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Stella Matutina
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Review Rerun: A Countess Below Stairs by Eva Ibbotson 
22nd-Nov-2012 07:00 am
A COUNTESS BELOW STAIRS (which is also published as THE SECRET COUNTESS) is one of only seven books I've loved straight from the first line to the last. It's my go-to fairy tale romance, even though there's not a drop of actual magic in it. Though I reread it about a year after this review original appeared on August 28th, 2009, I chose not to review it again because my opinion as remaiined the same. I love this book, always and forever, and will never cease to recommend it to anyone who loves historical romance.

cover art The Secret Countess by Eva Ibbotson, featuring the bottom half of a white girl"s face. She has light brown hair and is wearing a large, tear drop-shaped pendantTitle: A COUNTESS BELOW STAIRS or THE SECRET COUNTESS, depending on which edition you find
Author: Eva Ibbotson
Publisher: speak, a division of Penguin
Publication Year: 1981 (which: total surprise. I had no idea this book was so old)
Pages: 383
Status: keeper

LibraryThing Info

A Countess Below Stairs for purchase on The Book Depository

A Countess Below Stairs for purchase on Kobo

A Countess Below Stairs for purchase on Amazon.ca

Countess Anna Grazinsky and her family lost everything when they fled Russia for England. Desperate to help her loved ones stay afloat in their new home, Anna takes a job as a maid in a large country house. Her new post grows complicated when she meets the friendly and attractive Rupert, Earl of Westerholme--who has just arrived on the estate with his prickly fiancée.

I swore up and down that I wouldn't reread anything else until at least September, but the moment I finished The Book Smugglers' review of A COUNTESS BELOW STAIRS I knew I’d have to make an exception. There are times when you’ve just got to throw your TBR out the window and read something you know you’ll love. And darlin', I loved this to bits.

Whenever I talk this book up--which is often and at great length--I tell folks that it reads like magical realism without the magic. Ibbotson, like all the best magical realists, brings her early 20th century world to life with no more than a handful of carefully-chosen details couched in delicious, evocative prose. Her writing drew me straight in and refused to let me go until the story was over. This is one of the few books I’ve loved right from the first word to the last.

The characterization is every bit as lovely as the language. Ibbotson introduces us to each member of her large cast in such a way that we instantly know all about them. She gives us a few choice details, throws us an emotional hook, and lets the words work their magic. As if that weren’t enough, each of the characters also has a distinctive speech pattern that tells us even more about them. I’m over the moon in love with Anna’s syntax, and I know I’m not alone. It’s simple, effective, and utterly immersive.

And don't you even get me started on the Russians. We'll be here all night. I mean, you've gotta love a group of lords and ladies who cheerfully seek out menial jobs when their fortunes fly south. I was especially taken with the woman who refused to subject her beloved dog to a painful operation, even though said dog had a priceless diamond in his tummy. Their attitudes are, perhaps, a trifle unrealistic, but they delight me nonetheless.

Then there's the story, which is damned good. Y’all know I’m a crier, through and through, and I spent most of this glorious book sobbing my eyes out. I cried pretty durned hard the first time through, but I bawled even more during my second reading. I cried and cried and cried and cried, and then I cried some more. I cried because I was so glad to see the characters again. I cried at scenes that made me happy. I cried at scenes that broke my heart. I cried because I knew what was coming.

I got so involved with the book that I threw all my plans out the window and spent the entire evening immersed in it. It was so worth it.

If you like romance, you must read this amazing novel. I’m so glad I decided to ignore la TBR for a day and read it again.

5 stars - loved it to the point of incoherence and/or verbosity

Other Reviews:

The Book Muncher
bookshelves of doom
The Book Smugglers
Books & Other Thoughts
The Compulsive Reader
Crimson Cloud Nine
Dear Author
Literary Fangirl Book Reviews
Mixtures: Books...
nineseveneight book reviews (also covers other Eva Ibbotson titles)
Pages Et Cetera
Shhh I'm Reading
The Story Siren
WORD For Teens
Young Adult (& Kids) Books Central Blog

Many more have emerged since I first posted this review (and rightly so; this book deserves a huge readership!). You can find them on the Book Blogs Search engine under both titles: A Countess Below Stairs and The Secret Countess.

Back In the Day:
18th Century
24th-Nov-2012 02:21 am (UTC)
An author I really want to try and just haven't got around to yet...
28th-Nov-2012 10:58 pm (UTC)
Someday, I'll go on a huge Eva Ibbotson bender and read ALL her books.
26th-Nov-2012 07:24 pm (UTC)
This review made me buy this book instantly. I think I'm going to go read it now in fact - thank you!
28th-Nov-2012 10:58 pm (UTC)
Yay! I hope you love it as much as I do.
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