I don't usually review books on my blog for two reasons:
1. When I read other people's book reviews on their blogs - like Eliza's Are You My Mother review on her blog This Wheel of Many Parts - I remember that I'm not that smart.
2. It's hard to be funny in a review unless you're reviewing Jean Auel's latest cave porn.
But when a nice publicist name Lauren offered me a free copy of Whip Smart: Lola Montez Conquers the Spaniards by Kit Brennan in exchange for...well, whatever I wanted to write about it, I found I could not refuse. Because just look at the cover!!! YES, HELLO. HELLO, LOLA MONTEZ.
Fortunately, I really enjoyed the book - it was the best kind of melodrama, full of danger, suspense, passion and interpretive dance.
Based on the real life of one of the 19th century's most outrageous women,Whip Smart aims to chronicle the mysterious "lost year" where young Eliza Rosanna Gilbert effected her transformation from aspiring Irish actress to fiery Spanish dancer Lola Montez.
Fresh from a failed marriage and eager to avoid the ensuing divorce trial that would make her name mud in London, Eliza is willing to do anything it takes to make her dreams of stage fame come true - including accepting a shady paid trip to the Continent to continue her training as a dancer.
Once there, she is thrilled to discover she'll finally be treading the boards in a hit show ... and less thrilled to find out she'll be expected to act as a spy for exiled Spanish regent Maria Cristina (the previous spy had his ears sent back in a box, so...ha ha.) What follows is a pretty exciting series of intrigues, nail-biting border crossings, mysterious murders, risky plots, secret rendezvous, a torrid love affair and some really fabulous clothes.
Lola herself is hilarious - passionate, devil-may-care, intensely self-interested and above all, a survivor. Unbound by the sexual mores of the day (it's the 1840s), she knows her smoldering good looks will get her where she needs to go and she's unconcerned about using her wiles on whomever she meets. For all of her passion and artistic inclinations, she's refreshingly practical about how the world works and you just have to admire her chutzpah as she seduces everyone from generals to members of parliament to prime ministers, all while trying to unravel the mystery of the shadowy figure trying to murder her.
Basically, Whip Smart had everything I like: corsets, a strong female protagonist who doesn't do idiot things for love, a gripping plot and some sexy times, all set against a fascinating historical backdrop. I really appreciated Brennan's meticulous research into the Carlist wars and Spanish politics at the time, which was really interesting and all new to me.
Whip Smart is told as a flashback after Lola's first successful performance in London - kidnapped by unknown agents, she's forced to account for her year of adventure in Spain and lays it all out for the reader. It took me a little while to get into the story, but once she leaves England, it became a serious page-turner. I was so into it, in fact, that I found the book's ending a little abrupt - but as Brennan's currently penning a sequel, I suppose she just wanted to leave us wanting more.
Honestly, the ONLY thing lacking for me was context for Lola's outrageous voice and impetuous choices. If I didn't already know she was to become a flamboyant historical figure, her voice would have come off as a titch implausible.
As most of you know, I'm an historical fiction nerd and I'd never heard of Lola Montez before reading Whip Smart - not really knowing who she was to become made it a little harder to appreciate this chronicle of her transformative year(s). I would personally recommend a brief Wikipedia entry on Lola Montez pre-read in order to truly appreciate the crazy life she led - and to appreciate how well Kit Brennan seems to have captured Lola's indomitable spirit.
The book is available on Amazon and at Barnes & Noble - if you're a corset-lovin' history nerd like me, you can't go wrong! I'm looking forward to the next one (fingers crossed there'll be lesbians in it! A girl can dream...)