Tuesday, February 01, 2011

Book Review Club ~ February 2011

The air has turned frigid here (even deep in the heart of Texas!), and my day has gone completely awry, and I'd really like to be curled up on my bed with my best blanket and a good book, but I'm a pioneering member of Barrie Summy's Book Review Club, so I'm getting this review out first!

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This month, I'm reviewing Airs Above the Ground by Mary Stewart.  Any reader of this blog knows that Mary Stewart is bandied about this blog quite regularly.  She is my favorite author, and has been since I read my first book by her, probably twenty-eight or so years ago.  I've read all her romantic suspense novels, but I've not read any of her Merlin series, and I was thinking quite recently that I should.  It's very possible the first in the series could be reviewed here next month...

I've probably read Airs Above the Ground ten times, and I'm currently on my second copy, despite still owning the first.  It is an enchanting novel, more suspense than romance because the the heroine is happily married throughout the novel.  The romance is there but not a huge story element.  The story lies in the circus, and the horses...and is set in the 1960's.

Vanessa March was hoping for a holiday in Italy, but instead, her husband has been called away on business to Stockholm.  But then she sees him in a newreel on the scene of circus fire in Vienna...with a young blonde hanging on his arm.  So when a friend asks her to ferry her teenage son to Austria to see his father, Vanessa accepts, determined to discover the truth.

In Austria, the pair locates the circus, casually insinuates themselves with the owners, and discovers that Vanessa's husband is undercover as Lee Elliot. The circus' horse trainer and a coworker of Lee's have died in the recent fire, and Lee is eager to wrap up his inquires prior to the circus crossing into Yugoslavia in two days.  Vanessa and her young companion are pressed into service as an additional set of eyes and ears, and then...they are well and truly in it.

Without giving anything away, I will tell you that Lee has reason to be suspicious, and that the circus is at the center of the mystery.  And then there are the horses...  The circus owns a Lipizzaner stallion trained in the dressage movements and some of the 'airs above the ground' which are the military manuevers that have been taught at the Spanish Riding School for 400 years.  It is the Lipizzaner that steals the show in this novel, but the suspense is first-rate.

In as many times as I've read this book, I've never made a solid attempt to do a little research on the Lipizzaner stallions and the 'airs above the ground.'   This time, I found them on You Tube.  And watching them was a delight.  They are all white stallions, descended from the Spanish Andalusians, and it sometimes takes them years to learn the manuevers.  In 1945 General Patton saved the animals from being destroyed by bombings or the encroaching Soviet army. There's even a Disney movie!


There is a much longer video as well, with tutorial, if you're interested.
As always, I highly recommend Mary Stewart and any one of her romantic suspense novels.


David Cranmer said...

I enjoyed watching the video of the Lipizzaner stallions and the plot to the book sounds like a winner. Duly noted and added to my TBR stack.

Alyssa Goodnight said...

I think you'll like it, David.

Barrie said...

I really enjoyed this book when I read it years ago. Oh, and Alyssa, thank you for being so diigent and getting your review up! ;)

Sarah Laurence said...

Aren’t the Lipizzaners amazing? I was lucky as a child to see them perform in Austria. What a beautiful cover and photos. I liked the images in the video but not her voice over. Still, it makes me want to pick up dressage again and check out this favorite book of yours.

Linda McLaughlin said...

I devoured all of Mary Stewart's suspense novels when I was younger, but I'd forgotten this one. May have to hunt it up. The Lippizzaners are always so amazing to watch and so magnificent. I remember loving the movie when I was a kid. Wonder if they have it at Netflix. Thanks for the trip down memory lane. :)

Stacy said...


Just wondering, which of Mary Stewart's books would recommend as a first time Stewart read?

Green Girl in Wisconsin said...

I know just the person who'd love this book!

Ellen Booraem said...

I read this book over and over as a teenager. Like you, I never looked into the various "tricks" the stallions performed in the book, and I'm thrilled to see them now.

Do read the Merlin books. You'll love them. I like them even better than the mysteries.

Alyssa Goodnight said...

Oh, it's my pleasure, Barrie! ;)

I agree on the video, Sarah, but I didn't think most people would want to watch the longer 10 minute one.

I plan on looking up the movie myself, Linda!

Stacy, I think I'd go with Madam, Will You Talk or This Rough Magic, the latter being my favorite of all of them.

Excellent, Green Girl!

Thanks for the recommendation, Ellen!

Rose said...

I think I read all of Mary Stewart's books when I was younger, except the Merlin series, and I loved them! It's been so long that I've forgotten the plots of all of them, though your review brings back memories of this one. Perhaps it's time to re-read them--or finally read the Merlin books. Thanks for the great review!

Sarahlynn said...

I've not read any Stewart, but your review feels especially timely to me since I just finished another circus book, Water for Elephants which was excellent, but, I suspect, much less fun!