Rogue Wolf by Elliot Cooper
Published by: Self-published
Genre: Science fiction/queer romance
Reviewed by: Edwin
What to Expect: Short, sharp, entertaining caper with a good romance and some interesting sci fi ideas. 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
Triad Soul by Nathan Burgoine
Published by: Bold Stroke Books
Genre: urban fantasy/queer fiction
(available now at the publisher, 20 June at other retailers)
Reviewed by: Edwin
What to Expect: Wizards, Vampires, and Demons with a heaped serving of queer found family and an unconventional not-quite-romance. Read More
A quote from a recent article in Vice magazine came back to me vividly as I sat down to read The Seafarer’s Kiss by Julia Ember. Queer retellings of stories are a reminder, Vice asserted, that the classics don’t just belong to straight white guys—they belong to the LGBTQ community, too.
Yes, this. Always and forever this. Far too often the classic stories of our childhoods display a very one sided and narrow view of the world, reflecting back the conventions of the time in a pretty package. The original Little Mermaid tale of 1837 is just that–a reflection of what society expected from women at the time. The story follows a mermaid who is willing to give her all–her family, her history, her very identity–in order to marry a man, who in the end refuses to acknowledge her sacrifices, and she dies. No true page time is given to her thoughts or wants. She exists to love a man and when he can’t love her back, she has no more reason to exist.
Title and Author: Arising series: Sons of Devils (book 1) and Angels of Istanbul (book 2)
Published by: Anglerfish Press (Riptide)
Genre: alternate history/romantic fantasy
Reviewed by: Edwin
What to Expect: Fascinating “Age of Enlightenment with magic” fantasy world with well-crafted touches of horror and m/m romance. Read More
Outside the XY edited by Morgan Mann Willis
Published by: Riverdale Avenue Books
Genre: Queer Literature
Reviewed by: Alex
What to Expect: Transformational, own-voice, bite-sized exploration within queer black and brown experience via writing of the highest quality. Read More
Published by: Less Than Three Press
Genre: LGBTQIA+ Fantasy Romance
Reviewed by: Sara and Alex
What to Expect: A clever, own-voices retelling of a classic with realized queer characters that gets better with every read. Read More
It’s time for a little…Authors Interviewing Authors here on Binge on Books! April’s interview features Queer New Adult author, Sam Schooler, chatting with brand spanking new author, Wes Kennedy. With Wes’ quirky and diverse debut out April 27th, we wanted to learn more more more(!) about her and what else she has in the works. So here’s Sam Schooler and Wes Kennedy talking debut novellas, grammar and editing, and a love of all things Kung Fu!
A Gentleman’s Position by KJ Charles
Published by: Loveswept
Genre: Historical Romance
Reviewed by: Liz
Get ready for: A gorgeous conclusion to a stunning historical queer series!
Plot: Among his eccentric though strictly principled group of friends, Lord Richard Vane is the confidant on whom everyone depends for advice, moral rectitude, and discreet assistance. Yet when Richard has a problem, he turns to his valet, a fixer of unparalleled genius—and the object of Richard’s deepest desires. If there is one rule a gentleman must follow, it is never to dally with servants. But when David is close enough to touch, the rules of class collide with the basest sort of animal instinct: overpowering lust.
For David Cyprian, burglary and blackmail are as much in a day’s work as bootblacking—anything for the man he’s devoted to. But the one thing he wants for himself is the one thing Richard refuses to give: his heart. With the tension between them growing to be unbearable, David’s seemingly incorruptible master has left him no choice. Putting his finely honed skills of seduction and manipulation to good use, he will convince Richard to forget all about his well-meaning objections and give in to sweet, sinful temptation.
Review: The KJ Charles series “Society of Gentlemen,” which began with the short called “The Ruin of Gabriel Ashleigh,” is coming to end. In fact, it has, with A Gentleman’s Position. And sometimes, you really do have to wonder–will the ending live up to the promise of the beginning? Will it be everything you have ever wanted? Here, knowing this book was in KJ Charles’s very capable hands, I didn’t worry–and I was right not to. It was everything you could have possibly asked for, both as a fan and as a more casual reader (though how it’s possible to read these books ‘casually,’ I have no idea. I read A Seditious Affair three times in a row when I first got it. It’s currently in re-reads for an even four. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve read Ruin).
To get back to the point at hand, however, here it is–the final chapter that we are to get with these characters. And it’s a stunning conclusion. I noted, a while back, that reading the series has felt a bit like getting pulled into a tornado, or a hurricane, perhaps. The story of Ash and Francis starts us off with a bang, so to speak, and then we are quickly sucked into the main action by Harry and Julius. Harry, as the first outsider, pulls us into this world and gets us going, as both he and the readers are familiarized with the setting and its people. All the complicated relationships begin to become clearer, but it is with the second story–that of Dom and Silas–that we get even deeper in, even closer to the center.
Everything in this series, then, has been leading up to this. In almost every way, Richard and Cyprian have been the eye of the storm, and their relationship and role in the action of each story have been crucial in a way that was almost difficult to see, you were so close. But as their relationship unravels, so do the threads of all that, between them, they have held together for so long. With turmoil between the two, the rest of the Ricardians finally begin to fully realize the sort of precipice they have been shielded from with Richard’s money and Cyprian’s nearly otherworldly abilities and ruthless attention to detail.
But I’m getting more into plot than anybody wants. What struck me most about this book was how unpredictable it truly was. Not just in how the main issues are dealt with–and I wouldn’t spoil you for it if you paid me, it was so deliciously diabolical–but with how the action unspools. The true crux of this story–the love between Richard and Cyprian and the seeming inability to make it into anything concrete due to the differences in their roles–underlies everything, and the conflict comes quick. The resolution? Now, that takes much, much longer.
In a very realistic way, that makes sense. It takes time for us to unlearn habits, time to truly begin to understand what we have been missing all our lives due to how we have lived them. Between them stand power, privilege, and the sort of misunderstandings that you can only realize are misunderstandings the hard way. This is what happens when Cyprian puts a problem forth to Richard that Richard is unable to solve on his own.
Which is, of course, the opposite of how problems get solved in Richard’s world–Cyprian has always done it for him.
So many people who’ve read the previous books have been waiting for Richard to get his comeuppance for all the ways in which he’s made so many others miserable with his principles and the stick that is so far up his arse, it probably polishes his teeth when he’s sleeping. But what we get with this book is far more than that–it is a look at the actual man behind the facade, the life that has been both privileged and anything but. It’s poignant, beautiful, and, yes, still entirely satisfactory to watch him get hit over the head with anvil after anvil of his own mistakes.
(Sometimes I felt like Jed Bartlett, pointing my finger at him, going, “Just stand there and be wrong in your wrongness!”)
And then, of course, there’s Cyprian. The mysterious, sly, vaguely amoral, red-headed valet who hides in plain sight and solves everybody’s issues with seemingly but a click of his well-turned fingers. And he, of course, is so much more than he appears. Cyprian’s story and Cyprian himself are key in understanding just what it means to “step into someone else’s shoes” and whether that’s even enough. As Silas points out in at one point, that is not how you truly get to understand the other person’s point of view. You must think the way he could think–not the way you would think, standing in his shoes.
So much of this book, this whole entire series, is about accepting the differences instead of trying to smooth them over or pretend they don’t exist altogether. It’s a complicated endeavor, and KJ Charles pulls it off beautifully. Her characters are difficult, imperfect, and yet always human in a way that resonates.
If A Seditious Affair involved saying “no” and meaning “please understand that I am really saying yes and trusting you with it,” A Gentleman’s Position is about learning to say “no” and mean it even when your entire being wants to scream out “yes.” Equally, it’s about learning to say “yes” despite your brain and entire outlook on life telling you that it could not possibly be the right thing to do.
This book is about love of every kind–that between lovers, between those who feel they cannot be lovers no matter their feelings, love between brothers, sons and fathers, sons and mothers, friends, and every iteration hidden within all of them. It’s a beautiful unraveling and coming together of people who have chosen to be with each other, either through circumstance or despite it, and it satisfies on every level. Intellectual, emotional, erotic–you name it, it does it.
It is such a joy to see Silas and Dom in their happily ever after, a joy to watch Julius move heaven and earth to protect Harry once again, a joy to see Francis hover over Ash in a way that shows he’ll stop at nothing to shield the love of his life from those who’d threaten him. Quex and Shakespeare and Zoe all make an appearance, when Charles takes us even further behind the veil that separates servant and master. We also get a beautiful look at the inner sanctum of Richard’s family life, the home of Philip and Eustacia. Both characters get their shining moments in the sun, and both are so compelling, I want their book, as well.
The subtleties of human nature are handled with infinite care by Charles. Philip’s learning disability, Richard’s complex sexuality, what it means to be truly moral and principled and how your actions behind closed doors reflect on your actions outside of them–all of it is rendered with such compassion, yet never simplified and nothing comes easily to anyone here, not even privilege.
In conclusion: everything about this book is as satisfying as it can get, apart from one minor flaw: that it even has to end.
What May Not Work For You: The only thing I can even remotely think of is if you have no interest in historical queer fiction. In which case, what are you even doing here? *perplexed look* (Or politics, which are not as prominent in this book as they were in the previous one, but still play quite a large and integral role.)
What You Will Love: Uhm…all of it. The humor (this book is fucking hilarious, okay?), the love stories, the sex is SCORCHING, the characters fully realized and imperfect, etc, etc, see above.