Monday, February 25, 2008

A Countess Below Stairs, Eva Ibbotsen (A review in which Caroline sheds her nice-girl image)

In my last review, I warned you that I would, eventually, review a book that I didn't like. I made certain to write this warning because I feared my previous reviews had gave me the facade of being too... charitable. Too kind. Sucking up to whoever likes or reads or writes the books, maybe. Just one of those happy, bunny-loving, "I HEART everything I read, even if it is utter crap!" types.
Au contrare, mes amis. I don't bullshit. It's not in my genetic code. I am honest, especially when it comes to books and writing. And, as was proved in my first ever book review (A seventh grade critical essay on my opinion of Carl Hiassen's Hoot) I enjoy being malicious.
A Countess Below Stairs looks like a good book. It has a nice-looking cover, at least, featuring pretty lettering and a girl with half-a-head. This, admittedly, is a bit ambiguous. I mean, an alarming amount of YA novels feature girls with half-of-heads, and they vary tremendously in quality. On one side of the spectrum, you have Maureen Johnson, and on the other side you have Gossip Girl.
Still, though. I was confident that A Countess Below Stairs would be closer to the Maureen Johnson end. It has that good book look. The description is good, utilizing phrases such as instant attraction and forbidden romance. I like that stuff. It's a bit overused, sure, but if it's written well then it never gets old with me. That stuff sucks me in.
So, I bought it. I bought it with eight dollars and ninety-nine cents that I so expertly weasled out of my mother, and- because I still do have a bit of that naive 7th grader in me- I just assumed it would be good. I'd read several good reviews. It looked good. It sounded good.
As it turns out, however, all of this suppossed goodness was a mere facade; perhaps even a conspiracy! I am here to warn you, dear reader, that "A Countess Below Stairs" is not a good book.
I should have realized this as soon as I opened the book to find the largest print I have had the misfortune of glimpsing since my last babysitting job- and the boys I sit for are six and four years old. This may sound nitpicky, I know, but I hate large print. It's so... patronizing. It inspires the same sort of feeling as being talked down to by people of lesser intelligence than yourself. I can handle large print, though. What I can't handle is the rest of "A Countess Below Stairs."
Anna, the main character of this monstrosity, embodies the most vexing of heroine stereotypes: the perfect girl. Anna is beautiful, intelligent, good-humored, graceful, charming, and loved by everyone. Everyone, of course, but me. Personally, I find Anna intolerably irritating. She's so sweet, you see, becoming a maid after fleeing her beautiful home in Russia. She's fascinated with Selina Strickland, the queen of the horrible maid, who somehow managed to publish a book. The other half of this couple is Rupert- who, like Anna, is beautiful, intelligent, good-humored, charming, graceful, and loved by all except for me. The saddest thing about A Countess Below Stairs is that I don't feel any sort of anything towards Rupert. This, above all, is a warning sign. I fall in love with book characters so often that I'd be likely to invent a way for me to transport myself into the fictional universe so that I could actually be with one. I've developed several plans regarding how to do so. But for Rupert? Eh, no. Give me flaws! I like flaws! Rupert and Anna's only flaws are that they are flat, stupid, poorly written characters in a flat, stupid, poorly written novel!
Poorly-written. See, what really annoys me are the run-on sentances. The comma splices. I'm talking eight participles in one sentence here. There is no way that this is grammatically correct! No way whatsoever! No way AT ALL!
Then, of course, there are the blatant lies on the back of the book. There is no 'instant attraction'. Anything but. Don't get your hopes up, though: there is no Darcy and Elizabeth reminiscent clashing, either. There are just two idiotic characters who spend an extremely minimal amount of time together througout the novel, and who are most certainly not in love. I'll give them 'mutual affection of flat, one-sided, horrifically perfect characters', but not love. They do not deserve love.
The one thing that I cannot stand in reading is being bored. Please, writers. Disgust me, or anger me, or make me want to throw your books across the room in frustration. Depress me, make me cry, make me scream, or make me throw up. Make me love you or hate you, but at least make me feel something. I felt nothing, reading this book, except for annoyance and regret because I actually spent $8.99 on it.
I wonder if I could scrounge up that gift receit from Books-A-Million and convince them that I have a profound fear of historical fiction and that I recieved this book from an evil cousin who knows about this fear and bought it for me just to terrify me out of my wits, thus recieving store credits and buying another book that hopefully doesn't completely suck?
I give "A Duchess Under Stars"(I couldn't even manage to remember the title, the entire time I was reading it. I mangled it so badly whenever anyone asked what I was reading. And yes, I did actually say, "A Duchess Under Stars" once or twice.) one-half cup of cold, broken-coffee-pot, black coffee with wierd plastic aftertaste.
And that's being charitable.



Chelsea said...

Oh no. This was on my to-be-read list! It's still on there, but moved down now that I've read your review. (Who knows, I might end up really liking it. That's definitely happened before.) But I appreciate the honesty of your opinion. Now I know that when you praise a book, it's true.

By the way, thanks for the comment on my blog. =] ( And for sending me a link to here. I'm loving it. I'm definitely subscribing to it on my Google Reader.

I love meeting and chatting with book lovers, so feel free to email me anytime. (My email address is on my blog)

-Chelsea (thepageflipper)

ambeen said...

Like Chelsea, this is on my TBR list. I've read two other Eva Ibbotson's and loved them so I'm sure I will this one.

However, I like your honesty. I don't like sugar coating reviews either (although I do it sometimes when I think my annoyances with it aren't well founded, lol). I totally agree about the large print thing, too. Funny story actually, I once told a teacher that I didn't like the books with the "big words" meaning the large print. I was having a brain fart, though, and couldn't get out the correct words. The teacher, needless to say, looked at me strangely and probably thought I was one of the slow kids helping out in the library. :p

Anyway, I suggested exchanging links before and wondered if you were still interested?

P.S. Thanks for commenting on my reviews. :D

(The Ravenous Reader-- )

Heather♥ said...

wow, comments.

and, despite having already heard this rant from you, I agree with Chelsea. It was on my to-be-read list, obviously, and I still want to attempt it, just maybe once I run out of books and am left completely and sadly alone with not a single sentence to read.

Maybe then.


The Maelstroms Themselves said...

I firmly disagree with nearly everything you said. Oh dear. I found this novel to be antiquated in a fascinating way, something of an exploration into forgotten genres. But there is no harm in a different opinion. C'est La Vie (or however it is that you spell it. Medeia is the one who speaks French).

Even if I don't agree with you on this, I give your blog 3 cheerz! It's very good and your captivating writing style puts me to shame. I must now mourn over the Maelstrom.

Laughing and Blogging,

The Story Siren said...

i just finished this book, really just five min. ago. and i have to say blah. i must say i agree with you on most of your points. i had high hopes for this book, and i found myself getting totally lost in some of the writing. i think i read some parts five times and still had no idea what was trying to be said, when i saw that happening again many times throughout the book i found myself skimming over it....blah. and i hate when that happens! yes tell me more about the dress than that it is pink in color, but don't write a novel about it!

Anonymous said...

That is EXACTLY how I felt. Wow, it's like you read my mind....