Reading Level: Young Adult
Genre: Historical Fiction
Length: 416 pages
Release Date: September 6, 2007
Stand Alone or Series: Stand Alone
Source: Swapped through Paperbackswap.com
Rating: 3/5 stars
Many years ago I read Ibbotson’s book A Company of Swans and absolutely adored it. I immediately went out and bought both A Countess Below Stairs and The Morning Gift. I did not enjoy The Morning Gift nearly as much as A Company of Swans. The story just starts out too slowly and wanders too much.
Ruth lives in Vienna and worships the wonderful pianist Heini who she assists in all things and is destined to marry. Then everything changes when Hilter invades Austria and Ruth and her family are forced to flee. Ruth is supposed to be on her way to University in England and meet her parents there. However things get all botched up and Ruth ends up trapped in Vienna. While there she meets the Quin Sommerset a young professor who was a family friend when Ruth was younger. Quin has British citizenship and suggests that he and Ruth get married as a way to get her out of Austria and to London where it is safe. Then when they arrive in London they will annul the marriage. However things get complicated when the marriage is more difficult to annul than expected, Ruth ends up with Quin as her professor, and Heini arrives expecting to marry Ruth.
The first 150 or so pages of this book were very difficult to get through. A ton of characters and places and names are thrown at the reader and they are only loosely connected. A lot of this could have been left out of the story and it would have been a much better book.
As the book continues it focuses more on the main character, Ruth, and the story gets much more engaging. Ruth is a magical character, she sees so much joy in everything and is just so full of life. I loved reading about her. I also loved how she was determined to make it through University and make it through the Natural Sciences program there.
This book is a book full of wonderful people and especially strong woman characters; it was a joy to read about these people. I also really loved the history throughout and learning about how Hitler’s invasion affected even non-occupied countries like Britain.
I think the relationship between Quin and Ruth could have been much more well done. The two skate around each other forever, barely even speaking, then suddenly BAM! they are hopelessly in love. It was a bit awkward and unbelievable.
Overall this was an okay book. The first half was awful and slow and ponderous to get through; I almost stopped reading it. The second half was much more engaging and interesting and I enjoyed it a lot. I loved the history throughout the book, the kindness of the characters, and Ibbotson’s beautiful (if sometimes a bit too rambling) writing style. I wish the story had been better paced and that the relationship between Quin and Ruth had been better developed. Honestly I wouldn’t really recommend this book unless you are a diehard Ibbotson fan; go read A Company of Swans instead…that was a much better historical fiction than this book.