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?

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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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Book Review and Giveaway: The Gum Nut Babies by May Gibbs

GB-CE.pngTitle: Gumnut Babies Centenary Edition

Author: May Gibbs

Genre: Children’s Literature

Publisher: HarperCollins Australia

Published: 1916, Centenary Edition 2016

Format: Hardcover

Pages: 272

Price: $39.99

Synopsis: Beautiful new Centenary edition to celebrate the publication of May Gibbs’s first book, Gumnut Babies, in 1916. May Gibbs’s marvellous creation – the Gumnut world, with its tiny heroes and heroines and deliciously villainous villains – has fascinated generations of children since its first publication in 1916. Gumnuts at the races, at the ballet, and dancing at balls are some of May’s exquisitely illustrated scenes that have delighted us all. This beautiful new edition has been produced to mark the centenary of Gumnut Babies and contains the stories of Gum-nut BabiesGum-Blossom BabiesFlannel Flowers and Other Bush BabiesBoronia BabiesWattle Babies, plus Nuttybub and Nittersing and Chucklebud and Wunkydoo. This is the perfect companion for The Complete Adventures of Snugglepot and Cuddlepie.

~*~

The Gum Nut Babies by May Gibbs are a staple of an Australian child’s literary diet, and they have been for over one hundred years. In this exquisite edition, each poem is reproduced with accompanying original artwork for each type of Gum Nut and Blossom baby, and the stories of Nuttybub and Nittersing, and Chucklebud and Wunkydoo are reproduced, as May Gibbs wrote them, for a new generation. In these stories, Nittersing and Nuttybub go on adventures around the bush, searching for each other, and enlisting the help of fellow animals against the Big Bad Banksia men, who try to destroy the peace of all the other animals and bush babies, whose fear of the Big Bad Banksia men is perhaps more than their fear of Humans, a threat that is heard about but not seen. Instead, they must find away to beat the Big Bad Banksia men, as must Chucklebud and Wunkydoo in their various adventures.

aww2017-badgeEach pair inevitably becomes separated and they battle the perils of the bush to find each other again in two charming stories, told by one of Australia’s most adored authors. At the back, there is a small biography of May Gibbs, a contemporary of Beatrix Potter of the Lakes District, and author of the Peter Rabbit tales. As I have mentioned in the other reviews for these books, so there will be some overlap, May Gibbs is Australia’s Beatrix Potter, both interested in conservation and their natural surrounds at a time of great change and upheaval in their countries, as the city of Sydney, in particular the area of Neutral Bay, grew up around Nutcote, where May Gibbs lived – her answer to Hilltop.

These books are delightful to read at any age, and I hope will continue to charm and capture the imaginations of children for many generations to come. They are the sorts of books that deserve to stay in print. Published during the last years of World War One, at a time when Gum Nut babies were also used as propaganda to show support for the war, and encourage patriotism in a time when it was waning. However, the Gum Nut Babies of these stories do not go to war, but off on grand adventures that children dream of heading off on.

As a child, these would have been amongst the first Australian stories I was exposed to, and have always been something I have loved. May Gibbs has taken the natural environment she knew and loved, and created a magical world that children and adults can escape to, and spend some time away from the trappings of modern life, and learn about various types of native wildlife and plant life in a fun and exciting way.

This post is part of the May Gibbs centenary celebrations, and the May Gibbs brand is running a giveaway for the next two weeks via my blog to win a copy of this book. Enter below and good luck!

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Buy the book here:

https://www.maygibbs.org/

To Love A Sunburnt Country by Jackie French (Matilda Saga #4)

to love a sunburnt country.png

Title: To Love A Sunburnt Country (Matilda Saga #4)

Author: Jackie French

Genre: Historical Fiction

Publisher: HarperCollins

Published: 1st December 2014

Format: Paperback

Pages: 466

Price: $29.99

Synopsis: In war-torn Malaya, Nancy dreams of Australia – and a young man called Michael.

The year is 1942 and the world is at war. Nancy Clancy left school at fourteen to spend a year droving, just like her grandfather Clancy of the Overflow. Now sixteen, Nancys family has sent her to Malaya to bring home her sister-in-law Moira and baby nephew Gavin. Yet despite the threat of Japanese invasion, Moira resists, wanting to stay near her husband Ben.

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But not even Nancy of the Overflow can stop the fall of Singapore and the capture of so many Australian troops. When their ship is bombed, Nancy, Moira and Gavin are reported missing.

Back home at Gibbers Creek, Michael refuses to believe the girl he loves has died. As Darwin, Broome and even Sydney are bombed, Australians must fight to save their country. But as Michael and the families of Gibbers Creek discover, there are many ways to love your country, and many ways to fight for it.

From one of Australias most-admired storytellers comes a gripping and unforgettable novel based on true events and little-known people.

This is a story about ultimate survival and the deepest kinds of love.

A book about a love of country that is heartwarming and heartbreaking, and hard to put down.

~*~

To Love A Sunburnt Country returns to the world of Matilda Thompson and Drinkwater, against the backdrop of World War Two and the impending Japanese threat as the Imperial Japanese Army takes over Thailand, Malaya and the impenetrable Singapore in their attempts to gain a foothold in the Asia Pacific region. Nancy Clancy, Jackie French’s imagined granddaughter of Clancy of the Overflow, is sent to Malaya to escort her sister-in-law, Moira, home before it is too late. Told through the voices of most of the women of Gibbers Creek – Nancy, Matilda, Flinty from The Girl from Snowy River, Blue and Mah from The Road to Gundagai, and a few men – Thomas and Michael Thompson, and Ben, Nancy’s brother, this is the first book in the saga that uses different perspectives for chapters, alongside the usual letters and excerpts from the Gibbers Creek Gazette that inform the history behind the fictional characters and location.

Again, Jackie French has employed strong female and male characters – the voices of war, and the home front. The soldiers, trapped by the enemy in savage prisoner of war camps, whose letters are interspersed and dangle a hook and bait of hope that they’ll all make it out alive, and the civilian prisoners of war in Papua, including Nancy, her sister-in-law Moira, and her nephew Gavin, trapped for years in a camp, starved, and suffering illnesses. It is a world that young Gavin grows up knowing – and a world that Nancy wishes she could have spared him from.

It is Nancy’s prisoner of war experience that is the focus – the silent struggles she goes through that only those around her can understand, and her ability to show some kind of respect to those who keep them prisoner, and earn privileges she uses to gather food, and start to plan an escape in the later years of war. The use of a voice of war, a female civilian prisoner of war, is what gives this novel its strength. Through history, we know much of the soldier prisoner of war experiences, and the experiences of soldiers, and of the home front, the Land Girls, but perhaps not always those left behind to wonder, to hope and to grieve. A silenced voice can be powerful in communicating a message. Jackie French has achieved this in a wonderful way throughout the Matilda Saga.

As a reader, I lived Nancy’s frustration at the stubbornness of Moira not wanting to leave Malaya until the last possible moment, her strength as she got them to the ship, and finally, her pain – physical, mental and emotional – that threatened to destroy her strength and the will to live. The camp Nancy endures is confronting yet I felt this was necessary to encapsulate just how many people were affected by Japanese invasions and not hearing about loved ones, the isolation and fear. It communicated a war story through an often-silenced voice, one not often written about – to give insight into how war can affect everyone.

I’ve said this before – Jackie French’s silenced characters give history depth and an understanding that may have previously been lost or ignored. It breaks down the barrier that what is recorded in the history books is not always the full story – and a little bit more digging can reveal untold stories and interesting facts we may not have known before.

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