Review: Red, White & Royal Blue

Review: Red, White & Royal Blue

Rating: ★★★★☆ 4/5)

First Son Alex Claremont-Diaz finds himself falling in love with Prince Henry of Wales after an accident launches their non-existent friendship into international light. Damage control turns into an unlikely friendship and with his mother kicking off her re-election bid, the choices Alex must make can upend everything his family has worked for.

RWRB was strangely entertaining. I dived in not expecting much but came out with a good laugh and a feeling of warmth. McQuinston creates a world in which Trump never happened and instead, the first female president was elected. Alex is proud of his family and will do anything to help them. And that even means putting aside his disdain for Prince Henry for the sake of American-British relations.

Contemporary books that try to get with the current lingo often come across as embarrassing. But RWRB made it surprisingly work. Alex was a hilarious main lead. He’s very full of himself but I’m saying that in a nice way. I personally didn’t like Henry, he just came across as a stereotypical British person. But their relationship together was pretty sweet. Henry is gay, but Alex is questioning his sexuality for most of the book, before coming out as bisexual. They work really well together, and they try their bests to help each other out, despite the circumstances. The side characters are really great to read. I really enjoyed the strong sibling relationship and the whole unlikely yet supportive friendship group that develops in the book.

The political backdrop will be a hit or miss for some readers. I’m sort of in the middle. I feel like this book wanted to stay completely on the romance path but couldn’t ignore the political context in which it’s set in. I wasn’t exactly a huge fan of it,, but I particularly loved the message that Alex sent about being a non-white person in America and how the melting pot that is the country is what makes America and diversity should be celebrated, not shunned away.

I didn’t really have much issue with this book. Adiba Jaigirdar says its more eloquently than I ever could, but because this story is essentially these two people, children of national figures, falling in love. And one of the people being a member of the royal family, you’re given this idealised image of British royalty. An empire which has committed many crimes against humanity. McQuiston does acknowledge the awfulness and Henry is aware of this privilege but positioning him as this ‘not like the others’ prince really wasn’t cutting it for me. But I don’t think I’ll knock off anything from my rating for it, it’s just a personal taste.  

Overall, I personally really enjoyed it. Another review called it a “bookish security blanket” which is rather fitting. It’s hilarious and heart-warming. I found myself engrossed at most. I would definitely recommend it for anyone looking for an international royal romance.


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Review: All the Things We Never Said

Review: All the Things We Never Said

Rating: ★★★★☆ (3.5/5)

*I received a copy via the publisher via NetGalley in return for an honest review. This in no way affected my opinion of the book.*

This is not a spoiler-free review. Content warning: Suicide (suicidal thoughts, discussion of ways to die by suicide, including two on the page attempts), sexual assault (implied and attempted rape on the page). More to be added…

Three different teenage girls join a website (MementoMori.com) that matches people and allocates them a shared date where they must die by suicide together. As they prepare for their final days, they slowly realise they don’t want to go through with it anymore, but the website won’t let them.

All the Things We Never Said (ATTWNS) is hard. Honestly, I found this such a difficult book to read. This is definitely a book to check for trigger warnings before picking it up because while I don’t suffer any of the issues that the main characters suffer with, it was just so emotionally draining, which is why I rated it a three, but I do believe the overall content is worthier of four. (4/5)

As mentioned before, ATTWNS follows the lives of three completely different girls.

Mehreen, a Bangladeshi girl who suffers from anxiety and depression which manifests into something she calls The Chaos. She always feels like she doesn’t fit in with her Muslim family and community. Cara suffers from the guilt of surviving a car accident which resulted in her dad’s death and her being in a wheelchair. Olivia looks picture perfect but is hiding the fact her mother’s boyfriend is abusing her.

With nothing in common but the website, these three girls come together to plan their joint suicide together. Tasked with a to-do list from MementoMori, the girls must submit evidence to completion. But slowly, these girls become friends and see good help in each other. They grow to depend on each other positively, and they bond so well. Each chapter was very distinct and showcased their varied personalities. Mehreen is more collected, Cara is loud, and Olivia is quite challenging to pin down. But they all worked together, and they realise how they all bring the best of each other out of themselves. Sure, they mess up, and that’s chalked up to just being young and inexperienced and being afraid to ask for help.

Overall, ATTWNS is quite the page-turner. The way MementoMori terrorises them was horrifying. And it’s not something that’s completely detached from real life, the way people online use people’s insecurities to gain pleasure is terrifying. (see: Blue Whale or Momo Challenge – both hoaxes but still dangerous) I appreciated that this story highlights stuff like that while also treating it sensitively and realistically.  


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Review: We Hunt the Flame

Review: We Hunt the Flame

Rating: ★★★★☆ (4/5)

Threatened by the growing darkness of the Arz, the kingdom of Arawiya can only be saved by an artefact hidden within the cursed forest of the Sharr. Known as the hunter and her identity a secret to any outsiders, Zafira’s ability to navigate the forest captures the attention of a mysterious witch who claims that Zafira can return magic to the world. But she isn’t the only one in this search. Nasir, a prince and an assassin for his father, is sent to kill the Hunter and retrieve the book himself. Soon, they are thrown together by an enemy far greater than they’d ever expected.

My initial thoughts for this was that I enjoyed this a lot more than I has anticipated. I knowingly hold books that are extremely hyped at an arm’s length, because I have been disappointed by them too much in the past. But this was something different.

We Hunt the Flame is told through a dual perspective of Zafira and Nasir. Zafira, a hunter who masquerades as a man, and Nasir, a Prince of Death, who is forced to conceal compassion to carry out his father’s will. Both of them are top notch leads with distinct voices. Zafira enters the Sharr because otherwise, the Arz would destroy her home, but the loss isn’t something new to her. After her father died after navigating the Arz by himself, Zafira is motivated to save the ones she loved. Nasir is a man broken by his own father, and it was devastating to see him be so conflicted over what he wants but knowing that it will always lead to the suffering of the ones around him.

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Review: Patron Saints of Nothing

Review: Patron Saints of Nothing

Rating: ★★★★☆ (4/5)

*I received a physical copy via the publisher in return for an honest review. This in no way affected my opinion of the book.*

I’m not sure where to start because there’s so much to this story. After discovering his cousin, Jun was murdered and fuelled by a mysterious Instagram message, Jay Reguero heads to the Philippines to find out the real story. There, Jay must reconnect with a life he barely remembers and family who refuse to acknowledge what has happened.

Told through a mix of narrations, switching between Jay and the letters addressed to him, Patron Saints was deeply emotional. It’s a coming of age story that really tugs at your heartstring.

If you don’t know much about Duterte’s war on crime, this book really sets the scene really well. It’s not going to hold your hand and tell you the violent history of Philippine’s current president, but it really highlights and summarises the political background Jay is set in really well. We get an understanding of the situation from different characters. And I thought it was discussed really well and didn’t shy away from controversies and really emphasises how the context impacts Jay and his search for the truth.

The story follows Jay as he’s moving from different family households in his visit to the Philippines. His extended family play a huge part in this story as we’re introduced to an army of aunties, uncles and cousins. I loved how it showcased how diverse family can be. Each house brought something new and helped Jay in his search. His uncle is a police officer who Jay suspects of being complicit in his son’s death. His rigid way of raising his children has his cousins opening up to him. He then moves in with his aunts, a lesbian couple, who are more caring toward Jay. Then he eventually comes to his grandparent’s house where everything that the story accumulated finally comes free.

Patron Saints tackles a lot of heavy subjects. It discusses colourism, the impact of American Imperialism, ethnocentrism and privilege. And that isn’t even all of it. The second Jay comes to the Philippines, he’s very much confronted with his more privileged way of living. He quickly realises how easier it is for him, a light-skinned man, to navigate the space he’s in. He even finds himself speaking overturn but is quick to learn and acknowledge the privilege he has.

The one thing that follows Jay in the Philippines is how much of an outsider he feels. A child of mixed heritage (White and Filipino), Jay is seen as very much whitewashed in the eyes of his family. After being away for much of his life, his family don’t see him as Filipino. I could really relate to Jay: having not knowing your country’s language, history or culture and feeling like an outsider at any given moment. I really think Ribay showcased the diaspora struggle and was dealt with spot on. His internal conflict was realistic and deeply emotional.

The only criticisms I could have are how Jun was treated and the character of Mia. The mistreatment of Jun, especially with his ending.

Overall, it was an illuminating and compelling story that delved deep into justice and grief and identity. It’s a coming of age novel that was character driven and offered an emotional and powerful punch. Rarely do YA novels tackle global issues that are often buried under Western domestic problems, and I found it an excellent read.


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Review: My So-Called Bollywood Life

Review: My So-Called Bollywood Life

Rating: ★★★☆☆ (3/5)

*I received a copy via the publisher in return for an honest review. This in no way affected my opinion of the book.*

Winnie Mehta dreams of getting her Bollywood forever after. For her, everything was perfect. Her life was going according to the words of her family pandit, who swore Winnie would find the love of her life, whose name starts with R, before her 18th birthday. And suddenly, everything is going wrong. Her boyfriend Raj had cheated on her. She’s lost her chair position in the film festival, lowering her chances of getting into film school. Winnie decides to look her prophecy differently, begins taking control of her destiny, in any way possible.

It’s always disappointing not to like a book that you really wanted to enjoy.

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Review: Ayesha At Last

Review: Ayesha At Last

Rating: ★★★★☆ (4/5)

Ayesha’s dream of being a poet is on a standstill as she’s stuck paying off a debt to her uncle. So while she’s stuck being a substitute teacher, she’s also tailing behind her gorgeous cousin who has marriage proposals thrown at her every day. An identity mishap leads her to be in charge of a fundraising conference for the young Muslims at their local mosque and pairs up with Khalid Mirza to run it. Khalid is conservative and judgemental with secrets of his own. Why should Ayesha fall for a man who acts above her? But a surprise engagement blows everything out of the water.

I enjoyed this book a lot more than I had expected. Like, wow. I couldn’t get enough Ayesha and her family. And her hilarious antics as she falls further down a web of lies by pretending to be her cousin. Each character was so unique and likeable. The narration jumps between different people. It was a bit too much, but each character has a distinct voice that separated them all, voices that were authentic and funny.

Khalid was the one that took me a while to get used to. I didn’t even think he deserved Ayesha for a good half of the novel. He just reminded me of most Muslim men I’ve met who are pretty ridiculous and judgemental before getting to know anyone. You can tell from the offset he’s grown to follow whatever his mum agrees to because of some background events that happened with his sister. And he does learn to become less judgemental, but when I say it took a while, it took a long while.

Apart from the growing relationship between Ayesha and Khalid, multiple complex conflicts grow in the back that adds to this drama-filled debut. Weddings to be planned and had, gossiping aunties that get their due and a very unexpected twist at the end.

Overall, I really enjoy Ayesha At Last. I think this book addressed so many issues and was so well done in that aspect. Workplace racism, Islamophobia, and double standards that women face. A great window into Muslim communities that explored the complexities of life, family and belief. Ayesha At Last was refreshing and hilarious.


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Content warning: workplace racism, Islamophobia, revenge porn

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