The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue by Mackenzi Lee (Montague Siblings #1)

Title: The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue
Series Title: Montague Siblings
Author: Mackenzi Lee
Date Added: August 18, 2018
Date Started: September 24, 2018
Date Finished: October 16, 2018
Reading Duration: 22 days
Genre: Fantasy, Low Fantasy, Romance, Historical Fiction, Young Adult (YA), LGBTQ+

The Gentleman's Guide to Vice and VirtuePages: 513
Publication Date: June 27, 2017
Publisher: Katherine Tegen Books
Media: eBook/Kindle


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. 


CW: Contains discussions of homophobia, biphobia, racism, sexism/misogyny, ableism, and physical abuse


“Because I want you to know…that there is life after survival.”

Henry Montague or Monty, as he prefers to be called, has been allowed one last hurrah in the form of a Grand Tour of Europe by his dickhead dad before being forced to run the fore mentioned’s estates in England on pain of being disinherited.  Prior to the birth of his little brother, dubbed the “Goblin,” Monty’s status, though unwanted, was still secure as the earl had no one else to pass his title to, his only other issue being a daughter, Felicity.  Even if she could inherit, the house wouldn’t remain “in the family” insofar as she’d take the name of the man to whom she was wed.

Gif of Zendaya, a light skinned Black woman with her hair up in a bun, rolling her eyes and giving a side eye while looking off to the left

Just in case my thoughts about this were unclear…

It’s a similar situation to Samwell Tarly in ASOIAF with his father except “at least” Monty’s father isn’t threatening to kill him, only cut him off if he’s found “mucking around with boys again” (Lord Montague has no problem beating the shit out of him, though, but we’ll get to that).

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The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman

Title: The Graveyard Book
Author: Neil Gaiman
Date Added: April 13, 2013
Date Started: August 9, 2018
Date Finished: September 13, 2018
Reading Duration: 35 days
Genre: Fantasy, Paranormal/Supernatural, Young Adult (YA), Mid-Grade

Cover of The Graveyard Book by Neil GaimanPages: 286
Publication Date: September 30, 2008
Publisher: HarperCollins
Media: Paperback


In this ingenious and captivating reimagining of Rudyard Kipling’s classic adventure The Jungle Book, Neil Gaiman tells the unforgettable story of Nobody Owens, a living, breathing boy whose home is a graveyard, raised by a guardian who belongs neither to the mortal world nor the realm of the dead. Among the mausoleums and headstones of his home, Bod experiences things most mortals can barely imagine. But real, flesh-and-blood danger waits just outside the cemetery walls: the man who murdered the infant Bod’s family will not rest until he finds Nobody Owens and finishes the job he began many years ago.

A #1 New York Times bestseller and winner of many international awards, including the Hugo Award for best novel and the Locus Award, The Graveyard Book is a glorious meditation on love, loss, survival, and sacrifice . . . and what it means to truly be alive.


Per the blurb, this is a retelling/fanfiction of Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book, but without the blatantly racist aspects of the original work.  In using the graveyard as a paranormal stand-in for Mowgli’s jungle, Gaiman’s novel serves as a perfect parallel to the “return to your own world” narrative, and could in fact surpass Kipling’s motif to the same.  While Mowgli will never belong to the jungle, one day the graveyard will be Nobody’s place, and the somber meaning of his name will be fulfilled.

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The Riddle of the Wren by Charles de Lint (DNF)

Title: The Riddle of the Wren
Author: Charles de Lint
Date Added: August 24, 2014
Date Started: August 26, 2018
Date DNF: September 5, 2018
Reading Duration: 10 days
Genre: Fantasy, Young Adult (YA)

Cover of The Riddle of the Wren by Charles de LintPages: 295
Publication Date: 1984
Publisher: Firebird
Media: Paperback (Library)


Minda Sealy is afraid of her own nightmares. Then, one night, while asleep, she meets Jan, the Lord of the Moors, who has been imprisoned by Ildran the Dream-master-the same being who traps Minda. In exchange for her promise to free him, Jan gives Minda three tokens. She sets out, leaving the safety of her old life to begin a journey from world to world, both to save Jan and to solve “the riddle of the Wren”-which is the riddle of her very self. “The Riddle of the Wren” was Charles de Lint’s first novel, and has been unavailable for years. Fans and newcomers alike will relish it.


The Riddle of the Wren is the type of old school fantasy novel I would’ve devoured in my younger, high school days.  Published in 1984, it’s exactly the thing that would’ve caught my fancy, and while I started reading Charles de Lint during that time, I cut my teeth on his later works, and this one flew under my radar.  You can definitely tell he was a fledgling author in this novel, and it turns out Riddle is his first.  Like so many books of that era, it begins with the locale’s description before it gets to the main character.  It does fascinate me how the conventions of writing change through the decades, and what was acceptable and expected then would earn an immediate rejection now.

Both the main character Minda and her best friend Janey are likable, and the trope of Missing Mom/Dickhead Dad is strong with regards to the former.  Janey’s description leads me to believe she’s a WOC, too, so score one for de Lint being inclusive even back then.  Minda’s father Hadon blames her for her mother’s death even though she didn’t die in childbirth (not…that that would make it valid either), but rather when she was between one and two.  Arguably, of course, women can still succumb to complications even after that length of time, but either way Hadon is still a jackass.  Minda has a paternal uncle who would be a much better father than her bio, but even if she did manage to escape, Hadon would just “drag her back,” and apparently Tomalin, the uncle, would let him.   While Hadon isn’t nearly as abusive to his daughter as the father in Deerskin *shudders* we do not diminish abuse by those degrees.

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The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender by Leslye Walton

Title: The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender
Author: Leslye Walton
Date Added: August 2, 2016
Date Started: August 6, 2018
Date Finished: September 3, 2018
Reading Duration: 28 days
Genre: Fantasy/Magical Realism, Paranormal, Young Adult (YA)

Cover of The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender by Leslye WaltonPages: 301
Publication Date: March 27, 2014
Publisher: Candlewick Press
Media: Paperback


Magical realism, lyrical prose, and the pain and passion of human love haunt this hypnotic generational saga.

Foolish love appears to be the Roux family birthright, an ominous forecast for its most recent progeny, Ava Lavender. Ava—in all other ways a normal girl—is born with the wings of a bird.

In a quest to understand her peculiar disposition and a growing desire to fit in with her peers, sixteen-year old Ava ventures into the wider world, ill-prepared for what she might discover and naïve to the twisted motives of others. Others like the pious Nathaniel Sorrows, who mistakes Ava for an angel and whose obsession with her grows until the night of the Summer Solstice celebration.

That night, the skies open up, rain and feathers fill the air, and Ava’s quest and her family’s saga build to a devastating crescendo.

First-time author Leslye Walton has constructed a layered and unforgettable mythology of what it means to be born with hearts that are tragically, exquisitely human.


Note: I’m going to split this into two sections: Review and Analysis.  The Analysis section will have spoilers whereas the Review will be just that.


Review

Foreseeing the future…means nothing if there is nothing to be done to prevent it.

Ava Lavender is a girl born with brown speckled bird wings in a world where magic might blend with the mundane but does nothing to mitigate grief.    Ava’s life is seeped with sorrow, and she came by it honestly.  The first part of the novel lays out the past to feature her French forebears with the apt surname of “Roux.”

Picture of Common Rue from Wikipedia

Pronunciation the same as the plant

All of them saddled with unlucky love and dying too young to reap the full sorrows.  Only her grandmother Emilienne survived to birth her mother Viviane who herself suffered love unreturned.

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Supernice: Smile. Or Else. by Petra Jacob

Title: Supernice: Smile. Or Else.
Author: Petra Jacob
Date Added: June 11, 2020
Date Started: May 20, 2020
Date Finished: June 22, 2020
Reading Duration: 33 Days
Genre: Science Fiction (Sci-Fi)/Speculative Fiction, Young Adult (YA)

Cover of Supernice by Petra JacobPages: 284
Publication Date: May 30, 2020
Publisher: Self
Media: eBook/Kindle


A funny and gripping story about a tyrannical alien invasion in a sleepy seaside town.

Chirpy YouTuber Nick and his cynical teenage daughter Natasha have their lives thrown into turmoil one afternoon when the walls start swallowing people. Over the next week, more and more are snatched away, until the announcement is made: Earth is under new management. Aliens have taken control and they’re not happy with how humans have been behaving.

The new leaders introduce a series of increasingly oppressive rules. Make a single mistake and you’ll be taken away – to be transformed into an upstanding member of the community.
An upstanding, smiling member of the community with a brain like mashed potato.

As their town, and the world, are thrown into chaos and the streets are filled with grinning automatons, Nick and Natasha each find their own way to deal with the horror. Nick becomes a YouTube celebrity, convincing the public to behave. Natasha joins a makeshift rebellion working out how to dodge the alien demands. Each wants the best for the other, but they end up on opposing sides in humanity’s most vital and bizarre battle.

Will they ever be united against the real enemy? Will the human race become the docile drones that the aliens want? Or is universal niceness an impossible and undesirable dream?


Supernice reveals the disparity between how the younger and older generations view and deal with an alien invasion, and the author showcases this early in Nick and Natasha, the father and daughter MCs whose perspectives the narrative bounces between.  This isn’t to say neither of their viewpoints change/evolve, but it is fascinating to witness how easily some people are taken in for the benefits, while others, while afforded and seemingly offered some of the same, understand the deeper implications sooner and reject them despite the cost.

This is one of those stories where the bad happening seems almost good, similar to the sentiment of “we’re the virus” in response to the current global pandemic.

Remember kids, be fashionable not fashy

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The Paper Magician by Charlie N. Holmberg (The Paper Magician #1) (DNF)

Title: The Paper Magician
Series: The Paper Magician
Author: Charlie N. Holmberg
Date Added: June 17, 2016
Date Started: August 9, 2018
Date DNF: August 9, 2018
Genre: Fantasy, Young Adult (YA)

Cover of The Paper Magician by Charlie N. HolmbergPages: 222
Publication Date: September 1, 2014
Publisher: 47North
Media: eBook/Kindle


Ceony Twill arrives at the cottage of Magician Emery Thane with a broken heart. Having graduated at the top of her class from the Tagis Praff School for the Magically Inclined, Ceony is assigned an apprenticeship in paper magic despite her dreams of bespelling metal. And once she’s bonded to paper, that will be her only magic… forever.

Yet the spells Ceony learns under the strange yet kind Thane turn out to be more marvelous than she could have ever imagined — animating paper creatures, bringing stories to life via ghostly images, even reading fortunes. But as she discovers these wonders, Ceony also learns of the extraordinary dangers of forbidden magic.

An Excisioner — a practitioner of dark, flesh magic — invades the cottage and rips Thane’s heart from his chest. To save her teacher’s life, Ceony must face the evil magician and embark on an unbelievable adventure that will take her into the chambers of Thane’s still-beating heart—and reveal the very soul of the man.


I wished I’d just passed on this based on sample, but I don’t think I read enough to make the correct call.  The beginning is intriguing enough to draw you in, but as I went along the first chapter, I didn’t get much from the MC Ceony except that she’s a good student who wanted to work with metal instead of the paper craft foisted upon her.  Usually students can choose their material, but because Folding is dying out, she was assigned to that.  It’s a pretty common set up for a narrative, and while I did wonder how Holmberg might bend this ubiquitous motif in a unique way, it just didn’t hold my interest, and after rereading the blurb, I felt less of a draw to find out.

I’m not counting the author out though.  I do like her style, and I have Smoke and Summons from her Numina series on my list.

A Reaper at the Gates by Sabaa Tahir (An Ember in the Ashes #3)

An Ember in the Ashes

<–A Torch Against the Night

Title: A Reaper at the Gates
Series: An Ember in the Ashes
Author: Sabaa Tahir
Date Added: August 23, 2017
Date Started: July 2, 2018
Date Finished: August 4, 2018
Reading Duration: 33 days
Genre: Fantasy, Dystopian, Young Adult (YA), Romance

A Reaper at the Gates coverPages: 464
Publication Date: June 12, 2018
Publisher: Razorbill
Media: Paperback


Beyond the Empire and within it, the threat of war looms ever larger.

The Blood Shrike, Helene Aquilla, is assailed on all sides. Emperor Marcus, haunted by his past, grows increasingly unstable, while the Commandant capitalizes on his madness to bolster her own power. As Helene searches for a way to hold back the approaching darkness, her sister’s life and the lives of all those in the Empire hang in the balance.

Far to the east, Laia of Serra knows the fate of the world lies not in the machinations of the Martial court, but in stopping the Nightbringer. But while hunting for a way to bring him down, Laia faces unexpected threats from those she hoped would aid her, and is drawn into a battle she never thought she’d have to fight.

And in the land between the living and the dead, Elias Veturius has given up his freedom to serve as Soul Catcher. But in doing so, he has vowed himself to an ancient power that will stop at nothing to ensure Elias’s devotion–even at the cost of his humanity.


***Spoilers for all previous books in the series***

Tahir has the gift of making characters on both sides of the conflict sympathetic, even casting some compassion on Keris Veturia.  Though a tortured past doesn’t excuse the horrible things one does, it often provides an explanation.  It is no easy feat to do something like this, and it is one of the better attributes of ASOIAF, as well.  Like Martin, Tahir not only titles her chapters by the character whose viewpoint we follow, but she adds additional ones with each volume.  This is merely logistical, though; what’s more interesting is how Tahir, like GRRM, seems to subscribe (whether consciously or no) to William Faulkner’s philosophy:

The only thing worth writing about is the human heart in conflict with itself.

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Lumberjanes, Vol. 1: Beware the Kitten Holy by Noelle Stevenson (Lumberjanes #1) (DNF)

Title: Beware the Kitten Holy
Series Title: Lumberjanes
Author: Noelle Stevenson, Grace Ellis, & Faith Hicks
Artists: Brooke A. Allen, Shannon Waters, Kay Leyh, Carolyn Nowak, & Carey Pietsch
Date Added: January 13, 2017
Date Started: July 19, 2018
Date DNF: July 25, 2018
Reading Duration: 6 days
Genre: Graphic Novel, Young Adult (YA), Fantasy

Lumberjanes, Vol. 1: Beware the Kitten HolyPages: 128
Publisher: BOOM! Box
Publication Date: April 7, 2015
Media: Paperback (Library)


At Miss Qiunzilla Thiskwin Penniquiqul Thistle Crumpet’s camp for hard-core lady-types, things are not what they seem. Three-eyed foxes. Secret caves. Anagrams. Luckily, Jo, April, Mal, Molly, and Ripley are five rad, butt-kicking best pals determined to have an awesome summer together… And they’re not gonna let a magical quest or an array of supernatural critters get in their way! The mystery keeps getting bigger, and it all begins here.


I feel like this was definitely geared towards a different demographic than yours truly’s, which is why I ended up DNFing it.  So much wacky stuff was going on that I never got much of a sense of the characters, but to be fair I didn’t get much past Chapter 1.  There was a pattern of the girls finding and/or running from three-eyed creatures .  They start off facing three-eyed foxes, run into a three-eyed river monster, and then Ripley tries to get her candy bar back from a three-eyed eagle (believe it or not).  From what I read, the characters seemed pretty interchangeable, except for the one girl who could recite the Lumberjanes pledge by memory.  I’m hoping they became more distinct as the story went on.  There was decent representation, at least in terms of racial diversity, and I can see the appeal; it just wasn’t appealing to me.  Kinda like Mamma Mia lol.

The Last Stitch Goes Through the Nose by Moses Norton – Review & Analysis

Title: The Last Stitch Goes Through the Nose
Author: Moses Norton
Date Added: May 28, 2019
Date Started: June 13, 2019
Date Finished: July 5, 2019
Reading Duration: 22 Days
Genre: Fantasy, Young Adult (YA), Novella

The Last Stitch Goes Through the Nose by Moses NortonPages: 104
Publisher: Self
Publication Date: May 27, 2019
Media: eBook/Kindle & Physical Copy


Who is the Scissor-man? Nobody cares, nobody sees, except for one little boy. This debut literary fantasy novella takes a hard look at society and its outcasts through the eyes of innocent youth. In a world where death is ignored, Orasi becomes fascinated with the Scissor-man, the homeless mortician. After he finds a black thread in the snow, Orasi begins to unravel the legends surrounding this horrifying figure, and his journey of discovery brings him closer than ever to the father he barely knew. But the world is a place that has already decided its rules. His is just one beating heart among millions who are already dead, and Orasi may not like what he finds in the end…The Last Stitch Goes Through The Nose tests its characters to see if they are still breathing, and it might reach out to see if you are, too. The Last Stitch is perfect for the Young Adult reader who isn’t too grown up yet, or the adult reader who suspects they can still see through the eyes of a child.


Note: I’ll be breaking this up into Review and Analysis where the Review section will contain no spoilers, but the Analysis will.


Review


Only this kind of a memory remained: a makeshift history such as pleased those who had yet to suffer their own encounter with the end. The dead man was glorified, made new in memory.

This is not a happy story.  It’s a story that makes an important point that should lead to better outcomes, but it won’t.  It gives us a child protagonist we hope will bolster change in the tradition that children defy adults as well as adult expectations and prejudices.

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The Shadow Soul by Kaitlyn Davis (A Dance of Dragons #1) (DNF)

Title: The Shadow Soul
Series Title: A Dance of Dragons
Author: Kaitlyn Davis
Date Added: June 15, 2016
Date Started: May 14, 2018
Date DNF: May 15, 2018
Genre: Fantasy, Young Adult (YA), Paranormal

The Shadow Soul coverPages: 292
Publication Date: January 22, 2014
Publisher: Createspace Independent Publishing Platform
Media: eBook/Kindle


When Jinji’s home is destroyed, she is left with nowhere to run and no one to run to–until she meets Rhen, a prince chasing rumors that foreign enemies have landed on his shores. Masquerading as a boy, Jinji joins Rhen with vengeance in her heart. But traveling together doesn’t mean trusting one another, and both are keeping a deep secret–magic. Jinji can weave the elements to create master illusions and Rhen can pull burning flames into his flesh.

But while they struggle to hide the truth, a shadow lurks in the night. An ancient evil has reawakened, and unbeknownst to them, these two unlikely companions hold the key to its defeat. Because their meeting was not coincidence–it was fate. And their story has played out before, in a long forgotten time, an age of myth that is about to be reborn…


This is one of those books that initially seems like I’d tear through with alacrity based on the blurb, but I was extremely meh about the opening.  It’s your typical destroyed people/vengeance fare, but I didn’t garner much deep emotion from it because I didn’t invest much in the characters due to that cataclysm being present in the blurb.  Even so I liked what the author was setting up with Jinji’s story arc, an indigenous young woman whose home and culture is destroyed.  I was here for that revenge story, but then…the male character is introduced.

Rhen is unlikable for a variety of reasons.  He’s arrogant as fuck with an unearned know-it-all attitude.  Davis tells us how smart he is through his own ruminations, which may be her way of disputing it, but it just comes off as pompous.  I could forgive this slight, but I was pretty much done when he revealed he might be an unabashed rapist per the very act that introduces him.

He did however feel slightly uneasy.  It really wasn’t the girl’s fault that he had slipped into her room just before dawn.

I won’t say it’s blatant, but it gave me an icky feeling.  Pairing that with a lukewarm beginning sealed the deal.  If Rhen had been interesting or reputable, I might have continued, but I had no interest in seeing a fairly decent character like Jinji paired with what can’t even be considered a mediocre man.  Maybe he matures; maybe she “fixes” him (ugh), but she deserves better.