Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Happiness is...a good book. (Summer Reading edition #10)

Kat, Incorrigible
Author: Stephanie Burgis
Pages: 295
Age Range: Juvenile
Published: 2011
Genre: Historical Fiction/Fantasy
Cover Score: ****
Overall Grade: ****
Rating: PG

“I was twelve years of age when I chopped off my hair, dressed as a boy, and set off to save my family from impending ruin.” And so begins the tale of Katherine Ann Stephenson, third daughter (there’s also one brother in the mix) of a preacher and an evil stepmother living in Yorkshire, England in 1803. She’s a tomboy who can’t get the hang of anything requiring manners or propriety much to the chagrin of her sisters and stepmother who are doing all they can to maintain a semblance of decorum and repair their family’s reputation in order to secure suitable marriages for the girls. (Their mother, who died when Kat was born, was found to be a witch and their older brother Charles was kicked out of Oxford for gambling and carousing.)

Her sister Angeline has found their mother’s magic books and has been doing a bit of spell casting on her own including an unfortunate love spell on one of her father’s students.  Elissa, the oldest, is content to be the tragic Gothic heroine portrayed in her favorite novels.  She’s hoping to somehow be able to sacrifice herself for the good of the family and her wish is granted when her stepmother arranges for her to meet the wealthy but stodgy Sir Neville (though the rumor is he murdered his first wife!)

Kat wants nothing more than for things to go back to the way they were when her sisters were young enough to still be her friends and were less concerned with boys and dances and weddings and propriety. In an effort to recapture some of that past and perhaps get to know the mother she never knew, she ventures into the locked cabinet that holds all her mother’s magical possessions. When she finds a small golden compact that begins to glow and sends Kat to a grand hallway she’s never seen before she has no idea that her life is about to change forever. She discovers that her mother was part of an ancient Order that protects and governs the use of magic and has even been known to dispose of common witches who practice the lesser magic of witchcraft.  Somehow Sir Neville is involved and Kat realizes that it’s up to her to save both of her sisters from their fates.

In the true spirit of Jane Austen there are the requisite house parties and balls, plenty of high manners that cause misunderstandings between lovers, nosy old ladies and even a bit of adventure involving a highwayman. It sometimes loses the Regency feel in the dialogue but for the most part seemed true to form. (And some of the word choices are marvelous...I mean how can you not love the word 'incorrigible'?) It’s quite the charming little story with an unexpected magical twist and a strong and spunky heroine. Girls will be enchanted and want more (good thing it's the first in a series) and adults will enjoy it almost as much! I think this would make a great mother/daughter book club read possibly paired with a viewing of one of the movie adaptations depending on the girls’ ages. Great comparisons and discussions about the genre and time period are waiting to happen!

And just a quick shout out to the cover designer and illustrator (Jessica Handelman and Annette Marnat respectively.) I am absolutely a person who judges a book by its cover and would have picked this one up for the image alone. It's a delightful piece that wraps around to the back and begs you to take a peek inside.  The colors are rich and feminine and playful. The style is mildly reminiscent of Mary Blair. Just lovely!

Speaking of the great period pieces…which are your favorites? Are you an Austen fan? Or is there another Regency era writer you prefer? Do you go in for any of the modern-day adaptations or fan fiction? What about the movies? I must admit I often enjoy the movies more than the books (blasphemy, I know!) but I have read most of Austen. I’ve not read any of Elizabeth Gaskell’s books but have spent many an hour swooning over the BBC’s mini-series adaptations of them. I’ve also heard really good things about Georgette Heyer. Anyone else I should add to the list?

Well, here’s to another great read.  Thanks for indulging my random goal setting! Only 30 or so more to go! :) 

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