I’ve come to the conclusion that Ibbotson’s books are the perfect books to read aloud. I didn’t actually read “A Countess Below Stairs” out loud, but I was dying to the whole time. The writing and method of storytelling combine to make a book that practically screams be shared with someone else.
Desperate to keep her past a secret, Anna is nearly overwhelmed by her new duties - not to mention her instant attraction to Rupert, the handsome Earl of Westerholme. To make matters worse, Rupert appears to be falling for her as well. As their attraction grows stronger, Anna finds it more and more difficult to keep her most dearly held secrets from unraveling. And then there's the small matter of Rupert's beautiful and nasty fiancée...
In all honestly, this book was really similar to “The Reluctant Heiress,” Ibbotson’s other book that I read recently. They’re both about impoverished heiresses who fall in love with rich guys who just happen to be already engaged to someone horrible. And yet, despite the fact that I felt like I was essentially reading the same book twice, I didn’t care. First of all, it’s a storyline that I adore, but second--and most of all--Ibbotson’s stories are so magical and her storytelling so deft that she could be writing the most cliché storyline ever and I wouldn’t even blink. She manages to totally transport me into the world of her stories, and minor grievances about plot or character don’t even register.
As in “The Reluctant Heiress,” one of the big strengths of “A Countess Below Stairs” was it’s secondary characters. They’re just so freakin’ awesome. They’re kind and quirky and hilarious, and reading about them makes me want to live their fairytale lives. And, oh my gosh, can I just say that my absolute favorite scene in the book takes place between two of the minor characters (Tom’s proposal to Susie, for any of you who’ve read it)--after I read that scene, I just wanted to clutch the book to my chest and sigh.
My ONLY complaint about the book was the fact that Rupert and Anna only have, like, two brief conversations before each deciding that they’re hopelessly in love with the other. But that’s it, and honestly, it didn’t bug me all that much.
Overall, I infinitely recommend this book. I honestly couldn’t say whether I liked this one or “The Reluctant Heiress” better--just thinking about either makes me smile. If forced, I might choose “The Reluctant Heiress,” but I have the feeling that it’s just because I read that one first.