Posted in Book Review, Books I have read, Mount TBR 2017

The Dress Thief – Natalie Meg Evans

Historical Fiction
4*s

Who would have thought a book about couture would also inform me about the Spanish civil war that was raging before the start of World War II? Not this reader and so as much as I was looking forward to learning about the world of fashion I’m pleased to report there was far more on offer in The Dress Thief.

As the title suggests the book looks at the business of copying designer fashion and our heroine is caught up in this dubious business. Designers were alert to the problem and employed different methods to keep their finished articles under wraps to try and foil the counterfeiters but when people are desperate, they do desperate things.

The setting is Paris in the 1930s and Alix Gower is recruited by a friend who lives on a barge supporting his two younger sisters to draw designs of a scarf. He will then sell the design onto another woman who will have the designs made up and sold at a fraction of the cost with the profits being split between them. After all Alix needs the money too as she supplements her wages as a telephone operator to support herself and her Grandmother, Meme.

Alix’s background is full of tragedy, both her parents are dead and the family have moved from England to France because of anti-Semitism with the support of a wealthy Count who fought with her father in the war and an old artist friend of Meme but the underlying feeling is that the past is a shadowy country. But with a dream to pursue Alix concentrates on getting accepted as a seamstress at a high fashion house despite the drop in wages she wants the role to fulfil her ambitions to be designer but she needs to be accepted to earn a decent amount of money through stealing some designs to sell through the counterfeiter’s network.

There is no doubt that men are attracted to Alix and she has one admirer in the form of Verrian Haviland, a war reporter who has recently returned from Spain but a nightclub owner also has his eye on her and he sees his chance when Verrian returns to Spain.

Through the engaging story-telling we learn about all the different parts that go into making a high couture outfit, from the cutting room to the final showing on the mannequins, or as we know them nowadays models. The rush to get a collection finished, the choice of fabric, the ingenious ideas used to show the dresses off to their best advantage are all included. And of course Alix has got caught up in a plot to steal the designs despite her ambitions to be a designer so we have a moral dilemma too!

This is a story of all those things that make for an involved read; there are various mysteries including a death, family relationships, having a dream and a romance, all perfectly executed. And no story about couture in Paris would be complete without the big names; Channel, Hermès and Schiaparelli to underpin the glamorous angle of this delightful read but ultimately this is a story of contrasts, the wealth of the women who wear the designer outfits to the poverty which exists in the city where the clouds of war are gathering.

The Dress Thief was my thirty-second read in the Mount TBR 2017 challenge qualifying as having been bought back in July 2014.

mount-tbr-2017

 

 

First Published UK: May 2014
Publisher: Quercus
No of Pages: 592
Genre:Historical Fiction
Amazon UK
Amazon US

Posted in Book Review, Books I have read

The Book of Lost and Found – Lucy Foley

Historical Fiction 4*'s
Historical Fiction
4*’s

The year is 1986 and Kate Darling has recently lost her mother June, a world-class ballerina, in a tragic accident. Kate is struggling with her grief for the woman who she considered her best friend as well as her mother in an effort to keep her memory alive seeks solace in her mother’s saviour, Evie. Following one of their frequent meetings it becomes clear that Evie has been keeping a secret for many years and gives Kate a painting of a woman at a picnic on a summer’s day that had been sent to June many years before. Kate senses a mystery and as a means of distraction from her unfulfilling life follows its lead.

The picture was painted in 1928 by an up-and-coming artist named Tom, now an elderly man, living on the island of Corsica and Kate goes to visit him to find out more about the woman he painted. Tom reveals his side of a bitter-sweet love story that started in Hertfordshire and ended in Paris during the Second World War.

Lucy Foley has bravely included three time-periods as well as three different locations in her tale which is executed with aplomb. The characters are all distinct, all feel authentic and true to the times they are depicted, especially Tom who struggles to balance his parent’s hopes and dreams for him with his love of art. Alice was a victim of the time and family she was born into and had the added encumbrance of her sex, destined to live her life without any purpose except to become a replica of her distant mother. Having just read two books that cover the occupation of France during the Second World War there were clear signs that the author had researched the historical element to use as detail for this part of the book, effortlessly transporting the reader to the exact time and place. By using different places for each of the time periods definitely made the transition of reading easier during the switches backwards and forwards in time.

I do love a dual time frame book but only when they are done well, this device, in the wrong hands is a disaster for a number of reasons; to execute a story of this type well the characters, time and place all need to be distinct and authentic. The historical detail has to be spot-on and any of the characters that age during the transition need to be recognisable but not ‘frozen in time.’ Lucy Foley didn’t fall into any of the many pitfalls, instead managing to weave a great saga that had me engaged in the grand love story from the first page.

As with all books in this genre the continuing story through the decades depends on a number of coincidences and tortured decisions to keep both the mystery element alive so although there were times that I desperately wished that the protagonists would say, or do, something different, perhaps for once take the sensible option, it wasn’t to be! And nor could it be! Again with books of this type I often prefer either the past or the present and as is often the case, the past was more engaging but I did enjoy the way that Kate was far from irrelevant to the story, she did have a stronger part to play than simply being the narrator of the events of previous years.

If like me you are still waiting for Kate Morton to write her fifth book, you could do an awful lot worse (I should know, I’ve tried some of them) than pick up this book in the meantime.  I received my copy via Amazon Vine in return for this honest review.  The Book of Lost and Found was published by HaperCollins on 15 January 2015.

Posted in Books I want to Read, Weekly Posts

Friday Finds (October 4)

Friday Finds  Hosted by Should be Reading

FRIDAY FINDS showcases the books you ‘found’ and added to your To Be Read (TBR) list… whether you found them online, or in a bookstore, or in the library — wherever! (they aren’t necessarily books you purchased).

So, come on — share with us your FRIDAY FINDS!

Thirteen Reasons WhyThis looks like a book that loads of people have read and somehow I’d never heard of it, Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher.   I was drawn in by the review written by Delectable Reads.  Even better this has a wonderful recipe for you to whip up and eat while you read…. now that’s not going to be a dangerous habit to start is it?

Blurb

Clay Jensen returns home to find a strange package with his name on it. Inside he discovers several cassette tapes recorded by Hannah Baker – his classmate and first love – who committed suicide.
Hannah’s voice explains there are thirteen reasons why she killed herself and Clay is one of them. If he listens, he’ll find out why.
All through the night, Clay keeps listening – and what he discovers changes his life . . .
Forever. Amazon

Is This Tomorrow by Caroline Leavitt

Is This Tomorrow

Blurb

In 1956, when divorced, working-mom Ava Lark rents a house with her twelve-year-old son, Lewis, in a Boston suburb, the neighborhood is less than welcoming. Lewis yearns for his absent father, befriending the only other fatherless kids: Jimmy and Rose. One afternoon, Jimmy goes missing. The neighborhood in the era of the Cold War, bomb scares, and paranoia seizes the opportunity to further ostracize Ava and her son. Lewis never recovers from the disappearance of his childhood friend. By the time he reaches his twenties, he’s living a directionless life, a failure in love, estranged from his mother. Rose is now a schoolteacher in another city, watching over children as she was never able to watch over her own brother. Ava is building a new life for herself in a new decade. When the mystery of Jimmy’s disappearance is unexpectedly solved, all three must try to reclaim what they have lost.

To read a cracking review of this book visit Curl Up and Read and see if you can resist this one.

Split Second by Sophie McKenzie

Split Second

This book came to my attention via Simon and Schuster’s UK newsletter.

Bound together by the devastating consequences of a terrorist attack on a London market, teenagers Charlotte (Charlie) and Nat appear at first to have much in common. But, as Charlie gets closer to Nat and his family, she begins to wonder if perhaps he knows more about the attack than he has let on. Split Second is an action-packed thriller that shifts between the perspectives of its two main characters as their courage and their loyalties are tested to the limit

This is an author who has written a number of books and even though I haven’t got around to reading Sophie McKenzie’s previous book I Close My Eyes, this one has made it to my TBR

A late contender to my Friday Finds (I try to stick to a maximum of 3) is The Paris Architect by Charles Belfoure based on the great review by Silver’s Reviews

The Paris Architect

A story set in World War II that sounds riveting and just up my street.

Happy Friday and Happy Reading.