Book Review for “Meet me in Monaco” by Heather Webb and Hazel Gaynor.
The British photographer James Henderson has been sent by his paper to Cannes Film Festival to do one thing – get a great picture of the latest Oscar winning actress, Grace Kelly. But Jim (as his friends call him) really would prefer to take pictures of the scenery than thrust his camera into someone’s famous face. When the actress tries to escape from his stalking camera, she slips into Sophie Duval’s perfumery. This chance encounter is the beginning of something between these two, and Grace Kelly, all of which plays out on the backdrop Grace’s meeting her future husband, Prince Rainier of Monaco, and through their whirlwind romance to their fairy-tale wedding, and more.
Okay, so first off, this one may seem a bit more romantic than I usually read, but I wouldn’t actually put it into the romance genre, because it really is more than that, which is a redeeming factor. True, a great deal of this book revolves around Jim and Sophie’s relationship, and there’s also the semi-parallel of Grace Kelly and Prince Rainier. However, it seems to me that this is really more of a coming-of-age story, mostly for Sophie but also slightly for Princess Grace as well. Especially because neither Sophie nor Grace are your typical romance novel women (at least to my mind). Okay, to be honest, Grace is somewhat of a typical romance novel woman – I mean, she gives up her whole life, her whole (very successful) career to be with the man she loves. But Sophie is a bit different. Yes, she would like to have a man in her life, and at the beginning of the book, her boyfriend Lucien seems to be “the one” for her. However, from the start, Sophie fights against losing herself in Lucien and his world, and that’s why she isn’t your typical romance novel character. For that matter, Jim also isn’t your typical romance novel love interest either. He isn’t just chasing after Sophie; he has young daughter (and ex-wife) back in England to think about, as well as his own career.
Structurally, the authors – who I will call the H-Team (you know, Heather and Hazel) – have told this story in first person from both the points of view of James and Sophie. One of the drawbacks of this multi-voice mechanic is that often we have too much overlap or too many gaps in the timelines, which can make things slightly confusing. However, H-Team didn’t fall into that trap, and the story flowed smoothly and flawlessly from start to finish. I’m not sure who of the H-Team wrote which character, but I have a feeling that each one took one of them on as their own, because they each have very distinctive voices. I truly felt the more manly voice of James contrasting nicely with the softer voice of Sophie (although she’s no push-over, that’s for certain). Interestingly enough, I also felt that without the other’s story, this book would have felt incomplete – they worked that well together. (Of course, this isn’t the H-Team’s first collaboration, so maybe that had something to do with it.)
However, the thing that I think most impressed me was the use of smell in this novel. The H-Team split this book into three sections – top or head notes, middle or heart notes, and base notes. This works beautifully with a story that revolves around relationships, and I enjoyed how they described the various scents and how they can remind you of your own experiences – both happy and sad times. Since reading is something that doesn’t usually involve such senses, to have things described in words that actually evoked memories of familiar aromas (and for that matter, taste) for me, was both a sensory delight and an emotive journey.
I also appreciated the fact that this relationship bloomed with no overt angst, or sentimentality (romance novels often make me want to slap someone over these things). However, I did feel that Sophie did beat herself up a bit too much, and I was hoping she’d figure things out a bit sooner in the book. Of course, the fact that James also had a tendency towards being self-depreciating did even this out, and made him all the more likeable. What I really liked was how Sophie slowly discovered her own inner strength (which we knew existed from the get-go), which is the main reason why think this story is more of a coming-of-age book than a romance novel. In fact, I think that both Grace and James had epiphanies in this story, which I believe truly confirms this assessment.
I’m certain that this novel is going to have readers entranced and I’m pleased that it didn’t stick completely to the usual “summer reads” romantic formulae that many books lean on, with an ending that perfectly represented the base notes of an excellent perfume – something we will continue to remember and experience long after the top and middle notes have faded. So, although it was still just a tiny touch too romance focused for my taste, I can very warmly recommend it with a resounding four and a half stars out of five! Thank you, H-Team for this lovely book (and also, thank you for mentioning me – yes, little old me – in your acknowledgements. Reading my name there gave me goosebumps)!
William Morrow – Harper Collins will release “Meet Me in Monaco” by Hazel Gaynor and Heather Webb on July 23, 2019. This book is/will be available via the following affiliate links: Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Walmart (Kobo) US eBooks and audiobooks, the website eBooks.com, iTunes (iBook or audiobook), Wordery or The Book Depository (both with free worldwide delivery), new or used from Alibris, used from Better World Books (promoting libraries and world literary), or Thriftbooks.com, as well as from an IndieBound store near you. I would like to thank the publishers for giving me the ARC of this novel via Edelweiss.