Book review: Wild Lavender by Belinda Alexandra

Wild Lavender byBelinda Alexandra
Wild Lavender byBelinda Alexandra

Author of a string of sweeping historical novels, Belinda Alexandra enjoys writing on a grand scale.

The daughter of a Russian mother and an Australian father, Alexandra’s novels are renowned for their passion, drama, intrigue and her vivid evocation of exotic locations like Shanghai, Barcelona, Florence and Moscow.

Immaculately researched and packed with fascinating social and cultural detail, these exciting, mesmerising books create vast panoramas in which a dynamic cast of characters play out their dramas amidst the turmoil of 20th century history.

Wild Lavender, the epic tale of a young girl’s rise from Provençal penury to European music hall stardom in the 1920s and 30s, and on through the ravages of the Nazi Occupation of France, sees Alexandra on cracking form.

The star of the show is Simone Fleurier, a naïve 14-year-old girl whose happy life on a lavender farm in the heart of Provence ends abruptly in 1922 when her father dies and she is sent to work for her curmudgeonly great aunt in the back streets of Marseilles.

Reduced to virtual poverty, Simone’s only escape from hardship are secret visits to the local music hall where she discovers her own talent for singing and dancing, and her dream to become a famous entertainer is born.

As she learns the tricks of her new trade and manoeuvres her way through the tears and tantrums of some of the music hall’s most famous faces, Simone slowly builds her own style and repertoire.

And when her career takes off and she moves to the grand music theatres of Paris, Simone’s meeting with wealthy businessman’s son André Blanchard becomes the catalyst for international success in decadent pre-war Berlin and jazz age New York.

When war threatens, Simone, now a star recognised throughout Europe, makes a decision that will lead to terrifying danger and yet ultimately prove that love, just like the lavender on her father’s farm, can grow in the least likely of places...

Wild Lavender is a feast of colour, romance, music and history, brimming with extraordinary people and places and packing a thrilling last quarter as the tensions rise to boiling point.

The perfect read as 2016’s holiday season approaches…

(Simon & Schuster, paperback, £7.99)