Review: The Morning Gift, Eva Ibbotson

My scheme, intended to cheer me up from my mild post-Christmas sadness, was that in January I would order myself an Eva Ibbotson book from PaperbackSwap, one of the romances, as a comfort book. And then I would slowly order more Eva Ibbotson books, gradually, at the rate of one Eva Ibbotson book every few months, as I needed them, maybe alternating with some of the better Barbara Michaels books, and someday, a year or two from now, I would have all the comfort books I needed.

This was a drastic underestimation of how awful January was going to be. I will go ahead and say this is the worst January on record, including January 2005 which, as Januaries go, was very damn awful. The only difference is that I am older now, and better (don’t laugh, Mumsy, I think this is true!) at dealing with difficult months. I have better internal resources, and I am kinder to myself when things are going badly. Also in 2005 I didn’t know about gin or coffee. Or Friends. Or cheese fries. (Poor Past Jenny. How did she ever cope with life?) Yet in spite of all this, January 2012 was still worse. I turned out to need way more than just one Eva Ibbotson or Barbara Michaels book. I have ordered three so far, of which The Morning Gift was the first to arrive.

And you know what, just, WELL PLAYED ME. My plan to use Eva Ibbotson as a standby comfort author was absolutely spot on, one of the best comfort read plans I have ever concocted in the whole history of comfort plans. There is a quality to Eva Ibbotson’s romances of being sweet and comfortable and safe, like curling up in a plushy sort of hammock in a room scented with cinnamon and sandalwood while someone brings you ripe peach slices.

So, yeah, the plot. The Morning Gift is about this Austrian girl Ruth in Nazi times, who is stopped from leaving Austria because she once did some student socialist protest. Her family, not realizing that her visa is invalid, go ahead to London without her. Family friend and scientist Quin Somerville finds her and helps her get out of Austria by contracting a marriage of convenience that will allow her to be classified as a British citizen long enough to get her out of the country. Then they can annul the marriage. Y’all can see where this is headed because no fictional marriage of convenience has ever in the history of literature ended up as just a marriage of convenience. That would be contrary to the laws of fiction. In the meantime you get the joy of reading about the community of refugees in London where Ruth’s family lives, and about Ruth’s arrogant piano genius boyfriend (I was trying for “prodigy” and wrote “parody” instead), and about Ruth’s adventures in zoology school with all her lovely friends. Eva Ibbotson always makes me feel warm and fuzzy when she writes about communities, and these are communities based on real ones in her own life. So, double the warm fuzzies.

For those of you out there who have read Hilary McKay’s books about the Casson family — basically I am targeting this remark to my mother and Ana, but surely others of you know Hilary McKay! — I always think Eva Ibbotson’s heroines are often quite a lot like Caddy Casson. Smart and competent and a little scatty and weird in ways, but fundamentally really sweet and endearing. That was Ruth. At one point she jumps in the ocean to save a puppy. Wouldn’t you like to be friends with someone who would jump in the ocean to save a puppy?

And look, if you described this book as “too sweet to be wholesome” (which I’m afraid is what Mumsy will say) (but not really! because the sweetness is counterbalanced by the Nazi wartime setting!), I wouldn’t argue with you that much. And if you said the “bad” characters were drawn with a pretty broad brush, I would have no counterargument. But you know what? If I wanted moral complexity, I wouldn’t pick up a comfort book. Eva Ibbotson! Hooray!

32 thoughts on “Review: The Morning Gift, Eva Ibbotson

  1. yay, you loved it too πŸ˜€ I hadn’t made the connection between Ruth and Caddy, but I can see exactly what you mean.

    Eva Ibbotson has been doing a stellar job of comforting me over the past few months. I love her so ❀

  2. You and Nymeth (who got me to read the McKay books) have recently revealed the existence of two Ibbotson books I didn’t know about. I thought I’d read them all when my youngest was head-over-heels in love with her children’s books. What a great feeling, to know there are more!

  3. Hurray for comfort reads! I will definitely have to try me some Eva Ibbotson because I do love Caddy Casson. And I’m sorry January 2012 was so terrible. Is February any better?

  4. Reading this post made me look around at my library and realize I have close to 2,000 comfort books. So no judgment. I just got this one from Pswap and am going to read it next week.

  5. Thanks for this review, because I’d been mixing Eva Ibbotson up with someone else (for no good reason, it’s convoluted) and hadn’t wanted to read her books because the other person’s book was really just meh. This pushes me hard in the direction of reading her. Ibbotson, I mean. Oh, and you did get me to read Saffy’s Angel, which I really liked. So thanks for that, too.

    • Tell me the convoluted reason! Tell me, I want to know. Or at least tell me who the other person is whose books were meh. YOU ARE WELCOME for Saffy’s Angel. Did you read the subsequent books?

      • Okay, but this is going to sound really dumb. Eva Ibbotson writes kids’ books about witches, right? And I got her mixed up with Betty Brock, who wrote No Flying in the House, about a kid who is half witch or half fairy or something, which I got a rave recommendation for but thought was not really very good. And I have not read any of the subsequent Hilary McKay books yet, but not because I don’t want to. I want to!

  6. I have never read anything by this author, but you make me really want to try this book, because frankly this has been a hard couple of months for me as well, and I could use some comforting of my own! It sounds like this January has been really tough, and I hope you are coming out of it now. Eva Ibbotson sounds like the literary equivalent of a warm blanket, a pot of cocoa, and a big bear hug from someone you love, all rolled into one.

    • I’m sorry you’ve had a hard few months! Can I recommend gin and tonic as a very pleasing sort of drink to cheer you up after a long and annoying day? Or if it is more serious things then yeah, Eva Ibbotson is good, a lovely and nonstressful read. *hug*

  7. Sorry to hear that January was the suck, but at least you were better prepared, what with the cheese fries (yum!) and good comfort reads. My January was also pretty wretched, but largely in a way that meant I have not really been reading at all… in that I have now only read 3 books, despite us being 7 weeks into the year. Maybe I need to try Eva Ibbotson… I kind of have been craving comforting romantic reads that fall into the “not at all mentally challenging” category.

    • Cheese fries ARE yum. I hope you get plenty of comfort books in February! And I do recommend Eva Ibbotson, because she fits so perfectly in the category you just described.

  8. Oh, I am so sorry you had a horrible January, Jenny 😦 But I’m glad that Eva was there to help you get through it and hopefully your life will improve dramatically with the spring. I love those go-to authors that can just pull you out of your doldrums and make you feel better. I think for me, it’s Georgette Heyer, but I’m going to have to give Ibbotson a whirl, too!

  9. I LOVE comfort reading and so true about moral complexity and comfort. When I read a comfort book, I want indulgence and happiness and other things.

    I’ve only read one Ibbotson — her middle grade book The Ogre of Oglefort, which was AWESOME. But now I want to try her historicals.

    Sorry about your craptastic January. Hopefully the rest of your year is WAY WAY better.

    • You absolutely have to try her historicals. If you want a good segue between her kids’ books and the ones for slightly older readers, Journey to the River Sea or The Dragonfly Pool are written for younger kids, but have more in common with her YA stuff.

      Thank you! I hope it is too! I am keeping my fingers crossed!

  10. I own like a dozen of her kid books now (even though we’ve only read one so far) and Z and I plan on having some fun with them but I definitely need to switch over and read her older audience books too. Everyone says they’re awesome and who am I to argue with everyone? Okay, well I usually do argue with everyone but I won’t about this!

    And January sucks anyway. If I hadn’t had a lot of scone mix and those awesome Connie Willis books, I wouldn’t have made it through.

  11. Jenny! I’m so sorry that your January was so completely awful. But hooray for comfort reads! (and gin! and Friends!).

    So, um, I’ve never read an Eva Ibbotson… If I were to take one out of the library, what would be a good one to start with? It is cold and wet and dreary outside and I could use a good comfort read.

  12. Sorry to hear your January has been so terrible! I hope things start going better for you. I’ve only read one Eva Ibbotson book, and thought it was just ok, but I will try her again at some point and this is the likely suspect.

  13. I see Eva Ibbotson pop up everywhere lately, and it seems every blogger I love loves her. I NEED to read her, right? Now just find an excuse to buy some of her books.

  14. 😦 to awful months, but *\o/* to Eva Ibbotson! (I learned that emoticon from Maree of Just Add Books. It means a person waving pom-pomps. I’m somewhat obsessed with it, though this is only the second or third time I’ve ever used it.) I need to dive back into her myself. I have A SONG FOR SUMMER sitting here, waiting to make me feel better about the world.

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