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?

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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. 

Book Review: The Geek’s Guide to Unrequited Love

3P JKT Geeks_Guide.inddThe Geek’s Guide to Unrequited Love
by Sarvenaz Tash
Young Adult
249 pages
Published 2016

The title of this book had me wary from the start, but I’d heard good things about it, and the author is a woman, so I hoped it wouldn’t be what it sounded like. Because seriously. We don’t need more books about angsty white guys complaining about the girl they love not liking them back.

Unfortunately that’s exactly what I got in this book.

First, the good points. The author has a very immersive writing style, and she captured the feeling of a Comic Con VERY impressively. I haven’t been to NYCC, but I’ve been to other nerdy cons, and the hectic pace of panels, and getting tickets, and standing in lines, but nerding out over ALL THE GEEKY STUFF – yeah, that was perfectly written. I really enjoyed that. The other characters – Casey and Felicia, specifically, and Samira, and the rest of Roxy and Graham’s families – those were also well done. The brief scene with Roxy’s Iranian family was especially nice, which is to be expected from an Iranian-American author!

But Graham irritated me. Roxy wasn’t well explored because we only saw things from Graham’s point of view, and her love interest Devin’s appeal wasn’t shown very well at ALL.

I spent most of the book wanting to yell at Graham to just TALK TO HER ALREADY. He’s all miffed that his plans aren’t going right and the obnoxious Brit is stealing his girl but he won’t. Just. TALK. To her.

I think the only reason I actually finished the book was because it was short. And for the description of Comic Con, that was actually really good. But the main character was just frustrating. I should have spent this time on another book.

From the cover of The Geek’s Guide to Unrequited Love:

Graham met his best friend, Roxy, when he moved into her neighborhood eight years ago and she asked him which Hogwarts house he’d be sorted into. Graham has been in love with her ever since. 

But now they’re sixteen, still neighbors, still best friends. And Graham and Roxy share more than ever – moving on from their Harry Potter obsession to a serious love of comic books.

When Graham learns that the creator of their favorite comic, The Chronicles of Althena, is making a rare appearance at this year’s New York Comic Con, he knows he must score tickets. And the event inspires Graham to come up with the perfect plan to tell Roxy how he really feels about her. He’s got three days to woo his best friend at the coolest, kookiest con full of superheroes and supervillains. But no one at a comic book convention is who they appear to be . . . even Roxy. And Graham is starting to realize his fictional love stories are way less complicated than real life ones. 

Book Review: Pride

pridePride
by Ibi Zoboi
Young Adult/Retelling/Romance
289 pages
Published September 2018

I have very mixed feelings about this one. I’ve read several retellings of Pride & Prejudice, but I think this is the first one that aged the characters down to teenagers. And I don’t think it works as well. In both The Lizzie Bennett Diaries and Unmarriageable, the main character and her older sister were in their twenties. They were still living at home, but they were graduating college, starting careers – a completely different stage of their lives from the characters in Pride. In Pride, Zuri is a senior in high school and Janae, her older sister, is home after her first year of college. Which makes their younger sister, Layla, thirteen. And if you know the plot of Pride & Prejudice, you know why that squicks me a little bit. (Zoboi did change that plot point slightly so it’s not quite as bad as it could be, but still. Ew.) This is a good example of what should be a New Adult story feeling forced into a Young Adult mold.

Age issues aside, I really liked the other changes made in this retelling; class differences are alive and well in the modern day, and I especially liked how it addressed neighborhood gentrification. Because yes, improving neighborhoods is a worthy goal; but when it raises rent without raising the income of the people living there, it forces people out who have lived in the neighborhood their entire lives. Gentrification is classist and, because our class system is racist, racist.

I enjoyed the Afro-Latino racial change; just like Unmarriageable‘s Pakistani setting, it brings a new cultural wrapping to the plot, and adds racial tension to the lessons on class that the story usually tells.

The book skims over a lot of the normal Pride & Prejudice plot, which I rather expected for a Young Adult book. Unmarriageable was much better in that regard, but Pride is still very enjoyable. It’s definitely a worthy addition to the Pride & Prejudice….pantheon? Shelf? Canon? I do think it would have been much better as a New Adult story, though. I’m still stuck on that.

From the cover of Pride:

Zuri Benitez has pride. Brooklyn pride, family pride, and pride in her Afro-Latino roots. But pride might not be enough to save her rapidly gentrifying neighborhood from becoming unrecognizable. 

When the wealthy Darcy family moves in across the street, Zuri wants nothing to do with their two teenage sons, even as her older sister, Janae, starts to fall for the charming Ainsley. She especially can’t stand the judgmental and arrogant Darius. Yet as Zuri and Darius are forced to find common ground, their initial dislike shifts into an unexpected understanding. 

But with four wild sisters pulling her in different directions, cute boy Warren vying for her attention, and college applications hovering on the horizon – Zuri fights to find her place in Bushwick’s changing landscape or lose it all. 

In this timely update of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, critically acclaimed author Ibi Zoboi skillfully balances cultural identity, class, and gentrification against the heady magic of first love in her vibrant reimagining of this beloved classic.