I’m Reading: Red, White, and Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston

It’s on every shelf and every agent wishlist, and for good reason. Red, White & Royal Blue had me laughing out loud one minute and leaking happy-sappy tears the next. My partner kept giving me concerned looks from the corner of his eye. The last third of the book required chocolate with my tissues.

In a “good timeline” alternate history, the White House was taken by a smart, driven, progressive woman in 2016. The first son of the United States, Alex Claremont-Diaz, has it all figured out. He’s brilliant, charismatic, passionate, and poised to rocket into a political career of his own.

But a drunken fight with the young Prince of Wales, Henry, leaves both countries scrambling for a diplomatic solution. In the process of his forced photo-op tour, Alex finds out Prince Henry is not at all what Alex expected, and ready to turn his world upside down.

The sheer wholesome heartache in this book turned me upside down and inside out. The steam comes hot and emotional, the banter quick and witty, and the love both epic and deeply personal in scope. What really had me, though, was the romance. The outpouring of lyrical, poetic love rips their hearts out and lays it bare for us all to read. At times I almost felt guilty for eavesdropping on such a vulnerable conversation. What’s more, the author manages this epic romantic and sexual tension with characters separated by an ocean.

I’ve never been a fan of the epistolary style, and I’m enough of a gen-x old fart to have trouble getting into text exchanges in fiction. In this case, the author keeps the written exchanges lively and the voices strong and unique. She keeps the challenges between the lovers believable, and refuses to take the easy way out by resorting to pseudo-conflict. They have plenty of obstacles without it.

I’m generally not a fan of present-tense fiction, especially in romance. Most authors cannot pull it off and it becomes so awkward and jarring that I don’t finish the book. This is a rare exception, as I was halfway through the book before I even noticed the present tense. It flows naturally from a main character who, despite his knowledge of history, is dynamically and boldly living in the present, looking at the next moment instead of the last. It adds energy and tension to the story, and is brilliantly executed.

If you write romance, read romance, or just need to fall in love, you have to read this book. Ask your library to stock it, too.

Visit Casey McQuiston online for more information (and a very cute puppy!). The book is available from just about every store.

I’m Reading: The Kiss Quotient by Helen Hoang

Whatever you do, do not start this book right before bed. Or do, if that’s as soon as you can get to it. Even though I finally put it down at 3am, blurry-eyed and probably good for absolutely nothing the next day,  I knew it was worth it.  There’s a reason why this debut rocked the bestseller lists and remains a book every commercial fiction agent has somewhere in their wishlist.

The main character, Stella Lane, is wealthy, successful, and brilliant. She’s also autistic. Being touched makes her skin crawl and kissing is even worse. But when her mother puts pressure on her to date, she realizes that sex might be like any other social skill; one that comes with practice. So she does the absolutely more logical thing and hires a male escort to teach her all the ways of sex. Neither of them expects it to grow into something much harder to walk away from.

This is a high-steam erotic romance with a sympathetic, brilliant, funny, awkward, powerfully independent, sweet main character and a love interest that puts hearts and stars in our eyes. The romantic tension and physical chemistry between them is off the charts. Few authors can put as much erotic tension into a kiss as Helen Hoang, and I’m ready to devour the rest of her catalog the way Michael devours Stella’s lips. The writing craft is phenomenal, and the book should appeal to readers far beyond the romance genre. Stella’s personal journey towards claiming her best self is one we all should see ourselves in. This delightful debut goes on my re-read stack.

Visit Helen Hoang online for more information and ordering links.

(Content warning for this book: Main character has a history of sexual assault and experiences non-consensual kissing in the book.)