Monday, December 1, 2008

A Countess Below Stairs - Eva Ibbotson

Also reviewed by Heather

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background and takes a job as servant in the household of the esteemed Westerholme family, armed only with an outdated housekeeping manual and sheer determination.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 attratction 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 fiancee.... (Summary from book - Image from

My review: "A Countess Below Stairs" is the tale of a an impoverished Russian countess who takes a job as a maid in the home of the handsome Earl of Westerholme to provide for her family. It's obvious to all who work in the household that Anna is highborn and they don't expect her to last, but last she does and, in so doing, captures the hearts of her fellow staff and the attention of the Earl...but not without consequences.

Ibbotson's characters are amazingly loveable and so real they stand up, fully clothed, in your mind. Honorable Olive Byrnes, an eight year old it is impossible not to love. The efficient yet stodgy butler, Proom, who by the end of the story is up to his elbows in deceit and feathers. Mrs. Proom, mother of the butler, who is most often found throwing a variety of things out the window to get the attention of passersby. James, the footman whose obsession with the size of his muscles is equalled only by the maids' interest in them. Lady Lavinia, twenty times a bridesmaid, homely, and desperate to marry, well, anyone above her station. Dr. Lightbody, an insanely misled freak if there ever was one. Uncle Sebastien, a lecherous old musician whose tendency to pinch the maids is okay by them. Muriel Hardwicke, the Earl's seemingly sweet fiancee, who transforms herself over the course of the book from a gorgeous, wealthy fiancee to a malicious woman who makes it SO easy to hate her. Rupert, the Earl of Westerholme, engaged to marry a woman whose riches will save the estate, but torn between his heart and his duty. And above all, Anna, the beautiful, kind, and indominitable Countess, determined to make her way and help those she loves.

I'm sure I could make this review calm and collected. I could write something articulate and rational and astound you with my observational wit. I have absolutely no intention of doing any of these things because I am all aflutter. I am in LOVE with this book. To be honest this was pretty much love at first word for me. I knew it was something special when I read--not the prologue--but the little exerpt that comes before any of that and could tell the writing would be phenomenal.

Usually when I am reading through a book, especially to review it, I keep a running list of things I like or dislike about the book in my head or on paper. I was completely unable to do it this time. I got so swept up in the story that try as I might I could not find anything wrong with it. Yes, I know that no story is perfect, but when you get so immersed in a story that you can't even manage to surface for a moment of mental clarity...that is a good story. I read till 3. I forced myself to go to bed. I woke up. I ignored my kids. I ignored my husband. I skipped dinner. Make no mistake...this is book isn't chock full of meaning or symbolism. It isn't depressing or all about the trials we face as people. It's just good fun. Read it. Read it. Read it. I sincerely doubt that you'll be sorry.

My rating: 5 huge fat gold stars (If I had the money I would be at the bookstore right now buying her other books. Money or not, I'll be reviewing them shortly.)

Sum it up: Perfect in every respect.


Melissa Paul said...

This sounds like an aewsome read! Can I borrow it?

Pearls and Pumps said...

Thanks, Mindy! I'm always drawn to her books, just because I love the covers so much! I only own one (A Song for Summer) but I haven't actually read it. I'll be picking this one up soon though!


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