And She Persisted: A Mad Wicked Folly by Sharon Biggs Waller

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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 is torn. Just how much is she willing to sacrifice to pursue her dreams?

Source: GoodReads

This book takes place 107 years ago, but it is ridiculously timely to what’s going on right now.

Because it deals with women’s rights.

I think if anything can be learned from the past few years, is that while women have made it a long way since the time this book took place, we’re hardly in a place where we have equal rights and sexism very much exists.  We have to keep fighting for our rights every single day.

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Case in point, the whole thing that happened with Senator Warren this week.  In fact, Senator Warren has dealt with a lot of flak the gag order in the senate is only the latest one.  During many of these sham cabinet hearings (because the GOP decided to pretty much gut them to where no one could ask adequate amount of questions and then in turn gut the vote because they are smug little assholes) Warren was patronized multiple times and it was just disgusting.  Add the fact that Trump keeps referring to her derogatory as Pocahontas, mocking the fact that she comes from Native American heritage it just makes me angrier.

And I know I’m about to go on a political tirade, but it’s relevant to this review of the book because sexism does exist in this world and this book shows how we as a society have to fight it and combat it.  The reason I loved A Mad Wicked Folly so much is while it is a discussion of the suffragette movement and feminism, it is as much as a coming of age story.

Vicky really develops as a character and that’s refreshing.  The blurb made me think I’d be getting more or less a water downed version of Downton Abbey, but that’s hardly the case.  Sure, there are bits and pieces that I guess you could say were Downton Abbey-ish but I think this was more of a thought provoking book than fluff.  And it honestly, was sort of inspiring.

Honestly, the cover and blurb were sort of a disservice to this book.

I’ll admit, I’ve been a little depressed lately with current events, but this book sort of gave me hope that things could change.  Victoria had the deck stacked against her, but somehow she was able to make her end choices at the end of the book and get what she wants.  That was refreshing.

I also enjoyed reading more about the historical aspects of the period.  Briggs did a great job describing the time period and there were some things I learned about the suffragette movement that I did not know before.  It didn’t feel like she was spoon feeding it to me either, there was something ridiculously organic about the whole thing.

It was also how scary how some of the misogyny that existed in this period is very much prevalent in the present.    The same techniques and objections that were used to keep a woman from voting in the early 1900’s are still used today.  A woman is too emotional.  Her place is at there home or with the family.  That women with ambitions are evil and unnatural.

It’s just sickening.

And it really makes you want to say fuck the patriarchy and kick some ass.

As frustrating as this is though, it also left me feeling hopeful because progress has been made.  A lot of progress.  But we still have a long way to go, but this book gave me hope that anyone can make a difference.  So, that was a plus.

Overall, I highly recommend this read.  It’s thought provoking and relative.  This book exemplifies my reason for resisting.  I am going to fight for that progress that we’ve made in the past and further it again.  And damn right, I’m going to be persistent about it.

Oh, and yeah, fuck the patriarchy.

Overall Rating: An A.

 

Time For Something Different: The Forbidden Orchid by Sharon Biggs Waller

Staid, responsible Elodie Buchanan is the eldest of ten sisters living in a small English market town in 1861. The girls barely know their father, a plant hunter usually off adventuring through China. Then disaster strikes: Mr. Buchanan reneges on his contract to collect an extremely rare and valuable orchid. He will be thrown into debtors’ prison while his daughters are sent to the orphanage and the workhouse.

Elodie can’t stand by and see her family destroyed, so she persuades her father to return to China once more to try to hunt down the flower—only this time, despite everything she knows about her place in society, Elodie goes with him. She has never before left her village, but what starts as fear turns to wonder as she adapts to seafaring life aboard the tea clipper The Osprey, and later to the new sights, dangers, and romance of China. But now, even if she can find the orchid, how can she ever go back to being the staid, responsible Elodie that everybody needs?

Source: GoodReads

Sigh.

This book was so close to being a perfect read, save for some pacing issues.

It explores a portion of history that I’m not that  familiar with.  Oh, I am aware enough of Victorian Britain, but I haven’t read that much about exploration in this era.  Especially in China.

Or for that matter I haven’t really read anything about horticulture.

That in it’s own made the read interesting enough.  But it really wasn’t the plot that kept me engaged.  Rather, it was the fact that this book had a lot of feminist undertones which had me squealing,

Yes, I said feminism.

There there are sadly no suffragettes and bra burning in this story, there are some under and overtones of feminism on a micro level.

Which is why I love this book so much, because it focused on how an individual is limited by her time period in her decisions.

Waller really does a great job with Elodie. The character is complex and realistic.  In fact, the characterization of the main character is probably one of my favorite parts of this book.   Elodie faces many challenges that any woman during this period would face.   However, she faces them in a way that is not overt or heavy handed.   While there is  a romance in this book, it is not the primary focus of the novel.  But I did ship the ship, even though it played a minor side role to the overall plot.

And maybe that’s why I liked The Forbidden Orchid as much as I did.  While I am a fan of romance, sometimes I feel like it overwhelms a story.  Here, it didn’t.  It was just enough romance to have you ship the ship but not overwhelm the character or the plot.

As far as plots go, this book doesn’t really have the most exciting or nail biting plot.  It really is a character study.  And that is totally okay.  There is just enough hints of adventure where it isn’t boring or anything.  The thing is, I can see how the lack of a plot WOULD bother someone else.

In addition to the lack of a plot, the pacing in this book is a bit messed up.  There was waaay too much time spent in England at the beginning of the novel, and the middle part on the ship and the part in China felt a little short changed which is a shame because those were the better parts of this book.

Would I recommend this book: absolutely.  But it’s not going to be everyone’s cup of tea.  If you like historical fiction that focuses on aspects in the period that are often ignored I recommend this one.  However, it doesn’t have much in terms of a plot, but the characterization and the history it covers makes up for it.

Overall Rating: An A-.