Book Review: The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue by MacKenzi Lee

Book Review: The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue by MacKenzi Lee

Let me start off by saying The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue is a really incredible, fresh, fierce, fun book. Henry “Monty” Montague, son of an earl, and his best friend Percy, a light skinned, orphaned nephew of a member of the Admiralty Court (something that just means upper class and fancy in my understanding) are gallivanting across Europe for their last grand hurrah before they are expected to return to Cheshire as grown men and settle into stable lives. However, before the boys can drop Monty’s sister, Felicity, off at finishing school and depart for Italy, the group gets:

  • stopped by highwaymen
  • chased by the ex-Prime Minister to King Louis XV (although Monty does steal from the man)
  • forced to walk for days without money and only the clothes on their back
  • captured by pirates (although rather nice ones)
  • arrested in order to talk to an alchemist/musician/political prisoner
  • forced to dissect a comatose body
  • beaten
  • shot at (many times) and actually get shot (once)
  • and beaten some more (like a lot more)

Lee writes an adventure novel at its best, and let me tell you how she does it.

The Characters 

Monty

  • the biggest bisexual asshole in England
  • self pity galore and a tragic past to make me not just put up with him but somehow fall in love with him???
  • an alcoholic
  • like seriously alcoholic
  • a smart, clever, positively delightful trouble magnet who does not “court trouble” so much as “flirt with it”
  • hella narcissistic and total douche-bag (like typically I would hate this dude, but I don’t???)
  • super alcoholic
  • a chihuahua (a tiny, shaking body always panicking)
  • honestly, he can’t help but get in trouble, and when he does you can be 100% sure he’ll find a way to make it worse
  • Monty, really, I didn’t expect to like you at all, but you’re my son now. Hope you like The States
  • Best Lines: “It occurs to me then that perhaps getting my little sister drunk and explaining why I screw boys is not the most responsible move on my part.”; EVERY OTHER LINE IN THE BOOK

Percy

  • the boy Monty has been in love with since he was 16 and the only person who can put up with Monty’s shit
  • a fully developed character on his own and someone who is honestly too good and pure for this world
  • a black man living in an upper class English home as a member of the household (somewhat)
  • hates parties (me too Percy)
  • a disabled man living in an upper class English home as a member of the household (somewhat)
  • very gay and in love with Monty
  • too good for anyone, even my new adopted son, Monty
  • a smart, funny, caring, well written boy who just wants to spend this last year with Monty before he goes off to Holland
  • Best Lines: “I don’t think I have to be well to be happy.”; “It isn’t easy and it isn’t very enjoyable but it is what I’ve got to live with. This is who I am, and I don’t think I’m insane.”

Felicity

  • The best character in this book
  • a science girl living in a finishing school world
  • she takes the covers off of amatory novels and covers science books with them so her family won’t know what she’s really reading
  • not here to party AT ALL
  • possibly asexual???
  • WILL RESORT TO SEDUCTION IF FORCED TO
  • 100% snooper
  • part-time surgeon, full-time bad-ass
  • all around great character
  • Best Lines (there are so many): “Men are such babies.”; “Ladies haven’t the luxury of being squeamish about blood.”; “It’s not broken.”

The main characters are essential to any novel but the side characters are what determine a good novel from a great novel, and this book is a great novel.

The Pirates

  • Scipio- the black captain of the pirate ship; all around decent human being and Monty’s new dad if Monty would allow it; also realizes Felicity is the most important character in the book from pretty early on
  • The men who make up the crew of Eleftheria (Greek for Freedom) were based on a real slave uprising that occurred on a ship in the eighteenth century, but in Lee’s story, they were slaves left behind in a jail cell after the war between France and Spain ended. Once they escaped, they stole a ship and re-branded themselves as pirates
  • Scipio teaches Monty how to fight once he realizes that Monty has also lived under an abusive tormentor
  • The men are astounded that someone like them (Percy) could belong in the upper class and have money and stature and respect (somewhat, somewhat, and somewhat)
  • Best Lines: “There is nothing good about watching another man claim your ship because your skin is too dark to do it yourself,” he says, each word a glancing wound. “So in future, you needn’t demand apologies on my behalf.”; “Next time someone takes a swing at you, you swing straight back at him, all right? Promise me that, Henry.”

The Villain– AKA the Duke of Bourbon (AKA the Douche of Bourbon)

  • all around villain
  • I mean, Monty did steal from him, but like, chill dude
  • Also Monty does try to have sex with a woman in the Duke’s bedroom
  • Cool motive, still murder
  • tries to kill them multiple times
  • wants an alchemical (not a real word?) heart to get back in good terms with the sick King of France
  • literally will chase them to the ends of the earth (or at least where the sinking earth meets the sea)
  • likes to play dress up?
  • At least the dude looks for his enemies himself instead of hiring others to do so for him

Many other amazing side characters appear from the fumbling, stuffy bear-leader, Mr.  Lockwood, to two Catalan grandmothers who dupe The Duke of Bourbon to the grown children of a famous alchemist who have their own plans for the trio.

However, any great adventure novel also need the adventure. Lee sends the trio tumbling through a series of ridiculous, ill-fated, harrowing events (entirely Monty’s fault) that caused me to laugh from one page to the next. From Paris to Catalonia to Venice to Greece, the trio do their Grand Tour in the most unpleasant, unfortunate, impossibly ludicrous manner possible. They con their way from one adventure to the next.

The racism, homophobia, and sexism of the 1720s comes up repeatedly, and even Monty gets called out on his privilege as a rich, white male many times, which is probably why I can put up with him. Percy and Felicity never let him forget what they are capable of and how they are perceived even though he likes to get into scraps that are easiest to escape from as a privileged, white male. Lee does well to make sure Percy’s race and Felicity’s sex are never forgotten or hidden under an “author’s creativity” moment. She lets the scenes play out as they would in Europe at this time, and let’s social issues be addressed as they should be, which was something I found refreshing to read. She does not let Monty get away with his narrow minded statements, nor does she let many of the side characters who express narrow-minded sentiments escape without being corrected. I was really pleased with the way she handled everyone’s identifying traits and the ways she used them to further the story along.

Although this book was 500+ pages, I simply did not want it to end. Fortunately for me, Lee is publishing a sequel in 2018 (The Lady’s Guide to Petticoats and Piracy) told from Felicity’s point of view, and I for one will certainly be looking forward to it!

“There was a fellow I knew
Named Henry Montague
He drinks lots of liquor
And never gets sick-er
And he’s four inches longer than you.”
-Percy Newton

 

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Book Review: Meddling Kids by Edgar Cantero

Book Review: Meddling Kids by Edgar Cantero

“He can be killed, Nate,” Andy affirmed. “The wheezers killed him once… If that necrodouchebag thinks I’m any less nasty than those wiggly spiderarmed motherfuckers, he’s got a Pennaquick Telegraph Breaking News Edition coming.”

In Edgar Cantero’s newest supernatural thriller, Meddling Kids, a group of once teenage detectives get back together to figure out the real man behind the mask of their last solved mystery. The Blyton Summer Detective Club (Andy, Kerri, Nate, Peter (deceased), and their Weimaraner, Tom) are back together to hunt down the lake monster that has haunted them for the past thirteen years. Now in their twenties, the group must return to the place they fear the most—Sleepy Lake and the haunted house on Deboёn Isle—to solve this mystery once  and for all. Once they arrive though, they learn that the stakes are much higher than a man in a mask and that this job might be one that only the Blyton Summer Detective Club can handle.

Cantero has got a real treasure in this book. As someone who was is a huge Scooby Doo fan, I read the title of the book and made an immediate connection. At first drawn in by the beautiful cover, clever title, and obvious tie to my favorite cartoon TV show, I became further entranced in the witty dialogue, slapstick escape plans, and cartoon-like scenarios. Not only does Cantero use Scooby Doo humor as a way to set the scene, but he includes all the ways the Scooby gang could’ve been improved. For example, the gang now has a rule that they never split up. A trend that had always bothered me in the show came to an end as Andy refused to let the gang be separated.

One thing I really liked about this book was the action packed sequences. When the Detective Club gets chased by monsters and must fight to escape with their lives, I was glued to the page, unable to move. He does not write short scenes. Reflecting real life, one problem rolls into the next. Another thing I liked was the honesty to the characters. Each one has different, unique traits and stays true to their selves. Andy steps up to be the leader once Peter dies but refuses to make a plan without unanimous consent. Nate, although not a coward, fights with his visions of Peter, trying to finish the monster once and for all. Kerri, biologist turned party girl, returns to her scientific roots to find a solution to their town’s rising carbon dioxide problems that might be connected to the beast below. Together they pull from their talents to fight the lake creature once and for all.

Cantero’s book is a hilarious, thrilling, chilling take on our favorite gang of monster fighting detectives. I would recommend this to anyone looking for a fun, adventurous, heart pounding tale of friendship and lake monsters.

Book Review: The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker

Book Review: The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker

Helene Wecker’s spellbinding debut novel, The Golem and the Jinni, weaves a tale of two lost souls looking for a place to belong in New York City at the turn of the twentieth century. In 1899, a Golem awakens on a ship bound for America to find her master on his death bed. At the same time, in the Little Syria neighborhood of New York, a blacksmith releases the Jinni from an oil flask he has been paid to repair. The Golem, struggling to find a place where she belongs, and the Jinni, striving to uncover the past he has forgotten and find the man who trapped him for over a thousand years, must band together to stay alive in this brave new world.

Wecker writes with an intensity that captivates the reader, forcing me into this world of make believe. She beautifully details the separate neighborhoods of the Lower East Side and the rooftop streets that connect them all. Her decision to set this tale in 1899 allows the Golem and Jinni’s awakening to reflect the awakening of New York at the turn of the century. Although cars were not yet invented, public parks and the Brooklyn Bridge were still new developments, and the underground subway system was still being constructed. The city and the Golem and Jinni all were forced to adapt to this fast paced world. Wecker gives the city an innocent, youthful glow without ignoring the very true aspects of the time (drunkenness in the streets, prostitution, thievery, etc.).  To read this is to be drawn into New York’s history, which is not an easy feat to accomplish.

The Golem and Jinni are also reflections of the immigration process and what it meant to leave your home behind and find yourself in an unfamiliar place. The Jinni struggles with his new name, knowing it is not his and doesn’t belong to him but that he must now go by it if he hopes to survive. Wecker also shows other characters forced to change their names to appear more American.

“Let’s call you something more American,” he [the Immigration Officer] said. “It’s for the best.”

The Golem must learn new customs in America like the immigrants who must leave their own culture behind. Wecker references the ties the upper class New Yorkers had with the police and how immigrant neighborhoods often lived in fear that they would be the next target of police brutality.

The Golem and the Jinni delivers a heartfelt, exciting, refreshing tale of friendship and adventure in the New York City nights. Wecker’s novel is an incredible piece of art and history that allows readers to escape into a world of magic and science and love.

Book Review: Vassa in the Night by Sarah Porter

Book Review: Vassa in the Night by Sarah Porter

Maybe it’s small, my territory, but inside it I can still love what in front of me with all the heart I have left.

Vassa in the Night by Sarah Porter weaves a fantastical story of a talking doll, night incarnate, a witch who runs a department store, and severed arms that behead “shoplifters.” Retelling the Russian folktale, Vassilissa the Beautiful, Vassa enteres a BY’s department store one night for light bulbs and finds herself on an unimaginable mission to save her life and survive the evil witch who manages the store. Porter stays true to the original story but uses ingenuity to modernize the tale. Vassa is a relatable, endearing character with a heart as pure as any fairy-tale hero. Porter’s language sends me whirling through a mirror image of our world where the nights can last for days. This was a lovely fairy tale to read and something I never knew I wanted till I found it!

One thing I know from my own experience: beauty doesn’t make anybody into a whole person.

Book Review: The Rest of Us Just Live Here by Patrick Ness

Book Review: The Rest of Us Just Live Here by Patrick Ness

“I don’t do pity anything. Pity is patronizing. Pity is the assumption of superiority.”

Three normal humans and a demi-god walk into a high school. No, really. In The Rest of Us Just Live Here by Patrick Ness, Mikey and his friends just want to make it to graduation without the school blowing up from another superhero fight. In a world filled with superhero battles and dangerous bad guys, normal, average, powerless humans are just trying to survive things like Prom, Algebra 1, and getting into college. Mikey wants to turn his best friend into his girlfriend, wants to keep the attractive, mysterious new guy from stealing his spot in the friend group, and wants his mom to maybe calm down with the election campaigns for Senator. Most of all, Mikey just wants to avoid the new uprising of monsters that are mind-controlling the city police and killing super-powered kids (called “indie kids”) like flies and focus on his own problem instead, like his sudden return of OCD that has him washing his hands until they are raw.

Ness’s book takes an inner look at the kids who have to survive superhero catastrophes, knowing there is nothing they can do to help. This book is not about normal kids saving the day. It’s not about the underdog showing his true value by proving his worth in front of the whole town. This story is about one boy coming to terms with his mental health and learning that just because he isn’t going off on a grand adventure, doesn’t mean he isn’t important in the world.

“They’ve all got other lives. Jared’s got all this family stuff, Mel’s dating a doctor, Henna’s going to Africa. And what do I have? I have them. I don’t have anything else.”

Mikey is such a relatable narrator for me because of his self-doubt and anxiety. One of the things Ness did really well is write a character who is scared of turning into his old self and falling back into a boatload of mental health issues. Mikey wants to get better and wants to be better, but he struggles with feeling right in his skin. Even though he’s one of the normal kids, Mikey doesn’t feel normal at all, and more than anything, he wants to be like everybody else (who’s normal). Because of this, Mikey feels sympathetic towards the indie kids, who already have low survival rates and are constantly facing some supernatural challenge on top of everyday puberty and homework.

Overall, this is a cute story with really intriguing characters and a nice sibling relationship. I enjoyed reading the parts in which Mikey and his sisters hang out. Those scenes felt very unique to this book and were fresh to read. At the end of the day, I didn’t feel a strong connection to any of the characters (besides Mikey) or the storyline, but I am glad I read it and would recommend it for a light read that could be finished in a day.

 

Book Review: Highly Illogical Behavior by John Corey Whaley

Book Review: Highly Illogical Behavior by John Corey Whaley

Lisa just wants to get into the second best psychology program in the US. If that’s means using sixteen-year-old, agoraphobic Solomon as her personal project to help her get into her dream school, then that’s what she’ll do. The only problem is once Lisa meets Solomon, she realizes he’s actually a really cool person, and her mission to “fix” him becomes even more imperative than ever. As Lisa and her boyfriend Clark fall deeper into Sol’s life, the question of whether to tell Sol about Lisa’s interest in him and risk ruining their friendship forever or to keep it a secret and let the guilt eat away at Lisa weighs heavy over their shoulders. With all the progress Sol has made towards leaving his home, isn’t it better to put his future in the outside world above an honest friendship?

HighlyIllogicalBehavior-2

Whaley’s latest novel gives an intriguing look into the life of a boy too afraid of the outside world to leave his home and the friendship that might be able to save him. Told by both Sol and Lisa, readers get to glimpse the anxiety behind Sol’s disorder and the reasons Lisa has for befriending Sol under false pretense. Lisa and Sol have both have unique, blunt narrations which give this novel a taste of honesty and a strong voice. Because of this, the novel is a quick read and can be finish in a day easily. Sol is a sympathetic character, but I never pitied him. He was understandable and relatable and an absolute delight! I wish their story had been longer, because I would’ve loved to see more of him. Lisa was harder for me to like, because I wanted her to be honest and upfront with Sol from the beginning, but I could also understand her reasons for lying to Sol.

Whaley does a great job with this book. Highly Illogical Behavior was a breath of fresh air to read, and I look forward to his future novels.

Book Review: A Good Idea by Christina Moracho

Book Review: A Good Idea by Christina Moracho

good idea 2

Gripping, haunting, and thrilling— these are the three words I’d use to describe A Good Idea by Christina Moracho. Reading this book gave me the same eerie feeling that sitting in my empty apartment during the middle of a thunderstorm gives me, lights flickering, thunder shaking the windows, Wi-Fi signal only showing one bar. Scary. When eighteen-year-old, Finley returns to the rural Maine town that she grew up in the summer after her best friend, Betty, was brutally murdered there by her boyfriend, she’s looking to send Betty’s boyfriend to jail, but she finds that perfect, golden boy Calder Miller walks the streets freely as if nothing had happened. However, it’s not just Calder who’s pretending he didn’t confess to killing Betty. The entire town acts as if she was still alive and had only run away, even Betty’s mother. Finley starts on a dark journey to understand her town’s nonchalance about Betty’s death and to prove that Calder is a murder who deserves to be punished.

This book reads like a Southern Gothic. I only knew as much as Finley, meaning while she believed Calder to be the murder after he confessed to doing so, there were so many other mysterious circumstances arising over town that I wasn’t entirely convinced he did it. Moracho constantly kept me on my toes in suspense, waiting for the real killer to be convicted. Then, when citizens start to sight Betty’s ghost around town, I was convinced she was still alive but in hiding. This story kept me guessing what actually happened to Betty Flynn up till the last few pages. Not only did the spooky setting and apathetic townsfolk keep me on edge, but Finley’s devotion to Betty also kept me feeling on the verge of an emotional breakdown. Moracho forces readers to become involved in this mystery. A Good Idea explores the unchanging ways of small towns and what happens when one girl acts out of the natural order and when one boy, beloved by all, makes sure she never acts out again. This novel will draw you into a world darker than you’ve ever entered before, a world so familiar it feels as if you’ve been here before, a mirror image of something you know so well.