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on 8 June 2007
Eva Ibbotson uses a typical fairy-tale storyline; Anna, a saintly, impoverished Russian Countess flees to England in the year 1919 and must there make her living as a housemaid. After arriving at the English country home of Mersham, a whole new world which she bravely embraces, she duly falls in love with her master, the handsome but troubled Earl Rupert. Standing between them is the Countess's lack of fortune, and the delightfully deplorable Muriel Hardwicke, the Earl's fiancee. Far from being cliched, Ibbotson revitalises the much-used storyline with her sparkling and humourous potrayal and interplay of the varied cast of characters both noble and common, wittily demonstrating that no matter what their birth, people are people and there is no real difference between rich and poor. The storyline, despite being fairy-tale is down-to-earth and truthful, sometimes comical, sometimes poignant and always intruiging. There is also clever and dramatic use of echoes of Jane Eyre and other romantic novels, exploring the nature of love and romance. I think that this is Eva Ibbotson's best book, with close competition from 'Journey to River Sea' and would recommend it to any one from age eleven.
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Anna Grazinsky is a member of the Russian aristocracy, or White Russians, during the Russian Revolution. Her family is forced to flee from their comfortable life in Russia to England, where they are safe from the revolutionaries. But in England, the Grazinskys are left with nothing. Anna has a very resilient spirit, and instead of moping around and wishing for her old life, she is grateful for the safety of her family and secretly takes a job as a maid so that her little brother can still attend school. With her take-charge attitude, Anna proves that not all rich girls are snobby brats, like modern heiresses lead us to believe.

While many of the servants at the Westerholme residence are skeptical of the new foreign girl, Anna quickly charms her way into their hearts. With her deep curtsies, bright smile, and cheerful demeanor, Anna is beloved by all. She does each task assigned to her as best she can, never slacking on the job.

When the young and handsome Earl of Westerholme returns home from World War I, Anna is immediately drawn to him. And it seems that he feels a similar attraction to her. But Anna's identity as a countess is still a secret, and she does not have the social standing that she once held in Russia. Plus, the Earl is already engaged to the beautiful but vicious Muriel Hardwicke. Muriel nursed Earl Rupert back to health when he was wounded in the war, and he proposed to her. But that was before he met Anna.

In the weeks leading up to the wedding, Muriel begins to take over the Westerholme household, arbitrarily firing servants that do not fit in with her vision for Westerholme. None of the servants or neighbors are fond of Muriel, and as the wedding date approaches, all of Rupert's friends and family are leery of the impending marriage.

At the costume ball thrown prior to the wedding, Anna's true identity as a countess is revealed, and Anna and Rupert dance the night away. Everyone can see that they are a perfect couple, but can Rupert and Anna come to terms with their feelings for each other before his marriage to Muriel?

Although A COUNTESS BELOW STAIRS has a very fairytale-like romantic plot, Anna is far from the typical princess. She has a feisty spirit and genuinely fun personality that immediately draws you in. Eva Ibbotson does a great job in breathing life into the generic fairytale plot. Anna's story is very similar to what much of the Russian aristocracy experienced during the communist revolution, and Ibbotson shows that even though life is unpredictable and rarely kind, if you embrace all opportunities and make the most of your situation, you will find happiness.

Reviewed by: Amber Gibson
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on 16 September 2013
This book is wonderful because it is written in the style of the time and the characters are each unique down to the crotchety, old gardener. The love story is well placed and the historical details told in Anna practical style hiding the hidden trauma behind the Bolshevik revolution and even the secondary romance is given room to breathe and feels real.

This is now one of my 'rereads'. I love it so much I never get bored of it and always return to it if I need a quirky but satisfying romance. Could not recommend it more.
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on 9 April 2016
This is the most amazing book. I am a fan of Eva In Boston and have read many of her previous books. However this book is by far the best. It is emotional making you laugh, cry and feel an overwhelming sense of joy. Since purchasing this book I have read it a total of 3 time and I plan to read it again. I would recommend this book to everyone and anyone.
Hope you enjoy it as much as I did!
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VINE VOICEon 16 September 2015
I don't know why, but I tend to struggle a bit with Eva Ibbotson sometimes - her novels can shift about a bit. Often I start one, and quite a way in, I decide I get bored or decide I don't like it - or simply can't follow, then it picks up, but all too often wanders off again... This was no exception.

This is the story of a Russian Countess who comes to England and becomes a housemaid. At times the story is a bit predictable, but worse for me was, though excellently written, one would just be getting really interested in a particular part of the story or character, and then you'd hear no more of them/it... This was the kind of `shift' I was speaking of. There were times when I wanted to give up on this, but I did finally make it to the end, but I'm not sure i was really following that well by then. I also found the ending a bit `vague' too...

NOTE: I found copies of this book in the children's section in a local book store for some reason - but I'm not sure if this was a mistake? There was nothing in it to really appeal to the very young.
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on 11 September 2012
This book was originally published as A Countess Below Stairs in 1981. But I didn't realise this book was written 30 years ago when I read it! It's set in 1919 and transports you back to this wonderful but hard time. I absolutley fell in love with Anna! She is everything a human being should be and is almost too nice to be true, but Eva Ibbotson makes her believable. As the reader I was 100% behind her and rooting for her all the way through. The other characters are vast and colourful. From Anna's fellow servants to the aristocratic party guests! I loved the honorable Olive and Muriel is one of those characters you love to hate. In fact some of the things she does are so unforgiveably cruel that I almost punched the book!

Read the rest of my review or other teenage fiction reviews at Teenage book reviews from a teenage bookworm.
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on 27 September 2015
Thank you to lovereading for sending me this book, this is the second book of Eva Ibbotson's I have read and enjoyed. The new covers I find are truly magical, especially this one. This story is set in 1919, and concentrates on Anna's story who I absolutely loved, she is a real gem and such a lovely human being. There are some other very colourful characters from the aristocratic party guests to the other servants who work alongside Anna. A truly magical tale.
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on 15 December 2014
Loved this book - really nice story evoking the opulence of pre-war Russia. Great heroine in the story although towards the end the story gets a bit formulaic and you can sort of gurss what is going to happen :)
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on 22 January 2013
Light, pleasant, romantic. I had bronchitis and took to my sofa with this book - it made me as happy as I could possibly be under the circumstances. Eva Ibbotson's adult novels are delightful. The plot of this novel isn't very believable but I didn't care as the characters make up for it.
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on 6 December 2014
Really enjoyed it. Great story, didn't want it to end. I had a few very late nights as I couldn't put it down because I had to find out what was going to happen! would definitely recommend it!
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