The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue by: Mackenzie Lee

Summary:

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. 

The Review:

This was another anticipated read of 2017 and it was also a genre that I don’t really gravitate towards which is a period fiction that doesn’t have a lot to do with fantasy.

This was also a very fun read, and it had a lot of great comedic moments within the book. Monty, who is the main character is a someone who was born to be a gentlemen and to also run his families estate. He is set to go on a European tour before he trains to manage is families estate. He is someone who has a carefree attitude and spends most of his free time taking parts in vices; such as gambling and drinking.

Monty has a sister, Felicity. Even though she is a women living in the 18th Century she challenges the gender norms such as reading, and learning. She does not want to go to finishing school in order to become a proper lady. I love the relationship between Monty and Felicity and they have a great sibling bond, especially when dealing with their father. She was also very smart and used a lot of her brilliance on their journey and always knew an answer to something.

Percy, is Monty’s best friend, but also crush. He is bi-racial, which is nice to see in a book especially with the 18th century setting. Even though is a friend of Monty’s, he still deals with a lot of racial issues that was going on in 18th century Europe. There was places where he couldn’t go  and also some of the back handed compliments he would receive. He also has epilepsy, and of course during that time period, having epilepsy meant that “you had the devil in you” and it wasn’t properly treated as it is right now.

The main plot of the book deals with Monty stealing something that a lot of people want, including highway men and rival Dukes who wants it. It is suppose to be a “cure all”. Monty is hoping to us the “cure all” to maybe cure Percy of his epilepsy. So Monty, Felicity and Percy go on an adventure to find the “cure all”. There is also several obstacles in the way, my favorite being them getting captured by “pirates”.

The pirates were one of my favorite aspects of the book, and I want to see more of them. I think in the second book, which is mainly be from Felicity’s perspective they will be in it. There is also a huge story of how they became pirates is actually pretty compelling.

Mackenzie Lee, also takes full advantage of its setting, and the book takes you to London, Marseilles, Spain and Venice and it feels as if I was also taking part in the European tour, and I would love to go on a tour of Europe, but lack of funds is keeping me from doing that.

While the plot was good, the main strength of the book is in its characters. The main three characters are all fully fleshed out characters. The relationship between Monty and Percy was also well done. While yes, most of it was them playing “I love you” chicken, I the entire book shipping them and hoping they will finally tell each other how they feel.  It also ties a lot to abuse which Monty went thorough at the hands of his father and how he wants to try to be his own man, and not be like his father.

In the end, Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue was a fantastic read and I loved every page of it. The characters are all enriching and fleshed out. It deals with a lot of complex issues such as, racism, mental health and abuse in the 18th century. I really hope to see what this author puts out.

Grade: 4.7/5

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Forest of a Thousand Lanterns by: Julie C. Dao

Summary:

Eighteen-year-old Xifeng is beautiful. The stars say she is destined for greatness, that she is meant to be Empress of Feng Lu. But only if she embraces the darkness within her. Growing up as a peasant in a forgotten village on the edge of the map, Xifeng longs to fulfill the destiny promised to her by her cruel aunt, the witch Guma, who has read the cards and seen glimmers of Xifeng’s majestic future. But is the price of the throne too high?

Because in order to achieve greatness, she must spurn the young man who loves her and exploit the callous magic that runs through her veins–sorcery fueled by eating the hearts of the recently killed. For the god who has sent her on this journey will not be satisfied until his power is absolute.

The Review:

This was a book I sorta picked up on a whim mainly because I found out that the author was in the Boston area last week, and I had to work late so I missed it. It was also the premise that caught my interest mainly because I like fairy tale retelling, especially those from the villain perspective.

This is an East Asian retelling of the story of Snow White from the view of the future evil queen. This book also took full advantage of its setting and does a good job incorporating the East Asian setting and also a lot of its cultures and mythologies.  I also like how magic is used in this setting. Julie Dao put a lot of emphasis on Eastern magic and it really provided a lot of layers which made this fantasy world unique. While it was a retelling of the Evil Queen story from Snow White it did take a few liberties with the story. It also set up a lot of lore and myths throughout the book which I hope would be more fleshed out in future books, especially the one about the thousand lanterns.

The main character is Xifeng, and she was destined by a prediction by her aunt, Guma to be Empress of Feng Lu. She spends her life as a peasant and takes in her destiny into becoming Empress. Throughout the book you begin to see Xifeng’s progression into villainy and that is what I love about this book.  It was a slow and gradual progression and at times you really do feel for her and what she is going through. Xifeng is a character that had a lot of layers to her, and she reminded me a lot of Adelina, from the Young Elites.

There is also a small romance between Xifeng and Wei. While she does love Wei she keeps having to turn him away mainly because she has to focus on her mission into becoming Empress and feels that Wei would only get in the way in doing so. Even though I keep knowing how their relationship would end up, I still kept shipping them throughout the book.

With the world building, the book does a good job at also setting up the royals. It touches upon how the Emperor has a wife, the Empress but he also has concubines and the head concubine, Lady Sun, is a very wicked one. She is basically a scarier version of aunt Lydia from Handmaid’s Tale who is very obsessed with keeping her status as head concubine.

There is a lot of great secondary characters such as; Shrio who is a dwarf, who reminded me a lot of Tyrion Lannister, as he always gives wisdom to Xifeng and was little snarky while doing so. There is also the Crowned Prince who is said to be next in line for Emperor, who is also the commander of the King’s army. I almost did think that he would become a suitor for Xifeng, and it would turn into another love triangle but it didn’t. He was also a nice well rounded character.

In the end, I loved Forest of a Thousand Lanterns. It was great to read a fantasy book set in East Asia and Julie C. Dao really did a good job at impressing myself into this fantasy world. Xifeng, is a great character that I could really see go through a dark path in future books. It was also a great, enriching world to be in and would also see more of. I am excited to see where this story goes.

Grade: 5/5

Geekerella by Ashley Poston

Summary:

When geek girl Elle Wittimer sees a cosplay contest sponsored by the producers of Starfield, she has to enter. First prize is an invitation to the ExcelsiCon Cosplay Ball and a meet-and-greet with the actor slated to play Federation Prince Carmindor in the reboot. Elle’s been scraping together tips from her gig at the Magic Pumpkin food truck behind her stepmother’s back, and winning this contest could be her ticket out once and for all—not to mention a fangirl’s dream come true.

Teen actor Darien Freeman is less than thrilled about this year’s ExcelsiCon. He used to live for conventions, but now they’re nothing but jaw-aching photo sessions and awkward meet-and-greets. Playing Federation Prince Carmindor is all he’s ever wanted, but the diehard Starfield fandom has already dismissed him as just another heartthrob. As ExcelsiCon draws near, closet nerd Darien feels more and more like a fake—until he meets a girl who shows him otherwise.

The Review:

This was another author who I met at Boston Teen Author Festival, and hearing her talk about her book at the Out of Character, made me want to know more about this book.

This was a modern retelling of Cinderella, which reminded me a lot of the Hilary Duff movie, A Cinderella Story. It almost follows the same beats as Cinderella, in which a young orphan girl has to live with her step mother and evil step sisters, she puts up with abuse until she meets prince charming at a ball and live happily ever after. But this is a different set within the fandom of Sci Fi.

Danielle or Ella, is the main character. She is a nerd for Sci Fi, especially for the series Starfield, which is a semi based on Star Trek: The Original Series, a short lived series that has a huge following. There is a a movie based on the series coming out and she of course has some reservations. Ella is very much a fan girl, and that’s what I like about the character.

Darien, is another character in the novel, who is a young teen heart throb who is set to play Federation Prince Carmindor. Of course when he has cast, he really didn’t know what to make of the casting, and it had a lot of push back from the fandom, mainly Ella. It reminded me a lot of when Chris Pine was cast of Captain Kirk in the new Star Trek movies and the amount of push back he got. But Darien is someone who was a closet nerd, and most people don’t see that due to his good looks and “insured abs”.

Ella and Darien’s started off online on her blog, and they would chat about Starfield in general, and than it moved to a semi romantic online relationship, they also don’t know who each other are which makes it a nice sweet relationship. That’s where the comparison to a Cinderella story comes in.

The supporting characters are also great. Sage, her co-worker at the food truck acts as the stand in for her fairy god mother, and she is also her best friend. Chloe is the evil step sister, and basically acts like one, and would constantly belittle Ella. Callipe, or Cal is the other step sister, who is actually nice to Ella. Catherine is her evil step mother, who would also belittle Ella and also her late father especially in regards to Starfield.

I also like some of the Easter Eggs it had in regards to the original Cinderella. It was a pumpkin food truck, and the ball is a Excelsior Con, which is a sci fi convention. While it was a modern retelling of Cinderella, it did have its own twist to it.

Starfield, just by reading about the show, makes me want to watch the show, but alas the show doesn’t exist. The book was a love letter to the Sci Fi fandom and it really shows especially once Ella makes it the convention. It also talks a lot about Hollywood in regards to sci fi. One aspect I really liked is the fake relationship Darien has with his costar Jess. While they weren’t meant to be together, they poke fun at their relationship and Hollywood in general. I kinda would have like to see the character of Jess, a bit more fleshed out because I did like her character.

In the end, Geekerella was a great read. It was one half of a Cinderella retelling and another half a love letter to Sci Fi fandom. It had a cute love story that made you want to root for the main characters.

Grade: 4.5/5

Invictus by: Ryan Graudin

Summary:

Farway Gaius McCarthy was born outside of time. The son of a time-traveling Recorder from 2354 AD and a gladiator living in Rome in 95 AD, Far’s birth defies the laws of nature. Exploring history himself is all he’s ever wanted, and after failing his final time-traveling exam, Far takes a position commanding a ship with a crew of his friends as part of a black market operation to steal valuables from the past.

But during a heist on the sinking Titanic, Far meets a mysterious girl who always seems to be one step ahead of him. Armed with knowledge that will bring Far’s very existence into question, she will lead Far and his team on a race through time to discover a frightening truth: History is not as steady as it seems.

The Review:

This book had me at “the crew of Firfely entering the TARDIS” and it really felt like that throughout the story. Earlier this year I read Ryan Graudin’s Wolf-by-Wolf, which is an alternative take of WWII. This deals with the concept of time-travel, with a lot of wibley-woobly timey wimey stuff.

Farway, or Far, is someone who was born “outside of time”, in which he was born within a time stream and doesn’t have a specific birthday, this was mainly due to his mother having a relationship with a Roman gladiator in 95 AD, she gave birth outside of time and defying the laws of nature. Years later he is pursuing a career in time travel, but during his final exam, it gets hacked and he fails the exam and expelled for the Academy.

Far is a great main character. He sort of had a Malcolm Reynolds vibe to him, throughout the story, and always wanted to get the job done. He also cares a lot about his crew on the Invictus, but he also deals with the fact that his mother disappeared on her own time travel mission on the Ab Aeterno.

The crew of the Invictus all have very distinct personalities which reminded me a lot of Firefly. Priya, who is Far’s girlfriend acts as the ships doctor. The relationship between Priya and Far was extremely well done and you can tell from the text that they actually care about each other. She is also fully fleshed out, and has her character fully realized through a few flashbacks of her time in the Academy.

There is also Imogen, Far’s cousin. She also puts together a lot of the “captains’s log” throughout the story, and a lot of the “captains log” are very humorous. She also has a good relationship with Far and also acts as his confidant.  Throughout the story she also has a crush on Gram, the ships pilot, and it always seems funny how she tries not to act of her crush even though people know about it. While I did like the character Gram, I thought he could have been fleshed out a bit more.

The main plot of the story is the crew planning a heist abroad the Titanic right before it sinks, in order to steal an object. Everything seemed to be going smoothly until they come across Eliot, a mysterious time traveler, who steals the item and will trade it in order to have a spot on the crew.

Eliot, basically serves the Sixth ranger role on the team, and throughout the book there is always a sense of mystery surrounding her character, and you always feel that there is some twist that is about the happen. Once you find out Eliot’s main motivation it actually starts to make sense, and adds a lot to the story.

What made the book great was the concept of time travel. Time travel is always a tricky thing to really pull off, because there are times when it could introduce a lot of plot holes, Ryan Graudin actually provided a good use of time travel through multiverses. I will not go much into detail in case of spoilers, but the idea of multiple universes makes a lot of sense in regards to the story, and sets up a lot of stacks for the story.

Also the world building was really well done as well, especially the world of time travelers. One of my favorite aspects is a clothing store that specializes in different period of clothing when one goes time traveling. So they could get jackets from the 1950s, and dresses from the Victorian era. It also set up rules with time travel in order to not disrupt the timeline.

In the end, Invictus was a really great book that deals with the concept of time travel. Mainly as a Whovian, time travel has always captivated me. The characters make the book such a good read, and I am a little disappointed that it is a stand alone novel, because I could read a series about these characters.

Grade: 4/5

Stalking Jack the Ripper by: Kerri Maniscalo

Summary:

Seventeen-year-old Audrey Rose Wadsworth was born a lord’s daughter, with a life of wealth and privilege stretched out before her. But between the social teas and silk dress fittings, she leads a forbidden secret life.

Against her stern father’s wishes and society’s expectations, Audrey often slips away to her uncle’s laboratory to study the gruesome practice of forensic medicine. When her work on a string of savagely killed corpses drags Audrey into the investigation of a serial murderer, her search for answers brings her close to her own sheltered world.

The Review:

This was another book from my TBR that I really wanted to read, mainly because Hunting Prince Dracula was coming out soon and also meeting Kerri Maniscalo at Boston Teen Author Festival, and hearing her at the Out of Character panel, I finally decided to read this book.

What I like about this book is that it reminded me a lot of sort of film noir set in the 1800s, and also the murder-mystery plot. The way Kerri describes most of the setting it feels like a Gothic thriller.

Audrey, was a great leading character, I like that she always wanted more out of life. She always works at her uncle’s forensics lab, studying corpses. Kerri, puts a lot of thought into the description of the study of forensic science, which really adds to the book. I also like how Audrey is very forthcoming with her knowledge and very brilliant with solving cases.

The main plot of the story is the murder mystery plot surrounding the deaths of many prostitutes in the area, and I really like how it tests Audrey’s knowledge of forensic science and wondering if she could find out who the killer is before Scotland Yard. It reminded me a lot of elements of Sherlock.

It also was sort of an origin story of Jack the Ripper. What made it great was that it was Kerri Maniscalo’s own interpretation of the story of Jack the Ripper. I also like that he wasn’t called Jack the Ripper, the Apron murderer. She really made Jack the Ripper her own, which could have been challenging.

Throughout the book there is several clues into finding out who the killer is, and what I liked about is that it kept me guessing throughout the book, and I thought I sort of knew who the killer was and than it would introduce another element and catch me by surprise. It had good use of the red-herring plot and it didn’t waste too much time on red-herrings. I did feel that the ending was a bit rushed, and while the twist of who Jack the Ripper was good, I felt it could have been fleshed out a bit more.

The supporting characters were also great such as, her uncle, the relationship they have. Her uncle does care for her and pushes her to be smarter with forensic science. Her father felt as if Audrey should be more ladylike and not pursue forensic science.

Thomas Carswell, was one of my favorites out of the supporting characters. He is a student of her uncle’s and sort of assists Audrey in the murder mystery. While there is a subtle romance between the two it doesn’t take up much of the book. He also had a certain charm about him, it reminded me a lot of Richard Castle.

In the end, Stalking Jack the Ripper was a great book. The murder mystery element kept me guessing throughout the book. Aubrey was an amazing main character who was very knowledgeable about the mystery. It also kept up with the film noir setting

Grade: 4/5

 

Wonder Woman Warbringer by: Leigh Bardugo

Summary:

Daughter of immortals.

Princess Diana longs to prove herself to her legendary warrior sisters. But when the opportunity finally comes, she throws away her chance at glory and breaks Amazon law—risking exile—to save a mortal. Diana will soon learn that she has rescued no ordinary girl, and that with this single brave act, she may have doomed the world.

Daughter of death.

Alia Keralis just wanted to escape her overprotective brother with a semester at sea. She doesn’t know she is being hunted by people who think her very existence could spark a world war. When a bomb detonates aboard her ship, Alia is rescued by a mysterious girl of extraordinary strength and forced to confront a horrible truth: Alia is a Warbringer—a direct descendant of the infamous Helen of Troy, fated to bring about an age of bloodshed and misery.

Together.

Two girls will face an army of enemies—mortal and divine—determined to either destroy or possess the Warbringer. Tested beyond the bounds of their abilities, Diana and Alia must find a way to unleash hidden strengths and forge an unlikely alliance. Because if they have any hope of saving both their worlds, they will have to stand side by side against the tide of war.

The Review:

This is the first book in the DC Icons series, which combines YA books and comic book characters written by popular YA authors. I was very excited to read this mainly because I love the character of Wonder Woman, and also this was by Leigh Bardugo, one of my favorite authors.

This book is also a very different interpretation of the character of Wonder Woman, while she does borrow elements from the comics, it does stand alone as its own thing. The story starts off in Themyscira, the home world where Diana is from, and it also starts her as a teenage girl rather than a full adult woman like the comics does. It was nice to see Themyscria and I also pictured it like the movie which is a an incredible world.

I like Leigh Bardugo’s interpretation of the character of Diana, while she is the daughter of the Queen and a princess, she still wants to do what’s right and try to protect the people she loves. She even makes a decisions to try to protect Alia, even if it means exile from Themyscria.

Alia is another main character of the story. She is said to be a descendant of Helen of Troy or the Warbringer. It is said that her existence causes war. After a shipwreck she is brought to shore by Diana who protects her and goes to New York with Alia in order to drain her power and bring an end to wars. Alia is a pretty good character, while I would have like to see her have a more kick ass role within the book, she does tend to hold her own, especially once they head to New York.

What I liked about the book was how it ties into the Greek mythology. I also liked how it fleshed out the story of Helen of Troy and how she was more than “the face that launched a thousand ships” She was a warrior of Sparta and when she became married to Menalaus she loss her identity as a person. It also had a lot more back story with Greek mythology that is often talked about in the comics but not fully fleshed out.

I felt the pacing could have been better. There was a lot of points within then book where it was a lot of waiting for the plot to finally pick up. While slow sections of a book is good, I felt in this case that it was a bit boring. I also wanted the book to have a little bit more action. While the museum fight was good, I kinda wanted a few more action scenes. Maybe its just me being spoiled by the movie and I could have used a nice “No Man’s Land” scene.

I also would have liked to see a more fleshed out friendship between Diana and Alia. While both of them are great characters I would have liked to see a friendship blossom rather than a protector-protectee relationship which the book had.

I did like the supporting characters; Nim, Theo and Jason. They each contributed to the story in their own way and had their mini arcs within the story in order to flesh out their characters. They also provided some back story with Alia. They also made the story a bit more grounded.

In the end, Wonder Woman Warbringer was a good book. While as a fan of Wonder Woman the comic character it was nice to see a different interpretation. I would recommended it to anyone who is new to comics. It provides a semi origin story of Diana Prince and I hope to see more in the future.

Grade: 3.6/5

Moxie by: Jennifer Mathieu (CW: Misogyny, Sexual Harassment and Sexual Assault)

Summary:

Vivian Carter is fed up. Fed up with her small-town Texas high school that thinks the football team can do no wrong. Fed up with sexist dress codes and hallway harassment. But most of all, Viv Carter is fed up with always following the rules.

Viv’s mom was a punk rock Riot Grrrl in the ’90s, so now Viv takes a page from her mother’s past and creates a feminist zine that she distributes anonymously to her classmates. She’s just blowing off steam, but other girls respond. Pretty soon Viv is forging friendships with other young women across the divides of cliques and popularity rankings, and she realizes that what she has started is nothing short of a girl revolution.

The Review:

This was a book I kinda picked up on a whim. I have seen some ARC reviews about this book, and it seemed like a pretty awesome premise. I thought it was an amazing book that should be required reading for any young girl.

The book is set in high school in which the football players rule the school and pretty much get away with anything, and it was one incident in the classroom in which Mitchell, the quarterback made a sexist remark to the a girl, Lucy and when Lucy defended herself the class was punished. Vivian basically tells Lucy how that was the norm around the school. After looking through her mothers old stuff and realize that she was a Riotgrrrl she decides to to start a zine highlighting the problems girls have in the school and the misogyny they face.

I love that I got to see the “zine” within the book, it really made it feel as if I was in on the action. I also like how it started off as something small but than grew and started becoming inspiring to all the girls at the school. While the audience knows Vivian is the author, I like that she made it anonymous, so it reminded me a lot of Mr. Robot. I also like that it started a movement within the school in which most the girls were involved in.

Most the issues that was covered was the sexual harassment brought on by the football players with the “bump n grind”, the schools sexist dress code policies, and lack of funding in the girls sports teams. They are all real issues that many young girls face today. It also touched upon how sexual assault often gets mishandled by school administrators.

Vivian as a main character was very engaging. I like how she wasn’t afraid at first to do the zine because she wanted to reach as many girls as possible. I also like that has started off as very shy and only having just a few friends, mainly Claudia and Lucy.

I also love the emphasis on female friendship. You really don’t see a lot of female friendships in YA novels and the fact that the relationship between the girls seemed real. There is also a romance in the book, but it is not the main focus of teh book. There were some other characters like Kiera and Emma who I did like, but I kinda wish they were a bit more fleshed out.

Viv’s boyfriend Seth is a very well written male character, I like that he isn’t the “brooding YA protagonist”. he is actually very supportive of Viv writing Moxie, and he also knows when to be a good feminist ally. While there is times he almost ventures into “not all men” he understands that there is stuff that he will never understand. I also like how their relationship was actually well done, while they did fight it wasn’t to the point where they have the second act break up, it was an actual meaningful relationship.

A minor criticism I have is that I wish the book was little more diverse. While Lucy is a Hispanic character, I felt that some of the side POC characters weren’t really fleshed out. But I do like how Viv discusses how the 90s RiorGrrrls didn’t include many POC and was willing to make a change with Moxie.

In the end, Moxie was an amazing book that is has a lot of good feminist themes. I think it should be required reading for all young girls because of its themes. I think the book will hopefully inspire young girls to get involved in activism. It was has some engaging characters with a nice story along with it.

Grade: 4.5/5