Category: Historical Fiction

The Adventures of an 18th Century Rogue Lord: ‘The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue’

Let me start out by saying that I love historical fiction set in Europe, like, a lot. I love historical fiction for all ages, as well. It is one of my favorite genres, so when I saw this book in a box full of Young Adult advance reader copies, I HAD to read it. And it did not disappoint. Finally, it is out in hardback and I can tell you all about the story that made me laugh, swoon, and cry, all in one beautifully bound novel.

gentlemans gt vice & virtueIn The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue, Mackenzi Lee’s fabulous adventure novel set in the eighteenth century, two best friends set out on their European tour. Monty, son of a lord, and his best friend Percy are accompanied by Monty’s sister Felicity, and, much to Monty’s dismay, a chaperone. Their chaperone is there to make sure Monty and Percy stay out of trouble, which could include drinking too much, gambling, and Monty sticking his foot in his mouth. Despite this, Monty, Percy, and Felicity continue to find themselves in a multitude of tight spots. To top it all off, Monty harbors a massive crush for Percy; feelings which he is unsure would be reciprocated by his (mostly) rule-following best friend.

Their journey begins in France with an ill-fated night at Versailles, where we witness the theft of an object very valuable to the Duke of Bourbon, Monty getting caught in the Duke’s quarters with a girl in a very compromising position, and their embarrassing departure. After that, the inexperienced trio, having lost their chaperone, travel alone through multiple countries on a secret mission (I don’t want to give away the biggest plot twist in the book, so that’s all I’ll say about that). As their Grand Tour derails in the most spectacular fashion, they encounter marauders, pirates, and gypsies, who will either help them or try to kill them. Hilarity ensues.

To tell you all the truth, I was so enraptured with this book, loved it so much, that I reread most of it before I started writing this blog. Mackenzi Lee is a master of historical fiction that includes a hybrid language: a mix of historically-accurate speech and speech that teens can relate to. Monty, Percy, and Felicity are a perfectly orchestrated team. Somehow, they find themselves getting out of every bad situation imaginable to a group of teens, with only a few scrapes and bruises.

If you’re like me and enjoy European tales of adventure, with a few mishaps along the way (and just a touch of romance), then you’re going to love this book.

Winston Groom’s ‘El Paso’ has a cinematic sweep

el pasoOn the back of the beautifully-bound El Paso by Winston Groom, you see a list of historical personages promised to star in the book, laid out like a star-studded movie poster: Pancho Villa…Tom Mix…Ambrose Bierce…George Patton. These historical cameos add rich color to the book, but the real star is a character of Groom’s own imagining: Arthur Shaughnessy Jr.

Arthur is the adopted son of a fading railroad tycoon. His father has some very Theodore Roosevelt-esque ideas about manliness, but Arthur seems to keep disappointing him. Although Arthur is studious and good at managing what is left of their business, he can’t match his father’s temperament and interests. Whereas his father is impulsive, Arthur likes to plan. Instead of hunting for big game on African safaris, Arthur prefers to hunt for butterflies for his collection. Instead of riding around in trains (the family business!), he is fascinated by the new field of aviation.

When the Mexican Revolution begins to threaten the Shaughnessy holdings in Chihuahua, Shaughnessy Sr. decides to go down there to see how things are going for himself. However, he also decides to bring his whole family. While both Arthurs are away on a desperate cattle drive, the tycoon’s grandchildren, Katherine and Timmy, are kidnapped by Pancho Villa’s army and held for ransom.

Arthur, the son, must make a passage of his own, literally through the Sierra Madres as he and his impromptu band hunt for the famed bandit general, and metaphorically as he becomes the masculine paragon of a hero that his father always wanted him to be.

This feels like just the bare bones of the story. I don’t have space to tell you about the matador Johnny Ollas searching for his lost love, or the journalists Ambrose Bierce and John Reed trading barbs and philosophies as they travel with Villa, or Mix finding out the price of fame. This book is loaded with characters and plot, but moves along swiftly and breathlessly. It’s full of improbable coincidences and historical cameos (a trademark of Groom, author of Forrest Gump), without feeling corny or eye-rolling. The book is a delicate balancing act, passing between the U.S. and Mexico, city and wilderness, and even the boundaries of fact and fiction themselves.

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