Favorite Settings: Greece

ia-view2-from-boatI love vivid settings in romance and am particularly fond of foreign settings. When they’re done well, I learn more about a country, feel as if I’m there, but still enjoy the story. Long before I ever visited Greece I fell in love with the country – or at least one of the Greek Islands – by reading Mary Stewart’s The Moon-Spinners, set on the island of Crete. I haven’t visited Crete myself, but feel as if I actually know what parts of it look like thanks to Ms. Stewart’s words. What I carried with me, for years, were the windmills of Crete.

After I read The Moon-Spinners for the first time, I knew that someday I wanted to visit Greece, and at least one Greek island. And I also knew that I wanted to read more books set in Greece – both the islands and mainland.

The Special Settings section of AAR’s Special Title’s Listing includes six books set in Greece, three by Mary Stewart. I’ve tried five of the six books, but have enjoyed the three by Ms. Stewart the most. In addition to The Moon-Spinners, the list includes Ms. Stewart’s My Brother Michael and This Rough Magic.

Rike gave a DIK review at AAR to Mary Stewart’s My Brother Michael, set in Delphi. Rike notes of Delphi that:  “It’s a truly magical, mystical place. Whatever your own religious persuasion is, there you’ll find it very easy to feel close to a higher being, and understand perfectly well why the Greeks built a sanctuary for Apollo on that very mountainside.”

Rike finds that My Brother Michael perfectly captures Delphi’s spirit. I have to agree, but also feel it captures part of the spirit of Athens. At one point early on the heroine is sitting in a café in Omonia Square thinking about some memorable aspects of Athens, in particular the noise and bustle and traffic around the Square.

This Rough Magic takes place on another Greek island – this time Corfu. I read this soon after I finished The Moon-Spinners, and became enchanted with the heroine – an out-of-work London actress – and with the setting of Corfu. Much of the action takes place near and in the water (including some memorable scenes with dolphins). But Ms. Stewart’s descriptions of the cliffs dropping sharply to the beautiful blue sea have me longing to visit each time I read the book.

One of the first historical romances I read – although I didn’t know at the time that I was reading romance – was Jane Aiken Hodge’s Greek Wedding. The book is set in 1821 during the time of the War of Greek Independence. The heroine, Phyllida, travels to Greece to locate her brother who left to fight with Lord Byron. The author packs a lot of history into the book, while creating interesting characters, and a romance I still think about from time to time. In fact, I’m long overdue for a reread.

You’ve probably noticed a theme with all of the books I’ve mentioned so far: Most were written a long time ago (some well over 50 years ago). I do keep trying to find more recent books set in Greece. I jump at the chance to review any book set in Greece, hoping that it’ll be another new favorite. Sadly, there haven’t been a lot in the last few years, and most I’ve encountered recently I haven’t cared for. However, a few recent mysteries have fit the bill.

At the recommendation of some AAR readers, I read The Tomb of Zeus by Barbara Cleverly, First published in 2007, this mystery is set in 1928 on Crete, and features archaeologist Laetitia Talbot. With the mix of a Greek island, a post-WWI time period, and archaeology, it was a natural for me.

But my favorite, recently published books that take place in part in Greece are Tasha Alexander’s Lady Emily mystery series. Lady Emily inherited a villa on Santorini when her husband died. In most of the books Lady Emily spends at least a chapter in the villa. In And Only to Deceive, the first in the series, Lady Emily describes her impressions of the villa:  “The villa completely surpassed my expectations. It sat near the village of Imerovigli on top of a tall cliff overlooking the caldera and the remains of the volcano that had sunk the center of the island in ancient times. Inside, the house, with its bright white rooms, wide arches, and huge windows, was unlike any building I had seen.”

I love the feel Ms. Alexander gives for the island setting, and continue to hope that she’ll eventually set a full book there.

I’ve done all right in recent years with mysteries set in Greece, but long for more romances set both on various islands and on the mainland. Have you read any of the books I mentioned? What did you think of them? Do you like Greece as a setting? And most importantly, have you read any good romances recently set in Greece?

- LinnieGayl AAR

18 thoughts on “Favorite Settings: Greece

  1. I love any book that takes place in Scotland. I usually only prefer historicals but will venture to contemporary or para normal ONLY if it is set in Scotland.

  2. I am absolutely with you in regard to Mary Stewart’s books set in Greece. Her ability to describe the country has always made me long to visit. (also pictures of the Aegean Sea – Oy Vey! So, so beautiful!)

    But here’s what I wonder: is it really the place, or is it her description of it? The author has such a giant talent for description, I think she might make me long to see Antarctica……

  3. Death in Cyprus by MM Kaye was written around the time of the Mary Stewart books. Cyprus is an Island off the East coast of Greece and the cuture described if very, very Greek. It is a young girl meets strong older man story. The heroine is a bit dependent but the hero is to die for, the secondary characters are fascinating and I loved, loved, loved the location. This is a mystery with a strong romantic element.

    Unfortunately the closest I’ve come to a Greek romance that is recent is My Big Fat Greek Wedding.

    I love all Mary Stewart novels and thought The Moon Spinners contained some of her best work in regards to capturing the setting. My Brother Michael is just a fantastic myserty. I need to re-read This Strong Magic. It isn’t coming back to me as easily as the others.

  4. I agree with everything that was stated regarding Mary Stewart’s books, especially This Rough Magic. I will be giving Tasha Alexander’s books a try as well.

  5. I remember watching The Moon Spinners starring Haley Mills when I was a little girl, then finding the book years later in the library. I’ve always wanted to go to Greece and I believe the credit should go to that book and that movie.

  6. Love all of Mary Stewart’s romantic suspense, but “My Brother Michael” is near the top of my list for her. I also really enjoy Alan Furst’s espionage novels. Many of them are set during the time just before WWII and in Eastern Europe and often have a romantic sub-plot. Most of “Spies of the Balkans” takes place in Salonika, Greece.

  7. Lauren, I do like Scotland a great deal as a setting. I don’t read a lot of historical romances anymore and would love to find more contemporary romances set in Scotland — in particular in Edinburgh.

    Ell, I think you may be correct about Mary Stewart’s skill. She could probably make me long to visit Antartica as well — and I really am not interested in visiting there.

    MaggieB, I’ll have to check out Death in Cyprus; I haven’t read it before.

    Renee, I hope you like Tasha Alexander’s books: start with And Only to Deceive.

    Sandy, I watched the movie first too, and then discovered the book. Such vivid descriptions of the island…sigh.

    Eggletina, I’ve never read anything by Alan Furst. Thanks! I’ll have to look for them.

  8. I am another fan of Mary Stewart and her Greek-set books. My Brother Michael is marvelous, and I adore the hero (and his little brother) in The Moon-Spinners, but for some reason I am not as susceptible to This Rough Magic. I enjoy it, but it doesn’t come to life as much as the other two IMO. I think it’s because of the acting tie-in making the main characters not as true-to-life. (But that’s just me.)

    Not romances, but I cannot recommend highly enough zoologist Gerald Durrell’s autobiographical series beginning with My Family and Other Animals. Gerald was the younger brother of novelist Lawrence Durrell, and the family lived in Corfu for several years when Gerald was a child. These books are laugh-out-loud hilarious, and when you finish them you will be convinced that the entire population of Corfu is insane. You will also be convinced that it’s the more gorgeous spot on this earth. His descriptions are lush, creative and fabulous. (Of course the joke about the book is that the Durrell family is even more insane than the people of Corfu. – is that a word?)

  9. I am another fan of Mary Stewart and her Greek-set books. My Brother Michael is marvelous, and I adore the hero (and his little brother) in The Moon-Spinners, but for some reason I am not as susceptible to This Rough Magic. I enjoy it, but it doesn’t come to life as much as the other two IMO. I think it’s because of the acting tie-in making the main characters not as true-to-life. (But that’s just me.)

    Not romances, but I cannot recommend highly enough zoologist Gerald Durrell’s autobiographical series beginning with My Family and Other Animals. Gerald was the younger brother of novelist Lawrence Durrell, and the family lived in Corfu for several years when Gerald was a child in the 1930s. These books are laugh-out-loud hilarious, and when you finish them you will be convinced that the entire population of Corfu is insane. You will also be convinced that it’s the most gorgeous spot on this earth. His descriptions are lush, creative and fabulous. (Of course the joke about the book is that the Durrell family is even more insane than the people of Corfu. When you add all of the artists and writers that visit the family, the Greek population appears to be normal.)

  10. Loved those books by Mary Stewart and love the Greek setting!

    I’d like to recommend the Greek Mythology series by Roberta Gellis that starts with Dazzling Brightness. The next ones are Shimmering Splendor, Enchanted Fire, Bull God and then Thrice Bound. The latter two are sold as ebooks by Baen books and are a little lighter in romance than the first three, though it’s still there. I believe the first three are only available as used MMP at this point. A little different from what you’re looking for, perhaps, but I enjoyed them tremendously.

    If I can think of any others I’ll post them. I’m also interested in anyone else’s recs for books set in Greece

  11. @Kari S. – Those books by Gerald Durrell were so much fun, weren’t they?! It’s been a long time since I read them.

  12. Sorry for the double post! I know I deleted one of my own posts before, but I can’t remember how!

    Ignore the first one please.

  13. Another thought, inspired by Jane A’s suggestion. I just finished the 500 Kingdoms series by Mercedes Lackey. The country isn’t called Greece (none of the locations in that series correspond exactly with familiar locations) but One Good Knight is a thinly-disguised version of the Greek myth about Andromeda (who had to be rescued from a monster). The descriptions sounded like Greece to me. And the novella “A Tangled Web” in Harvest Moon (2010, Luna) is yet another Persephone adaptation, also by Lackey.

    Jane, I’m glad someone else has also read Durrell! Yes, the books are great fun. When I had back surgery as a child the local children’s librarian from the local public library visited me during my three months in bed following the surgery, and she gave me a copy of My Family and other Animals. I can’t express strongly enough what a perfect gift that was. Is it any wonder that I became a librarian, too?

  14. Thank you, Jane A & Keri S. I hadn’t heard of the Durrell books but they do sound like a lot of fun. Jane A, I’ve been meaning to give Roberta Gellis a try at some point. Am adding these to my list of books to check out. Thanks!

  15. Summer Loving by Allie Spencer is set on a fictional Greek island. It’s more chick lit than straight romance but you might enjoy it anyway.

  16. I love exotic settings. One of my favorites is historical novels set in India.

  17. And also these Mary Stewart books set in France – Madam, will you talk and Nine coaches waiting. Both extremely lively with enchanting heroes and clever, enterprising heroines. I think I’ve read all of her novels at least 3 times.

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