Missing, Presumed by Susie Steiner


Well, hello there! It has been much too long since I’ve posted here. I didn’t mean to go so long without writing anything but, you know,…life. Not that I’ve had a lot of stress or craziness – it just seems that when I’m in the day to day stream of living blogging seems to come last. But I’d really love to make it a priority for the rest of the year. So, here’s to a new start!

Last weekend I was in the mood to read something engrossing, fast-paced with great characters, preferably set in England. While searching my shelves I remembered that I had checked Missing, Presumed out from the library and it was sitting in my library stack – it was meant to be. I opened it, began to read, and almost didn’t stop until I finished it on Monday evening.

Set in Cambridge and centered on DS Manon Bradshaw and her colleagues, Missing, Presumed starts off with a report of a missing Cambridge student, Edith Hind. The door to Edith’s house is ajar and there is blood on her kitchen floor which immediately elevates the case to a high priority status. As Manon and the rest of her team, including her supervisor Harriet and her affable friend Davy, rush to find clues frustration takes over as they find nothing to really lead them to locating Edith. As weeks go by their desperation grows until Edith’s surprising link to an ex inmate rushes them toward the startling resolution.

At the same time as we’re following the investigation we’re also learning about Manon’s messy love life and Davy’s dissatisfaction with his jealous girlfriend. Though the novel is told from multiple view points (Manon, Davy, the victim’s mother) I feel Manon is most definitely the main and most interesting character and the one I think the series will follow on to the next book. The character development in this novel is its strong suit as the actual mystery layer is not as well developed as in some of the best mysteries, but I’m hoping that the author will focus more on that aspect of her series in the next volume. So though this is not the most fantastic mystery I’ve read it is a solid start to a new series and I will probably read the next one when it’s released in summer 2017.

Have you read any good mysteries lately?

AV/AA in Brief


I truly enjoyed taking a break from galleys in August to focus on reading Persephones and Viragos. I didn’t read as many as I planned to, but I think five is a respectable number (I’m including Anderby Wold, which I previously posted about). Instead of trying catch up with individual posts about the remaining four novels I’m briefly capturing each one here:

The Expendable Man by Dorothy B. Hughes – This is a remarkable suspense novel published in 1963 that deals with the still sadly relevant issue of how the police treat black suspects and how the fear of false arrest and mistreatment psychologically impacts those suspects. Reading it was so tense and disconcerting – it’s perfectly paced to create a maximum feeling of complete anxiety. The novel is set in Phoenix (where I live) and it was fascinating to read about the city in the early sixties. There aren’t many novels set in Arizona so I found it particularly absorbing. This book was recently featured on the Persephone Forum.

Little Boy Lost by Marghanita LaskiLittle Boy Lost is another really great psychologically tense novel about an English man who reluctantly tries to locate his missing child in France after the end of WWII. It’s an effort not to skip forward to see how this turns out and when the end does come it is utterly haunting.

Saplings by Noel Streatfeild Saplings is set during WWII and tells the story of how the war affects four young children, all siblings, as the vicissitudes of fortune through the years change their circumstances and very personalities. It’s quite affecting and terribly sad and I found myself worrying and wondering about them long after I’d finished the novel.

Our Spoons Came From Woolworths by Barbara Comyns – After reading the gut wrenching Persephones it was refreshing to read this funny, messy and kooky novel set among a group of artists in London during the thirties. Not that bad things don’t happen here – they do, and some really pretty things awful too, but Comyns has a way of making dire poverty, marital troubles, a horrific childbirth experience, depression, death and displacement seem like a grand adventure.

What a wonderful month of reading I had!

Disclaimer by Renée Knight


One of my very favorite genres is the ‘suburban suspense’ or ‘domestic suspense’ novel. Books like The Girl on the Train, Gone Girl, etc. They can be extremely well done with vivid writing, well drawn characters and clever, tight plotting. Or they can be predictable, messy and dull. Thankfully, Disclaimer is in the former category. It is an excellent example of this particular brand of novel.

The story is told in alternating chapters first from the viewpoint of the revengeful stalker who is trying to ruin the life of an award-winning documentary filmmaker, and then from the filmmaker, Catherine’s, point of view. Twenty years previously the stalker’s son died and he’s convinced that Catherine was the cause. His late wife wrote a fictionalized version of the accident that killed their son and the stalker has found it, self-published it and made sure that Catherine, her husband and her son have seen it. Though it is fictionalized there’s enough truth in it for Catherine’s husband to realize that it is about her and their marriage and family is utterly devastated. As the novel progresses, the suspense increases and the stalker gets angrier – the stalker wants more than to ruin Catherine’s life – he wants to end it. But then the plot takes quite a turn, something I didn’t see coming at all – and it left me breathless and quietly horrified.

Disclaimer is not only an excellent suspense novel but a novel that makes you question your own assumptions about how well you really know people, even your own family. I think this is a stunning novel and if you are in the mood for a meditative page-turner this summer this is the book for you.

The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins

girl on train

So the first book I finished in 2015 is the gripping, twisty, clever, nail-biting mystery that is being advertised as ‘the next Gone Girl‘. Whether it will have that kind of success or not (the film rights have already been bought) I don’t know or care, I just enjoyed the experience of reading this very well-written thriller.

The novel has three narrators and we see parts of the story from each perspective. The main narrative follows Rachel, a thirty-something alcoholic who can’t get over her ex-husband. Not wanting to tell her roommate that she’s been fired from her job she still takes the 8.04 train every day into London where she drinks in the park or hangs out in the library. One of the houses the train passes on her journey into town captures her interest and she looks for the inhabitants, whom she has mythologized in her mind as the perfect couple, every time the train goes by.

As her drinking gets worse she antagonizes her ex-husband and his new wife to the point of hatred (on their part) and frustrates her roommate. Then one Saturday night she blacks out and can’t remember where she went or what she did except for vague flashes of falling and of fighting. When the wife of her perfect couple goes missing on the same day Rachel wonders if her missing memories hold the key to solving the woman’s disappearance.

Like all good thrillers, this novel has many layers so I don’t want to say too much about the plot as part of the fun of the story is peeling back the layers for yourself. It is not as dark or gleefully twisted as Gone Girl (which is just fine by me) but still holds the reader in thrall in a most delicious way. I wouldn’t suggest this for fans of Gone Girl – I’d suggest it for anyone who likes complex, highly suspenseful novels, unreliable narrators and page-turning puzzlement.

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!

Nine Coaches Waiting by Mary Stewart

nine coaches

After my slight disappointment with Wildfire at Midnight I chose my next Stewart carefully. I wanted something that I would love as much as I love The Moonspinners or Thornyhold so I read the beginning of several novels to see what would click. As soon as I started reading Nine Coaches Waiting I knew it was the one.

Linda Martin is a young woman who’s been engaged as a governess to the nine-year-old Comte de Valmy, Philippe. She travels to his home, the Chateau Valmy, in the mountains of eastern France not far from Geneva and commences to oversee his education and day-to-day care. Philippe is an orphan and is under the guardianship of his Uncle Leon and Aunt Heloise who are not very affectionate people, but seem to care about his general well-being. The chateau is very isolated so Linda spends most of her time with Philippe with occasional trips into the nearest town where she soon meets a friendly Englishman, William Blake. After several frightening accidents nearly take Philippe’s life, Linda’s sense of security is shattered and she suspects that something is not quite right at the Chateau Valmy. She puts these feelings aside, however, with the arrival of Leon’s gorgeous son Raoul. Will Linda let the distraction of a dark, mysterious man blind her to the truth about Philippe’s accidents?

Nine Coaches Waiting is my new favorite Mary Stewart. It has a stunning setting, a self-contained and courageous heroine (Leon compares her to Jane Eyre), the best love interests, a layered plot and wonderful supporting characters. I think it also has more character development than in any of the other Stewart’s I’ve read. We really get to know them and what makes them tick. As always, it is also very stylish and has fantastic fifties dialogue.

I highly, highly recommend this novel. It embodies everything I love about Stewart’s writing and ensures her status as my favorite comfort read author for years to come.

Mary Stewart posts so far:

Airs Above the Ground – A Work in Progress

The Gabriel Hounds – bibliolathas

The Little Broomstick – Pining for the West

The Moonspinners – Miss Bibliophile

My Brother Michael – Fleur In Her World

Nine Coaches Waiting – Quixotic Magpie

Stormy Petrel – She Reads Novels

Stormy Petrel – The Worm Hole

This Rough Magic – Quixotic Magpie

Wildfire at Midnight – TBR 313

Wildfire at Midnight – The Bookworm Chronicles

Two days to go!

Wildfire at Midnight by Mary Stewart


Wildfire at Midnight is set on the Isle of Skye during the week leading up to the queen’s coronation. Giannetta Brooke is a successful fashion model and wants to escape London during the festivities in order to take a rest from her busy schedule. She ends up in an isolated hotel in Camasunary, an area that is popular with climbers. Little does she know that she has walked right into the middle of a murder investigation – a few weeks previous a young local woman was killed in an eerie manner that seems almost sacrificial. Added to this is Giannetta’s discovery that her ex-husband is also staying in the hotel. Her relaxing holiday quickly turns tense and even frightening as everyone in the hotel, including her ex-husband, is a suspect. No one can be trusted.

When I began reading this novel I was pleasantly surprised because it seemed that it was going to follow the format of a traditional murder mystery instead of a romantic suspense novel – something a little bit different for Stewart. However, it turned out to be true to her form with all of the signature elements her novels usually embrace. There are the stunning descriptions of the landscape, the plucky yet vulnerable heroine, the two love interests and the fast-paced plot. In this novel, the usual Stewart formula doesn’t quite produce the magic that it usually does for me. The characters seem too wooden and the romance is not very well developed. The effort seems almost half-hearted. I did enjoy the novel, it is just not of the stellar quality of some of her other books. I suppose when you write a book a year for nearly two decades some of them will be better than others. I’d recommend Wildfire at Midnight for true Stewart fans who don’t mind a few misses or for readers who are extremely fond of a Scottish setting.

Mary Stewart posts so far:

The Little Broomstick – Pining for the West

Nine Coaches Waiting – Quixotic Magpie

Stormy Petrel – She Reads Novels

Wildfire at Midnight – TBR 313

Have I missed yours?


Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

Sometimes I jump on bandwagons – never for sports teams, but occasionally for books. Last week I decided to jump on the Gone Girl bandwagon. This cunning thriller has been the talk of the summer at my library and has been mentioned on almost every ‘Best Books of Summer’ list I’ve seen. There are still over 100 holds on it in my library system and more requests being made by the hour. I really wanted to see what all the fuss is about.

Gone Girl starts out as a traditional missing woman novel. Amy disappears one morning from her Missouri home and all clues lead to her husband, Nick, as being the prime suspect. The story moves back and forth between Nick’s account of the investigation and Amy’s past journal entries. The reader quickly realizes that we’re dealing with two unreliable narrators and the first half of the book is a dizzying journey through the heads of this couple with many twists and turns driving the plot along a compelling, but unknown, road.

The second half of the novel has a much different feel because we find out a startling fact about Amy that changes the entire landscape of the novel and very cleverly switches the feel of the book from a murder investigation to an examination of marriage. All of the big (and little) issues that can infect a marriage are intensified here and completely transformed into psychosis. It is well-done and fascinatingly so.

However, I didn’t really like this novel. I was left with a sense of vague disappointment that I feel after reading most contemporary thrillers. I think this is a matter of personal taste rather than anything wrong with the quality of the book. I definitely recognize the excellence of the plot and writing, but I don’t like the overuse of profanity, the crudity or the general sense of modern malaise. Yes, I am old-fashioned and somewhat of a prude and feel more comfortable in the world of Barbara Pym than in the world of Gillian Flynn.

If you are a fan of thrillers I would recommend this, though. It is a very good suspense novel and obviously appeals to a lot of people. It has a unique plot and is undeniably absorbing. It just wasn’t for me.

I’d like to know – how do you feel about profanity in novels?


Madam, Will You Talk? by Mary Stewart

For my fifth Mary Stewart novel I decided to read the very first book she published, in 1955, Madam, Will You Talk? This action-packed thriller is set in the South of France and is the first-person account of Charity Selborne and the trouble she finds herself in just for being nice to a little boy.

Charity and her friend Louise settle in to Avignon, Charity intending to play the tourist and Louise to relax, draw, read and enjoy the sun. When Charity befriends a young boy named David she unknowingly embroils herself in a dangerous murder plot involving his father, his step-mother and some really shady war criminals. This Stewart has a lot more action than her others I’ve read, a lot more trickery and deception. I like Charity’s character – she has gumption and courage, but I love her friend Louise who is described as “unutterably and incurably lazy.” I remember loving the sidekick aunt character in The Moonspinners also – Stewart writes great supporting characters.

Madam, Will You Talk? is very definitely a vintage thriller. It is the first of hers I’ve read that felt a tad dated. But I don’t mind at all because I love the ’50’s and enjoyed reading something that was written during the time period and felt like it.

I think The Moonspinners is still my favorite of the Stewart’s that I’ve read, but Madam, Will You Talk? was hugely entertaining and I loved reading it.

The author Deanna Raybourn discusses Mary Stewart from a writer’s persepective here.

There’s still time to enter my giveaway for The Blank Wall – go here to enter. Entries due by tomorrow at midnight.

Have you seen this video for Penguin’s English Library series? It’s kind of bizarre, but I like it!

Thunder on the Right by Mary Stewart

Last month, I went on a little spending spree and bought five of the new vintage-looking Mary Stewart editions published by Hodder & Stoughton last year. I just love the way these colorful covers look. They do Mary Stewart proud and make her novels a tad more enticing to today’s readers (I hope).

Thunder On the Right, my third Mary Stewart, was part of my spoils and has a lovely pale green cover that is just perfect. The background I used in the photo is a piece of fabric that Katrina from Pining for the West sent me and I think it is a great compliment. Thanks again, Katrina!

This book is the first Stewart I’ve read that takes place outside of England. It is set in the Pyrenees, the mountains that divide France and Spain. The plot involves a case of identity theft and the struggle to uncover the truth behind the switch.

Jennifer Silver, a young Englishwoman, travels to France to meet her cousin Gillian, but when she arrives she’s told that Gillian died in a convent after a horrible car crash. Not quite believing the nuns who tell her the news, she decides to stick around and investigate the accident to find out exactly what happened. Joined in her endeavors by a former boyfriend, she uncovers a sinister smuggling operation that somehow involves Gillian.

This novel is the least favorite of the Stewart novels I’ve read. The plot is pretty feeble and the evil characters are comically drawn. There is too much melodrama and not enough backstory to make it as interesting as the others I’ve read. And there is zero character development. Other reviews I’ve read online concede that this is perhaps Stewart’s weakest novel.

That being said, I gobbled it up and did not want to stop. I usually read Mary Stewart in the bath and they are so riveting, this one included, that I end up all pruney by the time I can pull myself away.

If you’re new to Stewart I wouldn’t recommend this as your first experience of her writing. It is probably best to read it when you are already addicted to her and can’t be discouraged from thinking she’s wonderful.