Tuesday, 8 November 2022

CBR14 Book 37: "Duke, Actually" by Jenny Holiday

Page count: 384 pages
Rating: 4 stars

CBR14 Bingo: Holiday (a Christmas romance written by an author called Holiday - boom!)

Maximillian "Max" von Hansburg, popularly known in the tabloids worldwide as "the Depraved Duke", is in fact, merely a baron. He is the eldest son and heir to the Duke of Aquilla, however, and he doesn't really mind his playboy reputation very much. While in New York to fulfill family obligations and meet a prospective bride that his parents might approve of, he decides to have some fun instead and contacts Dani Martinez. Dani's best friend Leo now lives in Eldovia (the fictional European country that Max hails from) and is due to marry its crown princess Marie. Before meeting Leo, Marie was going to marry Max and they had a whole plan for a marriage of convenience. So it's not like Max is pining for his lost love. While he knows Dani finds him a bit insufferable, Max really enjoyed spending time with her before (in a past story that I assume all happened in A Princess for Christmas, Holiday's previous romance involving the fictional Eldovia) and would like to see her again. 

Dani, a New York English professor, is in the middle of going through a thorny divorce (her fellow English lecturer spouse ran off to Spain with one of his students) and isn't exactly looking forward to the faculty Christmas party where her cheating spouse and his potential childbride are also going to be. However, Dani needs to impress the heads of faculty if she ever wants to get tenure, so she has to appear. When Max texts her out of the blue, she initially tells him to sod off, but when he offers to accompany her to her dreaded faculty do, the thought of showing up to the Christmas party with one of the most famously handsome men on the planet (Dani likens him to the handsome Swedish vampire on True Blood, and Alexander SkarsgÄrd is certainly a snack) makes her change her mind, despite being firmly post-men, post-romance now.

Dani finds herself having a surprising amount of fun with Max, who is self-deprecating, charming, and very attentive to her and when Max leaves to go back to Eldovia, the two keep texting and exchanging messages, building a real friendship. Max is supportive of her when she decides to try her hand at dating again, giving her advice and funny anecdotes about his own love life. Dani is supportive of Max's challenges with his family and finding a meaningful pastime besides being an international playboy and minor European aristocrat. As the royal wedding gets closer, Max invites Dani to come for an extended stay on his family estate, so she can find peace and quiet to work. By this point, Dani's been on a bunch of failed dates with over a dozen men, while Max has found himself strangely celibate for a very long time. Could it be that neither is really interested in anyone but the other? 

So, while this romance novel both starts and ends at Christmas, it's not really a holiday romance, as such. Nevertheless, Christmas, with its many different traditions in many cultures, not to mention the existence of Love, Actually (a movie Max has never seen until Dani introduces him to it) plays an important part in the story. It was really refreshing to have a book where the couple doesn't fall into insta-love or insta-lust even (although there is a clear acknowledgment of the other's attractiveness from the start), and instead, they grow a solid and mutual friendship before they ever get to the kissing and smexy times. 

I'm always fascinated with the fictional European countries that North American authors tend to invent for their romances. I guess it works better than having fictionalised versions of actual European countries, especially if you can't seem to do your research well enough (A Duke by Default, I'm totally talking about you). Based on the descriptions given in the book, Eldovia must be in the southern parts of Europe, it's described as having a lot of mountains (so probably near the Alps) and its main exports appear to be luxury watches and some minerals only found in the country's many mines. Max's family is very involved in the mining industry, and after rebuilding his relationship with his younger brother, Max also begins to take a more active part in the family business. 

While a lot of the book is focused on Max and Dani, there are also some nice supporting characters, and an adorable dog, amusingly also named Max. While I loved the slow burn and developing friendship before having the protagonist start bonking, the ending seemed rather rushed, and I'm not super enthused about the rather melodramatic way that Max is prevented from going to New York to pursue Dani. I'm pretty sure that that whole plot strand could have been resolved in a slightly different way, especially since Max's brother might find himself rather emotionally scarred and swamped with guilt in the aftermath. 

Nevertheless, this was a very cozy book and I'm glad I chose it for my Holiday bingo square. So far, I've very much enjoyed Ms. Holiday's romances, although I find myself more intrigued by the sequel to this rather than the earlier story where Leo and Marie meet and become a couple. The various clever references to books and films throughout (there's a whole extended subplot with Max and Dani trying to do the lift from Dirty Dancing, as well as the Love, Actually call-backs) were also fun. 

Judging a book by its cover: See, this is a cartoony cover where I don't think either of the protagonists is given enough justice. Neither Max nor Dani look as attractive as described. I do like the inclusion of dog Max, however, and the big sign with the title is a nice nod to the movie from which the book cheekily takes its name. 

Crossposted on Cannonball Read

No comments:

Post a Comment