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

gentleman's guide to vice and virtueThe Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue
Mackenzi Lee
YA Historical Fiction
513 pages
Published 2017

This was excellent! First, all the diversity here – between the bisexual main character, his best friend, who is biracial, has an “invisible” disability, and also likes men (or at least likes Monty!) and his seemingly asexual sister – the book covers so many facets, it’s great.

Given that it’s historical fiction, set in Victorian Europe, Percy’s biracial heritage has him just seen as black to most people they encounter. Monty doesn’t seem to understand what that means, most of the time, and is a little blinded by his rich white boy privilege. He gets talked to a couple of times about how he’s being blind to the problems his friend is facing.

I liked that we got to peek under Monty’s playboy facade a few times, when being punched has him flashing back to being beaten by his father for being a “disappointment.” An interaction between him and a pirate captain was particularly sweet, teaching him to fight back because he’s worth defending.

I LOVE Felicity, Monty’s sister, and I’m really eager to read her story in the sequel to this book, The Lady’s Guide to Petticoats and Piracy. She is so badass, and incredibly intelligent.

The writing was fun, the action well-paced, and the dialogue clever. I was a little put off at first by the size of the book, but I flew through it quickly. I especially liked Monty’s bisexuality – how he just cheerfully perved on practically everyone his age. It definitely reminded me of a few people I know!

Something that I noted, near the end of the book, was Percy not asking Monty to stop his perving. What he said was “if you ever go behind my back…” which implies as long as Percy knows, it’s not an issue. Yay for non-monogamy being present in YA! It’s nice to see alternative relationship structures being presented, though I wish it had been more than just implied.

This was an excellent read for Pride Month, and I loved the amount of diversity and intersectionality present in it. You can find the rest of my Pride Month reads listed here.

From the cover of The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue:

Henry “Monty” Montague was born and bred to be a gentleman, but he was never one to be tamed. The finest boarding schools in England and the constant disapproval of his father haven’t been able to curb any of his roguish passions – not for gambling halls, late nights spent with a bottle of spirits, or waking up in the arms of women or men.

But as Monty embarks on his Grand Tour of Europe, his quest for a life filled with pleasure and vice is in danger of coming to an end. Not only does his father expect him to take over the family’s estate upon his return, but Monty is also nursing an impossible crush on his best friend and traveling companion, Percy.

Still, it isn’t in Monty’s nature to give up. Even with his younger sister, Felicity, in tow, he vows to make this yearlong escapade one last hedonistic hurrah and flirt with Percy from Paris to Rome. But when one of Monty’s reckless decisions turns their trip abroad into a harrowing manhunt that spans across Europe, it calls into question everything he knows, including his relationship with the boy he adores.

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Book Review: Mortal Engines

mortal engines

Mortal Engines
by Philip Reeve
Post-Apocalyptic Steampunk
296 pages
Published 2002

Through this entire book, I kept thinking “this feels like Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets.” It’s a completely different setting, and a different plot, but it had the same atmosphere. Rollicking action, fantastical premise, crazy setting, huge machines with entire worlds within them. I loved Valerian – it may not have been a critically great movie, and I don’t think the leads had much chemistry, but the movie was just FUN. And that’s how Mortal Engines is, too.

It’s a crazy world, where cities have become mobile – think Howl’s Moving Castle – and they chase each other across a barren world, devouring each other for resources in a social order they call Municipal Darwinism. Some cities, like London, are huge, with six main levels, not really counting the Gut, or the center of the machinery. Other towns are small, one or two levels crawling along trying to avoid the notice of the larger, faster cities. The peoples of the Traction Cities think people who live in statics (stationary cities, or, horror of horrors, right on the ground!) or people who are part of the Anti-Traction League, are crazy barbarians. And then there are the airship captains and crews, based out of the one floating city.

It is a crazy steampunk world, and Tom Natsworthy stumbles into a conspiracy plot by being in the wrong place at the wrong time. But as he travels with Hester across the wasteland, trying to survive their pursuers and avert catastrophe, he learns more about her, and more about how the world actually works.

I absolutely adore the last two sentences of the book, and I’m going to post those here because they aren’t terribly spoilery. And they’re fantastic.

“You aren’t a hero, and I’m not beautiful, and we probably won’t live happily ever after,” she said. “But we’re alive, and together, and we’re going to be all right.”

This book is the first of a quartet, and Reeve also wrote a prequel trilogy, so there’s actually three books before AND after this book. I’ll probably check my library for them, because I REALLY enjoyed this book.

Mortal Engines is also set to come out as a movie this December – I can’t tell from the teaser how closely it’s going to stick to the plot of the book, but the Traction Cities are well done!

This also fills the “Steampunk” prompt for Litsy’s Booked 2018 challenge.

From the cover of Mortal Engines:

Emerging from its hiding place in the hills, the great Traction City of London chases one terrified little town across the wastelands. If it cannot overpower smaller, slower prey, the city will come to a standstill and risk being taken over by another. In the attack, Tom Natsworthy, Apprentice Historian to the London Museum, is flung from its speeding superstructure into the barren wasteland of Out-Country. His only companion is Hester Shaw, a murderous, scar-faced girl who does not particularly want Tom’s company. But if they are to make it back to London, before Stalkers or hungry cities get them first, they will need to help each other, and fast. If Hester is to be believed, London is planning something atrocious, and the future of the world could be at stake. Can they get back to London before it’s too late?

Friday 56 – Mortal Engines

mortal enginesThe Friday 56 is hosted by Freda’s Voice. The rules are simple – turn to page 56 in your current read (or 56% in your e-reader) and post a few non-spoilery sentences.

Today’s quote is from Mortal Engines, by Philip Reeve. It’s my Steampunk book for Litsy’s Booked 2018 Challenge, and my full review will be up tomorrow!

Dog went hurrying ahead to sniff at the stacks of crates and drums: tinned meat, lifting gas, medicines, airship-puncture repair kits, sun lotion, gas masks, flameproof suits, guns, rain-capes, cold-weather coats, mapmaking equipment, portable stoves, spare socks, plastic cups, three inflatable dinghies, and a carton labeled “Pink’s Patent Out-Country Mud-Shoes – Nobody Sinks with Pink’s!

I mentioned in Tuesday’s Top Ten post that I love the character names in this book, but the rest of it is pretty great too!

Book Review: Whispers Underground

whispersWhispers Underground
by Ben Aaronovitch
303 pages
Published 2012
Urban Fantasy

I picked up Whispers Underground mainly because of one paragraph on the back: “…the FBI has sent over a crack agent to help. She’s young, ambitious, beautiful . . . and a born-again Christian apt to view any magic as the work of the devil. Oh yeah – that’s going to go well.” expecting, well, just what that implied. Yay, a fiery woman who keeps contradicting the main character about things she doesn’t understand! Philosophical discussions! Sparks! ….I did not get any of that. Reynolds was not the main character’s temporary partner, as was implied. She had a bit part in the book. Her religion wasn’t even MENTIONED until very very near the end, and it was just an offhand “she went to go have Christmas dinner with her evangelical family” or something like that. She never dug her heels in and contradicted him. She accepted the idea of supernaturals pretty easily, honestly, and just said she couldn’t put it in her FBI report because she didn’t want a psych eval. WHERE IS MY CONFLICT?

I also did not realize at first that this wasn’t a one-off book or the first in the series – the only indication of that is that it mentions on the front cover that the author was also the author of Midnight Riot and Moon Over Soho. (And on the inside front cover, it turns out.) But there’s nothing about “a Rivers of London story” (incidentally, I had to get the name of the series from the Amazon page, it’s certainly not on the book anywhere!) or “Don’t miss the other books in the series” or anything like that. Realizing it’s the third book answered some of my other questions, like Why doesn’t the author say Toby is a freaking DOG until like the fifth time his name is mentioned? I spent most of the book wondering if Molly is a ghost or what the hell she is, and that was never explained. Peter’s actual partner had some accident happen to her face, and that’s mentioned briefly – that there was an accident – but it’s never explained. There’s very little magic in the books, all the non-humans look surprisingly human, and the “gruesome murder” described on the back of the cover is a pretty run-of-the-mill stabbing. Overall, disappointing.

The book attempts to be urban fantasy in the style of Dresden, but fails miserably, in my opinion. For only being 300 pages it DRAAAAAGGED on. Final verdict – don’t waste your time, not interested in the other books.

From the back of Whispers Underground:

It begins with a dead body at the far end of Baker Street tube station, all that remains of American exchange student James Gallagher – and the victim’s wealthy, politically powerful family is understandably eager to get to the bottom of the gruesome murder. The trouble is, the bottom – if it exists at all – is deeper and more unnatural than anyone suspects . . . except, that is, for London constable and sorcerer’s apprentice Peter Grant. With Inspector Nightingale, the last registered wizard in England, tied up in the hunt for the rogue magician known as “the Faceless Man,” it’s up to Peter to plumb the haunted depths of the oldest, largest, and – as of now – deadliest subway system in the world.

At least he won’t be alone. No, the FBI has sent over a crack agent to help. She’s young, ambitious, beautiful . . . and a born-again Christian apt to view any magic as the work of the devil. Oh yeah – that’s going to go well. 

Book Review: Meet Me at the Cupcake Cafe

cupcakeMeet Me at the Cupcake Cafe
by Jenny Colgan
410 pages
Published 2011 (UK) (2013 in the US)
General Fiction

This was a sweet book about a woman chasing her dreams. Issy gets let go from her real estate firm and decides to open a cupcake bakery, following in her grandfather’s footsteps. (He owned and operated three bread bakeries in his prime.) The book follows Issy’s troubles with opening the cafe, her romantic misadventures, and the slow decline of her beloved grandfather to dementia. Interspersed with the chapters are actual recipes, most in the form of letters written to Issy from her grandfather. And these recipes look DELICIOUS. I’m going to be writing a few of them down before I take this book back to the library!

The characters in the book are endearing, from Issy, to her acerbic flatmate Helena, to her employee Pearl and Pearl’s adorable son, Louis. Really, the only unlikable character in the book is Issy’s on-again, off-again douche of an ex, but he’s meant to be the villain of the story. Even Pearl’s erratic boyfriend is at least a nice sort. Set in London, there’s a kind of timeless quality to the story, so when Issy mentioned Facebook I was a little taken aback – I had not even realized it was set in modern times! I was thinking 1970s or so.

The book has a sequel, but unfortunately the reviews are all quite bad for it. People who loved this book say the second did not hold true to the characters, so I probably will not read it. There was another book mentioned in the back of this one, The Loveliest Chocolate Shop in Paris, that I may look into.

I love baking, so reading a book that centered on baking cakes, with recipes, was a lot of fun. From the sweet pink cover to the simple joy Issy takes in feeding sweets to people, I really loved this book.

From Meet Me at the Cupcake Cafe:

Issy Randall can bake. No, Issy can create stunning, mouthwateringly divine cakes. After a childhood spent in her beloved Grampa Joe’s bakery, she has undoubtedly inherited his talent. She’s much better at baking than she is at filing, so when she’s laid off from her desk job, Issy decides to open her own little cafe. But she soon learns that her piece-of-cake plan will take all her courage and confectionary talent to avert disaster.

Book Review: Quintessence by David Walton

quintQuintessence
by David Walton
320 pages
Published 2013
Historical/Steampunk Fantasy

With Thanksgiving over, I’ve finally had time to sit down with a book again, and WOW where do I start with this one?! Quintessence is a fantastical tale, set in an alternate Victorian Age England. In this reality, the world really IS flat, and the sun and stars are a half dome over the earth, meaning they’re much closer to the earth at the edges of the world. Our main characters are Dr. Parris and his daughter Catherine, part of an expedition to an island on the edge of the world, populated by fantastical creatures, where lines of magical “quintessence” power strange abilities.

This book was fantastic. I keep using that word – but it’s the perfect word for this book! There’s -just- enough romance to give it that happy-ever-after feeling at the end, but the romance was by no means integral to the plot. Walton wove together magical creatures, political intrigue, colonization issues, philosophy, and troubles with the natives into one coherent, magical tale. I LOVED it. I see on his Amazon page that there’s a sequel – Quintessence Sky – but I’m not sure I want to spoil the perfection that is the first book by taking the chance on the second!

I picked this book up largely because of the gorgeous cover art, but it does not disappoint. If you like steampunk, you should read this book.

From the back of Quintessence:

Five hundred years ago in an alternate age of exploration, the earth is flat. Alchemy is a true science, sea monsters menace the oceans, and Europe is embroiled in religious controversy. Here, the magic is thin, but at the edge of the world, where the stars reach down close to the earth, wonders abound. This drives the bravest explorers to the alluring Western Ocean, toward lands unknown. Christopher Sinclair is an alchemist who cares about one thing: quintessence, a substance he believes will grant magical powers and immortality. And he has a ship.

Fleeing an inquisition, physician Stephen Parris follows Sinclair to an island that perches upon the farthest horizon, bringing his daughter Catherine with him. The island teems with fantastical animals and alluring mysteries . . . and may even harbor the greatest and most coveted secret of all.