Until the early 2000s, I’d never had a favorite writer. Then I discovered Eva Ibbotson. Since then, I’ve added a few others I love and might consider my absolute favorite – Sherry Thomas. Joshilyn Jackson. Susan Elizabeth Phillips. But Eva Ibbotson is always remains in the running, and will always be my first.
She was also the first author I binge-read (from the library), and the first author I bought off of e-bay (because I had to read all of her adult books, and I couldn’t find a couple).
Some of you may know Eva Ibbotson through her very popular children’s books (The Secret of Platform 13, Dial-A-Ghost, etc.). But her adult romances (which were re-released about 10 years ago as young adult titles – I’ll discuss that later…) are masterpieces of yearning, misunderstanding, smolder —tons of tension, but no sex! barely even a kiss—and angst. Yet they’re also funny, exuberant and delightful. To this day – and I first read them nearly 20 years ago – I can recall every single main character with a clarity that still astounds me.
Whether it’s Anna, the young Russian countess who loses everything in the Russian Revolution and determines to become a maid in an English estate to save her family in A COUNTESS BELOW STAIRS:
“Anna Grazinsky, a young Russian countess, has lived in the glittering city of St Petersburg all her life in an ice-blue palace overlooking the River Neva. But when revolution tears Russia apart, her now-penniless family is forced to flee to England. Armed with an out-of-date book on housekeeping, Anna determines to help her family in any way possible, and she is soon hired as a housemaid at the Earl of Westerholme’s crumbling but magnificent mansion.”
or Ruth, the coddled yet grounded daughter of a Jewish professor and his heiress wife, who winds up left behind when her parents flee the increasingly violent Vienna as the Nazis comes to power in THE MORNING GIFT:
Eighteen-year-old Ruth lives in the sparkling city of Vienna with her family, where she delights in its music, energy and natural beauty. She is wildly in love with the brilliant young pianist Heini Radik and can’t wait until they are married.
But Ruth’s world is turned upside down when the Nazis invade Austria and her family are forced to flee to England, and through a devastating misunderstanding she is left behind. Her only hope to escape Vienna comes from Quin, a young English professor, who unexpectedly offers her a marriage of convenience to bring her back to London.
Or Tess, the young but beloved Austrian princess who only wants to live a normal life and contribute to art in MAGIC FLUTES (also published as The Reluctant Heiress):
In the spring of 1922, young Austrian Princess Theresa-Maria – known to her ancient aunts as ‘Putzerl’ – abandons her crumbling castle and her royal duties. Disguising herself simply as Tessa, she enrolls as under wardrobe mistress of the International Opera Company and soon loses herself in the intoxicating world of the Viennese opera.
But when Guy Farne, an Englishman looking to impress his new fiance, arrives in Austria and employs the Company to perform at his newly purchased Austrian estate, he finds himself fascinated by the under wardrobe mistress, and Tessa finds it increasingly difficult to keep her two lives separate . . .
(There’s also A Song For Summer and A Company Of Swans.)
To this day, these remain my go-to books when I’m overwhelmed or the world is falling apart. I pulled them off the shelf when my mother died, when I was attacked online, when there was too little time to do too many things and I simply needed a tiny break. I simply flip to a favorite scene or other (mainly the ones where they were hiding their feelings or finally expressing them) and somehow the day automatically gets brighter.
Ibbotson only wrote a few adult titles, and she stopped writing them completely after her husband died, because she couldn’t bear love stories after that.
She also wasn’t very thrilled when the books were republished as young adult titles, though they work on that level in many ways. (The heroines are all very young, and, as previously mentioned, there’s no sex.) But she felt the stories were more complex and textured than that implied.
Personally I’m torn on this. I do agree that these are adult novels, but I also think marketing them toward girls isn’t a bad thing. If one of them discovers a beautifully written novel about historical eras and characters that they might not otherwise find on the shelves, I’m all for that.
You don’t get much better than Eva Ibbotson.
I check in on Ibbotson every so often at Amazon and since the last time I did that, it looks like they’ve published all of her books on Kindle. I wish I could recommend her audible titles, but they’re almost all abridged versions – why even bother? (sad sigh)
If you’re looking for a really lovely, lyrical read that has all the feels, all the emotions, gorgeous writing and an “as if you were there” peek into the pre-War era, the post WWI era and the rising WWII era, then you really should gift yourself with an Eva Ibbotson title or two.
It’s also fun to do a deep dive of the covers of these books, since they’ve been around since the 80s and 90s and have a whole slew of re-imaginings. Here are a few different covers of Magic Flutes:
Find the books:
Eva Ibbotson @Amazon (This will include all of her children’s books)
(This review is part of Read-A-Romance Month. Hope you’ll come back every day to check out my book recommendations. You can find the calendar here. Also check out The Romance of Reading, a Facebook “book club” where we’ll have great authors guest hosting every week.)
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