Hello everyone and welcome to a brand new edition of Lil Red’s Book Club! Today, we are going to be discussing another book by Stacey Halls called Mrs. England – without giving any spoilers away, of course. This is the second book in a row that I have read by Halls and I enjoyed this one much better than The Familiars – it was really good! Before we begin our discussion of Mrs. England, I will be placing a trigger warning on it for disturbing content including psychological abuse and violence. Now, let’s get to it:
Ruby May is a young woman in the early 1900s working as a children’s nurse (nanny) in London. She trained at a special academy just for this profession and works hard to support her family, which includes a younger sister with a spinal injury. Nurse May adores the family that she is currently caring for but, unfortunately, her time with them must come to an end. They need to move to America for the father’s profession and Ruby cannot be so far from her family.
Desperate for a new job, Ruby accepts anyone that she can get and becomes the nurse to four children in Yorkshire. The England family is obscenely wealthy and lives on a sprawling estate complete with a cotton mill, servants, and the best of everything that money can buy. Ruby makes the trip to Yorkshire to begin her new placement and is surprised to find Mr. Charles England waiting for her at the train station.
On the way back to the England estate, Ruby is charmed but a little surprised by Mr. England’s jovial nature. Even more so because picking her up would typically be a job for their chauffeur. It is nighttime when they make it back home and the children are already asleep. Ruby is ready to discuss her position with the mistress, Mrs. England. Strangely enough, the mistress didn’t realize Ruby’s arrival was that night and insists on her coming to Mr. England with any questions. This is all very unusual to Ruby because, typically, the mistress is in charge of all things relating to the care of the children.
The following day, Ruby meets her charges of Saul, Decca, Millie, and baby Charley and is pleased to be caring for such lovely children. She is also shocked to see Mr. England acting in the roles of both the father and mother around the house. It is not what she is used to but makes sense as Mrs. England is distant, withdrawn, and has a sickly disposition. She spends most of her time locked away in her bedroom and hardly seems to take pleasure in seeing her children.
Of course, as odd as the living situation at the England estate is, Ruby is in no position to judge as she is hiding dark secrets of her own. However, there is something strange happening there that she can’t quite put her finger on. It could be the uninviting servants, her disappearing mail, or maybe her own feelings of intimacy with Mr. England whom she must report to.
As her days drag into each other at the estate, Ruby quickly finds herself only caring for the two youngest children. Decca is going to school, which came as a shock because the girls were not to attend. And Saul is regaining his health at his great grandparent’s home after a severe asthma attack. The walls surrounding the England property begin to close in on itself and Ruby expects Mrs. England is to blame. But, is she really? Read Mrs. England to find out!
Much like The Familiars, Mrs. England was a slow burn of a read. I did like it a lot more, though, because something integral to the story happened in almost every chapter. This made for a much more pleasant reading experience and I found myself upset when I had to put it down. Although the reveals weren’t as jaw dropping as previous books that I’ve read, it was different than anything that I’ve read too.
I loved Ruby as a main character and it was a change of pace to know what she was thinking all of the time because I am so used to books with an unstable narrator. I liked her caring, curious nature and her interactions with the children always left me completely charmed. It was also interesting to read about her working through foreign feelings like longing for the man of the house.
I will be the first to say that this wasn’t exactly a nail biter of a read. It did have a haunting atmosphere, which added to the suspense. But, the major grand reveal was easy to figure out and I would have liked a bit more mystery to it. Stacey Halls’ books have such a unique, historical vibe to them. Mrs. England might not be a book that I’m going to simply rave about but I did like it – perhaps if only for the sake of switching things up.
Overall, I am going to rate Mrs. England with a six and a half out of ten stars. I would definitely read more by Stacey Halls. I will say, however, that if you are looking for fast paced reads with a lot of extra oomph, then she is not the author for you.
What are you currently reading? What should I read next? I want to hear from all of you, so leave me a comment and let’s chat! Much love. -Sarah