The Paris Secret by Natasha Lester

the paris secretTitle: The Paris Secret

Author: Natasha Lester

Genre: Historical Fiction

Publisher: Hachette

Published: 31st March 2020

Format: Paperback

Pages: 460

Price: $32.99

Synopsis: A wardrobe of Dior gowns, a secret kept for sixty-five years, and the three women bound forever by war… from the New York Times bestselling author of THE FRENCH PHOTOGRAPHER.

England, 1939
 Talented pilot Skye Penrose joins the British war effort where she encounters her estranged sister, Liberty, and childhood soulmate Nicholas Crawford, now engaged to enigmatic Frenchwoman Margaux Jourdan.

Paris, 1947 Designer Christian Dior unveils his extravagant first collection to a world weary of war and grief. He names his debut fragrance, Miss Dior, in tribute to his sister, Catherine, who worked for the French Resistance.

Present day Australian fashion conservator Kat Jourdan discovers a secret wardrobe filled with priceless Dior gowns in her grandmother’s vacant cottage. As she delves into the mystery, Kat begins to doubt everything she thought she knew about her beloved grandmother.

An unspeakable betrayal will entwine all of their fates.

THE PARIS SECRET is an unforgettable story about the lengths people go to protect one another, and a love that, despite everything, lasts a lifetime.

~*~

Skye Penrose dreams of flying and following in the footsteps of her mother and Amy Johnson – yet when war breaks out, and all civilian flying is grounded, Skye finds another way to help the war effort with the ATA – transporting planes between bases for repairs and when they need to be turned into scrap metal. During her tenure doing this, she is reunited with her childhood friend from Cornwall, Nicholas Crawford, and the sister she hasn’t seen since she was eighteen – Liberty. Skye then meets Margaux Jourdan, and from here, it weaves in and out of World War Two as Skye and her fellow pilots fight for their right to fly, fight discrimination and eventually, find that they have to hide their own secrets as the novel progresses and the war heads further and further into darker days and eventually, towards the end.

In between the stories of Margaux, Skye and Nicholas and those they work with, is the 2012 story of Kat Jourdan, Margaux’s granddaughter, who uncovers a trove of Dior dresses in her grandmother’s Cornwall home, and a link to the well-known designer. It is here that she starts unravelling Margaux’s past when Elliott Beaufort starts asking questions about a Margaux Jourdan, an ATA pilot and SOE agent who helped the French Resistance and survived imprisonment and escaped. As Kat delves further into the mysteries with Elliott, and finds out about Skye, Margaux, Nicholas, and Liberty, she begins to question what she knows.

AWW2020The novel weaves in and out of the years leading up to World War Two, World War Two, the years just after the war and 2012, telling the reader and Kat the story as it moves along – as though Kat is reading the diaries of those from that time. Each part and perspective is richly brought to life through all the senses and a range of emotions as the war lurches on, and Skye faces loss over and over again, in many ways, tearing her apart from what she knows.

Cleverly, Natasha Lester ensures that the reader does not get lost in the changing characters – each part is clearly marked as to whose story it is, and each part is told in third person, making the transitions seamless and at times, they feel like they are sitting side by side – as something in the past happens, it feels like it might relate to the future.

Fashion plays a big role in this book – the Dior dresses are key to Kat finding out who her grandmother really is, and what happened to Margaux, Skye and Liberty – and why Elliott is determined that Kat’s Margaux is the one he is looking for.

Natasha Lester does something amazing with her books – she puts female history front and centre – and makes this the focus of her book, and leads us gently, and delicately into the romance at the end – much like Kate Forsyth and Jackie French in their historical novels where women are front and centre. The story is about what the women did, and how they coped in the face of sexism and discrimination, and assumptions about what they could do. This is what draws me to these books – seeing the women like Skye as active participants in history and learning about topics and perspectives that I had never known about even with all my reading. These are perspectives that are not always shared widely and books like this give an introduction to this history and for me, a deeper and further interest in trying to find out more. The happy ending was great too – and left me with a huge smile on my face.

Natasha also drops her clues very carefully and cleverly, and I enjoyed trying to work out who was who with what I was given – a very nicely written mystery!

I hope all of Natasha’s fans enjoy this book when it comes out, as it covers so many things – war, friendship, family, and love of all kinds, and illustrates the complexities of history in an accessible manner.

Best Books of….2019

Readings and Musings on all things books, Aussie authors and everything in between

As the year comes to a close, many in the book blogging and reviewing community, and the book community in general – radio shows, podcasts, authors – have been posting and recording about this. And let me tell you, it is hard, and often, so many good ones are left off, and to me, ranking them is just mean because how can you rank books? Especially all those ones that stayed with you.

I had hoped 2019 might be easier to start with – not only do I have the list with me now, but for 2010-2019 I need to go back into other lists and hope I have those records. Or at least be able to work out what books I read that were published between those dates. 2019 seems to be the easiest place to start – as I have that list easily at hand for now. Out of 196 read so far, I found fourteen I loved – and the majority are by Australian women. Of course, these are in no particular order of favouritism, simply the order I read them throughout the year as that was easier to copy across.

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Vardaesia by Lynette Noni

the french photographer

The French Photographer by Natasha Lester

kensy and max 3

Kensy and Max: Undercover by Jacqueline Harvey

women to the front

 Women to the Front: The Extraordinary Australian Women Doctors of the Great War by Heather Sheard and Ruth Lee

the blue rose

The Blue Rose by Kate Forsyth

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While You Were Reading by Ali Berg and Michelle Klaus

Kensy and Max 4

Kensy and Max: Out of Sight by Jacqueline Harvey

there was still love

There Was Still Love by Favel Parrett

rebel women who shaped australia

Rebel Women who Changed Australia by Susanna de Vries

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The Glimme by Emily Rodda

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Weapon by Lynette Noni

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Pages and Co #2: Tilly and the Lost Fairy Tales by Anna James

The Lily in the Snow

The Lily in the Snow by Jackie French

clancy of the overflow

Clancy of the Overflow by Jackie French

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All the Tears in China by Sulari Gentill

Even though we still have two weeks left in December, I’m trying to get as many of these posts ready as possible – with my full wrap up posts appearing at the very end of the month or early in the new year, as well as the start of all my reading challenges in 2020 as well.

Choosing best of lists is always hard – there are often so many good books, but this year I went with the ones that stood out for me. Some that did were published earlier than 2019 and will possibly make it onto the 2010-2019 list – which of course, is bound to be longer and have entire series on there as I simply cannot choose only one from each year. It feels like a betrayal to a whole series to do that!

So there you are – for once I was able to choose fourteen favourites!

 

Book Bingo Eleven – A place in the title

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Welcome to my eleventh book bingo with Theresa and Amanda. This time, I am checking off a book with a place in the title. I had intended to add this in last fortnight, but checking to see how everything would fit in has me aiming to do one square per post for the next fourteen posts to make sure everything is spread evenly.

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The asterixed titles are ones that are going to appear in future posts. It looks like I only have four slots left to fill, so hopefully I can stretch what I have left to the end of the year, as we have planned with this card. However, where a text row has BINGO next to it, I have added in my bingo graphic to reflect this, and will do the same when the relevant post goes up as well.

the french photographer

My square was a book with a place in the title. This one was going to be easy to fill, but hard to choose as there are many books that have a place in the title. I chose Natasha Lester’s latest, The French Photographer. Set during World War Two, it follows the story of Jess May, inspired by Lee Miller as she heads into various war zones and camps across France, and encounters sexism, an orphan and societal expectations that she refuses to bow down to. When she meets Victorine, Jess’s life will change – i many ways. The book flashes between the 1940s and the present day, leading to a storyline that is tragically beautiful and uniting, highlighting the importance of friendship, love and family throughout the ages and generations. I also had the chance to interview Natasha as part of the blog tour, and the interview can be found here.

Row Four:

Book with a place in the title: The French Photographer by Natasha Lester -AWW2019

Book set in the Australian Outback:

Book set on the Australian Coast: The House of Second Chances by Esther Campion – AWW2019

Book set in the Australian Mountains: The Orchardist’s Daughter by Karen Viggers – AWW2019

Book set in an exotic location: Four Dead Queens by Astrid Scholte – #AWW2019

BINGO!

I have read a book for each category in Row One Down – a couple of these posts are yet to go live but this post and the bingo week posts for these books will reflect gaining a bingo.

Rows Down:

Row One:  – Bingo

A book with a red cover: Children of the Dragon: Race for the Red Dragon by Rebecca Lim – #AWW2019*

Book by an author with the same initials as you:

Themes of science fiction: The Lost Magician by Piers Torday*

Book with a place in the title: The French Photographer by Natasha Lester -AWW2019

Written by an Australian man: The Honeyman and the Hunter by Neil Grant*

Literary: Zebra and Other Stories by Debra Adelaide – AWW2019

Row three:

Novel that has 500 pages or more:

Fictional biography about a woman from history:

Themes of justice: What Lies Beneath Us by Kirsty Ferguson – AWW2019

Book set on the Australian coast: The House of Second Chances by Esther Campion – AWW2019

Written by an author under the age of 35: Archibald, The Naughtiest Elf in the World Causes Trouble with the Easter Bunny by Skye Davidson – #AWW2019*

Historical: The Familiars by Stacey Halls

Well, that’s another fortnight down – come back next week for more book bingo!

Blog Tour Part One – Review: The French Photographer by Natasha Lester

the french photographerTitle: The French Photographer – Blog Tour

Author: Natasha Lester

Genre: Historical Fiction

Publisher: Hachette Australia

Published: 26th March, 2019

Format: Paperback

Pages: 440

Price: $29.99

Synopsis: Inspired by the incredible true story of Lee Miller, Vogue model turned one of the first female war photojournalists, the new novel by the bestselling author of The Paris Seamstress

Manhattan, Paris, 1942: When Jessica May’s successful modelling career is abruptly cut short, she is assigned to the war in Europe as a photojournalist for Vogue. But when she arrives the army men make her life as difficult as possible. Three friendships change that: journalist Martha Gellhorn encourages Jess to bend the rules, paratrooper Dan Hallworth takes her to places to shoot pictures and write stories that matter, and a little girl, Victorine, who has grown up in a field hospital, shows her love. But success comes at a price.

France, 2005: Australian curator D’Arcy Hallworth arrives at a beautiful chateau to manage a famous collection of photographs. What begins as just another job becomes far more disquieting as D’Arcy uncovers the true identity of the mysterious photographer – and realises that she is connected to D’Arcy’s own mother, Victorine.

Crossing a war-torn Europe from Italy to France, The French Photographer is a story of courage, family and forgiveness, by the bestselling author of The Paris Seamstress and A Kiss from Mr Fitzgerald.

~*~

I was approached by Hachette to take part in a blog tour for this book and accompanying this review there will be an interview with the author. Both are appearing on the blog today, the tenth of April, in separate posts.

The French Photographer is an exquisitely written book, and though it is only April, has been one of the best books I have read so far this year. Inspired by the true story of Lee Miller, Natasha Lester has created a story that spans the decades between World War Two and 2004, exploring the lives of Victorine, Dan, D’Arcy, and Jess May – her main character – at various stages of their lives and the war.

2019 BadgeJess May starts out as a model for Vogue in New York, when her career takes a tumble, and she finds herself looking for a way to fix her modelling career. World War Two is ramping up around the world, and magazines like Vogue need photo journalists and war correspondents – to report on the war back home, and to raise morale and support for the troops. After much persuasion and fighting, she is attached to a battalion led by Dan Hallworth, who becomes a good friend and confidant, backing her up when Warren Stone and her ex, Emile, try to make trouble for her. Here, we see how one man can ruin a woman’s reputation and career out of jealousy, and how another will do whatever he can to make life incredibly hard for her, whilst a third will back her all the way, and stand up for her whenever he can. Jess rises above it all, and forges her own path, and is a character who shows that she will let nothing, not even prejudice, stop her from achieving her goals.

Amidst the field hospital and camp where Dan and Jess meet, a young girl named Victorine appears, and works her way into Jess’ heart. As the story goes on, Jess and Dan’s relationship evolves, and they become important to Victorine – they become her family. This is a story that explores love, family and friendship in equal measure across the European theatre of war in Italy and France, and how it affected those who lived through it.

I first came to Natasha Lester’s books with The Paris Seamstress, published in 2018, and was hooked. When I read this one, I was pleased to see a little link back to The Paris Seamstress, bringing a smile to my face as I read. Jess May is a character who is brave and bold. She is modern and enthusiastic, and doesn’t allow anything to stop her, but at the same time, acknowledges the challenges she must face in achieving her goal. While men like Emile and Warren Stone make it difficult for her, people like Dan Hallworth, Martha Gellhorn, and Victorine encourage her in different ways, and support her. They show her a family and love in a world of violence and tragedy. Victorine and Jess, and Dan quickly became my favourite characters, especially Victorine. She is adorable, and seemingly innocent but what she has seen shapes her and her world. At the same time, she is still a child and has a sense of innocence about her that is endearing and also, heartbreaking.

Through Victorine, we see war through the eyes of a child, and through Jess, we see how war affects women in various ways – from camps, to war correspondents and everything in between. And finally, through Dan, war through the eyes of a soldier. Combined, these make for a story that is equally as powerful as Dan and Jess’s relationship.

What I liked about Jess and Dan, is that their relationship starts out with respect and friendship – it doesn’t force their love. I liked how they let that evolve naturally, because it felt very realistic and seeing a friendship between a man and a woman in fiction was beautiful to read. Of course, there are meddling characters like Amelia, and seedy characters like Warren Stone who I hated, but they were so well written as well – and this made them excellent characters.

There were many scenes that sucked the breath from my lungs, but I think the liberation of an unnamed camp that held Jews, women and political prisoners, and how this affected Dan, Jess and those with them, is one of the most powerful, alongside their capture of Hitler’s Berlin residence. It gives the story gravitas, and a distinct darker side that shows just how awful the war was and how far reaching its affects were physically and emotionally.

The complexity and diversity of characters ensured this wasn’t a simple story – there were layers upon layers that had to be peeled back and revealed slowly to discover the secrets and lead us to what eventually happened with Dan and Jess. The ending was bittersweet, yet realistic, and I feel fitted in well with the rest of the story.

Filled with moments of joy, heartache, and horror, The French Photographer has much more to offer than just a love story, and to me, that is the best part: the complex characters, how they deal with war and life, and everything in between. This gives the story its true power and is definitely one I want to revisit.

The Paris Seamstress by Natasha Lester

9780733640001Title: The Paris Seamstress

Author: Natasha Lester

Genre: Historical Fiction

Publisher: Hachette Australia

Published: 27th March 2018

Format: Paperback

Pages: 435

Price: $29.99

Synopsis: How much will a young Parisian seamstress sacrifice to make her mark in the male-dominated world of 1940s New York fashion? From the bestselling author of A KISS FROM MR FITZGERALD and HER MOTHER’S SECRET.

How much will a young Parisian seamstress sacrifice to make her mark in the male-dominated world of 1940s New York fashion? From the bestselling author of A KISS FROM MR FITZGERALD and HER MOTHER’S SECRET.

  1. Parisian seamstress Estella Bissetteis forced to flee France as the Germans advance. She is bound for Manhattan with a few francs, one suitcase, her sewing machine and a dream: to have her own atelier.
  1. Australian curator Fabienne Bissettejourneys to the annual Met Gala for an exhibition of her beloved grandmother’s work – one of the world’s leading designers of ready-to-wear clothing. But as Fabienne learns more about her grandmother’s past, she uncovers a story of tragedy, heartbreak and secrets – and the sacrifices made for love.

Crossing generations, society’s boundaries and international turmoil, THE PARIS SEAMSTRESS is the beguiling, transporting story of the special relationship between a grandmother and her granddaughter as they attempt to heal the heartache of the past.

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~*~

Estella Bissette’s quiet life in Paris with her mother working as an atelier and making copies of patterns in 1940 is under threat. A chance encounter with MI0 Agent, Alex Montrose, and what Estella sees as a case of mistaken identity, pulls her into a world of danger and espionage, and as the Germans march further towards France, and her beloved Paris, Estella’s mother ensures her safe passage to America, on American papers – revealing that the stories she had told Estella about her father were not true. Escaping with her sewing machine and one suitcase, Estella is sustained on the trip by a dream to become a fashion designer, and the friends she makes on the journey from Paris to New York. Once in New York, Estella will encounter a variety of people in the fashion industry and who are working as spies and will soon be drawn into a world of fashion and secrets.

In 2015, Estella’s granddaughter, Fabienne, is in New York to see an exhibition of Stela Designs, the ready to wear clothing line that Estella created during the turbulent years of war. Fabienne is close to her grandmother, and in New York, away from work and her mother, she begins to uncover the secrets of her family – secrets surrounded by tragedy, espionage and heartbreak that shaped Estella, and the decisions she made, and why she made them. As Fabienne uncovers these family secrets, she encounters Will, who works in one of the top jobs at Tiffany’s, and his sister. As they work through their lives together, and the struggles they face, their friendship grows, and evolves. In the face of personal tragedy, Fabienne must uncover the answers to her family’s past.

AWW-2018-badge-roseThis was the first Natasha Lester novel I have read, and I really enjoyed it. I loved Estella’s passion, and her desire to create something unique in an unknown world during a time when there was so much uncertainty. Safe in America as Hitler and the Nazis take Paris, Estella finds herself in and out of work as a sketcher, working towards her own goal of creating her own line. Her passion for this, which is ignited further by her friends Sam, and Janie, who are amazingly fun characters as well, and in a time of war and feeling alone, welcome Estella easily into their lives as a friend.

Estella’s world is peopled by figures who existed at the time – Lena Thaw, Alexander Montrose, and others connected to them, and the mystery surrounding these characters and their links to Estella are slowly revealed as the novel moved between the early 1940s and 2015, where Estella’s story revealed itself as Fabienne spoke to her grandmother and went through diaries. Estella’s bravery drives the narrative, and it is her strength that I adored, her ability to find what she loved and make something of it. When she discovers Lena, a woman who looks just like her, something stirs in her, and this is where the mystery of what links them starts to come out, slowly, with many questions along the way from Estella in 1940, and Fabienne in 2015.

It is the slow yet well-paced pacing of the secrets and their unfolding that I enjoyed, alongside the history of World War Two in France and Paris, and the moment America is drawn into the war, and the reactions that Estella experiences from people to whom the war is a mere inconvenience for them getting their fashion from Paris, and the feelings of betrayal Estella felt throughout when she found out the secrets people had kept, and the burden of these secrets that she was able to let go of and help Fabienne discover her family history.

I found this to be a delectable book, where the history of the war, and a family of secrets and mysteries were the forefront against a backdrop of fashion, and a world where grandmother and granddaughter found solace, It crosses three continents: Europe, America and Australia, and encompasses the love of a mother and daughter, the love of friends, family, a sister, and sacrifices made to keep secrets. It is a well-written novel, where the romance is realistic, and not over-powering but still there, existing in a perfect balance with the other elements that kept me more engaged. I liked that Estella and Fabienne found love, but it was their family mystery and secrets that kept me reading late into the night to find out what Estella had been hiding for so many years.

An excellent historical fiction that takes female voices, in a time and place where their lives are dictated by those around them and expectations of society, and where in a male dominated world, Stella Designs made a mark in the fashion world of Natasha’s novel, and where these strong women didn’t allow their lives to be dictated by convention. Instead, they were spies, and mothers, seamstresses and friends, people who sacrificed so much for those they loved, and whose lives were complex and interesting. I always enjoy novels with a heroine who finds a way to fit into the world she lives in yet at the same time, question the conventions and finds a way to make her own mark on the world, and show that women could do what they set their minds to, even in a time of war like Estella.

Much like Kate Forsyth’s historical fiction, this had similar elements of mystery and intrigue that drew me in, and I hope to read more of Natasha’s novels soon.

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