Lord of the Far Island

Lord of the Far IslandLord of the Far Island
by Victoria Holt
Rating: ★★
isbn: 0600872114
Publication Date: January 1, 1975
Pages: 284
Genre: Historical, Romance, Suspense
Publisher: Companion Book Club


This was written in 1975.

This was a mantra of mine as I read this book.  Generally, I’m unaffected by dated material, or maybe not unaffected, but aware that reading the old stuff means a likelihood of butting up against outdated social mores, prejudices and attitudes, and I try not to let it colour my enjoyment of the story.

I could not do this with Lord of Far Island.  The romantic hero drove me plum crazy.

The book starts off slow, with Part 1 a very verbose retrospective of the MC, Ellen’s, life.  It’s almost entirely telling, rather than showing.  Part 2 gets a lot more interesting, as Ellen has been invited to Kellaway Island, a deliciously gothic island off the coast of Cornwall, complete with castle and all the gothic accessories.  The Kellaway’s are her father’s side of the family and a complete unknown to her.  There she meets the “Lord” of the island, Jago Kellaway, a many times removed cousin and the romantic hero.

Also, an utter prat.

I’ll get to the prat part later, because that’s where my inability to put aside the differences between when this was written and when I read it most strongly come into play.  I also had a hard time with this romance because of the cousin thing – which I can usually shrug off, but it kept coming up, keeping it at the forefront.  Even more creepy, in my estimation, was the fact that he kept referring to her as his ward.  She’s 20 and he’s “not much more than 30”, so everybody’s well beyond the age of consent.  But her father died and he named Jago her guardian until she turned 21, and he constantly introduced her as his ward, and reminded her he was her guardian and the whole thing just started to feel really creepy.

Did I mention Jago was a prat?  Well, he was.  I can’t explain it better than he can so here’s a few quotes:

“She’ll tell your fortune. I know you like having your fortune told. All women do.”


“That was a fortunate release, my darling. That’s how you’re going to see it.”


“You go too fast.  I have not yet said I will marry you.
This is perverse of you because you know as well as I do that you are going to.”


It turns out I don’t like my fictional MC’s being bossed around any more than I like being bossed around myself.

I suspect if I’d read this when I was far younger I’d have enjoyed it more, but there’s been too much water under the bridge, so to speak, for me to find Jago to be anything but a prat.

Window on the Square re-read

Window on the SquareWindow on the Square
by Phyllis A. Whitney
Rating: ★★★★
Publication Date: January 1, 1962
Pages: 297
Genre: Fiction, Mystery, Romance, Suspense
Publisher: Appleton-Century-Crofts


I got about 3 pages into The Stone Bull, and suddenly needed to re-read this, imo, classic of romantic suspense.

Of all the Whitney books I’ve read so far, this one remains far and away the best; the romance is still silly insta-love in that way so popular in the 60’s, but the suspense story is fabulous.  The writing is much tighter than her later works and the action clips along.

Eventually I’ll read the rest of her works just because I really want to know if anything she wrote is better than this one.

The Stone Bull

The Stone BullThe Stone Bull
by Phyllis A. Whitney
Rating: ★★★½
Publication Date: January 1, 1977
Pages: 304
Genre: Fiction, Romance, Suspense
Publisher: Doubleday


Even when Whitney’s books aren’t great, her sense of setting and atmosphere never falter.  This is true of The Stone Bull.  The pacing is slow, but atmosphere abounds.  She plays with timelines in the narrative – as if someone was writing a diary retrospectively, jumping between present and just-past events, then skipping ahead another day and looking back.  It sounds like a disaster, but it worked and took me very little effort to get used to.

The characters are typical of Whitney; a bit shallow; capricious; prone to instant love and romance.  What’s different here from the other books of hers I’ve read so far, is that this one starts where the rest usually end – after the wedding and in the throes of honeymoon giddiness.  Of course the honeymoon isn’t going to last.   Let’s just say the story feels progressive for a romantic Suspense novel written in 1977, by a woman who was 74 years old at the time of publishing and had lived the bulk of her life under a different set of social norms.

Definitely not her best, but still readable, if a little tedious.

Thornyhold re-read

by Mary Stewart
Rating: ★★★★
isbn: 9781444715064
Publication Date: May 26, 2011
Pages: 220
Genre: Fantasy, Fiction
Publisher: Hachette Books


I originally read this back in 2016, and my review from back then pretty much stands up after the second read with one small caveat.  I said, in essence, that while a very enjoyable and atmospheric read, nothing really happened, that it lacked any discernible plot.

That’s not true; there is a plot, but it’s so … mild? half-hearted? And there is a climatic showdown, but until the very last bit I still couldn’t discern whether or not Agnes was trying to be friendly, or not.

The instant love is still there and geez, Gilly goes from meeting the guy once to planning her life based on being married with children.  To him.  She tries to remind herself this is silly and presumptuous, but really, it’s just for form.

Still it’s a very readable book somehow.  It sucks you in and draws you into this gently told tale and makes you (me) wish to move to a cottage and be an herbalist.


I read this for Halloween Bingo 2021 for the Black Cat square.  Gilly has a black cat that could be called her familiar with very little effort, and he plays a part as protector and alarm bearer throughout the story.

The Turquoise Mask

The Turquoise MaskThe Turquoise Mask
by Phyllis A. Whitney
Rating: ★★★½
isbn: 9780385085144
Publication Date: January 1, 1974
Pages: 250
Genre: Fiction
Publisher: Doubleday


Wow, can Whitney be verbose.  Her earlier work has always been better, in my opinion, but this one was an in-between – first published in 1974.  Which makes the plotting excellent, and the abuse of the expository extreme.  Unfortunately the expository gauntlet must be run for many chapters before a hint of the rewarding plot can be found.

I’m undecided on whether it’s worth the effort.  The plotting was very well done.  I was absolutely certain I knew who the villain was right up until almost the end, when she convinced me I was wrong, that it was really …. and then she blindsided me with the solution that was just unexpected.  Whitney got huge bonus points for stunning me, but I’m not sure how I actually feel about it as a legitimate ending.  It works, but it feels like it shouldn’t.

The characters, and the romance, were, as is typical with both Whitney’s writing and the time she wrote in, dramatic and overly simplified.  Insta-love has nothing on romantic suspense from the 70’s; and characters’ personalities are never subtle or nuanced.  If you accept this as the style of its time, it’s not an insurmountable problem.

The one thing Whitney never lost, no matter how many books she wrote, was her sense of place.  I’m not sure I’ve ever read anybody better at putting the reader in whatever setting she wants them, and making them feel like they were there.  Here the deserts of New Mexico are the backdrop, and though I’ve never in my life seen an adobe house, I feel like I’ve lived in one the last couple of days.

I’d neither recommend it nor deter anyone from this one; the exposition is a challenge, but if that slow build isn’t a deterrent, the story is one of her more complicated and compelling ones.

I read this for the Romantic Suspense square (which is on my card is the Psych square that’s been flipped), for Halloween Bingo 2020.


by Mary Stewart
Rating: ★★★★
isbn: 9781444715064
Publication Date: May 26, 2011
Pages: 220
Genre: Fantasy, Fiction
Publisher: Hachette Books

Interesting… unexpected in a lot of ways.  Not sure what to really say about it beyond I enjoyed it and found it an easy story to fall into.

Gilly has a lonely childhood, punctuated by rare visits from her mother’s lively, magical cousin and namesake.  After the death of Gilly’s parents, she gets a letter informing her she’s inherited her cousin’s house, Thornyhold, as well as her reputation for being a witch.

This story would never survive today: people would complain that nothing happens, there isn’t any plot.  I suppose at its heart it’s a romance, but the romance is so subtle as to be non-existent; the leap Gilly makes from acquaintance to love is startling even by today’s insta-love standards.  But boy, can Stewart write some atmosphere; and the characters are alive and compelling.  I got 75% of the way through before it occurred to me that nothing was really happening: no building tension, no climatic showdown approaching.  The ending was comic, which was totally unexpected and charming.

I think I’ll buy myself a copy of this one; I finished it feeling like I’d read a good comfort read – perfect for a rainy afternoon.