Review: 'The Milliner's Secret' by Natalie Meg Evans (2015)
London,1937. A talented young woman travels to Paris with a stranger. The promise of an exciting career as a milliner beckons, but she is about to fall in love with the enemy...
Londoner Cora Masson has reinvented herself as Coralie de Lirac, fabricating an aristocratic background to launch herself as a fashionable milliner. When the Nazis invade, the influence of a high-ranking lover, Dietrich, saves her business. But while Coralie retains her position as designer to a style-hungry elite, Paris is approaching its darkest hour.
Faced with the cruel reality of war and love, Coralie must make a difficult choice – protect herself or find the courage to fight for her friends, her freedom and everything she believes in.
Today I've got a review of a book that is a bit of a step away from the chick lit and romance genre that is usually featured on my blog, namely a historical fiction read! If you visit my blog more often you'll know I love to pick up a different genre every now and again and I really enjoy the kind of historical reads that can make you feel as if you're stuck in a different time, the kind of reads that just blow you away. I heard that Natalie Meg Evans' debut novel 'The Dress Thief' was exactly that kind of read, so when publisher Bookouture was lovely enough to provide me with a review copy of the author's second book, 'The Milliner's Secret' (which was released in 2015), I was really curious and excited to check it out!
Cora Masson grew up in the city of London, but without her mother, and a father who doesn't care about what she does or where she goes, Cora is looking for an escape. When a complete stranger offers to take her to Paris, Cora can't say 'yes' quick enough. She transforms herself into Coralie de Lirac, a milliner with a Belgian aristocratic background. As it's the end of the 1930s, Paris is about to be invaded by the Germans and Coralie's life is about to be turned upside down. Her German lover, Dietrich von Elbing, can help Coralie every now and again, but Coralie soon realises this is really war and she will have to join in with the fight in order to protect her friends and stay true to herself, no matter what.
'The Milliner's Secret' starts off in an intriguing way with three women in a Paris nightclub in the late 1930s, trying to execute a secret plan. This seems like a fitting start to the entire novel which is filled with drama, suspense, romance, and intrigue. Set in both London and Paris during the German occupation, the book tells the story of milliner Cora/Coralie. I really enjoyed how the idea of French couture got linked to war times, even though I did expect more attention to be paid to Coralie's job as a milliner, especially when looking at the title of the book. However, the storyline, which consists of several plots being linked together, managed to keep me interested at most times and even surprised me every now and again.
I've read that there are a few characters in the novel that already appeared in the author's debut, 'The Dress Thief'. Yet, the book can certainly be read as a stand-alone because I didn't feel I was missing information. I have to admit, though, that I couldn't help but struggle a bit with the length of the novel and the quite slow pace of the story. If everything had been a bit faster and more compact I personally would have enjoyed it more, I think. Overall, 'The Milliner's Secret' is a fascinating, intense and well-written story set in the years before World War II broke out; not the book to pick up if you're looking for a light-hearted and easy read, but one that will make an impression, especially for fans of historical fiction.