Title and Author: The Ruin of a Rake
Published by: Avon Impulse
Genre: Historical romance
Reviewed by: Anya
What to Expect: Enemies-to-lovers story with a unique twist. And kittens! Read More
Blood Guard by Megan Erickson
Published by: Loveswept
Genre: Paranormal Romance
Reviewed by: Alex
What to Expect: Plucky heroine falls for hot, hardass vampire when she’s supposed to be ‘destined’ for his brother…but, you know… hardass vampire is right here, tomorrow may never come, and instant gratification is so instant.
Title: Femme by Marshall Thornton
Published by: Kenmore Books
Genre: Contemporary Queer Romance
Order at: Amazon
Reviewed by: Alex
What to Expect: One empowered femme does not need to deal with one closeted straight-acting boy’s drama…even if the sex is hot. Femme is a relatively low angst romance with pro-Boi vibes with friends and family who take a long time to figure their stuff out but do get there in the end. Read More
Title: Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard Book 1: The Sword of Summer by Rick Riordan
Published by: Disney Hyperion
Reviewed by: Alex
What to Expect: A superbly fun and clever tale of a sixteen-year-old Kurt Cobain look-alike who’s life gets infinitely more interesting once he dies. For one thing, he’s a Norse demigod and there are eight other worlds he never knew existed. For another thing, that’s just the start of it. Magnus quests with his found family as he’s surrounded by magic galore, berserkers, lots of fighting,…and the promise of a cool genderqueer character in a later book in this series which, to be honest, is why I picked up this first one. Read More
Title: The Both Die At The End by Adam Silvera
Published by: Harper Teen
Reviewed by: Alex
What to Expect: This novel is more cerebral than the Adam Silvera’s other work, deftly weaving a speculative universe within the confines of present day New York. It’s here, in this space, that two teenagers find each other and, in turn, find themselves. They Both Die At The End is a stellar piece of writing filled with love and friendship, joy and grief, courage and redemption, and more twists than you can throw a stick at. Whatever that means. Either way, it’s a candidate for best book of the year from me. I strongly encourage you to read it STAT.
Edwin’s Recent Reading Roundup: Paranormal Romance
Life has been hectic the last few weeks, so I haven’t had time for reviews, but I have, of course, still been reading! And I’ve read some good stuff that’s worth highlighting…
Black Magic Glitterbomb by Sage C Holloway
This novella grabbed me with the blurb and didn’t let go until I reached the very satisfying conclusion. I mean, the blurb tells us the book is about a mediocre dark mage who steals the coffee makers of his defeated enemies and accidentally rescues a clueless blond twentysomething while defeating said enemies. And then the sentence of the book proper is “I liked to relax over a cup of coffee and the bodies of my enemies.” How can you not want to keep reading?
The book continues in this vein, with dark mage Benji and rescued cutie Kit quickly being confronted with magical assault from enemies as varied as magical tentacles and evil cupcakes (yes, evil cupcakes). The humour is charming, the developing relationship between Benji and Kit is sweet, and the interaction between them and Benji’s collection of friends and frenemies (including a kindly blood mage, the worst married couple in existence, and a too eager apprentice) rollicking good fun. The book took me about an hour to read, and I can’t think of a better hour I spent the last couple of weeks. Recommended (and currently less than a buck!).
The Sumage Solution by G L Carriger
G L Carriger is the contemporary PNR pen name for Gail Carriger, author of the excellent Parasol Protectorate series of Victorian PNR novels. The Sumage Solution is the first in a series about a pack of (mostly) queer werewolves who have recently relocated to the San Francisco Bay Area (The reasons for the relocation are set out in Carriger’s earlier short story, Marine Biology). The central romance is between the pack’s Beta (and brother of the Alpha), Bryan, AKA “Biff,” and Max, who is essentially a magical bureaucrat.
Max is also a sumage, essentially an anti-mage: instead of casting magic he inhibits its use. Coming from a prominent magical family, he’s something of a disappointment to them (being gay didn’t help either). Much of the action in the book is Max dealing with the baggage of his family background, both in terms of the emotional toll his rejection took on him, and in terms of some mysterious magical artefacts his father left behind. He and Bryan did not initially get on well, but eventually become friends and then more. Bryan is a total sweetie, and does an interesting take on the “beta” trope: he’s not his alpha’s enforcer, rather he’s the pack’s domestic heart. A big, hairy biker who also makes sure his pack eats their greens and is an EMT in his day job. Dream man, basically.
The romance between the two of them moves quite quickly but is believable, and includes some surprisingly hot sex scenes. The paranormal plot is interesting (and seems to be a continuation, 100-odd years later, of the Parasol Protectorate universe), and keeps the action moving. I could have done with a bit more time on the details of the magic system (there seem to be 3 different types of mages and sumages, and it’s not entirely clear what each does), but this is a minor quibble. Throw in enough humour to make you smile fairly frequently and you have a thoroughly enjoyable weekend read.
Cutie and the Beast by E J Russell
This is the first in a new contemporary PNR series featuring 3 princes of faerie. The prince in this book is Dr Alun Kendrick, therapist to the supernatural population of Portland. He has also been cursed to have hideous appearance. His love interest is David Evans, his cute young temp receptionist.
At one level, this is essentially a friends-to-lovers romance. Alun resents the presence of a human, David, in his office, and is also waiting for David to reject him because of his looks. Slowly, both Alun and his patients start to appreciate David’s sunny friendliness, and a relationship begins to build. This element of the story works really well. The chemistry between Alun and David is palpable, and David’s general sweetness and naiveté (without being an idiot) make him a really appealing character. Similarly, the banter between the main couples and the well-drawn support characters is great.
Less successful is the paranormal world building. It’s not entirely clear how all the elements – faeries, vampires, dragons, shifters – fit together, and there doesn’t appear to be a governing cosmology to the world. You don’t need to tell the reader all of this, but it does all need to hang together consistently, and this element of Cutie and the Beast doesn’t quite get there. Regardless, the appealing relationship at its core make this book well worth a read.
Edwin gets grumpy if his SF/F reading doesn’t feature happy queer main characters. Aside from that, he reads and writes for a living (though not fiction), so of course his hobby is reading, and now writing about what he reads. Why do anything else? Connect with Edwin on Twitter.
Published by: DSP Publication
Format: eBook, paperback
Genre: science fiction (maybe? closer to fantasy?), steampunk (maybe?)
Reviewed by: Sara Beth as part of her column, Binge Worthy Books
What to Expect: This book basically defies whatever genre you might want to file it under, so whatever you’re expecting, probably best to let that go, and settle into a fantastic read filled with mystery, cleverly rendered tech, and just a titch of romance. Read More
A Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue by Mackenzi Lee
Published by: HarperCollins
Genre: YA historical fantasy
Reviewed by: Moog
What to expect: Queer historical YA full of simmering heat, loads of pining, and an irascible main character you will both love and be exasperated by in equal measure.
Bonus: Check out our exclusive interview with Mackenzi Lee and enter to win a paperback ARC of The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue!
Binge on Books is joined today by guest reviewer and writer, Moog. She chat with Mackenzi Lee about all things queer historicals and also her stellar new release, The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue.
When I first learned about The Gentlemen’s Guide to Vice and Virtue, I honestly thought I’d misheard. A queer YA historical road trip book? Surely I had just made that up out of my head and it couldn’t really exist. But it did! And does! And is out June 27th!
Blurb: 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.
Witty, romantic, and intriguing at every turn, The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue is a sumptuous romp that explores the undeniably fine lines between friendship and love.
We were lucky enough to catch up with the lovely Mackenzi Lee before the release of Gentleman’s Guide to talk about YA historical fiction, weird research facts, and what she’s working on next.
Moog for Binge on Books: Hi Mackenzi! Thanks for being here. I loved The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue from page one (especially Monty, disaster of my heart). I read a lot of YA and a lot of historical romance, but there’s not much historical fiction in YA. Your first book, This Monstrous Thing, and Gentleman’s Guide are both YA historicals with fantasy elements. What draws you to this genre in particular?
Mackenzi: Historical fiction is a hard category in YA–I feel like I’m constantly fighting against the idea that historical fiction is boring, and so many of my readers start their positive reviews of my books with the caveat “I generally don’t like or read historical fiction but…” And as delighted I am that they read and enjoyed mine in spite of that, I wish everyone loved historicals because they’re so magical! I love that historical fiction feels like fantasy, because the world is so foreign to modern readers, but it’s all real (which makes the fantasy such a natural addition, though I do tend to favor historicals that are lighter on the fantasy, or whose fantasy is rooted in the real history of the time it’s set in). But on the flip side of that, I love how, when you read historical accounts, you realize people don’t really change. We’re the same through centuries and across time and space. I was also a history major in college, and very close to becoming an academic writer, until a professor told me my papers read like historical fiction novels and I realized I might be writing in the wrong genre.
Moog: That’s so cool! What sort of things were you writing in your papers?
Mackenzi: Basically I would write things like “Henry VI was hurt and angry over this” and write dialogue for Richard III (my history degree emphasis was Wars of the Roses in England :). Which apparently you are not supposed to do. And in general I think my writing style skewed a little too narrative driven for my professors.
Moog: Le gasp! Not narrative! And writing historical fiction, like writing academic papers, comes with a bunch of research (I say, staring down my shelf full of Victorian social history books that I claim are for “research” and not just for my own heart). Was there any particular fact you found out while writing/researching for Gentleman’s Guide that you couldn’t find a way to include?
Mackenzi: Oh gosh, so much research. The trick to being a historical fiction writer is both knowing how to research (and loving it) and also knowing when to put down the research and start writing–it’s so easy to use it as an excuse to not get words on the page. My favorite fact, which didn’t end up in the book but is in the author’s note, is that there were more gay bars and clubs in London in the 1700s than there were in the 1940s. There was a thriving subculture for queer people in 18th century Europe!
My other favorite fact that didn’t make it in anywhere was that in the 1700s, the British were exporting prostitutes to pirate islands like Tortuga to discourage the pirates from just getting it on with each other. (But beyond random sex with each other, pirates also had a sort of civil marriage that bound two male pirates and their booty together, and often they shared living space and provisions on the ship. Pirates were pioneers of gay marriage 🙂
Moog: *hoards queer history facts like a tiny dragon* Speaking of, I also really loved that Gentleman’s Guide includes a PoC love interest, a bisexual hero, and a character with a chronic health condition, all of which have also been underrepresented in mainstream publishing. Are there similar themes in your future books?
Mackenzi: Thank you! I’ve been generally frustrated with the lack of diversity in historical fiction, and non-fiction narratives. We use “historical accuracy” as an excuse for not including characters with marginalized identities in historical fiction, or we often make them tortured side characters (especially the queer ones). And it’s not that the narratives don’t exist–I read a lot of primary sources from black, chronically ill, and queer people in England in the 1700s. They were there! We just erase them and instead keep telling the story of the straight white guys.
And I’ve been trying really hard to not be part of that problem! I don’t feel like a lot of these narratives are mine to tell, since I’m a white lady, but I try to do what I can to include minority characters in my historical fiction and nonfiction that are more than being tortured outsiders.
As far as future books, I have an anthology of my Bygone Badass Broads essays coming out next year [Editor’s note: #BygoneBadassBroads is Mackenzi’s Twitter series about forgotten badass ladies from history], and I made an effort (which my publisher was hugely supportive of) to make sure we were including marginalized women and their stories. And my next book is about sexuality and gender identity and set in the 1600s in Holland.
Moog: It’s wonderful to hear that your publisher was so supportive! Your upcoming books both sound amazing. Felicity from Gentleman’s Guide is 100% a Bygone Badass Broad, right? Which of the Bygone Broads do you think would get on best with her and/or best form a terrifying alliance with her to change the face of medicine forever?
Mackenzi: Thank you! Bygone Badass Broads was a true passion project for me, and to see it take off the way it has has been both surprising and incredibly rewarding. Of the Bygone Badass Broads I’ve featured, I think Felicity would pair best with Mary Anning, the paleontologist in 1700s England, or Clelia Duel Mosher, the American physician in the turn of the century who helped dispel myths about female fragility. They’re all three science minded and independent (neither Mary nor Clelia ever married). I think the three of them would make a kick ass science girl squad.
Moog: I would 100% read that book! If you were suddenly confined to a desert island and, for some archaic island reason, you could only take queer historical books (of any sub-genre) with you, which would be the first three books you packed?
Mackenzi: Fingersmith by Sarah Waters, Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller, and Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein (not on-page queerness, but you can definitely do a really solid queer reading of it, and it’s my favorite book in the world so I’m bending the rules for it)
Moog: Your desert island would have the best tiny library! Thanks again for being here, Mackenzi <3 Chatting queer historical has been glorious. As a last note: three random quick-fire questions! Weirdest home decoration you own?
Mackenzi: My dad made me a to-scale mechanical arm for the This Monstrous Thing trailer, which now functions as a charming table ornament in my apartment.
Moog: How do you take your tea (or hot beverage of your choice)?
Mackenzi: Fruity. I’m generally disinclined to tea, but I love fruit teas, which are not as commonly available in most places as I want them to be. But I was just on a research trip in Holland and they serve fruit tea at almost every restaurant! I’ve never been so delighted.
Moog: What are you reading right now?
Mackenzi: Oh gosh too many things–I’ve been picking up and putting down a dozen books a day lately. At this moment, I’m deep in Strange the Dreamer by Laini Taylor and Undercover Girl: The Lesbian Informant who Helped Bring Down the Communist Party by Lisa E. Davis.
The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue by Mackenzi Lee is published by HarperCollins and is released on June 27 2017.
Mackenzi Lee holds a BA in history and an MFA from Simmons College in writing for children and young adults, and her short fiction and nonfiction has appeared in Atlas Obscura, Crixeo, The Friend, and The Newport Review, among others. Her debut novel, THIS MONSTROUS THING, which won the PEN-New England Susan P. Bloom Children’s Book Discovery Award, is out now from HarperCollins. Her second book, The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue, a queer spin on the classic adventure novel, will be released in June of 2017.
She loves Diet Coke, sweater weather, and Star Wars. On a perfect day, she can be found enjoying all three. She currently calls Boston home, where she works as an independent bookstore manager.
Moog Florin is a writer, blogger, and lacker of balance. She lives in London with her wife (lovely) and an octopus (stuffed), and can be found blogging into the void about books, stickers, and queer romance at MM Florin Writes. You can also find Moog on Twitter: @MM_Florin
The 6:41 to Paris by Jean-Philippe Blondel
Published by: New Vessel Press
Genre: World Literature
Reviewed by: Alex
What to Expect: Remember that old lover—you know the one—that one. The one who should have treated you better. Well, guess what? Twenty-seven years later, when you’ve become all that, they’ve become the post-it on the bottom of your shoe. Except, knowing this doesn’t feel quite as good as expected and, unfortunately, much of what you’ve become is based on the short time you’d spent together. Now what? Read More