Willa Cather Reading Week: A Lost Lady

A Lost Lady

I was so happy to read Willa Cather this week – to be back in the West, in the beautiful landscape of Nebraska, in the small railroad towns and among the pioneers who are rough yet cultured in their own way. I always feel that reading Cather is the closest I get to reading about my own heritage in a novel (other than reading Westerns, I suppose) as my mom’s family were all pioneers, settling in Utah, Nevada, New Mexico and, eventually, Arizona. Cather’s settings and characters are so familiar to me.

A Lost Lady is set in Sweet Water, a small town in Nebraska that is on the rail line between Omaha and Denver. Mrs. Forrester is a beautiful, mysterious, refined woman who lives with her wealthy husband in a big, lovely house on the outskirts of town. She’s vibrant and flirtatious – what is often called a man’s woman. Young Niel Herbert falls under her spell rather early in his life and as he grows up we see Mrs. Forrester from his perspective – from near perfection to the clear-eyed disappointment we sometimes develop in the cherished adults of our youth. But always he protects her, helps her, forgives her, until she finally puts her faith in the wrong person and his respect for her cracks.

This is a fascinating portrait of a woman who, like the West, is in transition. Though Niel longs for her to remain steady in her charms and perfection, Mrs. Forrester needs to change as the world changes. It is upsetting to all of the men around her and ultimately leads her to break with the people who want to maintain tradition and stability. It is a convincing character study and a classic portrait of frontier life on the verge of vanishing.

A short novel at just 150 pages, but a powerful one. Willa Cather’s writing is sensational, especially as it is not showy, but subtle and quiet.

Thank you to Ali for hosting this week. I’m now motivated to read the rest of Cather’s novels.

Final Day of Mary Stewart Reading Week 2014

mstewart books

Mary Stewart Reading Week has come to an end. I’m afraid I was only able to read one of Lady Stewart’s books this week as illness and work got in the way of my plans, but the one I did read was fantastic. Thank you to everyone who participated – I’m so glad that you decided to take the time to devote to her wonderful novels and revive interest in her work. I hope you’ve enjoyed the week!

Here is a list of all Mary Stewart posts for this week:

Four by Mary Stewart – The Emerald City Reader

The Crystal Cave – She Reads Novels

My Brother Michael – 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

Wildfire at Midnight –Kaggsy’s Bookish Ramblings

If I’ve missed any, please let me know.

The winner of Thornyhold is Cat from Tell Me a Story! Cat, email me at gudrunstights at gmail dot com with your address and I’ll get the book in the mail to you as soon as possible.

Thanks again, everyone!

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!

A Few Mary Stewart Links


I thought I’d share a few links concerning Mary Stewart and her work today. I love to read posts by people who obviously appreciate and enjoy her novels:

An appreciation of Mary Stewart by the author Jo Walton.

The Multnomah County Library in Oregon blogged about her novels in June.

Book Riot also posted about Stewart’s novels in June.

A Mary Stewart literature map. What else should you read if you like her novels?

We had two blogs posts about Mary Stewart (as far as I know, please let me know if I’m missing anyone) yesterday. Here are the links:

Four by Mary Stewart – The Emerald City Reader

This Rough Magic – I Prefer Reading

I’ve finished The Ivy Tree and hope to post about it tomorrow. How is your reading going?

Mary Stewart Giveaway {Closed}


Today I’m giving away one copy of Thornyhold, the first of Mary Stewart’s novels that I read and that endeared me to her writing. It is one of her supernatural tales and is full of romance and suspense. Though a bit slower paced than her earlier books it is still lovely and as smart and enchantingly written as her novels always are. You can read my full, gushy thoughts here.

The giveaway is open to all readers whether you’re posting about Lady Stewart this week or not. It will end on Saturday, September 20, at 11:59 pm Pacific Standard Time and I’ll announce the winner on the last day of MSRW, Sunday, the 21st. Please fill out this form to enter. The winner will be randomly chosen.

How are you getting on with your reading? I’ve almost finished The Ivy Tree and I am loving it.

It’s Mary Stewart Reading Week 2014

Rose Cottage

Hello and welcome to the second annual Mary Stewart Reading Week. This week is dedicated to reading the novels of Lady Mary Stewart who sadly passed away in May. I started reading her books back in December 2012 and have thoroughly enjoyed every one that I’ve read. I’ve only read her suspense novels, but I do hope to read her Merlin series one day. I love the vintage, old fashioned feel of her books, her strong female leads and the romantic intrigue her suspense books always include. I also think that she writes very simply and beautifully about nature and truly creates wonderful settings. There is much to be admired in her novels. They may not be ‘great literature’, but they are well-written, engrossing, intelligent, very entertaining and they have many fans around the world.

I want to thank all of you who’ve spread the word about this event and have been so supportive about celebrating Lady Stewart’s legacy. I really look forward to seeing what you read and write about this week.


I will keep a running list here of all Mary Stewart posts written this week so that we can read each other’s thoughts. You can let me know you’ve posted by commenting here, sending me an email at gudrunstights at gmail dot com, or tweeting about your post using the hashtag #mstewartrw. If you don’t blog you can leave a comment here with your thoughts.

Thank you for participating – I wish you a wonderful week of reading Mary Stewart!


Just Read Elizabeth Taylor


I don’t know what it is about Elizabeth Taylor, but her books completely hypnotize me. I should always turn to her when I am in a reading slump because her writing jolts me right out of the funk. I started The Soul of Kindness a couple of Saturdays ago, finished it the following Monday and could barely put it down between chores and eating and sleeping and work. Since then, I’ve been reading steadily. This summer I’ve also inhaled Mrs. Palfrey at the Claremont and Blaming.

Of the three, Mrs. Palfrey was my favorite. It is set almost entirely in a London hotel that caters to elderly patrons who have no where else to go. Mrs. Palfrey is a somewhat genteel and proper woman who doesn’t quite approve of her fellow inhabitants yet maintains a tense friendship with them. Her life is routine, boring and lacking in close connections (her daughter and grandson really don’t want much to do with her) until she unexpectedly meets a young writer, Ludo, who tentatively agrees to pose as Mrs. Palfrey’s grandson in order to allow her to save face with her new friends at the hotel. They develop an awkward relationship – Mrs. Palfrey clearly adores him, but Ludo mostly feels curiosity about this elderly woman and observes her closely in order to use his knowledge in his writing. A heartbreaking ending had me in tears.

To me, Mrs. Palfrey at the Claremont captures the signature Elizabeth Taylor trait of seeing people through unsentimental eyes yet soliciting from the reader a sympathy and a tenderness toward them nevertheless. Mrs. Palfrey is not an entirely loveable character, as are none of the people in her novels, yet they’re real, they’re flawed and they’re familiar. She really knows how to portray the pain and disappointment of human relationships to an almost depressing degree but also shows that most people are redeemable and deserve a break, even some of her more monstrous characters like Angel Deverell.

I’m now reading Palladian and will make my way down the line of all her novels as I’ve now collected her entire oeuvre. I think she is a brilliant author and I hope you will try her if you haven’t already. She writes with a poise and remoteness that might be hard to connect with at first, but please persevere – you won’t be disappointed.

*Some members of the LibraryThing Virago Modern Classics group have started a thread for Mary Stewart Reading Week – pop over if you have a chance!*

The Easter Parade by Richard Yates


After reading Revolutionary Road last summer I felt great interest in reading more of Richard Yates’ startling novels. However, as these things go, it has taken me almost a year to read The Easter Parade, my second of his books.

Just like Revolutionary Road, The Easter Parade sucks you into the hyper-realistic world of a dysfunctional family at mid-century. Sisters Sarah and Emily Grimes grow up with their painfully desperate single mother, who has a drinking problem that escalates as her daughters grow up and away from her. While Sarah marries and starts a family, Emily goes to college and afterwards begins work at an advertising agency. She dates a succession of men and completely distances herself from both her mother and her sister Sarah, losing herself in her relationships, until she is forced to confront the disastrous mess they’ve all made of their lives.

Reading Yates is uncomfortable yet so utterly enthralling. His characters are us and they are our relatives, friends and neighbors so reading about their empty and wretched lives is alarming. Are we all doomed to live meaningless lives full of emotional coldness, unable to face our disappointments and accept that life is not always about big moments, that no one is perfect? Yes, these thoughts really did go through my head while reading this book! And that is part of the beauty of Yates – he really makes you confront the sadness and the hopeless moments we all face. Depressing and humbling, yes, but also invigorating because the truth of it is that everyone can find their own way to rise above the mundanity while acknowledging that our day to day life IS our real life – there’s no ‘someday’. And we also must find a way to connect with those around us in an authentic way.

So, this is my take on Yates! His books are hard to read and agonizing to ponder and, honestly, not full of much hope. But I take them as a manual on ‘how not to live my life’ while enjoying his straight forward writing style and the mid-century settings.

After reading The Easter Parade I did buy two more of his novels – Cold Spring Harbor and Young Hearts Crying – and I’m interested to see if my thoughts about his writing stay the same after reading them.

Have you read Richard Yates?

Also, I apologize for the theme changes. I am constantly looking for something that I can’t find in the themes available to me, but this one will stay for the time being.

Have a non-Richard-Yates-like weekend!

Book Group: The Daughter of Time by Josephine Tey

daughter of time

Last month my book group discussed The Daughter of Time, a 1951 mystery novel with a twist. Inspector Grant is in the hospital with a back injury, bored out of his mind, when a friend brings him an intriguing case: Did Richard III really murder his young nephews, the famous “Princes in the Tower”?

Using as many primary sources as he can have his friends track down he goes about breaking apart the case in his mind and comes to the conclusion that Richard III was very different from the king portrayed by Shakespeare and in popular history.

I thought this book would generate a hearty discussion and it mostly did. However, about half of the group had never heard of Richard III and, therefore, the emotional impact of Grant’s deductions didn’t hit them as hard as it did others. I think this book would be more suited to book groups whose members are history buffs, Anglophiles or fans of historical fiction. Or English people.

How would I rate this as a book group choice? I’d give it a 3/5 rating.