I’ve already written quite a lot about Eva Ibbotson’s enjoyable romances. I’ve just read for the first time The Morning Gift. Lovely, lovely, lovely. The main characters are very similar to those in Magic Flutes but I liked this book better. Ruth has had a privileged childhood at the heart of Vienna’s intelligentsia but then comes the Anschluss and that way of life is over. There’s only one way for her to leave Austria: a marriage of convenience to Quin, an English professor. (This is not a spoiler, you can read it on the book cover.) But Ruth is committed to Heini, a musical prodigy. How will Ruth and her family cope with life in exile in London? And how will she choose between Quin and Heini? Finding out is pure pleasure.
A Song for Summer I first read years ago. I remember very well that it was a slim paperback aimed clearly at an adult readership. It’s now been repackaged to match some of her other books published as Young Picadors ‘for older readers’, i.e. teens. I can well imagine a teenage girl enjoying this book (as I did) but it’s very different from the others. Ellen, the heroine, is no quicksilver, slightly fey character. With her love of domestic order, her rejection of an intellectual life for one of nurturing others, she’s more like someone in a book by Rumer Godden or Elizabeth Goudge. The story begins just before the war when Ellen goes to work as a matron at a progressive school in Austria where dogma is more important than common sense. Ellen soon sorts out the more difficult children, cleans the place up, improves the food and generally makes herself indispensable. She also meets Marek, a typically Ibbotson rather-too-perfect hero. Innumerable difficulties and misunderstandings come between the pair, as we expect in an Ibbotson novel; not least the outbreak of war. As usual, it’s the descriptions of places which make this such a charming story.
I think my favourite Ibbotson stories are The Star of Kazan and The Secret Countess but any one of them is perfect for when you want ‘a nice book’.