Her Mother’s Secret…
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.
Her Mother’s Secret is a delightful novel, entirely captivating from start to finish. It reminded me a lot of an old favourite of mine, A Woman of Substance by Barbara Taylor Bradford, although nowhere near as thick! It’s that idea though, that if you have a dream and you work at it, even if you need to become fierce over what you want, then you can make it and still be a good person in the process; it’s that notion which connects these two novels for me, and I love it. Leo East is a fierce but honourable woman who has a dream ahead of her time, yet she perseveres, a pioneer for women and their right to look and feel beautiful; feminism from a different angle. But beneath the drive and tenacity is a young woman who has loved and lost, and this vulnerability, which she keeps close to herself, shapes her, along with her ambition, in equal measure.
There is plenty to love about this novel, not least of all the strong character development, of not only Leo, but her supporting cast. I particularly liked Ben, and believe it or not, his sister Faye, who was both endearing and maddening, yet you never knew which Faye you would be getting, her nature like a pendulum swinging wildly and stopping abruptly when you least expected it. Yet, it’s characters like these that make a story fuller and more interesting. If everyone was lovely all the time, or downright nasty each time they entered the room, things would get boring rather quickly. Natasha seems to have a solid grasp on characters, both main and supporting, and the vital role they play in making or breaking a story. I love this about her work. The passion and angst comes through in a realistic and entirely relatable way.
As an historical novel, I found the era and setting particularly enjoyable. Those years between the two world wars are always fascinating to read about. Changing attitudes, not only about the roles of women and migrants, but also about how lives should be lived. The throwing off of war time deprivation and the embracing of a new and racy era; Natasha has clearly made herself familiar with life during that era and this shone through and gave the story a whole lot of extra shine. It’s often the small details that give the most enjoyment to a reader, the types of food, how it was served, what people drank, what they wore, what they did in their spare time. It’s quite a skill to weave this into a narrative without subjecting the reader to what seems like a history lesson.
This novel was aided greatly by the inclusion of different historical aspects of the cosmetics industry. I will happily confess that I love makeup, I always have, so I found all of this wonderfully fascinating and enjoyed conjuring up images of beautiful compacts while imagining the scent of the makeup from the point of view of a woman who had never seen such items before. To think how far we’ve come in a hundred years!
Overall, I’d like to say Bravo! to Natasha Lester. Her Mother’s Secret is a gorgeous book, one that will have you devouring and savouring in equal measure. It’s certainly a novel I will be recommending to all of my friends and it’s sure to be included in my gift shopping throughout the year.
I had the pleasure of having Natasha as a featured guest for Sunday Spotlight on the Australian Women Writers blog. This will be available to read on the AWW blog this coming Sunday (April 16th) and it was a real treat to hear about some of the inspiration behind Her Mother’s Secret as well as some other interesting facts about Natasha herself.
Her Mother’s Secret is book 18 of my 2017 Australian Women Writers Challenge.