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?
It’ll be no news to anyone who follows the blog, but I’m getting so much pleasure from time traveling through the books that I’m choosing of late. I can’t stop reaching for historical fiction, and this is one of the best books I’ve read in this genre this year. I was absolutely intrigued by the premise of this book as I love reading books about women’s contribution to history as we move towards International Women’s Day and I loved hearing about Miss Lily’s ladies and their fascinating contribution to history across these pages
This book has a real gift for bringing the events of the past right into the present, taking these characters and moments from history and bringing them to life before our eyes whilst juxtaposing them with our 20th century narrative and concept of the roles of women at the same time. I was delighted to be invited on the tour and found myself absolutely intrigued by this fascinating insight into these girls’ lives and found myself caught up in their stories as I enjoyed this tale over the last weekend.
This book definitely did not disappoint, it let me feel absolutely part of Sophie’s story where we become wholly wrapped up in the life of this unforgettable and resilient character. Life is difficult enough for women who want to break the mould nowadays – you can only imagine how much more difficult things were then. We get to hear about events from Sophie’s own perspective as she attempts to take what she’s learned and to roll out these ideas in her own inimitable way as the country copes with the war effort. I found this period and setting so fascinating and this really added to the enjoyment of the story for me. It’s a book that you’ll find hard to believe it’s fiction as you’ll become so caught up in Sophie’s story and you’ll feel real empathy with her as she navigates through these extremely uncertain times – it made me think of the real VADs and other volunteers as well as thinking about their legacy as women take up roles in conflict in their own right in the 21st century.
I absolutely loved the unique atmosphere of this novel and definitely found it quite addictive. It was intriguing to imagine a world in which your choices and next direction are far more constrained than women nowadays and knowing that your choices are far more restricted than they would be nowadays. The contrast of Sophie’s own tale with the way that women are expected to engage with a conflict and its fallout nowadays was really fascinating and I enjoyed traveling back in time and gaining an insight into life from the perspective of ‘the corned beef princess’
This novel presents this period of history in a fresh original way which makes the story stay with us and make us feel connected to Sophie and her tale even when we aren’t reading it. She feels very much like a real person, despite the distance of time between us and you feel really caught up in the twists and turns of her story. This is a really enjoyable novel that I know many of my reading buddies would enjoy – I’d love to see it on the silver screen and see these ladies’ lives unfold and I can’t wait to catch up with the rest of the installments.
Jackie French is a talented and original writer – and I really enjoyed vicariously travelling to Shillings Hall whilst reading the book. You will be fascinated to uncover all that Sophie has to experience, and shocked that you didn’t know more about this fascinating time in our history. Your relationship with the characters builds and builds as you experience the challenges and constraints of their individual circumstances and everything that they have had to go through. I definitely enjoyed the contrast between life for women as it was then, and our lives now, and it kept me turning the pages – although I’d have to say that my favorite was definitely hearing about Sophie’s experiences.
This is a book that I know I’ll be recommending to lots of readers as I was totally immersed in its characters, its setting, and the way it really allowed me to connect with its characters. As I’ve said, I really can’t wait to enjoy the rest of the series. The idea that life for people in the past can be a lot different than you might have learned in your history books is a fascinating one, and I think that this would make an excellent Book Group read as it would be sure to provoke lots and lots of discussion and comment about women’s experience of war, that most people don’t know very much about…
Treat yourself to a copy and enjoy the rest of the blog tour! Thanks so much to Anne Cater from Random Things Tours and Harper Collins for inviting me on the tour.
Writer On The Shelf
Jackie French is an Australian author, historian, ecologist and honourary wombat (part time), 2014-2015 Australian Children’ Laureate and 2015 Senior Australian of the Year.
Jackie was born in Sydney; grew up on the outskirts of Brisbane, and is still not dead. She has lived for more than 40 years at the top of the gorge in the Araluen Valley, where her ancestors lived too. Only one school she attended burned down. This was not her fault.
Some of Jackie’s books have sold millions of copies and won over 60 awards in Australia and internationally. Others were eaten by the wombats.
Instead of hobbies she has written over 200 books; built a house and power system; planted thousands of trees; harvests about 800 of them; lunches with friends; reads to her grandkids; tries to find her glasses; eats dark chocolates, what ever fruit is in season and the odd feral species. (Some are very odd). She coined the term ‘moral ominvore’ to describe her diet. There is a dispensation for dark chocolate.
Jackie has studied over 400 wombats, and been the (almost) obedient slave to a dozen of them. She is an enthusiastic cook, married to an enthusiastic eater. If you visit, do not bring cake. It is the duty of a guest to eat. Lots. Then eat some more. If you are worried about calories hike up the mountain and look for endangered species. But you will find more on a bush mooch than a bush walk. Watch out for the eight species of snake. Don’t worry. They’ll also be watching out for you.
Jackie writes for adults, young adults, and even younger humans, on history, ecology, and her award winning historical fiction for all age but write just one picture book about a wombat, and no one lets you forget it. Ever. Ever. Ever.
Please do not mention Diary of a Wombat or the word ‘prolific’. Or the story of how her first book was accepted because a wombat had left its droppings on her typewriter, as after 25 years of repeating it she is bored.
Jackie is also dyslexic and patron of literacy programmes across Australia with a wide and deep – if accidental- experience in learning differences and methods, and their outcomes for students, as well as a passionate advocate for equal educational opportunity. She still can’t spell.
For even more information about Jackie, click here.