Willow Moss and the Lost Day (Starfell #1) by Dominique Valente

Starfell 1Title: Willow Moss and the Lost Day (Starfell #1)

Author: Dominique Valente

Genre: Fantasu

Publisher: HarperCollins

Published: 2nd May 2019

Format: Paperback

Pages: 304

Price: $16.99

Synopsis: The first book in the most spellbinding children’s fantasy series of the year, now in paperback, with beautiful black-and-white inside illustrations by Sarah Warburton. Perfect for fans of Cressida Cowell and Nevermoor.

Willow Moss, the youngest and least powerful sister in a family of witches, has a magical ability for finding lost things – like keys, or socks, or spectacles. Useful, but not exactly exciting…

Then the most powerful witch in the world of Starfell turns up at Willow’s door and asks for her help. A whole day – last Tuesday to be precise – has gone missing. Completely. And without it the whole universe could unravel.

Now Willow holds the fate of Starfell in her rather unremarkable hands… Can she save the day – by finding the lost one?

Step into Starfell, a world crackling with warmth, wit and magic, perfect for readers aged 8–12. Book 2 coming in April 2020!

~*~

Willow Moss is supposed to have magic like her sisters, but she’s not as powerful as the rest of her family. However, she does have a magical talent that is probably more precious than any other gift. She can find things.

One day Moreg Vaine, Starfell’s most powerful witch asks for Willow’s help to find Tuesday – an entire day from the preceding week has disappeared and without it, Starfell could meet a very dark fate that nobody wants to experience.

Willow’s journey takes her across the land of Starfell, accompanied by a rather irate kobold named Oswin, who berates her and offers advice throughout the novel. Willow’s journey is not easy though, and she must face many dangers, including the Brothers of Wol who do not like witches or anything that goes against what they believe in – reminiscent of the witch hunts of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. It is this conflict that drives the novel, and Willow is a character who will grow and learn across the series. At the same time, she will prove that she can do the things that everyone says she can’t do or shouldn’t do. Yet only Willow can find the missing Tuesday and set the world right and ensure that she still has a family and place to live at the end of her journey.

Girls being front and centre in books is taking off, and these days, they are occupying a myriad of role and personalities to appeal to all readers – they’re not just stereotypes or strong female characters who occupy a specific time and place in their story. Here, we have characters like Willow who are reluctant and unsure of what to do, they’ve been told things that are not true and are forced to confront these memories  and through doing this, they grow and learn that they are more than what everyone has been telling them they are.

Middle grade is an age group that is gaining a lot of traction, and this book is aimed at readers aged eight and older – and I think will appeal to readers of all genders. It is a wonderful book, and a really good start to a series that I am very keen to follow as each book is released. This is one of those books I picked up on a whim, because the story looked interesting, and I think it is one that many will enjoy regardless of age, and one that will be fun to read out loud as well.

Christmas in Paris (Miss Lily #3.5) by Jackie French

christmas in parisTitle: Christmas in Paris (Miss Lily #3.5)
Author: Jackie French
Genre: Historical Fiction
Publisher: HarperCollins
Published: 18th November 2019
Format: eBook
Pages: 104
Price: $14.99
Synopsis: Paris, Christmas Eve, 1933
For once it was an accident. Violette did not mean to kill St Nicholas. But there he was, with blood on the cobblestones, and a family waiting for the Christmas Eve miracle that would never come. And her own family expecting her to eat Christmas goose tomorrow at Shillings Hall in England.
Violette Jones had led a life of melodrama since being born in the middle of a war to an espionage agent. But even she had never had to face a bloodied St Nicholas, and somehow conjure three miracles for Christmas.
Another story for the many fans of the Miss Lily series.
~*~

Each year, a few months after the main Miss Lily book comes out, Jackie French releases a short story – a Christmas story about the characters that takes place in between the main books. Christmas in Paris takes place in 1933 in between book three – The Lily in the Snow, which ends in 1929 as the Great Depression begins and book four – Lilies, Lies and Love – which is out in the next few months and will pick up the story in 1936, around the time Edward VIII abdicates to marry Wallis Simpson. In Christmas in Paris, Violette, the orphan from book three, is the focal character, and when she stumbles across a dead Santa Claus, and a worried American, she must call on her family – Sophie, Miss Lily and her parents – to help her solve the mystery.

AWW2020Violette’s story is mostly told in the latest Miss Lily novel yet hinted at here. She has certainly changed a lot since we last met her, and she is growing nicely as a character and will I feel become one who will be important in the later books and will help Sophie. However, Sophie is in the background of this story as Violette manages to pull together three miracles to bring Christmas to those who are not having a good time. Violette still has that spark she had when we first met her, yet she seems to have put it to good use for those who are now her family, and for what is to come in the next book. Whilst it might not set up for the main novels, each of these books will still add to the series for avid Miss Lily fans, and they are amongst some of the only eBooks I read – alongside any for work, as I find shorter works easier to read on screen than longer works. And let’s face it – it’s Jackie French and her books are always ones I will read, or even listen to if I had the chance. Thank you for these books Jackie, the Christmas ones and all your books. I’ve been a reader of them for over twenty years, since year seven when I first read Somewhere Around the Corner – and I still have my original copy.

The mystery of the dead Santa Claus, replacing him and pulling off an event that will appeal to Americans and Parisians drives this short story, and is perfect to fill the wait in between each main Miss Lily novel, though a couple of them go back in time, much like some of the Miss Lily books go back and forth as needed. Each can be read alone, yet they work better as a series. In my mind they work best when read like this – though the eBook short stories are optional and not crucial to understanding the rest of the series:

1. Miss Lily’s Lovely Ladies (1902 to 1919)
2.With Love from Miss Lily (Christmas 1918 – Miss Lily #1.5 Short Story)
3. The Lily and the Rose (1919 – 1926)
4. Christmas Lilies (Christmas 1914 – Miss Lily #2.5 Short Story)
5. The Lily in the Snow (1929/1920s)
6. Christmas in Paris (Christmas 1933 – Miss Lily 3.5 short story) – this review
7. Lilies, Lies and Love (1936-) – yet to be released

I’ve read all that are out and have loved them all. I am keen for the next one. When reading historical fiction like this, I often find myself caught between knowing what is to come and hoping none of the characters are hurt, yet at the same time, hoping that what is dreaded does not come to pass, though it inevitably does. These books give women a voice in these histories, allowing them to speak about what they did and to highlight that much more went on during the wars and interwar period than the history books tell us. Jackie French has brought history to life, and in this book, has given people a moment of hope in a dark time in history – even if only for a day at Christmas.

Best books of 2010 to 2019

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In compiling this list, I had to go back to all my reading log lists – which I began in about 2006, and to date have over 1300 on my combined list. But in doing this, I discovered it was quite difficult to narrow things down to just a handful of ten or fifteen like Theresa did. In fact, there was one series that had one book a year from 2010 to 2019 that could have made up my entire list – but instead, it has comprised one entry as a series.

So, in no particular order:

The Matilda Saga (2010 – 2019)

The Matilda Saga began with A Waltz for Matilda in 2010 and ended this year with the ninth and final book, Clancy of the Overflow. It tells history from a different side – the voices often silenced based on race, gender, class or a combination of these, and other factors such as disability, and other experiences that are not always recorded in the history books. From 1894 to the 1980s, the series spans nearly one hundred years of changes in Australian society – from cars to Federation, to war and the social movements of the sixties and seventies. This is a series well-deserving of a place on this list.

Miss Lily series (2017-2019)

Miss Lily begins just before the outbreak of World War One and has taken us so far to the Wall Street crash of 1929, and the beginning of the Great Depression that would lead into Nazi Germany and another war that would see millions killed in concentration camps, and on the battlefield. With book four due out in 2020, this is a series I am watching keenly to see where it takes us and our beloved Sophie. The Miss Lily series also has three e-books set at Christmas, one of which I am yet to read.

Medoran Chronicles (2014-2019)

This has a place as a whole series because this is the series that got my blogging journey started seriously – when the publisher was looking for reviewers for the first book, Akarnae. I said I would, and from there, the blog grew, as did my love for the series, reviewing each subsequent book for Pantera Press over the years until the final one earlier this year, Vardaesia. From wonder to heartbreak, and everything in between, this series has it all, and the way certain aspects are executed are exceptional and done in a way that is heart-warming, heartbreaking, and very, very fitting for the characters.

Rowland Sinclair Mysteries (2010 – 2019)

Ahh, Rowly. I was introduced to Rowland Sinclair by the NSW Writer’s Centre when they were seeking reviewers with book two, and since then, have read the entire series and sent the reviews to Pantera Press. I am looking forward to reading more of these books as they come out. Poor Rowly has been through many beatings and been caught up in investigating many murders, attacks and with politics that are quite the opposite to his brother, Wilfred. Accompanied by sculptress, Edna, fellow artist, Clyde, and communist Jewish poet, Milton, Rowly travels the world and Australia during the turbulent 1930s as Europe hurtles towards yet another war, twenty years after the end of the war to end all wars.

Kensy and Max (2018-2019)

I have read all four available Kensy and Max books, and love them all. They’re fun, and engaging, and filled with danger, wonder, intrigue and friends. As spy kids, Kensy and Max – twins – are training with fellow students at Pharos, whilst trying to keep the kids who aren’t spies at school from discovering what they are up to, and travelling across the world on various missions. From London to Sydney, Rome and Paris, it seems trouble will always find Kensy and Max – but they will always manage to find a way out of it and get back to their family.

2010

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Now by Morris Gleitzman

2011

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One of Our Thursdays is Missing by Jasper Fforde

2012

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Bitter Greens by Kate Forsyth

2013

the wild girl

The Wild Girl by Kate Forsyth

2014

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The Sequin Star by Belinda Murrell

2015

the beasts garden

The Beast’s Garden by Kate Forsyth

2016

Magpie Murders by Anthony Horowitz

Barbed Wire and Cherry Blossoms by Anita Heiss

2017

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Beauty in Thorns by Kate Forsyth

2018

Pippas Island 2

Pippa’s Island: Cub Reporters by Belinda Murrell

2019

488 Rules

488 Rules for Life by Kitty Flanagan

Again, many of these are Australian authors, some with multiple entries but their books just stayed with me and wouldn’t let me rest, for a variety of reasons. Of course, some appeared on my list for this year – as the books for the year, but these are the ones that made deep impacts on me, and the ones I can actually remember being published in these years – some I wanted to include I wasn’t sure but I loved them anyway and may need to write something about other books I have enjoyed at some point when things calm down. As for the ones with entries in both – these were ones that had such impact, it was difficult to choose which book from the series to include.

So rather than one per year, I probably now have closer to up to five for each year, and many are fairly heavy in what they deal with, but some are lighter, and filled with humour. It was very hard to decide – I wanted to include everything possible! Okay, 2016 has two entries – but for very different reasons. Upon reading the reviews you will see why. So there you have it. The books that made the biggest impressions on me for many, many reasons over the past ten years. Some authors get multiple mentions – because they wrote books that had many impacts on me and they created worlds I never want to leave, and worlds I will have to revisit.

 

Best Books of….2019

Readings and Musings on all things books, Aussie authors and everything in between

As the year comes to a close, many in the book blogging and reviewing community, and the book community in general – radio shows, podcasts, authors – have been posting and recording about this. And let me tell you, it is hard, and often, so many good ones are left off, and to me, ranking them is just mean because how can you rank books? Especially all those ones that stayed with you.

I had hoped 2019 might be easier to start with – not only do I have the list with me now, but for 2010-2019 I need to go back into other lists and hope I have those records. Or at least be able to work out what books I read that were published between those dates. 2019 seems to be the easiest place to start – as I have that list easily at hand for now. Out of 196 read so far, I found fourteen I loved – and the majority are by Australian women. Of course, these are in no particular order of favouritism, simply the order I read them throughout the year as that was easier to copy across.

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Vardaesia by Lynette Noni

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The French Photographer by Natasha Lester

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Kensy and Max: Undercover by Jacqueline Harvey

women to the front

 Women to the Front: The Extraordinary Australian Women Doctors of the Great War by Heather Sheard and Ruth Lee

the blue rose

The Blue Rose by Kate Forsyth

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While You Were Reading by Ali Berg and Michelle Klaus

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Kensy and Max: Out of Sight by Jacqueline Harvey

there was still love

There Was Still Love by Favel Parrett

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Rebel Women who Changed Australia by Susanna de Vries

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The Glimme by Emily Rodda

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Weapon by Lynette Noni

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Pages and Co #2: Tilly and the Lost Fairy Tales by Anna James

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The Lily in the Snow by Jackie French

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Clancy of the Overflow by Jackie French

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All the Tears in China by Sulari Gentill

Even though we still have two weeks left in December, I’m trying to get as many of these posts ready as possible – with my full wrap up posts appearing at the very end of the month or early in the new year, as well as the start of all my reading challenges in 2020 as well.

Choosing best of lists is always hard – there are often so many good books, but this year I went with the ones that stood out for me. Some that did were published earlier than 2019 and will possibly make it onto the 2010-2019 list – which of course, is bound to be longer and have entire series on there as I simply cannot choose only one from each year. It feels like a betrayal to a whole series to do that!

So there you are – for once I was able to choose fourteen favourites!

 

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass by Lewis Carroll, MinaLima Design (Illustrator)

alice in wonderlandTitle: Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass

Author: Lewis Carroll, MinaLima Design (Illustrator)

Genre: Fantasy

Publisher: HarperCollins Australia

Published: 21/10/2019

Format: Hardcover

Pages: 320

Price: $39.99

Synopsis: Lewis Carroll’s beloved classic stories are reimagined in this deluxe illustrated gift edition from the award-winning design studio behind the graphics for the Harry Potter film franchise, MinaLima-designed with stunning full colour artwork and several interactive features.

Originally published in 1865, Lewis Carroll’s exquisite Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland & Through the Looking-Glass have remained revered classics for generations. The story of Alice, an inquisitive heroine who falls through a rabbit hole and into a whimsical world, has captured the hearts of readers of all ages. Perhaps the most popular female character in English literature, Alice is accompanied on her journey of trials and tribulations by the frantic White Rabbit, the demented and terrifying Queen of Hearts, the intriguing Mad Hatter, and many other eccentric characters.

Lewis Carroll’s beloved companion stories Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass are reinvented on one volume by the talented design firm MinaLima, whose fey drawings of some of Western literature’s most famous characters will delight and enthrall, In addition, they have created interactive features exclusive to this edition, including:

  • Alice with extendable legs and arms
  • The rabbit’s house which opens to reveal a giant Alice
  • The Cheshire cat with a pull tab that removes the cat and leaves the cat’s grin
  • A flamingo croquet club that swings to hit the hedgehog
  • A removable map of the Looking Glass world

This keepsake illustrated edition-the sixth book in Harper Design’s series of illustrated children’s classics-will be treasured by for years to come.

~*~

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass have been enjoyed by readers all over the world since their publication in 1865 and 1871 respectively, and began what is now known as the Golden Age of Children’s Literature, where books for children moved away from didactic religious and educational tracts, and into a world of fantasy and imagination, of nonsense and fairies, and characters who did the most unimaginable things as they moved between the real world and worlds of fantasy and imagination, doing things they’d never have done prior to Alice entering the world.

Originally, the first time Alice was published, Sir John Tenniel illustrated the books, and these will always be my favourite illustrations for this book – so far, no others have come close. These are the ones cemented in my imagination. However, the MinaLima Design book is exquisite and fun – its interactivity and bright colours make the story just as engaging as the Tenniel illustrations and for me, come a very close second in my favourite depictions of Alice. Whilst there is a whimsy in the Tenniel ones, these ones have a bigger sense of the nonsensical aspect of Wonderland, and what it brings to the world of children’s literature.

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass are two books that have been loved for over a hundred years, never out of publication, and loved for many reasons. It is their nonsensical nature that is appealing, as it draws the reader into a world where anything can happen, and where nothing makes sense, even as Alice tries to make sense of it. Things get more and more ridiculous as time passes, and as she meets each character from the Cheshire Cat to the Mad Hatter and the chess game in Through the Looking Glass.

Where most editions have standard illustrations – either in black and white or colour, depending on who the illustrator or illustrators are – this edition has colourful illustrations on each page, as well as interactive elements – a growing Alice, maps, a Humpty Dumpty that can be revealed by sliding a tab, and many more that make reading this edition a bigger adventure than reading any other edition. It makes it fun, and I admit that I did savour this edition for this reason – so I could enjoy every aspect of it, whereas reading my original Tenniel illustrated one would be devoured within a couple of days.

This is perfect for all ages – to be read to, or read alone, and to share with people of all ages this Christmas and beyond. This is a story that has a special place in the history and creation of the world of Children’s Literature, and is one I could probably write an essay on. I loved this edition and these MinaLima editions are beautiful.

 

Christmas Lilies by Jackie French

Christmas LiliesTitle: Christmas Lilies

Author: Jackie French

Genre: Historical Fiction

Publisher: HarperCollins Australia

Published: 15th November 2019

Format: eBook

Pages: 48

Price: $2.99

Synopsis: Paris,Christmas 1914

Despite her love for Huw, Elspeth will not give up her espionage work while World War One rages. She will wear his ring around her neck, and marry him when the war is over.

But a pregnant unmarried woman cannot, officially, work either. Sent on a secret mission into occupied Belgium, and unable to contact Huw, Elspeth begins to realise she is risking not just herself, but also her unborn baby. As danger escalates, will there ever be a joyous Christmas for Elspeth, Huw and their child?

For those who love the Miss Lily series, this is a story about the ‘army of women’ who played such a major role in World War One, but were left out of official histories. It is also a story of a love so strong it will survive until the chance to bloom again.

~*~

The war everything thought would be over by Christmas still rages across Europe, scarring the fields of France and Belgium throughout the bitter, cold months. In Paris, Elspeth, and Huw, meet up. Here, Huw wishes for her to marry him. Yet Elspeth, part of an espionage network linked to Miss Lily, does not want to give her spy work up. So in a compromise, she promises to marry him at the end of the war.

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However, discovering she is pregnant, Elspeth heads into occupied Belgium on a secret mission, where she soon realises her unborn baby is at risk as well, and danger escalates over the months of her pregnancy. What will a dangerous mission mere weeks after giving birth to her child mean for Elspeth and those around her?

Continuing the stories about the ‘army of women’ who played a major role in the events of the war, yet were left out of the official histories, Christmas Lilies gives these women a voice. Where the first Miss Lily Christmas story takes place during the first peacetime Christmas since 1913, one of hope that the world will right itself, this one has a sense of despondency and danger as well as hope. The hope that the war will end is coupled with the danger the characters face, and the uncertain despondency of when the war will end, how it will end and who – if anyone – in Miss Lily’s circle, will survive.

These books are a little extra for fans to read in between the main books – which explain much of what occurs in these ones as well, so far, so not all need to be read. Astute readers of all may pick up on things in this one and book three – regardless of which order we have read them in. This made putting some pieces together fun, and intriguing, and of course, added to the mystery the pops up in The Lily in the Snow at the start, which of course, is resolved by the end.

The novella is out later this year, and I am looking forward to reading and reviewing it here over November or December – when it is released. Once I have read that, I will be up to date with Miss Lily until the next book comes out, which should be next year, and I am very keen to read it and find out what happens.

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The Lily in the Snow (Miss Lily #3) by Jackie French

The Lily in the SnowTitle: The Lily in the Snow (Miss Lily #3)

Author: Jackie French

Genre: Historical Fiction

Publisher: HarperCollins Australia

Published: 1st April 2019

Format: Paperback

Pages: 480

Price: $19.99

Synopsis: The world is at war, and women are working, often behind the scenes, in areas from nursing to espionage. And despite their many successes, these are the women the men don’t see.

Unimaginable danger creeps ever closer to Miss Lily and her loved ones . . .

Amid the decadence and instability of Berlin in the 1920s, a band of women must unite to save all that is precious to them.

With her dangerous past behind her, Australian heiress Sophie Higgs lives in quiet comfort as the Countess of Shillings, until Hannelore, Princess of Arneburg, charms the Prince of Wales. He orders Sophie, Nigel – and Miss Lily – to investigate the mysterious politician Hannelore believes is the only man who can save Europe from another devastating war.

His name is Adolf Hitler.

As unimaginable peril threatens to destroy countries and tear families apart, Sophie must face Goering’s Brownshirt Nazi thugs, blackmail, and the many possible faces of love.

And then the man she once adored and thought was lost reappears, and Sophie will be confronted by the girl intent on killing the mother who betrayed her family in the war: Miss Lily.

The third book in the Miss Lily series, The Lily in the Snow is a story filled with secrets that also explores the strength of friendship and the changing face of women in this new Europe.

 

~*~

 

The third book in the Miss Lily series starts moving into the end of the 1920s, with the looming economic crisis that will become The Great Depression, affecting the whole world, and creating the foundations for the Nazi regime of the 1930s and 1940s in Germany. Sophie and Nigel have not seen Miss Lily for many years – and their twins, Rose and Danny, who are nearly three. They are living their lives when a young girl named Violette – claiming Lily Shillings is her mother. Her arrival disrupts Shillings just as Hannelore and David, Prince of Wales, start trying to get Sophie, Nigel and Miss Lily to meet with the politician, Adolf Hitler. Forced into a trip to Germany, Sophie, Nigel, and their family are drawn into a world of espionage, Brownshirts, anti- Semitism and various other ideas about what Hitler called “degenerates” through blackmail, as people question Miss Lily’s absence amidst political and economic turmoil.

Sophie’s ideas of love will be tested as she grapples with love for home, love for family, and love for those who have shaped her life since before the Great War. During their travels, the man Sophie loved during her time in Australia after the war reappears. Sophie is caught between all these people she has loved – and what everything she is facing in Europe and the coming threat from Germany will mean for her.

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As the Miss Lily series moves through the twentieth century, the politics of the time start to shape what the characters do and who they are. Sophie has changed since she first arrived at Shillings in 1913 – in many ways. She has fallen in love, is married and is a mother to beautiful twins. But she’s still not content to sit back and let men tell her what to do. She is determined to see if she can help convince David to pull his support from Hitler, and not support the National Socialist party of Germany, to prevent another war. She wants to convince Hannelore that Hitler is not going to help Germany. Helping Violette is important too – and Violette was a really lovely addition to this series – there were lots of things I loved about her as she grew into her role in Sophie’s life, and the way she at first, came across as impulsive and dangerous, but once she had a home and security, she proved her loyalty to Sophie, Green and the rest of the Shillings family over their time in Germany.

I have loved the Miss Lily series since it first came out a few years ago, and I am working my way through the Christmas stories as well – with a couple to go to read and review. These novels approach the first half of the twentieth century – so far up to the start of the Great Depression – through the lens of the women of the era and what they did – and the stories that are untold. Many people know women served in various ways on the home front or as nurses in World War One, but what is less known is the role of women as spies, collecting intelligence and tracking troop movements, or blowing up bridges. These women were known as La Dame Blanche – and would use knitting to send codes and messages – which is woven throughout the Miss Lily novels intricately. It is these actions that helped defeat Germany.

In this novel, Jackie French delves into the dark, horrifying mind of Hitler and Nazi ideals – repeating them for context, and distinctly showing Sophie and Nigel’s discomfort and unease with these ideas – as Nigel is both Nigel and Miss Lily – comfortable as both, it seems, and they support Doctor Hirschfeld, who tells them about his theories about sexuality and gender, and identity and acceptance. It is these ideas, and Nigel/Miss Lily – that are an example of what Hitler dislikes – and the results are heartbreaking. We know what is to come, and we know what happens within ten years of this novel closing. These conflicting ideas show how one man can twist a country to believe what he tells him, and how he can alter so many lives – and take the world in an entirely different direction than if he had perhaps been stopped, if the ideas of someone like Dr Hirschfeld had been allowed to flourish beyond the secrecy Sophie and Nigel witnessed in 1929.

Economic turmoil is present in this book too across Europe, and this unease is always at the back of everyone’s minds as they settle into relative peacetime – and work towards preventing another war. As Sophie plans to take her family back to Australia, she prepares to protect those closest to her. Even as she does this, there are still some secrets that are kept from her – all for her own protection, she is told. These secrets drive the novel, and there are hints towards things coming in the next book. It is interesting reading these books in hindsight, knowing what happens, and what is to come, and wanting to warn the characters. Ever astute though, Sophie can see what must be done, with the knowledge she has. And Jackie French has cleverly managed to combine what she knows with what her characters would have known or felt they would have known in the 1920s to create a realistic world and one that I can’t wait to get back to when Sophie Vaile returns next year.