Thursday, November 10, 2011

Bookanistas Book Review: Wrapped by Jennifer Bradbury

by Jennifer Bradbury 
The back of the book says: Agnes Wilkins is standing in front of an Egyptian mummy, about to make the first cut into the wrappings, about to unlock ancient (and not-so-ancient) history.
Agnes dreams of adventures that reach beyond the garden walls, but reality for a seventeen-year-old debutante in 1815 London does not allow for camels—or dust, even. No, Agnes can only see a mummy when she is wearing a new silk gown and standing on the verdant lawns of Lord Showalter’s estate, with chaperones fussing about and strolling sitar players straining to create an exotic “atmosphere” for the first party of the season. An unwrapping.
This is the start of it all, Agnes’s debut season, the pretty girl parade that offers only ever-shrinking options: home, husband, and high society. It’s also the start of something else, because the mummy Agnes unwraps isn’t just a mummy. It’s a host for a secret that could unravel a new destiny—unleashing mystery, an international intrigue, and possibly a curse in the bargain.
I say: I thoroughly enjoyed this book. One professional review called it a “fizzy, frothy adventure” and I think that’s just the way I would describe it, too. It’s a romp through Regency London, with a heroine who loves Jane Austen and wants more from her life than parties and clothes. There are spies and secrets and even a possible Mummy’s curse. What’s not to love?
Agnes was very enjoyable as a heroine. She’s clever and brave, and active in her own story. The love interest was sweet and also intelligent (a nineteenth century nerd... though a quite handsome one, of course). Clever always wins me over. I can’t help it. Agnes spends some time chaffing at the restrictions of her society, both of gender and of class, mostly as she’s throwing off the traces to go chasing after lost Egyptian artifacts before Napoleon’s spies can get to them. 
Being as I’m VERY familiar with this time period and Napoleonic War history, I was very pleased that plot dovetailed so nicely with actual history. Also, Agnes had a brother in the Royal Navy and the author got those details spot on, too. 

As far as the mystery, and the running around and sneaking into places and dressing as a boy... well, it’s all part of the fun of a caper story.  Don’t expect the realism of a Historical Fiction novel, or the intricate puzzle of a Spy thriller.  But expect a delightful story that’s fun to read. (This title would be appropriate for younger teens, too.)

What else are the Bookanistas reading this week? Click below to see.

Elana Johnson gushes about THE GIRL OF FIRE AND THORNS
 LiLa Roecker  sings for VIRTUOSITY
Shelli Johannes-Wells praises NEVER ENDING SKY
Rosemary Clement-Moore gets all wrapped up in WRAPPED
Jessi Kirby yearns to start another REVOLUTION
Nikki Katz screams for LEGEND
Katy Upperman sets us all up for BEFORE I FALL

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Bookanista Book Review: The Iron Witch

The Iron Witch
Karen Mahoney

The Back Cover says: When Donna Underwood was seven (ten years ago), a horrific fey attack killed her father and drove her mother mad. Donna's own nearly fatal injuries were fixed by magic—the iron tattoos branding her hands and arms. The child of alchemists, Donna feels cursed by the magical heritage that destroyed her parents and any chance she had for a normal life. The only thing that keeps her sane and grounded is her relationship with her best friend, Navin Sharma.
When the darkest outcasts of Faerie—the vicious wood elves—abduct Navin, Donna finally has to accept her role in the centuries old war between the humans and the fey. Assisted by Xan, a gorgeous half-fey dropout with secrets of his own, Donna races to save her friend—even if it means betraying everything her parents and the alchemist community fought to the death to protect.
I say: I really liked this book. When I went to Goodreads to grab the cover copy, I was really startled by the polarized reviews of it. 
One of the things some of negative reviews slammed was a lack of originality. This irked me (and I’ll tell you why at the end of this review). 
There are plenty of original, interesting things in this book. I love the alchemy angle, and the secret Order of the Dragon, and the iron tattoos that magically knit Donna’s flesh back together after the horrific attack of a magical creature. I found her (platonic) relationship with Navin refreshing (and he was both not-white and also not-token, that is, a real, fleshed out character and not a caricature). I loved that the wood elves were actual monsters, and the hint of politics and more conspiracy to come within the alchemy society. 
There was some really nice writing, turns of phrase I relished, and I found Donna an engaging protagonist. At times the prose was a bit uneven, and now and then the dialogue was a little awkward. And unfortunately, Chapter 1 does have some serious clich├ęs. I was so very glad I kept reading, because from Chapter 2 on, I founds this an enjoyable, smooth read, with narration that pulled me right along in the story. 
Here’s what I really like about it. Not only does stuff happen, but the main character--i.e., the GIRL--is the person who makes it happen, even if it’s in response to the gambit of the bad guys.  Even though this is the first in a series, there is a primary, immediate conflict in this book that is dealt with in a satisfying way, even as it sets up future problems for future novels. Thank you for that!
So, here comes the rant. When people pick insignificant details (like the hero drives a (beat up) Volvo), or big ones that have a narrative and folkloric purpose (like the outsider/orphan protagonist) and immediately go “this author ripped off (insert paranormal romance of your choice)” they’re ignoring so much history of storytelling.
The outcast/orphan hero/ine is a major archetype of folklore. Bella Swan, Meg Murray, Luke Skywalker... They are all outcasts longing for belonging. The hot guy with whom the heroine feels a connection is a long standing trope of the gothic novel (and about a bajillion paranormal romances).  
These tropes are part of the... Furniture of storytelling. A couch is a couch, but you can decorate it all different ways. You can wow me with glossy, slickly fashionable dystopian present tense or you can give me a comfy, familiar couch on which to enjoy an afternoon. 
If you pick up The Iron Witch, give it past the first chapter. I was very glad I did, as I whiled away a very pleasant afternoon with it, and I will definitely pick up books by Mahoney in the future. The Iron Witch is a series, and an author, with a lot of potential.
What else are the Bookanistas talking about this week?
Elana Johnson is crazy about Crossed and Shatter Me
LiLa Roecker swoons for Sirenz
Christine Fonseca  interviews Kids Inventing! author Susan Casey
Shelli Johannes-Wells dishes on Become (Desolation Book #1)
Beth Revis celebrates books for which she’s grateful – with gigantic signed book giveaway
Megan Miranda marvels at How to Save a Life
Veronica Rossi  is amazed by Shatter Me