Chachic's Book Nook


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Novel Gossip: Rose Under Fire by Elizabeth Wein

Novel Gossip

The bloggers behind Chachic’s Book Nook and See Michelle Read chatting about books, thousands of miles apart.

Novel Gossip is a new feature that my good friend Michelle and I started a few months ago. Our inaugural post was The Chocolate Rose by Laura Florand. We both loved Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein (my review, Michelle’s review) last year so Rose Under Fire was one of our most anticipated reads this year. Since it’s a book set in a concentration camp, we were pretty sure that it would be heartbreaking and that it would be a good idea to read this together so we can provide moral support as we go along. Click here to read our thoughts about this historical fiction novel. While we did our best to refrain from putting in spoilers, it’s pretty hard to have an in depth discussion without going into some of the things that happened within the book. If you’d rather go into Rose Under Fire without prior knowledge of its contents, then feel free to skip our discussion (although we hope you’d drop by after finishing the book).

Rose Under Fire UK and US

The UK and US editions, side by side

As always, we had so much fun doing this. It was an interesting conversation since I’m not familiar with concentration camp novels while Michelle has read a lot of them. Plus we grew up in different countries and had different history lessons concerning World War II. It’s funny how details like this affect our reading experience. Watch out for our next Novel Gossip title: Madam, Will You Talk by Mary Stewart.


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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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The Coming of the Dragon by Rebecca Barnhouse

The Coming of the Dragon by Rebecca Barnhouse is a retelling of the latter part of Beowulf. I don’t think I’ve ever read Beowulf or a retelling based on it. I don’t know much about this epic tale because we never studied it for school. The Coming of the Dragon came highly recommended by both Brandy of Random Musings of a Bibliophile and Charlotte of Charlotte’s Library so I decided to give it a go. Also, I’m very curious about the companion novel, Peaceweaver, because Ana and Thea of The Book Smugglers gave it a positive joint review. You can imagine my delight when I discovered that both books are available in the library. Yay for making the most out of my library membership!

Here’s the summary from Goodreads:

The Coming of the DragonWhen he was a baby, Rune washed up onshore in a boat, along with a sword and a pendant bearing the runes that gave him his nickname. Some people thought he was a sacrifice to the gods and wanted to send him right back to the sea. Luckily for Rune, King Beowulf disagreed. He lifted the boy from the boat and gave him to Amma, a wise woman living on a farm far removed from the king’s hall, to raise as she saw fit.

Sixteen years later, Rune spends his summers laboring on the farm. And at King Beowulf’s request, he comes to the hall each winter for weapons training. But somehow he never quite fits in. Many people still fear he will bring a curse on the kingdom. Then a terrible thing happens. On a lonely crag on a mountain that belongs to the giants, someone awakens a dragon. It is time for Rune to find the warrior inside himself and prove to the doubters once and for all that he is a true hero.

If you’ve been following my blog for a while now then you’re probably aware that I read all kinds of books but I rarely venture into middle grade territory. I only do that when a book comes recommended by book bloggers I trust. And when I end up enjoying the book, I usually feel like I would have loved to read it when I was in the target age for it. The Coming of the Dragon is one of those novels. I really liked Rune’s character development – he starts off as an insecure young man but grows into something more as the story progresses. I understood how difficult and confusing life must have been like for Rune while growing up. I mean it’s hard enough to figure out what you’re meant to do with your life but with Rune, he had to deal with not knowing who his real parents are or where he came from. He desperately wants to prove himself, he just needs the chance to do so. I liked how the change in his character from the beginning to the end wasn’t drastic, it felt believable based on the challenges that Rune experienced.

There is magic in this book but most of it is subtle, aside from the presence of the dragon. The novel reads more like historical fiction instead of epic fantasy. Maybe I should just describe it as historical fantasy and leave it at that. Like I said, I’m definitely not an expert when it comes to Beowulf or this time period so I’m not sure how accurate the setting is. What I can just say is that I enjoyed reading about the characters and their struggles to overcome their biggest foe: the dragon. I found the first few chapters a little slow but things picked up towards the end. Also, I got the feeling that the kingdom wasn’t that big? I was wondering why there weren’t more people who were there to fight against the dragon. Although that might really be the case, Beowulf’s kingdom might just be a small one. I was really curious about Peaceweaver after reading this one and was a bit disappointed to discover that it’s not a sequel but a companion novel instead. It doesn’t continue the story after The Coming of the Dragon but occurs simultaneously with the events of the novel and features a different character. I’m still interested in reading it though, I just hope Rebecca Barnhouse returns to Rune’s story. Would you happen to have any other recommendations based on Norse mythology?

Other reviews:
Charlotte’s Library
Random Musings of a Bibliophile


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Retro Friday: I Capture the Caste by Dodie Smith

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 Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith is a favorite of so many readers. It’s been on my radar ever since I read The Lost Art of Keeping Secrets by Eva Rice a few years ago and heard that the two books are very similar. I have no idea why it has taken me so long to pick up I Capture the Castle but you know what it’s like, you have to be in certain mood to read some books. I finally felt like reading this a few days ago and I’m glad I did.

Here’s the summary from Goodreads:

I Capture the Castle tells the story of seventeen-year-old Cassandra and her family, who live in not-so-genteel poverty in a ramshackle old English castle. Here she strives, over six turbulent months, to hone her writing skills. She fills three notebooks with sharply funny yet poignant entries. Her journals candidly chronicle the great changes that take place within the castle’s walls, and her own first descent into love. By the time she pens her final entry, she has “captured the castle” – and the heart of the reader – in one of literature’s most enchanting entertainments.

I write this sitting in the office chair in front of the computer at home. Ha, thought I’d just try that out since I Capture the Castle starts with “I write this sitting in the kitchen sink.” Dodie Smith’s writing reminded me a bit of Eva Ibbotson’s young adult titles in the sense that it has a fairy tale feel even if it’s a historical fiction novel. And since I love Eva Ibbotson’s books, it’s no surprise that I enjoyed reading this one. What can be more whimsical than living in an old castle? Of course, it’s not as dreamy as one would expect when the Mortmain family can’t even afford to buy necessities. It presents a good contrast: living in a beautiful and majestic place but trying to make ends meet. I liked how Cassandra didn’t let that bother her – she loves living in the castle and she’s more tolerant of their reduced circumstances than her sister older sister Rose. Cassandra is a reader and a dreamer and she’s able to appreciate the beauty around her in spite of her family’s problems. Sure, she worries but she’s never bitter about their situation. I wanted to highlight so many of the passages that she wrote but I’m choosing to quote this one because I can relate to it:

“When I read a book, I put in all the imagination I can, so that it is almost like writing the book as well as reading it – or rather, it is like living it. It makes reading so much more exciting, but I don’t suppose many people try to do it.”

Cassandra is obviously a girl I can be friends with. The rest of the characters are also quirky and they come alive through Cassandra’s descriptions. I love that she starts a journal because she wants to improve her writing. Also, writing by candlelight or moonlight adds to the atmospheric feel of the novel. In the months while she’s writing, Cassandra really grows as a character. I like how she falls in love and learns to evaluate herself by examining her own feelings. I wasn’t into the romance as much as I’d like but I appreciate how it contributed to Cassandra’s character development. After all, I think that’s what the novel is all about – the life of a young woman set in 1930s England. I have a used copy of the edition that has the movie cover and I must say that I’m not a fan of its design. I’m itching to watch the movie though and see if it’s just as good as the book. Maybe I can post about it here on the blog as well. I Capture the Castle is a delightful read, I feel like this is the kind of book that you can read even if you’re about to experience a reading slump. Highly recommended for historical fiction readers and fans of Eva Ibbotson’s YA novels (note that those titles were originally published for adults and only repackaged as YA a few years ago). I wouldn’t mind reading more books similar to this one.

Other reviews:
Book Snob
Thoughts On My Bookshelf
The Reading and Life of a Bookworm
She Reads Novels


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Scarlet by A.C. Gaughen

A.C. Gaughen’s Scarlet is a Robin Hood retelling. I found out about it when trusted book bloggers started giving it positive reviews. I was delighted when this pretty little book showed up in a surprise package that I received a couple of weeks ago. Again, thank you to the lovely ladies – Angie and Holly – for sending me a copy of this. I couldn’t resist reading it right away, you guys know how fond I am of thieves in fiction.

Here’s the summary from Goodreads:

Posing as one of Robin Hood’s thieves to avoid the wrath of the evil Thief Taker Lord Gisbourne, Scarlet has kept her identity secret from all of Nottinghamshire. Only the Hood and his band know the truth: the agile thief posing as a whip of a boy is actually a fearless young woman with a secret past. Helping the people of Nottingham outwit the corrupt Sheriff of Nottingham could cost Scarlet her life as Gisbourne closes in.

I can’t get over how gorgeous the cover design for Scarlet is – doesn’t that just draw you in? It’s the kind of cover that would attract my attention even if I knew nothing about the premise. I think Scarlet’s eyes look very expressive and I love that she’s disguised as a boy in the cover, because that’s how she usually is in the book. Few people know that Will Scarlet is actually a girl. Just in case you didn’t know, I also enjoy reading girls in disguise stories. Scarlet is one prickly character. Even though she’s been working with Rob, John and Much for the past couple of years, she still doesn’t fully trust them. She works with them but she still holds a part of herself back, never explaining her past and where she really came from. Which is funny because these boys want to take care of Scarlet. Can I just say that I found it refreshing that there are only four people in Robin’s band in this retelling? It makes it easier to keep track of them and be invested in who they are as characters. Rob is the leader, John the playful charmer and Much is the quiet one. Here’s a funny little quote about the band:

“Of a band with three actual boys, why is it that all the maids lust after the fake one?”

My heart went out to this little group – how they do the best that they could to provide for the people and shelter them from the Sheriff’s cruelty. As much as Scarlet pretends that she only stays with the band because it’s convenient for her, she does it because she cares for the people. Here’s another snippet that I really liked:

“I left little packages in front of the doors; the people looked for them in the morning, and I knew, in some bit of a way, it bucked them up.

I did as much as I could, but it weren’t like I could get everyone something every night. That seemed like the cruelest part. I tried not to think ’bout the people that woke up and rushed to the door and didn’t find nothing; it made my chest hurt.”

You got to love a thief with a conscience. She steals not for herself but for the people. It’s rare for a sneaky thief as good as Scarlet to be afraid of anything but her comrades quickly discover that there’s something about Gisbourne, the Thief Taker, that frightens Scarlet. I liked this air of mystery about her, it made the book a quicker read because I kept going, waiting for Scarlet’s past to be revealed. I also liked the slow burn romance although I’m not a fan of the love triangle. It’s not surprising that more than one guy is interested in our feisty heroine but I did feel like it was unnecessary for her to have more than one love interest. As expected, Scarlet was a really enjoyable read. Highly recommended for fans of Robin Hood retellings, thieves in fiction and girls in disguise. Will I be checking out A.C. Gaughen’s books in the future? Definitely.

Other reviews:
Angieville
Book Harbinger
Bunbury in the Stacks
Emily’s Reading Room
Steph Su Reads


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Historical Romance Recommendation: Joanna Bourne

Historical romance, say what? Regular readers of this blog are probably wondering why I’ve decided to feature a historical romance author when I barely read books from that genre. Most of the romance that I read are contemporary novels but when certain books come highly recommended by those I trust, I’m willing to give them a chance. I remember hearing about Joanna Bourne through Sounis, the LiveJournal community for fans of Megan Whalen Turner’s books. That was before I started this little bloggy. I can’t even remember who first mentioned The Spymaster’s Lady but I do recall that it was said that it’s a good read if one can stomach the naked manly chest on the cover. When I saw a copy in a local bookstore, I decided to give it a try. I’m so glad I did! I enjoyed The Spymaster’s Lady enough to read the rest of Joanna Bourne’s novels when they came out. I like her novels because of all the spying, clever plot twists and witty dialogue. Oh and all the tension leading up to the sexytimes. Joanna Bourne made me realize that spying is pretty similar to thieving and you all know how fond I am of thieves in fiction. If this sounds like your cup of tea, then go ahead and pick up her novels and feel free to let me know what you think of them.

Joanna Bourne's novels

Joanna Bourne's other novels: My Lord and Spymaster, The Forbidden Rose, The Black Hawk

I always think it’s a good thing when an author surprises you with how unexpectedly good his or her writing is. More so when the novel is from a genre you normally wouldn’t read. It’s good to step away from your comfort zone from time to time, right? I’m in the middle of The Black Hawk, Joanna Bourne’s latest, which reminded me of how much I enjoy reading her novels so I decided to talk about them here. Have you ever given an unfamiliar genre a try? What was your experience like?


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The Returning by Christine Hinwood

I ordered a copy of The Returning by Christine Hinwood because it’s blurbed by two of my favorite authors: Megan Whalen Turner and Melina Marchetta. Of course, I had to read it! It also recently received the Printz Honor. Plus, both the premise and the cover looked intriguing.

Here’s the summary from Goodreads:

Cam has a hunger, an always-hunger; it drives him from home, to war, from north to south. When he returns from war alone – all his fellow soldiers slain – suspicion swirls around him. He’s damaged in body and soul, yet he rides a fine horse and speaks well of his foes. What has he witnessed? Where does his true allegiance lie? How will life unfold for his little sister, his closest friend, his betrothed, his community, and even the enemy Lord who maimed him?

The writing is certainly different from anything that I’ve ever read. I’m not even sure what genre The Returning falls under – I feel like it’s a mix of both fantasy and historical fiction. Fantasy because it’s set in a different world (made up locations). Historical fiction because aside from the setting, I feel like it could be a story set in the past. There’s no magic in The Returning. The whole book focuses on the aftermath of the war between Uplanders and Downlanders and how it affects the various characters. I had a mixed reaction to this book: I’m glad I got to read it because I was intrigued but I didn’t end up loving it as I expected. It took me a while to get into the writing because of the shifting points of view. I felt like I couldn’t hold on to one character long enough for me to like him or her. Also, it’s a quiet kind of novel in the sense that nothing big or dramatic occurs. After all, we’re getting a glimpse of what life is like AFTER the war.

Overall, I think it’s a good book but I’m afraid it’s not something that every reader will enjoy. Like I said, I’m not a fan of the shifting POVs. At the start of the novel, I felt like every chapter was narrated by a different character (I think there were four or five various POVs). Just when I was starting to root for a character, the POV changes. I did like how everything came together in the second half of the novel but I was surprised at how fast the latter chapters moved in comparison to the earlier ones. The first half spanned months while the second half jumped a couple of years ahead. I liked that it’s a complex novel and that Christine Hinwood created so many layers to the story – we see what it’s like for a veteran soldier to go home, what it feels like for the family he left behind, how hard it is for him to make friends. I also liked the bit of romance weaved into the story but it felt underdeveloped. I think the narrative would have worked if the novel was longer because readers would get to know the characters more. As it is, I liked the book a lot more before I read it because it had so much promise. I feel bad because I could have fallen in love with The Returning but didn’t. If you’re curious about this book, I recommend that you still give it a try because you might end up liking it a lot more than I did. I’ve seen mixed reviews for Christine Hinwood’s debut novel – some loved it while it didn’t work for others – so I guess it really depends on the reader.

Other reviews:
Random Musings of a Bibliophile
Persnickety Snark
Books and Threads
Just Booking Around
Killin’ Time Reading


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Retro Friday: The Moonspinners 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.

I’ve always wanted to go to Greece. It seems like such a lovely place, rich in culture and I would love to try authentic Greek food. I have no idea when I’ll be able to go though so I have to content myself with reading books with Greek settings. The Moonspinners is set in Crete and is the second Mary Stewart romantic suspense novel that I’ve read. I’m slowly enjoying going through her entire backlist.

Here’s the summary from Goodreads:

Nicola Ferris, on leave from her job as a secretary in Athens, has been looking forward to a quiet week’s holiday in Crete, enjoying the wild flowers and the company of her cousin Frances.

But before she even reaches her destination Nicola stumbles on evidence of a murderous crime involving a young Englishman and a group of people tied together by blood and the bonds of greed. For the first time in her life Nicola meets a man and a situation she cannot deal with…

I love that Mary Stewart’s books have different settings. I may not be able to afford a trip to Crete, but I can afford to read a book about it. The Moonspinners has such an atmospheric setting and it was one of the reasons why I enjoyed reading it. I liked seeing Crete through Nicola’s eyes because even if she’s lived and worked in Athens for a year, she’s still a foreigner. The little town she stayed in is a quaint and quiet little place, on the brink of being discovered by tourists. She described Greeks as warm and welcoming, fascinated by newcomers and eager to please. The descriptions reminded me a bit of the Philippines – beautiful beaches, pleasant weather and people known for their hospitality. It sounds like a tourist’s dream place, right? It would have been if Nicola didn’t land right smack in the middle of a mystery. Being a nice person, she volunteers to help out even if those involved don’t want to endanger her.

I’m not a big fan of suspense or mystery novels but there’s something about Mary Stewart’s writing that draws me in. I’m never sure of the characters in the novel. I feel like I’m always nervous and worried for her main character, some of her scenes can really make my heart pound. And I’m never sure of the other characters in the novel – who is at fault, who is innocent and if they are hiding anything. I also like how Mary Stewart blends romance and suspense in her novels. Although I did feel like the romance in The Moonspinners was underdeveloped. I would have liked more scenes and conversations between Nicola and her man, I felt like they didn’t have enough time together. I liked the romance much more in Nine Coaches Waiting. Still, The Moonspinners is an oldie but goodie, I believe all of Mary Stewart’s novels are like that. I can’t wait to read the other Mary Stewart novels set in Greece: My Brother Michael and This Rough Magic. I have a feeling I’d enjoy reading those as well. Also, I’ve heard that there’s an old Disney movie based on The Moonspinners, I need to find a copy of that too.

Other reviews:
At Home With A Good Book and the Cat
Kate’s Bookcase


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Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein

Elizabeth Wein is one of my favorite authors and I was thrilled when I discovered that she’s releasing a new book this year, even if it’s not one of her Aksumite books. Code Name Verity is one of my most anticipated 2012 titles. It’s already available from the Book Depository and will be released in the US in May. Before I started reading this, I was warned by the author herself to have a box of tissues within reach. I’m usually not a fan of war novels but since I will read anything that EWein writes, I decided to steel myself and just plunge right into it.

Here’s the summary from Elizabeth Wein’s website:

When “Verity” is arrested by the Gestapo, she’s sure she doesn’t stand a chance. As a secret agent captured in enemy territory, she’s living a spy’s worst nightmare. Her Nazi interrogators give her a simple choice: reveal her mission or face a grisly execution. They’ll get the truth out of her. But it won’t be what they expect.

As she intricately weaves her confession, Verity uncovers her past, how she became friends with the pilot Maddie, and why she left Maddie in the wrecked fuselage of their plane. On each new scrap of paper, Verity battles for her life, confronting her views on courage, failure and her desperate hope to make it home. But will trading her secrets be enough to save her from a merciless and ruthless enemy?

You know that warning about having tissues on hand? Remember that when you read this. Code Name Verity is a wonderful, heartbreaking and riveting story about the friendship between two girls – “Verity” and Maddie. Take a look at that premise and you’d have an idea of why tissues will be needed. There’s a pivotal scene in the latter half of the book that had me in tears and I couldn’t stop crying until I reached the end. By the time you’re through with this book, your heart will ache for both characters and you’d want to squeeze yourself into the story just so you can hug them. I love Verity, she’s such a vibrant and sophisticated character, you can’t help but like her even when she’s clearly out of her element. She makes the best out of the situation and manages to amuse the reader with her anecdotes, enough to lighten the bleak situation. Maddie is also an interesting character – passionate about tinkering with engines and flying planes, she’s very different from her friend. They probably wouldn’t have met if not for the war, but they work well together and they make a sensational team. I love that the focus of the story is the strong sisterly bond between Verity and Maddie, which is unusual nowadays when most YA novels feature romances. YAY for girlfriends! I know next to nothing about World War II, the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force (WAAF) or flying airplanes, but that didn’t matter. I was wholly invested in Verity and Maddie’s story even if I didn’t understand all of the details.

I knew the writing would be clever, it is an EWein novel, after all. But Code Name Verity still managed to surprise me. I want to go on and on about how much I loved this novel but I’m afraid to reveal too much because the less you know about the book before you pick it up, the better the reading experience. If you trust my recommendations and feel like we have similar tastes in books, I urge you to read Code Name Verity. Let me know when you’re done so we can discuss all the spoilery details in private. If you’re a fan of historical fiction or spy stories, then this book is right up your alley. It’s the best book that I’ve read so far in 2012 and will be included in my list of favorites for this year. I would love to reread Code Name Verity but even knowing the events that will unfold, I think my heart needs to recover first. It’s not an easy read but definitely worth the effort. It’s the kind of novel that can make you feel. I have high hopes for this book because I want more readers to discover how amazing EWein is – her books really deserve to get more attention.

If you’re still hesitant about reading this book, check out this beautiful trailer:

I just found out about this but it looks like there’s going to be a Code Name Verity blog tour so be sure to drop by these blogs and see what they have to say about the book:

Also, check out these beautiful Verity and Maddie dolls that EWein’s friend Amanda made for her. I love how detailed their clothes and things are.


30 Comments

Retro Friday: Nine Coaches Waiting 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.

Nine Coaches Waiting by Mary Stewart is one of the titles that Angie suggested when I asked her for recommendations similar to Eva Ibbotson’s novels. I’ve never read a Mary Stewart novel before so I decided I should give her books a try, they seem intriguing. I called the local bookstore and was thrilled to discover that the branch near my house had a copy. This book probably spent the shortest time on my wishlist – bought a copy on the same day I found out about it. Holly mentioned that she’s also interested in reading Nine Coaches Waiting so we decided to do a read-along. As always, it was a lot of fun reading a good book with a friend, even if we can only discuss our thoughts through online means. I think one of the perks of having read-alongs is you get to talk about spoilery details and things that you can’t mention in a review.

Here’s the summary from Goodreads:

When lovely Linda Martin first arrives at Château Valmy as an English governess to the nine-year-old Count Philippe de Valmy, the opulence and history surrounding her seems like a wondrous, ecstatic dream. But a palpable terror is crouching in the shadows. Philippe’s uncle, Leon de Valmy, is the epitome of charm, yet dynamic and arrogant — his paralysis little hindrance as he moves noiselessly in his wheelchair from room to room. Only his son Raoul, a handsome, sardonic man who drives himself and his car with equally reckless abandon, seems able to stand up to him. To Linda, Raoul is an enigma — though irresistibly attracted to him, she senses some dark twist in his nature. When an accident deep in the woods nearly kills Linda’s innocent charge, she begins to wonder if someone has deadly plans for the young count.

Linda is a very lonely young woman. Brought up as an orphan in England, she dreams of going back to her beloved France and jumps at the chance to work as a governess in a chateau located in the French alps. I thought the writing in Nine Coaches Waiting was beautiful and I was charmed by the atmospheric setting. Here’s a passage that I really liked:

“I’d live with loneliness a long time. That was something which was always there… one learns to keep it at bay, there are times when one even enjoys it – but there are also times when a desperate self-sufficiency doesn’t quite suffice, and then the search for the anodyne begins… the radio, the dog, the shampoo, the stockings-to-wash, the tin soldier…”

Linda forgot to include books, which are the best anodyne (had to look up the meaning of that word) for loneliness. It’s not surprising that she bonds with her charge, Philippe, who is also an orphan. Young Philippe may be a count but it sure doesn’t make his life easier. His Uncle Leon and Aunt Heloise may be interesting individuals but they aren’t exactly warm people – I was glad that he slowly became friends with Linda so that there was at least one adult who cared about him. When Raoul de Valmy enters the picture, the novel takes on a Jane Eyre and Cinderella feel. What’s even more delightful is that Linda was aware of it and kept making references to both stories. There’s a slow build-up at the start of the novel, plenty of time to enjoy the writing and get to know the characters. While the mystery wasn’t that surprising, the last few chapters had my heart pounding. I was scared for both Linda and Philippe and I wasn’t sure about a certain character’s innocence. There are enough twists and turns in novel to keep readers guessing. I breezed through the latter section of the book and was more than satisfied with how things ended although I wanted more of the romance. Don’t get me wrong, I think the romance was developed well but I just wanted more scenes between the heroine and her hero.

Nine Coaches Waiting is the first book that I finished this year and if all of the books that I read in 2012 are just as good, I would be one happy reader. Recommended for fans of Gothic mysteries and romantic suspense. I enjoyed reading Nine Coaches Waiting so much that I knew it wouldn’t be the last Mary Stewart book that I’ll read. I’m looking at My Brother Michael or The Moon-Spinners for my next Mary Stewart read because both books are set in Greece and I’ve always wanted to go there. Feel free to recommend your favorite Mary Stewart, would love to check them out!

Other reviews:
Book Harbinger
Angieville
She Reads Novels
At Home With A Good Book and the Cat
Everyday Reading

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