Tag Archives: suspense

2019 Reading Challenge: My 5 Star Reviews, Part 6 (Mary Stewart!)

Some authors woo you slowly. Erudite and witty, you don’t fall at first glance, but you eventually come to love them. Other authors never quite win you. The spark should be there but no matter how many of their books you read, it never becomes more. More rarely, but infinitely precious for it, you fall for an author at first glance and, more marvelously still, stay in love with them past the cover or the opening line.

That would be me and Mary Stewart. It was love at first read and 9 books later, I am still obsessed. 7 of her books got 5-stars from me, the remaining 2 got 4-stars. I decided the five-stars deserved their own blog post. Two caveats: Mary Stewart is mostly known for her Arthurian fantasies. I have not read those yet. I have only read her romantic suspense novels. Second, she writes romantic suspense novels primarily aimed at women. They lack mystery, but they make up for it with awesome, Gothic atmosphere and kick-butt females. So, if you read her books, don’t go in expecting a whodunit. 

That said…I present my favorite books from my favorite ‘new’ author! (But also not so new as she wrote these mainly in the 1950s and ’60s.)

 Madam, Will You Talk? 

WW2 widow Charity Selborne decides to take a leisurely vacation in France to pull the pieces of her broken life back together. When she arrives at her hotel, she befriends a terrified boy on the run from his enigmatic, possibly murderous father. The book is full of eerie settings and long, descriptive passages. Character pause constantly to drink cognac or smoke cigarettes. Yet despite the slow, descriptive nature of the book, it is also an adventure novel and abounds with murderers, neo-Nazis, and exciting car chases. And best of all, you can listen to a brilliant audio version for free on YouTube.

This Rough Magic

When failed actress Lucy Waring agrees to join her sister for a vacation on Corfu, the last thing she expects is to get entangled with murder. Complete with communists, scenic beaches, and loads of Shakespeare quotes, this is probably my favorite Mary Stewart novel.

The Ivy Tree

While on vacation in England, Mary Gray gets accosted by a gentleman who says she looks just like his cousin, Annabel Winslow. Annabel disappeared years ago but her grandfather still refuses to leave his wealthy farm to anyone but her. He asks Mary to pretend to be Annabel and convince their grandfather to leave the farm to him instead. But mystery surrounds Annabel’s disappearance and Mary quickly realizes she might be in over her head.

Nine Coaches Waiting

When Linda Martin first accepts a position as an English-speaking governess to the nine-year-old Count Philippe de Valmy, she assumes her ability to speak French won’t matter. But she quickly learns that the Count’s French guardians intentionally advertised for an English speaker and that more is going on than meets the eye. When her young charge nearly dies, she decides it is up to her to save the day.

Airs Above the Ground

Vanessa March quarreled with her husband and now feels dreadful about it. But he’s off on a business trip in Stockholm so there is no use fretting to death…until she sees him in the background of a newsreel at a fire in Austria clutching a very pretty girl. Then all bets are off. And if she happens to get embroiled in the mystery of who set the fire while tracking down her missing husband? Well, that’s just a bonus. 

The Moon-Spinners

Nicola Ferris, secretary at the British Embassy on Crete, decides to take a walking holiday and further explore the beautiful island. But things quickly go awry when she stumbles upon a severely injured man in an abandoned shepherd’s cottage and learns there may be more to the nearby village than meets the eye. 

Touch Not the Cat

Bryony Ashley of Ashley Court has a secret. For as long as she can remember, she has shared a psychic bond with one of her cousins. The problem is, she doesn’t know which one. When her Father dies and leaves her a cryptic warning, she hurries home to find out once and for all who her mysterious ‘lover’ is and what dark secret Ashley Court holds. I particularly enjoyed this one because the whole ‘psychic bond with a stranger’ plot reminded me of Unspoken by Sarah Rees Brennan which was one of my favorite reads of 2016. 

 

 

(Also, HAPPY BIRTHDAY, BETHANY!!!! ❤ )


Only Ever Her by Marybeth Mayhew Whalen

LOOK at this cover. Doesn’t it look amazing?

Image result for only ever her

Judged by the cover, this easily ranks as a 5 star read. Alas, not all books live up to their look. 

Only Ever Her tells the story of Annie Taft: a woman about to get married who learns her mother’s murderer is being let out of prison. Her testimony as a three-year-old put him in jail. Anxious to escape her notorious past as a murdered woman’s daughter, she nevertheless agrees to support his release on the grounds that her testimony was probably an unreliable one. 

Then, four days before her wedding, Annie disappears. 

Told from the switching viewpoint of five different people, Only Ever Her started off interestingly enough. By the end, though, I was heartily ready to be done with it. As a disclaimer, I must admit that I do not normally read thrillers and a good chunk of my critique really comes down to my reaction to the genre in general. 

There is just too much melodrama for the story to feel believable. Everyone hides a skeleton in their closet. No one is quite honest, either with themselves or with one another. Every relationship is heavy, tangled, and angsty. 

And then it all wraps up and I guess we’re supposed to…what? Be like, ‘Gee, glad that worked out the way it did’? ‘What a great moral lesson about how humans suck.’ 

It is someone’s cup of tea, just not mine.

Further, being a law student made this one hard to read. I kept inwardly flinching at time lines (the man put away for Annie’s mother’s murder got release within days of announcing an appeal, which would never happen) or the behavior of the police. (Are they trying to get all the evidence thrown out of court?!)

But if you do like contemporary suspense dramas, you will probably enjoy it. It was fast paced and easy to read. 


Silence For the Dead by Simone St. James

Silence For the Dead

The Great War just ended but for many the horror still remains. 21-year-old Kitty Weekes is on the run. Determined to get out of London, she forges credentials and presents herself as a nurse at Portis House, a “madhouse” for soldiers suffering from PTSD. But Portis House hides its own secrets. The previous owners mysteriously disappeared. An unknown stalks the corridors at night. And the men all suffer from the same terror…someone coming for them at night. Someone now coming for Kitty, too.

4 out of 5 stars

Silence For the Dead attempts two things. Separately, they succeed. Together, they fall short of full success. But surprisingly, not as short as I initially expected.

First, the book presents historical fiction with a psychological twist. The plot takes place post-WW1 in a “madhouse” for soldiers suffering from PTSD. Kitty experienced abuse as a child and suffers her own form of PTSD. It all feels very realistic and well-crafted. While the heroine might demonstrate a little too much ‘open-mindedness’ for true historicity, the modern mindset towards mental health does not really permeate these pages and that helps a lot with the setting. These men—and the people around them—view themselves as cowards for giving into their nightmares. As historical fiction I found I really enjoyed the setting and the balance the author strikes. 

Second, this is a ghost story. Think And Then There Were None but with ghosts. The characters all live in isolation with no chance of escape, even the staff. Something is coming and they are helpless to stop it. The mystery of the abandoned house-turned-hospital remains an open ended question until the climax. Very intense, very eerie, and very enjoyably put together. I am as a general rule skeptical of ghosts and “mad” characters who act without rhyme or reason. They make such terribly convenient excuses for irrational actions. But the author doesn’t give into the convenience; she does a good job laying the groundwork and setting up the climax. It really pushed this book up a star in my mind.

Separately, then, two good plots. The problem comes when you combine them. It is hard to take the soldiers’ PTSD seriously when ghosts stalk around causing trouble. But on the flip side, it is hard to genuinely enjoy the ghost story when the author so carefully presents actual, psychological issues. The fantasy disrupts the realism and the realism disrupts the fantasy. I never felt the full “punch” of either story line because the other one kept dancing in my peripheral vision, distracting from the actual emotions before me.

But it works in the end. Not, perhaps, as well as it could. But well enough that I do recommend this one if either of those genres catches your interest. It was an engrossing, fun story. I’ll definitely find more by this author.

(PG-13 for a fade to black scene.)