Monday, June 26, 2017

book gush The Gentleman's Guide to Vice and Virtue


It was hard to, like, eat and sleep and write and be out in the world the last few days knowing this was in my apartment

"“I swear, you would play the coquette with a well-upholstered sofa."

"First, I would not. And second, how handsome is this sofa?”

You have no idea.  I just can't stop  smiling about it. My cheeks hurt and, yes, I am going to read it five more times and probably all of those times just this week. For starters.    Because this is the keeperest of keeper shelf keepers in the history of keepers.  It is Rachel catnip, it is darned delightful, it is skittles and sunshine and kittens and ice cream and I am drawing hearts around it with my mind.

Oh Monty, you delicious rogue! Why are you so nose-wrinklingly adorable?  But alas, I digress in my enthusiasm to just absolutely rave about the adorable awkwardness of this young man and his clueless ( so clueless) attempts at deciphering the intentions of his crush, Percy.

“It's beginning to feel like he's shuffling his way through the seven deadly sins, in ascending order of my favourites.”


It's very hard to get me to laugh aloud in a book. I snicker.  I am amused. But, there is something magic about a voice that makes me laugh til I have tears. I love to giggle and clever humour is often how I find a keeper author. I  also have a thing for writers who use beautiful, captivating fiction to draw out social injustices of a time period: in this case, the limited understanding of epilepsy and the stigmas surrounding it, same sex relationships,  and the treatment of bi-racial Percy Newton, who is a bit of a hybrid between two worlds (if you have seen the film Belle you will be familiar with some of society's fascination and judgment of him)

I preface that to set the tone for our romp through Henry (Monty) Montague's disastrous Grand Tour. But also to place it as one facet of a multi-dimensional story that wrings tears along with its laughter ( sometimes at the same time )

Like the Horatio Lyle series and the Watchmaker of Filigree Street,  this book had a narrative voice that arrested me.  It is something special and something I want to keep in a treasure chest.  To find a unique, alluring, brilliant, smart and surprising narrative voice is what a lot of readers live for and if you want one that will nab you on page one, this is the book for you.

It's a good thing, too, because Monty---our guide through his snortable adventures from lazy coquettish drunk to target in an international chase--- is an insufferably  shallow but oh so delightfully rich fop.

And he is not as dense as what he gives off and he is not as shallow as the man who opens his story drunk and depraved and he undergoes a subtle and wonderful development.  Character development? Not really, more the development of displaying to those closest to him what was always there on the inside, inverting it so it radiant for all to see.  Monty is a good and lovely human. He just has to trip over a few of his own stupid mistakes to realize it.

“God bless the book people for their boundless knowledge absorbed from having words instead of friends.”
Like so many men of his age and circumstance, Monty is to spend a year on a Grand Tour of Europe before settling down to become the Lord of the Manor.     Monty hates everything about his family life: the restrictions, his wailing little brother, his abusive father and a life that would paint him into rigour and structure where he would rather be out kissing boys and girls and more boys, drinking everything within a six mile radius and flirting with his best friend Percy.

Percy, you see, is for the first several chapters of the book, Monty's only redeeming factor.  Well, Percy and Monty's wonderful sense of humour keep you from thinking: you are a terribly selfish human being but La! You are also so fun and I cannot turn away from you, you disaster of a person.

“Oh no."
Percy looks sideways at me. "Oh no what?"
I swallow. "I'd first like it to be noted that I am most certainly not a smuggler."
"Monty..." he says, my name sopping with dread.
"And," I continue overtop him, "I'd like you to both remember just how much you adore me and how dull and gloomy your lives would be without me in them."
"What did you do?”

Bundled into a carriage with a bear guide, his 15 year bookish sister Felicity ( think Mary from Pride and Prejudice) and Percy,  his one true love, they set off for one last whirl of fun and end up running for their lives.

Some people don't want to spoil mysteries or twists. I don't want to spoil adventures. I don't want readers to be for one moment expecting the freshness of language, the originality of adventures or the heart of the chase that turns the plot from comedy of (ill) manners to continental chase ( with pirates, for good measure).

But I do want to allure readers by expressing my absolute delight (tame, I mean head over heels full blown heart-thrumming finger tingling obsession) and LOVE for our three leads, their interactions and the deep affection that is so beautifully shared it cuts through like a knife and winnows its way to stay.

When Monty learns about a terrible secret that would see Percy taken from him forever, it reveals the true depth of his heart. Monty may be all about quips and asides and lecherous behaviour, but he is loyal and broken--- we learn the depth of abuse at his father's hand--and so wanting to do the right thing (even if he takes a maze of lasciviousness to get there).

I absolutely loved this book.  It was one of my most anticipated reads of the year (from years of following the author on social media), made more so when the first four chapters were released at Epicreads and I fell immediately into the wink of a knowing voice that I  would follow everywhere.

It takes a lot to work with a hero like Monty---vain, self-centred, ridiculously and cluelessly obsessed with trifles--- but if you balance him with kind-hearted Percy  you really do see through the prism of Monty's world: his goodness is most blatantly exemplified in his love and pursuit of a truly good man.   And it is his care for Percy that opens up the shafts of his heart and sparkles and in that reciprocated goodness, you are given an epic pairing for the ages.  As in all things, Monty loves without abandon, but it takes a journey to work through the unexpected hurdles that will prove him worthy of the object of his desire.   ( I love Percy, too. I LOVE LOVE LOVE HIM! I love them both!)

“We're not courting trouble," I say. "Flirting with it, at most.”

So, get ready to snort tea out your nose and gasp and giggle and roll your eyes (because, really Monty, keep your stockings on and put that girl down!) and appreciate the craft of writing something excessively unputdownably readable undercut by a treatise on social injustice and featuring three of the most delicious leads in an age.

I want to follow you to the ends of the earth (or at least to a gambling den or Versailles hunting cottage) with you all, Percy, Monty and Felicity ---and thanks to a recent announcement about Felicity's upcoming adventures, I might be lucky enough to do just that.

(a note to readers: I read and review a lot of inspirational fiction on this blog, this book  will not be for all readers.  Please be advised of sexual content and strong language) .

Thursday, June 08, 2017

Book Gush: The Austen Escape by Katherine Reay

Image result for the austen escape by katherine reayI have been so busy lately. Mea Culpa.  I was in Cape Breton for work,  have been writing a ton on my current WIP ( cannot wait for you all to meet Hamish and Reggie), have been seeing a lot of theatre!!!!!! ( including my first Shaw show of the Season at Niagara on the Lake), have been socializing and adventuring in Toronto.  So my apologies that the blog has fallen behind).

Now, gush time.

"When there are serious matters to discuss, Austen women walk. And it has the side benefit of keeping our figures so light and pleasing."

I have to admit I have been getting a little tired of Austen everything.  So many updates. So many re-imaginings---  But, if anyone can do Austen, Reay can.  Especially because she doesn't just transpose a story into a new setting, she interweaves a new story with new characters, nuances and worlds with the timeless sensibility and humour of Jane Austen.  Even while you are not reading ye olde "Austen Update" that merely parallels Austen heroes and heroines in a modern setting, you are being confronted by an invigorated re-visitation of Austen's wisdom.  When this strikes you, midway through the book, you recognize that Reay is far smarter than you initially could have thought.  This is not just a nod to Austen, this is a thesis ABOUT Austen (specifically her relationship with Bath and her inter-textual connections about love, wisdom and modern relationships) told in prosaic form.

It's not often that fiction is supplanted with such an academic tenet; but that is what makes Reay  one of my favourite writers.  With all of her Austen and Bronte and Weber infused prose, she makes a statement about the books she pays homage to.    It is this added layer that asserts her as one of the finest contemporary voices.

But while I get all stodgily English major-y on you, what makes Reay a must-read is her natural accessibility.  While this  certainly offers a grand wink and nudge to fans of Austen's work on a deeper level, so it is a keen and sparkly colourful carousel of characters transplanted into a Regency-modern hybrid in present-day Bath.

Mary Davies is a quiet engineer who works for WATT, a startup in Austin, Texas.   Constulant Nathan is one of the brightest parts of her day.  While she works to gauge disappointment that her latest optical project Golightly ( yes, THAT is Holly Golightly) didn't take off, she assembles wire animals at her desk and works to  decipher the extra attentions Nate gives to her.  Work complications and a new manager, however, inspire her to accept her life-long friend Isabel's invitation for a vacation at an Austen-themed estate near Bath.   Deciding to escape the everyday and clear her head, she follows Isabel into a world of costumes and balls, of traditional manners and eccentric participants who acquire a personage from the books for their stay.

But Isabel is not as balanced as she seems and her domineering friend soon begins to show a remarkable mental instability, actually thinking she is Emma Woodhouse and speaking in the sequences and memories of Austen's canon.  While  Mary struggles to reach her friend, she discovers Isabel's connection to Nathan, who has sparked her life for so long it has flickered into a kind of unending flame.  Hurt and confused---mostly by Nathan's own arrival at the estate--- Mary navigates the map of herself while amidst a fresh and inviting, humorous and whimsical world patronized by " clever, well-informed people who have a great deal of conversation."
Human relations and fallacy, the map of the human mind, the friction between literature and art chafing against science and logic and math: all in a carefully constructed waltz.  

I have spent some time in Bath and was happy when the resplendently unique city was drawn to colourful life by Reay's consistent canvas.  As Seattle, Chicago, Italy and Ha'worth before, Bath becomes a pulsing throbbing city-- the antidote to the surging Austin heat.     

While this book may remind readers of Austenland  by Shannon Hale, it takes a step further in immersing the reader not just in a surfacely Austen world of Regency mannerisms and dialect; rather a deeper look at the wisdom of Austen and her prodding and poking into the deepest tenets of human nature.  There is a particularly profound moment that finds Mary understanding more about Austen's relationship to Bath beyond the lens of Persuasion and Northanger Abbey that made me shoot up and think.

this book glistens.

What makes The Austen Escape different than all other Austen updates and adaptations is that rather than just making a contemporary parallel of an Austen story and Austen characters, she works a profound and meaningful thesis about Austen into prosaic form. And that is why the Austen Escape is an integral companion to the study of Austen in the 21st Century.

[with thanks to Thomas Nelson for the review copy]

A few quotes: 

"As the morning rolled up its sleeves and got ready to welcome its friend afternoon, the sunshine held fast in the clear sky."

"And Nathan fished. The silence was light and lovely until I realized it wasn't silence at all.  The stream gurgled, birds chirped, something called in the distance."

"Something had been missing and its absence only felt with its return. Nature abhors a vacuum and will fill it but you must create an opening. Music was that opening. It felt as if the universe was expanding right before me, in a ballroom in Bath," 

"And I was diminishing--as one should before the size and unending grandeur of the universe. It wasn't that I was smaller or less significant; it simply felt like I didn't need to fight for a place within it or for my own protection. "

"I waited too and watched the stars.  A few flickered and the sky felt like music. Music required honesty."