Red, White and Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston

Published: 14th May 2019

Goodreads badge

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

Booktopia | Book Depository

Dymocks | Fishpond

Amazon | Amazon Aust

Upside Down by N. R. Walker

Published: 21st March 2019Goodreads badge
Publisher:
Blueheart Press
Pages: 258
Format: ebook
Genre: Contemporary romance
★   ★   ★  – 3 Stars

Jordan O’Neill isn’t a fan of labels, considering he has a few. Gay, geek, a librarian, socially awkward, a nervous rambler, an introvert, an outsider. The last thing he needs is one more. But when he realises adding the label ‘asexual’ might explain a lot, it turns his world upside down.

Hennessy Lang moved to Surry Hills after splitting with his boyfriend. His being asexual had seen the end of a lot of his romances, but he’s determined to stay true to himself. Leaving his North Shore support group behind, he starts his own in Surry Hills, where he meets first-time-attendee Jordan.

A little bewildered and scared, but completely adorable, Hennessy is struck by this guy who’s trying to find where he belongs. Maybe Hennessy can convince Jordan that his world hasn’t been turned upside down at all, but maybe it’s now—for the first time in his life—the right way up.

There is a certain delightful charm about this book. It is slightly rough around the edges in terms of style and story but it has heart. There are unique and diverse characters and Walker has managed to show the joy of friendship groups and the adventures of people in their mid-twenties: able to enjoy the freedom of being an adult while allowed to still be young and not have any major responsibilities.

Walker has captured the two differences voices perfectly. Jordon is very excitable but this has its charm at times. You can see Jordan’s mind working a mile a minute and his talkative nature is juxtaposed against Hennessy’s subdued, calmer nature. This may not be the full asexual story that people are looking for, but it does show the actions and mindset of a man trying to work out where he fits in the world. It is also a great introduction to this type of relationship and life that people may be unfamiliar with.

Jordon is definitely someone I think is an acquired taste. He swears a lot, he rambles and is very talkative but this is the character choice Walker has made and it brings some uniqueness to the character. One that also helps understand why he is so reluctant for this added development. Hennessy is the opposite and seeing the two of them together can be quite sweet because Hennessy doesn’t see Jordon’s personality as a flaw.

There are a few dialogue bumps and it isn’t always the most perfect writing but the story comes from a strong start and seeing the boys get to know one another and grow is actually quite endearing. Seeing them get flustered around each other in their own way is joyful and there are many adorable moments of the boys being adorable together. If you know the Surry Hills area there are great Australian references and locations as well.

Sometimes in an effort to cover the fact there is no offer of sex or sexual attraction there are a few misunderstandings that aren’t actual misunderstandings which I think Walker is trying to add some drama where communication would have solved all of the problems. There is admittedly a cheesiness to the story but it is sweet and if you don’t mind slightly sappy, daggy boys and their enthusiastic friends.

The things I loved though was the complexity of the relationship and identity. Seeing Jordon trying to work out who he is and where he fits is wonderful once you get further into the story. There are light hearted moments, cringy moments, but there are also complicated moments that show that trying to find out who you are can be tough and something that takes time and a lot of support.

You can purchase Upside Down via the following

Booktopia | Book Depository

Dymocks | WorderyAngus and Robinson

 Fishpond | Amazon | Amazon Aust

Wild Heart (#4) by Belinda Williams

Published: 15th April 2019Goodreads badge
Publisher:
BWrite
Pages: 296
Format: ebook
Genre: Romance
★   ★   ★   ★ – 4 Stars

IS HOLLYWOOD’S MOST FORMIDABLE ACTRESS A MATCH FOR ONE OF THE WORLD’S TOUGHEST STUNTMEN?

Faith Martin is not having a mid-life crisis. Never mind she’s just turned forty and found a wrinkle. In need of a change from LA, Faith heads to Sonoma Valley in Northern California only to discover the one man she never wanted to see again is living there.

Cole Cooper is more than just a handsome rancher and winemaker. He’s a respected stuntman and Faith knows he’s as dangerous in real life as when he’s diving from cars or throwing punches on-screen.

Then Faith receives the opportunity to star in, as well as direct, a lethal action film that could take her career to new heights. The only problem? The production team want Cole for the job of stunt coordinator, and they’re not prepared to negotiate.

When suspicious accidents start occurring on-set, is Faith prepared to take extreme risks for the most exciting role of her career? And will those risks include endangering her heart?

The final Hollywood Hearts book has arrived and it might just be my favourite one. I’ve enjoyed the other books in the series but there was something about this one and made me realise Faith is my favourite of all four women. Her character has been explored a little in other stories but finally we got a chance to see her flourish and find out what lurks beneath the no filter snark and opinionated woman of Hollywood. As Faith’s story unfolds and we learn more about the events she’s hinted at in previous stories and I felt her fire and passion about her career. I loved that she spoke her mind but still had some vulnerabilities hidden away and Williams draws these out really well.

The narrative had that same mystery and intrigue to it that the rest of the Heart series has had but instead of choosing another stalker route, Williams has gone in a different direction. I enjoyed this move, I was genuinely worried we’d have another stalker but instead we have a great mystery and captivating conclusion that suits not only the final book, but also Faith’s story.

The familiar faces of previous novels pop up and you see more of their own stories progress as well. I liked that Williams has kept them as friends but there is definitely a different type of friendship between the four of them. Faith and Lena have a different friendship than Lena and Ally have, and Faith and Chloe have another kind again.

I enjoyed that Faith was allowed to be experienced in not only film but in relationships and Williams doesn’t make it an issue in anyway. Having characters with life experience is what makes this story work because they know what they want, can be adults about their working relationship, and each of them are secure and settled in their lives. That’s not to say they both don’t make mistakes and refuse to acknowledge their feelings; seeing Faith and Cole dance around one another is wonderful.

I initially thought that her reaction to Cole was an overreaction but when you learn more of their story it made some more sense. Their past is evident but Williams doesn’t throw it in our faces, it becomes a connection between the pair that is a bit adorable and with the drama that happens in the book I was engaged from start to finish. There is a lot of wonderful pockets of information sprinkled throughout and Williams balances the quiet, intimate moments with the dramatic beautifully.

Like all the books this can be a standalone, but there are a lot of references to previous events and characters. One of the reasons why I think this is my favourite out of the four is because the suspense and events in this book felt real, felt plausible. Not that the other stories were fanciful, but there was something real about Faith’s story that I believed in. I was excited to delve further into her character and I am delighted that we have finally been given the chance.

You can purchase Wild Heart via the following

Amazon Aust

Heartstrings by Belinda Williams

Published: 29th October 2018Goodreads badge
Publisher:
BWrite
Pages: 119
Format: ebook
Genre: Romance Novella
★   ★   ★  – 3 Stars

A CHRISTMAS PARTY TO REMEMBER…

Arabella ‘Bella’ Valenti has big dreams for the future. Thanks to her fashion designer cousin, Ally, Bella has the right connections to become an event planner to the stars. She’s just secured her first job—planning a Christmas party for an actor notorious for playing the villain.

Bennett Moss is nothing like Bella expects. For a start, he’s super nice and the last thing she wants to do is crush on her first client. Not to mention his party isn’t exactly the dream job she’d hoped for…

Then Bella lands another event that is a dream job, but it also puts her in a very awkward position. If she holds both parties, there will be a conflict of interest and Bella could make or break her career before it’s even begun. Will she organize the event Bennett’s asked for or will she take a risk and throw a party to remember?

Heartstrings is technically a standalone novella but is also in part connected through the characters to Williams’ Hollywood Hearts series. The story follows Bella and her dreams of launching an event planning business. We’ve seen Bella pop up in Heartthrob as she supported Ally’s story and seeing her with her own story is a nice circle back to the first story.

This is a charming Christmas novella that captures the holiday spirit with a touch of romance and a gradual friendship turn romance. There are bristles and confrontations but there is heart and like all Williams’ romance novels there is a happily ever after but not before there are some feathers ruffled and a genuine possibility that they destined couple may not end up together.

Bella is a sweet character, her chance at her dream job drives her decisions and her naivety is evident but so too is her passion. The characters aren’t overly complicated but they show enough substance for this kind of story and certainly for one this length. I enjoyed seeing Bella interact with Bennett and while I might have been more enamoured by him rather than her, I enjoyed seeing her adjust her viewpoint based on her discoveries.

There is a lot of family love through this story which brings out the wonderful emotional soft side of Bennett which is one thing I love about Williams’ men; they have complicated emotions that we get to explore and even in this simple novella there is old love and new love which is wonderfully endearing.

You can purchase Heartstrings via the following

Amazon | Amazon Aust

Heartbeat (#3) by Belinda Williams

Published: 4th December 2017Goodreads badge
Publisher:
BWrite
Pages: 335
Format: ebook
Genre: Romance
★   ★   ★ – 3 Stars

GOOD GIRLS DON’T KISS AND TELL. UNLESS THEY’RE CAUGHT IN THE ACT…

Twenty-one-year-old Chloe Kemp knows it’s not easy growing up in the celebrity spotlight. Unlike other child actors, Chloe’s determined to hold onto her squeaky clean reputation. So far that’s been easy because she really is as sweet and innocent as the media portrays. 

Until a video of her in bed with the lead singer of a famous rock band is released online. Only nothing happened. Not that anyone will believe her…

Nor will anyone believe she was in bed with the wrong rock star. Chloe’s fallen for drummer, Gabriel da Silva, and she’s heartbroken she’s ruined her chances with him. Or is it possible he’s fallen for Chloe’s sweetness?

When Chloe is sent incriminating images, it becomes apparent someone is following her with the intention of ruining her reputation as well as any relationship with Gabe. If Chloe wants her career to survive, and a shot with Gabe, is it time she grows up and trusts her heart?

Note: I was provided with a copy of this book by the author for review via NetGalley

One of my favourite things about William’s series is how she connects her characters and books together. The character we have gotten to know and love in one book are revisited with new perspectives and insights. This is the third book in the Hollywood Hearts series and we get to see Chloe’s point of view. Chloe’s life is one I think is interesting because of her upbringing and Williams has chosen an interesting approach.

Chloe’s character hasn’t changed too much between the books, only now do we see it in more detail. Her youth in comparison to the other women is highlighted a few times in the past and this is evident in her depiction, not to mention her sheltered life certainly comes across in the things she does and says. Instead of having the completely media savvy girl, Chloe’s secluded and controlled life is obvious and it makes her attempt at breaking free that much more engaging even though you can feel a bit sorry for her as she is snagged in drama and her own ignorance. Williams balances this a bit by having her knowledgeable of a lot of Hollywood practices, some which we see in previous books, but this is the first time we see her personal experiences in the industry.

Williams did a great job in capturing Chloe’s voice and also her struggle to get some independence out of the spotlight and her mother’s influence. I also enjoyed the youthful romance that Chloe and Gabe experienced. It didn’t need to be mature or deep, it is a young love and that is clear. I enjoyed how we explore Chloe’s development through her relationship with Gabe and the realisation that she does want more from her life than she has had up until this point.

There is a great underlying suspense about stalking and manipulation which highlights the lengths people go to in order to keep the status quo or seek their own advantages. I liked that Chloe does stay the same character regardless, she doesn’t change to help her situation in any way. I will admit though that sometimes she annoyed me but it was also an aspect of her character I was going to have to accept.

I am really interested in seeing how this story ends because unlike William’s previous connected series City Love, there is distance between these characters that means a whole different type of story can be told. Not to mention one that is playing out under the lights of Hollywood!

You can purchase Heartthrob via the following

Amazon | Amazon Aust

Previous Older Entries