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Book Review: Red, White & Royal Blue

red-white-royal-blue

Red, White & Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston (Goodreads)
Rep: Bisexual/gay rep, Latinx/white lead

I received this book as an ARC from Netgalley for an honest review. **This review is spoiler-free.**

Summary

First Son of the United States, Alex Claremont-Diaz, creates a publicity snafu when he accidentally brawls with Prince Henry of Wales at a royal wedding. Damage control dictates that the two men have to play it off like they’re friends — even though Alex can’t stand Henry, that uppity MFer — and they are thrown together for a long weekend and photo op in the UK. Unlikely as it may be, Alex and Henry begin texting at all hours and learn what is underneath each other’s hard veneers; soon, they fall in love. But while Alex’s mother is working on her presidential reelection campaign, and Henry can’t come out due to strict royal regulations, Alex has to wonder: is this love worth the sacrifice? How can they have their happy ending when so much is riding against them?

I didn’t know I needed this book until I read it.

I have so many thoughts about this book, but the biggest is that I didn’t know I needed this until I read it. Yes, it’s adorable; yes, it’s hot. But also, it’s so hopeful.

From the trope of enemies-to-friends-tolovers done well, to heartwarming side characters and intriguing side plots that bring the full breadth of the story to life, I loved almost every second of this book. There is so much juggling going on, but Casey McQuiston executes it all flawlessly, especially the realistic and touching budding friendship to romance between Alex and Henry. They were full of adorable, sweet moments, and also fraught moments of pain and confusion that made me wonder how they were going to make it.

I also loved Alex’s relationship with his sister June and his on/off again relationship with the VP’s granddaughter Nora; Henry’s complicated relationships to his family, including a stuck-up Philip in line to the throne and his wild/misunderstood sister Beatrice; Henry’s flamboyant fashionista friend Pez… The relationships between all of the family members, which is convoluted and complicated but rooted in caring and love, and family friends and enemies in politics, all felt real and believable.

I like this timeline

My only issue with the story was that the timeline took a while to figure out. I expected this story to be in the near future, perhaps 2024, but it actually takes place now. In some alternate universe, Ellen Claremont won the 2016 election as a Democrat and moved her son and daughter into the White House, and the reelection campaign takes place from 2018-2020. The royal family of England still has the Queen (this time, Mary) as the matriarch, but the rest of the family tree is different: Henry’s mother was a princess who married a commoner, and the three heirs are different from the current royal family.

I think I read in the author acknowledgments at the end that she started this book in early 2016 and then had to reevaluate where to take it after our last presidential election. So it’s packed full of hopefulness, to the brink of idealism. I almost wish that the author had fabricated a regal line to dress up, because — practical as I am — I spent too much time figuring out the edges of what was in the real world now vs. what was made up or embellished for this story. It seems to me that switching the timeline would have been easy and would have also saved me some mental gymnastics as I tried to figure out when everything took place. This is why I deducted half a star.

The added bonus of being a Texan

I think everyone who reads this book will be so thrilled at the amazingly-written romance between Henry and Alex, which is established well before the halfway mark, so this is not a spoiler by any means. Their love is amazing, their families’ responses to their relationship is believable, and the tension throughout as the secret risks exposure gave me lots of feelings.

But.

I feel like, as a Texan, I have to talk about the absolute uplifting back story of Alex becoming the FSOTUS (which is not a spoiler either). Alex’s other home is in the Hill Country near Austin, where I live. The author successfully encompassed the feeling of the liberal-blue of Austin and the surrounding conservative-red of rural Texas. Her description of how Ellen, nicknamed the Lometa Longshot from a small town in Texas, rose to the highest seat in the country was so inspiring — I wanted it to be real. Her nuanced view of politics in Texas, especially that of Ellen winning in 2016 by getting enough electoral votes from all the big states but lost her own state — felt believable.

For those readers outside of the US, or even outside of Texas, I’m sure this side plot about Ellen’s political career won’t feel as poignant as it does to me. But it plays a big part in a large chunk of the story, and it was cathartic in a personal way for me.

I want to see a real world where an Ellen Claremont, divorced mother of two, formerly married to a Mexican-American congressman, Democrat, and general good person could win the presidency. I want to see a world where two high-profile guys can fall in love across international lines and hold onto that precious feeling for as long as they want, without fear of repurcussion.

This was a great read. 4.5/5 stars.

Red, White & Royal Blue will be out May 14.

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April Wrap-Up

April stats:

Books read: 6
Number of Re-reads: 1
Partial books read: 1

Ratings of the books I read:
⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ 0
⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ 5
⭐️⭐️⭐️ 1

I’m sorry I haven’t posted since my March wrap-up! April is basically busy season with my job and I’ve been working. I haven’t read a lot, either :( 

Most of my books this month have been good, but not amazing. All 4 stars, except for one, which earned itself only 3.

Four-star reads

The Martian by Andy Weir | A re-read, just because. I haven’t read this since 2015 but it holds up. This book is one of the rare instances where I think the movie and book are both great.

Tinnitus Toolbox Hyperacusis Handbook by Jan L. Mayes | I got this as an ARC because I have tinnitus and thought the material would be relevant for me. Truthfully, since I’ve had it for so long (3 years) I’ve gone through a lot of the journey outlined already, but for people who have just developed tinnitus (or hyper ears, or misophonia, or hearing loss) this book would be a good reference guide.

The Witch Elm by Tana French | I love Tana French! Her writing is just so interesting to me, in that she can write a story that isn’t necessarily thrilling or have a twist or whatever, and the characters talk a lot and there’s a lot of unnecessary minutiae that has no relevance to the mystery at hand, but I’m still enthralled. I didn’t LOVE this book as much as some in the Dublin Murder Squad series, but it was still very good.

Far From the Tree by Robin Benway | A lot of my friends were really into this book, but I was only ambivalent. I liked a lot about it, but ultimately thought it was too long.

The Princess and the Fangirl by Ashley Poston | One of my most anticipated reads this year! I loved Poston’s Geekerella, which is a fandom-obsessed version of Cinderella, but this one was a little less enjoyable. More preaching about the legitimacy of fandom, and everything takes place over the course of one weekend so it feels a little rushed. But ultimately, still very cute.

Three Stars

For Better and Worse by Margot Hunt | A book about two parents killing someone who threatened their child should be more interesting than this. I am always a little upset when a good premise doesn’t follow through with a good story.

Other Bookish Things…

This month, people reminded me that I can also rent DVDs from the library. So rather than paying $2 on Amazon or Redbox or whatever, I actually paid $0 to rent the movie Paper Towns (based on the John Green novel of the same name), which was a decent deal. The movie was fine. I didn’t love it, didn’t hate it, and didn’t resent my time watching it. So a win-win.

I’m also 20% into the behemoth of a novel that is James Michener’s Texas. One of the reasons why my book-read count is so low is because I’m trying to actually make some headway in this thing. I cracked it open during Thanksgiving and had read only 4% (the equivalent of maybe 60 pages) for the remainder of 2018, getting stuck in Cabeza de Vaca’s era. But now I’m slowly chewing through to the 300+ page mark. It’s too soon to tell if this book is a massive waste of my time.

How was your month?

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March Wrap-Up

Monthly stats:

Books read: 10
Number of Re-reads: 2
ARCS read: 3

Ratings of the books I read:
⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ 3
⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ 2
⭐️⭐️⭐️ 2
No rating given: 1

I guess the biggest thing to mention about March was that I spent half of the month traveling. I visited three islands of Hawaii, where I was able to shop in the westernmost bookstore in the United States, and San Diego, where I visited Warwick’s.

On to the books… Continue reading “March Wrap-Up”

Review

Book Review: Maid

Maid: Hard Work, Low Pay, and a Mother’s Will to Survive by Stephanie Land (Goodreads)

There’s been a lot of talk about this one. One of my book clubs read this recently and we met today. All of us began going in on this book even before the drinks were set down.

Just a heads-up that I’m going to try to be objective in my review, but I might get derailed because I have a ton of thoughts.

Summary

I think the book summary for this was a little misleading. Goodreads sold it as such:

While the gap between upper middle-class Americans and the working poor widens, grueling low-wage domestic and service work — primarily done by women — fuels the economic success of the wealthy. Stephanie Land worked for years as a maid, pulling long hours while struggling as a single mom to keep a roof over her daughter’s head. In Maid, she reveals the dark truth of what it takes to survive and thrive in today’s inequitable society.

What I expected: 

  • anecdotes about cleaning for rich(er) people, and the disparity between their lives and hers (à la Chore Whore: Adventures of a Celebrity Personal Assistant*)
  • discussion about welfare and all of the cuts happening to our society’s safety nets
  • researched statistics about systemic poverty in America (this book is compared to Nickel and Dimed or Evicted, which I believe have some component of that. Even the author of N&D wrote the foreward)

Based on the essay that Land wrote that she (on her public Facebook) says “started it all” — in which Land describes how she learned the private, sad stories of the different houses she cleaned — the above seemed like a good start. I expected filler on how her experiences fit into the cycle of poverty in America to make this a novel-length book.

What I got instead: Continue reading “Book Review: Maid”

Blog about it, Travel

The Book Lover’s Guide to Austin

I loved the guide post that Erin at Feel Learn Wonder put together for book lovers traveling to San Diego — which I totally put to use when I visited earlier this month — so I thought I’d do a similar post for my city, Austin!

Austin, TX is a pretty rad place; it has different vibes depending on where you go. It’s also a bit of a pill to move from place to place in traffic, which we seem to have a lot of these days. Anyway, the city loosely divided into sections, which might be helpful:

  • Central: downtown, Capitol, UT campus — a simultaneously chill and upbeat vibe
  • North: hip older neighborhoods with plenty of bakeries and coffeeshops
  • Even Further North: (north of 183) nü-Dallas — which isn’t necessarily bad
  • South: hip, modern neighborhoods with plenty of bakeries and coffeeshops :)
  • East: gentrifying neighborhoods that still have pockets of old Austin
  • West: old money and lakes

If it were me, I wouldn’t want to hike all over Austin to check out every book spot, just because of the traffic situation. (I loathe traffic and plan my days so I don’t have to sit in it.) So here are some “book days” I planned out for someone… pick and choose if you want, though!

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Photo of downtown Austin taken from the Long Center. Photo by Elissa R Photography (me)

Continue reading “The Book Lover’s Guide to Austin”

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Top 5 Tuesday – Top 5 Fictional Friendships

So I know I don’t participate in Top 5 Tuesday that often (this is the first time in a long while that I have) but I saw this one floating around today and had to post! Top 5 Tuesday is hosted by Shanah at Bionic Bookworm (here is the post for all March Tuesday topics).

Verity and Maddie from Code Name Verity

I mean, this is obviously the first friendship I thought of when I saw this topic come up. Two young women who, if they hadn’t met during the war would have never crossed paths due to their different upbringing, find themselves in extraordinary circumstances and actually hold each others’ lives in their hands.

Abby and Gretchen from My Best Friend’s Exorcism

Gretchen gets possessed by a demon. Her best friend since elementary school has to exorcise the demon out. I loved how Abby was the only one, out of Gretchen’s other friends, teachers, and family members, who saw that she was affected. If I ever get possessed by a demon, I want my own Abby to be there for me.

The Marauders (minus Wormtail) from Harry Potter

Of course Harry, Ron, and Hermione are great picks for fantastic friendship, but I want to give love to the Marauders too. (Minus Wormtail, of course.) Padfoot and Prongs were created just to help Moony with his unnatural werewolf transformation every month. I don’t know if I would’ve risked transfiguration just to keep a friend safe but to James and Sirius it was a simple given.

Cinder and Iko from the Lunar Chronicles

I honestly wanted to write the entire Rampion crew from The Lunar Chronicles, but I didn’t know if it counted since a lot of them hook up with each other. But Iko and Cinder were friends from the beginning, and stayed friends throughout. While Iko may be a temperamental robot, her “faulty” personality chip is part of her charm, and she and Cinder make a hilarious, feisty, and lovable pair.

Lizzie and Jane from Pride and Prejudice

When compared to their relationships with the other Bennet sisters, it’s kind of obvious that Lizzie and Jane share more than just blood. Yes they’re sisters, but they’re also each other’s confidantes.

Do you agree with my choices?

Travel

Travel: Kauai’s Talk Story Books!

This month, I went on a well-anticipated trip to Hawaii with a few of my friends. We are a group of past and present wedding photographers who first met back in 2011 or so, and while some of our group has moved on from that biz, we are still friends and enjoy traveling together. In 2016, a group of us visited Iceland; this time, a handful of us went to Kauai.

When my friends expressed interest in whale watching off the Kauai coast, I said no thanks, count me out. When I was a teenager I had an awful experience on a whale watching boat off the coast of Maine and swore I’d never set foot on one again. So while they were sipping margaritas on calm waters viewing dolphins, I was safely on land doing what I do best: visiting a bookstore!

talkstory-01 Continue reading “Travel: Kauai’s Talk Story Books!”