgotten. The romance was a bit predictable but still pleasing for all that. The details of creating a perfume, the chemistry and the special intangible spark, that go into an entirely new fragrance are fascinating and the personal tale is bittersweet and mostly lovely. Fictional newspaper reports about the courtship and wedding are sprinkled between chapters, showing the world's love affair with the princess to be and giving a timeline for James and Sophie's relationship. The story behind the breathless newspaper accounts is interesting for showing more detail of the realities of covering the wedding of the century and the reserved young woman marrying a prince. The various secondary characters are drawn to different degrees of completeness but each of them help James and Sophie come to realizations about themselves and about what matters most to them in their lives, family, passion, loyalty. In the end, this is an engaging novel for fans of historical fiction and of novels set in France or Monaco who don't mind more than a little romance in their stories and who don't care if the famous person in the novel is not the focus.

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