Her Mother’s Secret by Natasha Lester begins on Armistice Day, 1918, in a small town in England. Leonora (Leo) East has spent the war helping her father run his chemist while making women’s cosmetics on the side. Her dream is to change the way the world perceives cosmetics and the women who wear them. When her father succumbs to influenza, Leo makes the decision to travel to New York, the new frontier of opportunity, to make her cosmetics dream come true. But a chance meeting with dashing department store owner, Everett Forsyth, alters her life irrevocably. Flash forward twenty years and Everett’s daughter, Alice, is a promising ballerina who has been asked by the head of a large cosmetics firm to star in a line of advertisements. Alice is thrilled, but her parents are not.
Her Mother’s Secret is a story of determination, honour, and enduring love; I drank it in, pushing past designated bedtimes to finish it in the early hours of the morning. I loved how determined Leo was to succeed when the very fabric of society was against her.
This is a comfortable read and I mean that in the best possible way, in that the writing allows you to fall into the story and the time. As a work of historical fiction, a sense of place is vitally important and this book delivers, bringing post-war, 1920s New York to life. Lester’s descriptions and her insightful observations of the time are superb; historical details are weaved in without bogging down the story, which clips along at a satisfying pace.
Lester’s background as Marketing Manager for Maybelline cosmetics goes a long way to explain the passion around cosmetics inserted into the pages. In fact, the company’s founding story of a girl named Mabel whose brother mixed up a concoction of lampblack and Vaseline, (Mabel + Vaseline = Mabelline) so she could have darker lashes, was an inspiration behind the book.
This book definitely lives up to the success Lester earned with A Kiss From Mr Fitzgerald. It also follows on with the theme from that book — the struggle of women against society’s beliefs and prejudices, which is always a worthwhile and fascinating topic.
If I had a slight criticism it would be that Leo and Everett are sometimes too good to be true — too selfless, too forgiving. But then, I’m always willing to suspend disbelief when it concerns an enduring love story and a strong woman who has to fight for her dreams.