Desert Isle Keeper
Meet Me in Monaco
I’ve been fascinated with the story of actress-turned-princess Grace Kelly since I was a little girl, so I was thrilled to learn that authors Hazel Gaynor and Heather Webb, both of whom have written dazzling historical novels on their own, were teaming up for Meet Me in Monaco, a story centering around Grace Kelly’s wedding. It turned out to be exactly the book I was in the mood to read. In fact, I’m hard-pressed to come up with a single criticism – it really is that great!
Sophie Duval wants nothing more than to keep her family’s perfume business afloat, a dream that seems more and more impossible with every day that passes. Sophie’s father was killed in the Second World War, leaving Sophie in charge of the company. Her mother has disappeared into an alcoholic haze, and she’s constantly urging Sophie to sell the business for a tidy sum. Sophie can’t stand the idea of letting go of the one link she still has to her father, and so she begins trying to come up with ways to bring in the necessary funds to keep her doors open.
When countless celebrities descend on Cannes for the film festival of 1955, Sophie is pleased by the influx of customers that enter her shop. She’s fascinated by the glamorous movie stars and the members of the press who seem to follow them wherever they go, so when actress Grace Kelly rushes into the shop in hopes of slipping away from the determined British photographer who has been following her all day, Sophie is more than happy to offer her a place to hide. This one act will change Sophie’s life in ways far beyond her wildest imaginings as her existence becomes intertwined with Grace’s.
James Henderson is a photographer down on his luck. His superiors have sent him to the festival with strict orders to get several decent shots of Grace Kelly, but if he is unable to do so, he’ll lose his job. Chasing after Grace isn’t something that excites him all that much, but he’s desperate to keep his job, so he follows her into Sophie’s shop. Sophie pretends not to have seen Grace, and she engages him in conversation while Grace herself sneaks out the back door. James is almost instantly drawn to Sophie’s poise and beauty, but he’s pretty sure their paths won’t cross again. After all, he’ll be back in London before too long.
Over the next year, Sophie and James exchange a few letters, but neither really expects to see the other again. Sophie is buried in work, most of which has to do with several commissions Grace Kelly has made. Plus, she is involved with one of the city’s most successful businessmen, a man she’s not sure she loves but who can offer her the financial security she has been searching for. James, on the other hand, is struggling to find work in a market that doesn’t seem to want what he’s selling. The pictures he managed to take of Grace were not what his boss had in mind, and as a result, he was let go. His mind is still filled with thoughts of Sophie, so when he learns that Grace Kelly has become engaged to Prince Rainier of Monaco, he is eager to return to Cannes to cover the wedding festivities, even if only as a freelance photographer.
Both Sophie and James are likable characters with quite a bit of emotional baggage to sort out. The story is told in alternating chapters from both their points of view, allowing the reader to really get to know them. There’s something so personal about the way this novel is written; I felt as though each character was speaking directly to me, sharing their secret fears and desires.
Grace Kelly isn’t a main character in the story, but her presence looms large on every page. Sophie and James are forever affected by her sudden appearance in their lives, and the authors do a fantastic job acknowledging this without letting Grace’s character overshadow the leads. She and Sophie do strike up a friendship of sorts, but the focus stays firmly on Sophie’s journey of self-discovery.
It’s important for potential readers to remember that this is first and foremost historical fiction. The romance is a big part of the story, but this novel does not contain a definitive HEA. This was not a dealbreaker for me since historical fiction is one of my very favorite genres, but I know many readers prefer stories with happy endings. If at all possible, don’t let the lack of a HEA put you off. Meet Me in Monaco is pure delight from start to finish, a book that has earned a place on my keeper shelf.