Red, White and Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston

Published: 14th May 2019

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Publisher: St. Martin’s Griffin
Pages: 421
Format: Paperback
Genre: New Adult
★ ★ ★ – 3 Stars

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

This is the alternate reality we all wanted in 2016 and while it’s good to see what was possible in an ideal world, it also felt slightly over the top at times. It isn’t just the reimaging of the 2016 election, it’s also a complete rewrite of the British monarchy with a lot of perfect world mentalities that aren’t always refreshing and sometimes come across as plain unrealistic.

It was an enjoyable narrative, I wasn’t head over heels about it but I liked the characters, they were interesting and had complexities and their own issues to overcome. This is a modern story with the realisation that not everyone is a white male and seeing such a diverse group of characters come together in one book and administration was great. The romance between Henry and Alex is sweet, I liked the secrecy and their slow but fast relationship, and while I understood the risks, I wasn’t obsessed with this romance. You spend a lot of time waiting for the secrets to be exposed, but it was interesting to see the build-up and the anticipation kept me engaged because I wanted to see how it would play out.

The guise of international relations and meetings helps push this relationship along with plane travel and secret meetings. It’s a cruel reminder that not everyone has a 24 hour flight to the UK or America and you can duck over for clandestine romantic meetings. One thing I kept thinking about was bodyguards and paparazzi. The amount of secret meetings these two got was amazing, there only seemed to be one personal guard for each of them that let them do whatever they wanted. It was hard to imagine that actually happening.

The ages of the characters brings this firmly into the New Adult category and not YA because most of the main characters are in their early 20s and the consenting, vigorous sexual encounters Alex and Henry both enjoy is also a bit much for your younger teen. It isn’t overly graphic, but there is a lot of lust between Alex and Henry and McQuiston isn’t shy in the writing. The text and email exchanges between Henry and Alex are some of the best bits. It alternates between fun and flirty, to serious and deep, to drunk and sexual.

Whether it’s because Alex was the main voice we got to see more of his personality shine but I never quite got more of Henry’s. We’re told he’s shy and nervous about coming out, plus his public persona versus his private is naturally different, but while we are given facts about his interests and hobbies they felt like a one dimensional addition. I don’t think I noticed at the time, but as I thought more about it I couldn’t see Henry as having quite as much explored depth as Alex, even with all the information about him. Some characters I forgot existed entirely until they turned up again which was fine they weren’t always part of the story, but Alex felt the most developed out of all of them.

It’s a curious experience to not truly connect with a main character until the final 100 pages but it wasn’t until the very end did I actually become invested in Alex. I loved how McQuiston explores the aftermath and Alex’s reaction to it because that was when I felt a connection to him. His coping mechanism resonated with me and I adored how McQuiston put us in the moment as Alex experiences emotions and events around him, it felt like a completely different way than he’d been presented previously.

This is a book for those in the US who know and understand their political system. It’s for a specific group and for those outside the US it is possible to still understand what is going so we know what is at stake, and to McQuiston’s credit enough is explained that I understood without needing to know the full ins and out of the political system. Having a main character the son of the president there’s going to be a lot of inescapable politics in the story and their life. McQuiston alternates between barely a mention to suddenly flooding the pages and back again. There are a few jabs to the US and UK political environment I quite enjoyed, though it’s also a “wink, wink” kind of moment in some places that rely on you knowing about the political system and past events. Even as a non-American I know more than I care too about the US political system simple because you can’t really ignore it, but even things I didn’t completely understand I understood was a Thing and meant Something but not understanding didn’t mean I was lost on the story. McQuiston uses characters and the plot well to discuss the political world.

In terms of story it is predictable, but people seem to not mind that when it’s a romance. It is an idealised, utopian world where even the few issues there were never felt like actual issues, but people don’t seem to mind that either. I didn’t hate it, I think understanding though that the utopian world that’s created here can actually go beyond normalcy and possible and into unrealistic events and situations.

What I found curious is that looking at it, the book doesn’t seem long, but reading it, it is long. I felt like it was never going to end, and as I say, I didn’t hate it, but waiting and waiting for The Thing to happen so we could move on from it took most of the book. The consequences are over and done with relatively simply. Both the UK and US press never would have let half of this stuff happen, and while you can become focused on the romance and the group of twenty somethings making friends and having fun, you can’t really ignore the fake, idealistic world they are existing in. McQuiston is trying too hard to make it perfect and it doesn’t always come across as a good thing when you do it this poorly.

You can purchase Red, White, and Royal Blue via the following

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The Lady’s Guide to Petticoats and Piracy (#2) by Mackenzi Lee

Published: 2nd October 2018 (print)/2nd October 2018 (audio) Goodreads badge
Publisher:
Katherine Tegen Books/HarperCollins Publishers
Pages: 450/11 hrs and 16 mins
Narrator: Moira Quirk
Format: Audiobook
Genre: Young Adult
★   ★   ★  ★ – 4 Stars

A year after an accidentally whirlwind grand tour with her brother Monty, Felicity Montague has returned to England with two goals in mind—avoid the marriage proposal of a lovestruck suitor from Edinburgh and enroll in medical school. However, her intellect and passion will never be enough in the eyes of the administrators, who see men as the sole guardians of science.

But then a window of opportunity opens—a doctor she idolises is marrying an old friend of hers in Germany. Felicity believes if she could meet this man he could change her future, but she has no money of her own to make the trip. Luckily, a mysterious young woman is willing to pay Felicity’s way, so long as she’s allowed to travel with Felicity disguised as her maid.

In spite of her suspicions, Felicity agrees, but once the girl’s true motives are revealed, Felicity becomes part of a perilous quest that leads them from the German countryside to the promenades of Zurich to secrets lurking beneath the Atlantic.

Naturally after finished Gentleman’s Guide I had to pick up book two to see what our favourite sister Felicity was getting up to. Admittedly with a slow start it took me a while to get into the story but once I did it was engaging and full of wonderful surprises. It had so much to live up to compared to Gentleman’s Guide and while it isn’t quite the same story, it is its own story and Felicity needed her own story too. There was a lot more humour in Gentleman’s but I think that comes from Monty, he steals the show in every scene in this book too which is completely on form.

The story takes place a year after the events of the previous book and seeing how they have all fared after those events is delightful. Felicity is the main character this time around with new characters and a new adventure ahead we understand a lot more of her character than what we got to see before.

One thing I missed was that I didn’t see the sarcastic Felicity that I loved from the first book in this. Having said that her interactions with Monty and Percy were as fantastic as before; the three of them together radiate family and sibling relationships. On her own though, Lee shows off a lot more of her insecurities and her determination, which isn’t to say it wasn’t there before, but now we have her own perspective to give us more insight than a few off the hand remarks about the annoyances of her brother and his melodramatics.

Felicity recaps much of the previous book but not in an unnatural way, more like reminders to herself of all she has achieved and what she is capable of. These moments of unfairness where she talks about injustices can come across as repetitive but I chose to look at it as ongoing pep talks Felicity gives herself when faced with challenges or defeat.

Quirk does a wonderful job as narrator for the audio and the inflections and voices for each character suited them so I was never once removed from the story. With each voice it brought out the characters and it was amazing to see how the assigned voice to the characters reflected their personalities.

There’s a lot of adventure and drama as well as great character exploration and growth. While it may not have been as hilarious, there is still humour and a fierceness I enjoyed a lot. Lee doesn’t try and replicate the events or style of the first book, but it still fits in perfectly as a sequel and gives an adventure just as daring and dangerous.

One of the best parts of this is the female camaraderie and the friendships. There’s unity and ferociousness and seeing these women plan to take on the world and the patriarchy and the inequalities of their time is fantastic. It was excellent to see these women band together and fight for the lives that they want and deserve and Lee never makes it preachy, though so much of it can easily be applied today.

There’re some harrowing moments and the realities of exploring Englishman and Europeans on the world ring true but there is a wonderful representation of other cultures and great diversity in characters as well. This is definitely a fabulous adventure to go on and a story that was full of surprises.

You can purchase The Lady’s Guide to Petticoats and Piracy via the following

Booktopia | Book Depository

Dymocks | Wordery

 Fishpond | Amazon | Amazon Aust | Audible

The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue (#1) by Mackenzi Lee

Published: 27th June 2017 (print)/27th June 2017 (audio) Goodreads badge
Publisher:
Katherine Tegen Books/HarperCollins Publishers
Pages: 513/10 hrs and 47 mins
Narrator: Christian Coulson
Format: Audiobook
Genre: Young Adult
★   ★   ★  ★  ★ – 5 Stars

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 travelling 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.

There is so much I love about this book. Lee develops her characters brilliantly and seeing how rich and complicated they are and then also see them grow but remain their same essential selves is all you could ever want from a novel. The story is captivating with adventure and intrigue, but there are also moments of compassion and intimacy which bring out each character’s uniqueness and these are the moments we get to know them best.

Monty and Percy’s relationship is fabulous and is heart-warming and heartbreaking all at the same time, and Felicity and Monty’s sibling dynamics are hilarious and believable. Monty is the main character but his interactions and travels with the other two help us understand their world and the wider society and expectations. Lee brings in the scandals and the dangers of the era and through these three characters you also see the day to day life so you are completely immersed in this time and how 18th century society operated. Lee doesn’t dwell on too much explanation though as it all blends together wonderfully as she uses the characters and their circumstances to add in detail and background.

Monty is such a fantastically complicated person. I went from loving his roguish attitude at the start, then properly hating him as a scoundrel but when you start to realise who he truly is I fell in love with him.  It was such a wild ride to go on with him. I respected Lee’s character choice to have this villainous person as a main charcater so I told myself it was author’s choice to do so, don’t hate the book because the character is truly horrible, but when you realise, and it isn’t long until you realise, oh the heartache and the realisation hits you in the face and it is painful and perfect and incredible. I felt sad for him at times and it breaks your heart because you want him to be happy and safe which isn’t always entirely possible. He is the kind of character you hate at the start and would completely die for by the end.

The audio is amazing because Coulson puts in the perfect tone and accent for Monty which is a pure joy to listen to. His snark and attitude, Felicity’s exasperations, and Percy’s sweetness come across so well they really feel like actual people and each character stands out on their own and with their own voice. The inflections and the humour bring all the joy of this story to life and I loved the narration immediately.

Characters aside, the plot is wonderful, it is creative, not overly complicated but has enough daring and adventure to make it captivating. Lee manages to capture how people have always very much been people and mixing it together with the chaos of a manhunt and drama of every kind creates a brilliant story that I loved from start to finish.

You can purchase The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue via the following

QBD | Booktopia | Book Depository

Dymocks | WorderyAngus and Robinson

 Fishpond | Amazon | Amazon Aust | Audible

Growing Up Queer in Australia edited by Benjamin Law

Published: 6th August 2019Goodreads badge
Publisher:
Black Inc
Pages: 288
Format: Paperback
Genre: Non-Fiction
★   ★   ★   ★ – 4 Stars

Compiled by celebrated author and journalist Benjamin Law, Growing Up Queer in Australia assembles voices from across the spectrum of LGBTIQA+ identity. Spanning diverse places, eras, genders, ethnicities and experiences, these are the stories of growing up queer in Australia.

For better or worse, sooner or later, life conspires to reveal you to yourself, and this is growing up.

With contributions from David Marr, Fiona Wright, Nayuka Gorrie, Steve Dow, Holly Throsby, Sally Rugg, Tony Ayres, Nic Holas, Rebecca Shaw, Kerryn Phelps and many more.

Growing Up Queer is filled with voices of all aspects of the LGBTQIA+ community with stories about gay relationships, being intersex, having first loves, lost loves, and those who were important to the lives of all these authors, demonstrating the crucial roles some of them had to play in them finding who they are. The introduction is a good place to start because it includes the content warnings and apologies if the content upsets anyone. The stories are filled with discrimination, family rejection, suicide mention and violence. It is important to warn readers but these are crucial moments because these are stories about growing up queer in Australia, these are real stories and real experiences and knowing that these are hardships that these authors have had to deal with is part of the understanding.

There are stories that show the complex relationships with parents around cultural boundaries, about religion, as well as the struggles and the wins about coming out to family and friends. It isn’t only recent coming out stories either, many previous decades are covered from the 70s to the 90s and 2000s. There is even a story from the 50s that covers hiding your true self until an older age. I wasn’t keeping a real record about when each story was set, nor do all the stories really identify when they take place, but it felt like there were a lot more from the last thirty years than earlier. Not that the last thirty years isn’t a large amount of time for society to change it’s opinions, but I would have loved to hear more stories about the earlier years a well.

There were a lot of stories connected to the marriage equality survey and how the results affected people and their families. Some stories were wonderful, while others were a little heartbreaking. The authors talk about the impact it had on their relationships, their feeling of inclusion, not to mention their anger that it was being debated at all and how it changed how they saw some of their friends and family. Obviously this was a huge change to people’s lives and it was interesting to see their opinions and perspectives.

The “growing up” aspect of the title I was expecting their childhood or young adult experience, and many stories explore that time with recollections from moments in time that were important or crucial to them understanding or embracing . But there were also stories of being older, in their twenties, or an older adult. One author wrote that the growing up part of their queer life was when they were more comfortable in their queerness, not necessarily when they were young which I thought was an interesting approach.

I found myself writing down some brilliant insights and quotes that I think encapsulate what it means to be queer, what society thinks they should be and say, and how those critical and offensive towards them feel they are privileged to say and do. These essays are written by people who are masters with words and I found it helps explain just how different their experiences are from other people and how they are also not the alien figures people think they are. These are just some of my favourites:

“Try as they might, our subversive bodies will always tell us the truth…What censorship is really designed to achieve is the sort of silence that turns what our bodies tell us into shame. This calls for more than censorship of books and films. It also needs the censorship of learning.” – David Marr

“If you can’t be yourself in your own way then god help you when you die with a wallet full of fake IDs.” – Tim Sinclair

“All identities, queer or not, are fictional stories. The important of queer storytellers is not in how they prove their truth, but in how they prove it is necessary to tell our stories in a way that makes us comfortable.” – Oliver Reeson

The anthology is made of essays, but some were more essay like, some were memoirs that told of a certain moment, and some felt like wonderful fictional stories they were so beautifully told. I found myself getting quite caught up in some of these tales, drawn in by their way with words and their fascinating lives about being part of the LGBTQIA+ community and the experiences they had had. While there were stories of trauma and trouble, there isn’t a huge focus on it. Many contributors wrote about how amazing it is nowadays that sexuality is spoken about more openly than ever before, but it’s acknowledged that fear is still there.

I was expecting more stories that talked about the struggles of discrimination, especially in the earlier decades about fighting to decriminalise homosexuality or other discrimination. I completely understand though that hiding who you were was the best defence you could ever have and embracing your queerness by celebrating the good moments is better than focusing on the bad. Initially I thought these types of stories needed to be included because the history is important and acknowledging the past is important even if it hurts. But it is also important to tell stories of happiness and hope, and there are mentions of the violence some people experienced, it isn’t focused on a lot but it isn’t omitted either.

This is a wonderful collection that could help people understand who they are, and it is a wonderful way to understand he lives of others, the struggles they have faced and makes you realise that as wonderful as things have become, there is still a way to go.

You can purchase Growing Up Queer via the following

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Dymocks | Angus and Robinson

 Fishpond | Amazon | Amazon Aust | Audible

The Miseducation of Cameron Post by Emily M. Danforth

Published: 28th May 2013 (print)/6th April 2013 (audio) Goodreads badge
Publisher:
Balzer + Bray/Audible
Pages: 470/14 hrs and 17 mins
Narrator: Beth Laufer
Format: Audiobook
Genre: Young Adult
★   ★   ★  ★ – 4 Stars

When Cameron Post’s parents die suddenly in a car crash, her shocking first thought is relief. Relief they’ll never know that, hours earlier, she had been kissing a girl.

But that relief doesn’t last, and Cam is soon forced to move in with her conservative aunt Ruth and her well-intentioned but hopelessly old-fashioned grandmother. She knows that from this point on, her life will forever be different. Survival in Miles City, Montana, means blending in and leaving well enough alone (as her grandmother might say), and Cam becomes an expert at both.

Then Coley Taylor moves to town. Beautiful, pickup-driving Coley is a perfect cowgirl with the perfect boyfriend to match. She and Cam forge an unexpected and intense friendship–one that seems to leave room for something more to emerge. But just as that starts to seem like a real possibility, ultrareligious Aunt Ruth takes drastic action to “fix” her niece, bringing Cam face-to-face with the cost of denying her true self–even if she’s not exactly sure who that is.

The Miseducation of Cameron Post is a stunning and unforgettable literary debut about discovering who you are and finding the courage to live life according to your own rules.

CW: self-harm, drug use, sex

I’m not sure what made me start reading this book but I am so glad I did. I loved the story, I loved Cameron and her life and truly I think I could have read about Cameron’s early romances and relationships forever. I was so involved with everything this book was about; I loved the complications and the secrets and the pure freedom of expression of desires. It was wonderful to see that even though everything is hidden, it is possible. Laufer is a fantastic narrator, she uses inflections and tones perfectly and you’re never taken out of the story. I was drawn into Cameron’s world and was with her the entire time.

There are fabulous friendships, the inevitable betrayal and I wanted nothing more than to jump into the book and seek justice for Cameron on her behalf. There is such an energy from those early parts that I fell right into. I didn’t quite feel the same energy in the final parts/chapters until right at the very end. Not quite sure where it kicks over but I think somewhere when she is sent to be “fixed”. The place is a strange set up and while it isn’t nearly as weird as others that no doubt existed, it has a dangerous approach to it all the same.

It’s strange because it could have been a lot worse, and I think Cameron eventually highlights what the main problem with it is, and of course other people do in small ways before, but it was such a weird environment and that comes across in the writing. The majority of the book comes before this though and by then you can clearly see the wrongness going on even if it is disguised as something else.

I loved Cameron’s defiance and her self-assurance. I loved that she knows the risks and yet wants to experience things anyway. Danforth doesn’t preach at us, but through the characters we see the injustice, through their words and their situations we see how messed up this thinking is, how kids are being essentially punished for loving who they love through no fault of their own.

This is a story about teenager’s being teenagers and doing all the things teenagers are going to do. The turn of the decade and coming of age all mix together into an honest story that is filled with passion and kids who are just being kids. There’s marijuana use, some language and a pretty honest exploration of sexuality and sex. It is uncertain, it’s new, it’s exciting and all of that comes across on the page with these characters who you love and hate and see for all their foolishness and faults.

I loved it all, but I really loved the earlier parts the most. I could feel it, right there with Cameron and her childhood, figuring stuff out, never naming it but working on instinct and having those around her to guide her. We go through years of her life and see the people who influence her and who love her. It is a brilliant exploration of best friends and women helping women.

It also has such a great 90s feel, the early years of a decade, the end of another when you can remember the previous decade and new trends are happening, there’s new music and old clothes, a mix of times. Even though this was published in 2012 there isn’t a clear shoehorning of 90s references, it happens naturally if at all. You understood it was from an earlier time and it was also timeless in a way which allowed the story to focus on the characters, on Cameron and her life, and the lives of those around her.

I would have loved the book to go on further, but despite the fact it was already quite long, I wanted to see more after those final moments. I wanted to be vengeful on Cameron’s behalf, I wanted her to be free and to see the previous life she had left behind, I wanted to save so many people from the adults around them. I do love the ending, it was beautifully done and Danforth brings it back to earlier moments so wonderfully well it was a great conclusion. My own wishes though would love to see what happens next and yet I don’t need a sequel because I really do think that would ruin the magic.

You can purchase The Miseducation of Cameron Post via the following

QBD | Booktopia | Book Depository

Dymocks | WorderyAngus and Robinson

 Fishpond | Amazon | Amazon Aust | Audible

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