Spoiler Rating: Low
I experienced an interesting combination of enjoyment, boredom, and fury while reading The Reluctant Heiress (also published as Magic Flutes). Let me tell you about it.
Being an heiress in 1920s Austria with nothing but a broken-down castle to your name and nary a penny in your purse could be frustrating for anyone but the Princess Theresa-Maria of Pfaffenstein. Tessa, however, is thrilled with her situation, as it allows her to concentrate on her love of the arts--and no one in the Viennese opera company need know that their delightful and charming under-wardrobe mistress is really a princess. But when the dashing self-made millionaire Guy Farne arrives at the opera in search of suitable entertainment for his high society guests, Tessa realizes that there may be more to life--and love--than just music. And while the attraction between them is undeniable, Guy's insufferable snob of a fiancée only solidifies Tessa's determination to keep her true identity a secret. Yet, after a chance meeting with the handsome Englishman, Tessa's reserve begins to melt, and she starts to wonder if it's not too late for a fairy-tale ending.
Here's one bit in particular I love. Very early in the story, Guy has arrived at Tessa's castle with an eye to buy it. Tessa's not there (she lives in Vienna), so her two elderly great-aunts give Guy a tour, sharing both the castle's history and their grand-niece's (whom they call Putzerl).
What's not to love in that?
The romance between Tessa and Guy is decent, if a little hasty and a little clumsy. The big turning points in their relationship, though (when he discovers she's Princess Putzerl, for example) are great scenes. I found myself skimming a lot of the boring stuff to get back to the romance parts, because I was genuinely interested in their seemingly doomed relationship.
What brings this book down to one and a half stars is how boring and infuriating it was.
Boring because Tessa's trying to help a failing opera company, and it's failing despite her help, and good god I don't care.
Infuriating because to be thin and white is the female ideal, and any woman who isn't thin is mocked by the narrator for her weight.
Notice that these women excel at losing their reason, they heave rather than catch their breath, they are comically clumsy and emotionally damaged. I can assure you that Tessa (who's repeatedly described as "waiflike," "little," and "fragile") is not described in such insulting terms when she's upset, or out of breath, of clumsy.
And those are just a few of the examples I noticed within the first 44 pages of the book. The first 44 pages! No, it doesn't get better from there.
There's also the racism.
Now, were 1920s England and Vienna racist places? Yes. Would it have been historically accurate to present these societies in any other way? No. Am I bothered that the characters make racist remarks? Not exactly; I appreciate historical accuracy even if I don't appreciate racism.
What bothers me is that the narrator participates. The narrator's descriptions of the various ethnic groups are supposed to be charming and funny (I think), but as far as I could tell, every ethnic group except the English (and the people of Vienna) is snickered at. The Romanian-women-are-crazy excerpt above is one example of (approximately) hundreds. Here's another:
It's not a violent racism, an I-hate-everything-you-are racism, but it's dismissing entire cultures as ridiculous stereotypes for the sake of humor--and I for one didn't find it particularly funny.
Obviously, I don't really recommend this book. The romance is nice enough, but the pros definitely don't outweigh the cons.
Nothing is more depressing then the dreaded "Reader Slump" that not even your favorite authors can pull you out of. That was me, just floating along after reading back to back amazing books, everything just sorta fell flat for me. That is by chance I stumbled on A Countess Below Stairs by Eva Ibbotson. Taking place in a period I'm not very fond of (early 1900's) I was a tad leery of taking a chance. I'm so thankful that I did.
Ibbotson writes magic n her pages. True whimsical, nostalgic magic in each word and depreciation from the riches of palaces to the humble kitchens. There was true magic in each page and characters.
Young Countess Anna has lost alot in her young life, from her beloved father, her home, but she hasn't lost her faith in her family and love. Anna is the tree that may bend but doesn't break as she take a job working as a maid in a old home. She has her own troubles to work with but it's her gentle strength and huge amount of kindness that keeps her shining like a bright star.
It's this kindness that helps the new Earl of Westerholme, Rupert as he return from war, suddenly engaged to a hidden shrew. Rupert feels are truly conflict as he starts to discover what his fiancée is all about and not being able to be with the Anna.
Now there is some misunderstandings, and unneeded (IMO) tension but this time it didn't bother me one bit. What did bother me was the thinking of some people at the time that turned my stomach. Was it historical accurate? Yes, sadly. But how can we not learn if not from the past and the wrongs done by and to others. History isn't there for us to become bored with in the classroom or take bits and pieces from, but to show us the bad so we can change it for good.
Ibbostson wonderful storytelling broke this reader's slump and yet brought a touch of magic that I won't soon forget.
Some short stories are meant to connect by a thread or another. With A Glove Shop in Vienna the only thing that links them is the author from her great loves you seen in her other books from ballet, Russia, family, love affairs,governess and hope. All with her added style and humor. Each is it's own little jewel that can stand alone and appreciation for itself.
Vicky & The Christmas Angel 5 stars
The meaning of growing up and still holding the true meaning of Christmas within your heart. Brought tears to my eyes and warmth to my heart.
Doushenka 4 stars
Sometimes that great love is fleeting and sometimes that Great Love can be an strange gift from someone unlikely
This Beetroot is Not Screaming 2 stars
The story and the trouble one young student brings to her teacher and it's university funny but a tad flat
A Rose in Amazonia 5 stars
A second chance at love when things look they will be ending only to be truly beginning
A Little Disagreement 4 stars
Ibbotson shows her humor when a disagreement spans years
Tangle of Seaweed 4 stars
A Deus ex machina in the form of a young boy, changes the lives of four people at all places the aquamarine!
Sidi 5 stars
A young love that survives through the years and war
A Dark-Haired Daughter 3 stars
Because there's no denying a mother's love for her baby no matter the gender you wish it!
This Year's Winner 5 stars
When a young girl is chosen to complete in Miss.Galaxy she finds more then she bargain for and because winner of much more..
The Great Carp Ferdinand 5 stars
the hero of this tale is the Great Carp Ferdinand who was suppose to be Christmas dinner and the trouble he brings the family days before Christmas
Osmandine 4 stars
Sometimes one just needs to listen and vent troubles to bring true healing that pills in a bottle don't fix as easily
The Brides of Tula 2 stars
Because it had adultery I didn't care for it, although the story of what's truly right for you was very pronounce
With Love and Swamp Noises4 stars
Sometimes it takes all kinds to build something truly great- and something memorable like having a woman give birth in a museum could do it!
The Adultery of Jenny Craig 4 stars
(notwithstanding the name) I found this to be a tad more eye-opening in terms of adultery and it not being as cut and dry and one thinks.
Theatre Street 5 stars
The power love of love as it conquers through war and time.
The Magi of Markham Street 3 stars
Putting on a children's play is tough work! Add to the mix of finding a real baby to play baby Jesus and then having the cops involved.... and a stroke of luck
The Little Countess 3 stars
When and overworked and tried English governess has it up to here with so much drama she finally just ask the simple question "Why?"
A question of Riches 5 stars
The question of being rich and being rich at heart was never so beautifully told.