Title: Her Mother’s Secret
Author: Natasha Lester
Published: March 28 2017
Publisher: Hachette Australia
Genres: Fiction, Historical, Romance
Rating: 5 stars
1918, England. Armistice Day should bring peace into Leonora’s life. Rather than secretly making cosmetics in her father’s chemist shop to sell to army nurses such as Joan, her adventurous Australian friend, Leo hopes to now display her wares openly. Instead, Spanish flu arrives in the village, claiming her father’s life. Determined to start over, she boards a ship to New York City. On the way she meets debonair department store heir Everett Forsyth . . . In Manhattan, Leo works hard to make her cosmetics dream come true, but she’s a woman alone with a small salary and a society that deems make-up scandalous.
1939, New York City. Everett’s daughter, Alice, a promising ballerina, receives a mysterious letter inviting her to star in a series of advertisements for a cosmetics line. If she accepts she will be immortalized like dancers such as Zelda Fitzgerald, Josephine Baker and Ginger Rogers. Why, then, are her parents so quick to forbid it?
HER MOTHER’S SECRET is the story of a brave young woman chasing a dream in the face of society’s disapproval.
Last year, the author of Her Mother’s Secret, Natasha Lester, blew me away with her novel A Kiss From Mr Fitzgerald. In fact, I recall stating this novel was my firm favourite for the best historical fiction novel I had read in 2016. Lester is back, with a bang and a fabulous new release that I rate another firm five stars.
Natasha Lester’s fourth novel, Her Mother’s Secret, features Leonora (Leo) East as the central character. The book opens in the year 1918 and we are first introduced to Leo when she is living in a quaint English village of Sutton Veny, where she works in her father’s chemist. Leo is an enterprising young lady, we learn she dabbles in both creating and selling her own cosmetics. This is a niche in the market due to the restrictions of the war and Leo’s customer base is mainly Army nurses based locally. The little village of Sutton Veny is overjoyed when the war draws to an official close. This happiness is short lived, as around the corner lurks the onset of a terrible bout of Spanish influenza that decimates the remaining population of the village. Tragically, it takes with it Leo’s nearest and dearest. With nothing to tie her to Sutton Veny and ambition in her sights, Leo decides to make the journey to New York City. A glitch in her travel arrangements leads her straight into the path of Everett Forsyth, heir to a department store empire. A night of passion follows, which has huge implications for Leo. When Leo arrives in New York, she and Everett part ways. It is clear that Leo cannot forget Everett, but she is forced to block out all memory of him, especially when he is forced into marriage for appearance sake. Leo in turn becomes preoccupied with making a go of her cosmetics line but it will test the strength of her spirit. And, why can’t Leo forget Everett?
I have been greatly anticipating the release of Her Mother’s Secret for many months, especially after I was given a little teaser of what to expect from the author at an event I attended last year. I firmly believe Lester’s second foray into the historical fiction genre is just as successful as her first. I absolutely adored Her Mother’s Secret. I ripped through this novel in less than 24 hours, which is perhaps a good indication of how highly I rate this novel.
I immediately gravitated to this novel due to the time period and the era in which the novel is set. I am fascinated by the aftermath of World War I and the years prior to World War II, so Her Mother’s Secret was bound to hold great appeal. Lester proves again that she is extremely adept in transferring her historical knowledge and period detail to the page. I felt like I had been whisked away in a time machine, emerging in the years 1918 to 1939. Lester ensures the reader feels every aspect of the historical period in which her novel is set, from the sights, sounds, dialogue, fashions and more importantly, the societal expectations of the time. In particular, I must mention Lester’s coverage of the cosmetics element of her narrative, which was a shining feature of her novel. Lester conveyed these sections with a depth of understanding of the common practices of these bygone years – and it made for a truly fascinating read. On that note, I loved the addition of real life historical figures such as Elizabeth Arden to this part of the narrative, it contributed further to the strong historical aspect of the novel.
In addition to the well drawn historical details and setting, are the fabulous characters featured in Lester’s book. It is impossible not to develop a strong sense of affection for the main protagonist Leo. Lester takes care to outline this character boldly and as a result, Leo bursts to life with qualities I deeply admired – tenacity, ambition, loyalty and passion. I championed her cause for the entire novel, from her deep desire to make her mark in the cosmetics industry, to her efforts to break free from the constraints placed on women of this age, to her enduring love for Everett. In any capacity, Leo came across as a completely likeable character. Leo is supported by her first love interest Everett, a true gentleman and another winning character created by Lester. A love triangle of sorts develops in the novel, introducing the reader to another player for Leo’s heart, Benjamin Richier. There are also minor characters that provide friendship and support to Leo, such as Australian nurse Joan and an ally in her business, a young Chinese woman named Jia. Finally, Lester rounds off her character base with a couple of not so nice characters that add complications to the storyline.
Although Her Mother’s Secret is a billed as a historical fiction novel, there are also elements of romance, as well as mystery tying the novel together. The device of using a letter of invitation sent to a young ballerina Alice, in the year 1939, is the link that draws this story together. Initially I thought I predicted this section of the narrative early on in the piece but I was surprised to be proven wrong. A nicely tied together ending, rounds off Her Mother’s Secret perfectly.
If I could, I would award all the stars for Her Mother’s Secret. This is a beautifully drawn piece of historical fiction that I am certain will occupy a piece of my heart for some time. Natasha Lester’s contribution to the historical fiction genre is another superb effort in my eyes and I just cannot wait to see what she offers her readers next.
Her Mother’s Secret by Natasha Lester was published in March 2017 by Hachette Australia, details on how to purchase the book can be found here.
*Please note that a free copy of this book was provided to me for review purposes through Beauty and Lace. To read the original review on the Beauty and Lace website please visit here.