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Sunday, April 01, 2018

Miss Lily’s Lovely Ladies by Jackie French. Sydney: HarperCollins, 2017

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.
Australian girl Sophie Higgs has a lot of money and a father who adores her. He gives her anything she wants - except the chance to use her abilities to help in the business. When she plans to get married at eighteen to the boy on the next property, he tells her she is too young and sends her to England for a year, as one of Miss Lily’s chosen students. With three other girls she learns some valuable lessons, makes friends and, when war comes, finds ways to use her ability for organisation- and the skills she leaned from Miss Lily ... 
I’ve read several of this author’s children’s and YA historical novels(the only historical fiction I can get the kids to read at my school), so, although this one is aimed at adults - perhaps in the recent category of “New Adult”? - I did pick up that it’s set in the same universe, so to speak, as her YA novel A Rose For The Anzac Boys, in which a group of wealthy girls set up a canteen for wounded soldiers in France during World War I. One of the characters from that novel, Ethel, arrives in England to ask Sophie for help with supplies. It doesn’t matter if you haven’t read that book, but a nice surprise if you have.
Needless to say, Sophie is in Europe for a lot longer than a year. She can’t get back to Australia anyway, due to the dangers of being bombed, and, despite the horrors of the war, she finds that what she is doing makes her happier than she has ever been. 
I must admit, I didn’t see that ending coming, though there were hints throughout the book. I won’t tell you what it is. 
This is the first of a trilogy which ends in the 1940s and Book 2 is already available. If you’re reading it in ebook, there is a free novella, “With Love From Miss Lily: A Christmas Story” in iBooks. I’ve downloaded it, of course, and have just started the second book. 
I always enjoy Jackie French’s historical fiction and this one is no exception.

Highly recommended.

Buy it here, at Booktopia.

The author’s web site is here. She is a former Australian Children’s Laureate. Judging by her tweets, she spends a lot of time with the wombats around her home!

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