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.

Hazel and the Snails

Hazel and the Snails | Massey University Press

I picked up this delightful little Kiwi story from Loco Books in Featherston, an equally delightful institution that I highly recommend visiting if you’re in the Wairarapa (they even gave my children free treats!).  They had a big table covered in NZ fiction, and this one caught my attention, as Hazel is one of my favourite names. The story is about a six year old girl struggling to come to grips with her father’s illness and ultimate death (sorry, spoiler alert, but you want to know before you give it to your kids!).  Instead, she does what six year olds do, and focuses intently on the life and death of her collection of snails. It’s beautifully written and has gorgeous, simple illustrations, including a little picture of a snail down the bottom of each page, so you can flip the pages and watch it move.   Given the main character is six, the story is vaguely pitched at that level, but it’s quite emotionally sophisticated, and I don’t think many six year olds would be able to handle either the content or the writing independently.  My daughter, who was nearly 8 at the time, loved it, but there was much to be gained from a second read together, and all the discussion that came with it.

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.

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.

What I Lost

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How good is the cover of this book, it gave me total chocolate cravings!  Which is ironic, cause it’s a book about anorexia.   The main character, Elizabeth, has gone from a very normal size down to about 100 pounds in the space of 8 months, so her parents forced her to check into an eating disorder clinic. Well, her doctor and her dad thought it would be a good idea, her mum seemed to prefer Elizabeth at her new size…. The book itself isn’t perfectly written – in places you can feel the author trying to say the right thing and give you the appropriate insight – but overall it manages to paint a pretty grim picture. It definitely gets you into the head space of an anorexic teen, which at times is quite frightening.  Definitely worth a read, although I do worry about the risk of spreading risky eating habits with a book like this; it’s not glamourising, but I reckon there’s a risk it could put ideas into readers’ heads.