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Retro Friday: Madam, Will You Talk? by Mary Stewart

Retro Friday is a weekly meme hosted by Angie over at Angieville and focuses on reviewing books from the past. This can be an old favorite, an under-the-radar book you think deserves more attention, something woefully out of print, etc.

The news of Mary Stewart recently passing away reminded me that I’ve been meaning to read more of her novels. I have a few of her romantic suspense novels in my TBR pile, one of which is her first novel Madam, Will You Talk? When I found out that this book is set in Provence, I was immediately curious and I wanted to read it sooner rather than later.

Madam Will You TalkHere’s the summary from Goodreads:

Charity had been looking forward to her driving holiday through France with her friend Louise – long, leisurely days under the hot sun, enjoying the beauty of the Provencal landscape. But very soon her dreams turn into a nightmare, as Charity becomes enmeshed in the schemes of a gang of murderers.

While I do read cozy mysteries from time to time, I can’t say that I’m a big fan of them. But there’s something about Mary Stewart’s writing that just draws me in. There’s a certain charm in her books that lets me see what life must have been like at that time. I like that her heroines are smart and capable ladies, even if they don’t believe they are. Madam, Will You Talk? is about Charity, a young English widow who goes off with her friend Louis on a summer vacation to the South of France and unexpectedly gets involved in a murder mystery. This is how she feels when she runs right smack into trouble:

“I was alone. Any help I got now would only come from myself, and I was well aware that I am not the stuff of which heroines are made. I was merely frightened and bewildered, and deeply resentful of the situation in which I found myself.”

I believe Charity handles herself very well for someone who was supposed to be on a holiday but ended up being chased all around the country instead. I love how Charity’s excellent driving skills come in handy and a powerful car becomes her weapon:

“I laughed. I was as cool as lake-water, and, for the moment, no more ruffled. The feel of that lovely car under my hands, in all her power and splendour, was to me like the feel of a sword in the hand of a man who has been fighting unarmed.”

I wish I could drive like that! The setting of the book starts in Avignon and explores the surrounding areas including Nimes and Marseilles. Mary Stewart’s descriptions made me want to visit Provence and all the places that Charity went to. One of the reasons why I enjoy this author’s romantic suspense novels is because each book is set in a beautiful and vibrant location. It says something about Mary Stewart’s writing that she can make these places come alive. She also has a way of keeping readers in suspense all throughout the story. I feel like I was right there with Charity, while she was being chased by a suspected murderer. I was cheering her on while she zoomed her car through all those French highways. I kept turning the pages because I wanted to get more information. I was very curious about how the mystery will be solved and how the romance will develop. As with all other Mary Stewart mysteries that I’ve read, Madam, Will You Talk? ended on a satisfying note. Another good romantic suspense read. I look forward to reading the rest of her books.

Other reviews:
Miss Darcy’s Library
Quirky Bookworm
Gudrun’s Tights
Bookwitch


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Retro Friday: Medair by Andrea K. Höst

Retro Friday is a weekly meme hosted by Angie over at Angieville and focuses on reviewing books from the past. This can be an old favorite, an under-the-radar book you think deserves more attention, something woefully out of print, etc.

MedairHaving previously loved Andrea K. Höst’s sci-fi novels And All the Stars and the Touchstone trilogy, I picked up her Medair duology when I needed to be fully absorbed by a good novel. It’s funny because out of all of her books, I wanted to read this epic fantasy duology first but I didn’t get the chance to read them until recently. Once again, I would like to thank the author for providing a review copy of the omnibus edition which contains both The Silence of Medair and Voice of the Lost. I feel that both books have to be read together so I’m glad I got them in one edition.

Here’s the summary from Goodreads:

Medair an Rynstar returned too late to drive back the Ibisian invasion. Centuries too late.

When friend and enemy have become the same thing, what use are the weapons Medair planned to use to protect her Empire? There is no magic, no artefact, no enchanted trinket which can undo the past.

But no matter how Medair wishes to hide from the consequences of her failure, there are those who will not allow her the luxury of denying the present. Her war is already lost, but she carries weapons which could change the course of new battles.

With the skirmishes of war beginning, and hunters in near pursuit, it is her conscience Medair cannot escape. Whose side should she be on? What is she really running from?

Silence of MedairI was completely immersed in Medair’s world right from the start. I read the whole thing in just one weekend because I couldn’t get enough of the story and just had to reach the end as soon as I could. I wanted to be swept away into a wonderful world filled with magic and adventure and I’m happy to report that Medair lived up to my expectations. Having had prior experience reading Andrea K. Höst’s other novels, I knew there would be surprising twists and turns in both The Silence of Medair and Voice of the Lost and I was right. I was immediately intrigued by the premise – Medair is a Herald of her kingdom, tasked with finding a powerful magical object that will help her people win the war. She succeeded in finding what she was looking for, but she stopped to rest in a place outside of time and when she woke up, she discovered that 500 years have passed. Not surprisingly, Medair feels lost, with no idea how to move forward. A large part of the reader’s enjoyment of Medair would depend on whether one will be able to sympathize with her and the issues that she faces. Her narration is very introspective, going back and forth from the past to the present, and trying to reconcile the differences between them. There’s a lot of reflection on her part as she reluctantly becomes involved in making decisions that would irrevocably change the world she found herself in. I loved Medair’s character, I understood her hesitations, her feelings and her worries. She’s an intelligent and resourceful woman, loyal to her liege and her country, and inherently a good person. But completely at a loss with how much has been altered in her world. I do admit that there could have been less of her thoughts going around in circles, even Medair was self-aware enough to realize that she keeps doing that, but I wasn’t really bothered by it. I can see why the narration wouldn’t work for everyone but I’m delighted that I was completely engrossed by it. Aside from Medair, I was also invested in several other characters in the story and I loved seeing her interact with them even as she tries to keep a distance.

Voice of the LostThere’s a whole lot of history and political intrigue intertwined with the story, partly because of the invasion centuries ago, and also because of the alliances of the various governing bodies around the region. I enjoyed these aspects and how magic was also involved in all of it. I like that there weren’t any lengthy explanations on how the magic works but it never got confusing for me. I felt that it was seamlessly woven into the story. I believe that this review wouldn’t be complete if I didn’t talk about the romance in these two books. While I could see it coming, it was how the characters got there that mattered. In keeping with her personality and the situation she’s in, Medair doesn’t take her attraction to a certain someone lightly. As a result, there’s tension and ambiguity. I really had no idea how things would unfold between them. Andrea K. Höst has consistently surprised me with how she builds and develops relationships in her books. While I wasn’t exactly able to predict how things would end, I can say that there was a nice build up and I couldn’t see Medair’s story ending any other way. Similar to the Touchstone trilogy, I can see the Medair duology will be a very good reread. I look forward to finding the time for it. In the meantime, I need to work on convincing more readers to pick up her books because I seriously find it surprising that they’re not as well-known as they should be. I had a book hangover after reading these two books and the only solution I could think of was to start on another Andrea K. Höst title.

Other reviews:
Me and My Books


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Retro Friday: Enchantment by Orson Scott Card

Retro Friday is a weekly meme hosted by Angie over at Angieville and focuses on reviewing books from the past. This can be an old favorite, an under-the-radar book you think deserves more attention, something woefully out of print, etc.

I enjoy reading retellings because I like seeing how authors adapt the foundations of an older story and make it their own. I especially like reading fairy tale retellings because I’m a sucker for fairy tales in general. My favorite retelling of Sleeping Beauty is Orson Scott Card’s Enchantment. It’s been a while since I last read it but I still have fond memories of my reading experience. Isn’t it nice when a story stays with you months or even years after you’ve read it? I thought it’s the perfect title for a Retro Friday review – an old favorite that I recommend other readers to pick up.

Here’s the summary from Goodreads:

EnchantmentThe moment Ivan stumbled upon a clearing in the dense Carpathian forest, his life was forever changed. Atop a pedestal encircled by fallen leaves, the beautiful princess Katerina lay still as death. But beneath the foliage a malevolent presence stirred and sent the ten-year-old Ivan scrambling for the safety of Cousin Marek’s farm.

Now, years later, Ivan is an American graduate student, engaged to be married. Yet he cannot forget that long-ago day in the forest – or convince himself it was merely a frightened boy’s fantasy. Compelled to return to his native land, Ivan finds the clearing just as he left it.

This time he does not run. This time he awakens the beauty with a kiss… and steps into a world that vanished a thousand years ago.

I liked so many things about Enchantment. I found the storyline so interesting – what if Sleeping Beauty woke up in the modern world? There’s a nice blend of modern and medieval in the setting of the story – it was fascinating to see how a medieval character reacts to the modern world and vice versa. Both Katerina and Ivan are pretty much clueless when it came to exploring the other person’s world and they had to rely on each other. As much as I love reading medieval fantasy, I never realized the inconveniences in living in that time period until I read about them in Enchantment. I also really liked the Russian folklore weaved into the story because I’ve only read a handful of books that have a Russian flavor to them. I’m always curious about stories based on mythologies, folktales or legends that I’m not familiar with.

“The old tale of Sleeping Beauty might end happily in French or English, but he was in Russia, and only a fool would want to live through the Russian version of any fairy tale.”

One of the highlights of any good fairy tale for me is the romance and Enchanment had a really good love story. It’s funny how Katerina wasn’t initially impressed with her “prince” but that was mostly because she didn’t know him and wasn’t familiar with a modern person’s way of doing things. It was entertaining to see both Katerina and Ivan get to know each other as they explore the two worlds that they both inhabit. It was also a plus that their families are so involved in their lives and their parents had a stake in the bond that was forming between the couple. I felt like all the elements of Enchantment’s story came together nicely, making it such a delightful read. Highly recommended for fans of fantasy and fairy tale retellings.


5 Comments

Retro Friday: My Most Excellent Year by Steve Kluger

Retro Friday is a weekly meme hosted by Angie over at Angieville and focuses on reviewing books from the past. This can be an old favorite, an under-the-radar book you think deserves more attention, something woefully out of print, etc.

The moment I saw my good friend Maggie of Young Adult Anonymous give My Most Excellent Year by Steve Kluger such a glowing review, I knew I would want to read it. I went on Goodreads and also realized that another friend, Flannery of The Readventurer, rated it highly. I wanted to grab a copy as soon as I could but since books are expensive here in Singapore, I waited until I was in Manila before buying the paperback. I’ve had my copy since December last year and only felt like reading it recently. I was in the mood for a fun contemporary YA read and thought My Most Excellent Year would fit the bill. It was published in 2009 so I realized it’s the perfect choice for a Retro Friday review.

My Most Excellent Year outdoors

Here’s the summary from Goodreads:

Best friends and unofficial brothers since they were six, ninth-graders T.C. and Augie have got the world figured out. But that all changes when both friends fall in love for the first time. Enter Alé. She’s pretty, sassy, and on her way to Harvard. T.C. falls hard, but Alé‚ is playing hard to get. Meanwhile, Augie realizes that he’s got a crush on a boy. It’s not so clear to him, but to his family and friends, it’s totally obvious! Told in alternating perspectives, this is the hilarious and touching story of their most excellent year, where these three friends discover love, themselves, and how a little magic and Mary Poppins can go a long way.

I am happy to report that My Most Excellent Year lived up to my expectations. It is such a feel good, heartwarming kind of read. I have no idea why it isn’t more well-known. It’s been out for a while now and I think only a handful of my blogging buddies have read it. It’s a good thing I love spreading the word about under-the-radar titles because I need to convince more people to read this. At first glance, I didn’t think My Most Excellent Year was the kind of book that I would enjoy mostly because the story has alternating POVs (T.C., Augie and Alé) and their interests lie in American history and politics, baseball and musicals. While I love seeing musicals, I’m not a die-hard fan who knows all the songs, actors/actresses and notable performances. And I know next to nothing about baseball and American history. In spite of that, I was absorbed by the story because at its core, My Most Excellent Year is about family, friendship and first love. I was charmed by the thought of two boys, T.C. and Augie, deciding to be brothers when they were 6 years old. Not like two best friends who think of each other as brothers, they really act like siblings to the point that even their parents have gotten used to having two sons instead of just one. So they have a Mom, Dad and a Pop. They share their rooms in two households and they have vacations together. I thought it was so sweet how warm and accommodating their families were. This book has such great parents in it, I think it’s worthwhile to point that out since we rarely see wonderful parents in YA.

My Most Excellent Year - headings

During ninth grade, both T.C. and Augie have to deal with falling in love for the first time. It was so much fun to see them struggling to adjust to what they’re feeling (especially Augie, who hasn’t even figured out that he likes boys instead of girls). It was sweet how supportive they are of each other, not just in their love lives but also in their interests in general. Like T.C. would watch musicals with Augie even if he doesn’t really enjoy them. Being great guys, it’s not surprising when T.C. befriends a lonely, deaf six-year-old boy called Hucky and Augie was right there along with him. T.C. wanted to reach out to Hucky because he sees a young Augie in the little boy, while Augie thinks Hucky was exactly like T.C. when they were that age. I hope it doesn’t seem too confusing that there are a lot of characters in the book because it was very easy to get to know the characters. I also really liked the format of the book – emails between various characters (I loved how even the parents email each other about their kids), IM messages and diary entries. I could relate to the format because that’s also how I communicate with friends and family, especially now that I live away from home. This was such a lovely, immensely readable book, the kind that lets you end on a happy sigh. While younger in tone and feel compared to some of the other contemporary YA novels that I loved, I still highly recommend My Most Excellent Year to anyone who needs an uplifting type of read. I’m mighty curious about the rest of Steve Kluger’s back list.

My Most Excellent Year - Augie

Other reviews:
Young Adult Anonymous
The Readventurer
The Book Smugglers
Book Nut


27 Comments

Retro Friday: Tempting Danger by Eileen Wilks

Retro Friday is a weekly meme hosted by Angie over at Angieville and focuses on reviewing books from the past. This can be an old favorite, an under-the-radar book you think deserves more attention, something woefully out of print, etc.

I have been meaning to read more urban fantasy because I want to find a series to follow aside from Kate Daniels. I’ve read the first three Mercy Thompson books and the first two October Daye novels but felt no need to continue with both series. I know so many friends love those two series and it makes me a bit sad that I wasn’t able to connect with them like I wanted. I might change my mind later on and give those two a try again but for now, I’m interested in discovering new-to-me series. The World of Lupi books by Eileen Wilks come highly recommended by Estara, she says it’s a must read for urban fantasy fans. It’s funny because I started the first book and immediate thought that it feels like a mix of both Mercy Thompson (werewolf hierarchy, culture and history) and October Daye (both MCs are investigating murders and they have special skills that come in handy for the situation).

Tempting DangerHere’s the summary from Goodreads:

Lily Yu is a San Diego police detective investigating a series of grisly murders that appear to be the work of a werewolf. To hunt down the killer, she must infiltrate the clans. Only one man can help her – a were named Rule Turner, a prince of the lupi, whose charismatic presence disturbs Lily. Rule has his own reasons for helping the investigation – reasons he doesn’t want to share with Lily. Logic and honor demand she keep her distance, but the attraction between them is immediate and devastating-and beyond human reason. Now, in a race to fend off evil, Lily finds herself in uncharted territory, tested as never before, and at her back a man who she’s not sure she can trust.

Lily Yu is a third generation immigrant in the US and I think it’s awesome that this series has an Asian female protagonist. There are no lengthy introductions about the world at the start of the novel, readers are just thrown into it and we learn more details as we go along. I did find the pace a bit slow but first books tend to be like that, to serve as an introduction to the series. I felt like there was more speculation, more thinking on Lily’s part rather than action. It’s a minor quibble because I was still engaged and kept reading to find out more. I found myself curious about this world and how magic is structured in it. The lupi seem like they have a rich culture and history, that isn’t well-known to outsiders. I look forward to learning more about them. Of course, I was also interested in the attraction between Lily and Rule. I wanted to find out how both of them will react to this unexpected connection between them.

Both Lily and Rule are complicated people and we get to know them a little in this first installment. However, I feel like we’ve barely scratched the surface and there’s a lot of room for more character development and worldbuilding. I like how the story isn’t just focused on the two MCs, we also get to know their friends and family. Families are very important to both of them. I’m a fan of Lily’s traditionally Chinese grandma, would love to know more about her. While Tempting Danger can stand well on its own, I am curious enough about the characters and the world to continue with the rest of the series. There’s obviously more in store for Lily and Rule. I just find it a bit surprising that there are already nine books that have been released with more in the pipeline. I’m not sure if one couple’s story arc that takes that long will be able to hold my attention. I haven’t read the summaries for the latter books because I don’t want to see spoilers. I know there can be a lot that can happen by also focusing on secondary characters, all those friends and family that are significant in Lily and Rule’s lives. I guess we’ll just have to see how it goes. I’m keeping my fingers crossed that this series will work for me! I’ve already started the second book. I recommend Tempting Danger to urban fantasy fans, specifically the Mercy Thompson and October Daye series. I find it a bit surprising that Eileen Wilks isn’t more well-known.


18 Comments

Retro Friday: Audrey, Wait! by Robin Benway

Retro Friday is a weekly meme hosted by Angie over at Angieville and focuses on reviewing books from the past. This can be an old favorite, an under-the-radar book you think deserves more attention, something woefully out of print, etc.

When I asked for music-themed contemporary YA books, Audrey, Wait! was one of the titles that people kept recommending. I decided to borrow it when I saw that a copy was available at the library. I thought it would be a good idea to read this along with my good friend Heidi of Bunbury in the Stacks because she mentioned that she hasn’t read this one either. I had so much fun reading this with Heidi – we divided the book into several sections and we’d email each other back and forth about our thoughts after we’re done reading certain parts. We managed to talk about so many other things during the course of our discussion – ice cream, bands, laundry, college and work. Feel free to check out what she has to say about the book.

Here’s the summary from Goodreads:

Audrey, WaitCalifornia high school student Audrey Cuttler dumps self-involved Evan, the lead singer of a little band called The Do-Gooders. Evan writes, “Audrey, Wait!” a break-up song that’s so good it rockets up the billboard charts. And Audrey is suddenly famous!

Now rabid fans are invading her school. People is running articles about her arm-warmers. The lead singer of the Lolitas wants her as his muse. (And the Internet is documenting her every move!) Audrey can’t hang out with her best friend or get with her new crush without being mobbed by fans and paparazzi.

What I liked about this book is that it focuses on music but the main character isn’t a musician. Audrey is a music lover but she doesn’t play an instrument and she’s not part of a band. Most of the other music-themed books that I’ve read have musicians as main characters instead of just being music fans. I kind of thought it’s like being a book lover but not a writer. I felt like I could relate to Audrey more because of that. And I enjoy listening to music even if I don’t love it as much as she does. This book reminded me of what it was like to attend various gigs and campus concerts back in college. Like Audrey, I had friends back then who were members of bands. Although there was never a song written about me.

One thing I noticed right off the bat is that the story isn’t realistic in the sense that things got blown way out of proportion. I mean, how many songs out there are about girls who broke a guy’s heart (or vice versa) and how many times does the public go after the subject of the song? I was fine with the whole thing as long as I recognized that reading it would involve a fair amount of suspension of disbelief. The breakup didn’t even involve a lot of drama – Evan wasn’t really a bad guy, Audrey just decided that things weren’t that great between them. It was supposed to be a normal high school breakup until Evan wrote a song about Audrey that suddenly became popular.

I really enjoyed the first half of the book, the banter between the characters was fun to read. I liked Audrey’s friendship with her BFF, Victoria, and it was cool how reasonable her parents were. We rarely get to see great parents in YA novels so it’s always a good thing when they appear. However, I wasn’t such a fan of the second half. I really can’t put my finger on why that is but I just didn’t find it as engaging as the start of the novel. I guess it felt a bit rushed and I was waiting for a bigger, more complex climax to the story. Also probably because I felt like the romance could have been developed further. It really is a fun book to read but I think my expectations were pretty high because so many other blogger friends loved this. If you’re into music-themed contemporary YA, then I think you’d really enjoy this one. I wanted to make a playlist of all the songs featured as chapter headings – I think it would have been great if I could have listened to that while reading the book. I’m curious still curious about Robin Benway’s other books and will definitely check them out when I get the chance.

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Other reviews:
Angieville
One More Page
Good Books and Good Wine
See Michelle Read


22 Comments

Retro Friday: A Countess Below Stairs by Eva Ibbotson

Retro Friday is a weekly meme hosted by Angie over at Angieville and focuses on reviewing books from the past. This can be an old favorite, an under-the-radar book you think deserves more attention, something woefully out of print, etc.

One of my blogging goals this year was to write more Retro Friday reviews but I haven’t been able to do that lately. Sigh, you know what happens when real life gets in the way of things. Anyway, I thought I’d get back on track by reviewing one of my favorite books.

Here’s the summary from Goodreads:

A Countess Below StairsAfter the Russian revolution turns her world topsy-turvy, Anna, a young Russian Countess, has no choice but to flee to England. Penniless, Anna hides her aristocratic background and takes a job as servant in the household of the esteemed Westerholme family, armed only with an outdated housekeeping manual and sheer determination.

Desperate to keep her past a secret, Anna is nearly overwhelmed by her new duties – not to mention her instant attraction to Rupert, the handsome Earl of Westerholme. To make matters worse, Rupert appears to be falling for her as well. As their attraction grows stronger, Anna finds it more and more difficult to keep her most dearly held secrets from unraveling. And then there’s the small matter of Rupert’s beautiful and nasty fiancée…

I can’t believe I’ve never written a review for A Countess Below Stairs (also published as Secret Countess). This and The Reluctant Heiress (also published as Magic Flutes) are my two favorite Eva Ibbotson novels. I’ve recommended both of them to so many friends. There is just something about Eva Ibbotson’s writing that makes her books feel good reads. A Countess Below Stairs is historical fiction but it has a fairy tale feel to it, with a Cinderella kind of vibe going on. I think it’s quite obvious from the premise where the story will go but how it gets there is what really matters.

The Secret CountessThe main character, Anna, is one of those people who always sees something good in any situation. Anna was pampered by doting parents and because they were members of the Russian aristocracy, she pretty much got whatever she wanted. Surprisingly, she grew up to be down-to-earth instead of being a snob. Can I just say that I love how Anna’s family – her parents and her brother – is such an important part of her life? Anna is the kind of person that manages to brighten up everyone else’s day just by being so warm and pleasant. She keeps that sunny disposition even when her life changes drastically from living in luxury to having to work as a downstairs servant. Nope, poverty doesn’t affect Anna’s outlook in life. It’s not surprising that she easily develops a friendship with Rupert in spite of the difference in their social classes. Rupert is a dependable type of person and he feels that it’s his duty to marry well to keep Westerholme running. And there lies the problem. What I found interesting is that the story doesn’t just focus on Anna and Rupert but also includes a whole cast of secondary characters to liven things up. It may get a little confusing to keep track of everyone but I think part of the fun is seeing how Anna interacts with everyone around her.

Writing this review is making me want to reread the novel. I wish I had my copy here with me but sadly, it’s back in Manila. I’ve gone through Eva Ibbotson’s adult (now marketed as young adult) titles and would love to get more recommendations similar to her writing. If you’re interested in historical fiction or if you just want a feel good book, then you should definitely pick this up. A Countess Below Stairs also provides an interesting glimpse of what life is like for servants back in the day, which is why I think this would be a good read for any Downton Abbey fan.

Other reviews:
The Book Smugglers
The Captive Reader
Things Mean a Lot
Random Musings of a Bibliophile

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