Thursday, October 07, 2010

What are you reading Thursday: Fave Read of the Year

This week PHS Editor Donna Alward returns with a post about her favourite read of this year - and why.

I read a lot of different books. I read across genres (though mostly Romance) and subgenres. I cannot keep up with my tbr and that is frustrating. And sometimes I rebel against what I "should" be reading at any given moment and simply reach into my bookshelf for something I "want".

One book I had on my tbr was The Secret Countess (also known as The Countess Below Stairs) by Eva Ibbotson. My daughter had been given it as a gift, but historicals are not her thing. I thought it looked great and so I kept it on my shelf for when I wanted some YA to read. It should be noted that I ADORE historicals as well. So one day last month I snagged it from the shelf, opened the cover, and fell into the world of Anna and Rupert, post Russian revolution and WWWI.

This was my first Ibbotson book although my youngest loves Journey to the River Sea and The Star of Kazan, which she's read and I haven't. I read The Secret Countess in 2 days, quite a feat for me as I don't get big chunks of time to sit and read. I adored it. I liked everything about it. And that happens so rarely for me that it was a wonderful discovery to make.

Anna is a gorgeous character. She really doesn't have many flaws; instead the flaws come from her situation. She could be bitter or mean considering she has lost her family and way of life but she is not. And while un-flawed characters can be boring, Anna isn't. She is full of life. She's NICE. And because she's nice, we are totally on her side when she has to go to work as a lowly servant. We know she is really a Russian Countess. It doesn't take long for everyone to realize that Anna is someone special. And besides, if we want flawed, we can look to Meriel, Rupert's betrothed. She is a true villian. I hated Meriel with gusto.

Rupert is a good man who wants to do the right thing. He is a second son and so has the reputation of not being as much of a self-starter as his older brother, who died in the war. But Rupert is surprising. He's stronger than you first think and we get fed tidbits of his time in the service that let us know he's a true leader. It is easy to see he and Anna have feelings for each other, but for several reasons, including the huge responsibility he has towards his family, their staff, and the estate, he cannot break his engagement to Meriel.

An endearing cast also give this book its wonderful character and depth - The Honourable Olive is fabulous. You can't help but love this disabled child who is full of life and optimism (and hate Meriel for attempting to destroy that). The kitchen staff, the butler, even the old rogue Uncle Sebastian are terrific.

Ibbotson's writing has a lovely lyrical style to it and I slid through the pages like floating down a lazy river. I even got to a part where I thought, "OMG, they aren't going to get their happily ever after. And if they don't, I'm going to be so mad!" But Ibbotson didn't let me down. If anything, I wanted the final few pages to last a little longer.

The Secret Countess is a lovely story with a bit of romance and suitable for anyone 12-90. I didn't mind the lack of physical love. There was plenty else to keep me engrossed. I loved it so much, I ordered 3 more of her backlist - and The Dragonfly Pool for my youngest. Unlike her sister, she loves historical settings and I'm hoping to hand them down to her in a year or two. 

Best book I've read all year and a wonderful author discovery for me.

Donna's current release is Proud Rancher, Precious Bundle. It's out in the UK now and is the Mills and Boon Book of the Month! You can find it in UK stores now or download it from the Mills and Boon site. It'll be in North America in February.


  1. I adored the Countess Below Stairs! - a friend lent it to me and I'm trying to buy my own copy - it was out of print when I tried.

  2. Alison - if you look at amazon under the title The Secret Countess, you should be able to get it.

    I have started The Morning Gift - my order arrived this week. I also have A Company of Swans and A Song for Summer.

  3. Hi Donna,
    I just finished Jodi Picoult's book, Change of Heart. Great read. Last month I read two of Kristan Higgins's books, both wonderful, funny stories. What would we do without the opportunity to read?

  4. Oh, it sounds great, Donna. Jotting down the name and title now, and then I'll share it with my daughter.

  5. I've heard great things about this book! Thanks for the recommendation. It sounds wonderful!

  6. We have three Eva Ibbotson fans in our house - she's a wonderful author. This is the one book we don't have in our collection, so shall hunt it down. Thanks for the rec, Donna.

  7. That sounds irresistable! So I won't bother resisting.

  8. This sounds like a wonderful book, Donna. I haven't read much YA in a while, but this one is going on my TBR list.

  9. *waves at RWAC peeps* It IS lovely. I started The Morning Gift last night - how can I resist a marriage of convenience set during WWII?

    I even hesitate to call this YA. I really see it as more general romantic fiction suitable for a YA audience...perhaps because the characters are not teens but in their 20's.