Red, White and Royal Blue

Red, White & Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston

God I loved this book! I thought it was going to be total trash – the cover is quite bad – but I’d seen it on so many lists for the best royal stories (I have a total thing for those!) that I thought I’d give it a try. I mean really, I’m on lock down, what do I have to lose? As it turns out, I have only to gain because it was glorious!  It’s about the 22 year old son of the first female president of the US, Alex, and the 23 year old third grandson of the Queen of England, Henry.  They start the book as arch enemies but slowly… yeah, you know the drill. But it’s so well delivered it’s very hard to put it down. Be warned, there is also A LOT of sex in it though. I mean, a lot. Not for the faint hearted this one! It’s worth mentioning that in the final acknowledgements, the author said that she wrote it after the 2016 election, as a kind of personal antidote to the US elections. I have to tell you, it was a very effective move.

We Used to Be Friends

We Used To Be Friends by Amy Spalding

This is a pretty lovely story told in a slightly confusing way – but it works, once your brain remembers that all the passages are out of order! It follows the “break up” of Kat and James, two (girl) best friends who have fallen out. Well, more like they’ve drifted out, and neither can quite put their finger on why.  It’s quite refreshing to read a book centred on the failing of a platonic relationship, as opposed to a romantic one, and the reasoning behind it all felt pretty real.  I did find Kat a touch tiresome though, but I suppose that was the point!   Overall it was a good read, but not one I’d necessarily peddle to the masses.

Bugs

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I feel a little bit ashamed to admit that it took me two tries to get through this very, very good novel, and only returned to it because one of my students is having to write on it for an exam. (In my defense, the first time round I had about 45 other books on my bedside table!)  This is an insightful kiwi novel about a Maori teenager who goes by the nickname Bugs. It almost spoils it to reveal that Bugs is a girl – I was surprised to realise this about 30 pages in – but it’s going to be hard to write this without giving it away!  At any rate, Bugs was born to a solo mum in her teens, who has gone on to carve a good career and income for herself and Bugs. She raised Bugs with the support of her wider family, and as a result, Bugs is pretty grounded and is able to stay on the right path in life, feeling loved and supported, even when she makes bad choices. Her two best friends, on the other hand, aren’t so lucky, and the book serves as an illustration of how money really can’t buy you happiness.

Ghost

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This is an absolutely delicious, quick and easy read, perfect for any 10-13 year old boys who might have flirted with trouble in their time! Ghost is the nickname Castle Cranshaw chooses for himself when he accidentally makes the cut for an after school track team.  He hasn’t had the easiest life thus far, and everything seems stacked against him ever getting out of Glass Manor, the impoverished corner of town where he lives with his ‘moms’.   All that seems like it might change the day Ghost meets Coach on the track – but the question is whether he can keep himself out of the principal’s office long enough to actually compete in any races!

My Brother’s Name is Jessica

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I just had a bumper weekend of reading books by the fire in Ohakune, and all three of them were amazing! This story is from the point of view of a 13-year old boy whose soccer-star older brother comes out to the family as transgender. In the middle of the mother’s sneaky campaign to take over as Prime Minister of England.  It’s weirdly hilarious but also devastatingly sad in parts – it reads a bit like if David Walliams rewrote Mr Stink to take on a more serious message. I just loved it and think the author absolutely nailed the family’s denial and rejection of Jason/Jennifer’s desire to transition. We all like to imagine we’d have the right response if our child brought us this type of news, but this book does give you pause to think what might happen if you got it completely wrong!  And how even the most ambitious parents might find a way to try and make it right again…

With the Fire on High

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Well I think I might officially have a new favourite author. This is the second novel by Elizabeth Acevedo, whose first book, ‘The Poet X’, was written in verse. ‘With the Fire on High’ is more conventionally written, but still has a mystical beauty to it that really touches the soul. It’s about a teen mum called Emoni who is struggling to finish high school while raising her baby daughter, Emma, with the help of her Abuela (grandmother). Emoni has a special gift though, which is that she’s a mistress of spices – everything she cooks turns into some kind of magic. The book is wonderfully woven together and the writing is just as beautiful as ‘The Poet X’. I can think of a few teen mums who won’t be able to put it down…