Thursday, September 14, 2017

With Love for Romantic Books - The Milliner's Secret / The Girl Who Dreamed of Paris by Natalie Meg Evans - Book Review, Interview & Giveaway

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Review by Suze

Cora wants to make something of herself, so when she has the chance to go to Paris she grabs it with both hands. She renames herself Coralie de Lirac and makes sure she is well connected. She's a skilled milliner and her beautiful hats are soon being in high demand. However, there's a price to pay for the life she now leads. Making sure her secrets will remain hidden and being part of a crowd that lives dangerously are taking its toll.

When the Second World War breaks out everyone in Paris has to make sacrifices. It is no longer a safe place to live and work, but it's Coralie's home. She can't sit still and idly watch, Coralie is a woman of action. This might get her into trouble, but it also enables her to offer her loved ones some much needed protection. Will Coralie and the people around her survive the war and what sacrifices does she have to make in the name of love?

The Girl Who Dreamed of Paris is a fantastic story about an interesting woman. Coralie is bold, fierce and determined and she always manages to get herself out of nasty situations. I greatly admired her courage, her pizzazz and her brazenness. She follows her instincts, she's courageous and she is willing to do anything for the people she loves. She can stand up for herself and she's both street smart and intelligent. This makes her story incredibly intriguing. Coralie is a brilliant heroine and I loved every word of her story.

Natalie Meg Evans writes about a difficult period in history in an impressive way. She describes the tension in Europe and especially in the city of Paris, the gruesome mistreatment of people and the fear and famine most of the population have to live with in a stunning honest way. Meanwhile her story also remains romantic because of Coralie's actions and the glamorous life she leads. The finale is unexpected, heartbreaking and absolutely amazing and it moved me to tears. I was captivated from beginning to end by Coralie and absolutely loved The Girl Who Dreamed of Paris. It's an absolute must-read.

Advice

If you love reading historical fiction and like fantastic heroines you will definitely like The Girl Who Dreamed of Paris.

About Natalie Meg Evans


Natalie Meg Evans has been an art student, actor, PR copywriter, book-keeper and bar tender. She is author of three published novels which take as their starting point the turmoil of the late 1930s and World War Two, and focus on the personal struggles of individuals caught up in these times.

Always an avid reader of history – for her sixth birthday she got a toy Arthurian castle with plastic knights – Natalie views historical fiction as the perfect theatre for the imagination. All her novels meld reality with human passions, and delve behind the scenes of a prestige industry: high fashion, millinery, wine making. Rich arenas for love and conflict!
Brought up in the UK, and presently living in rural Suffolk where she writes full time, Natalie was born in Zimbabwe, then Southern Rhodesia, to a mechanic father and a teacher mother. Her mother’s love of all things French made a deep impression, as did a spell in Paris when she was fourteen. Her first two books are set in that city and A Gown of Thorns is set in Southwest France. For The Wardrobe Mistress (out 2017), a story of love and betrayal in post-war theatre, she returns to London where she lived during the 1980s.

Natalie has a son, a music producer, and two elderly Labradors. She lives in a small, sociable village where, occasionally, time seems to stand still. Time off is spent walking the lanes, watching the wildlife and changing seasons, singing in local churches and cooking. She is currently re-learning the guitar.
Natalie Meg Evans is a USA Today bestseller and Romance Writers of America RITA® nominee. She has won the Festival of Romance’s Historical Novel Award, the Harry Bowling Prize, placed third for the RWA’s Golden Pen award, and has been nominated for the coveted Daphne du Maurier award. The Dress Thief won the LoveStories Readers’ award for the best historical, and the Greek Public Book award for the best foreign novel. She was also a finalist for a Romance Writers of America Golden Heart®.

A novel from Natalie Meg Evans is an epic journey, built around a strong female character locked in a struggle for independence and to realise her creative dreams. Where do these stories come from?
Perhaps from a pivotal event just days after her sixth birthday when her dad died in a car accident. It not only robbed Natalie of a beloved friend but engulfed her family. Her mother, traumatised by shock, nevertheless became the rock-like personality that inspires the characters of Natalie’s heroines. Financial trauma and schoolyard bullying dominated Natalie’s childhood, and as children do, she found security in reading and in the recesses of her imagination. She wrote her first book in the aftermath of her dad’s passing, tellingly about a robin who left his wife and fledglings in the nest to find food and never returned. It still makes her sister cry! Her adult stories are far more upbeat (and multi-layered!) but nevertheless, deal with the realities of life and with injustice.

Author links


Interview


1. Could you tell us a bit about yourself? 

Something about me . . . I live in the English countryside. Though I spent some exciting years in my 20s living in London, I’m a country girl at heart and always knew I’d eventually retreat to a small village. Where I am now is in the east of England, a place surrounded by farmland. I have a garden, a house which I’m doing up, one dog and a crowd of friends. I know I’m very lucky and am thankful for what I have, following a couple of turbulent decades. The occupation on my passport reads ‘Author’ which I proudly wrote in the last time I renewed it. Prior to that, I’d put ‘Company Administrator’ or ‘PR executive’, the job I did while I worked at getting a novel published.

2. You've wanted to be a published writer since you were very young.
What made you choose to be an author?

The writing seed was planted early, by my mother when I was about four years old. During my childhood there was little TV and none of the digital entertainment we have now. For fun, we went outside and played or read books. My mother took note of my story telling and told everyone I was going to be a writer. I wasn’t at all impressed as I wanted to open a sweet shop. A little later, because I loved history, I decided I’d be an archaeologist. Then I wanted to become an actress. I did go on stage for a few years, but writing gradually took over – once I’d stopped trying to prove my mother wrong! I wrote my first novel aged 22 but it took an awful long time for me to learn the craft. History and the stage have come together in The Wardrobe Mistress which is set in London’s theatre district in 1946.

3. The Milliner's Secret is going to be changed in The Girl Who Dreamed of Paris. Why are you rebranding the cover and title?

I and my UK editor, Kathryn Taussig at Quercus, first talked about rebranding my eBook A Gown of Thorns. This is a time slip novel melding a modern story with memories of the war in occupied France. Title was my idea. The story features a couture gown with an anguished past, and while I still like the title, it didn’t resonate so well with readers. That novel has been re-titled ‘Summer in the Vineyards’ which perfectly evokes the story. With The Milliner’s Secret, some reader feedback suggested that the word ‘Milliner’ came across as old-fashioned. The main character, Coralie de Lirac, is old-fashioned, in that the story begins in 1937! But of course, readers aren’t living in the past, they’re experiencing the novel’s era on the page. The Girl Who Dreamed of Paris was my idea this time, and it sums up Coralie who dreams of running away to a different life, and is swept up in danger, intrigue and passion. Each book has been given a fresh cover and both have a summery feel, while hopefully enticing the reader in.

4. You're a very skilled artist. You've put in a beautiful drawing of a vintage gown for our giveaway. Do you also draw other things or do you love to draw vintage gowns the most?

Thank you for calling me a skilled artist! I went to Art College when I left school and though it wasn’t the happiest time in my life, it left me with a sense of ‘something unfinished.’ If I could run two lives parallel, my other would be as a painter, with my own studio. I like to draw gowns and hats to illustrate my work, because it’s a way of getting under the skin of a fashion era. One of my treasures is a collection of vintage Vogue magazines, and I look at the work of long-ago fashion sketchers and melt with admiration. They could sum up a ‘look’ with a few strokes of a pen and washes of ink. It is a skill you don’t see very often now.

5. You write about a difficult and turbulent time, why have you chosen this period for your story?

You’re right, I focus on the ‘thirties, war time and the years just after. War, sadly, creates a level of tension and jeopardy that is missing in peace time. That’s good for a novelist. I also feel that I have a perspective on the past because of the decade I was born in. That being the sixties. It was a time of radical social change, yet the Second World War was only sixteen years in the past. If you think about it, that’s the same time-lapse as the first Gulf War is from us in 2017. For my parents, war was part of their lives. You may think it makes me very ancient, but I spent a lot of time in the company of great aunts and uncles who had served in the First World War! They were in their seventies when I was born. It gives me a view back into the early part of the twentieth century and for me, it isn’t dry history, it reflects the life and experiences of the people who brought me up.

6. Your main character is a skilled designer, what inspired you to give her these talents?

All my female lead characters, Alix, Coralie, Shauna, Vanessa, have varied talents but they share a passion to rise to the top of their professions. None of them have easy lives, and they have to be dogged, and in some cases ‘cheat’ a little to attain their goals. I suspect this reflects my own life. I haven’t had a meteoric rise to success. It has taken many years, with more setbacks than I care to think about. I write about young women with dreams in an era when female ambition wasn’t taken seriously. What they achieve – and it’s never quite what they set out for – is hard earned and more valuable for it. My characters are also flawed people (I don’t much like goody-goodies) and their life journeys are as much about emotional lessons as they are about success.

7. Could you describe what romance means to you?

Romance for me is the sizzle of attraction, the excitement of realising that it’s reciprocated. Being alone with the one you love, paying attention to each other, being able to exclude the world for a while … that’s romance. Romance is the flaring coals, whereas love is the steady flame that burns on, whichever wind is blowing.

8. What's your favorite historical period and why?

My favourite historical period . . . to write about or to live in? If I had to go back to one period of time, I’d choose the 1920s. In my fantasy world, it would be forever 1925, before the great Depression. The roads would be almost empty, Britain would still be a place of sleepy, rustic villages and manageably-sized cities. Jazz would be the music of choice, gentlemen would still raise their hats, and stand up when a lady entered the room. Travel would be luxurious and romantic . . . I’d have Virginia Wolf’s ideal situation for a woman: £5000 a year and a room of my own, and I’d buy my clothes from Molyneux in London. My favourite period for writing is either the 1930s, for its drama or the Regency. I spent a year in my early 20s reading Georgette Heyer’s romances to stave off the loneliness of living in a big city. For me, no snapshot of history quite equals the years between 1811 and 1820 for vivacity, charm and social fluidity.

9. Your covers are stunning. How involved are you in the creative process?

 I too love my covers, and would love to claim they were all my own work but alas, I have no part in them. They are sent to me for my approval, and I always do approve because my editor uses some incredibly talented people. A good cover is true art. You have to sum catch the eye in a moment, look good in a bookshop, on a computer screen or smartphone. You also have to imply the story lurking between the covers so a reader can intuit what she’s going to get. Ideally, you are fresh and original, but not too ‘out there.’ I always look forward to seeing the first visuals, like a child at Christmas.

10. You're very devoted to dogs and horses, with a penchant for adopting elderly and needy ones. Can you tell us about the animals that are a part of your family now?

Growing up, I was passionate about ponies and horses, and spent all my pocket money and my paper-round money on riding lessons. That love never left me, though it took me until I was 40 to be able to afford my first horse. That one horse eventually became six, some of them rescue cases, who lived as free and happy a life as I could give them. I eventually got my own fields, and looked after them myself at home. Bliss. Of those six, I rehomed two as my marriage began to break down and I knew I was going to struggle to keep them all. The other four died one after the other. They’d come to me in their middle-age and they just grew old. I look back on their time with me and know that they were safe and happy, enjoying companionship and the freedom to be themselves. Dogs, also grow old and I lost my two elderly Labradors in the first two months of 2017. Suddenly, I had no four-legged friends and I grieved for them. But, to quote the beautiful hymn, ‘Love shall come again, as the wheat that springeth green.’ A week ago, I fetched home Georgia from a rescue centre. She is a Malinoise, a German shepherd type, who was found abandoned on the streets and taken to a shelter. She’s about two years old and an absolute sweetie. As I write this, she’s stretched out on her sofa beside me. Her sofa, note.

11. What can we expect from you in the future?

Future plans are The Wardrobe Mistress, which comes out as an eBook this June and in paperback this August. This story is set in a badly-damaged London theatre just after the war, people worn out from the struggle and wanting a bit of fun and glamour. Vanessa Kingcourt is trying to discover more about the father who abandoned her. He was an actor and when she was a little child, he introduced her to the beautiful Eva, who was the wardrobe mistress in the theatre where Vanessa now works. The story is in part Vanessa’s search for the truth about her parentage, and also her determination to create authentic costumes for a period play when every kind of material is in terribly short supply. It is a romance, of course. Alistair Redenhall, an ex-Royal Navy commander, now owns the theatre. He wants it to succeed as much as Vanessa does. He has no interest in falling in love, however, as he’s trying to pull his failing marriage together. Vanessa cannot compete with his glamourous, aristocratic wife, Fern, yet something about her demands his attention.
I’m planning also a sequel to my first novel, The Dress Thief, set in 1943 in occupied France and a contemporary thriller that has a whiff of the paranormal about it. I’m excited about both stories – the modern thriller will be very different to my previous novels. I won’t ever stop writing the historicals. In a way, that is a contract I made with myself as a history-obsessed child.

Giveaway


One very lucky reader of With Love for Books will receive a signed Fashion Vintage sketch (which will be mount on art board) and signed copies of The Dress Thief and The Milliner's Secret. A very lucky runner up will win signed copies of The Dress Thief and The Milliner's Secret. The signed books will be earlier editions with the original cover and titles.

a Rafflecopter giveaway
The winner will be notified by email and has 3 days to respond. All of our giveaways are international.

18 comments:

  1. Love reading historical fiction. The Milliner's Secret and The Girl Who Dreamed of Paris sound like must- reads.

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  2. I enjoy reading historical novels with a good story line to them and these both sound like they have that. :-)

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  3. What interesting books! I enjoy reading historical fiction set in Paris. Great interview. Thanks for sharing.

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  4. Love the sound of these books and the fact you are a beekeeper, my Dad keeps bees, so I'm a fan.

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  5. These sound like great reads, love the covers too

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  6. lovely interview, looks like a fab read xx

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  7. Thank you for your post,your review and introducing me to a new Author. Both books will both be on my TRL. Love these eras and time slip stories.
    Carol L
    Lucky4750 (at) aol (dot) com

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  8. I enjoyed the interview. The covers are lovely.

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  9. These books look amazing. Thanks for the chance x

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  10. I really enjoy books like this and these do look fantastic!!

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  11. Hats off to the Jazz Age...still my music of choice!

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  12. Such beautiful covers, and I love vintage fashion. I can't believe I've missed your books!

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  13. I love the covers! Gorgeous and elegant :)

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  14. Gorgeous covers and now added to my to be read list, keep up the great writing

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  15. Finally! More amazing historical fiction! Definitely going to read if I get the chance!

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  16. Thanks for sharing your thoughts. The book looks awesome and indeed you have talent, the sketch is a wonderful prize.

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  17. These books sound amazing! And I love those covers!

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