Red, White & Royal Blue Review

41150487._SY475_Title: Red, White & Royal Blue
Author: Casey McQuiston
Genre: romance; contemporary; LGBT; new adult; fiction
Synopsis: (from Goodreads): What happens when America’s First Son falls in love with the Prince of Wales?

When his mother became President, Alex Claremont-Diaz was promptly cast as the American equivalent of a young royal. Handsome, charismatic, genius—his image is pure millennial-marketing gold for the White House. There’s only one problem: Alex has a beef with the actual prince, Henry, across the pond. And when the tabloids get hold of a photo involving an Alex-Henry altercation, U.S./British relations take a turn for the worse.

Heads of family, state, and other handlers devise a plan for damage control: staging a truce between the two rivals. What at first begins as a fake, Instragramable friendship grows deeper, and more dangerous, than either Alex or Henry could have imagined. Soon Alex finds himself hurtling into a secret romance with a surprisingly unstuffy Henry that could derail the campaign and upend two nations and begs the question: Can love save the world after all? Where do we find the courage, and the power, to be the people we are meant to be? And how can we learn to let our true colors shine through?

Casey McQuiston’s Red, White & Royal Blue proves: true love isn’t always diplomatic.

Review: 4 Stars

Casey McQuiston’s 2019 romance was as funny as it was tender. It was sweet and kind but also witty and full of banter and sexy flirting from the millennial characters McQuiston created. It was so well done too. All of the millennial / gen z generation characters felt fully dimensional. In fact, the characters that fell flat for me were the older generation. The ones I didn’t really care about, even if they were the ones apparently leading the nation. *shrug*

Alex and Henry had me from Cakegate. Their energy was electric. From the moment Henry called Alex out and was like, “you’re the one always coming to seek me out, Alex,” I was hooked on them.

When McQuiston wrote in the banter from the people following them on internet, the newspaper, Twitter, on Buzzfeed, etc. I felt like it literally could have been me. Particularly the “OMG just make out already” comments after their first television filming.

But it’s not just about their snark and witty repartee. It’s also about their tender moments and their private email exchanges. I loved how they sent excerpts from actual letters in history. I loved how that began with Hamilton and John Laurens. It was a fun, and particularly pop culturally relevant way to start their love story.

The author was, in my opinion, particularly brilliant with how she allowed their love story to unfold. The clandestine meetings, their secret texts, their private emails, their innuendos, and the help of the seven people they trust. It just works. It helps build the suspense but also brings with it this reminder that it has to end. Logically, as a reader, I knew somehow they would get exposed, and from some of the repeated phrases, I guessed (SEE! I CAN GUESS THE ENDINGS!!! TAKE THAT LAST TWO BOOKS) correctly. It was a really volatile coming out for both of them and it felt like a real invasion of their privacy, but I really like how they all handled it.

I don’t have any experience with this, so I can’t speak to whether McQuiston handled this with grace and empathy, but I thought Alex and Henry were strong and brave AF. They stood up to the MF Queen of England for Christ’s sake.

The LGBT representation in this book was awesome. Nora and Alex pulling it out for the bi team, Amy for the trans community, Henry and Raf for the gay community, Cash for the pan community, and then all the other characters as strong allies. (I don’t think I missed anyone, but I’m writing this review without the book to skim through, so if I am, please comment below).

Getting back to the older generation for a second, they all seemed so flat. The only one that really gave me anything was Alex’s dad. When they were in Texas for their weekend away from the world, I really loved how the father just accepts Alex. He even teases him and calls himself the patron saint of genderless bathrooms in California I think.

But they have a good conversation about how it’s different when it’s your own kid, which I think is a good distinction to have. Oscar (dad) says it isn’t any different for him, and Alex is his kid and he loves him just the same— but it really is for some parents. I’ve heard parents say that they’re okay with it as long as it isn’t THEIR kid. (Gross, btw)

So for Oscar and Alex to have this conversation, it’s pretty cool.

POTUS has a moment of humanity when she kicked her staff out and asked if Alex was okay, but other than that, she was just a politician, through and through.

I think in general, the book is one written in response to what happened in the last election. It’s a HEA, and it’s FICTION, so it’s not this super realistic account of what could happen tomorrow. This was one of the concerns I read about when I got the book— “it’s too unrealistic, it would never happen” — in my opinion, that’s why it’s uh, FICTION? And that’s also why I like it. It’s the dream election for 2019, that’s what makes it good.

The POTUS is also a Democrat, so the politics mentioned in the book, naturally, swing left too, but that didn’t bother me either. I figured that would be the case so I didn’t get caught off guard by it.

Another criticism I read was about how Henry hates the monarchy while still benefitting from it. I lol’d at that. Henry’s character literally struggles with being part of an empire built on genocide and war the whole book, going so far as to never spend any of that money. I liked his character development. I don’t really understand the criticism I guess. *shrug*

Overall, this book is driven by more than just Henry and Alex. It’s also Nora and June and Pez and Amy and Cash and Bea and supported by the POTUS and a double agent (triple agent?) and a senator and two protective agents who care deeply, even if they pretend they don’t.

It was an idealistic HEA and I loved it. Pick it up today.

The Song of Achilles

Image result for the song of achillesTitle: The Song of Achilles
Author: Madeline Miller
Genre: historical fiction; fantasy; mythology; lgbt; romance
Synopsis: (from Goodreads) Greece in the age of heroes. Patroclus, an awkward young prince, has been exiled to the court of King Peleus and his perfect son Achilles. By all rights their paths should never cross, but Achilles takes the shamed prince as his friend, and as they grow into young men skilled in the arts of war and medicine their bond blossoms into something deeper – despite the displeasure of Achilles’ mother Thetis, a cruel sea goddess. But then word comes that Helen of Sparta has been kidnapped. Torn between love and fear for his friend, Patroclus journeys with Achilles to Troy, little knowing that the years that follow will test everything they hold dear.
Review: This book is everything an epic retelling of mighty Achilles should be. In the beginning of the novel, as Patroclus’ backstory was being introduced, I started to feel some type of way because I always loved Patroclus’ story and Madeline Miller’s telling of it wasn’t what I remembered at all, but when he is sent to live with Achilles, I stopped caring about that completely. The relationship between these two heroes grows slowly and softly and sweetly in a way that proves just how passionate about the classics Miller really is.

As Achilles and Patroclus grow older (not that old, they’re barely teenagers at the start of the Trojan War), they cannot avoid the world forever. The dynamics between all of other characters shift, but the bond between Achilles and Patroclus stays steady. I knew how this was to end, obviously, but JESUS did I cry. The best of the Greeks indeed. Patroclus’ love for Achilles, and Achilles’ lust for legacy create a beautiful and tragic story of love and honor. Thetis, I hated you, but in the end, you did right by your son.

Definitely looking forward to more from Madeline Miller after this.

The Brief & Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao

Image result for oscar waoTitle: The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao
Author: Junot Diaz
Genre: fiction; contemporary; magical realism
Synopsis: (from Goodreads) Things have never been easy for Oscar, a sweet but disastrously overweight, lovesick Dominican ghetto nerd. From his home in New Jersey, where he lives with his old-world mother and rebellious sister, Oscar dreams of becoming the Dominican J. R. R. Tolkien and, most of all, of finding love. But he may never get what he wants, thanks to the Fukœ-the curse that has haunted the Oscar’s family for generations, dooming them to prison, torture, tragic accidents, and, above all, ill-starred love. Oscar, still waiting for his first kiss, is just its most recent victim. Diaz immerses us in the tumultuous life of Oscar and the history of the family at large, rendering with genuine warmth and dazzling energy, humor, and insight the Dominican-American experience, and, ultimately, the endless human capacity to persevere in the face of heartbreak and loss. A true literary triumph, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao confirms Junot Diaz as one of the best and most exciting voices of our time.
Review: When I picked this book up originally, I thought I was going to love it — outcast nerd who likes weird things and wants to be a famous writer someday — but I couldn’t really get all the way into it. I liked that it was told through another perspective, and I love the cultural dissonance between the two characters, but for some reason, when I finished the book, I wasn’t inspired. Yunior’s storyline is bittersweet — he can’t figure out what he wants and with this engrained idea of who he has to be and how he has to act, he doesn’t really grow up until the end. Oscar is the complete opposite of that. He realizes that he can only be who he is, even if it “sucks” because it’s “all he has.” I wouldn’t consider Oscar to be “wondrous” but I do like his “I’d die for love” attitudes.

​Overall, I enjoyed it. Just not as much as everyone said I would.

Goblin Secrets

Image result for goblin secretsTitle: Goblin Secrets
Author: William Alexander
Genre​: YA; fantasy
Synopsis: (from Goodreads) In the town of Zombay, there is a witch named Graba who has clockwork chicken legs and moves her house around—much like the fairy tale figure of Baba Yaga. Graba takes in stray children, and Rownie is the youngest boy in her household. Rownie’s only real relative is his older brother Rowan, who is an actor. But acting is outlawed in Zombay, and Rowan has disappeared. Desperate to find him, Rownie joins up with a troupe of goblins who skirt the law to put on plays. But their plays are not only for entertainment, and the masks they use are for more than make-believe. The goblins also want to find Rowan—because Rowan might be the only person who can save the town from being flooded by a mighty river.
Review: In this day and age, with the book world as oversaturated as it is, finding a fantasy book that has magic, a hero’s quest, and a prophecy is almost commonplace – but that’s not what you’ll get in William Alexander’s Goblin Secrets. This book has familiar elements from all of those tropes but in Zombay, even with the threat of a prophesized flood, nothing is as it seems. The main character, Rownie, is a little boy who doesn’t even have his own name, and yet, he is plucky and tough. It is easy to see why this book received a National Book Award as William Alexander’s quality of writing, narrative style, and structure is easy to follow and his characters are both charming and brave. In the city of Zombay, Tamlin (the politically correct term for goblins) believe in hope and magic and prophecy, and need Rownie’s help to make it come to pass. They accept Rownie as one of their own and tell him to “Stand and move with purpose. Move the way the mask would prefer you move” (103) because what they do for Zombay is mysterious… something “ancient and grand” (101).

​This book, originally written for middle grade readers, is full of steampunk, action, and questing for them to enjoy. Rownie, an orphan running from the witch that is his caregiver, Graba, is looking for his missing brother throughout the town of Zombay. Rownie, while on the run from Graba, comes upon a band of goblins (Tamlin) whose home, despite their social status, is Zombay. Born and raised in Zombay, but changed – the term used for people who become goblins – are not seen as real citizens even in their hometown. In this, Alexander does something clever – he introduces social commentary into the novel without seeming to be on a soapbox. He does this in little ways, for instance he writes, “UnChanged folk do not touch Tamlin, as a rule. They seem to believe that it would give them freckles” (106). Without being political, Alexander introduces inequity and discrimination into a novel meant for preteens.

The story is told from a 3rd person point of view which allows the reader to enter Rownie’s mind throughout the book. Alexander writes in the main character’s emotions and thoughts in a way that lends itself to its readership. Rownie “does not run” (60) from his problems – although he does run from the Guard – but instead, faces them as a hero who is on a quest must. Alexander’s style posits for strong truths and deeper meanings into the hero’s quest. Semele, the Tamlin who takes Rownie in, says, “We are always using masks and a lack of facts to find the truth and nudge it into becoming more true” (95). In a city full of liars, Rownie realizes that actors, who “pretend” because “It’s kind of [their] job” (95) are the only ones who can help him find his brother and save Zombay from the prophesized floods. into Rownie’s journey with simple, yet beautiful prose. It isn’t Graba or his brother who “gather beside Rownie” (219) throughout this journey through the flood and back, it’s the Tamlin. Alexander’s book, written in Acts and Scenes, like the drama it is, is a journey for the truth. Rownie, an orphan and a misfit, goes on a quest for his brother, but ends up finding out what he’s truly made of in the process.

Always Running

Image result for always runningTitle: Always Running
Author: Luis Rodriguez
Genre: nonfiction, memoir, crime, urban
Synopsis: (from Goodreads) Always Running is the searing true story of one man’s life in a Chicano gang—and his heroic struggle to free himself from its grip.
By age twelve, Luis Rodriguez was a veteran of East Los Angeles gang warfare. Lured by a seemingly invincible gang culture, he witnessed countless shootings, beatings, and arrests and then watched with increasing fear as gang life claimed friends and family members. Before long, Rodriguez saw a way out of the barrio through education and the power of words and successfully broke free from years of violence and desperation.
At times heartbreakingly sad and brutal, Always Running is ultimately an uplifting true story, filled with hope, insight, and a hard-earned lesson for the next generation.
ReviewAlways Running has been a book I’ve gone back to over and over again as a story that still needs telling. Every time I read it, I’m surprised and impressed by how Luis Rodriguez can tell such a heartbreaking story so beautifully. In the synopsis they say “at times heartbreakingly sad and brutal” and they aren’t lying. This book is sad, brutal, and graphic. But. Every single word means something in Rodriguez’s story. Every anecdote he relays to the reader is purposeful and compelling. I hate that the things he writes about from his childhood are still relevant — the police brutality, the general attitude toward the “other”, laws and policies that are detrimental to those outside of the majority, those without power. The way Rodriguez writes about gangs and his upbringing is still relevant. I love this book, and I’d recommend it to high schoolers or older without reservation.

Graelfire

Image result for graelfireTitle: Graelfire
Author: Stephen Chamberlain
Genre: Science Fiction; Retellings
Synopsis: (from Goodreads) Graëlfire is a gripping new twist on Grail mythology. Based on the medieval legend of the Grail as a stone that fell from Heaven, the story is set in present-day Switzerland and medieval Occitania within a fictional cosmos where universes emerge from primordial Graëlfire – the source of all Creation.
Review: I really enjoyed this book. I found it on Netgalley and realized it was something I couldn’t put down only after a few pages. The characters are vibrant and original, as is this new telling of a Grail myth. I loved the two varying timelines and how they wove together through the same quest. Lena and Raphael are an interesting team and their dynamic made this read much more compelling. Gideon’s arc was intriguing and as the story continued, his tale made me much more bound to finishing it.   A Grail story for sure, but not like Dan Brown in any way. This supernatural Grail quest was full of adventure, sure, but it had more of a plot, more purpose. It wasn’t church against humanity, it was more than that.

Of Poseidon

Image result for of poseidonTitle: Of Poseidon
Author: Anna Banks
Genre: Fantasy; Mermaid
Synopsis: (from Goodreads) Galen is the prince of the Syrena, sent to land to find a girl he’s heard can communicate with fish. Emma is on vacation at the beach. When she runs into Galen—literally, ouch!—both teens sense a connection. But it will take several encounters, including a deadly one with a shark, for Galen to be convinced of Emma’s gifts. Now, if he can only convince Emma that she holds the key to his kingdom… Told from both Emma and Galen’s points of view, here is a fish-out-of-water story that sparkles with intrigue, humor, and waves of romance.
Review: Part 1 of The Syrena Legacy, ‘Of Poseidon’ is a great text to get struggling readers reading. Romance with a dash of action, this YA novel is fun and a fast read. Because you go from Galen to Emma and back again, you get to know both of them very well. The little girl inside of me that always swam like a fish and wished to be a mermaid loved this book. Everyone who ever feels different wishes they could be part of something bigger and for Emma, she gets just that. Everything she thought she knew about who she was and where she came from gets challenged in this first book of a trio. Galen too, learns that he’s more than just a title.
Completely worth the read!