Thursday, March 8, 2012

Review: A Countess Below Stairs

A Countess Below Stairs, by Eva Ibbotson. The GoodReads summary:
After the Russian revolution turns her world topsy-turvy, Anna, a young Russian Countess, has no choice but to flee to England. Penniless, Anna hides her aristocratic background and takes a job as servant in the household of the esteemed Westerholme family, armed only with an outdated housekeeping manual and sheer determination.

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...
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.

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 clichĂ© 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.

Rating: 4.5/5


  1. This sounds like exactly my kind of read. Would you recommend reading The Reluctant Heiress instead, though? If they're essentially the same (good) book.

    1. I don't know that I could really recommend one above the other--I like them both so much. The two main distinguishing characteristics between the books are

      1) The Reluctant Heiress takes place in Austria and the main girl works in the theater, while Countess Below Stairs takes place in England (but there are a lot of Russian characters) and the main girl works as a servant in a manor house

      2) In Reluctant Heiress, the male love interest is more of a main character, while in Countess Below Stairs the love interest is kinda just in the background

      So I think it all just comes down to personal preference. It seems like from what I've heard, people generally prefer Countess Below Stairs--for what that's worth :)

    2. I might try The Reluctant Heiress first, then, as I typically read historical fic set in England and it might be nice to read about a different setting. Thanks!

  2. Wow I bought this book forever ago but never read it. I'll have to try it out now. Too bad my stack of books is so high its going to take me forever to get to it.


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