Red, White & Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston is a queer, political/royal romcom masterpiece! This book has it all, a swooning gay romance, great dialogue, enemies-turning-to-lovers, old traditions that need to be challenged, wonderful siblings and sassy friends. It’s hilarious, witty, tender, thoughtful and devastatingly heartfelt. It's a story about being brave enough to admit you are worth fighting for, for wanting things, and for chasing after those things. It’s a story that deals with difficult topics in a both honest and fun way at the same time. It’s a story that gives you hope for a better world. I love it with all my heart!
Red, White & Royal Blue is a contemporary read, but it takes place in a parallel (better) world, where Trump never happened and instead the first female president was elected. Her son, Alex Claremont-Diaz, is an overachieving cocky aspiring politician in his early twenties. Since an episode in the past, Alex despises his British counterpart, Prince Henry.
“You can’t just call him my ‘archnemesis’,” Alex says [to his sister Julia]. “Archnemesis implies he’s actually a rival to me on any level and not, you know, a stuck-up product of inbreeding who probably jerks off to himself.”
So, the story starts off as a hate-to-love one, with Alex and Prince Henry having butted heads whenever they meet, until an incident at the royal wedding of Henry’s older brother lands them in the tabloids and they need to do damage control by faking a friendship. But soon they start to see each other for who they really are and the bitter rivalry evaporates into something more tender. And soon starks start to fly and after a surprise-attack kiss the First Son of the United States realizes that he’s in love with a Prince of England and that they’ve loved each other for a long time.
“True love isn’t always diplomatic.”
That’s for sure. But it’s also a fact that diplomatic Anglo-American relations have never been so much fun as in this book.
The characters are so loveable. Not just Alex and Prince Henry, but I also love Alex’s parents and his sister Julia and friend Nora (called “The White House Trio”, where ”Alex pushes them. June steadies them. Nora keeps them honest.”) and Henry’s sister Bea and the White House staff… Casey McQuiston does such an amazing job in making them feel real and making you love them. And there were so many wonderful scenes and twists and dialogues. The writing is so good and fun! Easy banter, sassy retorts, just everything you could possibly wish for.
Still, there are so many emotions in this book. So much love and vulnerability, friendship, angst, and the hardship and struggle of finding out who you are and stay true to that or remaining closeted. In fact, Alex doesn’t even realize that he is bi until he falls for Henry.
“Like, he’s pretty sure he’s straight. But he thinks about Henry, and, oh.”
“He needs a list. So: Things he knows right now.
One. He’s attracted to Henry.
Two. He wants to kiss Henry again.
Three. He has maybe wanted to kiss Henry for a while. As in, probably this whole time.”
This book is a gorgeous mix of love, hate, witty banter, strong characters, but also of ignorance and prejudices. It makes the important point that queer love is often forgotten by popular history, but Casey McQuiston reminds us about that so cleverly through Alex and Henry’s letters and gives us hope that a First Son of America and a Prince of England could make history together through their relationship. In short, the sentence printed on t-shirts after their love letters leak – “History, huh?”.(“Bet we could make some.”)
I hope we will get to see a love story like this in real life too soon, but until then go read this book and take its message to your heart!
“Take everything you want and know you deserve to have it.”
You are perfect just the way you are! You are beautiful and you are allowed to love whomever your heart desires!
Find out more about the book and the author here: Casey McQuiston
Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys is something of a companion book, or prequel, to the heart-breaking, sad and beautiful Salt to the Sea. In this book we get to follow Joanna’s (from Salt to the Sea) cousin Lina as she is hauled away by the Soviet secret police from her home in Lithuania and thrown into a cattle car en route to a work camp in Siberia. Up until then, Lina had been just like any other fifteen-year-old Lithuanian girl in 1941, but with an extraordinary talent for drawings. Separated from her father, Lina finds solace in her art, and at great risk documents events by drawing, hoping these messages will make their way to her father’s prison camp to let him know they are still alive.
Between Shades of Gray and Salt to the Sea can be read as standalones, but I really enjoyed learning about Joanna’s life prior to meeting her in her struggle in Salt to the Sea.
This is a beautiful, gripping story about survival and hope in the darkest of places. It’s deeply moving and emotional, but compared to Salt to the Sea, it didn’t steal my breath and heart just as much. Perhaps because I read the books in the wrong order? Or perhaps because it was Ruta Sepetys’ debut book and she’s gotten even better at creating heartfelt characters and plots along the way?
Still, Between Shades of Gray is an amazing, important and highly recommended historical read with loveable characters. And even though the tragic, horrible, historical events it describes, it’s a fast and easy-read YA story that in the end gives you hope and shows you the strength of love and compassion.
Ruta Sepetys is an extraordinary writer, always doing thorough research and creating heart-piercing fiction based on historical events that must not be forgotten. I will definitely keep reding more of her books!
Find out more about the book and the author here: Ruta Sepetys
The Perfect Girl by Gilly Macmillan is an addictively intriguing mystery novel about teenage girl Zoe who was involved in a tragic accident that left three of her classmates dead. Now, three years later, after serving her time, Zoe and her mother is trying to start over and create a “second-chance life” for themselves. Zoe’s mother therefore demands Zoe to keep the past tucked far away, hiding it even for her new husband. But this new life and new husband soon turns out not to be so perfect after all.
Gilly Macmillan makes a great job in keeping you in the dark about the plot twists all the way through the end. For a long time, when I read the book, I had no idea what to expect – is it turning into a murder story, a love story, a suspense novel or what? - which is such a good thing. (Don’t you just hate it when you can figure the whole intrigue out just by reading the blurb of a book?) What’s so different about “The Perfect Girl” is that the death of Zoe’s mother is not the surprise in this book and that the mystery plot is not really centered around what happened, but around exploring the facets of the characters’ lives that brought them to that moment in time. What Zoe, and the readers, soon finds out is that the truth is rarely straightforward, and the closer we are to someone, the less we may see.
The story is told from the first person perspectives of Tessa, Zoe’s aunt, and her loving yet alcoholic husband, Richard, as well as Zoe, her stepbrother, Lucas, and Sam, Zoe’s attorney, which gives you a chance to get into their minds and to see the messy, dysfunctional family from different perspectives.
Gilly Macmillan is so good at keeping the characters secret and only slowly and deliberately revealing them one by one, keeping you itching to learn more about the persons and their reason for behaving the way they are.
This slow-burning, intriguing book proves that a good crime book doesn’t need complicated twists or excessive violence to be a compelling read. This touching story with strong three-dimensional characters is an excellent, addictive page-turner nevertheless.
Find out more about the book and the author here: Gilly Macmillan
I don’t read many Romance books, but I got this one recommended to me and I’m so happy for that and for giving this book a chance. Mists of the Serengeti is such a beautiful and gripping story about coping with grief and loss and finding new purpose in life. It’s a romantic story about finding love where you least expect it. And a story about a journey to Africa, full of beautiful scenery and a thrilling race to save a group of endangered children.
Tragedy brings English teacher Rodel Emerson to Tanzania when her sister is killed by a bomb explosion in a mall. In the same explosion, coffee farmer Jack Warden loses his only daughter. Trying to cope with her loss, Rodel decides to continue her sister’s rescue mission, saving albino children from a horrible death. As their path crosses, Rodel and Jack, finds a common purpose in the mission and slowly, something else.
Mists of the Serengeti is a breathtakingly beautiful romantic read about loss and healing, courage and sacrifice and the power of love. I highly recommend this book for anyone who loves a gripping story!
Find out more about the book and the author here: Leylah Attar
I’ve loved Simone Elkeles bad boys-romances since I read Perfect Chemistry and am so excited that it will be turned into a movie soon! Seeing that news, I wanted to get back into the Simone Elkeles world and picked up this cutie, Better Than Perfect (formely Wild Cards).
This is another bad boy-good girl-can’t-help-falling-for-each-other book, but with a bit of a new take in that the main character, Ashtyn, is kicker and captain of her football team. So a bit tougher than the usual good girl, and with motivation and drive to carry out her plan to catch the attention of college football recruiters and get a scholarship. Derek on the other hand is trouble. Cocky, getting kicked out of school and with no real plans for life at all. The relationship between them starts out as antagonists, but slowly, it turns into something else.
I love Simone Elkeles’ slow-build romances and her bad boy characters with good hearts. This book was another cute, romantic read, but not one of her bests. I was a bit irritated with Ashtyn from time to time, for being so clueless about her boyfriend being a douche-bag and for acting too girly when she was supposed to be this tough football girl. And there wasn’t the usual spark in the romance, not the same tense and smoldering chemistry as I’d expected from a Simone Elkeles’ book.
But still, both Ashtyn and Derek were very lovable and the story was sweet and heartwarming. IT was one of those happily-ever-after-stories we all need once in a while. But if you haven’t read anything by Simone Elkeles yet, you should definitely start with Perfect Chemistry instead. (Or see the movie, I’m sure it will be awesome!)
Find out more about the book and the author here: Simone Elkeles
All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven is one of the most beautiful, heart-wrenching, sad and gripping stories that I’ve ever read. It’s a story that will stay with you for a long time and that will break your heart in pieces.
This is one of the most difficult reviews I’ve ever written. It’s almost impossible to describe the book in a way that does it justice. And I also just want to write about the ending, but I promise, I will make sure not to give that away…
Starting from the beginning instead, this is a story about teenagers Theodore Finch and Violet Markey who meet on the ledge of the bell tower at school. They are both thinking about ending their lives by jumping off it, but instead they end up saving each other. Finch is fascinated by death, but also searching for the romantic notion of the ‘perfect day’. Each day he plans to kill himself, but every time, something good or beautiful stops him. Violet’s life has been shattered by the death of her elder sister in a car accident, that Violet feels responsible for. When Finch and Violet pair up for a project at school to discover the wonders of their state, they both discover way more. About each other and themselves.
This is such an important book about mental illness and suicide that everyone should read. But most of all, it’s a beautiful book that will grip you and make you fall in love with the characters and make you cry your heart out. I love the writing and how the chapters are divided by the alternating POVs of Finch and Violet. I love the wanderings and how wonderful, strong and unique Finch is. I love the use of book quotes to add an extra layer to the characters’ thoughts and feelings. I love the raw feelings and that Jennifer Niven does not hold anything back. The only thing I did not like was Finch’s ignorant, abusive parents, but they are vital for the story.
Overall, All the Bright Places is a story that will bring tears to your eyes and break your heart, but that you in the end will be glad that you have read. I truly love this book and recommend it with all my heart, regardless if you like contemporary, YA or sad readings or not! This is truly a book that anyone will be affected by and start to rethink one’s own life after reading.
Readers have even said that this book spoke to them in their darkest hour and saved their life. That’s how important this book is, and how important it is to raise awareness about mental illness and suicide.
Find out more about the book and the author here: Jennifer Niven
My Love Is Blue by Rosemary Danielis is a beautiful, captivating and emotional novel about overcoming grief and finding the strength to live, and love, again.
After the loss of the love of her life, Julian, painter Emma is hiding away in her remote cottage. Mourning Julian’s death, she’s trying to focus on her painting, where she feels that Julian comes alive again. Underneath the layers of paint, Emma finds a kind of dreamlike place where she and Julian can still be together. But when she’s running out of money to pay her rent, Emma is forced to open up her locked-down existence to take on off-duty Police Officer Grayson Tate. He’s opinionated, arrogant and completely charming with a burning desire to learn how to paint, specifically from Emma. Soon Emma develops feelings for Grayson, but how can she possibly fall in love with Grayson without betraying Julian and the love they shared?
I really enjoyed this book! The writing is beautiful and the characters are so relatable and loveable. There are so many layers to the story. It’s not just about finding yourself after the death of your loved one by suicide, but about finding new love and coming back to the land of the living after being struck with your own grief and depression. In addition to Emma’s and Julian’s love and loss and the burgeoning romance with Grayson, there is also an unexpected mystery plot and an evil villain in disguise that adds action and suspense to the story. It’s a book that gives you the feels and draws you in and makes your heart ache for the characters. Reading My Love Is Blue was like riding a rollercoaster of emotions! I also really appreciate the artistic parts with the painting lessons and the description of Emma’s feelings when she painted. It added a truly unique touch to the story.
My Love Is Blue is an intense, heart wrenching, and emotional read that I hope more readers will discover, it so deserves it!
Find out more about the book and the author here: Rosemary Danielies
The Witch’s Blood is the third and final book in the cute YA trilogy about sixteen-year-old Merry, who is trying to be a normal teenager, while also being a witch and the problems that comes with that. The second book ended with Ronan revealing his evil self and taking Leo to another reality, trying to force Leo to surrender to him and give up his own will. Now, Merry has to find a way to fee her brother before Ronan succeeds.
This book is the perfect ending to the wonderful The Witch’s Kiss trilogy. It’s dark, vivid, emotional and nerv-wracking. You can really feel Merry’s despair and how she’s willing to do anything to free her brother, including magic that’s forbidden by her coven. I love Merry and Leo’s incredible bond, they must be the cutest siblings ever and it adds so much to this series. I know I said it before, but Leo is my favorite book-brother of all times! And Merry is such a great main character. She’s fierce, strong and smart.
Another thing I love about this book is the humor and the references to fantasy genre clichés. Comments like these, from when Merry and Finn break into the evil wizard’s fortress, really made you laugh and lightened the dark and intense story:
“What, no menacing creek?” Finn murmured.
“Guess Gwydion and Ronan skipped the ‘Evil Villainy for Beginners’ class.”
This series has a unique way of combining ancient and contemporary world buildings, the writing is so well-done and slips cleverly between the different times. There are also twists and unexpected turns that kept you on the edge throughout all three books. I don’t want to make any spoilers, but Katherine and Elizabeth Corr have such a clever way of wrapping things up, and making the past and present come together. The Witch’s Blood is filled with unexpected twists and turns, adventure, emotions that are running high and unconditional love.
All in all, The Witch’s Kiss Trilogy is an enchanting YA series, with magic, adventure, love, evil wizards and old curses wrapped up in an amazing reading experience that I highly recommend!
Find out more about the book and the authors here: The Corr Sisters
I am so in love with this book, I can’t even put it into words! Like A Love Story by Abdi Nazemian is one of my all-time favorite books ever! It’s not often that you find a new voice in YA literature, but the storytelling in this book is completely unique and refreshing. It’s so raw and honest, so vivid in the description of the fear of AIDS and discrimination, cruelty and violence, but also so hopeful and loving, so full of activism, friendship and community, courage and pride. My first feeling when I finished it was to shout to the world to GO READ THIS BOOK! Then I wanted to turn back to the first page and reread it all again.
This is a story about three somewhat misfit teenagers in New York City in 1989, trying to find out who they are and where they belong. It’s also such an important, necessary, story about the LGBTQ movement, the AIDS crisis and the ACT UP activism, giving voice to the heroes behind the formation of a queer community fighting for everyone’s right to be themselves against homophobia and prejudices. But most of all it’s a story about friendship, finding the courage to be true to who you are and learning to love and be proud despite all discrimination and cruelty around you.
“The most important four-letter word in our history will always be LOVE. That’s what we are fighting for. That’s who we are. Love is our legacy.”
The characters are amazing, so lovable and unique. I don’t even know where to start… There’s Reza, an Iranian boy who is new at school and terrified that someone will guess the truth he can barely acknowledge about himself; that he is attracted to boys. But all he knows of gay life are the media’s images of men dying of AIDS. Then there’s Art, the school’s only out teen and the flamboyant, rebellious son of wealthy and conservative parents, and Judy, an aspiring fashion designer and hopeless romantic. And last, but absolutely not least, Judy’s uncle Stephen, an ACT UP activist and Hollywood fanatic, dying of AIDS. Art and Judy have always been best friends, spending every Sunday night watching old movies at Uncle Stephen’s and telling each other absolutely everything. But, when Reza stumbles into their lives and starts dating Judy (and Art starts catching feelings), things get a little bit more complicated.
These characters are what made the story! I adored every single one of them as the story unfolded. Abdi Nazemian describes them with such integrity and empathy, allowing them to be real, with flaws and less likeable traits, and in a way that made you fall in love with them and break your heart when theirs did. Reza, Art, Judy and Stephen immediately seared themselves into my heart. And the side characters are just as loveable. Judy’s parents, Reza’s wonderful supportive and rebellious sister, and even Reza’s stepdad and stepbrother in the end.
And Madonna! This book is also a wonderful homage to Madonna. She’s almost like a character in the book, that’s how big her part is. I absolutely love how the importance Madonna has, and has always had, for the queer community and the courage to self-expression and individually, is so knowledgeable described. I couldn’t stop myself from humming her songs while reading, like a soundtrack.
The way Abdi Nazemian writes is simply amazing. This is such a fast read, I felt like I was flying through this book. From the very first page, the story just pulled me in and I couldn’t put it down. I read it feverishly and finished it in one sitting! The topic is heavy at times, with the fear of dying, the fear of condemnation and of being rejected and humiliated, but the way Abdi Nazemian writes about those who were dying is so respectful, yet honest and realistic. There is absolutely no glorification of AIDS, all the grit and horror that went along with it are kept real. I loved the detail with Uncle Stephen keeping a jar with jelly beans for each friend who has died.
“Don’t forget me. Us. All of us. What we did. What we fought for. Our history. Who we are. They won’t teach it in schools. They don’t want us to have a history.”
Well, with this book, Abdi Nazemian has changed that. Uncle Stephen, Art, Reza and all others in the queer community of the late 80’s now have a history. A history that will be taught in schools.
I could go on forever about how wonderful and amazing this book is, and how it will stick with you for forever, but all I really want to say now is… GO READ IT! This book should be read by everyone!
Find out more about the book and the author here: Abdi Nazemian