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.

Mrs Battleship

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What a spectacular, tiny little book. Tim Tipene is a kiwi author who survived a childhood of devastating abuse at the hands of his parents. As the result of some truly exceptional teachers, he came to understand what love and kindness look like, and was able to make the choice as an adult to live a completely different life to the one he was born into. This short, incredibly easy to read novel delivers what could in another context be called horror stories, in a humourous, touching way.  It’s so easy to read my daughter, who is 7, polished it off in one sitting; her takeaway was that life is hard, but it’s also funny, and you can overcome anything if you have kind people to show you how.  Not a bad message…

Orbiting Jupiter

 

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Oh what a heartbreaking, page-turning, perfectly formed little book! I couldn’t put it down and now I think I need some ice-cream to right the world… This tiny gem of a novel is told from the point of view of 12 year old Jack, whose 13 year old foster brother, Joseph, changes his life completely. Joseph clearly comes from terrible trauma, and has had a hideous time in the juvenile detention system, but his heart remains 100% focused on finding the daughter he’s never had a chance to meet, Jupiter.  The story of how the two boys come to love and trust each other is so perfectly told, and every fiber of my being just ached for Joseph…. A fantastic novel, really easy to read – beautifully paced, written like it could have been told by a 12 year old, nicely spaced out lines – and just unputdownable.

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… 

Every Last Word

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Oh my God I loved this book SO much. I’ve been sneaking off to read it at every opportunity, and as a result I ended up finishing it in less than 48 hours.  My obsessive reading is somewhat appropriate though, given this stunningly put together novel centres on a teenage girl with OCD.  However, it’s not the type of OCD that’s often depicted in books and films, where people have to, for example, wash their hands over and over again.  Instead, Sam has what is called ‘Pure O’, where her obsessions take place largely in her head. She becomes fixated on certain ideas or people and simply can’t move them out of her thoughts.  This is clearly an exhausting way to live, and anyone with even mild anxiety will be able to relate to how the negative thought cycles kick off.  The story is told in a really delicate manner, and the writer doesn’t lean on cliches, nor does she over-dramatise Sam’s problems. It’s also got a really compelling romantic plot line, and definitely didn’t resolve itself in the way I was expecting!

The Diary of Anne Frank – The Graphic Adaptation

Anne Frank's Diary: The Graphic Adaptation

I’m sure there are a few purists out there who might feel shocked that I’m about to give this graphic adaptation of the iconic Diary of Anne Frank a rave review. But in the words of adaptor Ari Folman, “I wish to declare that we are sensitive to and aware of the liberties that we have taken, and that our goal was always foremost to honor and preserve the spirit of Anne Frank in each and every frame.”  In this, they absolutely succeed.  This is a stunning graphic representation of Anne’s innermost thoughts, one which actually allowed me to see her in a different light. For example, when Anne concludes that she’s, “made up my mind to lead a different life from others girls, and not to become an ordinary housewife later on,” there is a gorgeous depiction of her as an adult woman sitting at a desk, with various framed images on the wall behind from her time in the Annex.  As my husband pointed out, Anne lives forever frozen in our minds as a young girl; these images gave me the push I needed to actually think about who she might have become had she had the opportunity to fulfill her potential.

The pictures are stunning and the choices of what to include I think leave you satisfied that you’ve captured Anne’s story.  Towards the end, as her thoughts become more and more mature, the editors increasingly include whole passages from the diary.  Anne’s writing still succeeds in reminding us that each generation faces the same dilemmas, no matter the issues of the day.  I will leave you with this as a final thought, because Anne, in her timeless manner, manages to capture the way I feel everyday when I read the news, or hear basically anything about American or British politics:

“It’s utterly impossible for me to build my life on a foundation of chaos, suffering, and death. I see the world being slowly transformed into a wilderness, I hear the approaching thunder that, one day, will destroy us too, I feel the suffering of millions. And yet, when I look up at the sky, I somehow feel that everything will change for the better, that this cruelty too will end, that peace and tranquility will return once more. In the meantime, I must hold on to my ideals.

Perhaps the day will come when I’ll be able to realize them!”