Isolation Publicity with Kirsty Manning

 

the lost jewelsDue to recent events, many Australian authors have had to cancel book launches and festival appearances. For some, this means new novels, series continuations and debut novels are heading into this scary, strange world without much publicity or attention. The good news is, you can still buy books – online or get your local bookstore to deliver if they’re offering that service. Buying these books, talking about them, sharing them, reading them, reviewing them – are all ways that for the next six months at least, we can ensure that these books don’t fall by the wayside.
Over the next few months, a lot of us will be consuming some form of art – entertainment, movies, TV, radio, music, books – the list goes on. It is something we will be turning to take our minds off things and to occupy vast swathes of free time. One of the things I will be doing to support the arts, and specifically, Australian Authors, will be reading and reviewing as many books as possible, conducting interviews like this where possible, and participating in virtual book tours for authors.

The second interview in this series is with Kirsty Manning, author of The Midsummer Garden, The Jade Lily and The Lost Jewels. Kirsty, like many authors who have book releases over the next few months, and festival appearances, Kirsty has had these cancelled for the foreseeable future due to the current pandemic. In an attempt to help, I am interviewing those who have taken me up on the offer, and I’ll be throwing in a couple of bookish podcasts as well along the way. So, here is Kirsty’s interview.

Hi Kirsty and welcome to The Book Muse

1. When you set out to write The Lost Jewels, how did you find out about the Cheapside Jewels that form the backbone of the novel and its mystery?

A little over three years ago I was in the final stages of researching and writing my last novel set in Shanghai in World War Two—The Jade Lily—when I stumbled across an extraordinary newspaper article that completely knocked me off track.

It was a review of an exhibition of 500 priceless pieces of Elizabethan and Tudor jewelry–The Cheapside Hoard–that was on display at the time at the Museum of London, and I paused to read it. Who doesn’t love a diamond?

Naturally, I put aside the manuscript I was supposed to be writing and started to research everything I could on this shiny new topic. I found out what I could.

As my imagination took flight … the same questions haunted me: how could someone neglect to retrieve 500 precious pieces of jewellery and gemstones? Why was such a collection buried in a cellar? Who did all these jewels belong to? Why did nobody claim this treasure in the subsequent years? Who were the workmen who actually discovered the jewels in an old London cellar at Cheapside in 1912?

No-one knows the answers to these questions.

2. I really enjoyed this novel – you seem to capture the essence of both time periods you focused on. What do you like about writing a dual timeline story, and do you think it creates a more intriguing plot?

I love diving into different worlds, and it keeps it interesting when you are writing … if I get stuck on one plotline, I can jump across to the other!

I think a dual narrative can create intrigue if cleverly crafted, because the reader often knows the outcome for historical sections, and that expectation creates an added layer of drama in the text.

3. How much research did you do for this novel, and what was the most interesting thing you had to research?

I spent about a year researching this book before I started on the manuscript proper, noodling about with characters, timeframes and places.

I write about three eras of London, the 1600’s, 1912 and present day. For the 1600’s I read plenty of contemporary texts, like Shakespeare (who was writing at this time) and the diary of Samuel Pepys—the philandering public servant who kept a diary of his life in London at the time, including the Great Fire. He was the guy who buried wine and a block of parmesan cheese in his London garden—resolving to return to for it after the fire had passed. That’s my kind of correspondent!

Before I set off to London, I visited the breathtaking Cartier exhibition in Canberra. I was guided by a jeweller, who not only talked me through the design and setting, but what it took to facet an emerald—stones so fragile they splinter—and the flaws in a sapphire that make them so special. The best part, perhaps, was a replica of a goldsmith’s room, complete with the leather that folds across the lap, anvil and polishing stones. It wasn’t hard to imagine talented artisans sitting at tables just like these in Antwerp, Amsterdam, Milan, Paris and London hundreds of years ago, just like they do today. Later, I’d go on to visit jewellers in Melbourne and London, who’d show me to their tiny workspaces before pulling out diamonds, sapphires and gold bands from secret leather pouches and spreading them across the desktop to catch the light.

London is perfect for steeping yourself in history. I visited with my teenage son, Henry, and together we took tours with historians tracing the path of the Great Fire, visited the buildings, churches and monuments designed by Wren—who clearly loved a dome. We walked the streets of the East End learning about all the suffragettes were doing in 1912, and took a turn about the Burough Market and Dickensian London.

We spent the best part of a day at the Museum of London learning about fires, plague and revolutions, as well as suffragettes and life in Edwardian London. The Museum of London is also home to the Cheapside Hoard (although it is currently in storage) so I saw some replica jewels and stocked up on reference books.

I struck it lucky at the British Museum, where a sympathetic curator opened up a room containing some of the buttons and jewels allegedly from the Cheapside Hoard and it blew me away. To be in that room in London, looking at pieces with rubies and sapphires from Sri Lanka, diamonds from India, and emeralds from Colombia all set in exquisite gold rings and buttons, crafted in London when it was the centre of the exploding trading world. The Victoria and Albert Museum also has a fine selection of jewels, and the Natural History Museum is great for seeing real gemstones up close in the rough.

4. I had never heard of jewellery historians before this book – what do you think the best thing about being a jewellery historian would be?

Unravelling the true stories and mysteries behind a hand-crafted piece. The story of a jewel tells a bigger story of trade and globalisation, design trends, economics and politics. I try to show how many hands pass over a jewel—from origin to purchase in The Lost Jewels. A jewel changes someone’s life every time they come into contact with it, then either pass it on to a loved one and sell it on. There are stories with each handover.

5. I found moving between the key moments in the history of the jewels to be effective – was this a conscious decision or did it evolve while you wrote the novel?
A bit of both! I wanted to give the reader a sense of the hands that pass over a jewel, from origin. And I had an idea of the history, but it is all speculative … so I wove that in with my own narrative.

6. I love the way you centre women in your stories – do you feel that by doing this, you are contributing to a previously ignored historical record?
Yes indeed. The Lost Jewels is my imagined tale woven between the facts. I love bringing to life forgotten pockets of history—in particular, women’s voices that have long been overlooked or dismissed. For me, a novel begins between the gaps of history. I build my world on the bits we don’t know.

London was in turmoil in 1912—on the brink of war—with women marching in the street demanding the vote. Both these eras seemed ripe for fictionalising, placing strong, interesting women at the forefront of each story.

As for Kate, my main contemporary character—I’m in awe of the research of historians, curators and conservators around the world. They tenderly dive into our past to give us stories for our future. To teach us lessons, to give comfort and warning where needed. This is my love letter to their important work in libraries, museums and galleries around the world.

7. Do you have a favourite bookseller? Why this one in particular?
The Avenue Bookshop in Albert Park – because I can walk there! I also love New Leaves, in my former home-town of Woodend because a country bookshop keeps a country town engaged and inspired.

8. What is your favourite thing about the literary and writing community in Australia?
The camaraderie. Australia is awash with literary talent and in Melbourne I’ve made connections with writers who will be friends for life.

9. Books are always important. But in times of crisis, they can be a great comfort to people. For you, which book brings you comfort no matter how many times you read it?

To Kill a Mockingbird … always

10. You’re involved in the arts community in Australia – how do you think the arts will help people through the next few months?

If history teaches us anything, it is the power of the human spirit to be optimistic and rebuild after tragedy. Now is the time to contemplate what is really precious. It is the perfect time to celebrate art and beauty—also a time to read and reach for topics that bring a little hope and sparkly magic to our lives.

11. Favourite writing or reading companion – cat, dog or both?

My new puppy, Winter.

12. How long do you like to spend researching a book before you write those first words that begin the story?

About a year. But the research never stops until the story is done.

13. What are you going to be reading during this isolation period, and do you have any recommendations?

American Dirt by Jeanine Cummins.

14. Finally, what is your next project going to be about?

A mystery set between the French Riviera and Germany …

March 2020 Round Up

March was a strange month – it started out as normal as could be, though we knew about the coronavirus, and then a few weeks into March, everything changed, and by the end of it, they had changed again with strict social distancing rules. Despite this, I got a lot of reading done. My stats are:

20 books read overall
11 read for the Australian Women Writers Challenge
8 for the Nerd Daily Challenge
1 for the Dymocks Reading Challenge
1 for the STFU Reading Challenge
1 for Book Bingo
1 for Books and Bites Bingo

Overall stats so far:

The Modern Mrs Darcy 9/12
AWW2020 -26/25
Book Bingo – 10/12
The Nerd Daily Challenge 40/52
Dymocks Reading Challenge 12/25
STFU Reading Society 5/12
Books and Bites Bingo 11/25
General Goal – 51/165

Most of these books have been reviewed on my blog.

 

March – 20

Book Author Challenge
Esme’s Gift Elizabeth Foster AWW2020, Reading Challenge, The Nerd Daily, Dymocks Reading Challenge
Friday Barnes: Girl Detective R.A. Spratt AWW2020, Dymocks Reading Challenge, The Nerd Daily, Reading Challenge
The Last Firehawk: The Cloud Kingdom

 

Katrina Charman The Nerd Daily, Reading Challenge
Christmas in Paris (Miss Lily 3.5)

 

Jackie French Reading Challenge, AWW2020
The Lost Future of Pepperharrow Natasha Pulley The Nerd Daily, Reading Challenge
The Paris Secret Natasha Lester The Nerd Daily, Reading Challenge, Book Bingo, AWW2020
Museum Kittens: The Midnight Visitor Holly Webb The Nerd Daily, Reading Challenge
Firewatcher Chronicles: Phoenix Kelly Gardiner Reading Challenge, AWW2020, STFU Reading Challenge
The Lost Jewels Kirsty Manning The Nerd Daily, Reading Challenge, AWW2020
The Girl She Was Rebecca Freeborn Reading Challenge, AWW2020, Books and Bites Bingo
Ninjago: Back in Action Tracey West Reading Challenge,
Layla and the Bots: Happy Paws Vicky Fang Reading Challenge
Friday Barnes: Under Suspicion R.A. Spratt Reading Challenge, AWW2020
Daring Delly: Going for Gold

 

Matthew Dellavedova and Zanni Louise Reading Challenge,
Aussie Kids: Meet Katie at the Beach 

 

Rebecca Johnson and Lucia Masciullo Reading Challenge, AWW2020
Aussie Kids: Meet Eve in the Outback 

 

Raewyn Caisley and Karen Blair  Reading Challenge, AWW2020
The Besties Make A Splash Felice Arena and Tom Jellett Reading Challenge
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them JK Rowling/Newt Scamander Reading Challenge
Liberation 

 

Imogen Kealey The Nerd Daily, Reading Challenge
The Year the Maps Changed

 

 Danielle Binks Reading Challenge, AWW2020

 

Onto April and hopefully lots of reading during these trying times.

The Lost Jewels by Kirsty Manning

the lost jewelsTitle: The Lost Jewels

Author: Kirsty Manning

Genre: Historical Fiction

Publisher: Allen and Unwin

Published: 31st March 2020

Format: Paperback

Pages: 336

Price: $32.99

Synopsis: From the bestselling author of The Jade Lily comes a thrilling modern-day treasure hunt brimming with family secrets.

Inspired by a true story, The Lost Jewels unfolds an incredible mystery of thievery, sacrifice and hope through the generations of one family.

In the summer of 1912, a workman’s pickaxe strikes through the floor of an old tenement house in Cheapside, London, uncovering a cache of unimaginably valuable treasure that quickly disappears again.

Present day. When respected jewellery historian, Kate Kirby, receives a call about the Cheapside jewels, she knows she’s on the brink of the experience of a lifetime.

As Kate peels back layers of concealment and deception, she is forced to explore long-buried secrets concerning Essie, her great-grandmother, and her life in Edwardian London. Soon, Kate’s past and present threaten to collide and the truths about her family lie waiting to be revealed.

~*~

Kate Kirby is busy with her work as a jewellery historian when she receives a call from London about the Cheapside Jewels, a treasure trove of jewels discovered in 1912, that disappears from the worksite it is found at. What follows is a story that moves back and forth between 1912, the present day, and London in 1666, just after the plague and during the Great Fire, and India, where the jewels have moved from hand to hand and been lost to history.

Kate’s great-grandmother, Essie, appears to know something, but has never spoken of her life in Edwardian London, and soon Kate finds that the present and the past are about to collide as she investigates where the jewels are and where they came from, and what happened to them whilst wondering if there is a connection to her family.

Essie’s story, and that of her younger sister, Gertrude, runs parallel to Kate’s story, and slowly, the hints at what has happened come out as the story evolves, and the mystery of the jewels is revealed.

AWW2020I have read a few books lately that move between the past and present – each in very different ways, yet each work very well to tell these stories.  In this one, each story is told in third person, and each year and chapter is clear titled, so we know who is speaking at the time to the reader. This makes it easy to follow, and more intriguing – as just as the story gets somewhere in one era, there is a cliffhanger as it shifts to another so that the pieces can be put together.

It also explores the complexities of families and the secrets that impact the lives they lead. It shows how one generation impacts those that come later, and at the same time, explores friendship and love, and new beginnings. Again, this is a book where the love story bubbles beneath the surface, and where the mystery of the jewels is drives the story more.

The Cheapside Jewels, or the Cheapside Hoard and its discovery in 1912 really did happen – I looked it up and found a fascinating series of sources – too many to list here, some were videos, and this gives a great gravitas and grounding in history to the novel, and it was something I had never heard of before. Kirsty Manning captures history and her characters, with clear voices and personalities throughout. I found Essie to be a very interesting character – and quite possibly my favourite, although I do like the idea of Kate’s job – it sounded so interesting!

I recommend this book to people who enjoy historical fiction and who have read Kirsty’s previous books. It is a great book, filled with mystery, intrigue and drama, and I hope people enjoy it.

 

The Paris Secret by Natasha Lester

the paris secretTitle: The Paris Secret

Author: Natasha Lester

Genre: Historical Fiction

Publisher: Hachette

Published: 31st March 2020

Format: Paperback

Pages: 460

Price: $32.99

Synopsis: A wardrobe of Dior gowns, a secret kept for sixty-five years, and the three women bound forever by war… from the New York Times bestselling author of THE FRENCH PHOTOGRAPHER.

England, 1939
 Talented pilot Skye Penrose joins the British war effort where she encounters her estranged sister, Liberty, and childhood soulmate Nicholas Crawford, now engaged to enigmatic Frenchwoman Margaux Jourdan.

Paris, 1947 Designer Christian Dior unveils his extravagant first collection to a world weary of war and grief. He names his debut fragrance, Miss Dior, in tribute to his sister, Catherine, who worked for the French Resistance.

Present day Australian fashion conservator Kat Jourdan discovers a secret wardrobe filled with priceless Dior gowns in her grandmother’s vacant cottage. As she delves into the mystery, Kat begins to doubt everything she thought she knew about her beloved grandmother.

An unspeakable betrayal will entwine all of their fates.

THE PARIS SECRET is an unforgettable story about the lengths people go to protect one another, and a love that, despite everything, lasts a lifetime.

~*~

Skye Penrose dreams of flying and following in the footsteps of her mother and Amy Johnson – yet when war breaks out, and all civilian flying is grounded, Skye finds another way to help the war effort with the ATA – transporting planes between bases for repairs and when they need to be turned into scrap metal. During her tenure doing this, she is reunited with her childhood friend from Cornwall, Nicholas Crawford, and the sister she hasn’t seen since she was eighteen – Liberty. Skye then meets Margaux Jourdan, and from here, it weaves in and out of World War Two as Skye and her fellow pilots fight for their right to fly, fight discrimination and eventually, find that they have to hide their own secrets as the novel progresses and the war heads further and further into darker days and eventually, towards the end.

In between the stories of Margaux, Skye and Nicholas and those they work with, is the 2012 story of Kat Jourdan, Margaux’s granddaughter, who uncovers a trove of Dior dresses in her grandmother’s Cornwall home, and a link to the well-known designer. It is here that she starts unravelling Margaux’s past when Elliott Beaufort starts asking questions about a Margaux Jourdan, an ATA pilot and SOE agent who helped the French Resistance and survived imprisonment and escaped. As Kat delves further into the mysteries with Elliott, and finds out about Skye, Margaux, Nicholas, and Liberty, she begins to question what she knows.

AWW2020The novel weaves in and out of the years leading up to World War Two, World War Two, the years just after the war and 2012, telling the reader and Kat the story as it moves along – as though Kat is reading the diaries of those from that time. Each part and perspective is richly brought to life through all the senses and a range of emotions as the war lurches on, and Skye faces loss over and over again, in many ways, tearing her apart from what she knows.

Cleverly, Natasha Lester ensures that the reader does not get lost in the changing characters – each part is clearly marked as to whose story it is, and each part is told in third person, making the transitions seamless and at times, they feel like they are sitting side by side – as something in the past happens, it feels like it might relate to the future.

Fashion plays a big role in this book – the Dior dresses are key to Kat finding out who her grandmother really is, and what happened to Margaux, Skye and Liberty – and why Elliott is determined that Kat’s Margaux is the one he is looking for.

Natasha Lester does something amazing with her books – she puts female history front and centre – and makes this the focus of her book, and leads us gently, and delicately into the romance at the end – much like Kate Forsyth and Jackie French in their historical novels where women are front and centre. The story is about what the women did, and how they coped in the face of sexism and discrimination, and assumptions about what they could do. This is what draws me to these books – seeing the women like Skye as active participants in history and learning about topics and perspectives that I had never known about even with all my reading. These are perspectives that are not always shared widely and books like this give an introduction to this history and for me, a deeper and further interest in trying to find out more. The happy ending was great too – and left me with a huge smile on my face.

Natasha also drops her clues very carefully and cleverly, and I enjoyed trying to work out who was who with what I was given – a very nicely written mystery!

I hope all of Natasha’s fans enjoy this book when it comes out, as it covers so many things – war, friendship, family, and love of all kinds, and illustrates the complexities of history in an accessible manner.

Phoenix (Firewatcher Chronicles #2) by Kelly Gardiner

phoenix-coverTitle: Phoenix (Firewatcher Chronicles #2)
Author: Kelly Gardiner
Genre: Historical Fiction
Publisher: Scholastic
Published: 1st February 2020
Format: Paperback
Pages: 272
Price: $14.99
Synopsis: May 1941.
The German bombing campaign is reaching its fiery climax, and Christopher and the firewatchers battle against the flames and huge bombs through the worst night of the Blitz.
Christopher tries to go back to 1666; to find his new friends and learn more about the power of his phoenix ring.
Instead, he finds himself in a deserted city, overlooking a smaller, older river port town known as Lundenwic, where the Anglo-Saxon community faces an invasion by the dreaded Vikings.
Christopher must discover why the ring has brought him here, and how to get back to his own time. But there are Viking ships on the Thames, and their warriors threaten to burn the city and conquer the whole of England.
~*~

As the Blitz rages on, and Christopher’s father arrives home, injured and discharged, London will never be the same. As the war rages on and his mother volunteers to help fight fires instead of watching for the bombers, Christopher finds himself mourning friends and neighbours, in between attending school, watching for bombs and looking for treasures with his friends by the Thames. During one of these hunts, Christopher finds a pendant with Thor’s Hammer, that transports him back to the ninth century, where Vikings are threatening to invade the Anglo-Saxon settlement of Lundenwic. Whilst here, he encounters the Vikings, a girl named Elda and is thrust back and forth between their conflict, and German destruction of London. Christopher can’t stop the German bombs coming but he can find a way to stop the Vikings attacking an empty town.

As the novel moves back and forth between 1941 and at least a thousand years in the past, and hints at London’s history, and the layers of history that lie beneath the streets of modern London are hinted at in an accessible and exciting way for young readers, aged eight and older. Aimed at middle grade readers, it combines history, time travel, action, mystery and adventure, the second book in this trilogy alludes to what came before, and the role fire has played many times in shaping London and its history.

AWW2020I waited a long time for this book to come out, and I ordered it into my local bookstore and waited for it to arrive – and managed to read it within two days.
This is a trilogy worth reading – filled to the brim with amazing diverse characters – with disabilities, who aren’t white and the women in history – the Vikings, and Elda, Molly and Christopher’s mother and teacher – who are exceptional in many ways and do not fit the supposed gender norms or expectations of their times, or what history assumes they did. I loved this aspect of the book, and the hints at history we don’t know about – it opens it up for readers and leads them – hopefully – to researching it further. Because, how can we know what is out there if we don’t look and if there isn’t anything like this fabulous series to guide us? It certainly led me to looking up Saxon women, Lundenwic and Vikings – leading me down many research rabbit holes whilst writing this review.

This is one of my favourite middle grade trilogies – we have some fantastic authors in Australia writing for all age groups, and we should be supporting them as often as we can, if not all the time. When a novel like this combines history and time travel, and adventure, it makes history fun for kids, and can introduce concepts, ideas and knowledge that they may not get elsewhere or that become facts that are picked up because they are there. At the same time, this novel confronts ideas about gender and race in the 1940s, but briefly and is shown to illustrate that these ideas existed, but that they can be challenged and people can change their perceptions and attitudes, and prove that history is more complex than previously thought and even more complex than the way we are taught at school.

This is another reason these historical fiction novels when learning about history – they introduce a new side to history that is hidden in a variety of ways, and doing so through fiction makes it exciting and relatable. With the third book out later this year, I can’t wait to see how this trilogy ends.

The Bell in the Lake by Lars Mytting

bell in the lakeTitle: The Bell in the Lake
Author: Lars Mytting
Genre: Historical Fiction
Publisher: Hachette Australia
Published: 10th March 2020
Format: Paperback
Pages: 392
Price: $32.99
Synopsis: The first in a rich historical trilogy that draws on legend, by the author of NORWEGIAN WOOD and THE SIXTEEN TREES OF THE SOMME.
Norway, 1880. In the secluded village of Butangen at the end of the valley, headstrong Astrid dreams of a life beyond marriage, hard work and children. And then Pastor Kai Schweigaard comes into her life, taking over the 700-year-old stave church with its carvings of pagan deities. The two church bells were forged by her forefather in the sixteenth century, in memory of conjoined sisters Halfrid and Gunhild Hekne, and are said to have supernatural powers. But now the pastor wants to tear it down, to replace it with a modern, larger church. Though Astrid is drawn to him, this may be a provocation too far.
Talented architecture student Gerhard Schonauer arrives from Dresden to oversee the removal of the church and its reconstruction in the German city. Everything about elegant Schonauer is so different, so cosmopolitan. Astrid must make a choice: for her homeland and the pastor, or for a daunting and uncertain future in Germany.
Then the bells begin to toll…
Translated from the Norwegian by Deborah Dawkin

~*~

In Norway in 1880, society is changing. Astrid Hekne, the main character, dreams of a life beyond what society has in mind for her. That is, until she meets the new pastor, Kai Schweigaard to take care of an old church with pagan carvings. Here, the intersection of the old Norse ways from hundreds of years ago, and Christian traditions meet beneath the Sister Bells that Astrid’s ancestor made. They memorialise two conjoined Henke sisters. Astrid wants to try and stop their destruction.

Yet when a German architect arrives the plans to reconstruct it in Dresden are revealed. As their lives collide, and Astrid is forced into making a decision, the bells begin to tell and a fate that has been hanging over Astrid’s head begins to shape what is to come.

Told in three parts, each made up of multiple short sections or chapters, The Bell in the Lake was translated from the original Norwegian by Deborah Dawkin, and is a complex and lyrical story, exploring the lives of Astrid, Kai and Gerhard as they navigate the complexities of moving a church and how faith shapes a small community and the driving force of society to determine how people act and what is to come. Interspersed with Astrid’s story – a woman determined to be her own person and move ahead of her time, is the rich history of stave churches and what they meant to their societies. It is dense with history and plot, and many complexities that lead to an ending that was a bit surprising and needed a couple of reads to understand it, but it packed a powerful punch about the realities of the setting and how belief can be a powerful factor in what ends up happening to us.

The intersection of ancient and new religions – of a pantheon of gods versus a singular god, and how these two religions somehow came together – or how one more likely took over and appropriated another in order to convert those who were faithful to the older ways to a new, and what was seen at the time, more acceptable way of thinking. This mainly came through Kai and Gerhard but bubbled below the surface of the other characters and how their beliefs in older ways and legends informed how they wanted to live their lives.

The nineteenth century setting feels authentic – and the cold of Norway expressed throughout is biting and can be felt through the words, and there is a sense of isolation within the novel that Astrid longs to break away from. It is a unique novel and very dense with detail, character and setting – which work in this instance as it allows setting and character to be as important as the plot.

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.