A Riotous Romp

The Gentleman's Guide to Vice and Virtue (Montague Siblings, #1)The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue by Mackenzi Lee

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a corker. A fun romp with the dissolute and self-centred Monty and his faithful and close confidante, Percy. Along for the ride is Monty’s sister Felicity who is not your average Regency chick. After embarking on their Grand Tour, things go horribly awry for Monty and his party when he decides, out of spite, to pilfer a small box from the home of a French Minister, the Duke of Bourbon. Their trip turns into a daring and breathless chase across France, Spain and Italy as they are robbed, kidnapped and enlisted as pirates along the way.
Monty and Percy are developing a close relationship, closer than society would like and, to make things even more complicated, Percy reveals he is epileptic – an affliction that will see him thrown into an asylum.
Lee maintains a good narrative pace, and the characters are engaging and likeable. The historical details feel accurate and cover a wide variety of issues of the period. Of particular interest are the treatment of black people such as Percy, and conventions around the roles of women such as Felicity. Monty is the lens the reader sees these things through, and he learns as we learn.
Heartily recommended for ages 14 and up.

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“To be heard”

Catching Teller CrowCatching Teller Crow by Ambelin Kwaymullina

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This glorious book. This lyrical, mystical, earthy book. I loved it. Ambelin and Ezekial Kwamullina have woven together two different narrative perspectives and made them seamless. Beth Teller, a ghost, is tethered to her grieving father after being taken too soon in a car accident. Her father, a police detective, has been sent to a town to investigate a suspicious fire and death. In the course of the investigation Beth and her Dad meet Isobel Catching, thought to be a witness to the fire. Catching, the second narrator, tells her story in a verse novel style and hers is a strange and compelling tale. As we read these stories side-by-side, we start to see connections in them. Other people in the town go missing, Beth’s Dad starts digging into the town’s past, and unravels a mystery that spans twenty years.
The imagery used in Catching’s story, with connections to animals and the landscape, along with Beth’s emotional attachment to her father, and a growing attachment to Catching, move this story along at a deceptive pace. This is an easy read, but the themes are raw and real and definitely not for a junior audience. I would suggest ages 13 and up would be the way to go here.
Highly recommended reading.

Riding the rails to freedom

The Underground RailroadThe Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book was not what I expected. The Underground Railroad here is represented by an actual, rails and sleepers, railroad that moves through an impossible series of tunnels spiriting runaway slaves away to lives away from servitude and abuse. Told mostly through the eyes of Cora, the daughter of a slave, who wants more for herself than her masters will ever give. Cora’s road to freedom is a difficult and harsh one, and there are no punches pulled in Whitehead’s depiction of the slaves’ existence. Constantly referred to as “it”, and treated as chattel, the life of Cora and her friends Lovey and Caesar are horrendous. Ultimately there are signs of humanity amidst the carnage but, as it was no doubt in reality, these are rare and short-lived.
The Underground Railroad is a tale that keeps you reading, even though you know things are not going to improve quickly for the protagonists. The slave catcher, Ridgeway, is also compelling because he represents and exemplifies the mindset that allowed the vile slave trade to prosper in the Southern states of the newly independent nation.
Read it to see why it deserved the Pulitzer in 2017.

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