Reviews

Review: Once Upon a River ~ by Diane Setterfield

480 pages ~ Literary Fiction, Historical Fiction

2018 ~ Atria/Emily Beatles Books

My Rating: 5/5 ✰✰✰✰✰

Goodreads Description:

A dark midwinter’s night in an ancient inn on the Thames. The regulars are entertaining themselves by telling stories when the door bursts open on an injured stranger. In his arms is the drowned corpse of a little child.

Hours later the dead girl stirs, takes a breath and returns to life.

Is it a miracle?

Is it magic?

Or can it be explained by science?

Replete with folklore, suspense, and romance, as well as with the urgent scientific curiosity of the Darwinian age, Once Upon a River is as richly atmospheric as Setterfield’s bestseller The Thirteenth Tale.

“Along the borders of this world lie others. There are places you can cross. This is one such place.”

My Thoughts:

First, let me say that this book is probably not for everyone. It is a very meandering, atmospheric type of narrative that is more about mood than it is about plot. Although there is a mystery at the heart of the plot, it is not the type of suspenseful mystery that would keep someone up till 3 am trying to get to the bottom of. I would not recommend this to readers who need a fast-paced, suspenseful plot in order to stay engaged. I would recommend this to readers who, like me, enjoy rich, dreamy beautiful prose, simply for the sake of beautiful prose. Fans of Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials and Eleanor Catton’s The Luminaries would definitely be into this. The plot is slow moving, but this book is more than plot. It is about storytelling in all of its various forms and what those stories provide us. Setterfield has a very distinct style that I can only describe as magical. Here were some highlights for me:

-The celebration of storytelling- As I said above, this book is really a celebration of how stories influence us, inspire us, help us cope, and help us make sense of things we can’t understand. The river, in this story, both gives and takes life, it is both salvation and destruction simultaneously. It both inspires the stories, while the stories, in turn, define the river and what it is capable of. This was really such a beautiful theme, especially for someone who spends their life between the pages of a book.

-Darwinian themes- Because so little was known about the nature of medicine and science during the Victorian era, it was really interesting to see how these characters created stories in order to make sense of things that were, to them, unimaginable.

“Once upon a time, a long time ago, an ape became human. And once upon a time, long before that, an aquatic creature came out of the water and breathed air.”

-Connection to the real Henry Taunt– I had no idea that there was an actual Victorian photographer who floated around the Thames on a boat with a darkroom. When reading Setterfield’s notes at the end of the novel, it was really fascinating to see how her own research of Taunt lead her to create this story. I spent about two hours online mesmerized by his photography. I think that it would have been really lovely if the book included a map of the river and some of Taunt’s photography.

-Setterfield does a remarkable job of making the reader feel as if they’re are part this magical transaction of storytelling. You feel as if you are sitting down at the Swan with a pint, listening to this remarkable tale.

“And now, dear reader, the story is over. It is time for you to cross the bride once more and return to the world you came from. This river, which is and is not the Thames, must continue following without you. You have haunted here long enough, and besides, you surely have rivers of your own to attend to?”

Happy Reading!!

For more information on Diane Setterfield and her books, check her out on Goodreads

Follow me on Instagram @somewhereinpages & Goodreads @erinrossi

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Reviews

Review: The Silence of the Girls ~ by Pat Barker

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Review: The Silence of the Girls ~ by Pat Barker

291 pages ~ Literary Fiction/Greek Mythology Retelling

2018~ Doubleday Books

Audio Narrated by Kristin Atherton and Michael Fox

10 hr 44 mins

Published by Random House Audio

Presented by Audible.com

My Rating: 5/5 ✰✰✰✰✰

Goodreads Description:

The ancient city of Troy has withstood a decade under siege of the powerful Greek army, which continues to wage bloody war over a stolen woman—Helen. In the Greek camp, another woman—Briseis—watches and waits for the war’s outcome. She was queen of one of Troy’s neighboring kingdoms, until Achilles, Greece’s greatest warrior, sacked her city and murdered her husband and brothers. Briseis becomes Achilles’s concubine, a prize of battle, and must adjust quickly in order to survive a radically different life, as one of the many conquered women who serve the Greek army.

When Agamemnon, the brutal political leader of the Greek forces, demands Briseis for himself, she finds herself caught between the two most powerful of the Greeks. Achilles refuses to fight in protest, and the Greeks begin to lose ground to their Trojan opponents. Keenly observant and coolly unflinching about the daily horrors of war, Briseis finds herself in an unprecedented position, able to observe the two men driving the Greek army in what will become their final confrontation, deciding the fate not only of Briseis’s people but also of the ancient world at large.

Briseis is just one among thousands of women living behind the scenes in this war—the slaves and prostitutes, the nurses, the women who lay out the dead—all of them erased by history. With breathtaking historical detail and luminous prose, Pat Barker brings the teeming world of the Greek camp to vivid life. She offers nuanced, complex portraits of characters and stories familiar from mythology, which, seen from Briseis’s perspective, are rife with newfound revelations. Barker’s latest builds on her decades-long study of war and its impact on individual lives—and it is nothing short of magnificent.

“Many of these songs I remember from my own childhood. As a small girl at home in my father’s house, I used to creep down to the courtyard when I was supposed to be in bed asleep and listen to the bards playing and singing in the hall. Perhaps, at that age, I thought all the stirring tales of courage and adventure were opening a door into my own future, though a few years later- ten, eleven years old, perhaps- the world began to close in around me and I realized the songs belonged to my brothers, not to me.”

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My Thoughts:

Barker does something pretty brilliant in this book- she manages to simultaneously celebrate The Iliad (the original source of this story) and challenge it. Her challenge comes in the form of perspective because her story brings to light the thoughts/feelings/struggles/triumphs of the women in this story- who both A) played a crucial role in the politics and the emotion of the story, and B) whose perspectives were woefully left out of the original. However, her book also celebrates the Iliad. She gives you a sense of the majesty of this story and the complexity of its heroes. I honestly can’t say enough about how much I loved this book- it was a breath of fresh air, it was moving, emotional, honest, and beautifully written. Below were some of the high points for me:

  • The connection to the Iliad- Barker is very careful to interject Briseis’ voice into Achilles’ story- Briseis never attempts to rewrite it or make it her own. She is very honestly telling the events from her own perspective- inserting her own thoughts and feelings while also commenting on the differences between her story and the romanticized legends of Achilles and the Trojan War.

“Suppose, suppose just once, once, in all these centuries, the slippery gods keep their word and Achilles is granted eternal glory in return for his early death under the walls of Troy…? What will they make of us, the people of those unimaginable distant times? One thing I do know: they won’t want to be told about the massacres of men and boys, the enslavement of women and girls. They won’t want to know we were living in a rape camp. No, they’ll go for something altogether softer. A love story, perhaps? I just hope they manage to work out who the lovers were.

His story. His, not mine. It ends at his grave.”

  • With this connection to the Iliad, we also see Achilles in a completely new light. He continues to be the brutal, ruthless, killing machine that we know, but in seeing his love for Patroclus and his connection to his mother, there is a new depth to him. Even his relationship with Briseis changes over the course of this story. They form a mutual respect and understanding of each other. It’s not loving, I wouldn’t even call it friendship, but it’s definitely a shared acceptance and protection.
  • The everyday struggles and triumphs of the women and their day-to-day life in the camp was beautifully captured. The women like Briseis who have been captured and taken away from their homes to live as slaves in the Greek war camp find a magical way to cope with their reality. Through caring for the children, caring for the sick and wounded, preparing the dead for cremation, all preparing the food, the women in the camp find connection and purpose despite what they are forced to endure.
  • Use of the Gods- There is not as much interaction with the Gods in this story as there is in The Iliad. In fact, Achilles’ mother, Thetis, is the only God these characters ever interact with. The subtle inclusion of the Gods allows for the possibility that some of these “curses” and “bargains” with said Gods could actually be in the minds of the characters rather than a reality.
  • Narrative style- For the most part, the story is told in the first person by Briseis. It is as if you are sitting down with an old friend and she is telling you about the most horrific experiences of the life. This story is raw and unsentimental, unlike the romanticization we find in the Iliad. This story is coming from a person who has become immune to the horrors and the pain that she suffered. To her, it is just her life, not a heroic legend or fanciful tale. Briseis even poses questions for the reader. Questions that she knows the reader might have or questions that a friend might have in hearing her story.

“This man killed your brothers, he killed your husband, he burned your city, he destroyed every single thing you’d ever loved- and you were prepared to marry him? I don’t understand how you could do that?

“Perhaps that’s because you’ve never  been a slave?”

Again, I can’t say enough about the beauty of this book. If you are a fan of Greek Mythology retellings, this is a must!

For more information on Pat Barker and her books, check her out on Goodreads

Follow me on Instagram @somewhereinpages & Goodreads @erinrossi

Monthly Wrap-Ups

November Wrap-Up

Happy December, Everyone! Time is flying by and now it is full speed ahead into Christmas. November was such a great reading month for me. I managed to read 4 books total, but I didn’t have a lot of time to write up individual reviews throughout the month. So, I thought I would do a monthly wrap-up with 4 mini-reviews. So here goes:

Roomies by Christina Lauren ✰✰✰✰

I was in the mood for something lighthearted and fun over the Thanksgiving weekend and Roomies was a perfect choice. It definitely indulged my weepy romantic side, but it was also really well written. The characterization of both Holland and Calvin was so unique and really gave a sense of the whole person, not just who they were in terms of the relationship and the plot. I loved that the authors included all of their embarrassing moments – including Holland’s obsession with her “hot subway busker,” and Calvin’s marriage lies to his family back home in Ireland. These were all very real and relatable moments. My only complaint here was that I never really questioned either character’s motives in the same way they questioned each other. So it was a little frustrating at times to watch the two of them essentially make up things to be upset about. But overall, this was a perfect feel-good romantic comedy with really adorable characters.

Josh and Hazel’s Guide to Not Dating by Christina Lauren ✰✰✰✰

img_1016Ok, full disclosure, I read Roomies so fast that I needed another feelgood romance to finish out the long Thanksgiving weekend. Since I loved Roomies so much, I picked up Josh and Hazel. This was a really cute “friends to lovers” troupe with a fun twist. Ok, Hazel herself is really the twist. She was so unlike any female lead character I’ve read. She is unapologetically over-the-top, loud, blunt, free, and absolutely amazing! I loved that even though she’d been told time and time again that she was “too weird” or “too crazy” she never changed. She never altered herself in any way or attempted to please anyone but herself. For that, I give Christina Lauren a big high five. Hazel’s personality contrasted so well with Josh’s uptight demeanor and they made such a funny pair of opposites. I also really loved the Portland vibes. Having lived there for two years, I can definitely see someone like Hazel being happy and thriving in this amazing city. Thanks for keeping Portland weird Christina Lauren.

The Last Time I Lied by Riley Sager ✰✰✰✰

The second I read that this book took place at a creepy summer camp in upstate New York where a mysterious crime once took place, I was all in. Emma is a prominent New York artist who returns to the summer camp she attended at age 13 to confront the unsolved disappearance of her 3 cabin roommates 15 years prior. Once Emma actually arrives back at the camp, she starts to uncover cryptic clues and messages left by the girls. She has to unravel these clues in order to finally figuring out what happened to them. This novel was so fast paced and kept me guessing the entire time. It led me on a wild goose chase. Emma herself is constantly following different leads and theories, and I was following right along with her. Every time I thought I had it figured out, a new clue appeared and it was right back to square one. With about 5 pages left in the book, I thought everything was nicely wrapped up. I was completely wrong! Another crazy plot twist left me stunned. This was a perfect mystery with a crazy fun plot twist! My only complaint was that at times there was this weird time warp happening- where things happened exactly as they did in the past. Even down to what the camp served for dinner. I am not sure if all of this was intentional, but it took away from the believability at times.

The Witches of New York by Ami McKay ✰✰✰✰

After Halloween, I was really feeling the witchy vibes. Although the plot took a little while to pick-up for me, I loved the mood of this book. Witch grimoires, talking ravens, crafting spells, reading tea leaves- all of this created such an irresistible mood. The 1880s (Gilded Age) New York was the perfect setting for this story- gas lamps, horse-drawn carriages, bowler hats, parasols, plus the growing urbanization of the city. Adelaide, Beatrice, and Eleanor, our witches, are powerful women, but still, have to hide their talents for fear of persecution. With the start of Women’s Suffrage at this time, their little tea shop becomes a safe haven for all women seeking change. The overall message of the story was a really powerful one about what women can accomplish when they come together.

So that is my November Wrap-Up! Here’s to some more cozy holiday reads in December! Happy reading! 

-Erin

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Reviews

Review: Escaping From Houdini ~ by Kerri Maniscalco

Review: Escaping From Houdini (Stalking Jack the Ripper #3) ~ by Kerri Maniscalco

416 pages ~ Young Adult, Historical Fiction

2018~ Jimmy Patterson

My Rating: 4/5 ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Goodreads Description: Audrey Rose Wadsworth and her partner-in-crime-investigation, Thomas Cresswell, are en route to New York to help solve another blood-soaked mystery. Embarking on a week-long voyage across the Atlantic on the opulent RMS Etruria, they’re delighted to discover a traveling troupe of circus performers, fortune tellers, and a certain charismatic young escape artist entertaining the first-class passengers nightly.

But then, privileged young women begin to go missing without explanation, and a series of brutal slayings shocks the entire ship. The strange and disturbing influence of the Moonlight Carnival pervades the decks as the murders grow ever more freakish, with nowhere to escape except the unforgiving sea. It’s up to Audrey Rose and Thomas to piece together the gruesome investigation as even more passengers die before reaching their destination. But with clues to the next victim pointing to someone she loves, can Audrey Rose unravel the mystery before the killer’s horrifying finale?

My Thoughts:

Both Stalking Jack the Ripper and Hunting Prince Dracula are two of my favorite YA historical fiction novels. Kerri Maniscalco does an amazing job of capturing the Victorian aesthetic. All her books have a very “vintage detective” feel (for lack of a better word)- kind of Agatha Christie meets Nancy Drew. It was so much fun being back with my favorite sleuthing Victorian lovebirds. Everything we love about them is still there, but we also get to see them grow as individuals too. This crime was as unpredictable and fascinating as the other two books, and I loved following along with all of the clues- though they didn’t do me much good in figuring out the murderer. It was a great ride from start to finish.

Below were some highlights for me:

  • The whole set up of the Moonlight Carnival was amazing! The performers all had interesting backstories that connected so well with their talents. Their talents were also so unique to Victorian carnivals. They were all mysterious, and a little creepy, but they all still felt really likable to me. Methosopholes was the perfect mysterious, master of ceremony.
  • Like the other two books in the series, this book was full of lovely, rich description- every detail of the ship was covered in detail, the clothing that every character and performer wore, even the food that was served was described in detail.
  • The connection between the tarot cards/playing cards and the murders was next level creepy. I loved getting these clues at each new murder.
  • The murder was completely unpredictable- maybe this is a result of my poor sleuthing skills, but I had absolutely no idea who the killer was. I would like to go back and read some key moments to see if there were any clues that I might have missed.
  • The humor and banter between Thomas and Audrey Rose continued to elicit laughs and smiles from me. Though I would have liked more of it, their relationship/partnership continues to be my favorite part of the series.

Spoiler below:

-The only aspect that I didn’t love was the love triangle. I really appreciate what Maniscalco was doing by adding in another potential love interest for Audrey Rose, and I think it worked in some ways. It was nice to see that Audrey Rose would never settle and that she would continue to question what it is she really wants. I liked that she considered another life and another option for herself. I also liked that Thomas never tried to force Audrey Rose or demand that she choose. He was willing to set her free and support her no matter what she decided. My only issue with the love triangle was that I felt like her interest in Mephistopheles was half-hearted. It was so obvious to me that she was never going to pick him over Thomas, so the whole angst of it all just felt unnecessary and a little forced.

-I actually really like Mephistopheles and I would have liked him more if he had been working with Thomas and Audrey Rose to solve the murders, rather then just trying to seduce Audrey Rose and get her to agree to bargains that were so obviously ploys to get her alone.

-Also, so many of the romantic/flittery moments between Audrey Rose and Mephistopheles felt so similar to some moments between her and Thomas. So it was a little awkward to read.

Overall, this series will forever be one of my favorites. The Victorian world that Maniscalco has created is perfect- I love the aesthetic and feel of each destination. From the Gothic streets of London to Bran Castle, and now to a deadly floating carnival. Thomas and Audrey Rose are so endearing and I love how they work as a team. Both Audrey Rose and Thomas don’t subscribe to typical Victorian beliefs and I love that about them. I have heard the criticism that this makes them unrealistic characters, but I find it really refreshing. It is great to read about a strong confident Victorian girl who refuses to accept society’s role for her. And a Victorian boy who sees the girl he loves as an equal and a partner. I’m so excited that there is another book coming! Hopefully next year. I Can’t wait for another adventure with these two.

As always, I would love to hear from you! Happy reading, everyone!  

For more information on Kerri Maniscalco and her books, check her out on Goodreads

Follow me on Instagram @somewhereinpages & Goodreads @erinrossi

Reviews

Review: ARC of Tiffany Blues ~ by M.J. Rose

Tiffany Blue Book Image

Review: ARC of Tiffany Blues ~ by M.J. Rose

336 pages ~ Genre: Historical Fiction, 1920s  

August 7th, 2018 ~ Atria Books

My Rating: 3/5 ⭐️⭐️⭐️

Goodreads Description:

New York, 1924. Twenty-four-year-old Jenny Bell is one of a dozen burgeoning artists invited to Louis Comfort Tiffany’s prestigious artists colony. Gifted and determined, Jenny vows to avoid distractions and romantic entanglements and take full advantage of the many wonders to be found at Laurelton Hall. But Jenny’s past has followed her to Long Island. Images of her beloved mother, her hard-hearted stepfather, waterfalls, and murder, and the dank hallways of Canada’s notorious Andrew Mercer Reformatory for Women overwhelm Jenny’s thoughts, even as she is inextricably drawn to Oliver, Tiffany’s charismatic grandson. As the summer shimmers on, the competition between artists grows fierce as they vie for a spot at Tiffany’s New York gallery, as series of suspicious and disturbing occurrences suggest someone knows enough about Jenny’s childhood trauma to expose her. Supported by her closest friend Minx Deering, a seemingly carefree socialite yet dedicated sculpture, and Oliver, Jenny pushed her demons aside. Between stolen kisses and stolen jewels, the champagne follows and the jazz plays on until one moonless night wehn Jenny’s past and present are thrown together in a desperate moments, that will threaten her promising future, her love, her friendships, and her very life.

My Thoughts:

Note: I received an ARC of this novel from the publisher through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. This in no way affects my review of the novel.

This book had so many elements that I adore in a book, which is why I jumped at the chance to read it and review it. The 1920s, the art world, the forbidden romance, and murder mystery….these are all genres that I gravitate towards. While I really loved the aesthetic and the atmosphere of this book, there were elements of the writing and plot that just didn’t work for me. I definitely enjoyed parts of it, but the mystery element just never seemed to deliver. Below were some high points and low points for me:

High Points

  • Detailed descriptions of Mr. Tiffany’s Laurelton Hall- as a giant history nerd, I really loved the long lovely, detailed descriptions of the Hall and the art within it. This also made the connection to the real life Tiffany and his history, even stronger. I am sure that some people may find these sections a little long, but I just ate them up.
  • Likewise, the description of the setting was fascinating. The combination of the Jazz Age and New York City, made for a stunning backdrop to this story.
  • I really loved Jenny as a heroine- she has a dark and interesting past that makes her very intriguing. Every new piece of her past that came to light made me want to get to know her more and more. I became very attached to Jenny and wanted her to overcome her trauma.
  • Description of the artistic process- I am not an artists, but I am fascinated by the artistic process, so getting these detailed descriptions that really showed Jenny’s passion was a huge bonus for me.

Low Points

  • At the times the writing was just confusing. I wasn’t sure if sometime was happening in the present or if it was a flashback in Jenny’s memory. This became very distracting.
  • Plot was very slow moving- Even though I loved all of the detailed description of the art, the artistic process, and the setting- I just kept waiting for the plot to really take off. I wanted to stay with the mystery and find out more about Jenny’s past. When I did finally get to the bottom of the mystery it felt rushed and slapped together kind of haphazardly. I really hate saying this, because I loved so much of the detail in this book, but I really wanted an engage plot, too. Unfortunately, there just wasn’t a balance between the two here.

Overall, I would still recommend this to someone who loves the 1920s art world, and is looking for a more atmospheric read with lots of detail, but maybe not necessarily something that is very fast paced and suspenseful. Thank you so much to the published and to NetGalley for providing me with this ARC.

For more information on M.J. Rose and her books, check her out on Goodreads

Follow me on Instagram @somewhereinpages & Goodreads @erinrossi

Reviews

Review: ARC for Girl at the Grave ~ by Teri Bailey Black

Review: ARC- Girl at the Grave ~ by Teri Bailey Black

336 pages ~ Genre: YA, Historical Fiction

August 7th, 2018 ~ Tor Teen

My Rating: ⅘ ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Goodreads Description: Valentine has spent years trying to outrun her mother’s legacy. But small towns have long memories, and when a new string of murders occurs, all signs point to the daughter of a murderer. Only one person believes Valentine is innocent- Rowan Blackshaw, the son of the man her mother killed all those years ago. Valentine vows to find the real killer, but when she finally uncovers the horrifying truth, she must choose to face her own dark secrets, even if it means losing Rowan in the end.

My Thoughts:

Note: I received the ARC for Girl at the Grave from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

I am a giant sucker for Victorian Gothic novels, and Girl at the Grave had all the elements of a perfectly creepy gothic thriller. While I did find some issues with the plot, I honestly enjoyed this book so much. I could not put it down and I stay up till 3am two nights in a row because I had to get to the bottom of this mystery.

Here’s were some highlights for me:

  • Northanger Abbey vibe- Valentines lives alone in a giant, gothic, deserted, dilapidated, and haunted house, and she must use the clues left by her long dead relatives in order to understand her past and solve the mystery. “I heard the floorboard creak in the drawing room and paused in the opening, my heart beating faster. I lifted my candle and tried to see past the flickering light, into the dark corners. The air smelled damp and stale, like a tomb. The fireplace was cold and full of cobwebs; the portraits removed; the family who’d once laughed and talked and served tea in this room, all dead.” This was such a cool element and it reminded me so much of Northanger Abbey and the way that the house itself must help the heroine solve the mystery. I absolutely loved this!
  • The Romance- Although there is a bit of a love triangle in the novel, Valentines feelings for each boy felt genuine, and true to what a 17 year girl in her shoes would feel. Rowan is completely swoon worthy, and I loved the moments between him and Valentine. “Maybe you really are a woodland fairy,” he mused with a lazy smile. “Do you talk to the animals, Valentine, and tell them all your secrets? I want to know your secrets.”
  • The Twisted Town- The town of Feavers Crossings is just twisted and dark enough to keep you on the edge of your seat. It is very Twin Peaks meets Middlemarch. Every character has a sordid past, is involved in blackmail or intrigue in some way, and it was really fun peeling back all of the dark layers of this town.
  • Valentine- As the heroine of the novel I thought she was perfect. She gradually becomes more self aware over the course of the novel and I loved that she consistently stayed true to her own hopes and dreams. It was great to see a strong female character in this time period.

Some issues:

  • The issue that I had was mainly with the plot. There were portions of the plot that just felt like unnecessary moments of angst or drama that didn’t really move the plot along at all. Because this is a mystery, I wanted to stay with the mystery. However, there were several chapters that didn’t mention the murders at all and instead focused on trivial things. Valentine’s own father was missing for 4 months and she never tried to investigate or go to the police. This was kind of baffling. I would have liked more Nancy Drew moments with Valentine and Rowan trying to figure out what happened with the murders and between their parents, instead of so much unnecessary angst.
  • Certain moments in the writing would abruptly shift scenes. So sometimes I was left wondering if something was actually happening or if it was a memory or a moment of imagination. Or I would think something actually happened, only to discover later that it was just Valentine’s imagination. This was distracting.

Despite some of these plot issues, I still really enjoyed this novel. It was a thrilling mystery and a great chance to indulge in some creepy Gothic fun. Girl at the Grave comes out on August 7th and I would recommend this to anyone who likes Gothic mysteries! Thank you to Netgalley for providing me with this ARC/E-galley.

For more information on Teri Bailey Black and her books, check her out on Goodreads

Follow me on Instagram @somewhereinpages & Goodreads @erinrossi

Reviews

Review: The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue ~ by Mackenzi Lee

The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue ~ by Mackenzi Lee

Katherine Tegen Books, 2017~ 501 pages

Genre: Young Adult, Historical Fiction, LBGTQ

My Rating: 4.5/5 ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️💫

Goodreads Description:

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 year-long 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.

My Thoughts:

At the start of the novel, Monty is an absolute scoundrel! He is selfish, destructive, and hurts those that love him most. Despite all of this, I couldn’t help falling in love with him from the start. Underneath his destructive patterns, is a broken, caring, loving person who just has a really hard time showing this side of himself, which is something that I think we can all relate to. He is also adorable and funny, and the perfect narrator for his “Grand Tour horror story.” Watching him grow through these experiences and through his relationships with Percy and Felicity was an amazing adventure I will not soon forget. I can’t say enough about how much I adored this novel. Below were some of the high points for me:

High Points:

  • Monty- He is witty, charming, snarky, and absolutely hilarious. I was laughing throughout the entire novel. Monty’s sole purpose in life is to provide a witty retort at all costs and this gets him into a lot of trouble, but makes for a very entertaining read. “I understand less than half the words in that sentence, but God bless the book people for their boundless knowledge absorbed from having words instead of friends.” – Monty
  • His growth throughout the novel is gradual and never felt forced to me. He changes in several ways but the most important changes affect his relationships with Percy, with Felicity, and also with himself. His lust for Percy matures into true love, and acceptance; and their love story is just so beautiful. Felicity and Monty also bond as siblings and begin to share a mutual understanding and appreciation for each other, despite their differences at the start of the novel. Most importantly, Monty also learns to accept and love himself, despite his past mistakes. He writes to his father: “It took several thousand miles for me to being believing that I am better than the worst things I’ve done. But I’m starting.” I found his desire to live life as his true self, despite the immense social pressures and obligations, to be really inspiring.
  • Felicity- I was getting major Hermione vibes from Felicity. Like Hermione, she helps Monty and Percy in invaluable ways. She helps Monty let go of his selfish, destructive behavior. She helps Percy understand the nature of his disease. She is the defiant, smart, kick-ass bookworm character that we all love! Like Monty, she also grows throughout the novel: learning to relate to her brother, and learning how to maneuver within social constraints and still be true to herself.
  • This novel is not just an amazing adventure story, it deals with several heavy themes such as child abuse, chronic illness, racism, feminism, gender expectations, and sexuality. All of this coupled with the backward 18th-century point of view on homosexuality, medicine, women’s roles in society, and race. Not to mention that Lee had to avoid using many of the above terms because they didn’t exist as they do today. Lee definitely had her work cut out for her, but she truly handled it all so so beautifully, and I was blown away! She managed to give each issue the respect and focus they deserve, while also making the story feel lighthearted and fun. It was so refreshing to read something that managed to deal with all of these heavy issues adequately, while still managing to feel like a fun, frivolous, adventure novel. It was truly the best of both worlds.
  • Adventure- That brings me to the adventure element, which was not at all what I expected, in a good way. When Montystarted out on his Grand Tour, I was really excited because as someone who majored in 18th-century literature, I was fascinated with this tradition. My brain jumped ahead of me and I was expecting Monty to grow primarily through his interaction with different cultures, art, history, ect., which he definitely does, but there was so much more to this adventure that made it so rich and complex. There is a fun mystery to unravel that is a little of bit magic and a little gothic horror, also mixed in with intrigue, politics, and scandal! It was a thrilling, completely unpredictable adventure and I loved every second of it.
  • Attention to EVERY detail- Lee has so perfectly made this world feel very 18th century- to the description of clothing, history, setting, even down to the slang the characters use, like “zounds,” everything made this story feel very much connected to this era.

Low Points:

  • The only slight low point for me was the ending, and this is really nitpicking. I liked the ending, but I just really wanted more resolution. With everything still left for Monty, Percy, and Felicity to figure out, it seemed to be hard for Lee to wrap-up everything with the nice little bow that I so desperately craved. However, I am super excited for The Lady’s Guide to Petticoats and Piracy, which is going to be Felicity’s story and comes out in October! Hopefully, we get more Percy/Monty resolution in that book.

As always, I would love to hear from you!!

Happy Reading! ~ XO

Come find me on Instagram: Somewhere in Pages and on Goodreads: erinrossi

For more information on Mackenzi Lee and her books, check her out on Goodreads: Mackenzi Lee