Not-So-Secret Reasons to Read the Secret Countess

secret countess

Hello all! Brr it’s cold outside, so I decided it was time to cosy on up to one of my favourite historical reads. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve reread this book (most recently at the end of last year) and yet I still get the urge to revisit it again and again! That’s why I found it super easy to come up with this list of reasons to pick this beautiful story up:

secret countess first line

The setting is gorgeous. Opening in a pre-Revolution Russia and moving across the sea to the English countryside, the book maintains a mythic quality and a superbly atmospheric vision throughout. Stunningly described from the first sentence to the last, I could happily recommend this for that reason alone.

Anna, the main character, is a true heroine. Self-sacrificing and, despite the title, unable to hide her noble nature, what makes her incredible is not her background, but what she does in the face of hardship. Her role in the story teaches many valuable lessons- to never give up hope, to accept responsibility and, above all, to be kind.

While we’re on the topic, this book boasts many other amazing female characters, all reflected in a historically accurate way. One of my favourites being Minna- the stepmother who lays to rest “all the wicked stepmothers since time began”

At the same time, this book manages to have some proper villains. Recently, a friend pointed out to me that a sitcom I-don’t-want-to-spoil-by-naming gave away the villain by having them kick a dog into the sun (ok big spoiler there)- well this has a dog-kicking villain. In fact, this villain is pretty much reprehensible in every way- we learn from their introduction that they are a literal eugenicist. I’m a massive fan of baddies actually being bad and this definitely achieves that. What’s also great is that the dastardly ways of said character are revealed slowly to everyone else in the story (giving the book real tension and a plot).

This is just one of the ways that Eva Ibbotson is frankly a genius writer. As well as creating an exciting cast of characters, she also presents brilliant levels of contrast, to really tug at those heartstrings. One of the things Ibbotson does especially well is building up a character’s hopes at the beginning of a scene or chapter, only to bring them crashing down. And, as if in a perfect mirror image, the happiest moments start so sadly, only to flip everything you were feeling on its head.

Also, the romance is gorgeous. I personally hold the view that one does not know a real love story until they have tried Eva Ibbotson. And this just so happens to be one of her best romances.

I feel like I could go on forever extolling this book’s virtues, but sometimes bananas speak louder than words:

5/5 bananas

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If you haven’t checked it out, go read it! And if you have, feel free to gush with me in the comments! 😉

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Some Great Reads on the Great War

Hello! Hope you’re having a good Sunday. Now as many of you may know, today marks the centenary for Armistice Day and in honour of the occasion, I thought it would be good to share some books and poems that bring the memory of the war to life. While I am not necessarily well versed in a lot of books on the subject, I do think it’s an important part of history and that honouring the dead is something we can all do with a simple moment of remembrance.

Poets

To start off, I just wanted to share a couple of poems that particularly move me:

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Fiction

The Duration

birdsong

Birdsong– I really love Faulks’ evocative writing style and Birdsong is one of his best works in that regard. Stunningly written, I love how this reflects on the war, managing to reflect on both before and after.

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Private Peaceful– I have always loved this moving, beautifully written book. As much as it is a fantastic book for children, I still believe that it’s a profound indictment against the horrors of this particular war.

war horse

War Horse– I’m putting two Morpurgo books on here simply because they’re both such worthwhile reads. And, unique to this list, it’s also written from the perspective of a horse.

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Flambards– This is a really old, but romantic story, spanning the years before and after the war. Why I think it’s great for this list is because it deals with love and loss and the tremendous impact of the war on individuals.

shell house

Shell House– another romance, but with a fairly obvious twist. I do believe this is an interesting and worthwhile take on the war. While I don’t think all the parts of this book totally gel, the reason I’ve included it is because the comparison to modern day and history is rather different. I also think that the best part of this book are the flashbacks and that these parts particularly capture the tragedy of the war.

The Aftermath

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Blood Red, Snow White– while not strictly speaking about the trenches or the war directly, this colourful read follows Arthur Ransome’s journey as a spy as Russia fell to communism. It captures a completely different side to this period in history, focusing on fallout in Russia from WW1 and the ripple effect of that. It’s also written in a fairytale-esque voice, which made it a captivating read from start to finish.

the waste land

The Waste Land– while not strictly speaking about World War I, I think this book is permeated with the shadow of the war. Its vivid descriptions and hidden depths make it a thoroughly worthwhile read.

secret countess

The Secret Countess– I actually mentioned this favourite earlier today when I quoted its opening. Not only does this have the interesting perspective of Russian exiles, one amazing thing about this book was how it deals with the aftermath of the Great War and exists very much in its shadow.

So there you go. What is your favourite World War I poem or book? Let me know in the comments!

Quote Challenges – Favourite First Lines: Day 4

Hello all! Yup, I’m still here with the quote challenge, talking about my favourite first lines. Here are the rules:

Rules

  • Thank the person who nominated you
  • Post a quote for 3 consecutive days (1 quote for each day)
  • Nominate three new bloggers each day

Although evidently, I’m breaking the rules since this is day four

Thank you so much to the marvellous Misty @Misty’s Book Space for tagging me- I love her awesome mix of book reviews, memes and tags. She reads so widely and has such great taste- it’s always fun to see what she’s reading next! Highly recommend you check her out!

 

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I don’t know if this book gets the attention it truly deserves these days- but the Secret Countess *gives me life* (as the kids say 😉 ) when it comes to romances/historical fiction/fairytale-esque stories… There’s so much to love about it and this first line captures the mood of the story and, believe me, it doesn’t let you go for the rest of it.

I tag:

Kelly, Geronimo Reads and the Geeky Contralto

So have you read this book? Share the love in the comments if you have!