Two New Books

Well, I didn’t catch up by the end of the year, but I’m working on it. Here are two 2020 releases (if nothing else, the year did produce some good books!) I’ve enjoyed in the last couple of months.

In Lowcountry Boughs of Holly, number ten in Susan M. Boyer’s Liz Talbot series, Liz and her partner (and husband) find themselves investigating the death of a Santa Claus murdered during the annual Christmas celebration on their island home of Stella Maris. Since the tiny Stella Maris police force has no detective bureau, Liz and Nate are on call to fill in, in the unlikely case that their services are needed.

There’s no doubt as to the identity of Santa Claus, despite the fact that his wallet, watch, cell phone and red Santa gift bag are missing when the body is discovered in a rowboat washed up on the shore. Liz and Nate know C.C. Bounetheau—they’ve worked for him before, and the experience left them no desire to work with his wealthy and prominent (but decidedly unpleasant) Charleston family. What on earth was C.C. doing on Stella Maris in the first place? It might have been a robbery gone wrong, but a whole list of possible motives—and suspects—quickly turn up.

Meanwhile, Nate is planning a blow-out Christmas trip for the whole family—Liz’s parents, her sister and brother, and their spouses—but he won’t tell anyone where they’re going. Or, Liz worries, how he’s going to pay for a trip for eight over Christmas.

Lowcountry Boughs of Holly involves old family secrets, a few more recent puzzles, and a wandering reindeer named Claude. It’s another excellent entry in a series I have enjoyed very much.

Natalie Meg Evans’ The Paris Girl is the sequel to The Secret Vow. The books follow the lives and loves of Katya and Tatiana Vytenis, born Russian princesses, refugees from the Russian revolution, now deeply involved in the fashion industry in Paris. When The Paris Girl opens, it’s 1923, Tatiana is engaged to a marquis and working as a mannequin for Maison Javier, in which Katya is a partner. But some terrible truths about her fiance’s family send Tatiana’s life spinning in an unexpected and frightening direction. Spoiled and self-obsessed as the novel begins, Tatiana grows up at last, but it’s not easy.

I’ve enjoyed several of Evans’ novels, but my favorites are set in Paris and in the fashion industry. The Dress Thief is set in the late 1930s, as the characters wait for the beginning of war, and The Milliner’s Secret in the early years of World War II. A few supporting characters tie the books together, although only The Secret Vow and The Paris Girl are closely related.

If you enjoy deeply emotional historical fiction and an amazing sense of time and place, pick up anything by Natalie Meg Evans. You won’t be disappointed.

Two Historical Fictions

Natalie Meg Evans returns to Paris and the world of high fashion in The Secret Vow, but this one is set a generation earlier than her previous novels, opening in late 1918 as Katya (Princess Ekaterina Ulianova Vytenis) and her family run from the Russian secret police, targeted as aristocrats and Tsarists. Katya heads for Paris, where some cousins have already emigrated, with her unstable but determinedly aristocratic mother Irina, her angry younger sister Tatiana, and her older sister Vera’s infant daughter Anoushka.


Rescued from total disaster in Sweden by Harry Morten, a British/Swedish businessman, Katya and her family arrive in Paris to find a situation far different from what they expected. The Russian emigres in the city are struggling, the money Katya’s far-sighted father invested in France seems out of reach, and Katya’s mother slips into a drug-hazed depression.


Katya, however, has a spine of steel, not that she recognizes her own strength, and she talks her way into a seamstress position, discovering along the way that Harry Morten runs his textile business from an office in Paris.


Evans makes the reader feel as though she’s actually visiting Paris in the wake of the First World War, as Katya encounters a variety of characters, some inclined to help her, others only out for themselves—and sometimes it’s not easy to tell them apart. If you’ve read Evans’ earlier books (and I urge you to do so), particularly The Dress Thief and The Milliner’s Secret, you may recognize a character or two in The Secret Vow, as their younger selves sneak into the story. The Secret Vow is a great entry into Evans’ world of historical fiction.


Miss Kopp’s Midnight Confessions is the third book in Amy Stewart’s series following the adventures of Constance Kopp, a real woman who did indeed make law enforcement history in New Jersey in the early twentieth century. Constance and her very different sisters, Norma and Fleurette, are fascinating characters, making their way as independent single women in a time and place when that was not at all easy.


In this book Constance, now deputy sheriff (and jail matron), finds herself dealing with the problems on the women under her care. Some of them have indeed committed crimes, but girls who have done nothing worse than leave their parents’ home for a job and a room in a boarding house can be thrown in jail and sentenced to years in a reformatory at the whim of parents, police, and judges. Constance sees no justice in this, an attitude which just might trip her up when Fleurette decides to spread her wings.


Stewart’s research is as thorough as possible (don’t skip her “Historical Notes and Sources” at the end of the book), and nearly all the characters in the book are based on real people, wonderfully fleshed out, from the young women accused of immoral behavior to the theater troupe that fascinates Fleurette.

Natalie Meg Evans: The Wardrobe Mistress

Natalie Meg Evans’ latest novel is The Wardrobe Mistress, set in London shortly after the end of World War II. Vanessa Kingcourt, lately released from wartime service in the WAAF, her art college studies long ago disrupted by the war, returns to London for the funeral of the father she hasn’t seen since she was a small child. From that afternoon in the cemetery she finds her life intersecting with that of Commander Alastair Redenhall, a Naval officer married to Vanessa’s childhood friend, and a mysterious woman who was an associate of Vanessa’s father.


The Wardrobe MistressRedenhall has inherited the theater where Vanessa’s father was working when he died, and hopes to reopen the damaged building and restore it to a working stage. Vanessa, driven by family mysteries and a hopeless attraction to the Commander, manages to land a job as the theater’s wardrobe mistress, a job she’s not at all qualified for.


Vanessa is a determined protagonist, drawn into the world of the theater by curiosity about her father, a small-time actor who abandoned her and her mother for life on the stage, held there by her growing love of both the theater and Redenhall. People from her past and from the theater company, all of whom knew her father in one way or another, contribute clues in her search for the truth about her family.


The shadow of war and constant danger hung over Evans’ previous novels, The Dress Thief and The Milliner’s Secret, set in Paris just before and during World War II. Without that element, The Wardrobe Mistress moves at a slower and somewhat less compelling pace. But it evokes the fascinating world of the theater (probably even more so for those more familiar with the works of Oscar Wilde than I am), and of a time when divorce was scandalous and very difficult, when homosexuality was a crime, and when nearly everything was rationed.


Natalie Meg Evans’ novels, from the British publisher Quercus, are available as ebooks from Amazon, and on paper from the Book Depository in the UK (good prices and free shipping anywhere).


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