REVIEW: The Paris Secret by Natasha Lester

In brief: Told across two time periods, this story of secrets, war and a mysterious blue dress explores the hidden parts of World War II.

The good: Fantastic story with fascinating characters.

The not-so-good: Liberty needed some sense shaken into her several times.

Why I chose it: Natasha Lester’s novels are wonderful to read anywhere, anytime. Thank you to Hachette for the copy.

Year: 2020

Pages: 452

Publisher: Hachette

Setting: England, France and Australia

Rating: 9 out of 10

Some novels you know are going to be good before you even read them. The Paris Secret is one of those. Natasha Lester writes historical novels that cover lesser-known aspects of history combined with memorable characters and a powerful story. So I deliberately saved this one for after completing a big job, knowing that I would have time to devote to it. It doesn’t disappoint.

In The Paris Secret, Natasha Lester returns back to France and World War II. This time the focus is on pilots, namely Skye Penrose and her childhood friend Nicholas Crawford. They had a wonderful time growing up in the Cornwall area, until Nicholas was forced by his family to return to the US. Now he’s back as a pilot completing secret missions. Skye is working the only way women could as pilots – ferrying planes for the ATA without the equipment the male pilots take for granted. It’s not always pleasant work and sexism is rampant, but she enjoys it. Until she finds Nicholas again and discovers he’s engaged to the glamorous Margaux Jourdan. Plus, her estranged sister returns to England to play her devious games. In the present, Margaux’s grand-daughter Kat lives in Sydney and works as a fashion conservator. While in England, her grandmother asks her to check in on her cottage in Cornwall, which has a room devoted to Dior gowns. What is the connection with her grandmother? And why is an author claiming that Margaux was a spy in the war? To find this out and find happiness, Kat must ask hard questions about her family and herself.

The story moves back and forth between World War II and the present day. I found Skye’s the most engaging due to the high-level action, but Kat’s is important too to link the WWII actors together and demonstrate that women still struggle with equality in the modern day. While I have read some fiction about the ATA, I found that Lester’s novel is more realistic with the opposition the women faced at all levels. Humiliation and danger faced them whether it was a physical exam or flying the planes. I was quite angry about all this – given that it was a war and planes/pilots were necessary, why not ensure those flying (regardless of sex) had all the safety equipment they needed? It seems a careless waste of life and machinery. I definitely shared Skye’s rage!

The small glimpses of the House of Dior and its elegance throughout the book until the link is made is delightful, reminding the reader that beauty is a welcome relief when the body is weary. The final chapters of Skye’s story towards the end of the war felt a little rushed at times, but the change in her circumstances is huge with a change of pace from ferrying planes. It is in the last section that the link with Dior, Skye and Kat’s grandmother is revealed. I honestly didn’t guess where this was going, and the complications Kat and her author friend Elliott find when researching had me considering many options. I really wanted to find out Skye’s fate, as she’s a great character – feisty, occasionally unpredictable but most of all determined. (I must admit to hoping that her sister, Liberty, a spiteful character, got her comeuppance.) And the ending? I’m not crying, you are.

A delightful read that will keep you entertained and away from the news.

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