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4.5 out of 5 stars
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4.5 out of 5 stars
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on 13 June 2007
Once again a great book by Eva Ibbotson. Buyers beware this is the same book as 'A Countess Under Stairs' and if you buy the special offer of these two books together, you are buying 2 copies of the same book!!I guess you could give one away to a friend like I did!
However, if you love old fashion romance of the type that you can't put down than buy this (or 'A Countess Under Stairs'!!) I am looking forward to reading the other re issues of Ms Ibbotson's books
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on 3 August 2008
Suspend your disbelief for this glamourous, romantic, fairy tale-like book about goodness and how it always wins against shallowness or selfishness.

If you want a realistic, gritty book about the Russian revolution, don't read this. Eva Ibbotson, although she does have some sadness in the book, is writing a cheerful book that will have you chuckiling to yourself days after you've turned the final page.

Even though it is a children's book, I think that a lot of adults will enjoy it too (my mum does). This is tribute to the author's quirky style, and the way that she doesn't dumb down like many kids' books. Instead, she gives us a glimpse into a lost world of glamour, nice food and lots of gorgeous dresses.

There is a huge range of fun characters, who all have tons of life and personality. In particular, the selfish, spiteful Muriel Hardwicke, the stubbon and perserviring Olive and Dr Lightbody, Muriel's self-satisfied and narrow minded friend.

Although it touches on some darker themes, overall it is an enthusiastic, joyful book that will light up any rainy day.

Buy it, and you definitely won't regret it!
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HALL OF FAMEon 24 July 2003
Yet another of Eva Ibbotson's enchanting historical romances that go far beyond the average. The story is a classic Cinderella tale - Anna is the daughter of Russian aristocrats, forced to flee to England by the Revolution. Having been one of the richest families in St. Petersburg, they are now to live with their governess. Anna's brother is a charity pupil at boarding school and Anna herself (armed with an out-of-date book on housekeeping) determines to become a housemaid. She gains employment at the Earl of Westerhome's crumbling but gorgeous house,where her deep curtseys terrify the butler and housekeeper and her dedication and lack of airs charms the rest of the staff. Menawhile, Rupert the Earl is about to make a disastrous marriage to Muriel, the socially ambitious woman who nursed him through his war injuries. A voluptuous golden-haired believer in eugenics she plans to use her fortune in not only restoring the house but making it a temple of pure-blood neo-Nazi beliefs. Everyone, including Rupert, realises the match will be a disaster, especially as she upsets all the staff with her cruel demands and insults their Jewish neighbours. Rupert and Anna fall passionately in love. But it is only when their neighbours have a fancy-dress ball at which Anna's young brother is a guest that the kitchen-maid takes her place as a countess....What this probably doesn't convey is the delicious wit and intelligence of Ibbotson's style. She is someone who can not only drop in dozens of musical and literary references without showing-off, but she can really write. Her intricate plots are always beautifully crafted. Every one of her characters is so fresh and alive that he or she jumps off the page, and her belief in the triumph of goodness over malice us infectious. She is pure joy for anyone who relishes Jane Austen, Carol Shields, Georgette Heyer or Alison Lurie. I can't recommend her too highly.
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I loved this book. Absolutely loved it. It is romantic, ridiculous and utterly frothy and totally captivated me from first to last.

I grew up reading Ibbotson's books, but stuck to her stuff for younger readers, and loved them. It has taken me until I was in my forties to discover her romances for teen/older readers, but I'm glad. I don't think I would have enjoyed them so much when I was younger.

This is a story of sheer escapism. It tells of Anna, a young, Russian Countess, who fleeing the Russian revolution, ends up working as a servant in a grand house in England, carrying with her all three volumes of a house keeping manual she has acquired along the way, and determined to do her best to blend in with the rest of the staff.

This, of course, like the book itself, is the stuff of fantasy, as Anna breathes life and romance back into a dying way of life and a family on its uppers.

I won't spoil it for you by telling you anything else, but if you're a fan of Georgette Heyer, and you like, sharp, clever romance with a sense of its own ridiculousness, but which never bursts the fairy tale bubble it creates, you will love this.
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on 29 August 2010
Another gem of a book by this fairy tale author! As always, the plot is sneakily intertwined, weaving together a beautiful story of love, freedom and spirit.

Anna Grazinsky is a young Russian countess, living a life of pleasure and luxury, when the revolution starts to tare country apart and so, the family and herself must escape - before its to late. Anna runs with her governess to England, now penniless and living of the generosity of her governess. Not happy with doing so, Anna sets out to find a job and soon becomes a servant for the aristocratic Westerholmes. After the death of his elder brother George in the war, Rupert is the, some what reluctant owner, of the family home. Returning home after himself being injured, he announces his engagement to the nurse that took care of him , Muriel Harwickle. Soon though he finds him self enchanted by the small serving girl, Anna, whose true identity he has no idea . . .

Although as always, the eventual outcome is guessed before one opens the page, the magic with Eva Ibbotson is the way in which she gets there. The book takes you on a joinery, back 80 years, to Russia, to England, and where ever else the story cares to go!

This, along with Magic Flutes, in my opinion, is the best of her teenage books. A light read in the fact the story is light a fluffy, but it does need concentration due to the large number of characters and plots!!

Happy Reading!
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on 10 March 2000
I found this book wonderful, the story-line was very original and romantic. The book was so well-written that the who plot and the way the reader saw one of the main characters was hinged on one line. It all changed from that piont onwards. It is one of my favourite books and I read it over and over again.
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on 11 May 2010
I love this book. When I first started reading it I wasn't that sure about it but, after reading the first few chapters, I was completely hooked and nothing could have made me put it down. The characters in it are completely believable and feel very real which, combined with the fact that the writing is very good, makes a really good book. The only thing that I would say is that the plot is a bit predictable (although the story was still good) and it does take a little while for you to get fully into the story. However, if you get past these small things the overall story is really good and a definite must read.

One thing you might want to be careful about, though, is that `a secret countess' was first published as `a countess under stairs' so you might want to be careful not to buy the same book twice.
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on 18 October 2014
Blurb sounds like a cheesy romance novel but this is so much more. Young adult and adult fiction. Brilliant story-line, charming, funny characters, laugh out loud moments. I come back to this book whenever I want cheering up. It's so well-written, and pacy and definitely worth a read or three.
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on 27 January 2009
The Secret Countess by Eva Ibbotson was initially published as A Countess Below Stairs, which after reading it I think would be a better title. Eva Ibbotson was born in Vienna, Austria in 1925 but when the Nazis came to power, her family escaped to Britain. Many of her books allude to the struggles and loss experienced by people during the war and obviously she had first-hand experience of this.
The Secret Countess is the story of Anna Grazinsky, a Russian Countess who has to flee to Britain after World War I. Anna has come from a life of wealth and privilege, she was doted on by her father and had everything that she could ever have wished for. Her father is killed fighting and she and her mother make their way to Britain with Miss Pinfold, her governess. Anna's family has lost everything and she is too proud to live off the charity of Miss Pinfold and so she seeks a position as a housemaid at Mersham; family seat of the Westerholmes. Here she tries to fit in and works hard but it is clear to all that she has come from greater things. Ibbotson describes Merhsam in a very detailed way and the house is very much part of the story. Anna soon meets Rupert, the new Earl and he is totally mesmerised by her. However, Rupert has agreed to marry Muriel Hardwicke, an orphaned heiress who will provide the finances to secure Mersham's future. Hardwicke is the opposite of Anna; she is a snob and totally obsessed with Eugenics and the staff and Westeholme family members do not take kindly to her ways.
Rupert eventually finds out Anna's true identity and he is already in love with her, the situation seems hopeless with his impending nuptials fast approaching. However, the others surrounding Anna and Rupert devise a plan to save the future of both of them and also the house. The story is very reminiscent of Jane Eye except that Rupert has a much more affable character than Mr Rochester! I am so pleased that I have discovered Eva Ibbotson, her books have this fantastic romantic, fairytale quality to them but still have a lot of substance.
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VINE VOICEon 22 August 2010
Anna, the secret countess of the title, is an impoverished aristocrat whose family has fled to England following the Russian Revolution. She takes a position as a housemaid with an aristocratic English family, but wants to keep her birth a secret. The son of the family has just got back from the war and is engaged to a bossy young woman who takes a keen interest in eugenics. (Pleasingly, the fiancé has a number of friends who don't match up to her racial/physical benchmarks.) Another reviewer noted parallels with Jane Eyre, which sounds convincing, but I was more aware of possible links with The Sound of Music, Georgette Heyer's `The Grand Sophy' and Flambards. As with the other Ibbotson novel I read, I felt this was actually more likely to appeal to the mothers of its target audience than to teenage girls themselves. There is something very appealing about Ibbotson's stories, although I wish her social views weren't quite so conservative and her heroines were a bit more feisty and a bit less `Ewig-Weibliche'.
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