Miss Lily’s Lovely Ladies by Jackie French (Miss Lily #1)

Miss Lily 1Title: Miss Lily’s Lovely Ladies

Author: Jackie French

Genre: Historical Fiction

Publisher: HarperCollins

Published: 27th March 2017

Format: Paperback

Pages: 524

Price: $29.99

Synopsis: A tale of espionage, love and passionate heroism.

Inspired by true events, this is the story of how society’s ‘lovely ladies’ won a war.

Each year at secluded Shillings Hall, in the snow-crisped English countryside, the mysterious Miss Lily draws around her young women selected from Europe’s royal and most influential families. Her girls are taught how to captivate a man – and find a potential husband – at a dinner, in a salon, or at a grouse shoot, and in ways that would surprise outsiders. For in 1914, persuading and charming men is the only true power a woman has.

Sophie Higgs is the daughter of Australia’s king of corned beef and the only ‘colonial’ brought to Shillings Hall. Of all Miss Lily’s lovely ladies, however, she is also the only one who suspects Miss Lily’s true purpose.

As the chaos of war spreads, women across Europe shrug off etiquette. The lovely ladies and their less privileged sisters become the unacknowledged backbone of the war, creating hospitals, canteens and transport systems where bungling officials fail to cope. And when tens of thousands can die in a single day’s battle, Sophie must use the skills Miss Lily taught her to prevent war’s most devastating weapon yet.

But is Miss Lily heroine or traitor? And who, exactly, is she?

~*~

AWW-2018-badge-roseSophie Higgs lives in Australia at Thuringa, in 1913. Her father runs a corned beef empire, and Australian women have had the vote for eleven years, unlike the women in England, who are still fighting for suffrage. Sophie’s father sends her across the seas to Shillings, where, alongside women from the upper echelons of European society and royalty, Sophie will be taught by the mysterious Miss Lily about society, and how to behave at dinner, how to talk to men and captivate them, how to flatter them, and how to speak about topics that are said to be not right for a woman to know about. But Sophie is a bit of a challenge – the “colonial” who is outspoken and questions everything she is told. Miss Lily takes Sophie under her wing and sets about preparing her for a society life where she can fit in yet still be who she is. As 1914 inches towards war between Germany and England, Sophie must decide who she can trust. Emily, who has always been aloof and focussed? Or Hannelore, a German princess who is friendly but determined that Germany will win any war that breaks out on the continent. As war breaks out, and the Lovely Ladies head home or get married, Sophie is adrift, but determined to make a difference. With the Australians joining the call to duty and heading to Gallipoli, Sophie helps Alison turn her home into a hospital for injured soldiers. As soldiers die, and babies are born, Sophie is drawn further into the war, and across the seas to the battlefields of Ypres and Flanders, where she recounts her tale to a soldier out on the fields, before they head off the battlefields, where the war slowly wraps up, and Sophie finds herself looking to an uncertain future in the inter-war years.

In Miss Lily’s Lovely Ladies, Jackie French does not shy away from the horrors of war or the expectations of pre-war Georgian society. The dangers are present, and spoken about, openly and in veiled terms. When Sophie speaks about the threat of war openly. it surprises many, but she finds some men who find relief in not having to curb their chit-chat too much. Like her other novels, Jackie French is telling the stories that have been silence, or relegated to the quieter corners of history, away from the victories of those on the battlefields. whose voices are always heard. The extensive research she has done to uncover these stories is exemplary, and shows just how deep Australian history is, and how much we often miss out on in history lessons.

Sophie’s story ends with a few threads dangling, as a good series does, leaving some mystery for the books to com. The power of friendship felt more important than the romance in this book, though both were present. The romance was woven throughout nicely, so it didn’t overpower what Sophie was trying to do in the war, or her relationship with Alison and the other Lovely Ladies. I had a delightful surprise to meet Midge MacPherson from A Rose for the Anzac Boys again, and I hope she’ll come back in the next book.

The friends that Sophie made throughout the war became important to her, unable to return home because of the threat of enemy attacks, she treasured those she became friends with. As it is a story about war, I felt the deaths and consequences were dealt with realistically and sympathetically, showing the changes in Sophie over the war that altered her perception of herself and the world. I thoroughly enjoyed Sophie’s journey and look forward to it continuing, as I did with Miss Matilda and the Matilda Saga.

An excellent addition to my Jackie French Library, and a great read for fans of the author and historical fiction.

This marks off another square in my book bingo, and will be included in my next post in two weeks time.

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Draigon Weather: The Legacies of Arnan Book One by Paige L. Christie

Draigon Weather cover_for promotion (1).jpegTitle: Draigon Weather: The Legacies of Arnan Book One

Author: Paige L. Christie

Genre: Fantasy

Publisher: Prospective Press

Published: 3rd October, 2017

Format: Paperback

Pages: 352

Price: AU$32.75 (Booktopia) US$15.95

Synopsis: The brutal, drought-bringing heat that arises from the colossal, near-mythical Draigon, is a fell portent, heralding the doom of a bad woman.

When Leiel’s mother is sacrificed to the Draigon to relieve the terrible drought, Leiel is marked by the shame brought to her family. She must leave school, relegated to a new life of servitude.

Cleod, the woodcutter’s son, is Leiel’s closest friend. To avenge Leiel’s mother, he vows to rise above his station and join the Ehlewer Enclave, an elite society famed for training men to kill Draigon.

The friends’ lives take different paths. Cleod struggles with divided loyalties as he learns he cannot be a Draigon hunter while remaining a friend to a tainted woman. Leiel seeks forbidden knowledge and old secrets, placing herself in danger of sharing her mother’s fate.

When Draigon Weather returns to the land, Cleod has the chance to fulfil all his promises—both to Leiel and to his new masters, the Ehlewer. But as the rivers choke on their own silt and heat cracks the earth, the choices the two friends made begin to catch up with them, for what plagues Arnan is more than just a monster.

~*~

A copy of this book was sent to me by the author for review.

Leiel Sower is a girl in a place threatened by what they cannot understand – educated women. She attends school, despite disapproving looks, and is educated at home by her mother, Ilora. For several years of her childhood, Leiel is happy, she has a friend, Cleod, and they both have dreams. Until the day the Draigon Weather comes, and Leiel’s mother is sacrificed to the Draigon to relieve a drought that has plagued Arnan for too long. In the years that follow, Leiel and Cleod’s lives take off on different paths. While Cleod trains to be one of the few who can fight the Draigon, Leiel’s life becomes one of servitude to her brothers, Gial and Klem, and her father. The return of Draigon Weather brings Cleod back, hoping to fulfil his promise to Leiel to make sure she doesn’t meet her mother’s fate – but they must face more than just the Draigon that plagues Arnan.

I love a good fantasy story, and one that focuses on friendships between women and between the main male and female characters is always of great interest. Showing these relationships between Gahree and Leiel, Leiel and Cleod and Elda, Torrin and Leiel play a large part in the story, and how Leiel relates to her world and her family, and what drives her. Leiel is a character who does not let her circumstances and status in her family and society define her. She fights against it, subversively, and makes her voice heard, even though it is often overruled, she finds comfort and power in making herself heard, even if her brother, Klem, refuses to listen to her, she has a partial ally in Gial and a friend in Cleod, and the other women in her life, \who understand the struggles she is facing.

The world of Arnan is also complex, where certain classes and men are valued over other classes and women, and where everyone seems to publicly accept the rules, but subversively, and within the rules of the world around them, try and rebel and change it from within. It is a world of tradition, but tradition that needs to be broken apart and rebuilt, in a world where certain behaviours mean you’ll be sacrificed to a hungry Draigon.

I was contacted by the author to read and review this book after she found my blog and was asked to read and review this book. I gladly did, and I enjoyed Leiel and Cleod’s story. I particularly enjoyed the focus on friendship and platonic love over romantic love, and the strong female characters who don’t let anything keep them down and stay true to themselves. It is a story about the power of friendship, and the subversive powers that society sees as a threat and challenge to the status quo of Arnan, not realising what the people that the Council looks down upon can contribute. The bonds of friendship throughout this novel were strong, and enduring until the end, and the last pages gave a nice set up for what is to come in book two.

This is a very enjoyable read for lovers of fantasy, dragons, and those who like their relationships between all characters to unfold and develop into friendship and bonds that cannot be broken. I hope the questions Cleod had at the end will be answered soon.

 

 

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Book Bingo Three: A book by someone over 60, a book by an author you’ve never read before.

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In my third book bingo posts of the year, I have two books to report on – a book by an author I have never read before, and a book by someone over sixty. Both of these books have already been reviewed on my blog, so I have linked back to the longer reviews in this post.

oceans edgeSquare seven, a book by an author I have never read before has been filled by The Secret’s at Ocean’s Edge by Kali Napier, and it is Kali’s debut novel, and draws on family history and the geography of Western Australia to craft a story that is filled with ups and downs, and characters who are flawed and complex. It is a story about family, and sacrifice, and the lengths that some people will go to so they can protect family, and hide secrets that threaten those they care about. Set in the Great Depression, it shows a side to Australian history and life often not heard about in history books and draws on issues of Aboriginality and how the government defined this during the 1930s, injecting some of the hidden history not taught in schools into the novel. I enjoyed this debut, and hope Kali writes more.

My next square checked off is a book published by someone over 60. Eventual Poppy Day eventual poppy dayby Libby Hathorn (b 1943) fits into this square. Eventual Poppy ay is another story inspired by family history, in this case, a family link to the battlefields of World War One and what would become known as Remembrance Day and Anzac Day, where poppies would become the symbol of a generation lost to the ravages of war. It flicks between the story of Maurice in the war, and his great-great nephew in the twenty-first century, trying to find his place in the world. It is a moving story that gives a sense of what the war was like, the suffocating trenches and the feelings of helplessness during the stalemates.

Both of these were historical fiction as well, as I feel many of my books this year will be. Keep an eye out for my next post in two weeks time with more updates.

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The Wicked Cometh by Laura Carlin

the wicked cometh.jpgTitle: The Wicked Cometh

Author: Laura Carlin

Genre: Historical Fiction, Literary Fiction, Mystery

Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton, Hachette Australia

Published: 13th February, 2018

Format: Paperback

Pages: 343

Price: $29.99

Synopsis: Even in the darkest of times, you cannot bury the truth . . . A debut historical novel that will appeal to fans of Sarah Waters and THE ESSEX SERPENT.

THE WICKED COMETH will take readers on a heart-racing journey through backstreets swathed with fog to richly curtained, brightly lit country houses; from the libraries and colleges of gentlemen, to sawdust-strewn gin palaces where ne’er-do-wells drink and scheme, all told through the eyes of a heroine with nothing to lose. 

The year is 1831.

Down murky alleyways and in filthy hovels, acts of unspeakable wickedness take place and vulnerable people begin to disappear from the streets. Out of these shadows comes Hester White, a young woman who is desperate to escape the slums by any means possible.

When Hester is thrust into the world of the aristocratic Brock family, she leaps at the chance to improve her station in life under the tutelage of the mysterious Rebekah Brock. But both she and Rebekah are lured into the most sinister of investigations as whispers from Hester’s old life return to poison the present. Something is lurking in the black heart of their city, and it is more depraved than either of them could ever imagine . . .

~*~

Every city has its secrets, and so do the people who live in them. Hester White is run over by the cart of an aristocrat and injures her ankle. The gentleman, Calder Brock, insists on taking her back to his family home to heal, and she is soon turned into a project, for Calder’s mysterious sister Rebekah, whose indifference is off-putting, but the whispers about missing maids and girls are more concerning. Hester’s life in hovels and alleyways has changed now that she is in the Brock home, but the dangers that the maids and servants whisper about girls who have disappeared without a trace, and Hester knows she must find out what has happened, or potentially meet the same fate the others did. Initially afraid of Rebekah, Hester runs to save her life, only to discover the dark and dangerous truth about people she thought she could trust.

In her life, Hester, the narrator, has seen two Londons: the rich, opulent one of the Brocks, and the slums she lived in, the parsonage she grew up in. Through Hester’s eyes we see how her experiences being poor and rich affect her, and her ability to move between the two worlds is effective, especially as the novel is told in first person. When Hester is talking about Rebekah, there are hints that it is more than respect and friendship, but I felt that this grew and developed over the novel and complemented the mystery nicely. Hester’s father regaled her with stories about his travels. building up an ideal London in her young mind. Orphaned at eleven, Hester is living with an alcoholic Uncle Jacob, and her Aunt Meg, who encourages her to leave to save herself from the rage of Jacob.

When Calder takes her in to prove even those from the gutter can be educated, much like Henry Higgins tries to prove with Eliza in Pygmalion, Hester assumes a persona of ignorance, though she has been taught to read and write by her father. The mystery slowly unfolds, and towards the middle of the story, it starts to move faster than the beginning as Rebekah and Hester undertake their own investigations and try to stop the dark disappearances. The slow beginning acts as a deceptive set-up, lulling the reader into a false sense of security before slowly chipping away at this feeling through maid’s whispers and Hester’s doubts as she tells the story. This is used effectively to begin the mystery, which soon becomes the main story, and the relationships develop as the mystery goes on. I quite enjoyed the mystery, though it was quite dark, and disturbing, but highlighted the depravity that exists in society, and the lengths that people will go to in order to hide this depravity and present a respectable front to society.

Hester’s narration allows the reader to see it all through her eyes, and experience her confusion, her guilt and the feelings she is unsure about that bubble to the surface when she is around Rebekah and thinking about her. It has elements of friendship and romance, and finding one’s own identity, and the development of this evolves with the mystery. It was nice to see a relationship develop over time and not be instantaneous, and get equal attention to a rather dark and intriguing mystery that took the characters through the shadows of London.

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Adelaide Writer’s Week 2018

The third of March, 2018 marks the beginning of the six-day festival of authors and writing in Adelaide, South Australia. Eighty-Four Australian and international authors will attend the event for a variety of talks, across a diverse range of authors, books and genres to discuss literature and how the world impacts the stories we tell. The Adelaide Writer’s Week is part of the Adelaide festival that celebrates art and culture.

This celebration allows the community to engage with authors and the arts, and with each other. The various events will appeal to people of all ages and in all groups.

Hachette Australia has several Australian and international authors attending, and they are as follows, with the works they had published by Hachette last year:

Mark Brandi, author of Wimmera, appearing at the Small Towns event on the 3rd of March, 2018 at 3.45pm – East Stage Pioneer Women’s Memorial Garden. Wimmera was published in 2017, and tells the story of Ben and Fab, and the body that is found twenty years after summer in 1989, and the mystery that unfolds. It is one I am yet to read and hope to do so soon.

terra nulliusClaire G. Coleman author of Terra Nullius, a speculative fiction that looks at the effects of colonisation, and displacement in a suggested future where humankind has been colonised and invaded by aliens. It draws parallels to the effects of real world invasion and colonisation on Indigenous populations, and it was an interesting read, as it started out as what felt like historical fiction, but the reveal half way through was quite a surprise, and admittedly, took some getting used to. It was an interesting read though, and one that will hopefully start conversations or make people think about the issues it draws upon. Claire will be appearing at 2.30pm on the 7th of March, West Stage Pioneer Women’s Memorial Garden.

Thomas Mullen, author of Lightning Men, The Revisionists, and Darktown, will attend three events: American South, on the 3rd of March, East Stage Pioneer Women’s Memorial Garden, at 2.3opm, Making history, East Stage Pioneer Women’s Memorial Garden, at 12pm on the 5th of March and Darktown, at 10.45am on the 6th of March at the East Stage Pioneer Women’s Memorial Garden.

Louise Penny, author of Still Life
, Dead Cold, The Cruellest Month, The Murder Stone
, The Brutal Telling
, Bury Your Dead
, A Trick of the Light
, The Beautiful Mystery, How The Light Gets AWW-2018-badge-roseIn, The Long Way Home, The Nature of the Beast, A Great Reckoning, and Glass Houses ­– the Inspector Gamache series, will be attending two events on the 4th and the 5th of March: Glass Houses at 9.30am on the 4th of March, at East Stage Pioneer Women’s Memorial Garden, and Into the Woods on the 5th of March at 5pm, at the East Stage Pioneer Women’s Memorial Garden.

see what i have doneAnother Australian Author published by Hachette attending will be Sarah Schmidt, author of See What I Have Done, a fictional retelling of Lizzie Borden and her murdered parents, planting seeds of doubt and suggesting that there may have been other suspects, but not coming to any full conclusions, and working with the evidence provided from research. A strange and intriguing read, it gives insight into the people behind the history, as historical fiction aims to do. Sarah will be appearing with Thomas Mullen at Making History on the 5th of March at 12pm, at the East Stage Pioneer Women’s Memorial Garden.

Much-loved Scottish author, Alexander McCall-Smith, whose extensive backlist, including the latest in the No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency Series, The House of Unexpected Sisters, has been published by Hachette, will also be attending. The main event he will be attending will be Love and Tartan, on the 8th of March at 5pm, at the East Stage Pioneer Women’s Memorial Garden. The House of Unexpected Sisters is book eighteen of the No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency.

Sarah Winman, author of Tin Man, A Year of Marvellous Wats and When God Was a Rabbit will also be attending and taking part in two events. She will be attending Friends on the 3rd of March at 9.30 am at the at the East Stage Pioneer Women’s Memorial Garden. and Tin Man on the 5th of March, at 9.30 am at the at the West Stage Pioneer Women’s Memorial Garden.

Links:

http://artsreview.com.au/2018-adelaide-writers-week-program-announced/

https://www.adelaidefestival.com.au/writers_week_blog/

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Australian Children’s Laureate 2018-2019: Morris Gleitzman

In 2008, The Australia Children’s Literature Alliance was formed as an independent and not-for-profit organisation that champions and promotes “the transformational power of reading in the lives of young Australians.” The ACLA is inclusive, representing the spectrum of the field of children’s and young adult literature. The vision and mission of the ACLA is:

ACLA’s vision is to: enrich the lives of young Australians through the power of story. 

ACLA’s mission is to:

  • Promote the value, importance and transformational nature of reading

  • Influence the reading habits of Australian families

  • Raise the profile of books in the lives of children and young adults

  • Champion the cause of young Australians reading.

The organisation’s primary activity is developing and managing the Australian Children’s Laureate Program, established based on the successful implementation of similar programs in the UK, the US, with programs in Finland, Holland, Ireland, Mexico, Sweden and Wales as well.

The Children’s Laureate is an Australian author or illustrator of books for children and/or young adults, and in particular, someone who has made a significant contribution to the canon of Australian Children’s Literature and is appointed on a biennial basis. The inaugural year, 2012-2013 – was shared by two well-loved authors, Alison Lester and Boori Monty Pryor.

In 2014-2015, Jackie French took the mantle. She has authored over 140 books, including The Matilda Saga and the iconic Diary of a Wombat.

 

Leigh Hobbs held the mantle for 2016-2017.

And the Australian Children’s Laureate for 2018-1019 is Morris Gleitzman. The theme for his term is Stories Make Us – Stories Create Our Future. Morris has written celebrated books for the youth market for over thirty years including Two Weeks With the Queen, and the Felix Series, stating with Once.

In a world where our attention is divided by many different means of technology, it is comforting to know that there are those passionate about championing books for children, and showing the power of books to teach, to heal, to help us understand the world around us. Keep an eye on the included links for more information on what Morris gets up to this year.

More information about the role and how it is selected can be found here:

Further links and interviews:

http://readingtime.com.au/cbca-book-year-younger-reader-acceptance-speech-morris-gleitzman-author-soon/

http://www.morrisgleitzman.com

http://www.abc.net.au/news/2018-02-12/morris-gleitzman-on-why-kids-need-books-author/9421494

http://www.smh.com.au/entertainment/books/australias-new-childrens-laureate-morris-gleitzman-hopes-to-inspire-children-in-dark-uncertain-world-20180207-h0vr05.html

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The War I Finally Won by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley

the war I finally won.jpgTitle: The War I Finally Won

Author: Kimberly Brubaker Bradley

Genre: Children’s/YA, Historical Fiction

Publisher: Text Publishing

Published: 2nd October 2017

Format: Paperback

Pages: 400

Price: $19.99

Synopsis: Like the classic heroines of literature, Ada wins our hearts as she continues her World War II adventures after the Newbery Honor–winning The War that Saved My Life.

When Ada’s clubfoot is surgically fixed at last, she knows for certain that she’s not what her mother said she was—crippled in her mind as well as in her body. But who is she, she wonders?

Ada and her brother, Jamie, are living with their guardian, Susan, in a cottage in the English countryside, on the estate of the formidable Lady Thorton and her daughter, Maggie, Ada’s dearest friend. Life in the crowded cottage is tense. Then Ruth, a Jewish girl from Germany, moves in. A German? Everyone is horrified. Ada must decide—where do her loyalties lie?

The War I Finally Won is the marvellous conclusion to Ada’s powerful, uplifting story.

~*~

Ada’s life has changed since she ran away from home, where her mother kept her locked up and punished her for being born with a club-foot. Living as an evacuee with her brother, Jamie, and their guardian, Susan, Ada’s journey is not yet complete. Though she has had her foot fixed, and she now knows she is not what her mother said she was, she must find a way to discover who she is. As the war comes closer to British shores, Ada and Jamie’s lives alter significantly, and many changes uproot their lives. When Lady Thorton moves in with them because her home is commandeered for the war effort, Ada feels the safety and comfort she has begun to get used to feel threatened. Only Maggie’s presence and Susan’s understanding seems to calm her through times of turmoil and worrying about Jamie and feeling like she still has to take care of everyone. Soon, Ada becomes accustomed to having Maggie’s mother around, because it means Maggie gets to visit for school holidays. But when Ruth, a Jewish girl from Germany arrives, Ada is caught between loyalty to those she loves and fiercely protects and welcoming another young girl who has been forced out of her home and away from all she loves. Soon, Ada discovers a way to be who she is and help Ruth adjust. It is a war she must fight within herself, whilst another war rages on outside – discovering who she is and overcoming the horrors of her past to find peace.

In the wonderful and touching conclusion to Ada’s story, The War I Finally Won, has Ada still struggling with her mother’s words, but finding ways to cope with her anxiety around events she is unfamiliar with. Kimberly Brubaker Bradley has taken a devastating war and used it as the backdrop to personal wars – Ada, Mrs Thorton and Susan – and tenderly dealt with disability, both physical and mental, wars, death, love and loss, all through the eyes of an orphaned child during World War Two, and her brother, who can see and accept love for what it is – though Ada’s struggle to love easily is part of the story, and her vulnerability and confusion are ever-present.

Each character in the story is fighting a war. They are all involved and connected to World War Two – as evacuees, as hosts, as a mother and wife to a husband and son who are fighting in the war, a war of loss and of love, and identity wars, to find who they are in a new and frightening world. When the safety Ada is getting used to is threatened, she feels the war anew, and it is Lady Thorton who steps in to help her through it. Ada finds that in this new place in Kent, she has people who care about her: the Thortons, Maggie, Ruth, and Susan – she has always had Jamie, who does what he can to help his big sister throughout both books.

Like the first book, this one dealt with what are difficult themes in an eloquent and thoughtful way, approaching it so that readers of all ages can understand what is going on at their level and through their experiences. Through these characters, the personal and physical war is experienced in different ways, and learning to love and understand others is a key theme in the book.

With a satisfying yet realistic ending, The War I Finally Won is a great way to end Ada’s battle.

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