Friday, January 10, 2014

Review: A Mad, Wicked Folly by Sharon Biggs Waller

Release date: January 23, 2014
Author info: Website | Twitter | Facebook
Publisher: Viking Juvenile
Pages: 448
Format: ARC
Source: Gifted
Buy the book: Barnes & Noble | Amazon | The Book Depository
Welcome to the world of the fabulously wealthy in London, 1909, where dresses and houses are overwhelmingly opulent, social class means everything, and women are taught to be nothing more than wives and mothers. Into this world comes seventeen-year-old Victoria Darling, who wants only to be an artist—a nearly impossible dream for a girl.

After Vicky poses nude for her illicit art class, she is expelled from her French finishing school. Shamed and scandalized, her parents try to marry her off to the wealthy Edmund Carrick-Humphrey. But Vicky has other things on her mind: her clandestine application to the Royal College of Art; her participation in the suffragette movement; and her growing attraction to a working-class boy who may be her muse—or may be the love of her life. As the world of debutante balls, corsets, and high society obligations closes in around her, Vicky must figure out: just how much is she willing to sacrifice to pursue her dreams?
Something about A Mad, Wicked Folly was just so appealing to me from the very beginning. Yes, the cover is pretty in that stereotypical pretty dress cover way. That and the synopsis are what enticed me to begin with, but I quickly knew there was a whole lot more to this book than pretty (though it is so pretty, in every way--it starts with the cover and goes all the way through the book's design). We're treated to a whip-smart and kick-butt heroine who doesn't take no for an answer, an adorable, swoony love interest, and a great setting (I mean, who writes about suffragettes?)

Y'all. Vicky is a firecracker. In her time, women are expected to be demure, quiet, and perfectly obedient to their parents/husband. Vicky is none of those things, and it's awesome. She takes her clothes off in front of a bunch of other artists to model. She mouths off to her future father-in-law at their first meeting--because she's drunk. She expressly goes against the wishes of her parents by continuing to draw, pursue art school, and sneaking out. Not to mention she's outspoken and quick-witted. She's a teenage girl, and she's bound to make rash, ill-advised decisions, but she's trying to fight for her right to choose her own life. So what if she's been kicked out of her prestigious and proper French boarding school? So what if her parents forbid her from drawing and take away all of her art supplies? Nothing can stop this girl, and it's fantastic.

While Vicky is being her rebellious self, she comes into contact with some people (I am a master of vague.) Some of these people are suffragettes (more on them in a second, but first...) Can I just mention how swoony our male lead, Will, is? I mean, it's really kind of unfair. The boy is as sweet as can be, totally supportive of everything Vicky wants to do (totally supportive of the suffragettes, as well!), and clearly is the best kind of person. I was even seething with jealousy a couple of times, remembering that he's fictional. He's progressive but respectful of old values and chivalry--perfect mix. He also encourages Vicky to become a better version of herself, urging her to fight for what she wants.

Now, the suffragette angle of this book is what makes it stand out. Had the book had Vicky, her art, and Will, it would've been fun and I still would have enjoyed it. But, the suffragettes are what pushed me into love for this one. First, we're treated to lots of information about how the suffragettes fought for their rights and how they were treated unjustly (LEARNING!). But, their fight for the vote also ties so perfectly into Vicky's fight for her freedom to make her own choices. The strong, wonderful women she meets while helping their cause are what spur her movement from just a headstrong girl into a powerful woman of conviction. Yes, she fights it and doesn't think she wants to be a part of something so large and dangerous, but she learns that there's a big difference between wishing for change for yourself and fighting for change for everyone and that you have to make a choice whether or not to stand up for that change.

I also want to mention how pretty this thing is. I said it before, and I'll say it again. I absolutely can't wait to see this book in hardcover. The ARC has all these pretty little flourishes and details that just made it so pleasurable to look at, and I imagine the finished copy will be even better. Ooh! And there are some fun things in the back, like lots more historical information on the suffragette movement, info on the art mentioned, and a recipe (YES, cooking!)

Do not be deceived by A Mad, Wicked Folly's pretty appearance. There's substance and heart to this book, and it's an absolute joy and pleasure to read Vicky's story.

About the author:

Sharon Biggs Waller grew up around artists and developed a passion for Edwardian history and the Pre-Raphaelites when she moved to England in 2000. She did extensive research on the British suffragettes for her novel, A MAD, WICKED FOLLY when she wasn’t working as a riding instructor at the Royal Mews in Buckingham Palace and as a freelance magazine writer. She also writes non-fiction books about horses under her maiden name, Sharon Biggs. She is a dressage rider and trainer and lives on a 10-acre sustainable farm in Northwest Indiana with her British husband, Mark.

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