Title: The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue
Author: Mackenzi Lee
Genre: Historical Fiction, Young Adult, Fantasy
Rating: ★★★★☆ | 4.0 out of 5.0
If you asked me to draw up a wishlist of things I wanted from a queer YA historical novel, it would include the following:
- tender queer boys
- strong girls who are fallible but have agency & their own goals
- road trips! (AKA the only reason I’d read a Grand Tour novel)
- dropping trou before European dignitaries at Versailles
- intersectional identities
- a nuanced handling of chronic illness and disability
And man, like. It delivers. The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue (hi, love that title) is an adventure romp about two boys and one judgemental, not-here-for-your-shit sister who go on a Grand Tour. But because of one of the boys’ assholery (Monty’s), they end up being chased across the Continent by a sinister duke with nefarious plans.
This was an incredibly well-written novel––there is one thing I love most in all the world and it’s the slightly offbeat, self aware humour of historical fantasy set in Regency England. Think Sorcerer to the Crown and Sorcery and Cecelia and you’ve got a good idea of what I’m talking about, because our narrator/erstwhile protagonist/resident douchebag Henry “Monty” Montague has wit and humour in spades. Also self-hate, because this novel goes to some dark places for something so otherwise lighthearted and enjoyable.
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Title: Camp So-and-So
Author: Mary McCoy
Genre: Contemporary, YA, Thriller, Mystery
Rating: ★★★☆☆ | 2.5
The letters went out in mid-February. Each letter invited its recipient to spend a week at Camp So-and-So, a lakeside retreat for girls nestled high in the Starveling Mountains. Each letter came with a glossy brochure with photographs of young women climbing rocks, performing Shakespearean theatre under the stars, and spiking volleyballs. Each letter was signed in ink by the famed and reclusive businessman and philanthropist, Inge F. Yancey IV.
By the end of the month, twenty-five applications had been completed, signed, and mailed to a post office box in an obscure Appalachian town.
Had any of these girls tried to follow the directions in the brochure and visit the camp for themselves on that day in February, they would have discovered that there was no such town and no such mountain and that no one within a fifty-mile radius had ever heard of Camp So-and-So.
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Title: Hold Me
Author: Courtney Milan
Genre: romance, contemporary, new adult
Rating: ★★★★★ | 4.5
It seems like every review that I write about Courtney Milan has only good things to say. What can I say? Milan writes diverse characters and she writes them very well. She confronts issues like race, feminism, and sexuality in a way that not a lot of romance authors do. Hold Me is a contemporary romance that features a trans Latinx heroine and a bi Thai hero. It’s an enemies to lovers storyline and a friends to lovers storyline as well. Both of which are some of my favourite tropes in romance so I already knew I was really going to like this book.
The storyline is very balanced and the relationship between Maria and Jay never feels rushed or forced. In fact, there are times when they go weeks and months without talking to one another and considering what has taken place in the story just before it makes perfect sense. I’m glad Milan doesn’t feel the need to rush their interactions, it helps the story to feel more natural. It’s a credit to Milan, especially since some enemies to lovers stories can feel very rushed.
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Title: How to Repair a Mechanical Heart
Author: J.C. Lillis
Genre: Contemporary, Romance, YA
Rating: ★★★☆☆ | 3.0
How to Repair a Mechanical Heart has a lot of things to recommend it: a fluffy gay romance, a quirky sensibility, and a knowledge of fandom that speaks to the author being engaged in it. The novel was well-written, and it didn’t condescend to fandom (and in particular, the fangirls)––in fact, it satirises anboys who condescend to girls for being into ships and writing fic. It felt a lot like Simon and the Homo Sapiens Agenda, but where Alberti’s book felt at times to me to be trying Too Hard, Lillis’ book felt very naturalistic.
Yet somehow, I wasn’t engaged.
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Title: Under the Lights
Author: Dahlia Adler
Genre: romance, contemporary, realistic, new adult
Rating: ★★★☆☆ | 3.0
I had the opposite problem with this book as I did Labyrinth Lost––I tried really hard to dislike this novel, but I don’t think I can. There was a lot about it I felt I should dislike––one of the POV characters was a misogynist who wouldn’t stop talking about getting head, I’m kind of uncomfortable with the way Vanessa’s parents were portrayed, etc. etc. etc. ––but honestly, I couldn’t bring myself to write this off.
Under the Lights is the second of the Daylight Falls novel (though you don’t have to read the first novel to follow this one), and it follows the best friends of the main characters of the first novel––Josh Chester and Vanessa Park. Josh is Hollywood’s resident playboy, but he hasn’t had a project in ages, and he’s being forced to star in a reality TV show with his mother. Vanessa is the star of the long-running Daylight Falls, but she’s worried about maintaining her career after the show ends––there’s hardly work abound for a Korean American actress, especially one who’s struggling with her feelings towards her agent’s daughter.
I’ve been writing too much recently; the words aren’t coming out in quite the numbers they used to. There’s not really much I can say about this novel–it was adequate, I enjoyed it. I don’t think it’s something I’d read again, but I also don’t regret having read. This was in some ways a good thing–it lent left to what little dead time I had, and it was a fluffy read that helped bridge the moments between heavier course reading. And if it didn’t leave too strong an impression, it’s because it didn’t do much wrong.
There was some stuff that made me pause and wonder if a white woman should be writing the way she writes about Korean American households, but it wasn’t anything that was super out of line. And yeah, Josh is an asshole, but he’s reacted to as an asshole, it’s canon that he’s an asshole, and there aren’t excuses for his assholery.
I don’t know. I thought I’d have more to say, but I really don’t. It was cute. I liked it fine. That’s all.
Title: The Diabolic
Author: S.J. Kincaid
Genre: Science Fiction, Young Adult
Rating: ★★★☆☆ || 2.5
So Diabolic is being described as Star Wars meets The Hunger Games meets The Red Queen, and as far as I’m aware it lives up to those expectations, but I’d add in a touch of Jupiter Ascending also––and I mean that as a good thing, as someone who thoroughly enjoyed the film and did not think it was trash.
Nemesis is a Diabolic, a creature bred to bond with and protect –– and love –– only one person. Thus, when her master, Sidonia, is called to a treacherous court, Nemesis is chosen to go in her place, to keep her safe. But the court itself is a cesspit, and Nemesis may find that humanity (and, of course, love) are not so far from her grasp as she thought.
Whoo boy is this a complicated novel to talk about.
[Spoilers under the cut]
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Title: Catfish and Mandala
Author: Andrew Pham
Genre: Nonfiction, Narrative Nonfiction, Memoir
Rating: ★★★★☆ | 4.0
I seem to be short on words of late.
After quitting his cushy engineering job, Andrew Pham decides to bike through California, Mexico, Japan, and Vietnam, the country he and his family fled as refugees nearly twenty years prior. To be honest, I don’t really have much to say about this memoir––it’s beautifully written, I recommend everyone read it, I was discomforted by some of the claims he makes about Vietnam, I didn’t particularly like the way he writes about women. It’s painful at times, but also funny. Overall, a compelling read.