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BOOK REVIEW: Her Mother’s Secret by Natasha Lester

BOOK REVIEW: Her Mother’s Secret by Natasha Lester

Hachette Australia
March 2017
Softback, $29.99
Reviewed by Natalie Salvo

Fiction/Modern & Contemporary Fiction

8.5/10

Her Mother’s Secret is a story about a strong female heroine, written by a woman for female readers. Natasha Lester, the author of the best-selling A Kiss from Mr Fitzgerald, brings us another historical fiction novel, once again telling the story of female protagonist making good in the man’s world, set in New York City in the roaring twenties.

At the forefront of Lester’s latest novel, is Leonora East, or “Leo” as she is more widely known. Leo grew up in a small village in England and was destined to marry a farmer and live a quiet life. During the Great War she assisted her chemist father in his small shop where she developed a fondness for experimenting with and making her own cosmetics. When her father passes away from the Spanish flu at the end of the war she decides to pursue her dreams of going to New York and creating a cosmetics range that she can sell for a living.

Adventure. Leo grinned. How things could change in the space of a few months. Instead of worrying about war and death, now she was looking forward to a brand-new life in a brand-new place. A place where she could have her own shop. A place where it might be easier to show people that it wasn’t a sin or a crime or the sign of a harlot for a woman to want to wear a little make-up… New York was a place where she could find out who Leo East really was. And who Leo East could really be.

But Leo’s life is not always a peach. She encounters a number of trials and setbacks and the women of the time faced double standards just as they do in this day and age. For instance, there is a lot of resistance from certain members of society because some people thought that the only acceptable make-up was powder, and that anything more than this (like lipstick and mascara) meant the woman wearing it was a harlot or a prostitute.

Men could kill one another at war, could gamble away their family’s entire fortune, could drink so much that they couldn’t perform their medical duties on a ship and it would be seen as valiant, or it would be hushed up, or it would be ignored, but a woman might wear a little rouge to work and it was a national disgrace. Leo was in the mood for a fight. And she had nothing to lose.

Natasha Lester’s writing has a few things in common with Pamela Hart’s work, as both writers are able to create characters that are engaging individuals and ones you want to know more about and ultimately root for. They also create supporting characters that are fully-sketched out and well-realised. In Natasha’s case, Leo proves to be an inspirational heroine who carries this book, because she feels like a real person. Leo ultimately shows that with perseverance, resilience and diligence, one might achieve great things and overcome all manner of tragedy along the way.

This novel also includes an incredible love story that you can really get lost in. Leo’s love interest, Everett Forsyth is an absolute gentleman who will make you swoon. Forsyth’s relationship with Leo however, is more complicated than it initially seems. There are some secrets and lies that are covered up and revealed slowly along the way, and the reader can’t help but become emotionally engaged in their relationship and will be hooked until the end to learn what finally happens between these two lovers.

Leo searched for the right words to describe her encounter with Everett. He was the first man who’d kissed her with passion, open-mouthed; the first man who’d brought her body fully to life. The first man who’d made her understand what love was. But she couldn’t say that. ‘I saw the ocean for the first time on the way here,’ she said, remembering the furiousness and beauty of the waves, that she’d felt both terrified and breath-taken by the water. ‘Meeting this man was like being swept out to sea and never wanting to return.’

Her Mother’s Secret is a delightful and multi-faceted romp through the jazz era of New York City, including the fashion, make-up, fun and frivolity of the period. Lester’s prose is accessible and the friendships, love interests, losses and betrayals mean that there is also a lot of emotional substance included in this beautiful-styled tale. The fact that Lester has also meticulously researched the era and put together such a well-crafted narrative elevates this book above being just another romance novel. Instead, Her Mother’s Secret is a sweeping historical saga about an inspiring woman tackling society’s expectations head on, war paint and all.

BOOK REVIEW: Her Mother's Secret by Natasha Lester

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