Wednesday, August 28, 2013

ARC Review: The Governess Club: Claire by Ellie MacDonald


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Claire, Sara, Bonnie, and Louisa have two things in common: their jobs as governesses and their dream of living independently. They formulated a plan: first, to regain Claire's childhood home, then save their wages for three years, and finally quit their jobs. They formed The Governess Club, meeting once a month during their afternoon off.

The arrival of Jacob Knightly, new tutor to the Aldgate boys causes an upheaval in Claire's carefully planned life and schedule. It does not help that Jacob's arrogance and his confidence grates at Claire, who sees that Jacob is new to the world of service and lacks the humility and obedience that goes with the territory -- and she isn't afraid to tell him so.

Only someone who has lived a privileged life and then fallen from it could understand and see Jacob so clearly and Jacob is intrigued by Claire and her story. Who was she in her formal life?

When the inevitable confrontation happens, Jacob is forced to reassess his behavior and asks for Claire's help and guidance. What begins as a partnership of teachers blossoms into something more as Jacob and Claire slowly fall in love.

But Jacob is keeping one secret very close to his heart -- his true identity as the notorious Earl of Rimmel -- and he wonders how his darling Claire will react when he finally tells her who he is.

Downton Abbey. Upstairs Downstairs. Gosford Park. We have always been fascinated by what goes on in the houses of kings, princes, and lords. How would such a household function and what sort of interesting stories can be found within these stately houses and grand castles?

The "country house" has often been utilized in fiction to highlight the differences (and similarities) between the lives of the lords of the manor and their servants. Very rarely has the spotlight been directed solely on the servants. And this is what Ellie MacDonald does. Ellie MacDonald's series focuses on the lives of governesses and she does so with such sympathetic observation and unreserved sincerity that she elevates and celebrates the working class.

From what I understand, governesses and companions are a very interesting class in the world of servants. Those who work in such capacaity are usually genteel ladies whose financial situations have taken a downturn. With no prospects of marriage, they apply as companions to older ladies or utilize their own education and work as governesses to the children of lords and ladies. Not quite meant for a life of servitude, but not living the life of privilege -- it is an odd place that they occupy.

"There's nothing wrong with being a governess," another chimed in.

"Of course not. Not if one disregards the fact that for women of our station it signifies a lowering of one's situation. We were not born to be in service."

"It's not quite service, per se ..."

"How is it anything else? We are being paid to render a service. Our lives are theirs to dictate, I cannot even count the number of times I have been called upon to even out the numbers at a dinner party. And they think they are bestowing some great honor upon me when they know full well I have attended more illustrious tables than theirs."
- Members of the Governess Club, loc 52 - 62

I loved Claire. MacDonald characterizes her so wonderfully: as both fragile and strong. She is still the young heartbroken girl who dreams of regaining her childhood home, which she was rudely booted out of, but she is also a mature woman who has worked as a governess for four years and is comfortable in her job.

When she lectures Jacob about submissiveness and subservience, I don't hear a proud woman who is lording her superiority and seniority over the new staff -- but I hear a helpless young lady, who was forced to do the same because she didn't have any other choice.

"My next piece of advice: don't belittle the choices of others. This one is universal, not just limited to how to survive as a servant. You have no concept of what their dreams or ambitions are."
- Claire to Jacob, loc 342 - 355

While Claire and Jacob start off as adversaries, there is an underlying sense of kinship and recognition of the parallelisms in their lives that draws them to one another. Who could relate to Claire's situation but Jacob? And vice versa.

Love transforms Jacob from a dissolute Earl hiding from his debtors to a man with a direction and a goal: to make Claire happy, to make Claire his. (Read about the toasties and the conversation they have in Chapter 4.)

Claire looked up at him, her eyes clouded with uncertainty. It struck Jacob that he had been very mistaken about her eyes. They weren't a mossy green, but rather grassy, emeraldy, a combination of all three. The different shades played together harmoniously, each allowing the others moments to shine. When she laughed, the emeralds twinkled with delight; when angered, the grass snapped; when content, the moss softened. This look, this confused uncertainty, blended all three into a shade he had never seen before, yet the impact thudded in his gut and echoed throughout his veins. At this moment in time, he would do whatever it took to banish that look from her eyes forever but had no idea how to accomplish it. God help him, he never wanted her to feel this again. He never wanted to feel this again.
- loc 602 - 615

What makes Jacob a wonderful hero is how he respects Claire and how he gave Claire the power to choose their future. Would it be a future together? Or a future apart? Jacob at the beginning of the book had no sense of equality and tossed the word around carelessly -- but Jacob at the end of the book is a changed man, a better man.

You know when you've read a good book because it fills you with a sense of elation and giddiness -- this book did that. I couldn't put it down and, when I'd finished it, I couldn't let it go. I wanted more of Ellie MacDonald's governesses. (And I'm glad there is! Bonnie's story is next! Yay!)

The Governess Club: Claire is the stunning debut of Ellie MacDonald. It will be released on September 17 by Avon Impulse. The Governess Club: Bonnie will be released on October 1, 2013. To find out more about Ellie MacDonald, click below:

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Final note: I'm not certain if you can categorize these as novellas or as short novels. They are 192 pages long.

Disclosure: I received the ARC through Edelweiss. (Thank you to Ellie MacDonald and to Avon Impulse for accepting my request.) Yes, this is an honest review.

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