The Painted Girls, by Cathy Marie Buchanan.
This beautiful, atmospheric novel is set in 1878 Paris. The Van Goethem sisters are down on their luck. Their father has just died, and the meager wages of their mother are being drunk up by her absinthe habit. So Marie and her younger sister are sent to the Paris Opera to train for entrance into the ballet, while her older sister, Antoinette, obtains a small part with one speaking line in a stage production of Emile Zola's work L'Assommoir. During the course of her training Marie is observed by Edgar Degas and becomes one of his primary muses, eventually being immortalized in his work Little Dancer Aged Fourteen. She also attracts the attention of a patron, who has less than honorable interests in her, and is forced eventually to decide between the money and gifts he provides to her and her reputation and modesty.
There is absolutely nothing that I did not love about this book. Both Marie's and Antoinette's stories are compelling and fascinating. Furthermore, throughout both threads of the story the reader is immersed in Paris of the late 19th century, experiencing the sights, sounds, smells, and tastes of the place. You find yourself right there along side the sisters, living every triumph or setback with them, all within the fascinating backdrop of a society in rapid change. The language is perfect and period appropriate without being hard to read, and the descriptions are virtually paintings in and of themselves. This book ranks up there with the very best books I have read this year, and I enthusiastically recommend it. 5.0 out of 5.0.
I received a digital review copy of this book from the publisher. This did not affect this review in any way.