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.

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

tilly 2.jpgTitle: Tilly and the Lost Fairy Tales

Author: Anna James

Genre: Fantasy

Publisher: HarperCollins Australia

Published: 24th September 20189

Format: Hardcover

Pages: 400

Price: $19.99

Synopsis: A magical adventure to delight the imagination. The curl-up-on-the-sofa snuggle of a series from a uniquely talented author.

Tilly Pages is a bookwanderer; she can travel inside books, and even talk to the characters she meets there. But Tilly’s powers are put to the test when fairytales start leaking book magic and causing havoc . . .

On a wintery visit to Paris, Tilly and her best friend Oskar bravely bookwander into the land of fairytales to find that characters are getting lost, stories are all mixed-up, and mysterious plot holes are opening without warning. Can Tilly work out who, or what, is behind the chaos so everyone gets their happily-ever-after?

The second enthralling tale in the bestselling PAGES & CO series.

~*~

Picking up a few weeks after the events of Tilly and the Bookwanderers, where Tilly’s mother returned, after being trapped in the pages of A Little Princess. As Bea adjusts to being back in her daughter’s life, the Underlibrarian, Amelia Whisper, is ousted and a new Underlibrarian, who wishes to create more authoritarian rules in the book wandering world, without thinking about how it will affect anyone, starts imposing his power. So just before Christmas, Tilly and her friend, Oskar, head to Paris to spend a few days with Oskar’s father. While there, Clara, Oskar’s grandmother, takes them to her friend’s bookstore:  The Faery Cabinet, owned by another bookwanderer, Gretchen Stein.

While there, Tilly and Oskar bookwander into a book of fairytales, where they discover a world fracturing and their book magic is leaking, causing havoc in the fictional world. After returning home, they discover an untoward plot to change fairytales and book magic. In an attempt to plug all the plot holes appearing, Tilly and Oskar will do whatever they can to find out who is behind it – but will they make it home for everyone’s happily ever after?

I started reading this series earlier this year and was hooked from the first chapter of the first book. I have loved it since discovering it, and with each book, a new library, and a new facet of literature and books is explored. Tilly’s favourite books are woven in again – especially Anne of Green Gables and The Secret Garden as she reconnects with her mother and her family works to reunite and maintain their love of books.

The magic in these stories are in their simplicity of the themes of family and reading, layered with the complexities of how different people react to books, words and the power of reading and words, and how they affect us or what they mean to us, whether spoken or written, and what each of these books means to each person who reads it.

Tilly and the Lost Fairy Tales delves further into the history and mythology or book wandering, and who can do it and how, and reveals more secrets about Oskar and other characters that were hinted at in the first book, but left to the imagination – now we have our answers to this, but still await explanations about why Tilly can take things out of the books she wanders in, but nobody else can – this is a mystery that will be fun to uncover in the coming books.

Readers of all ages and genders will love this series – and they are the kinds of books that can be devoured or savoured, or both, and one that I will eagerly be anticipating the next release of – seeing as I managed to pick up this one just after it had been placed on the shelf in my local bookstore! Looking forward to more adventures with Tilly and Oskar in the future.

Kensy and Max: Out of Sight by Jacqueline Harvey

Kensy and Max 4Title: Kensy and Max: Out of Sight

Author: Jacqueline Harvey

Genre: Adventure

Publisher: Puffin/Penguin Random House

Published: 3rd September 2019

Format: Paperback

Pages: 384

Price: $16.99

Synopsis: When does a secret become a lie? And how do you tell right from wrong when deception is all around you?

Kensy and Max are gearing up for their first Pharos review, a rite of passage with no room for failure. But juggling studies and the spy life isn’t without its complications. As the dust settles from their last mission, and family members find their place in the new world order, old tensions rise to the surface. There’s also the school play to prepare for – in rather different ways for each twin. However, the play soon takes a back seat as missing journalists and stolen objects see Kensy and Max embarking on a hair-raising ride to the City of Lights. Will they make it before it’s too late?

~*~

In the fourth Kensy and Max book, the twins are reunited with their parents, and back at school, training to become agents of Pharos. They’re facing their first review, whilst coming to terms with their family being reunited – their parents and their grandparents, as well as their other relatives. Not everything is okay though, and as Kensy and Max return to school, and become involved in the school play – Romeo and Juliet in very different ways, danger lurks behind every corner, and they are soon on their way to Paris to uncover a secret theft ring – and all in time to get back for their review.

Picking up soon after the events of the third book, Kensy and Max: Undercover, Kensy and Max: Out of Sight is filled with excitement, codes and adventure. We’re getting to know them better and getting to know their parents – which is exciting. Their mother, Anna, is keen to go back to a life without spies and Pharos and is making sure all her qualifications for her job are in order. A new teacher at school, Theo Richardson, seems to be too good to be true for many students – and new student from Australia, Blair, starts poking her nose into the Pharos sections of the Central London Free School. Is Blair up to something nefarious, or just curious and nosy?

2019 BadgeAs usual, Kensy and Max are drawn into a mystery – uncovering stolen objects and missing journalists and are determined to find out what has happened – even if it means breaking a few rules.

Kensy and Max get better with each outing. Best friends as well as siblings, they’re wonderfully different, and are not stereotypes – Kensy loves pulling things apart and seeing how they work and making drones – and this book is no exception. Max prefers a quieter, more bookish approach, and when they combine their skills, and work together and with their friends, they get the job done.

This time, Morse code is used in the book and for the chapter headings and being able to decode the different ciphers in each book makes them interactive and fun for readers. I also love that the female characters are able to do anything they set their minds to – and Granny Cordelia and her Ducati, and ability to turn anything into something amazing for her family to practice their spy skills makes her one of the most intriguing characters in the books. In this one, she is firm but encouraging with Kensy and Max when talking about their training and review and training at Pharos, and in true Granny Cordelia style, she has managed to expand their home at Ponsonby Terrace to avoid a repeat of the events of book three, and concocts a story to ensure nobody pries into why she did it.

This is just as exciting and fast-paced as the first three, with an exceptional and perfect set-up for the trip to Paris, allowing for all elements of the storyline to be touched on, and I am wondering if Blair will return and what she might be up to or if she’s just going to be an innocent bystander – it will be interesting to see what happens with Blair, and where Kensy and Max go next in their spy adventures with their friends and family, and who they will run into. Of course, it will be a surprise – and it’s fantastic that these books are so interconnected.

A great book for all ages, that I absolutely loved.

Cover Reveal: The Crimes of Grindelwald Screenplay

Releasing on the 16th of November, 2018, is the screenplay of the second part in the Fantastic Beasts series, The Crimes of Grindelwald,which will pick up where the first film left off two years ago, with the capture of Gellert Grindelwald by Newt Scamander and the MACUSA squad. However, Gellert has escaped and is on a quest to give power to pure blooded wizards over non-magical beings. Newt is enlisted by Albus Dumbledore to thwart these plans, and draw lines between loyalty and love, as they fight to save the wizarding world.

The cover of the screenplay (pictured below), hints at what is to come in the film and screenplay. As expected, the Deathly Hallows symbol is present, its significance known to fans of the Harry Potter books. The Eiffel Tower is present, signifying a move into the wizarding world of countries beyond the UK and Hogwarts and America, a few favourite magical creatures, and other symbols from the film. We will not know what these symbols mean until we see the film and read the screenplay.

crimes of grindewald cover reveal.jpg

MinaLima is the graphic design team behind the cover and the Fantastic Beasts series, and they have done a wonderful job of this cover as well as the previous one. They used the Art Nouveau aesthetic for this because of the centrality of France to the film and the iconography of the Eiffel Tower associated with France. Looking forward to reading this and seeing the film when they are released, and a review of the screenplay will appear on my blog later in the year.

Booktopia

Stars Across the Ocean by Kimberley Freeman

stars across the ocean

Title: Stars Across the Ocean

Author: Kimberley Freeman

Genre: Fiction, Historical Fiction

Publisher: Hachette Australia

Published: 26th April 2017

Format: Paperback

Pages: 450

Price: $29.99

Synopsis: The powerful new novel from Kimberley Freeman.

A rich and satisfying story of two women with indomitable spirits and the high costs they have to pay for being strong-minded, from the author of the bestselling LIGHTHOUSE BAY and EMBER ISLAND.

1874: Only days before she is to leave the foundling home where she grew up, Agnes Resolute discovers that, as a baby, she had been abandoned with a small token of her mother: a unicorn button.

Agnes always believed her mother had been too poor to keep her, but after working as a laundress in the home she recognises the button as belonging to Genevieve Breckby, the beautiful and headstrong daughter of a local noble family. Agnes had seen Genevieve once, in the local village, and had never forgotten her.

Despite having no money, Agnes will risk everything in a quest that will take her from the bleak moors of northern England to the harsh streets of London, then on to Paris and Ceylon. As Agnes follows her mother’s trail, she makes choices that could cost her dearly. Finally, in Australia, she tracks Genevieve down. But is Genevieve capable of being the mother Agnes hopes she will be?

~*~

aww2017-badgeStars Across the Ocean opens in the present, in first person. Victoria, or Tori as she prefers, has travelled from Australia to England to assist her ailing mother, who following an accident at work, is recovering in a rehabilitation centre. Tori is sent by her mother to her office to recover some work she has, and in the process, Tori finds a letter from about 1855: To My Child, Whom I Could Not Keep. And so begins Tori’s adventure into the past, via this letter, which abruptly ends and transitions from the first person perspective of Tori in the present and the letter, to 1874, third person, and Agnes.

Agnes Resolute is a foundling child of Perdita Hall in Hatby, Yorkshire. She has lived there for nineteen years, since her abandonment as a baby, with only a unicorn button the only clue to her past. Putting together her memories of a young woman named Genevieve from Breckby Hall, and a connection to the button, Agnes sets off on a journey to London, where she becomes the companion to Marianna Breckby, Genevieve’s sister and someone whom Agnes hopes, can help her find Genevieve.

Her time in London is cut short as she travels to Paris, where Genevieve’s son, Marianna’s nephew, Julius, finds her and listens to her story, and decides to help her find out about her family, telling her a few secrets of his own that make her question their relationship and what they might mean to each other. From Paris, Agnes travels alone to Ceylon to find Genevieve, and instead, finds a former lover, whose stories about Genevieve lead Agnes to Melbourne, Australia and the theatres. It is here that Agnes hopes to find Genevieve and have her questions answered,

Throughout the novel, it flicks back to the present as Tori struggles to put the letter together, with several sections missing, and whilst she is trying to solve the mystery of the letter, she is also struggling with her own demons back home in Australia, the lack of contact with her husband, and her ailing mother, who seems to need constant care.

It is a story about a young woman finding her place in the world, and reuniting with a mother who wanted her despite her family, and finding an unexpected love in the process. The romance was done exceptionally well, because the characters were given a chance to be their own people first and foremost; Agnes was allowed to be her own woman for a time, and find answers to questions she had had for years. It was a small part of the novel, but at the same time, a nice addition to a story that became about knowing who you are and not accepting what other people expected of you. There are two endings to this – the ending to Agnes’ story and the ending to Tori’s story. One was satisfying in many ways, and the other was a little abrupt, though realistic in relation to the plot. However, this second ending still left me wanting to know more, and wanting to know what else Tori and her mother would find out.

A delightful historical fiction story set in Victorian London, with a heroine who in some ways, fits into the gender expectations of the time but is still her own person and refuses to be tied down – the kind of character who can spread her wings when she wants to, and come home when she needs to. It is a lovely tale, and I hope to read it again soon.

A great read for lovers of historical fiction, and anyone who has read and enjoyed authors such as Kate Forsyth.

Booktopia

The Little Paris Bookshop by Nina George

9780349140377.jpg

Title: The Little Paris Bookshop

Author: Nina George

Genre: Fiction

Publisher: Abacus/Hachette

Published: 22nd December, 2015

Format: Paperback

Pages: 360

Price: $19.99

Synopsis: On a beautifully restored barge on the Seine, Jean Perdu runs a bookshop; or rather a ‘literary apothecary’, for this bookseller possesses a rare gift for sensing which books will soothe the troubled souls of his customers.

The only person he is unable to cure, it seems, is himself. He has nursed a broken heart ever since the night, twenty-one years ago, when the love of his life fled Paris, leaving behind a handwritten letter that he has never dared read. His memories and his love have been gathering dust – until now. The arrival of an enigmatic new neighbour in his eccentric apartment building on Rue Montagnard inspires Jean to unlock his heart, unmoor the floating bookshop and set off for Provence, in search of the past and his beloved.

~*~

The Little Paris Bookshop takes place along the rivers of Paris and France, where Jean Perdu’s barge acts as a floating library, a literary apothecary where people come in search of words to heal their afflictions of the soul. Jean is unable to heal his own wounds though, and a letter sets him forth on a journey of healing, where he meets several people along the way who help him, including an author who starts to help him heal. It is whilst on this journey that Jean finds the courage to read the letter and seek out those that his beloved knew to find out what he wishes to know.

With a touch of romance, Nina George tells a story that utilises the physical journey of getting from Paris to the French countryside, with the emotional journey of healing after years of pain and wondering. It is a story that utilises the words of authors known and created to help the characters, and even brings a few characters together. As books become a sort of currency for a while, Perdu and his friend, Max Jordan, the author, find their way in the world they are in.

As they hit land, their journey takes them to the home of Perdu’s former lover and her family, where secrets are uncovered, and wounds begin to heal. It takes time, but Perdu hopes he will find his place and accept what he has left.

Initially, Nina George does not name Perdu’s former lover from twenty years ago, at least for a couple of chapters. In doing this, it adds to the sense of mystery about Perdu’s past, and what has led to him working on his barge, supplying his literary apothecary to people along the Seine. I enjoyed travelling to Paris, along the Seine and to Perdu’s final destination of Toulon, and the French countryside and coast. It is a well written book with a lovely story line and wonderfully round characters who have their own flaws and imperfections, which allows the reader to identify with them. Nobody is wholly good or bad, they have shades of grey, and all do and say things that may or may not be liked.

Again, a great read, not too heavy and not too light.

The Joyce Girl by Annabel Abbs

 

Title: The Joyce Girl

Author: Annabel Abbsjoyce-girl

Genre: Fiction/Historical Fiction

Publisher: Hachette Australia

Published: 30th August, 2016

Format: Paperback

Pages: 368

Price: $32.99

Synopsis: James Joyce was her father. Samuel Beckett was her lover. The stunning fictionalisation of the life of Lucia Joyce.

Paris, 1928. Avant-garde Paris is buzzing with the latest ideas in art, music and literature from artists such as Ford Maddox Ford and Zelda Fitzgerald. Lucia, the talented and ambitious daughter of controversial genius James Joyce, is making her name as a dancer. But when Lucia falls passionately in love with budding writer (and fellow Irish expat) Samuel Beckett he is banned from the Joyce family home.

1934. Her life in tatters, Lucia is sent to pioneering psychoanalyst Carl Jung. For years she has kept quiet. Now she decides to speak.

Profoundly moving and stunningly written, The Joyce Girl brings to light the untold tale of Lucia Joyce. It will entrance and educate you. You will fall in love with this compelling woman, but she will break your heart too.

 

~*~

The reader first meets Lucia Joyce in 1934, speaking with Dr Carl Jung, psychoanalyst, in Zurich. For years, she has been silent, kept secrets to herself. The story unfolds and flashes back to 1928 and beyond as Lucia recounts her story to Jung, though a bit reluctantly at first. As the story is told in first person from Lucia’s point of view, the reader understands the world she lives in from her perspective, sees the way her friends, family and acquaintances treat her from her perspective. Lucia is a dancer, determined to turn it into a career. Though she is constantly thwarted by her mother, and said to be her father’s muse, Lucia is determined. Determined to dance, determined to be loved. When her father’s new writing friend, Samuel Beckett, arrives to help her father – James Joyce, or Babbo, as she calls him – Lucia begins to fall in love.

As the story unfolds, Lucia’s dreams of love, and dancing continue to be thwarted and her parents demands that she cease dancing and take up another profession and other classes to help her father start to wear her down. From Paris to Ireland and back, the constant comings and goings of her father’s Flatterer’s, and her family’s determination to keep her down, Lucia’s story is heart breaking. Jung’s determination to get to the bottom of what is causing her pain at times sends Lucia further into herself, denying her feelings.

The clairvoyance that she exhibits, called her Cassandra moments by her father, only contribute to the events that bring her into contact by 1934 with Carl Jung.

Though much of the novel covers the years between 1928 and 1932, every so often it flashes to 1934 and Lucia’s time with Jung in Zurich, who is determined to find a way to help her, even if it means sending the person who has never given up on her away. Jung’s determination to get to the crux of Lucia’s hidden problems eventually comes to fruition, and the revelation and the fall out is as shocking as how she came to be put into the hands of Jung for treatment.

Avant-garde Paris, where art, literature and music in the late 1920s and early to mid 1930s reigned, at least in Abbs’ novel, set the backdrop for a well-written novel from a point of view that might not always be heard. The voice of family of well-known writers, or artists, such as Lucia’s, is not one that I have ever heard, nor is it a common one. Having read Ulysses by James Joyce, it gave insight into the sort of man he might have been – a man so obsessed with writing the perfect novel that he almost neglects his family to the point of his children finding ways to rebel against him, and leaving his wife to deal with this fallout. Lucia’s story is also about doing what you can to follow your dreams against the odds, and trying to break free even when everything works against you and thwarts your every attempt at freedom. The world where art was valued that preceded the devastation of the late 1930s and the 1940s highlights the differences in whose art was valued, and what art was valued in certain people. The Zurich conclusion brings it back home that even the most creative people have their own hidden secrets and problems. Lucia’s story is well rounded, and well thought out with characters that have been created thoughtfully from source material. Well worth the read for anyone, whether they are familiar with Joyce’s work or not.