Review: The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue

And my review catch-up continues!

This one just may be one of my favourite books that I’ve read in recent memory.

It’s been described as Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda meets the 1700s.

It’s been described as, “the Big Gay European Road Trip Novel you didn’t know you were waiting for”.

It’s, of course, The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue by Mackenzi Lee.

And here’s the blurb:

An unforgettable tale of two friends on their Grand Tour of 18th-century Europe who stumble upon a magical artifact that leads them from Paris to Venice in a dangerous manhunt, fighting pirates, highwaymen, and their feelings for each other along the way.

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.

Basically, this book is pretty much a literal representation of heart-eye emojis. Because that’s how I felt the entire time I read it: 😍😍😍

 

I knew from the moment I read the description that I would love this book. I was BEYOND excited when I got my hands on it.

It’s got fun, adventure, love, thievery, pirates, kissing and more. Did I mention kissing and pirates?

The book also tackles some serious issues in very real ways, like illness, sexuality, class, race and gender. This is very much a historical book and Lee makes it as accurate as she can. All issues are tackled in a very real 18th century way.

Monty is an absolute mess, but he is perfect all the same and you will love him.

And Percy is basically goals. He’s beautiful inside and out, and he plays the violin. So like, move over Monty, but he’s mine now.

This is one that I know I’ll read again because it’s just so entertaining. Gay teen historical fiction at its finest, all thanks to the amazing Mackenzi Lee!

The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue releases June 27th.

Note: I received an advanced reader copy of this book from HarperCollins Canada in exchange for an honest review.

Review: Ramona Blue

As I previously mentioned, I’m using my time between semesters to get caught up on some reviews!

And I’m very excited about this one!

It’s Ramona Blue by Julie Murphy!

I loved Julie’s first two books and when I read the description for Ramona Blue, I knew immediately that this would become a favourite.

Here’s the blurb:

Ramona was only five years old when Hurricane Katrina changed her life forever.

Since then, it’s been Ramona and her family against the world. Standing over six feet tall with unmistakable blue hair, Ramona is sure of three things: she likes girls, she’s fiercely devoted to her family, and she knows she’s destined for something bigger than the trailer she calls home in Eulogy, Mississippi. But juggling multiple jobs, her flaky mom, and her well-meaning but ineffectual dad forces her to be the adult of the family. Now, with her sister, Hattie, pregnant, responsibility weighs more heavily than ever.

The return of her childhood friend Freddie brings a welcome distraction. Ramona’s friendship with the former competitive swimmer picks up exactly where it left off, and soon he’s talked her into joining him for laps at the pool. But as Ramona falls in love with swimming, her feelings for Freddie begin to shift too, which is the last thing she expected. With her growing affection for Freddie making her question her sexual identity, Ramona begins to wonder if perhaps she likes girls and guys or if this new attraction is just a fluke. Either way, Ramona will discover that, for her, life and love are more fluid than they seem.

I remember being so excited when I read this description. I’ve written on this blog about my own sexual identity and how I believe sexuality to be fluid. So I’m all about books that explore themes like this, so the idea of a book where a girl who identifies as a lesbian falls for a guy was a story I just had to read. I loved this book before I even opened it.

Ramona’s story, and more like it, are some we need more and more of in queer YA. Stories showing sexual fluidity need to be more common to reflect the realities of teens who experience similar feelings.

This story is just so honest. But Ramona and Freddie’s relationship is far from the only thing at play here. We also see Ramona’s relationships with her friends and family, especially the bond she has with her sister, Hattie.

We also see a teen who is trying to find herself, in more ways than one. Not only is she discovering a new part of her sexuality, but she’s also trying to navigate the small town world she’s always known and all the other options that may exist out there for her.

Basically, Julie Murphy has written one hell of an amazing novel! You won’t want to miss this one!

Ramona Blue is available now.

Note: I received a copy of this book from HarperCollins Canada in exchange for an honest review.

Review: It’s Not Like It’s a Secret

I’ve been really slacking lately! I’m sorry! I’ve just finished a really busy semester with school and I’ve got a little time before my summer semester (and final two classes of grad school) begin. And that little bit of time means I’m back to books, and back to reviews, at least for a little while.

So, without further ado, let’s dive right in with…

It’s Not Like It’s a Secret by Miss Sugiura!

As always, we begin with the blurb:

Sixteen-year-old Sana Kiyohara has too many secrets. Some are small, like how it bothers her when her friends don’t invite her to parties. Some are big, like that fact that her father may be having an affair. And then there’s the one that she can barely even admit to herself—the one about how she might have a crush on her best friend.

When Sana and her family move to California she begins to wonder if it’s finally time for some honesty, especially after she meets Jamie Ramirez. Jamie is beautiful and smart and unlike anyone Sana’s ever known. There are just a few problems: Sana’s new friends don’t trust Jamie’s crowd; Jamie’s friends clearly don’t want her around anyway; and a sweet guy named Caleb seems to have more-than-friendly feelings for her. Meanwhile, her dad’s affair is becoming too obvious to ignore anymore.

Sana always figured that the hardest thing would be to tell people that she wants to date a girl, but as she quickly learns, telling the truth is easy… what comes after it, though, is a whole lot more complicated.

Okay, but first of all, how cute does this book sound? From the moment I read the description, I was in, especially since it was described as Becky Albertalli’s Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda meets Jenny Han’s To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before. So yes, I was excited.

And then when I realized that both Sana and Jamie are girls of colour, I was even more excited.

Basically:

Sana and Jamie’s relationship is cute, but also not without it’s issues. But the way Sugiura writes their story is so real, and that’s what YA fiction needs: real relationship stories, especially with people of colour.

But It’s Not Like It’s a Secret also deals with family issues, like Sana’s suspicion that her dad is having an affair. There are also honest discussions of race, expectations, friendship, and more.

There’s no secret here: It’s Not Like It’s a Secret is a beautiful story with very real moments that we need more of in YA fiction!

It’s Not Like It’s a Secret is available now.

Note: I received a copy of this book from Indigo Books & Music Inc. in exchange for an honest review. I am an Indigo employee.

Review: We Are Okay

img_6729Okay, so I’m writing this review literally half an hour after having finished the book–mainly because this book gutted me. I’m a roller coaster of emotions right now and I need to talk about it while it’s still fresh.

I am of course talking of the emotional whirlwind that is Nina LaCour’s new novel, We Are Okay.

Side note: I’m kind of reminded of the lyrics of Taylor Swift’s All Too Well, “And I might be okay, but I’m not fine at all”. That’s a little how I’m feeling after reading this book. I read most of it sitting in the middle of a bookstore and was actually fighting back tears. Consider yourself warned if you read this one in public, y’all.

Anyway, here’s the blurb:

You go through life thinking there’s so much you need. . . . Until you leave with only your phone, your wallet, and a picture of your mother.

Marin hasn’t spoken to anyone from her old life since the day she left everything behind. No one knows the truth about those final weeks. Not even her best friend Mabel. But even thousands of miles away from the California coast, at college in New York, Marin still feels the pull of the life and tragedy she’s tried to outrun. Now, months later, alone in an emptied dorm for winter break, Marin waits. Mabel is coming to visit and Marin will be forced to face everything that’s been left unsaid and finally confront the loneliness that has made a home in her heart.

I have yet to read a Nina LaCour book that I didn’t love, and I honestly don’t expect that will ever happen. Everything Leads to You is just amazing, and I’ve already talked about how You Know Me Well (co-written with David Levithan) was my favourite LGBTQ+ YA book of 2016.

We Are Okay, however, is on a whole different level. This book is just so raw and emotional and it will make you feel things. Marin has left her life in San Francisco behind and finds herself alone in New York with nothing but her phone, wallet and a picture of the mother she doesn’t remember.

The book flashes between present day and the the last four months leading up to when Marin left for New York. It tells us of her life with the grandfather that raised her, a man who was still a stranger to her in so many ways. It tells us of her friendship and relationship with Mabel and the rift that now exists between them.

More than anything, this is a story about a lonely girl who is so filled with grief. She is trying to pretend she is okay, but she is really far from it. This is a book about loneliness and how you just need to get away sometimes. But this is also a book about finding yourself, about healing and hope and love and finding ways to be okay.

This book is just so honest and real. It is heartbreaking and breathtaking and it will break you and then slowly put you back together all over again as you make your way through it. This is the book that I needed to read today and I didn’t even know it.

Review: Our Own Private Universe

oopuHello, and a belated Happy New Year! I’ve been away for far too long (school, life, etc.), but now I’m back with my first review of 2017!

And let me say, this book is one that will definitely not disappoint. It’s Our Own Private Universe by Robin Talley!

As always, I’ll begin with the blurb:

Fifteen-year-old Aki Simon has a theory. And it’s mostly about sex.

No, it isn’t that kind of theory. Aki already knows she’s bisexual—even if, until now, it’s mostly been in the hypothetical sense. Aki has dated only guys so far, and her best friend, Lori, is the only person who knows she likes girls, too.

Actually, Aki’s theory is that she’s got only one shot at living an interesting life—and that means she’s got to stop sitting around and thinking so much. It’s time for her to actually do something. Or at least try.

So when Aki and Lori set off on a church youth-group trip to a small Mexican town for the summer and Aki meets Christa—slightly older, far more experienced—it seems her theory is prime for the testing.

But it’s not going to be easy. For one thing, how exactly do two girls have sex, anyway? And more important, how can you tell if you’re in love? It’s going to be a summer of testing theories—and the result may just be love.

Ok, so this is going to be one of those moments that I say some words that may not necessarily make sense to you right away, but alas… THIS FREAKING BOOK! OMG! YAAASSSS! PRAISE! 🙌

In case you can’t tell, I loved this book. The story is just so sweet because it’s all about a journey of self-discovery and figuring out one’s identity and who you’re supposed to be. I love books like this and Robin Talley just wrote it so well. The story is just so enjoyable and real. Aki’s thoughts and her view on things are just so relatable.

The book touches on so many important things, not just exploration of sexuality, not just teen romance… but also issues surrounding friendship and family and doing what’s right.

Beyond that, it also features some of the youth from the church groups talking about some majorly important themes, like same-sex marriage, war, helping others, etc. And this is important because these are issues young people should be talking about. Youth are the future and it’s especially important today when the most powerful country on earth is suddenly at the mercy of a grabby-handed cheeto.

But also, this book is important from an LGBTQ+ standpoint too, and I can definitely see it becoming a staple in LGBTQ+ young adult fiction. Not only does it feature Aki exploring her sexuality (a.k.a. on-page bisexual representation, y’all!), but Talley doesn’t hold back or sugarcoat things, and this makes the book all the more real. I’m talking on-page F/F hookups and on-page sex education (a.k.a. the characters talk about protection, where to get it, how to use it, why it’s important). This is huge. I don’t remember my sex-ed classes all that well when I was younger, but I sure as shit know they didn’t include explicit details about anything non-hetero-related.

All this is to say that Our Own Private Universe is an incredibly significant book that touches on some real-life issues, things that we need to see more of in LGBTQ+ YA books. I praise Robin Talley for including them in this amazingly wonderful book.

Seriously, buy this book. You certainly won’t regret it.

Our Own Private Universe releases January 31st.

Note: I received an advanced reader copy of this book from Indigo Books & Music Inc. in exchange for an honest review. I am an Indigo employee.

2016 Top Ten: The Complete List and Some Honourable Mentions

top10twoI’ve spent the month of December so far counting down my Top Ten picks for the best LGBTQ+ books of 2016–the best of the ones I read, at least.

Here’s the complete list:

 

And a few honourable mentions (alphabetical by author last name):

  • Georgia Peaches and Other Forbidden Fruit by Jaye Robin Brown
  • Boy Robot by Simon Curtis
  • The Great American Whatever by Tim Federle
  • Draw the Line by Laurent Linn
  • True Letters from a Fictional Life by Kenneth Logan
  • As I Descended by Robin Talley

Some LGBTQ+ YA books I missed this year (a.k.a. books that could have potentially made this list had I gotten around to reading them–my TBR list is miles long):

  • Look Both Ways by Alison Cherry
  • Gena/Finn by Hannah Moskowitz and Kat Helgeson
  • Seven Ways We Lie by Riley Redgate
  • Last Seen Leaving by Caleb Roehrig
  • Beast by Brie Spangler

A non-YA honourable mention (more of a middle-grade book, but is also incredible):

  • George by Alex Gino

Finally, some extra special mentions (a.k.a. three of my favourite books that I read in 2016, but they were all advanced copies that won’t be published until 2017, so they don’t really count yet. Keep an eye out, though–they could make my Top Ten next year!):

top10Finally, an extra special shoutout to all of the incredible authors mentioned on this list. Recently on Twitter, Adam Silvera described Becky Albertalli’s Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda as a book he needed at 16, but was damn happy to have at 26.

I feel very much the same. LGBTQ+ YA is so important and I just love these books so much. Being able to read them and talk about them means so much to me. These are books I wish I’d had as a teen, so I will never stop reading them, and sharing them because you never know when a teen who needs to hear about them might be reading.

Here’s to all the amazing LGBTQ+ YA coming in 2017!

2016 Top Ten: #1, You Know Me Well

01ykmwAnd now here we are, my top LGBTQ+ young adult book of 2016!

I read a lot of wonderful books this year, but this one really struck me.

So, I’m super happy to say, #1 goes to You Know Me Well by Nina LaCour and David Levithan!

This really was my favourite book this year; I actually read it again recently just to make sure it’s as wonderful as I remembered it from my first read back in the summer. And it was.

Without further ado, here’s the blurb:

Who knows you well? Your best friend? Your boyfriend or girlfriend? A stranger you meet on a crazy night? No one, really?

Mark and Kate have sat next to each other for an entire year, but have never spoken. For whatever reason, their paths outside of class have never crossed.

That is, until Kate spots Mark miles away from home, out in the city for a wild, unexpected night. Kate is lost, having just run away from a chance to finally meet the girl she has been in love with from afar. Mark, meanwhile, is in love with his best friend Ryan, who may or may not feel the same way.

When Kate and Mark meet up, little do they know how important they will become to each other—and how, in a very short time, they will know each other better than any of the people who are supposed to know them more.

Told in alternating points of view by Nina LaCour and David Levithan, You Know Me Well is a story about navigating the joys and heartaches of first love, one truth at a time.

I’ve been a fan of David Levithan for a while now, and while I haven’t read all of his books, I’ve read quite a few and I’ve enjoyed them all–especially Boy Meets BoyTwo Boys Kissing and Will Grayson, Will Grayson (with John Green). I’ve also read and loved Nina Lacour’s Everything Leads to You twice now, and and her book Hold Still was also pretty great. Nina has another book out in early 2017 that I’m very excited for! Anyway, the point to this is that I knew I would love this book even before I read just because of who wrote it.

Mark and his best friend Ryan are in a bar at the kickoff of pride, where Mark has entered a dance contest in his underwear when Kate spots him. Kate has just run away from meeting her longtime crush, after she got nervous. Upon seeing Mark and realizing he’s the boy she’s sat next to in calculus for the last year. That’s when Kate decides she and Mark need to be friends.

Their bond forms quickly, and soon they’re wondering how they were never friends before. Mark helps Kate as she struggles to get out of her own way and decide if she’s ready for the connection she feels with Violet. Mark, on the other hand, is trying to cope with the fact that his best friend Ryan (who Mark sometimes fools around with) is interested in another guy, when all Mark wants is for him and Ryan to be together. But above all else, this book is about Mark and Kate and their new, but strong, friendship.

I really loved this most of all. I loved reading a book that, yes, has some romance, but above all focuses on friendships. That’s one thing that I really related to most. But also, I really related to Mark and his feelings for Ryan and not seeing them reciprocated.

But also, I love love love that this book happens during Pride, and that most (if not all, really) of the characters are queer.

This book is super important, in my opinion. We need more books that are full of queer representation. But also like I said, it focuses so much more on friendship than anything else, which is what really made it my favourite book this year. That’s why it’s my number one choice!

2016 Top Ten: #2, Drag Teen

02dtWow, I can’t believe we’re so close to the end of my Top Ten for 2016!

So far this list has included a lot of great books! But the final two were chosen, not only because they’re great books, but because of my immense connection to them (more on that in a bit).

Coming in at Number 2 is Jeffery Self’s Drag Teen!

Here’s the blurb for this awesome book:

JT feels like his life’s hit a dead end. It looks like he’ll always be stuck in Florida. His parents are anti-supportive. And his boyfriend, Seth, seems to be moving toward a bright future a long way from home.

Scholarship money is nonexistent. After-school work will only get JT so far. There’s only one shot for him — to become the next Miss Drag Teen in New York City.

The problem with that? Well, the only other time JT tried drag (at a school talent show), he was booed off the stage. And it’s not exactly an easy drive from Florida to New York.

But JT isn’t going to give up. He, Seth, and their friend Heather are going to drag race up north so JT can capture the crown, no matter how many feisty foes he has to face. Because when your future is on the line, you have to be in it to win it, one fraught and fabulous step at a time.

Okay, so like I said, I really related to this book and that’s a big part of why I’ve chosen it to be #2 on this list.

But first, full disclosure: I have never watched RuPaul, I’ve never been in drag myself, I don’t go to drag shows or anything like that. It’s just not my thing. But also, I am definitely not brave enough. And I have no problem admitting that.

JT, on the other hand–he is brave. He decides he’s going to take off on a road trip and enter a drag contest to try and win a scholarship. Joining him on this adventure are JT’s friend, Heather, and boyfriend, Seth. I really related a lot to JT and Heather especially. Both struggle with their body image, something I have also struggled with for pretty much my whole life. I used to have absolutely zero self-confidence a lot of the time, and while I think I’ve gotten better in the last year or so, I’m still a long way from being brave like JT, who enters this drag race despite the lack of confidence he has for himself.

But also, I really related to JT on another level too: he feels like his boyfriend, Seth is almost too perfect and is constantly wondering when Seth will realize he can do better. I tend to avoid dating and relationships like the plague because I always worry that if I do open up to someone, it will only be a matter of time before they realize they can to better too. Thankfully for JT, Seth really loves him; he just needs to wake up and realize that. As for me, I too will need to realize that once I find a Seth of my own.

Anyway, like I said, this book is high on my list for this year because in so many ways, I felt like JT was a character I could really, truly relate to. Drag Teen is a hilarious book, with a rich cast of characters and some situations that can border a little on farfetched, but it’s all in good fun. Be sure to check it out if you haven’t already.

Check back tomorrow for my #1 book of 2016, as well as a few honourable mentions!

2016 Top Ten: #3, We Are the Ants

03wataWe’re getting close to the end of my favourite LGBTQ+ young adult novels of 2016!

And as I promised yesterday, today’s book is a sci-fi story!

Coming in at Number 3, it’s Shaun David Hutchinson’s We Are the Ants.

This book is out of this world! (Pun intended!) Here’s the blurb:

There are a few things Henry Denton knows, and a few things he doesn’t.

Henry knows that his mom is struggling to keep the family together, and coping by chain-smoking cigarettes. He knows that his older brother is a college dropout with a pregnant girlfriend. He knows that he is slowly losing his grandmother to Alzheimer’s. And he knows that his boyfriend committed suicide last year.

What Henry doesn’t know is why the aliens chose to abduct him when he was thirteen, and he doesn’t know why they continue to steal him from his bed and take him aboard their ship. He doesn’t know why the world is going to end or why the aliens have offered him the opportunity to avert the impending disaster by pressing a big red button.

But they have. And they’ve only given him 144 days to make up his mind.

The question is whether Henry thinks the world is worth saving. That is, until he meets Diego Vega, an artist with a secret past who forces Henry to question his beliefs, his place in the universe, and whether any of it really matters. But before Henry can save the world, he’s got to figure out how to save himself, and the aliens haven’t given him a button for that.

I loved this book! And while I’m not usually a big sci-fi fan, this book is totally different. Yes, it has aliens who are threatening to destroy the planet, and you may think the idea of aliens repeatedly abducting the main character is funny, but at times this book is very heavy.

Henry Denton doesn’t know if the world is worth saving. Over and over again, he is abducted by aliens and they keep giving him the chance to press the big red button and save the planet. But he can’t, because he isn’t sure saving Earth is the right choice just yet. And this is because of everything he is going through.

This book is insanely human and focuses on all the things that make us human: grief, and fear, and loss, and pain, but also love, and happiness and the relationships we share with those around us. Shaun David Hutchinson has really given a remarkable gift of a book here. All of the characters are just so real. And that’s the thing: despite the fact that this book has aliens, it is otherwise very real and honest and emotional and raw and this book will make you feel all the things.

“The universe may forget us, but it doesn’t matter. Because we are the ants, and we’ll keep marching on.”

It’s so good that I may just have to go read it again!

Check back tomorrow for book #2!

2016 Top Ten: #4, Of Fire and Stars

04ofasWelcome back to my 2016 Top Ten!

Up to now, the books on this list have all been contemporary stories, so it seems only fitting that we mix things up! So today we have a fantasy for #4, and tomorrow I’ll have a sci-fi story for #3. They’re both super amazing, obviously–that’s why they’re spots #3 and #4.

So, without further ado, coming in at number 4 is the fantastic Of Fire and Stars by Audrey Coulthurst.

I was lucky enough to read an advance copy of this one in the summer ahead of its publication in November, and I just loved it. Here’s the blurb:

Two princesses fall in love with the wrong people—each other.

Betrothed since childhood to the prince of Mynaria, Princess Dennaleia has always known what her future holds. Her marriage will seal the alliance between Mynaria and her homeland, protecting her people from other hostile lands. But Denna has a secret. She possesses an Affinity for fire—a dangerous gift for the future queen of a kingdom where magic is forbidden.

Now, Denna must learn the ways of her new home while trying to hide her growing magic. To make matters worse, she must learn to ride Mynaria’s formidable warhorses before her coronation—and her teacher is the person who intimidates her most, the prickly and unconventional Princess Amaranthine (called Mare), sister of her betrothed.

When a shocking assassination leaves the kingdom reeling, Mare and Denna reluctantly join forces to search for the culprit. As the two work together, each discovers there’s more to the other than she thought. Mare is surprised by Denna’s intelligence and bravery, while Denna is drawn to Mare’s independent streak. Soon their friendship is threatening to blossom into something more.

But with dangerous conflict brewing that makes the alliance more important than ever, acting on their feelings could be deadly. Forced to choose between their duty and their hearts, Mare and Denna must find a way to save their kingdoms—and each other.

Seriously, this book is just so good. Here’s my original review from back in August.

But here’s the gist: Two princesses falling for each other. There’s also magic, forbidden love, danger and horses. You really can’t go wrong with this one!

BUT ALSO, THAT COVER Y’ALL! If this list was based solely on cover design, you bet your ass this book would be number one!

Check back tomorrow for book #3!