Book Review: Her Royal Highness

her royal highnessHer Royal Highness
by Rachel Hawkins
Young Adult/Romance/LGBT
274 pages
Published May 2019

This is the sequel to Royals, which I reviewed a little while back. At the time, I wasn’t terribly enthused by Princess Flora, and that actually stuck through this book. I do, however, really like Millie. And I LOVE Rachel Hawkins. This woman writes sweet, fluffy romances that you know will have a happy ending, and makes them a joy to read. To see that approach with LGBT representation – lesbian and bisexual, in this specific case – is fantastic. Give us more! Hawkins still has several characters she could write stories about in this world, including the most eligible bachelor, Prince Sebastian. (Flora’s brother.) She could also write a prequel about the other Prince, since the first book was the romance between the Prince Alex’s fiancée’s sister and one of Sebastian’s best friends. Prince Alex and his fiancée were already a thing when the series opened. Daisy and Miles, the couple from the first book, do make an appearance in this one as well, as do Seb and the rest of the “Royal Wreckers.” (His posse of noble scoundrels.)

I liked that Millie explicitly likes both “lads and lasses, in the general sense” in the book; it’s not just implied. Far too often we’re just left to wonder, when a character dated or was married to one gender, but is shown loving a different gender, whether it’s because they discovered the new gender is their actual preference, or because they are bi/pan. Plenty of homosexuals were married to an opposite-gender partner before coming out. So it’s really nice to see explicitly bisexual rep!

I may have liked the side characters more than I liked Princess Flora. Lady Sakshi Worthington, especially, was great, and I may have been cheering more for her romance than for Millie and Flora!

My dislike of Flora aside, I really enjoyed this book. It was a quick, fun read, and Hawkins had better get working on the next story. I NEED Seb’s book!

From the cover of Her Royal Highness:

She’s her friend.
She’s her enemy.
She’s her . . . crush?

Millie Quint is devastated when she discovers that her sort-of-best-friend/sort-of-girlfriend has been kissing someone else. Heartbroken and ready for a change of pace, Millie decides to apply for scholarships to boarding schools . . . the farther from Houston the better.

Millie is thrilled when she is accepted into one of the world’s most exclusive schools, located in the rolling Highlands of Scotland.

The only problem: Millie’s roommate, Flora, is a total princess.

She’s also the actual princess. Of Scotland.

At first, the girls can’t stand each other, but before Millie knows it, she has another sort-of-best-friend/sort-of-girlfriend. Princess Flora could  be a new chapter in her love life, but Millie knows the chances of happily-ever-after are slim. After all, real life isn’t a fairy tale . . . or is it?


Book Review: Red, White, and Royal Blue

red white & royal blueRed, White, and Royal Blue
by Casey McQuiston
M/M Romance (New Adult)
421 pages
Published May 2019

I have been looking forward to this book for several months, and it arrived just in time for Pride, and it DID NOT DISAPPOINT. It is very much an adult romance, complete with sex scenes. They are not the focus of the story, but they’re definitely not skimped on, either!

Red, White, and Royal Blue takes the bisexual son of the (female!) US President and pits him against the closeted (at order of his grandmother) gay youngest prince of England. After they make a scene at an international event (oh, enemies-to-lovers trope, how I love thee!) the two boys are ordered to make nice, and make it look like their scene was just friendly rough-housing that got out of hand. As typical for enemies-to-lovers, once they’re forced to spend time together, they each start to realize the other isn’t all that bad.

I loved so much about this book. I loved Alex and Henry. I loved the side characters. I loved the formatting when the author includes email and text chains between characters. I loved that the boys start quoting real historical queer letters to each other.

I mean, with sentences like “Henry lets Alex take him apart with painstaking patience and precision, moans the name of God so many times that the room feels consecrated.” How do you NOT fall in love with this book? Just – wow.

I could totally see the author writing stories for the rest of “The Trio” – the president and vice president’s kids/grandkids (Alex’s sister, June, and their best friend, Nora.) But this book stands just fine completely on its own.

This book ranks right up there with The Priory of the Orange Tree, and that’s one of my new all-time favorites. So yeah. Absolutely fantastic romance.

From the cover of Red, White, and Royal Blue:

When his mother became President of the United States, Alex Claremont-Diaz was promptly cast as the American equivalent of a young royal. Handsome, charismatic, genius – his image is pure millennial-marketing gold for the White House. There’s only one problem: Alex has a beef with an actual prince, Henry, across the pond. And when the tabloids get hold of a photo involving an Alex/Henry altercation, U.S./British relations take a turn for the worse.

Heads of family and state and other handlers devise a plan for damage control: Stage a truce between the two rivals. What at first begins as a fake, Instagrammable friendship grows deeper, and more dangerous, than either Alex or Henry could have imagined. Soon Alex finds himself hurtling into a secret romance with a surprisingly unstuffy Henry that could derail the presidential campaign and upend two nations. It raises the question: Can love save the world after all? Where do we find the courage, and the power, to be the people we are meant to be? And how can we learn to let our true colors shine through?

Graphic Novel Review: Bingo Love

bingo loveBingo Love
Graphic Novel/LGBT/Romance
Tee Franklin, Jenn St-Onge and Joy San
92 pages
Published 2017

Another F/F romance (I have a lot of them this month!), Bingo Love tells the story of Hazel and Mari, two girls who met at a bingo game in the 60s, fell in love, and were forced apart by their families. I don’t tend to review graphic novels on this blog; but for this one, and for Pride Month, I’ll make an exception.

I SOBBED at the end of this beautiful little book. Mari and Hazel love each other SO. MUCH. And what they go through is heartbreaking. When they meet in the 60s, loving the same gender is not very accepted, so when they’re caught kissing, they’re separated and forced to marry men. Hazel’s marriage, at least, is an amiable one. The book doesn’t get into details on Mari’s marriage, only that she divorced him.

The book is also very intersectional! Both black women, one bisexual, both girls at the beginning and grandmothers at the end, with large families. Hazel is gorgeously curvy with naturally kinky hair, Mari willowy and tall.

I think the problem with reviewing graphic novels is that they’re so short it’s hard to say much without giving away plot! But if you’re looking for a very easy read for Pride, this graphic novel is definitely a good place to start. Bring tissues.

From the cover of Bingo Love:

Bingo Love is a story of a same-sex romance that spans over 60 years. A chance meeting at church bingo in 1963 brings Hazel Johnson and Mari McCray together. Through their formative years, these two women develop feelings for each other and finally profess their love for one another.

Forced apart by their families and society, Hazel and Mari both married young men and had families. Decades later, now in their mid 60’s, Hazel and Mari are reunited again at a bingo hall. Realizing their love for each other is still alive, what these grandmothers do next takes absolute strength and courage.

Book Review: We Set the Dark on Fire

we set the dark on fireWe Set the Dark on Fire
by Tehlor Kay Mejia
Young Adult / Dystopia / LGBT / Romance
364 pages
Published February 2019

We Set the Dark on Fire is an excellent example of how government-mandated relationship structures are oppressive. The core of the story revolves around an island society’s marriage structure; because of an old myth, each man – or at least each upper-class man – has two wives. One wife, the Primera, is expected to be his intellectual equal; she runs his affairs and household and manages his social engagements – the business side of the marriage, if you will – and a second wife who is his heart. The second wife, the Segunda, is expected to be emotional, passionate, and beautiful; she bears and raises his children. The wives are expected to get along and love each other like family.

This is really only the framework for the plot, though. The plot itself revolves around the idea of who belongs in society and who doesn’t. I’ve seen some people call it illegal immigration, and there IS a wall that it is illegal to come over; the unfortunates living outside the wall are uncared for by society and government alike. But I didn’t get the impression that they weren’t actually part of the same country. So I’m not 100% certain I agree that it counts as immigration in the story, though it does have a lot of the same principles, so it may as well be. There’s a lot of othering and dehumanizing, and deciding who deserves what based on their wealth, and government checkpoints to check residence papers, so even if it isn’t technically immigration – well. It’s still a major theme.

This sounds like it could be a book on polyamory; it is not. This is government-mandated female oppression. The government, and our main character’s new husband, specifically, are intent on crushing the resistance coming from the poor who live on the edges of the island. The resistance is called La Voz, or The Voice, and they help Daniela, our main character, out of a tight spot in the beginning of the book. In return, they expect her to spy for them on her new husband, a highly-placed government official. Not knowing who to trust, and afraid of her lies being discovered, she agrees.

What follows is the early stages of rebellion: protests, government cover-ups, undercover meetings, and military checkpoints. In the middle of it all, Daniela begins to fall in love with her Segunda, Carman, who seems to have secrets of her own.

I really really enjoyed this book, and I am very much looking forward to the second! It’s listed as a duology, so it should just be the two. I can’t wait!

From the cover of We Set the Dark on Fire:

At the Medio School for Girls, distinguished young women are trained for one of two roles in their polarized society. Depending on her specialization, a graduate will one day run her husband’s household or raise his children, but both wives are promised a life of comfort and luxury, far from the frequent political uprisings of the lower class.

Daniela Vargas is the school’s top student, but her bright future depends upon no one discovering her darkest secret – that her pedigree is a lie. Her parents sacrificed everything to obtain forged identification papers so Dani could rise above her station. Now that her marriage to an important politico’s son is fast approaching, she must keep the truth hidden or be sent back to the fringes of society, where famine and poverty rule supreme. 

On her graduation night, Dani seems to be in the clear, despite the surprises that unfold. But nothing prepares her for all the difficult choices she must make, especially when she is asked to spy for a resistance group desperately fighting to bring equality to Medio. Will Dani give up everything she’s strived for in pursuit of a free Medio – and a chance at a forbidden love?

The first in a sizzling fantasy duology from debut author Tehlor Kay Mejia, We Set the Dark on Fire is a boldly feminist look at freedom, family, and fighting the power.

Book Review: Georgia Peaches and Other Forbidden Fruit

georgia peaches and other forbidden fruitGeorgia Peaches and Other Forbidden Fruit
by Jaye Robin Brown
Young Adult/Romance/LGBT
432 pages
Published 2016

This is a sweet, southern f/f romance. Set in Georgia, it deals with a lot of things young lesbians might have to deal with in the south – religion, bigotry, the stress of coming out or not coming out (or being forced back in the closet by a move to a small town)! It doesn’t deal with any outright violence against our lesbian protagonists, and it just barely touches on drug use, eating disorders, and abusive relationships. Joanna has a mostly supportive family, even if they do ask her to hide her sexuality for her senior year in the new town. Jo reluctantly agrees to do so, but doesn’t count on falling in love with a girl at her new school.

The book deals a LOT with religion and sexuality; Jo’s father is a radio preacher, and she attends a baptist church in town with her stepmother and new grandparents. At one point – one of my favorite scenes in the book – she snaps, and calls out her classmates for thinking homosexuality is a sin, while they eat shellfish and have premarital sex.

I liked the book, but I’m not sure I’d recommend it. I grew up Christian; I’m familiar with all the concepts in the book, but rather than progress to a kinder, more loving version of Christianity, I left it behind altogether. I’m glad that some people can reconcile religion with progressive values, but I can’t. So it might be a good book for some, but not for me.

From the cover of Georgia Peaches and Other Forbidden Fruit:

It’s going to take a miracle for Joanna Gordon to get through senior year. 

Despite being the daughter of a well-known radio evangelist, Jo has never hidden the fact that she’s gay, and her dad has always supported her. But that was back in Atlanta. Now her dad the reverend has married wife number three, and they’ve all moved to small-town Rome, Georgia. When Jo’s dad asks her to lie low for the rest of the year in the hopes that it will help him and his new wife settle in, Jo reluctantly agrees. 

Although when God closes a closet door, he opens a window. Everything becomes so easy for Jo once she rebrands herself as a straight girl. No one gives her odd looks. Her new stepfamily likes her. She even gets in with the popular crowd.

And that’s how she meets Mary Carlson, the ultimate temptation. Even though Jo knows this girl is completely off-limits, she just can’t get her out of her mind. But Jo couldn’t possibly think of breaking her promise to her dad. Even if Jo’s starting to fall for Mary Carlson. Even if there’s a chance Mary Carlson might be interested in her, too. Right?

Lord, have mercy.

Jo’s in for one hell of a year.

Book Review: It’s Not Like It’s A Secret

its not like its a secretIt’s Not Like It’s A Secret
by Misa Sugiura
Young Adult/Romance/LGBT
394 pages
Published 2017

Before I dive in I want to explain that I’ve tagged this with polyamory not for the main characters, but for a few side characters. If you’re looking for a poly romance, this is absolutely not it. This is a teenage lesbian romance, with a side of racial issues.

Sana is a California transplant from Wisconsin; both her parents are immigrants from Japan, so despite feeling like she’s a midwesterner, none of her friends think of her as one. There’s a cringe-y scene early in the book where she cheers with her friends about being “midwestern farmer’s daughters” and they tell her she’s cute for thinking that, but she’s Japanese, obv. I felt really bad for her. When her family moves to California, suddenly she’s not the only Asian girl in a sea of whiteness. It’s an interesting mix of having a place with your own people but also fighting the stereotypes of sticking with your own ethnicity. It’s assumed she’ll be friends with the other Asian kids, which annoys her, but she also finds to be true; having not had the opportunity to have friends like her before, she finds she really likes it. (See my Friday 56 quote about it.) But she also tries to break that mold and be friends with people she’s not assumed to like – like Jamie Ramirez and her Hispanic friends, and Caleb and his white goth friends.

The book also explores the way racism hits races differently; the Hispanic kids get hassled by cops while the Asian kids don’t – though they also have things expected of them that the Hispanic kids don’t. The book gets into cultural expectations as well – PDAs are not really a thing in Sana’s world, so she’s reluctant to be public about her affections at school, which drives misunderstandings.

It’s only in the last few chapters that all the secrets come out, and Sana struggles to put things right.

One thing I really liked about the book is the narrative structure. At the beginning of the school year, Sana’s English teacher gives them a project, which is to keep a journal to transcribe poems into and talk about what they mean to you. Chapters from Sana’s poetry journal are interspersed with chapters of the narrative, and give some nice insight to how she’s feeling. Her love interest, Jamie, also loves poetry, and it plays a large part in their relationship.

I quite enjoyed this book.

From the cover of It’s Not Like It’s A Secret:

Sixteen-year-old Sana Kiyohara has too many secrets. Some are small, like how it bothers her when her friends don’t invite her to parties. Some are big, like the fact that she’s pretty sure her father’s having an affair. And then there is the one that she barely even admits to herself, the one about how she might have a crush on her best friend.

When Sana and her family move to California, she begins to wonder if it’s finally time for her to be honest with her friends and family, especially after she meets Jamie Ramirez. Jamie is beautiful and smart and unlike anyone Sana’s ever known before. The only problems are: Sana is pretty sure Jamie’s friends hate her, Jamie’s ex isn’t totally out of the picture, Sana’s new friend Caleb has more-than-friendly feelings for her, and things with her dad feel like they’re coming to a head. She always figured that the hardest thing would be to tell people that she wanted to date a girl, but as Sana quickly learns, telling the truth is easy . . . what comes after it, though, is a whole lot more complicated.