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

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

Silent in the Grave by Deanna Raybourn

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 noticed that I’ve posted at least one Retro Friday review per month this year but I still don’t have one for December. I don’t want to break the streak so here I am, squeezing one last review before the year is out. Silent in the Grave by Deanna Raybourn, the first book in the Lady Julia series, seems like the perfect choice for this. I used to read mysteries back in high school because I just borrowed anything that I could from friends. I think I was never really into it because I thought some of the aspects of mystery novels, such as murder, are creepy and I’m a scaredy-cat. I was looking for a cozy read this December and I’ve heard such good things about the Lady Julia Grey series that I decided to pick it up. Also, the second book in the series is set during Christmastime so it’s the perfect read for this time of the year.

Here’s the summary from Deanna Raybourn’s website:

“Let the wicked be ashamed. Let them be silent in the grave.”

These ominous words, slashed from the pages of a book of Psalms, are the last threat that the darling of London society, Sir Edward Grey, receives from his killer. Before he can show them to Nicholas Brisbane, the private inquiry agent he has retained for his protection, Sir Edward collapses and dies at his London home, in the presence of his wife, Julia, and a roomful of dinner guests.

Prepared to accept that Edward’s death was due to a longstanding physical infirmity, Julia is outraged when Brisbane visits and suggests that Sir Edward has been murdered. It is a reaction she comes to regret when she discovers the damning paper for herself, and realizes the truth.

Determined to bring her husband’s murderer to justice, Julia engages the enigmatic Brisbane to help her investigate Edward’s demise. Dismissing his warnings that the investigation will be difficult, if not impossible, Julia presses forward, following a trail of clues that lead her to even more unpleasant truths, and ever closer to a killer who waits expectantly for her arrival.

This book has a winner of a start. Here are the first few lines:

To say that I met Nicholas Brisbane over my husband’s dead body is not entirely accurate. Edward, it should be noted, was still twitching on the floor.

Those lines immediately make you curious as a reader and you can’t help but be drawn into the story. I was determined to find out who this Nicholas Brisbane was and why Lady Julia’s husband was twitching on the floor. December is such a busy time of the year so I read this book in bits and pieces. I remember there was one time when I read this in a coffee shop while waiting and some of the scenes had me smiling (another moment of crazy person smiling to herself while reading on her Kindle). I was frustrated that I didn’t have enough time to read the past few weeks because I thoroughly enjoyed getting to know both Julia and Nicholas Brisbane in this first novel. Smart and sassy Julia, who slowly starts to come out of her shell after her husband passes away. And the enigmatic Nicholas Brisbane – tall, dark, brooding and with an unusual past. These two are forced to work together to solve the mystery surrounding the death of Julia’s husband.

There are so many delightful aspects of this novel that just worked for me: the wild and unconventional March family, the banter and hint of romance between Julia and Brisbane, the plot that unexpectedly twists and turns. This is a novel (or series) that makes you invest in the characters. I loved Julia’s relationship with her father and I also loved that the Earl is such a liberal and open-minded person for someone living in the Victorian era. I also liked seeing how Julia relates to her sister Portia and her youngest brother Valerius. I have a feeling each book in the series will feature a different March sibling because Julia HAS nine siblings and I’m looking forward to that. I did guess who the murderer was but was completely blindsided by the reasons behind it. I gobbled this up as soon as I had free time on my hands and it made me happy that I finished it and started the second book just in time for Christmas. Silent in the Grave is a good start to a promising series. I’m glad that Deanna Raybourn has a backlist that I can look forward to. Yes to more Julia and Brisbane being partners in solving crime.

So that’s my last Retro Friday post for the year, which was mostly inspired by Angie’s lovely review of Son of the Shadows by Juliet Marillier (one of my favorite novels). I told her that I should up my game next year and should aim for at least two Retro Friday books per month. Old titles are awesome, you know? And I’m always interested in recommending under-the-radar books. Anyway, hope the rest of you are enjoying the year-end festivities! 🙂

Other reviews:
Angieville
Book Harbinger
Janicu’s Book Blog
Good Books and Good Wine
Tempting Persephone