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

The Gentleman's Guide to Vice and VirtueThe Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue by Mackenzi Lee
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Release date: June 27, 2017

Henry “Monty” Montague was born to be a gentleman, but even the finest boarding schools in England haven’t been able to tame 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.

So Monty 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, it calls into question everything he knows, including his relationship with the boy he adores.

If you were looking for a historical romance that involves adventure, pirates, great and diverse set of characters and an adorable protagonist, look no further. The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue tells the story of Henry, his sister Felicity and his best friend/crush Percy set out for a Grand Tour of Europe but instead get caught up in an adventure due to Henry’s foolish decisions. From there, they have to keep ahead of a Duke who is hunting them down, find an alchemical marvel, save a priceless object from being lost forever, and hope they complete all this before they are caught and sent back home, or worse end up dead.

Henry, our humorous and charming protagonist, appears to be a privileged white boy who doesn’t care much for others’ problems. He is bisexual and unabashed about it, a fact his father wants to hide and abuses him for. He is not as courageous and fierce as his little sister, Felicity (bow down before her) but he has heart, and would go to the end of the world for his best friend Percy. Percy, a biracial guy, does not get all the privileges that Henry has despite being born in an elite household, but he is eternally kind and loves his best friend nevertheless. When his illness becomes known to Henry (who is now desperate to find the cure), he weighs the cost of the cure against the life he wants to live – a supremely noble intention. The story also tackles the issues of racism, and sexism in the 18th century and how it affected the lives of our characters.

You could say the central plot of the story is Henry learning about his privilege and growing up, discovering others’ hardships. Not to say that he is selfish, but he is unaware and often thoughtless about what Percy goes through as a person of color or what limitations Felicity faces due to the fact that she is female. He is the clown of the group, of course, the immature, impetuous and careless one and the one they both take care of, but he redeems himself by the end of the story. The obstacle to his and Percy’s relationship at first appears to be the fact that they are both men and, well, homosexuality was not even recognized as a valid sexuality at that time; it is, however, not the sole thing keeping them apart. Societal expectations, as well as their dependence on their respective families drive a wedge between them, and also Percy’s illness which becomes a sore point.

I like that the author brought up the issues in a time when it wouldn’t even be recognized. Sure, many historical YA romances have feminist heroines, but how many have a gently cultivated relationship between two boys, and a girl who is feminine but also yearns for an equal footing. The ending, however, does not completely resolve the issues that were recognized as obstacles to their happy ending – namely, Henry’s and Percy’s futures as being independent, Henry’s fear of his father’s abuse, Felicity’s desire to become a physician – it was left too open-ended for my taste. But in its entirety, the book is a fun, entertaining and well-thought out story with a good historical perspective.

Received a free review copy from Katherine Tegen Books, via Edelweiss.

View all my reviews

ARC Review: American Street

American StreetAmerican Street by Ibi Zoboi
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Release date: February 14, 2017

On the corner of American Street and Joy Road, Fabiola Toussaint thought she would finally find une belle vie—a good life. But after they leave Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Fabiola’s mother is detained by U.S. immigration, leaving Fabiola to navigate her loud American cousins, Chantal, Donna, and Princess; the grittiness of Detroit’s west side; a new school; and a surprising romance, all on her own. Just as she finds her footing in this strange new world, a dangerous proposition presents itself, and Fabiola must learn that freedom comes at a cost. Trapped at the crossroads of an impossible choice, will she pay the price for the American dream?

A story about a young immigrant arriving to live in America, and finding it not all that she had dreamt it to be, American Street is poignant, gritty and bittersweet. Fabiola was supposed to arrive with her mother, but is now all alone navigating this new life in her aunt’s house, with these cousins she only knew through calls and online conversations before. The reality of living in this new place, the culture shock that accompanies it, the way the others treat her or tease her accent or doubt her command over English – the author puts it all out. If you go by experiences and writing alone, the book is pretty good. The duality of being a teenage girl who wants to stay true to her roots but also fit in with her new life; and combined with her missing her mother, realizing the truth about her family, navigating a social life that is filled with drama, and wanting to do something to change the situation. There is also some magic realism involving the lwa (I always saw it as loa until now) but I am not sure what really happened there, so I won’t speak much about it.

As far as subject matters go, the author chose an excellent one, and it is quite timely considering the present atmosphere. But I also felt Fabiola’s story about yearning for her mother, about living a very different life her but not finding it any better than life in Haiti – this was the crux, and it somehow got lost in the petty dramas of her cousin and her boyfriend. Granted Dray had a role to play in the story and the impetus for her decisions, but Donna and Dray fight like nearly every chapter and after a point, it becomes white noise. There was also the subplot involving Karim which until the end, doesn’t really affect much of the story and felt like a filler to check the ‘teen romance’ box, especially when they are professing love and all within no time. As for the opportunity to get her mother out of the detention facility, that could have been given more prominence story-wise because that was where the moral dilemma that drives this story was created, instead of high-school drama about girl cliques.

Overall, I would say it is a good debut, and provides a different view of a story, but it could have done with a better plotline. The writing style is a strong point, though, and I am looking forward to future books from the author.

Received a free review copy from Balzer & Bray, via Edelweiss.

View all my reviews

ARC Review: The Wish Granter

The Wish GranterThe Wish Granter by C.J. Redwine
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Release date: February 14, 2017

The world has turned upside down for Thad and Ari Glavan, the bastard twins of Súndraille’s king. Their mother was murdered. The royal family died mysteriously. And now Thad sits on the throne of a kingdom whose streets are suddenly overrun with violence that he can’t stop.

Growing up ignored by the nobility, Ari never wanted to be a proper princess. And when Thad suddenly starts training Ari to take his place, she realizes that her brother’s ascension to the throne wasn’t fate. It was the work of a Wish Granter named Alistair Teague, who tricked Thad into wishing away both the safety of his people and his soul in exchange for the crown.

So Ari recruits the help of Thad’s enigmatic new weapons master, Sebastian Vaughn, to teach her how to fight Teague. With secret ties to Teague’s criminal empire, Sebastian might just hold the key to discovering Alistair’s weaknesses, saving Ari’s brother—and herself.

But Teague is ruthless and more than ready to destroy anyone who dares stand in his way—and now he has his sights set on the princess. And if Ari can’t outwit him, she’ll lose Sebastian, her brother…and her soul.

Look, I have read many retellings and they mostly focus on the big three – Sleeping Beauty, Snow White or Cinderella. There have also been some interesting ones of Red Riding Hood. BUT — this was the first Rumpelstiltskin retelling I have read. It takes the world of Ravenspire but does not have much connection to the former book, The Shadow Queen (besides a little name-dropping here and there), which means you can read this book independently. The world is fantasy so it is pretty much the generic magic-containing world so you can hop right into this one. The story begins with a wish – and like all wishes made, the price is much more than the happiness that the wish would provide. Ari’s brother Thad, made a wish to be king, despite them being illegitimate kids, just so that he could protect them from the wrath of the current Queen. His wish is a contract with the Wish Granter, aka Rumpelstiltskin (though this is not known until the end), and the price is the collection of soul after 10 years. (If you got the Supernatural crossroads demon reference, take a shot)

Ari, when she finds out, sets herself on the path to determine a way to break the contract and/or save her brother’s soul from the fae who has claimed it. She does not know initially that the childhood stories she heard about the Wish Granter are true, and that she is facing down a powerful fae who has been known for centuries worth of trickery. So, she has to use her wits to negotiate with him, to get him to trip up and expose his weakness so that she can break the deal made. Helping her is the new weapons master, Sebastian, who has risen from the dark past of his abusive childhood to eke out a respectable living in the castle. He is surprised by a princess who is kind, who doesn’t treat him or anybody else like a servant, and who is effortlessly cheerful and optimistic. She truly is a formidable girl to go up against a trickster like Rumple and come out of it alive (well…) and I found her impressive. Also, she is repeatedly depicted as chubby, and loves her pastries, so a lot of Nina Zenik vibes for you SoC fans, too!

Overall, I would say this one set the bar higher than Shadow Queen, with a more comprehensive world and rules about deals and magic. I was also delighted that the story about spinning the straw into gold was given a good twist to describe Rumple’s past. He was a formidable villain, and the battle of wits between him and Ari kept me on my toes until the end.

Received a free review copy from Balzer & Bray, via Edelweiss.

View all my reviews

Review: Biggest Flirts

Biggest FlirtsBiggest Flirts by Jennifer Echols
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Tia just wants to have fun. She’s worked hard to earn her reputation as the life of the party, and she’s ready for a carefree senior year of hanging out with friends and hooking up with cute boys. And her first order of business? New guy Will. She can’t get enough of his Midwestern accent and laidback swagger.

As the sparks start to fly, Will wants to get serious. Tia’s seen how caring too much has left her sisters heartbroken, and she isn’t interested in commitment. But pushing Will away drives him into the arms of another girl. Tia tells herself it’s no big deal…until the yearbook elections are announced. Getting voted Biggest Flirts with Will is, well, awkward. They may just be friends, but their chemistry is beginning to jeopardize Will’s new relationship—and causing Tia to reconsider her true feelings. What started as a lighthearted fling is about to get very complicated…

What got me into this book was the fact that the protagonist, Tia, was – lets say, not too shy about hooking up. Granted it is not the first case of a character like that, I was interested in how Echols would spin the story. So, Tia is not interested in a relationship – her family is full of girls who fell in love young and then regretted it, so she is determined not to fall in love. But she does not mind the occasional hook-up with Sawyer, her friends-with-benefits, or whichever guy is ready for a one-night stand. When Will arrives new to town, he hooks up with her one night, but they don’t go further than third base. He was looking for a rebound at that time, but in the light of day, he is actually interested in dating her, which she is totally not into. They remain friends, and he plans to date another girl, but since they are in the marching band together, sparks fly unintentionally and they are labelled Biggest Flirts in the school yearbook.

Now, at this point, I would like to say I totally see her point of view, and honestly, I don’t mind the concept of hookup culture. Not every relationship is meant to be romantic, and not everybody is cut out for it. Which is why I was pissed when Will tries to make her feel responsible for ‘ruining his life’, as he puts it (like he wasn’t also flirting with her all along), by making him look like a player when the most he wanted to be was the New Guy. I see the sparks flying, and I see the sexual tension, but I don’t see how they get from there to confessing their love in a few week’s time and then immediately breaking up the next day – whiplash is an understatement at this point. I thought it was going to be a sex-positive story but it falls into the trap of being love-then-sex plot. And it seems prudent to mention at this point that there is on-page sex in this book, so looking at the intended audience, I do not see why the story had to end on that note. Granted, he is open to the idea of an open relationship by the end of the book and she to being committed to him, but since this is a series, how THAT ends up is yet to be seen. But in conclusion, still, this was a bit of a disappointment.

View all my reviews

ARC Review: Any Boy But You

Any Boy But YouAny Boy But You by Julie Hammerle
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Release date: February 13, 2017

Elena Chestnut has been chatting with an anonymous boy late into the night. It’s a very You’ve Got Mail situation, and she has no idea who he is. He can’t be Oliver Prince, hot-and-bashful son of the family running the rival sporting goods store. Their fancy sales strategies are driving Elena’s family out of business. Elena’s mystery boy has teamed up with her in their latest sales strategy, an augmented reality game, to help her win the grand-prize plane tickets. Money’s so tight Elena’s going to miss senior year spring break with her friends if she can’t win this game.

The girl Oliver’s fallen head-over-heels for online had better not be Elena Chestnut. She’s his angry, vindictive Latin tutor, the daughter of his dad’s business rival, and the one girl he’d never even think of kissing. She’s definitely not his online crush, because that girl is funny, sweet, and perfect.

When Oliver asks to reveal their names at the Valentine’s Day dance, their IRL relationship will either ruin what they have online, or they’ll discover just how thin the line between love and hate really is.

A Romeo-Juliet-esque plot in a tourist town sounded like just the perfect February read (Valentine’s day is so near). Before we begin, I must admit I was a bit skeptical about the book at first – romance-based plots are not really my thing, but I was in a reading slump (which is the worst) and well, anything goes at that time. I was, still, prepared to be bored or disappointed, but instead was pleasantly surprised that I went on and finished this book in one sitting. The plot kept me involved and interested right until the end of the book, and I was left with a slight buzz of euphoria (that could have also been the fact that I was able to complete a book in middle of said slump).

What made this book stand out for me is that though it is predominantly a romance, it also develops the characters and their other storylines pretty well. No interaction or character feels wasted, and the fact that almost everything looped back to the central storyline kept the story coherent and cohesive. Elena and Oliver are developing this simultaneous attraction to their respective online friends (who are each other) but they are also meanwhile struggling with instability in home life – Elena’s family is losing money in the shop and wants to close up and leave town, and she has to think about college funding, while Oliver is dealing with his parents’ divorce, his mother’s expectations for him, and his introversion. The story comes together beautifully, and interspersed with an augmented reality game that will give you Pokemon Go feels, some comic moments and the short length of the book, this is one novel that you will enjoy to finish in a day. Recommended for all feeling the love in the air!

Received a free review copy from Entangled Teen, via Netgalley

View all my reviews