"In a fragile world on the brink of World War II, lovely young Englishwoman Ellen Carr takes a job as a housemother at an unorthodox boarding school in Vienna that specializes in music, drama, and dance. Ellen simply wants to cook beautiful food in the homeland of her surrogate grandmother, who had enchanted her with stories of growing up in the countryside of Austria.
What she finds when she reaches the Hallendorf School in Vienna is a world that is magically unconventional — and completely out of control. The children are delightful, but wild; the teachers are beleaguered and at their wits’ end; and the buildings are a shambles. In short, the whole place is in desperate need of Ellen’s attention.
Ellen seems to have been born to nurture all of Hallendorf; soon everyone from Leon the lonely young musical prodigy to harassed headmaster Mr. Bennet to Marek the mysterious groundsman depends on Ellen for–well, everything. And in providing them with whatever they need, especially Marek, for whom she develops a special attachment, Ellen is happier than she’s ever been.
But what happens when the meance of Hitler’s reign reaches the idyllic world of the Hallendorf School gives this romantic, intelligent tale a combination of charm and power that only the very best storytellers can achieve."
Characters: I love Eva Ibbotson so much because of her ability to make her protagonists three dimensional heroines instead of the flat subservient girls they could be. Ellen is no exception. I was thrilled with her strong sense of self and her stubborn, motherly sensibility. Ibbotson proves that feminism has absolutely nothing against being feminine. However, at certain parts it does seem like perhaps Ellen is too much of a saint. If not so much because of her own actions but because of people's response to them. It would have been nicer if Ellen had some more transparent faults, just as Marek had. Nonetheless, Ellen is a fabulous young woman and I'm glad to see that Ibbotson is still writing about the same kind of heroines.
Marek is also another superb love interest. He's extremely masculine and has huge amounts of integrity. He's compelling as a character but also has his faults. Ellen and he have an obvious chemistry. He's just as much as a protagonist to this book as Ellen is, and they are both strong enough characters to carry the book through. He certainly wasn't perfect. He made a lot of mistakes. Regardless, I still loved his capacity to work hard and keep his word. He's probably my favourite love interest out of all of Ibbotson's.
As for the rest of the characters, Ibbotson brings the same kind of quirky charm I expect from her. The children were delightful, as well as all the characters in both Marek and Ellen's world. Sometimes it was hard for me to gather the age of Leon and Sophie. I wish it had been earlier stated that they're in their mid teens. All of the side characters are brilliant and cheering, even if it is sometimes difficult to keep track of the teachers at Hallendorf.
The characters might not be always fleshed out, but they're fun, quirky, clever and charming. They're perfect for the kind of read I anticipate from Ibbotson. 4 and a half flowers.
Writing: Ibbotson has a beautiful, direct way of putting words together. The setting she provides for this novel is gorgeous. Her dialogue is realistic. The only qualm I'd have is that it's often difficult to follow Ibbotson's stories at the beginning of the book due to different cultures or geographic locations. It becomes easier soon after. Her writing style is old fashioned and gorgeous. It fits her genre perfectly. 4 and a half flowers.
Plot: The pacing was spot on. I was wondering how the book was going to evolve and the direction it went delighted me. Each plot element was woven through the main conflict skillfully. It was a lot of fun following the story and dealing with the conflict both Marek and Ellen were feeling from different sides. 4 and a half flowers.
End: This is the very first time Ibbotson has broken my heart. Then repaired it. Then broke it again. Then repaired it. I actually adore the last couple of paragraphs. It was such a perfect ending. 5 flowers.
Dust Jacket Description: I had another cover and description for my edition of this book. I like this description more. It's clearer. I don't like how they address how Ellen feels for Marek, though. As if he's dependent on her or he's bossing her around. 4 flowers.
Cover: I haven't liked any of the covers I've seen for this book. If the flower is supposed to be the Rosenkurl, it's a pretty, relevant cover. The girl is similar to how I imagine Ellen. It still doesn't hit the mark for me. I do think it will appeal to other people, though. 3 and a half flowers.
Overall: I've been under so much stress lately that I was in desperate need of an intelligent romance with a heavy amount of historical ambiance. A Song for Summer gave me that and then some. 4 and a half flowers.