Book of the Month: A Gentlemen’s Guide to Vice and Virtue by Mackenzi Lee

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February is known as the month of love since Valentine’s Day falls in it. And what better book to pick for this special month than an LGBTQ, historical-fiction The Gentlemen’s Guide to Vice and Virtue by Mackenzi Lee. This glamorous book manages to fit the first-love of a young gay boy set in Europe in the 1700’s into an action-adventure story.

As the book jacket explains, “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.”

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Set in the 1700’s, this novel somehow explores many modern-day themes and issues. In fact, I like the comparison of Monty’s grand tour year as the equivalent of the modern-day gap year young adults take after high school before embarking on their studies in college. This book also uses the historical setting to present modern-day themes that today’s YA genre would want to read in a book. These include child abuse (Monty’s relationship to his father, Lord Montague), alcoholism and gambling (Monty’s prolific lifestyle), racism (demonstrated through Percy being high-born yet also being a black character), disabilities (as seen in Percy’s epilepsy and the stigma that comes with his illness), sexism (Monty’s sister Felicity faces sexism as her gender undermines her intelligence and skills in medicine), and LGBTQ (which is illustrated in Monty’s sexuality and his crush on Percy).

I think what impressed me most about this book was how modern it felt within the constraints of the historical narrative structure. I really enjoyed the setting, it gave a fresh take on the similes used in the novel. Sometimes, after reading page after page of YA, you can come across a lot of the same metaphors and similes, but due to this novel’s setting I felt like I was coming across new comparisons that showed off Lee’s writing skills yet perfectly tied into the world-building of this story. It adds this charming, glitzy, old-world glamour feel into it.

The other great thing about this book is how it feels like it’s a little bit of everything – romance, comedy, action, adventure, murder-mystery, historical-fiction, and gay/LGBTQ. And if you like books that travel to other countries, then I highly recommend getting the audio book version of this novel. I listened to this book as an audio book and the voice actor did such a fantastic job at creating these authentic accents for all the various characters ranging from British to French to Spanish accents was just amazing and delightful to hear.

If you are a fun of captivating characters, then Monty is the right guy for you. Lee created such a strong, unique voice in the character of Monty. She manages to capture this entitled, sassy teenage voice right from the beginning while simultaneously making you like it. But this only makes it so much more wonderful for the reader to see Monty’s transformation from the exploits and troubles he endures along the way.

If there is one thing I would critique, it happens to be something that also ends up working in favor for the novel’s plot. I thought the grand tour would be more of this glamorous trip but ended up being a fleeing escape since they are on the run and less of a tour. I felt disappointed because it wasn’t what I had expected, however it also worked in favor of the reader because there was no guessing where this story was going. I had absolutely no idea what was going to happen next and I couldn’t ever guess the next thing that would happen. It felt truly unpredictable in the adventure/action portion of the plot, yet the romance side of it however was plenty predictable but in a good, happy-ending kind of way.

If you are in need of some good humor, some witty banter, and fun all-around then this book should definitely be on your To Be Read list.

Vegan Eats: Las Vegas

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You would think in a city nicknamed “Sin City” that your odds of finding vegan food would be as low as your odds of beating the house. When I think of Vegas, the last thing I think of is vegan food. But my assumptions were wrong because it turned out that this devilish city found a way to make vegan food delectably sinful.

Las Vegas is a very accommodating place to people from different backgrounds, including dietary backgrounds. People from all over the world come to Vegas, so it makes sense that this city would be accommodating to all sorts of customs. But one custom that Vegas is known for is their buffets. That’s right, Vegas even has a buffet with vegan food.

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My first recommendation is The Buffet at Wynn Las Vegas. This buffet is known for being very luxurious with only the best and freshest food. This buffet has captured the attention of many meat-lovers, but the reason it has captured my attention is because it’s the only buffet with a vegan menu. As you enter The Buffet, you are immediately transported in a colorful, playful room where flowers float from the ceiling and tea kettles and other kitchen objects are ornately arranged with flowers in bouquets. It feels a lot like stepping into the Mad Hatter’s tea party in Alice in Wonderland. And after being seating, your server will take you to the buffet, which spans over 4 rooms, where you will be introduced to the head chef. The head chef will then give you a personal guided tour of the buffet pointing out what is vegan, since many items that are vegan have to be requested at stations since they are not displayed. My favorite thing was the vegan cranberry muffins, which had these airy, delicious rice-Krispy-like cereal bits in it. I also had the vegan blueberry pancakes, which were amazing. But, you can customize the pancakes to be whatever you wish, I just happened to order blueberries in mine. I tried the vegan matcha chia pudding which was very interesting and different from anything I had before. And if you are a juice or smoothie enthusiast, then you’ll love all the concoctions they make here. I think I must’ve had four of them. This buffet has any and everything you could possibly ask for.

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So, for my second plate back at the buffet, I had the vegan sushi which I customized with cucumbers, carrots, avocado, and pickled cabbage with a side of veggie spring rolls. And for dessert I had the chocolate and raspberry sorbet with a vegan chocolate chip cookie. As you can see, I made sure to get my money’s worth out of this dining experience. Eating here for breakfast will set you back at about $25 per person, but if you are a big eater like me, then you’ll get a lot of tasty food to fill you up for the day.

Vegas Fun Fact: Steve Wynn (owner of the Wynn and Encore Las Vegas) is a vegan, which is why all the restaurants in his hotels have a vegan menu in addition to their regular menus. All you have to do is tell the hostess that you would like a vegan menu. Make sure to check out these restaurants menus online to see what might interest you. I’ve heard the steakhouse at the Wynn has an amazing truffle risotto and a delicious Portobello “steak.”

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My next recommendation is a place that is more suitable if you are with a group that might not eat vegan, but you do. In the Grand Canals at The Venetian, there is a great restaurant called Black Tap Burgers. It’s a great spot to grab a good burger and beer, but what’s surprising is that they offer a lot of vegan options as well. I ordered the Vegan Burger which comes with a black bean patty, vegan mayo, pickled onions, salsa verde, and cilantro with a side of fries. And, if you are gluten-intolerant, then you can also order your burger with a gluten-free bun. This burger was surprisingly juicy for a black bean patty and the salsa added a fun twist to an old classic. Although fries are a classic side to the burger, I decided to try some of their other snacks and sides that also happened to be vegan. I shared the teriyaki broccoli which is seasoned with ginger, garlic, sesame, and scallion. And, because I couldn’t resist one more side, I also had the crispy brussels sprouts which came with a sesame-tahini dipping sauce. These sides were just as amazing as the burger, so make sure not to skip these extras. They also have other vegan options like their burger bowl served with quinoa and a black bean patty, but I think I had some of their best vegan options here. The really nice thing about this place, is I could comfortably get what I wanted while my non-vegan husband ordered a regular burger. And since it’s in the Grand Canals, you get to see one of the coolest and unique place in Las Vegas.

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My trip to Vegas was short and sweet, so I didn’t get a chance to try every vegan restaurant, however, listed below is a list of other restaurants in Las Vegas that have vegan menus that I’ll definitely be trying next time I visit.

  1. Fine Dining Vegan Restaurants at the Wynn Las Vegas include: Costa Di Mare (Seafood), Lakeside (Seafood), Mizumi (Japanese/Sushi), Tableau (American), SW Steakhouse, Wing Lei (Chinese/Michelin Star Restaurant)
  2. Fine Dining Vegan Restaurants at the Encore Las Vegas include: Andrea’s (Asian-inspired cuisine), Sinatra (Italian)
  3. Casual Dining Vegan Restaurants at the Wynn Las Vegas include: Allegro (American-Italian), The Buffet, Charlie’s Bar + Grill (Sports Bar), Le Cave (wine pairings with food), Red 8 (Chinese/Thai/Korean/Vietnamese), Terrace Pointe Cafe (Breakfast/Brunch)
  4. Casual Dining Vegan Restaurants at the Encore Las Vegas include: Jardin (American cuisine), Wazuzu (Pan-Asian)
  5. VegeNation – Located downtown Las Vegas, this place offers a wide-ranging variety of vegan options from Vietnamese Pho to African Yam Stew to veggie burgers all at an affordable price.
  6. Yard House – Located on The Strip, this American burger joint offers vegan options with Gardein meat-substitutes in their burgers and street tacos at a cheap price.
  7. Pancho’s Vegan Tacos – Located on the Eastside, this place offers up vegan tacos for all those taco lovers out there.
  8. Panevino – This Italian restaurant offers a plant-based menu for both lunch and dinner. Located in Southeast Las Vegas, the restaurant offers cool views of the Vegas skyline.

4 Ways Audio Books Can Transform Your Day

 

audioBook1Saying audio books are better than printed hardbacks/paperbacks can easily be damning in certain circles. But before you click away, just hear me out. Do you ever find yourself not having any spare time? Let alone, time to sit down and enjoy a good book? When I’m having a busy work week it’s nearly impossible to fit in an hour or so to open up a book.

My New Year’s goal is to read at least one chapter a day. But by the third day in January, I was failing to fit in my chapter a day. Then I discovered the audio book section in my local library. Normally, these can be pretty pricey, especially if you get the CD format instead of the MP3 drive version, but both of these beauties are completely free with a library card. And I was pleasantly surprised to find a varied mix ranging from current bestsellers to the classics.

There are many ways to use audio books if you think you don’t have enough time to fit reading into your schedule. And whatever genre you are interested in, there’s an audio book for that. Need self-help or motivation books. Check. Want to read a suspenseful thriller? Check. Or, need something with a little romance? Check, check check.

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One great use of an audio book is to listen to it on your daily commute to work. A 20-30 minute drive can turn into 40-60 minutes of reading (or listening to) a book a day. And with the right book, your daily commute will become more enjoyable.

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My second favorite way to listen to an audio book is to download it onto my phone and plug in my headphones and listen to it while I walk my dog. My library has MP3 digital audio books available to download, but you can also try Amazon or Audible to find any book you want to listen to in a digital download format. I try to walk my dog everyday for 20-30 minutes, so this is just another way I squeeze in more reading.

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Also, another great thing about the digital download of an audio book on your phone is that wherever you go your book will be right there with you. For example, if you have to go to appointments where you have to wait, like a doctor’s office, then this is just another way to squeeze in more reading and pass the time.

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A fourth way to incorporate an audio book into your daily life is to listen to it while doing chores or errands. I think I can say that no one looks forward to doing chores, however listening to an audio book helps me get them done with less complaint. I simply download the book on my phone, plug in my headphone, and I’m off to wash dishes or vacuum.

While I love having the feel of a paperback in my hands, right now with my schedule, audio books are a life saver and they help e enjoy many parts of my day.

The Perfect Book and the Perfect Night in on Valentine’s Day

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This Valentine’s Day, my husband and I will be taking a break from the hoopla that is Valentine’s Day. So, instead of putting pressure on each other with gifts and dinner reservations, we’ll be staying in and hanging out at home. And if you find yourself at home too, then I have the perfect book to keep you company, because who needs a Valentine when you have the perfect book.

Tucker Shaw’s Oh Yeah, Audrey! is a well-written easy read that pairs Audrey Hepburn’s most infamous character Holly Golightly from Breakfast at Tiffany’s with your inner fangirl in this sparky and delightful novel.

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Just as the book jacket states, 16-year-old Gemma Beasley runs away to New York City for 24 hours to meet up with other Holly/Audrey fans to see a special anniversary screening of Breakfast at Tiffany’s. But best laid plans can and do go awry when Gemma gets swooned off her feet by a real-life Paul Varkjak. Gemma lives her New York minute life by following the mantra of “What would Audrey do?” but ends up in situations closely similar to Holly, where she ends up around suspicious people with questionable motives.

I absolutely loved Gemma and her reactions to the things going on around her. It felt completely authentic and very relatable. I was a little disappointed in the fact that it’s set in only 24 hours. This led to little character development, especially all of Gemma’s friends and Gemma’s love interest. Because of this, some characters felt like clichés, like the fabulous gay best friend and the entitled rich-boy who thinks he can buy a girl. Actually, that last character bothered me a lot because the novel shows him genuinely pursuing Gemma. I mean, why bother having him spend month after month having hour long phone calls if all he wanted was sex? This character just didn’t add up to me.

But, nonetheless, this novel successfully delivers a story about friendship and about Gemma finding herself while paying tribute to Audrey Hepburn’s Holly Golightly.

Like I said before, this is a fast read and can easily be read in a day. So, I recommend watching Breakfast at Tiffany’s (available on Netflix) to better understand all the book’s references. For Valentine’s, all you need is a fabulous evening. Whether you inhibit your inner Holly Golightly by wearing a black dress, black opera gloves, pearls, with a coffee and croissant in your hand, or you stay home in pajamas cuddled up with a book on the couch with a glass of wine, just remember that this Valentine’s Day can still be fabulous darling.

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And if you stay in and find yourself reading this book, just remember Holly Golightly’s advice, “A girl doesn’t read this sort of thing without her lipstick.”