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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With Love from Miss Lily by Jackie French

with love from miss lily.jpgTitle: With Love from Miss Lily

Author: Jackie French

Genre: Historical Fiction

Publisher: Harper Collins

Published: 20th November 2017

Format: eBook

Pages: 100

Price: Free download from publisher website

Synopsis: From the author of Miss Lily’s Lovely Ladies comes a moving and heart-warming story that is perfect for Christmas – and beyond.

December1918

This first peacetime Christmas should be perfect.

But this is a ceasefire, not peace. Influenza ravages Europe and the hospital supplies. Sophie ordered six months ago have not arrived from Australia.

And the old woman in Ward 3 will not stop knitting.

Yet even in war-torn Europe, Christmas miracles are possible, as a stranger reveals the extraordinary story of how thousands of female resistance workers sent coded messages, including the most important message a woman can send.

And somehow Christmas does arrive, the perfect Christmas, with love from Miss Lily.

~*~

As a fan of the Miss Lily series, it has taken me a while to get around to reading the Christmas eBooks – partly because with much of my time spent as a quiz writer writing and reading on a screen, I enjoy a good break with a nice paperback. However, these are short, and can be read in a sitting, so I am aiming to read them all and review them here on my blog as they give much more to the Miss Lily series than  we read on the pages in the longer books, the third of which I am currently reading, set in the years leading up to Hitler’s grab for power, and I predict, a few books that will delve into the tumultuous 1930s and World War Two – the war that Sophie and her friends are hoping to avoid.

In the first Miss Lily Christmas story, which I will also be trying to read again during December with the rest of my Christmas reads, Sophie is running an influenza hospital at the end of the Great War. As she nurses an elderly woman through the last days of her life, Sophie is asked to pass on a message – and some knitting. An English intelligence officer recognises what the knitting means – and reveals the chain of European spies – La Dame Blanche – who knitted codes into their knitting across Europe during the war, to help defeat Germany.

2019 BadgeI was able to read this in one sitting, as it was short, and it provides a good link between the novels. The time jumps with each book work very well, and pick up just where they need to. What this Christmas story does is show the calm after the war, and the hope that leads into the next twenty years – all whilst ripples of unease filter through. It also shows the hope that the end of the war, and Christmas brings to those still waiting to get home, and the magic of Miss Lily’s kindness through what she sends to the hospital to see them through Christmas.

Miss Lily may not be physically present in this short story, but her spirit is, and her love for her ‘lovely ladies’ like Sophie is. Europe has been ripped apart by war, but the first Christmas of peace – The Christmas after the armistice – holds hope as a special delivery arrives in the snow. As a fan of Miss Lily, Jackie French, and Christmas, I adored this book and am looking forward to reading the other Christmas stories to see what they add to the series.

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

women to the frontTitle: Women to the Front: The Extraordinary Women Doctors of the Great War

Author: Heather Sheard and Ruth Lee

Genre: History, Non-Fiction

Publisher: Ebury Press/Penguin Random House

Published: 2nd April 2019

Format: Paperback

Pages: 320

Price: $34.99

Synopsis:At the outbreak of World War I, 129 women were registered as medical practitioners in Australia, and many of them were eager to contribute their skills and expertise to the war effort. For the military establishment, however, the notion of women doctors serving on the battlefield was unthinkable. Undaunted, at least twenty-four Australian women doctors ignored official military policy and headed to the frontlines.
This book explores the stories of the Australian women who served as surgeons, pathologists, anaesthetists and medical officers between 1914 and 1919. Despite saving hundreds of lives, their experiences are almost totally absent from official military records, both in Australia and Great Britain, and many of their achievements have remained invisible for over a century. Until now.
Heather Sheard and Ruth Lee have compiled a fascinating and meticulously researched account of the Great War, seen through the eyes of these women and their essential work. From the Eastern to the Western Fronts, to Malta, and to London, we bear witness to the terrible conditions, the horrific injuries, the constant danger, and above all, the skill and courage displayed by this group of remarkable Australians. Women to the Front is a war story unlike any other.

~*~

I spent many years in high school and university studying history – modern and ancient, and across Australia, Europe and the Middle East, Rome and Greece when it came to Ancient History – at least when it came to courses. Beyond that, I have tried to read diversely, to fill in the gaps of a predominantly male driven historical record where women and other groups were not always present, or at least, not acknowledged. The one course I studied that was perhaps the most diverse – yet still concise due to the twelve week semester – was women’s history, where each lesson covered a different aspect and practice across the world, and where our further reading, text books and assignments gave a broader view of practices such as foot binding, sati, or widow burning, and many others that informed and built on my knowledge.

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Yet when it came to Australian history, I heard about the suffragettes but I learnt about them in depth in Society and Culture, and learned much more about World War One and Two in history – from the Australian, British and German perspectives across years ten, eleven and twelve. I learned about the causes, the battles, and the key figures. I learned that women were part of the war effort on the home front and as nurses – but not much else.

So when I came across Women to the Front, I was overjoyed because here was the book that would have made some of what I studied more interesting. Here, I discovered one hundred and twenty-nine women doctors went to the various theatres of war as surgeons and anaesthetists, pathologists and medical officers – not just nurses. These one hundred and twenty-nine women did not let the patriarchal system wear them down or chase them from the medical profession – they pushed forward, became doctors in the decades leading up to the war and volunteered to go.

At first, of course, they were often denied. They were called ‘lady doctors’, the assumption being they couldn’t handle the battlefield reality the men heading over would face. Of course, these 129 women went on to prove the society wrong. These women were serving their country and doing their jo, a job they loved doing and that at the time, was probably not as common as it is today, due to societal expectations from parents, and all those around them, often based on class. Books like this – fiction and non-fiction, driven by women and what they can do, not just romance, are amongst my favourite because they fly in the face of what is expected or assumed women will do and like. Allowing girls and women to read and access stories like this is important because it allows them to see what they can do and be beyond what popular culture often shows.

Their stories are collected here in five parts, each divided into a year of the war, and from there, into chapters that are then divided by theatre and location for each woman or several women who worked together. From Gallipoli to Ypres and Passchendaele, the battlefields of France and Belgium, and the many men they helped and treated after battles, this book tells the stories that I wish we had learned about in history, or at least been given a side box on in text books to investigate on our own for assignments – which I tried to do for one on war memorials in Sydney – but found that for the one I wanted to do, I could not access enough information to write a decent report.

These days, we are getting more diverse historical accounts, and whilst many of these women were white and had British heritage, it is still important to read and know these stories – it shows that the war was experienced by more than just men at the front or doctors. So these stories about women doctors from Ruth Lee and Heather Sheard are an important addition to the historical record, and could be used as a text book, or even placed on a reading list for a history course that touches on or focuses on World War One.

At the end of the book, there is a biography of each woman. Some are shorter than others, so much like anyone in history, sometimes more is known about one than another, yet each has their own unique story. I thoroughly enjoyed this and I’m continuously seeking the untold histories that were either ignored or erased by those who wrote the history books.

The Desert Nurse by Pamela Hart

the desert nurse.jpgTitle: The Desert Nurse

Author: Pamela Hart

Genre: Historical Fiction

Publisher: Hachette Australia

Published: 10th July 2018

Format: Paperback

Pages: 410

Price: $29.99

Synopsis: Amid the Australian Army hospitals of World War I Egypt, two deeply determined individuals find the resilience of their love tested to its limits

It’s 1911, and 21-year-old Evelyn Northey desperately wants to become a doctor. Her father forbids it, withholding the inheritance that would allow her to attend university. At the outbreak of World War I, Evelyn disobeys her father, enlisting as an army nurse bound for Egypt and the disastrous Gallipoli campaign.

Under the blazing desert sun, Evelyn develops feelings for polio survivor Dr William Brent, who believes his disability makes him unfit to marry. For Evelyn, still pursuing her goal of studying medicine, a man has no place in her future. For two such self-reliant people, relying on someone else for happiness may be the hardest challenge of all.

From the casualty tents, the fever wards and the operating theatres of the palace; through the streets of Cairo during Ramadan, to the parched desert and the grim realities of war, Pamela Hart, beloved bestselling Australian author of THE WAR BRIDE, tells the heart-wrenching story of four years that changed the world forever.

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AWW-2018-badge-roseIn 1911, Evelyn Northey has just turned twenty-one – the age she believes she will receive her inheritance from her long-dead mother and be able to go out into the world and make her own life, and her own decisions – away from the controlling home of her father. When she finds the conditions of the will – and her father’s ruling – prohibit this – she spends the next three years training to be a nurse in secret – a step towards her goal to becoming a doctor.

When war breaks out in 1914 in Europe, she enlists as a nurse in the army – and is sent to Egypt, and the tragic, and disastrous Gallipoli campaign of 1915. Prior to her departure, she meets Dr William Brent at her physical assessment, a polio survivor whose disability has prevented him from enlisting and heading to the battlefront – yet he finds that he is able to serve in another way – in the hospitals of Egypt and Cairo with Evelyn.

Together and apart – they work in casualty wards, fever tents and the operating theatres, and William tutors Evelyn in Latin and medicine, preparing her for her plans to attend medical school in Edinburgh. Through four years of war, Evelyn and William drift in and out of each other’s lives, their friendship and relationship develop along the way, with the ups and downs of life in war time. Both are determined to forge their own paths and not be reliant on another – Evelyn wanting to become a doctor, which means making sacrifices in her life – marriage, a family – to achieve her dreams, whilst William is hesitant to enter into a close relationship with anyone and burden them with having to care for him later in life due to his disability. But the friendship between William and Evelyn that blossoms into more is based on respect and understanding for each other.

Pamela Hart again positions a woman in a man’s world- that of war, and this time, the medical world – and gives her a voice that the doctors and matrons she works with respect – especially William and Dr Fanous, who were like a balm to Evelyn’s harsh father. This contrast showed the spectrum of attitudes based on gender during this time, and I felt that poor Evelyn was treated quite unfairly by her father at the start of the novel, and through her stories of what had happened after her mother’s death – all of which was dealt with very well, and I enjoyed William’s response and the way he made sure he tried not to be like this – a true friend.

The historical backdrop to the novel was made more authentic with the inclusion of the real desert nurses – Evelyn and Hannah were the only fictional ones in Pamela’s story, and her inclusion of Connie Keys, Selina (Lil) MacKenzie, Alice Ross-King, Mabel Pilkington, and Dr Agnes Bennett – the first female doctor in the British Army who was in charge of the hospitals in the Serbian theatre of war. In doing this, Pamela has ensured the recognition of what these women did during four awful years for the world and for the Anzacs who left their homes in Australia to assist Britain against Germany – more information on these women can be found on Pamela’s author website.

Overall, I really enjoyed this novel. The historical story, and Evelyn’s story and journey towards independence were my favourites, with the touch of romance on the side, which added to the story, and gave it a touch of humanity and hope amidst the death and destruction of World War I. Equally enjoyable were the inclusion of Rebecca Quinn and her brother, Linus from A Letter from Italy as good friends of Evelyn and her brother, Harry. Seeing two women who wanted more than what was expected of them was wonderful. Also, having a main character with a disability, who didn’t let it stop him doing what he set his mind to, was excellent to see as well. William didn’t let his polio stop him, nor did Evelyn let his disability colour her perspective of him – rather, she respected him and looked out for him when necessary, just as he did for her. An excellent representation.

A wonderful read that evokes the gravitas of war, nursing and expectations of women in the early twentieth century alongside a love story that evolves throughout the novel to reach the conclusion readers hoped for.

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Strange Meeting by Susan Hill

strange meeting.jpgTitle: Strange Meeting

Author: Susan Hill

Genre: Historical Fiction

Publisher: Allen and Unwin/Profile Books

Published: 23rd May 2018

Format: Hardcover

Pages: 260

Price: $22.99

Synopsis: A story of love and loss in wartime from master storyteller Susan Hill.

Returning to his battalion in France after a period of medical leave in England, John Hilliard, a young officer, finds his division almost unrecognisable. His commanding officer is an alcoholic, there is a new adjutant and several of his close friends have been killed.

But there is David Barton. As yet untouched and unsullied by war, fresh-faced and radiating charm. As the pair approach the front line, bloodied by the deaths of their fellow soldiers, their friendship deepens. But as the reality of the violence sets in, the men know that they will soon be separated…

A poignant novel on human love as war and the pity of war.

~*~

Upon his return to his battalion in France during World War One, or as it was known then, The War to End All Wars, John Hilliard finds those he has fought have changed: several friends are dead, there is a new adjutant he needs to get used to, and his commanding officer has become an alcoholic. As the horrors of war close in, John and his friends have to face the reality of being separated by the violence and the death that starts to suffocate and invade the battlefields and trenches of France. It is a war that they hope will never be repeated, yet it is also a war that they know will happen again – because they know there’s little chance of this war ending all wars to come in the decades after the closure of World War One, or as it was known then, The Great War.

Throughout the novel, it is known that there are battles waging in the trenches of France, and battles of the mind and soul within the soldiers fighting. It is a look at how the war affected a specific person and his specific surroundings – illustrating one of the kinds of experiences that soldiers in the trenches had. It is poignant, especially as 2018 marks the 100th anniversary since the end of World War One.

Hilliard’s interactions with the new arrival, David Barton, who has not been disillusioned by what was known as the excitement of war at the time, he radiates a charm that Hilliard will find hard to let go of – knowing that at some stage, the war will separate them and cast their lives aside.

Strange Meeting is a war novel that is about war, and at the same time, about the humans involved in war, and what is lost both physically and emotionally – the cost of life, and the cost of self as war ravages these young men as they venture into the unknown, with only the hope that they will survive and return home in one piece – and if not in one piece, then at least alive, to their families.

Strange Meeting is a novel that is more literary, and character driven – all we know of the settings is that they are the theatres of World War One in France, and my guess, around 1916-1917, perhaps the Battle of the Somme or Ypres. What is known though, is how these events and all other events of the war have impacted on the men such as Hilliard, and this is what makes it a powerful and poignant novel.

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

Miss Lily 1Title: Miss Lily’s Lovely Ladies

Author: Jackie French

Genre: Historical Fiction

Publisher: HarperCollins

Published: 27th March 2017

Format: Paperback

Pages: 524

Price: $29.99

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

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

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

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

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

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

~*~

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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