Reviews

The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue: Was This Book Written For Me?

The Gentleman's Guide to Vice and Virtue (Montague Siblings, #1)Title: The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue
Author(s): Mackenzi Lee
Series: Montague Siblings #1
Genre: Historical Fiction, LGBTQAI+
Published: June 27th 2017 by Katherine Tegen Books
LGBTQAI+: bisexual protagonist, biracial + bisexual male love interest, a-spec side character (the latter is not detailed in this book, but there are hints)

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.

“I flirted my way into this mess and I’m going to flirt my way out of it”
– Monty, probably

My rating: 5 stars

It was strange to read this book right after Six of Crows (a hyped book that ultimately disappointed me) because this one is just as hyped and I loved it exactly as much as everyone said I would.

The Gentleman’s Guide had everything I personally wanted or needed: a bisexual protagonist, a biracial love interest, an incredibly soft friends-to-lovers romance with some mutual pining and slow burn, a girl who just really wants to be a doctor in the 1700s, a complicated sibling relationship, and complex characters all around. Also, travelling, and specifically travelling while being chased because you accidentally uncovered a huge secret and now that you’re in this mess you just have to see it through.

I was in love from the first scene, which was a little strange, because I usually find it uncomfortable to read about characters being drunk or hungover. Still, Monty does it so endearingly and Mackenzi Lee writes so nicely that I only found the opening funny and captivating.

Perhaps I am trying to procreate with all these lads and I’m just very misinformed about the whole process. If only Eton hadn’t thrown me out.

At first glance, Monty is the epitome of the privileged rich, white, abled guy who – despite having good intentions and not being intentionally mean – has many flaws and misconceptions about disabled people and people of colour. He himself states at the beginning of the novel that he’s had an easy life, and nothing bad has ever happened to him. And yet, it doesn’t take too long to find out that it’s not true at all: he’s been emotionally and physically abused, he’s been made to feel inadequate and trapped, for more reasons than “just” for lying with men. There were many scenes in this book where I found myself mad at Monty, but in the end I loved how he had plenty of flaws and you could see him try to do better and improve when he clearly had a long way to go. He was very relatable, and I never thought I’d relate to a rich kid from the 1700s.

I don’t know how Felicity knows what bones are meant to feel like.
I’m also not clear how Felicity knows the best way to throw a punch.

Felicity is a teenage girl who longs for a proper education and medical school, and watches her brother throw away the opportunities that she’ll never have because of her gender. She is also an incredibly funny and headstrong girl who cares about both Percy and Monty, even if they don’t get along with the latter. I can’t wait to see a book from her POV in the sequel, because words cannot describe how amazing she is. She was also very relatable, mainly in her love of books and not being good at parties.

Lucky for me as well, or else we might never have met, and then what would have been the point of my life?

With Percy, I’m a little conflicted. I felt like he didn’t have much personality outside of being biracial and experiencing racism + his relationship with Monty + a spoiler-y disability that becomes an important plot point. Of course, these are all big things and part of his identity (and I loved how living as a dark-skinned man and as a disabled man in the 1700s was addressed), but I still felt like something was lacking.

The only complaint I really have that this book had two different jokes about slitting your wrists, which is both unnecessary and something I’m personally pretty sensitive about, so it wasn’t pleasant to read. (I know it’s a little contrary, because joking about being dead or even killing yourself is something depressed/suicidal people often do as coping, but here both of the wrists comments felt kind of careless and very different from the heavy scene where Monty says he wants to die.)

warnings: significant homophobia and racism because of the time period, physical and emotional abuse by a parent, the aforementioned suicide jokes

~ Alexa

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Reviews

The Unbinding of Mary Reade: I’m Pretty Sure That Title Is A Pun

The Unbinding of Mary ReadeTitle: The Unbinding of Mary Reade
Author(s): Miriam McNamara
Series: 
Genre: Historical Fiction, Pirates, LGBTQAI+
Published: June 19th 2018 by Sky Pony Press
LGBTQAI+: bisexual (MGA) protagonist who has both male and female love interests
I received an ARC through through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
This review was originally published on The Lesbrary.

There’s no place for a girl in Mary’s world. Not in the home of her mum, desperately drunk and poor. Not in the household of her wealthy granny, where no girl can be named an heir. And certainly not in the arms of Nat, her childhood love who never knew her for who she was. As a sailor aboard a Caribbean merchant ship, Mary’s livelihood—and her safety—depends on her ability to disguise her gender.

At least, that’s what she thinks is true. But then pirates attack the ship, and in the midst of the gang of cutthroats, Mary spots something she never could have imagined: a girl pirate.

The sight of a girl standing unafraid upon the deck, gun and sword in hand, changes everything. In a split-second decision, Mary turns her gun on her own captain, earning herself the chance to join the account and become a pirate alongside Calico Jack and Anne Bonny.

For the first time, Mary has a shot at freedom. But imagining living as her true self is easier, it seems, than actually doing it. And when Mary finds herself falling for the captain’s mistress, she risks everything—her childhood love, her place among the crew, and even her life.

Breathlessly romantic and brilliantly subversive, The Unbinding of Mary Reade is sure to sweep readers off their feet and make their hearts soar.

My rating: 3.5 stars

I’ve been obsessed with Mary Read ever since I played AC: Black Flag, and while nobody can live up to that interpretation of Mary for me, I was really excited to read a book about her and see a different take. I found that the title matches the book beautifully, because it is truly first and foremost a story of Mary, and her discovering herself and what she wants.

Mary and Anne are both bisexual women living among pirate men in different ways. They both have relationships with and long for men for most of the book, but at the same time, there is a budding attraction between the two of them that eventually wins. While I don’t think Mary is meant to be nonbinary, due to being forced to live her life as a man she had some “don’t belong to either gender” feelings that were personally relatable to me as a nonbinary person.

One thing that kind of ruined my enjoyment was that… every single men in this book is absolute trash (except for Paddy, who is golden, and Jack and Nat, who are mostly decent). But seriously, everyone other than them is a misogynistic, homophobic trash, and while this might have been realistic, it was not enjoyable to read about. Anne was abused by her husband in the past and spends the second half of the book trying to break free of him for good, while Mary experiences violence both as a woman, and as someone thought to be a gay man.

The ending dragged on a little for me. This book has very short chapters, and when I saw from the page number that I’m towards the end, I had six different chapter ends where I thought “oh, that would be a pretty cool ending sentence” and then it wasn’t. Everytime I thought this was the ending, the story just went on. In the end, I ended up really liking the /actual/ ending and how it all came full circle, but this was still a little strange.

One thing that might be interesting to people (especially people looking to fill a reading challenge prompt maybe… I’ve seen prompts like this before) is that this book has a dual timeline – there is a “present”, but there are also several flashback chapters that detail how Mary ended up where she was at the beginning of the book. Without spoiling much, I can say that I really liked how these two timelines “interacted” with each other and supported each other.

I had some mixed feelings about the book, but overall I liked it. It could have been heavier on pirate adventures, but I liked Mary’s character arc and discovering herself. Also, the cover is beautiful.

~ Alexa

Reviews

ARC Review: The Boy From Tomorrow

36504303The Boy From Tomorrow by Camille DeAngelis

Genre: Middle Grade, Historical Fiction, Time Travel
Published: May 8th 2018 by Amberjack Publishing
Pages: 268 pages (Kindle edition)
Purchase: Publisher | Amazon | Book Depository

Josie and Alec both live at 444 Sparrow Street. They sleep in the same room, but they’ve never laid eyes on each other. They are twelve years old and a hundred years apart.

The children meet through a hand-painted talking board—Josie in 1915, Alec in 2015—and form a friendship across the century that separates them. But a chain of events leave Josie and her little sister Cass trapped in the house and afraid for their safety, and Alec must find out what’s going to happen to them.

Can he help them change their future when it’s already past?

I received an ARC through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

I read this book almost in one sitting, because I simply needed to know what happened next. (Also, can we talk about how nice the cover is?)

As you can see from the blurb, this story is about two (technically three) children, Josie and Alec. They are the same age, and they live in the same house in the same room… a hundred years apart. I absolutely loved all the ways they managed to send messages to each other, like the letters or the writing on the windowsill. As Josie said, for every flower Alec found, they had to plant the seed first.

The chapters were relatively short, which made the book easier to read. Since this is a middle grade novel, I didn’t expect the plot to be too complicated, and maybe from an objective view you could call some of the parts cliché, but I still really enjoyed reading about these kids and their relationship.

And of course, there is the plotline that Alec tries to protect Josie and Cass from. I liked how both Alec and Emily (the girls’ instructor) made it clear that what was happening to the two children was not okay. I was both excited and scared for Josie and Cass, rooting for them to get out of that house and live their lives to the fullest.

In short, The Boy From Tomorrow was a quick and exciting read that I recommend to everyone.

My rating: 💌💌💌💌💌/5.

~ Alexa

Reviews

ARC Review: Nothing But Sky

35223711Nothing But Sky by Amy Trueblood

Genre: YA, Historical Fiction
Series: Standalone
Published: March 27th 2018 by Flux
Length: 284 pages
Purchase: Publisher | Amazon | Book Depository
LGBTQAI+: None
Sex on page: No

Grace Lafferty only feels alive when she’s dangling 500 feet above ground. As a post-World War I wing walker, Grace is determined to get to the World Aviation Expo, proving her team’s worth against flashier competitors and earning a coveted Hollywood contract.

No one’s ever questioned Grace’s ambition until Henry Patton, a mechanic with plenty of scars from the battlefield, joins her barnstorming team. With each new death-defying trick, Henry pushes Grace to consider her reasons for being a daredevil. Annoyed with Henry’s constant interference, and her growing attraction to him, Grace continues to test the powers of the sky.

After one of her risky maneuvers saves a pilot’s life, a Hollywood studio offers Grace a chance to perform at the Expo. She jumps at the opportunity to secure her future. But when a stunt goes wrong, Grace must decide whether Henry, and her life, are worth risking for one final trick.

I received an ARC through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

When I started reading this book, my first thought was that it would fit perfectly in The Radical Element anthology that I read recently. It’s a historical fiction with a 18-year-old female protagonist who is truly radical and defies convention by performing tricks on the wings of moving airplanes in the 1920s.

After I read the book, I would like to say that I probably would have enjoyed it more if it truly had been a short story/novella in an anthology instead of a full-length book. This way, I often felt like it dragged on, or the exact same type of conflicts and scenes kept repeating (some practice, someone trying to convince Grace not to fly, Rowland showing up…). While it was overall a good story, I feel like it would have worked better if it was half as long.

Another problem for me was the characters. Other than Grace and MAYBE Henry, I couldn’t really get connected to anyone. Grace’s two female friends were nice, but they didn’t appear that much. The Uncle, Daniel and Nathan were interesting as Grace’s family, but – especially the last two – barely felt like individual people to me (up until a certain spoiler-y event).

It was clever how the book kept hinting at one character being a traitor when it was really another one, so it gets a few points for not being predictable, but the eventual reveal just made me less enthusiastic about both of these characters when I already wasn’t too attached to either.

Overall, I think this book had a great setting but unfortunately I didn’t find it very enjoyable to read.

My rating: 🛩️🛩️🛩️/5.

~ Alexa

Reviews

ARC Review: Dracula: The Rise of the Beast

38920597Dracula: Rise of the Beast edited by David Thomas Moore

Genre: Anthology, Historical Fiction, Fantasy
Release date: March 13th 2018 by Abaddon Books
Length: 381 pages
Number of stories: 5
Purchase: Publisher | Amazon | Book Depository

GENESIS OF A MONSTER
Vlad III Drăcula. A warleader in a warlike time: brilliant, charismatic, pious. But what became of him? What drove him to become a creature of darkness—Bram Stoker’s cruel, ambitious “Un-Dead”—and what use did he make of this power, through the centuries?
More than a hundred years after the monster’s death, the descendants of the survivors piece together the story— dusty old manuscripts, court reports from the Holy Roman Empire at its height, stories of the Szgany Roma who once served the monster—trying to understand. Because the nightmare is far from over…
Five incredible fantasy authors come together to reveal a side to literature’s greatest monster you’ve never seen before.

I received an ARC through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

I read this anthology very slowly – while it only has five stories, they were longer than in most anthologies I read… and also, because I was not used to seeing so many European names and words in English texts. And yet, that was exactly why this book was so amazing to read – so validating and encouraging, in a way, that I can still write and publish with a name like mine and with characters named like me.

This anthology was also unique because all five stories were connected by an outside story – in fact, the five stories all consisted of documents e-mailed to each other by two people, who were researching Dracula and his presence through centuries. I really appreciated this kind of framing, and the connection between the stories. Because of this, most of the stories consist of letters and documents from several different sources and have several different storylines going on. It might take a while in each story to see how they are all connected, but it’s worth it when it all comes together.

Despite their connection, the five stories were obviously all by different authors, and all were about a different aspect of Dracula’s life. There were morbid love stories, romantic love that turned to resentment, brotherly love… And so many amazing characters who got into contact with this man.

the souls of those gone astray from the path by bogi takács: I first heard of this anthology from Bogi, who is Hungarian like me (and also uses the same pronoun!). I didn’t know that eir story was the first in the anthology, but it was definitely a strong start, and one of my favourite stories. This story is about two Jewish rabbis and the young nephew of one of them who set out to spy on the Hungarian king, Mátyás, and his connection to the man who later became Dracula.

I really appreciated the little nods to Hungarian folklore – as it is also explained in the story, Hungarians have many folk stories where King Mátyás wears a disguise to walk among his people, and it has always been a little funny, since he has a pretty unique face. This story gives an explanation by making Mátyás a creature that can shapeshift, which I loved. Still, my absolute favourite part of this story were the letters written by Majsi, the rabbi’s young nephew. He has his unique style which was hilarious and loveable – his excitement and his heart really made this story worth reading. 5/5 stars for the story, 10/5 stars for Majsi

noblesse oblige by adrian tchaikovsky: A story about Erzsébet Báthory!! Absolutely amazing. I was worried at the beginning that she would turn out to be a victim in this interpretation, but no – her cruelty was not downplayed, and was indeed fascinating (while also creepy) to read. I also LOVED the totally “unpronouncable” Hungarian names included, like Dorottya Semtész or Németkeresztúr. It felt strangely defiant and powerful. 4.5/5 stars

a stake too far by milena benini: One of my favourite parts of this story was the two random bird watchers that mistook a flying vampire for an owl. Amazing. Other than that, this story was the tragic story of two brothers (Vlad and Radu) that I mentioned at the beginning. It also had a witch, and Vlad as a sympathetic character. 4.5/5 stars

children of the night by emil minchev: This story is one long letter, and it starts by the writer (Dracula) revealing that he’s replying to a letter spent over a century ago… Vampires are amazing. — This ended up being a pretty morbid love story between Dracula and a witch (??), including a description of their children. It definitely made for strange reading, but I liked it. I loved the writing style and I’m going to leave one of my favourite quotes here. “My blood has irrigated this land for hundreds of years, the bones of my ancestors form its sturdy spine. I am as much a part of the landscape as the great black mountains that tower over my castle and the deep dark forest that surrounds it.” 4.5/5 stars

the woman by caren gussoff sumption: This story. This STORY. It’s not really about “the woman”, more like about three Romani women, and it’s one of those stories where at first you really don’t understand how the different documents/letters/blog posts are connected, and then it all fits together and aaaah. It also has a trans woman talking about transition, family values, Romani culture, Mátyás as an antagonist again, and a connection to the interludes between stories. It’s my other favourite. 5/5 stars

An interesting/strange thing in this anthology for me was the way they portrayed Mátyás Hunyadi, the Just King of the Hungarians. While I am obviously aware that no king is perfect, I (as many other Hungarians) grew up on folktales of his generosity and thus have a sort of misplaced sentimentality when it comes to him, so seeing him portrayed as the immortal antagonist in several stories (such as Bogi’s and Caren’s) was disorenting – and yet definitely an interesting take.

As you can see from my individual ratings, I was quite impressed with this anthology, even if it made for slow and sometimes difficult reading.

My rating: 🧛🧛🧛🧛🧛/5.

~ Alexa

Reviews

ARC review: The Radical Element (A Tyranny of Petticoats #2)

29748943The Radical Element edited by Jessica Spotswood

Genre: Anthology, Historical Fiction, YA
Series: A Tyranny of Petticoats #2
Release date: March 13th 2018 by Candlewick Press
Length: 320 pages (Kindle edition)
Purchase: Publisher | Amazon | Book Depository
LGBTQAI+: Sapphic main and side characters in a couple of stories, and a transgender man LI in one
Sex on page: No

In an anthology of revolution and resistance, a sisterhood of YA writers shines a light on a century and a half of heroines on the margins and in the intersections.

To respect yourself, to love yourself—should not have to be a radical decision. And yet it remains as challenging for an American girl to make today as it was in 1927 on the steps of the Supreme Court. It’s a decision that must be faced whether you’re balancing on the tightrope of neurodivergence, finding your way as a second-generation immigrant, or facing down American racism even while loving America. And it’s the only decision when you’ve weighed society’s expectations and found them wanting. In The Radical Element, twelve of the most talented writers working in young adult literature today tell the stories of the girls of all colors and creeds standing up for themselves and their beliefs—whether that means secretly learning Hebrew in early Savannah, using the family magic to pass as white in 1920s Hollywood, or singing in a feminist punk band in 1980s Boston. And they’re asking you to join them.

I received an ARC through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

This is going to be a long review because I have so much love to give to this anthology.

At first glance, I loved the way the stories are in a chronological order, and the year + setting is clearly stated right before every story. Then I started reading, and I’m not kidding when I say that I fell in love with every single one of these heroines. The quality of writing in this anthology was through the roof – I was taken in by every single story. I also loved the author’s notes at the end of each story, which included many things: the real historical context, the research that went into the stories, how the experience of the characters relates to the authors’ experiences, and sometimes even recommended further reading.

As soon as I finished reading, I went on Goodreads to look up the other books by these authors and add most of them to my TBR.

While I kinda wish more of the stories had queer characters, I still didn’t mind in this case since the religious, racial and neurodivergent diversity was amazing. Many of the stories didn’t have romance at all, or there were hints of future romance, but the ambition of the girls took priority (for now). Still, there were some great male (future) love interests that I fell in love with.

It’s very difficult to pick favourites in this anthology when I rated almost every individual story 5 stars, but I’m going to mark a few stories as my favourites anyway.

* 1838: Savannah, Georgia — Daughter of the Book by Dahlia Adler: With a Jewish main character, this story is about a girl who yearns to learn about her own culture and religion, including things that are said to be improper for girls and women. She recruits a Jewish boy to be her teacher, and the two of them find empowering women in Jewish religious texts. I absolutely loved not just the main character, but her chosen teacher, Caleb as well. 5/5 stars

* 1844: Nauvoo, Illinois — You’re a Stranger Here by Mackenzie Lee: This story has a Mormon main character who eventually risks her life for her and her mother’s religion, despite the fact that she actively questions her own faith in their prophet. I really loved the questioning aspect of it, especially paired with the ending, and the writing was just absolutely amazing. 5/5 stars

* 1858: Colorado River, New Mexico Territory — The Magician by Erin Bowman: This is one of several stories where I was worried it would end badly, but instead it had an open, perhaps bittersweet ending where you’re free to imagine how things end up. The main character is an orphaned girl disguising herself as a boy to keep her job, and save up money so she can find her family. I absolutely loved the ending of the story, and the last few lines were my favourite. 5/5 stars

* 1863: Charleston, South Carolina — Lady Firebrand by Megan Shepherd: THIS STORY. This story was amazing. The main character is a white girl in a wheelchair who travels from the Northern states to the South to visit her relatives, with her black best friend posing as her maid. Her relatives have no idea that the two of them are actually abolitionist spies helping the Northern cause. This story also had a male character that I loved, and I loved the way the story ended (although I would have loved to see the rescue itself). 5/5 stars

1905: Tulsa, Indian Territory — Step Right Up by Jessica Spotswood: Major trigger warning for a physically abusive uncle here, with beating in the story itself as well. Step Right Up is about a young girl who wants to join the circus, not only to get away from her uncle but primarily to be a performer, which has been her dream since she was five. This story also had a lovely relationship between the two sisters that I loved (and also a sapphic main character, though her only love interest in the story is unrequited). 5/5 stars

1923: Los Angeles and the Central Valley, California — Glamour by Anna-Marie McLemore: Glamour has a Mexican main character whose dream is to become a famous actress on the cover of magazines in Hollywood – but to achieve that, she uses an inherited family charm to appear more white. This story has a transgender male love interest and heavy themes of racism, and it’s absolutely amazing. 5/5 stars

* 1927: Washington, D.C. — Better for All the World by Marieke Nijkamp: This was one of those stories where I hoped the guy wouldn’t turn out to be a jerk, and yet… Better for All the World was a story about an autistic girl who wants to be a lawyer, and it’s also #ownvoices for autism. It has discussions of forced sterilisation on mentally ill or autistic people, and I found it one of the most chilling stories in this collection. I absolutely loved the main character. It was also a good example that believing somebody doesn’t deserve to have rights isn’t just a “difference in opinion”. 5/5 stars

1943: Oak Bluffs, Massachusetts — When the Moonlight Isn’t Enough: A fascinating story with a black main character who lives with her parents. They harvest the moonlight itself and drink it every month to lengthen their lives, so the main character is hundreds of years old, but still having to go through the same milestones for 16-year-olds, and being treated as a kid by her parents (“this is grown-up talk”). It’s also about loving a country that doesn’t love you, and wanting to help people in spite of it. 5/5 stars

1952: Brooklyn, New York — The Belle of the Ball by Sarvenaz Tash: A story about a girl who has been writing funny scenes to be acted out by her friend for years. She loves I Love Lucy and wants to write comedy, despite the fact that so many people, including her neighbour thinks that “women just aren’t funny”. One of my favourite parts was that she had that quote up on her wall as motivation to write. 4/5 stars

1955: Oakland, California — Land of the Sweet, Home of the Brave by Stacey Lee: Lana, this story’s main character has both Japanese and Chinese ancestry, but she was born in America and even her grandmother has worked on the sugar fields there. She enters a contest to be the face of the company that both her Japanese grandmother and half-Japanese mother work for, as the only Asian girl among the contestants. 5/5 stars

1972: Queens, New York — The Birth of Susi Go-Go by Meg Medina: The main character here is Cuban, immigrated to the U.S. as a child, who wishes to be more American and dress like her neighbour, Linda. I loved the ending of the story and the reaction of the grandparents, though I can’t say much more without spoiling it. 3.5/5 stars

1984: Boston, Massachusetts — Take Me With U by Sara Farizan: The Iranian main character here is staying with her uncle in America temporarily while war goes on in her home country, and she ends up joining a feminist band with some other American girls. I absolutely loved the bilingualism of this story, how she didn’t understand everything and had to ask her 6-year-old cousin for help (which was especially funny when neither of them had any idea what the band’s name meant). 3.5/5 stars

Final rating: 📚📚📚📚📚/5

~ Alexa