The Ivy Tree by Mary Stewart

ivy tree msrw

Urged on by several people, including Lisa, I decided to read The Ivy Tree as my first Mary Stewart book of the week. And I’m so glad I did. It is a page-turning, twisty, corker of a novel that I binge read in just a couple of days. It would be a great place to start with Stewart if you’ve never read her before.

Set in Northumberland, the tale begins when Mary Grey is approached by a stranger who mistakes her for his long-lost cousin, Annabel. She bears a remarkable resemblance to this mysterious woman who disappeared eight years previous. Initially irritated by the attentions of the handsome Connor Winslow, Mary spontaneously agrees to pose as Annabel so that Con and his sister Lisa can inherit Annabel’s share of the inheritance from their wealthy grandfather (Mary will get a cut, of course). When Mary/Annabel arrives at the family farm she navigates dangerous territory trying to convince everyone that she is who she says she is. She also has to appease Con who makes her nervous with his quietly volatile and unstable personality – and his greed. A major twist comes about 3/4 of the way through the novel and changes everything. Stewart’s usual exciting and suspenseful ending had my heart racing right through the last page.

I think Stewart’s writing in this book is about the best in any of her novels. Her characters are vivid, she writes stunningly about the landscape and the mystery is subtle and surprising.  I think Nine Coaches Waiting is still my favorite of hers, but this is up there with the ones I enjoyed best.

MSRW Posts so far:

Four by Mary Stewart – The Emerald City Reader

This Rough Magic – I Prefer Reading

Thornyhold – Fleur in Her World

Thornyhold – Quixotic Magpie

Touch Not the Cat – TBR 313

Wildfire at Midnight – Tell Me a Story

Let me know if I’ve missed yours!

No Fond Return of Love by Barbara Pym

no fond

No Fond Return of Love is another enjoyable Pym novel, but has elements that were slightly surprising to me after having previously read four of her more conventional novels. It was published in 1961 and has the feel and flavor of that era – I think Pym was really trying to ‘modernize’ her characters and plots to align with the new attitudes emerging during this time period.

The main character is another single, capable, respectable woman named Dulcie Mainwaring. She is an indexer for academic authors and as the novel opens she is attending an indexing conference where she meets Aylwin Forbes, a charming and handsome author, who she immediately becomes obsessed with. She has a habit of observing and researching various people she becomes interested in – these days I think we would probably call it stalking, but it is pretty harmless here. She finds out where Aylwin lives, where his brother preaches and even where his estranged wife resides. At the conference she also forms an interesting relationship with Viola Dace, another indexer who is prickly and odd, to say the least. Viola somehow ends up moving in with Dulcie and Dulcie’s teenage niece whom Forbes becomes attracted to. The various ins and outs of all of their love lives collide and lead to some humorous situations that also leave the reader a tiny bit sad.

One of the main differences of this novel to the other Pym’s I’ve read is that Dulcie is not a churchgoer. I have to admit I was slightly put out when I realized this because I love reading about the clergy and life surrounding the church so much. Fairly or not, I knew that this wasn’t going to be at the top of my Pym favorites list due to that. I also found the writing in No Fond Return of Love to be clunkier than in her other novels and the characters were less engaging. My favorite part of the book was when Dulcie meets Rodney and Wilmet Forsyth, the main characters in A Glass of Blessings, at a museum. Unfortunately, though, it only pointed out to me how wonderful her characters can be and how the characters in No Fond Return of Love fall short of her best.

Of the six Pym novels I’ve read this year, No Fond Return of Love is my least favorite. It just didn’t dazzle me like the others have.

Have you been disappointed by any of your favorite author’s books?

The Moonspinners by Mary Stewart

Well, I’m just moving right along with Mary Stewart. The Moonspinners is the fourth novel I’ve read by her since December and I think it just might be my favorite so far. It is set in Greece and it is fast-paced, sexy, and suspenseful.

Nicola Ferris works for the British Embassy in Athens. It’s Easter time and she makes plans to meet her cousin Frances on Crete in a secluded, non-touristy part of the island. Arriving early, Nicola decides to explore the island on her own before heading into town. While eating her lunch in the mountains near a peaceful waterfall she stumbles into a murderous plot involving a fellow Englishman and his Greek guide. Mark is handsome and intriguing, but he is also suffering from a gun shot and worried for his brother who was kidnapped by unknown assailants. Nicola helps Mark hideout until she must go into town to meet her cousin. Nicola then confides in Frances and they join forces to discover who shot Mark, who kidnapped his brother and why.

Like Thunder on the Right, The Moonspinners has a thrilling, very physically grueling ending with Nicola dodging capture and trying to protect her new found friends. Nicola is a daring and energetic character, immensely sympathetic and adventurous. Her cousin, Frances, is wryly humorous and one of those amiable unmarried ladies.

The Moonspinners is quite stylish so I am not surprised that it was made into a movie starring Hayley Mills back in 1964, which sounds extremely different from the book. Has anyone read the book or seen the film?

Despite my huge TBR stack I’m going to continue with my Mary Stewart kick and next up is Stormy Petrel.