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

Mary Stewart

This morning I found out that author Mary Stewart has passed away. She was 97 years old. Announcement and obituary from The Guardian can be viewed here and here. A snippet from the obituary:

Stewart introduced a different kind of heroine for a newly emerging womanhood. It was her “anti-namby-pamby” reaction, as she called it, to the “silly heroine” of the conventional contemporary thriller who “is told not to open the door to anybody and immediately opens it to the first person who comes along”. Instead, Stewart’s stories were narrated by poised, smart, highly educated young women who drove fast cars and knew how to fight their corner. Also tender-hearted and with a strong moral sense, they spoke, one felt, with the voice of their creator. Her writing must have provided a natural form of expression for a person not given to self-revelation.

Loved that story about how she met her husband and how they got married three months later. It’s heartbreaking that she badly wanted to have kids and yet she couldn’t. I found it interesting that that’s what led her to write novels. While I discovered Mary Stewart’s books fairly recently (only a few years ago) and I’ve only read a handful of them, I wanted to write a post about her novels because I enjoyed reading them and I would like more readers to pick up her books.

STB Nine Coaches Waiting

I can still remember how I first discovered Mary Stewart. I was asking my book pusher friend Angie for recommendations that were similar to Eva Ibbotson’s writing because I love her books. Angie then mentioned Mary Stewart and recommended that I can start with Nine Coaches Waiting. I grabbed a copy and read it as soon as I could. I was charmed by this Jane Eyre-esque book and I knew it wouldn’t be the last Mary Stewart novel that I would read. I have read some of her other titles since then and I keep meaning to read more of them. One thing that I really like about her romantic suspense books is that each is set in a different town or city and she does such a great job of describing the place. In this website that focuses on Mary Stewart, it is mentioned that she and her husband “traveled extensively, and these trips provided inspiration for the spectacular and exotic settings that her novels are so famous for.” I’ve also heard good things about her Arthurian series, which I’m also planning to read. Mary Stewart is the kind of author that I wish I had known about sooner. Her novels would have probably ended up as old favorites if I discovered her when I was much younger. As it is, the best that I can do now is to catch up on reading her books and try to spread the word about them. I’m thinking of reading her first novel, Madam, Will You Talk?, soon since it’s set in the South of France and I would love to read more about that region. Please feel free to recommend and talk about your favorite Mary Stewart titles, I would be interested in hearing your thoughts.

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

Want Books: Mary Stewart’s Books

Want Books? is a weekly meme hosted here at Chachic’s Book Nook and features released books that you want but you can’t have for some reason. It can be because it’s not available in your country, in your library or you don’t have the money for it right now. Everyone is free to join, just grab the image above. Leave a comment with a link to your post so I can do a roundup with each post.

I know I usually only post about one book in each of my Want Books posts but I couldn’t help but write about all of Mary Stewart’s books. So far, I’ve only read one of her books: Nine Coaches Waiting. She’s such a delightful author and it seems like so many readers are fans of her work. That made me more excited to read the rest of her books. Her romantic suspense novels have all been re-issued in these lovely modern classics edition and I’ve managed to acquire five more of them.

Only a couple more until I have the entire set! Although I’ve been telling myself that I should finish reading the ones that I have before I buy the rest. I’m currently in the middle of The Moonspinners. Aside from her romantic suspense novels, Mary Stewart also wrote an intriguing Arthurian series, from Merlin’s point of view. I want these as well but they’re not locally available.

Someday, I will have a complete Mary Stewart collection. Maybe when I’m done trimming down the TBR pile. What about the rest of you, what books are in your wishlist? Are you obsessing about one particular author as well?