Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Happiness is...a good book. (Summer Reading edition #30)

Happy Tuesday!  What? It's not Tuesday you say? Well, let's see what we can do about that. (Cue wiggling fingers of illusion and appropriate time travel music).

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Ah, my friends!  Welcome to Tuesday, July 26th. I'm so glad you could join me. I have a lovely book to review for you today. Are you ready for this?!

Author: Jennifer Bradbury
Pages: 309
Age Range: 12+
Published: 2011
Genre: Historical Fiction/Mystery/Young Adult
Cover Score: ****
Overall Grade: *****
Rating: PG

Agnes Wilkins is an unusual 17 year old girl about to debut into 1815 London society. Her father is a government official and her mother is determined to see her only daughter engaged to their charming and wealthy neighbor Lord Showalter before the season is out. While Agnes knows her duty and is somewhat excited at the prospects she's also loathe to give up her opportunities to continue her education to settle into a life of bland domesticity. (She speaks 10 languages, longs for adventure and loves the romance in the newly published A Lady's novels, particularly Pride and Prejudice, and fancies herself finding a Lizzie Bennett/Mr. Darcy type relationship full of banter and passion.) 
Her first social adventure is attending a mummy unwrapping party in Showalter's garden. As she cuts into the linen wrappings she's equally enthralled and disgusted. She's fascinated to see something very few have from a place she, as a proper English lady, will probably never visit but feels that the relics, ruins, and artifacts should remain in their places of origin rather than be desecrated by people for entertainment's sake.
As she unwraps a small jackal's head in the bindings there is a disturbance and insistence that the party stop so the mummy, supposedly switched with another during shipping and unloading, can be returned to the British Museum. For some reason Agnes finds herself pocketing the iron head and witnessing a few odd exchanges before the party comes to a chilling end with the murder of one of Showalter's grooms. 
By morning talk of ancient curses has spread throughout the city with several of the party goers being attacked or having their houses broken into. Agnes scoffs at the talk of curses but is sure it all has something to do with the jackal's head hidden under her pillow. Throughout the course of the book she goes behind the scenes of the British Museum, unlocks a code with the help of the Rosetta Stone, dresses as a boy, uncovers Napoleon Bonaparte's dastardly plans to conquer Britain, meets a handsome and vexing young scholar, learns to shoot a gun and more.
There's enough fact and history interwoven into the story to make it all sound very credible and give it some substance. There's also an author's note at the end separating fact from fiction and giving a bit of additional information about the historical setting and customs. It's lightly flavored with turns of phrase that remind you of the time period and keep it from sounding modern yet it's highly readable.  Agnes is a spunky heroine eager to buck the system that keeps her confined and locked into a particular role and future, both likeable and relatable. Like a watered down combination of Jane Austen and Elizabeth Peters it begs to be read during afternoon tea in the garden. I thought this book was thoroughly delightful. It was the perfect blend of smart and fluffy. The perfect easy escape for my crazy weekend, I highly recommend it (particularly to fans of either of the aforementioned authors!) 

Hope you enjoyed your short journey to Tuesday.  Can't wait to see you all again tomorrow!

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