Saturday, April 20, 2019

Airs Above the Ground by Mary Stewart #1965Club

The 1965 Club is a meme in which two prolific bloggers, Simon from Stuck in a Book and Karen from Kaggsy's Bookish Ramblings, promote a specific year of published books. Anyone can join in by reading and reviewing a book published in 1965 and adding a link to that book's review in the comments on Simon's blog.  1944,19681951,1977 have also been promoted. 
This was the original US cover
Title: Airs Above the Ground 
Author: Mary Stewart
Publication: M.S. Mill Co., hardcover, 1965
Genre: Romantic Suspense
Plot: When Vanessa March sees a news report showing her husband in Austria when he told her he was going to Stockholm on business, she is puzzled and his beautiful blonde companion makes her decide to go investigate.  She is accompanied by Timothy Lacy, teenage son of a family friend, and they travel to the small town in Austria where a fire caused havoc to a traveling circus, resulting in international coverage. Thanks to Vanessa’s skill as a veterinarian, she saves the life of a horse at the heart of a long buried secret and is befriended by the circus folk.  Soon she and Tim (who is usefully fluent in German) are plunged into a mystery involving members of the circus and the famous Lipizzan stallions known for their “airs above the ground” dressage, and the friendly atmosphere of the Austrian countryside turns deadly. 
Audience: Mary Stewart, who died in 2014, is/was a romantic suspense category unto herself and everyone else just tries to emulate her, mostly without success.  I was never a big fan of her Merlin books but her romantic suspense is beyond compare.  And although I like this one a lot, it is not even in my top five of her books!*

My Impressions: This is such a delightful read and took me back to the first time I brought it home, back in junior high!  When you pick up a Mary Stewart you are guaranteed a light-hearted romance, some drama and danger, charming characters, and an incredible sense of place.  She also begins each chapter with a literary quote, as befits someone who earned a first in English from Durham University. 

In this book, she transports Vanessa and Tim from damp London to a small village in a hilly region of Austria and brings them (and us) into a small but successful circus.   Vanessa is one of her most accomplished heroines; she is a vet’s daughter and qualified as a vet herself, and when she carries out a tricky operation at midnight with improvised materials, she and Tim are welcomed by the circus owners.
Unlike most Stewart heroines, Vanessa is married, but she quarreled with her husband before he set off on what he claimed was an essential business trip instead of their long-anticipated vacation.   This changes the dynamic a little as part of a typical Stewart story is wondering who the hero will be. Vanessa’s interaction with other characters reveals her determination and ability to think on her feet.   Her relationship with Tim is an appealing part of this book and they make a good team, especially when the mystery takes off.  Tim’s parents are divorced and he was hoping to visit his father in Austria until it turned out the father was preoccupied with a new fiancée. Vanessa is not that much older than he is but operates as a bracing big sister to an initially cranky adolescent, who not only matures but also becomes an amusing and competent adult as the story progresses.   

Stewart’s evocation of the history and magic of the Lipizzaners is an unexpected bonus to this book!   I remember persuading my mother to bring my birthday party to the Boston Garden once when the famous stallions were performing there – if you have never seen them perform, look on YouTube.
Pretty but where's the horse?
Source: Personal copy (note that her books are now available in Kindle)

Off the Blog: I found out today I am a winner in the City of Boston Credit Union’s WINcentiveMonthly Drawing!  So cool - I have been working on a project to promote saving for emergencies so opened this account to test and be able to speak convincingly about it.  I really hope that people will find saving to be more appealing if there is a likelihood of winning/fun element.

* So which are my favorite Stewarts?   

Madam, Will You Talk
This Rough Magic
The Moonspinners
The Ivy Tree
Nine Coaches Waiting
Airs Above the Ground

Monday, April 8, 2019

Over Sea, Under Stone by Susan Cooper #1965Club

The 1965 Club is a meme in which two prolific bloggers, Simon from Stuck in a Book and Karen from Kaggsy's Bookish Ramblings, promote a specific year of published books. Anyone can join in by reading and reviewing a book published in 1965 and adding a link to that book's review in the comments on Simon's blog.  1944,19681951,1977 have also been promoted.

Title: Over Sea, Under Stone
Author: Susan Cooper
Publication: Atheneum, hardcover, 1965 (paperback reprint 2000)
Genre: Children’s fiction/fantasy
Plot: Simon, Jane, Barney, and their parents travel to Cornwall for a holiday with their Great Uncle Merry. He has rented an old house in the village of Trewissick that comes with a friendly dog, Rufus, and a seemingly jolly housekeeper, Mrs. Palk. On their first excursion, the children discover a mysterious yacht and make an enemy, an unexpectedly hostile local boy. They also explore the house and find a hidden door that leads to a fusty musty dusty attic, in which they are lucky enough to find a secret map tucked under the floorboards. It is delightfully ancient with Latin inscriptions, and is so clearly a treasure map that the children instinctively agree not to tell their parents they found it. However, their attempts to search for what they optimistically hope is King Arthur’s grail bring them into dangerous contact with menacing individuals who want the unknown loot for themselves. As the children fight to locate and save the treasure, Great Uncle Merry turns out to be the key to the vanquishing their rivals in a surprisingly dark introduction to The Dark is Rising series.

Audience: Fans of juvenile fantasy or classic 20th century English adventure stories

credit: Alison MacAdam, NPR
My Impressions: Cooper’s first book is a family adventure with only hints of fantasy in it: is the sought-after treasure King Arthur’s grail and do the dark enemies in pursuit have supernatural powers? I enjoyed Over Sea, Under Stone as a child but had forgotten both how scary it is for the children when the bad guys are after them (especially when they are separated and being pursued or have been kidnapped alone) and how different this book is from subsequent entries in the series, which are straight fantasy. It was obvious that Cooper’s style and interests had evolved but in this edition she actually explains that she wrote the book in response to a competition honoring E. Nesbit, which sought a “family adventure story” in return for a £1,000 prize and publication. The Arthurian elements emerged once she began writing and, as in many such stories, the parents are either gone or primarily absent.

I met Cooper, who lives in Greater Boston, on two occasions but unfortunately they were the type of crowded autographing sessions where you barely get time to murmur your admiration. It is interesting that her second marriage was to Hume Cronyn, who performed, with his then wife Jessica Tandy, in the Broadway production of Foxfire, which he co-wrote with Cooper.  The two couples became friendly, stayed in touch, and consoled each other later on.

Source: I bought a Puffin paperback on a family vacation to Bermuda when I was 11. I hope it is not lost but it certainly isn't on the shelf with its siblings.  I had to get a copy from the library when I had a yearning to reread.  If you have not read this series, it is not too late, even for adult readers.
Off the Blog: I was doing a presentation on credit building earlier to a group of Hispanic elementary school parents in East Boston.  Someone was there to translate my English to Spanish but it was challenging to simplify the concepts so they wouldn’t get lost in translation yet still get the message across.