This post is a little overdue, but I wanted to share my thoughts on the arcs I read that came out in May! We have Alyssa Cole’s latest Reluctant Royals (which features a Harry and Meghan inspired fake relationship story), a Pride and Prejudice retelling from Sonali Dev, Beverly Jenkins’ latest Reconstruction Era romance, and a hate-to-love Gilded Age story from Joanna Shupe.
A Prince on Paper by Alyssa Cole (April 30)
A Prince on Paper is the final book in Alyssa Cole’s Reluctant Royals series, and it has definite nods to Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s relationship. Johan is the redhead, bad-boy prince we met in A Duke by Default, while Nya is the daughter of the villain from A Princess in Theory. The two of them have never especially gotten along, but strike up a tentative friendship when the two of them go to Thesolo for Ledi and Thabiso’s wedding. When a royal referendum in Johan’s home country starts bringing too much attention to his younger brother, Naledi agrees to a fake engagement in order to keep the cameras on him. But of course, when does a fake engagement in a romance novel never not lead to true love?
So technically I read a finished copy of A Prince on Paper that was for sale a month early at KissCon, but I still read it a month ahead of its publication and want to make sure and mention it here! Basically, in case you didn’t already know, Alyssa Cole is amazing and you need to read this book. She just does phenomenal things playing with classic tropes of the genre and making them fresh while also putting her own stamp on them, and it makes for such great reads. And I really love how diverse and inclusive this story is. There’s a story line with a side character exploring their sexuality that I think is so sweet and important, especially since I’m not sure I’ve ever seen something like it in a romance from a major publisher. Also, I think the fake dating trope was handled really well in this story—sometimes it feels a little icky to me because it involves so much lying, but the people close to Johan and Ledi knew what was going on, and I thought that was important.
I will say, as much as I enjoyed this one and was completely blown away by it, I didn’t love it, at least not the way I loved A Duke by Default. This might be total nonsense or just the head space I was in while I was reading it, but I never really got swept up in Johan and Nya’s romance the way I do in some of my favorite romances. I’m not sure why that is, but it’s literally the only thing stopping me from forcing everyone to read this book (but seriously, you should still read it!).
Also, idk what was going on with the language of Lichtienbourg, but I was not a fan. Maybe Cole did this with the language of Thesolo and I just didn’t notice because I wasn’t familiar with the original languages, but Lichtien-whatever is a mashup of French and German, and I know enough German that I really struggled with it. It’s a pretty tiny nitpick that I don’t think will affect most readers, but I wanted to throw it out there.
Seriously, though, this is all in all an excellent addition to what has been a standout series from Alyssa Cole. I can’t wait to see what she has in store for us with her next series, the Runaway Royals!
Pride, Prejudice, and Other Flavors by Sonali Dev (May 7)
Sonali Dev’s Pride, Prejudice and Other Flavors is a gender-swapped retelling of the original classic, featuring a neurosurgeon (Trisha) of Indian descent in the Darcy role and a world renowned chef (DJ) of mixed Anglo, Rwandan, and Indian descent in the Elizabeth role. The two are brought together by a potentially terminal tumor affecting DJ’s sister, but which Trisha is convinced she can operate on. But of course, a series of miscommunications result in the two being unable to stand each other, setting the stage for their eventual happily ever after.
I was looking forward to reading this despite myself because, as I’ve mentioned a million times on my blog, I’m not the biggest fan of Pride and Prejudice retellings. They just never capture the magic of the original! But I love Sonali Dev’s A Bollywood Affair and think this is such a unique retelling that I had to read it. The good news is that this book doesn’t feel like it’s trying to recapture that magic. It’s telling its own story with enough nods and hints at the original to make you reminisce, but not to distract you or make you feel like it’s directly copying, and I think it hits a lot of the right notes in making this more of a character study like Pride and Prejudice does.
That said, I’m not really sure I liked this book all that much. For one thing, it was soooooo long. I really don’t think there was a good reason for it to be nearly 500 pages. I read this in Kindle format, and I remember being shocked I was only at 25 percent considering how long I’d been reading. It took forever to get to 50 percent, never mind finish the book. I also expected this to be a romance considering it was by Sonali Dev, it’s a Pride and Prejudice retelling, and they were handing it out at KissCon, but it really wasn’t. Trisha and DJ don’t really have mutual romantic interests in each other until more than halfway through the book. I’m all for a slow burn romance, but there has to be at least some attraction between both of them to sustain the story. In this one, there was next to none for at least the first half of the book. There were a few other things I didn’t love about this story, but the length and lack of romance were definitely the primary ones.
Another big thing I’m not sure how I feel about is how Trisha’s brother’s story line was incorporated into this book. SPOILERS AHEAD. Basically, the Wickham character in this book was a teenage girl who drugged Trisha’s older brother while she was interning for him and then had sex with him and taped it. Trisha was blamed for the incident and became estranged from her family, and she’s constantly apologizing for what happened years later.
I absolutely don’t think it’s outside of the realm of possibility for a situation like this to happen, but I’m not sure why it was included in this story the way it was. I think it’s really important to show men as victims of sexual violence since I think the default is that it’s always women, and men should be empowered to share their stories too. But the story didn’t really dig into Julia as a sexual predator, and Trisha’s brother never came forward for fear it would damage his political aspirations.
I guess I wanted some sort of takeaway or new insight from the inclusion of this story line, but it really didn’t feel like there was one? Unless it’s to make you question the hush-hush payments that men in power make to women alleging sexual assault and whether things happen the way we assume they did, but considering the number of men who have made such payments and been proven to be awful people, I’m not sure that’s something that needs to be questioned? I’m not sure, and I think this warrants further analysis than what I intended in this short wrap up, but I didn’t care for it’s inclusion in this book.
Plus there was a throwaway comment about her brother not wanting to set the #MeToo movement back by sharing his story that I think betrays a misunderstanding of what the movement is all about. Shoutout to Aarya Marsden for flagging this and writing a thorough review on Goodreads. END SPOILERS.
So yeah, all in all I didn’t love this book, though I think it was a stronger Pride and Prejudice retelling than most and I did really enjoy the last quarter or so when it felt like the story really picked up. But it was way too long and didn’t have enough romance, and I questioned some of the plot and character decisions that Dev made.
I received an arc from the publisher via Edelweiss.
The Rogue of Fifth Avenue by Joanna Shupe (May 28)
The Rogue of Fifth Avenue is the first book in a new Gilded Age series from Joanna Shupe following high-powered lawyer Frank and socialite Mamie. The two of them can’t stand each other, especially since Frank keeps catching Mamie in places where she doesn’t belong and threatening to tell her father, his client. But the more time they spend together, the harder they find it to resist their attraction to each other. Shocker, right?
I can’t get over how stunning this cover is. I just really love the color combo. I think Shupe is a really consistent author, and this book is no exception. For some reason it doesn’t stand out as one of my favorites from her; I think Mamie had a tendency to annoy me for being rather careless with her safety (though it was well-intentioned), and I wish we’d met Frank and Mamie earlier in their relationship with each other. But all in all I really enjoyed this book and highly recommend it to anyone looking for a solid historical romance, especially something set outside of England.
I received an arc from the publisher at KissCon.
Rebel by Beverly Jenkins (May 28)
Rebel is the latest historical romance from Beverly Jenkins, who is an icon in the romance world if you’re not already familiar with her. The book follows Val, a black woman from the North who is in New Orleans during Reconstruction to help teach freed slaves how to read and write while waiting for her fiance to come back from a trip abroad to secure financing for his newspaper. When she crosses paths with Captain Drake LeVaq after her school was vandalized, Val finds herself questioning what she wants with her life, and of course love ensues.
Beverly Jenkins is an amazing author, but this book was not for me. Honestly, it felt a lot more like historical fiction than romance to me. I did really like how Valinda’s engagement was handled, which shocks me because I was thinking as I read it that I dislike it when the hero or heroine is engaged to someone else as far into a romance as she was. And I enjoyed seeing her realize what she wants in life and take steps to make that a reality. But the romance was underwhelming for me, and this is ultimately supposed to be a romance.
I received an arc from the publisher at KissCon.
Fix Her Up by Tessa Bailey (June 11)
Fix Her Up is one of the big new titles coming out this summer with the illustrated covers, and I was pretty excited to check it out when I got it at KissCon. It follows a former pro baseball player returning to his hometown and falling in love with his best friend’s younger sister, who is pursuing her career as a clown.
I made it about 100 pages into this book before I decided to DNF it. I’ve only tried one other Tessa Bailey book (Disturbing His Peace), and I made it less than one chapter in before deciding not to read it because I didn’t like the writing style at all. Fortunately this one was a lot more readable, but honestly, I just didn’t care. I don’t like unrequited love stories, and in this one, Georgie has been in love with Travis pretty much her whole life, but he’s never noticed she existed. And in the meantime, he’s slept with a lot of women, and the book is constantly reminding you of that (in comparison to the complete lack of experience that Georgie has). It’s a dynamic I wasn’t a huge fan of, and I didn’t care about the characters, so I started skimming ahead to see if anything would change my mind and convince me to keep reading, and if anything, I became even less interested. I’m sure a lot of people will enjoy this book, but it just wasn’t for me.
I received an arc from the publisher at KissCon.
A little bit of a mixed bag with this batch of books, but all in all I’m glad I picked them up. If you haven’t yet, you really have to read Alyssa Cole’s Reluctant Royals series! They’re all so good, and A Prince on Paper was an excellent installment. And I really enjoyed The Rogue of Fifth Avenue and recommend it if you’re looking for a good historical. Joanna Shupe is so underrated and deserves way more hype!
Have you read any of these new releases now that they’re on shelves? What did you think? Let me know in the comments!