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4.5 out of 5 stars54
4.5 out of 5 stars
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29 of 29 people found the following review helpful
on 1 November 2012
I have just finished reading this book and am so overcome by how engrossing and enjoyable it is that I'm moved to review it here, or at least offer a few burbling words of approval.

Taking place in a quiet square in Vienna, 1911, this is a masterpiece of character development and a celebration of small victories and every day goings-on. Early on, the narrator says that it is she is writing to allow an unknown reader to know precisely what it is like to be in at 'Susanne's, the dress-maker's shop around which the story is woven. This objective is precisely met, and you are carried with Susanne through perfectly presented chores, trials, victories, grievances and merriment, held in a cast of developed characters with whom you cannot help but sympathise (or begrudge, in the occasional case). It is not a book of action, but not of maudlin sentimentalism either. It is a quiet escape into a perfectly thrilling mundane existence. I can't recommend it enough.

And now I'm off to go and find anything (everything!) else by the same author.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 15 November 2012
I bought this on a whim as it was on offer (Kindle version). I wanted something to read when we went to visit the in-laws (not that they bore me, or anything!).
It didn't sound like much of a story from the blurb, but I don't like anything gruesome, scary or crime books and it was unusual for the deal of the day not to be one of these genres. The reviews were good, but I was doubtful it would capture me, and I thought it would be something I would struggle with.

However, within a page or two, I was intrigued by this book. Sometimes it takes me a while to get into a story, but I was instantly engrossed in this book. When I started it, I was awake until the early hours as I didn't want to put it down. I finished the book within a few days (no mean feat when you have a baby to look after!), and I enjoyed it so much.

It really touched me; the characters intrigued me and I wanted to know more. I have to say, I cried so much at parts of this book too - I don't think a book has ever made me weep before. But the part about the trip to Saltzburg and the doll...I am welling up now just thinking of it.

The story is told in an easy to read, compelling way; I identified with Susannah and through her easy narration I wanted to know more about the characters she encountered, yet I didn't feel cheated by this book in any way. I feel the author has told us exactly enough - not too much, not too little.

There's not much to criticise about this book. I did get a little confused about who was who at first. I felt a lot of her customers were introduced quite early on, and I did need to refer back once to double check who someone was. And there's a lot of German references that I couldn't be bothered looking up (because I read it in the wee small hours in bed, not being able to put it down otherwise I would have taken the time to look them up). But otherwise it was simply beautiful.

Gentle and compelling, with a wealth of colourful characters. I can't believe I enjoyed this style of book as it wouldn't be something I normally go for. But it was simply beautiful. I am looking forward to seeing what else the author has written and hoping it matches the standard of this book.
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18 of 20 people found the following review helpful
on 17 August 2012
I am a fan of Eva Ibbotson's work and was saddened by her death because it meant there would be no more of her heartwarming but unsentimental books to discover. I was delighted when I found this, and am grateful to Bello for bringing it back into availability, and on kindle too!
I've just finished it and found it every bit as life-affirming as her other books. As the other reviewers say, it is a little different to them, with its more mature heroine, but there is still plenty of romance and delightful twists and turns. Susannah, the heroine, is the sort of person we'd all love to know: she is kind, witty, charming and a great people-watcher.We love her all the more for her little foibles and her frankness about some of the customers who buy dresses from her.
The book also gives a fascinating portrait of pre-WW1 Vienne, with all its charm intact.
I recommend this book without hesitation and hope it converts more people to the sun-filled fiction of this wonderful author. As with many of her books, there is plenty of music throughout, in this case from a young boy who is a pianist prodigy. All the characters are wonderfully rounded, from the fervent Magdalena to the unpleasnt Frau Schultz, the man with seven daughters who needs a son to inherit his timberyard, and the anarchist Nini. I am already looking forward to re-reading this book!
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14 of 16 people found the following review helpful
on 27 July 2010
This is a lovely book, and as soon as I got it I managed to finish it with a day or two, despite having my sisters wedding, a part time nannying job, and a friend from Australia staying. It's charmingly written. It isn't however quite like her other books, the heroine is "more mature" and so I suppose the book loses that youthful feel. It also has a more deconstructed plot, the type that follows the course of the year, rather than sticking to events on pertinant to the main plot. But I think as long as your not expectinng something exactly similer to her other adult fiction, then you won't be at all disappointed. It still has the appeal of the Romantic setting, and beautifully drawn chatacters, and a heroine, that does capture the heart, so I would highly recomend this.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 31 December 2012
I picked this up wanting something 'different' from the thrillers and mysteries I usually read. Different, it certainly was and quite enchanting, too.

It's the every-day story of city folk; a year in the life of the people who live and work in a small square in Vienna a hundred years ago, shortly before the Great War changed the life of everyone in Europe forever. No murders or major dramas, just the humdrum concerns of a group of neighbours as narrated by Susanna, a dressmaker with a shop in the square. We meet the neighbour who longs for a son to inherit the family business; the orphaned child with a flair for the piano and an uncle who forces him to practise to the point of exhaustion; mischievous choir boys and an eccentric countess.

There's romance, heartache, birth and death; posh frocks and politics. There's a city official with a Nasty Little Habit who wants to demolish the square for a road widening scheme. It's utterly absorbing, romantic without being soppy or maudlin and, before you've read very far, the characters feel like old friends. I couldn't stop reading but I didn't want it to end; I absolutely loved it.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 25 November 2012
An easy read. My first experience of a Kindle novel, and I don't read many books of this genre either, so, a doubly novel (sorry!) experience. Undemanding, but kept me reading over the weekend. It will take you to a different world: pre-WW1 Vienna, hints of contemporary political events and of what is approaching, touches of a demi-monde, the Viennese music scene, a likeable heroine, fashion, romance, friendships, humour and some not-quite-resolved heartbreak.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 10 November 2012
More mature than Ibbotson's other 'grown up' novels, this book offers a window into life in pre-war Vienna, with all its sunshine and showers. Often funny, occasionally melancholy, but never sentimental, there is less fairytale and more realism than one might expect from this author. I liked the warm-hearted heroine whose faults it is impossible not to forgive, and seeing her open up to love, friendship and happiness.

Although there are elements of romance in this story, it is not Ibbotson's trademark tale of first love. It is rather about personal growth and the ability to find happiness in unusual places. The ending is not quite a stock happily-ever-after affair, but is no less uplifting for that. A book to treasure and re-read.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 31 December 2012
Picked because I was looking for an easy read and I soon discovered that Eva Ibbotson is a very good writer indeed. It's a view of early 20th century Viennese society that's very sympathetic to the kind of single women who could possibly be described as belonging to the demi-monde. Curiously, I've seen some reviews posted by online book groups deploring the fact that the heroine, a dressmaker, is a rich man's mistress! In fact, she's a resourceful, rather moral individual doing the best she can to survive in a very conventional and unequal society. The story is all the more bittersweet given its setting in pre-First War Vienna.

Please note that there are lots of descriptions of cakes, hence the title I chose for my review.
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on 10 July 2013
I bought this as a Kindle Daily Deal some months ago. I had never heard of the author, but I like Vienna, and am fascinated by the "avant le deluge" atmosphere of Europe just before the First World War. Susanna Weber, the lead character is a glamorous, active and determined single woman in her late thirties with a problem childhood and adolescence. At least one of her friends is similar. A hundred years later she would have been a sleuth in California. In 1911 she's an Austrian dressmaker. But in spite of her petticoats, corsets and long skirts, she leads a fulfilled active life, without needing to visit the gym or go on five mile runs. She says that she is in no way disadvantaged as a woman, and her lifestyle proves it: she runs a successful business, enjoys food and wine and has a lover.

The book is a little saccharin in parts, at least towards the end, and the children's scenes remind you that the author is best known for her children's books. Also one of its charms is that although the English is perfect, the fact that it's not the author's first language adds a slight spiciness and sparkle. The book is a journal, not a diary or soliloquy and I enjoyed meeting the characters in the Square and elsewhere. It reminded me in ways of life in one of London's "urban villages". The historical backdrop is interesting too. And I found myself thinking of what might have happened to the various characters in future years. For example, would they have welcomed the Anschluss? Or condoned the horrific treatment of the Jews following that? Remember that Hitler was around in 1911 Vienna (though he does not feature in the book).

Madensky Square is not a dull place and the book is certainly not dull either. If I were to meet the equivalent of Susanna today, I doubt if we would have much in common. But I still liked her.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 2 December 2012
I bought this as a cheap Kindle deal and it was a real bargain. I loved the 1st person narrative that easily allowed me to slip into the place of the main character.I am usually a very fast reader but this book requires a little time to get beyond the obvious.If you are looking for a superficial, quick read then you are likely to be disappointed as some other reviewers have been.
Buy this book, savour it at a leisurely pace and you will be sad when it ends.
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