The Gabriel Hounds by Mary Stewart

The Gabriel Hounds cover

The Gabriel Hounds by Mary Stewart was first published in 1967. The setting is the Middle East, High Lebanon and with that and just about everywhere else that is mentioned such as Syria now being completely unrecognisable having been bombed to hell and back – I found that aspect of the book really sad. Politicians – HUH!

Apart from that the book was just okay, I’ll give it a 3 on Goodreads I think, for me it dragged a fair amount although it did heat up quite a bit towards the end.

Christy Mansell is a young English woman from a wealthy family, she’s in Damascus and intends to visit her great-aunt who had settled nearby years ago, building a large palace for herself. Great-aunt Harriet is an eccentric who has modelled herself on a Victorian called Lady Hester. Before Christy can visit her aunt she bumps into her cousin Charles, he had been her hero in her younger days, he’s a few years older than Christy, they look very alike and their fathers are identical twins. There had been a sort of tongue in cheek expectation that they would get married (so far so shuddersome as far as I’m concerned!!)

When Christy reaches her great-aunt’s palace it’s evident that the place is falling apart and her aunt is on her last legs. She’s being attended by some suspect characters and Christy realises that her appearance there isn’t at all welcome. She’s determined to get to the bottom of it all.

As I said, it does get more interesting towards the end although for me it didn’t come close to her usual suspense and I found the romance side of it to be distinctly icky!

My Brother Michael by Mary Stewart

My Brother Michael cover

My Brother Michael by Mary Stewart was first published in 1959 – a very good year I think! But my paperback copy is from 1971.

The story begins with Camilla Haven sitting in a crowded cafe in Greece where she’s on holiday on her own after the break up of a long term relationship, She’s writing a letter to her friend back in the UK and bemoaning the fact that nothing exciting ever happens to her, no sooner has she written that when a man throws car keys onto her table and says that the car he has ordered is waiting for her. There’s been some sort of mix up as she hasn’t asked for a car but eventually Camilla decides to take the car and drive it to Delphi, it’s apparently a life or death situation that the car is delivered there and she had been planning on visiting Delphi anyway.

There she meets Simon who is a Classics teacher back in England and Simon is on a mission to visit his brother’s grave and to discover more about his death. Michael had been in the British army and involved with the Greek resistance fighters during World War 2 – a terrible time for the Greeks as the Nazis treated them so badly, but to make matters worse the various factions of Greek freedom fighters fought amongst themselves, so it was difficult to know who to trust. As the story unfolds it transpires that Camilla also finds it difficult to know who is on her side.

I really enjoyed this one, Mary Stewart was obviously very fond of Greece and the Greeks, as I recall she used it as a setting a few times. There’s plenty of suspense in this one and I can’t help thinking that Mary Stewart would have had a far higher profile and reputation if she had been a male author.

This Rough Magic by Mary Stewart

This Rough Magic cover

This Rough Magic by Mary Stewart was first published in 1964 and the setting is the Greek island of Corfu, where Lucy Waring, a young aspiring actress is invited to stay with her sister for the summer. Her acting career has come to a bit of a halt so it’s an ideal opportunity for her, especially when she discovers that her sister’s neighbour is a famous thespian Sir Julian Gale. His son Max is staying with him, in fact it seems that Sir Julian isn’t in the best of health.

It’s a wee bit of an English enclave on that part of the island, there’s also a photographer who is working on a book of photos of the island and its animals and a dolphin features fairly prominently. But there’s plenty of local colour and of course romance.

Corfu is apparently supposed to be the setting for Shakespeare’s The Tempest from which Stewart took the title for this and which is one that I’ve been intending to read for absolutely yonks now, and I really wish I had got around to it as there are so many quotes from it in the book. Mary Stewart was really well-read.

I enjoyed this one, there’s plenty of suspense although I don’t think it was quite as good as Nine Coaches Waiting.

I read this one for the Read Scotland 2017 Challenge and 20 Books of Summer.

Madam, Will You Talk? by Mary Stewart

Madam Will You Talk? cover

Madam, Will You Talk? by Mary Stewart was first published in 1955 but my copy is from 1969 as I think you would have realised from the cover. When I was reading this book I didn’t realise that it is actually the first book that she had published, it certainly doesn’t read like a first effort.

Charity is a young widow and when she decided to go on a road trip to Provence she asked her close friend Louise to accompany her. Not long after arriving at their hotel Charity befriends David an English teenager who is staying there with his French step-mother. It transpires that David’s father Richard has been tried for murder but has been acquitted, and when Charity overhears a conversation she realises that Richard is in France and is trying to track down his son. She is sure that David is in danger, he certainly seems to be terrified of his father.

I really enjoyed this book which is a mystery, adventure, romance and travelogue all rolled into one. There are some lovely descriptions of the countryside and there’s a hair-raising high speed car journey with Charity as the expert driver, something quite advanced and new for a female character in 1955 I think.

I read this one for the Read Scotland 2017 Challenge.

Airs Above the Ground by Mary Stewart

Airs Above the Ground cover

Airs Above the Ground was first published in 1965 but my paperback copy is from 1967, I really like the cover and I found the book to be a great read. In fact I’m sure that if this book had been written by a man it would have had a much higher profile and might have been made into a film. A lot of it is full of suspense, it’s much more of an adventure/mystery than for instance – John Buchan’s books, in my opinion.

On page one the Guardian newspaper is mentioned as the main character Vanessa March is a Guardian reader. Presumably Mary Stewart was also one as she incorporated a classic Guardian misprint in an article from the newspaper. The word ‘churned’ appears when it should have been ‘burned’. In case you don’t know, the Guardian is affectionately called the Grauniad as the typesetters were always making mistakes. Of course nowadays it’s all done on computers so that isn’t such a problem – or feature.

Anyway, back to the book. Chapter one begins in Harrod’s tearoom where Vanessa March is having tea with her mother’s old friend Carmel. Vanessa has only been married for a few years and she’s had a bit of a ‘domestic’ with her husband Lewis as he has had to change their holiday plans at short notice. From something that Carmel says – it seems that Lewis might not be where he says he is and so follows the adventure with Vanessa travelling to Austria in search of the truth and Lewis, with help from Tim – Carmel’s seventeen year old son who is in need of time away from his suffocating mother.

Tim’s a huge fan of the Spanish Riding School in Vienna and the Lipizzaner horses, and he’s very impressed that Vanessa is in fact a trained vet. With the storyline moving on to a travelling circus featuring animals (a pet hate of mine) it was a bit of a wonder that I wasn’t put off by that, although circus acts don’t feature too much.

I read this one for the Read Scotland 2017 Challenge. Sadly I don’t have too many of Mary Stewart’s books still to read now, I think I’ve read them all except My Brother Michael and maybe Madam Will You Talk.

Recent book purchases – Mary Stewart

I’ve been looking for these Mary Stewart books and although I had been hoping to find hardbacks in a secondhand bookshop, I decided to settle for the copies in the photo below when I found them in a Stockbridge, Edinburgh bookshop. The covers are so of their time. Airs Above the Ground is a 1967 reprint, it was originally published in 1965. Mr Brother Michael was published in 1959 but this reprint was published in 1971 – the eighth impression.
Mary Stewart
I did read a lot of Mary Stewart’s books way back in the 1970s but I think that I missed Airs Above the Ground and My Brother Michael back then, so I’m really looking forward to reading them soon – for the Read Scotland 2017 Challenge of course.

If you are a regular visitor to ‘Pining’ then you’ll realise that Stockbridge in Edinburgh is my favourite stamping ground for books, but when I’m there I never take any photos of the place, I’m too busy perusing book and charity shops and also it’s quite a busy area so it would be impossible to take photos without getting a lot of people in them. So if you want to know what Stockbridge looks like have a keek here.

Nine Coaches Waiting by Mary Stewart

Nine Coaches Waiting cover

Nine Coaches Waiting by Mary Stewart was first published in 1958.

The book is a mixture of mystery and romance and has an almost Victorian feel to it as Linda is a young English woman, alone in the world and in need of some way of supporting herself. Linda’s mother had been French and Linda had lived in France in the past so she is a fluent French speaker but when a job opportunity comes up for her and it seems that it is only open to an English woman she decides to hide her ability to speak French.

Linda becomes governess to a young boy Phillippe whose parents have died recently. It means that Phillippe has inherited the family estate as his father was the eldest of three brothers. But Phillippe’s uncle had been in control of the estate for some years as Phillippe’s father had been more interested in his archaeology career which kept him away from the chateau that should have been his home.

It isn’t long before Linda realises that Phillippe’s life is in danger and she picks up various interesting pieces of information as her employers think that she doesn’t speak French.

I always enjoy Mary Stewart’s writing and I found this one to be a page turner, full of suspense and great holiday reading.

The title Nine Coaches Waiting was taken from a Renaissance play by Cyril Tourneur – The Revenger’s Tragedy and although there are twenty-one chapters in the Stewart book nine of them are headed by a coach number with Ninth Coach appearing as the name of the last chapter. The coach chapters all deal with car journeys that are important to the storyline.

I know that someone who reviewed Nine Coaches Waiting on Goodreads was perplexed as to why the book was titled as it is. My copy of the book is a very old paperback so maybe later versions of the book had those chapter headings removed, or maybe that reviewer just didn’t read the book very closely.

I read this one for the Read Scotland 2016 Challenge.

Touch Not the Cat by Mary Stewart

Touch not the Cat cover

Touch Not the Cat by Mary Stewart was published in 1976 and it must have been around about then that I first read it. I couldn’t remember an awful lot about the book (it was a long time ago after all) but I did remember that the family crest had something to do with the storyline. Judith @ Reader in the Wilderness and I decided to read this one at the same time and she plans to get her post up about it soon.

This is a light read, you might call it a comfort read, perfect holiday or summertime reading. The setting is mainly Herefordshire in England in the 1970s although the book does begin in Madeira where Bryony Ashley is working at a hotel that is owned by her father’s friend, it’s just a holiday job for her but tragedy strikes when Bryony’s father is knocked down and killed by a hit and run car in Germany. Her father wasn’t killed outright and his last words have been written down for Bryony, as the doctors know that she won’t get to his bedside before he dies. There is a tradition of a sort of telepathy within the Ashley family and Bryony has it as has one of her male relatives, but she doesn’t know which one it is that communicates with her through thought.

Bryony is now an orphan and even worse than that her family home Ashley Court is entailed meaning that it has to be passed on down the male line in the family. Ashley Court is practically a ruin, an ancient moated house which has suffered from a lack of maintenance for years. It’ll be a millstone around the neck of the eldest Ashley cousin Emory, even more than Bryony realises because she discovers that that branch of the family is equally skint when she and her father had believed them to be very well off.

The police have never been able to track down whoever killed Bryony’s father and she begins to think that it wasn’t a simple accident. Did her cousins have something to do with it? Which of her cousins is it that she has a mental link with, being able to communicate through telepathy.

Bryony is suspicious of her cousins, would they have killed her father to get their hands on Ashley Court and the land around it?

With romance thrown in and some lovely descriptions of the surroundings, something always expected in a Mary Stewart book, this was an enjoyable read. Mind you I always compare any of her books with her Merlin/Arthurian trilogy, that ended up being a series of five books. Those books are still my favourites.

I read this one for the Read Scotland 2016 Challenge, I’ve now read thirteen Scottish books so far this year.

Recent Book Purchases

More Old Books

These are some of the books that I’ve bought over the last few weeks. The Naomi Mitchison and Mary Stewart books will obviously be featuring in my Read Scotland 2016 Challenge. The others are all authors that I’ve enjoyed reading in the past.

1. The Heat of the Day by Elizabeth Bowen
2. Kingfishers Catch Fire by Rumer Godden
3. The Land the Ravens Found by Naomi Mitchison
4. A Game of Hide and Seek by Elizabeth Taylor
5. The Gabriel Hounds by Mary Stewart
6. An Episode of Sparrows by Rumer Godden

At the moment I’m in a hotel room in Ypres (Wipers) – a place I never thought we would get around to visiting, but here we are. Strangely we’re in a lovely hotel with a beautiful view of bomb craters that have become a small lake. At the moment I’m about 30 yards from where the Germans used flame-throwers for the very first time, a sobering thought.

We’ve already visited the Menin Gate and witnessed The Last Post ceremony which takes place at 8 pm every night. It was very well attended.

Photos will be forthcoming at a later date.

Reading My Own Damn Books – in March

I decided to join in the Reading My Own Books Challenge at Estella’s Revenge in the hope that it would make me concentrate on my books rather than books from the library. It sort of worked, although I did request some books from the library because other bloggers had loved them. Anyway, in March I read eleven books and of those eight were my own. They were:

1. The Game of Kings by Dorothy Dunnett
2. Murder of a Lady by Anthony Wynne
3. The Edge of the Cloud by K.M.Peyton
4. Crossriggs by Jane and Mary Findlater
5. Introduction to Sally by Elizabeth von Arnim
6. Wildfire at Midnight by Mary Stewart
7. Cork on the Water by McDonald Hastings
8. The Winds of Heaven by Monica Dickens

I had been aiming to read at least six of my own books so I’m very happy with eight although I didn’t manage to read Murder in Piccadilly by Charles Kingston as I had planned, that one will be carried forward to be read in April. I’m hoping to read at least six of my own books in April, I’ll definitely be reading Oblamov by Goncharov because I got that one in the Classics Club Spin.

I have a horrible feeling that I actually bought more than eight books in March though, so the TBR pile is still increasing!