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review 2018-11-14 22:44
This Monstrous Thing: Or Steampunk Frankenstein
This Monstrous Thing - Mackenzi Lee

I've been putting off writing a review for this book because I still can't figure out what to say about it. It's steampunk Frankenstein, so if that sounds appealing to you then snap it up post-haste. If you're not a steampunk fan, well, know what you are getting into.

 

Lee does an excellent job evoking the past in all her books, and this one is no exception. The interesting thing is that she infuses her world with machinery and mechanical men. It almost has a cyberpunk quality in that so much of the book is concerned with the divide between machine and man, and at what point when adding machinery and subtracting flesh does a man cease being human. It's an interesting direction to take the story, and there are also some astute comments of disability and social standing.

 

Where the book flagged for me was that I went into it wanting a story about brotherhood, and to watch these two brothers grapple with one another throughout the narrative. However, much like the source of inspiration, the two spend most of the book separated and only clash at the ending. This is all well and good, it's just not the story I wanted. While the book spent lavish detail and time exploring other characters and locales I found myself frustrated that it wasn't spending its time on things that interested me more. It doesn't feel fair to be critical of a book for not being what you want it to be, especially when it does a fine job in every other respect, but here I am.

 

If you dig steampunk you will likely enjoy this book. If you like historical fiction with a twist you will likely enjoy this book. If you want to read an interesting re-telling of Frankenstein you will also likely enjoy this book. If you want a story of brothers at odds with one another, and an exploration of their relationship, this will likely not hit the mark for you.

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review 2018-11-12 21:18
The Lady's Guide to Petticoats and Piracy (Montague Siblings #2)
The Lady's Guide to Petticoats and Piracy - Mackenzi Lee

While I enjoyed The Gentleman's Guide to Vice and Virtue, I found it uneven in the way it handled both the historical and fantasy aspects of the story. It felt like neither one really got their fair share of the story, and both suffered as a result. So I was hesitant to give this one a try and probably would've passed it up if one of my groups hadn't chosen it for the book of the month.

 

This was a little slow to start, and Felicity drove me up the wall at first with her selfishness and single-mindedness. Ambition is all well and good, but when it comes hand in hand with stepping over anyone who gets in your way, I can't really back that person up. Thankfully, Felicity does a lot of growing up over the course of the book and it was fun to watch. 

 

I also really appreciated that this book examined all aspects of feminism and femininity, and didn't just focus on the "women can do men's work" aspect of it, because what is men's work anyway? It's a ludicrous concept. But so often in literature and media, girls or women who exhibit more "manly" traits - being good at fighting/killing, being aggressive, etc - are applauded, while women who are traditionally feminine are not. Just look at the different receptions that Arya and Sansa Stark get. This book shows that there's more than one way for women to be independent, strong and self-assured. With Felicity, Johanna and Sim, we get three such women as they go out into the world and figure out how to make their own way in it. It does get a little head-bashy at times, but this is still such an important message that girls need to learn and hear (there's no wrong way to be a woman), that I didn't mind it too much when it got a little preachy.

 

Also, Felicity is ace/aro and I identified so much with her on that aspect of herself. Because really, kissing? Ew. In addition to her is Sim, an African Muslim lesbian/bisexual (we don't really know; it doesn't really matter), and some cameos by Monty and Percy, so there's lots of LGBT+ rep in this book. 

 

I'm confused about who the girl in the cover is supposed to be though. Felicity has red hair, Sim is black, and Johanna doesn't come in until about a third of the way through, though the hair color's a match. But the story is told from Felicity's POV. *shrugs* It's a cool cover. :D

 

I thought the historical aspects were much better handled here than in the first book, and were given much better detail and attention. The fantasy elements too were better handled and integrated into the story, though it takes awhile for them to show up. 

I was still bemused about some of it though, in particular that Johanna doesn't bat an eye at learning that dragons are real. It makes sense for Felicity to take it in stride, given the previous book, but Johanna didn't know magic and alchemy and such were real until that moment. How about some doubt, at least? "I'll believe it when I see it" maybe. Something.

(spoiler show)

Johanna and Felicity both display some uncomfortable (but appropriate for the time) colonialist attitudes at points that I wanted to shake them for. 

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review SPOILER ALERT! 2018-11-12 06:47
The Lady's Guide to Petticoats and Piracy (Montague Siblings #2) by Mackenzi Lee
The Lady's Guide to Petticoats and Piracy - Mackenzi Lee

I must admit I only bought this because I wanted the bonus novella which came with the pre-order and centers around Monty and Percy, the central characters of The Gentleman's Guide to Vice and Virtue which is the previous novel in this series. This time the focus is on Monty's sister Felicity, and while both siblings have their own shortcomings, Felicity is a prickly personality who just doesn't have Monty's special charm of being simultaneously ridiculous and ridiculously endearing. I perked up when Monty surprisingly appears again near the end of the novel, as I only expected him and Percy to feature at the beginning.


I did like the feminist theme of the book—it's not often that I read a YA feminist historical adventure novel with elements of fantasy—and how it explores women's struggles for a fulfilling life and work during the eighteenth century. I especially liked Felicity's childhood friend Johanna and her character's message that just because she likes pretty dresses and make up and parties, it doesn't mean she's frivolous or shouldn't be taken seriously or can't be smart and confident and accomplished at the same time.

One thing that bugged me though was the author consistently mistaking 'treaties' for 'treatise' throughout the book. So we have Felicity reading 'treaties' to learn about medicine and wanting to write her own 'treaty', when she's referring to a written exposition rather than an agreement.

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review 2018-10-05 02:54
The Lady's Guide to Petticoats & Piracy
The Lady's Guide to Petticoats and Piracy - Mackenzi Lee

If Gentleman's Guide is a queer romantic romp then Lady's Guide is a girl power anthem. The heart of this book revolves around the way women walk through the world, see themselves, and interact with each other. Felicity has to navigate a landscape that continually tries to force her down paths she'd rather not take until she can realize the real trap is trying to follow the map others have laid before her. She needs to discover her own way, and her own truth.

 

There are so many wonderful lessons in here, especially for younger women just starting to figure out who they are and who they want to be. There is also some truly fantastic representation. The ladies in this book are all varied and believable, and there is quite possibly the best representation of an ace character I've ever seen. There's also adventure, and sea serpents, and pirates, and science. Monty and Percy even make a cameo or two. Which is all absolutely wonderful.

 

The trouble comes, for me, in that the lessons at the core of the book take front and center, and they are hammered home pretty hard and pretty repeatedly. At this point in my life reading a book about how hard it is to be a woman, and how one must believe in oneself, is not just preaching to the choir, it's exhausting. Been there, done that, handed the T-shirts out at the rally. Here's the thing: I'm not the demographic for this book. I love that this book exists. I'm excited to press it into the hands of young women. But it missed the mark a tad for me. I love Mackenzi Lee so much for writing this book, even if I didn't wholeheartedly love this book as much as I wanted to.

 

If you want this book be the lighthearted romp Gentleman's Guide was you might be disappointed. But if you want to read Felicity's journey to empowerment with her equally powerful gal pals this one will likely tickle you to no end.

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review 2018-10-05 02:27
The Gentleman's Guide to Vice & Virtue
The Gentleman's Guide to Vice and Virtue - Mackenzi Lee

When my co-workers started breathlessly glowing about this book I'll admit I was dubious. I'm not a fan of historical fiction, I don't usually like long books, and I'm picky about my romances. I avoided reading this one for about a year until my store announced we would be hosting Lee for a signing. At that point I figured I might as well give it a shot. I'm so glad I did!

 

I've read a lot of books in recent years that I've really enjoyed, maybe even loved, but very few of them were as fun as this one. I think I've become jaded. Rare is the book that I can't put down, that I can't wait to steal a moment in order to read, that keeps me reading past my bedtime. This was that book for me. It was just so damn fun!

 

Monty was a walking human disaster, the epitome of Bad Life Choices the Person. His voice charmed me - he made me cringe and laugh in equal measures. I also fell in love with Percy almost immediately. Watching them stumble through the plot, and Europe, was a grand adventure. Sprinkled amidst the adventure there was plenty of heart as well. Even though the primary tension in the romance was a lack of communication, which usually makes me nuts, I understood the reasons why characters made the mistakes they did. I was all aflutter despite myself. I also thought the explorations of race, abuse, illness, and queer identity were all handled with a light touch, and rang true and poignant. In short, I cared about these people and I found them believable.

 

There is a bit of a fantasy element stirred in, but it rather gets buried. At its core Gentleman's Guide is, through and through, a good, old-fashioned romp. It's an adventure and a romance with just a hint of the fantastic. Complete with wit, action, adventure, and an emotional core that left me laughing and hurting in equal measure, it was a recipe that made for a read I couldn't wait to dig back into whenever I got a chance. For me this was the literary equivalent of a warm mug of cocoa on a chilly night.

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