Book Review: Her Mother's Secret

Natasha Lester
Hachette Australia (I own a copy, courtesy the publisher)

Image Source: author website
We are extremely lucky in Western Australia to have a thriving literary community, and you would be hard pressed to find another writer in that community who is as generous with their time as Natasha Lester.  Not only is Natasha a writer, she is also a teacher, a mother, a blogger, and I'm sure she finds a few moments of her spare time in which to fight crime as well.  Natasha's first novel, What is Left Over After was the recipient of the TAG Hungerford award administered by Fremantle Press for an unpublished manuscript.  She then went on to publish her second novel, If I Should Lose You with Fremantle Press too.

But for novel three, Natasha Lester chose a different direction for her fiction.  While both previous novels had been well received by critics and readers alike, and Natasha Lester had amassed a following of local writers through her blogs and courses, it was time for a different sort of book.  Both If I Should Lose You and What is Left Over After were more in the literary fiction vein of things.  2016's A Kiss From Mr Fitzgerald was something else entirely.  And so, Natasha Lester almost got to have her debut novel all over again, under the stewardship of the team at Hachette Australia.  An historical fiction novel about a young woman growing up in 1920s New York and dreaming of becoming an obstetrician in a time when women simply did not do such things, A Kiss From Mr Fitzgerald demonstrated the massive commercial appeal of Natasha Lester's writing, putting her in direct comparison with authors such as Kate Forsyth, Kimberley Freeman and Pamela Hart.

This year, Natasha Lester releases her fourth novel, but her second novel in her new genre.  Her Mother's Secret is the story of Leo, a young woman from a small village in England who spent most of the First World War making cosmetics for nurses stationed at the local hospital, using ingredients from her father's pharmacy.  Like Evie in A Kiss from Mr Fitzgerald, Leo is a strong-willed woman who is determined not to be restricted by the conventions of her time.  When fate leads her to New York, Leo decides to make a name for herself by starting her own line of cosmetics and attempting to get it into all the major department stores.

Of course, there is also a love story, but this is not simply a romance novel.  Leo's story is not just about whether she gets the man.  Her determination to meet her goals and support herself comes above all things, making her a remarkable character to follow, and one which modern women are sure to relate to.  She's supported by a cast of secondary characters right out of the page of an F. Scott Fitzgerald novel (and though Lester's writing style is very different, the influence of the Gatsby author remains clear), such as Faye, a binge drinking society gal who threatens to crush Leo's future in the palm of her well-manicured hand.

At times, I found the pace of the novel a little faster than perhaps I would have liked, with events seeming to be racing towards the finish line-- though admittedly, this is a novel that has to cover more than 20 years in under 350 pages!  It did mean that some scenes seemed lacking in detail and some of the character's actions and reactions were a little sudden.

Readers who enjoyed A Kiss From Mr Fitzgerald will not be disappointed by the follow up, which demonstrates that Natasha Lester knows how to write a fast paced commercial novel without following the usual old formula.  You will be surprised by the twists and turns this novel takes and the decisions made by its protagonist.  Surprised and, most likely, delighted.

Natasha will be the guest speaker at the Bookcaffe Book Club on April 6th at the State Library of WA.  To book tickets, visit Trybooking.