A Prince on Paper by Alyssa Cole (Reluctant Royals #3)

38622940Nya Jerami fled Thesolo for the glitz and glamour of NYC but discovered that her Prince Charming only exists in her virtual dating games. When Nya returns home for a royal wedding, she accidentally finds herself up close and personal—in bed—with the real-life celebrity prince who she loves to hate.

For Johan von Braustein, the red-headed step-prince of Liechtienbourg, acting as paparazzi bait is a ruse that protects his brother—the heir to the throne—and his own heart. When a royal referendum threatens his brother’s future, a fake engagement is the perfect way to keep the cameras on him.

Nya and Johan both have good reasons to avoid love, but as desires are laid bare behind palace doors, they must decide if their fake romance will lead to a happily-ever-after.

Review:

Trigger warning for abuse.

I’ve had very hit and miss experiences with Cole’s other contemporary novels, but this is my favorite Reluctant Royals book by far.

The good, in no particular order:

  • Like most of Cole’s books it’s own voices Black representation.
  • There are several LGBTQIA+ characters. One’s queerness becomes a plot point, but the others are simply themselves and that is awesome.
  • Nya has some trauma in her past and it isn’t info dumped but you get it.
  • All the consent! Nya is not experienced in the sexual department and Johan rushes nothing and asks for permission before everything. Love.
  • Nya and Johan both have a bunch of emotional issues they’re dealing with, but their baggage matches. It’s great to see two people who help each other with their stuff constructively, and don’t set each other off.
  • At one point it looks like we’re headed for a Big Misunderstanding but the characters talk to each other like adults. The way it should be!
  • There’s some great positive modeling, including how to bring up the subject of pronouns with someone who may be questioning their own.
  • As always Cole brings in current events. Johan’s country is largely white and a former colonial power, and the government and people are going through growing pains, figuring out what they want their future to look like. How do you interact with your former colonies? Do you welcome refugees? What is the place of a monarchy in this day and age?

The not-so-good:

  • While I love the romance the plot is disappointing, especially the ending. It has good elements overall but I don’t feel like Cole stuck the landing.

I’m happy I stuck with the series through a DNF and two mediocre reads, and am looking forward to whatever Cole may come out with next.

Once Ghosted, Twice Shy by Alyssa Cole (Reluctant Royals, #2.5)

42128976While her boss the prince was busy wooing his betrothed, Likotsi had her own love affair after swiping right on a dating app. But her romance had ended in heartbreak, and now, back in NYC again, she’s determined to rediscover her joy—so of course she runs into the woman who broke her heart.

When Likotsi and Fabiola meet again on a stalled subway train months later, Fab asks for just one cup of tea. Likotsi, hoping to know why she was unceremoniously dumped, agrees. Tea and food soon leads to them exploring the city together, and their past, with Fab slowly revealing why she let Likotsi go, and both of them wondering if they can turn this second chance into a happily ever after.

Review:

Man, Cole’s contemporaries are not quite my thing. This novella should have been everything I love, but it wasn’t.

The good:

  • Yeaaa f/f romance in what, to this point, has been a heterosexual romance series!
  • If you’re into second chance romance, this is that.
  • There’s a great look at immigration policy that I was not expecting.
  • The characterization is good, and everyone’s reasons make sense.

The not-so-good:

  • I came in nearly blind, having DNFed Princess in Theory early on. As a result Likotsi’s almost mechanical way of thinking was a shock, and it took a while to understand and get into her character. Just as I managed to do that the book was over. :/
  • The story bounces between two timelines, and while that isn’t a bad thing I kept thinking, “No, go back!” each time it did.

Overall it was more lackluster than I was hoping. I’m going to give Cole one more chance with Prince on Paper because I’m intrigued by the hero’s story, but if that doesn’t go well I may have to stick to her historicals.

Duke by Default by Alyssa Cole (Reluctant Royals #2)

35564582New York City socialite and perpetual hot mess Portia Hobbs is tired of disappointing her family, friends, and—most importantly—herself. An apprenticeship with a struggling swordmaker in Scotland is a chance to use her expertise and discover what she’s capable of. Turns out she excels at aggravating her gruff silver fox boss…when she’s not having inappropriate fantasies about his sexy Scottish burr.

Tavish McKenzie doesn’t need a rich, spoiled American telling him how to run his armory…even if she is infuriatingly good at it. Tav tries to rebuff his apprentice, and his attraction to her, but when Portia accidentally discovers that he’s the secret son of a duke, rough-around-the-edges Tav becomes her newest makeover project.

Forging metal into weapons and armor is one thing, but when desire burns out of control and the media spotlight gets too hot to bear, can a commoner turned duke and his posh apprentice find lasting love?

Review:

Disclaimer off the bat: I’m not the biggest contemporary romance person and I wasn’t able to finish the previous book in the series, A Princess in Theory.  The entitled prince buying people off wasn’t quite my thing.  I still picked up this book, though, because I wanted to see what #swordbae was all about.

The good:

  • All kinds of rep here, including a black woman and bi-racial guy in an interracial relationship, and ADHD.  There’s also representation for someone who is giving up alcohol because they want to, damn it, and someone who is not interested in marriage.  Own voice reviewers on Goodreads have given the ADHD rep particular praise, which makes me happy.
  • There’s careful, considered handling of issues all around.  For example, this is an off comment:

    “There are already stories circulating that Johan and I are sharing you, which would be fine if any of us were into that, but that’s not the healthy setup being spread around.”

  • I like that Cole uses totally believable but not real company names.  SuperLift (ride sharing) and InstaPhoto (social media) for the win.
  • Mini flipped trope – she buys him clothes. Yea!

Duke by DefaultThe not-so-good:

  • It took me a while to get into the story, and I didn’t feel fully connected until the halfway point or so.

I can’t think of any other big negatives, just that contemporaries are not my usual so while I liked this book well enough it didn’t immediately become a favorite.

All that being said I am on board with the next book, which will feature a playboy prince with a heart of gold.  He pops into this story for a bit and I got some Devil in Winter vibes – sold.  Also looking forward to the next historical Cole writes, as those are exactly my thing!

An Extraordinary Union and A Hope Divided by Alyssa Cole (Loyal League Series #1 & #2)

I love historical romances, and while I’ll never turn down a good Regency I’m getting more and more interested in other places and periods.  The Civil War era is often ignored by Alyssa Cole has stepped in with two well researched and plain awesome books, the beginning of her Loyal League series.

30237404In An Extraordinary Union Elle is a former slave that is working as one again, but this time undercover, to spy for the Union Army.  Her path crosses with Malcolm who is also undercover but for Pinkerton’s Secret Service. They discover a Confederate plot and end up teaming up and doing all their sneaky spy stuff to save the day.

To be honest sneaky spy stuff is not my thing but I really like this book anyway.  I love that Elle is smart and has tons of agency and doesn’t let Malcolm’s charm get to her.  The interracial romance has lots of obstacles, as you can imagine, which makes getting over them all the sweeter.  So while An Extraordinary Union isn’t exactly my sort of thing it made me excited to pick up the next book.

34570037A Hope Divided follows Marlie, a free black woman that learned the art of making tisanes, poultices, and other medicines from her mother.  She’s a scientist type, always extending her knowledge and finding ways to hone her craft.  While she’s at it she attends to men at a Confederate prison, using the access to pass coded messages and aid those who are fleeing the South.  There she meets Ewan, who is working for the Union from the inside, and they end up saving each other in turns as they do their thing.

I liked this book even more than the first, mostly because the spying stuff wasn’t as nail-biting.  We get to follow another interracial couple navigate their relationship and this period of history in an unvarnished, unflinching way.  I learned a ton and eagerly await further installments.

Perfect for those who like historical romances that are not set in ye olde England and are true to their time without pulling any punches.

Radio Silence by Alyssa Cole (Off the Grid #1)

Synopsis:

23500162Arden Highmore was living your average postgrad life in Rochester, New York, when someone flipped the “off” switch on the world. No cell phones, no power, no running water—and no one knows why. All she and her roommate, John, know for sure is that they have to get out, stat. His family’s cabin near the Canadian border seemed like the safest choice.

When scavengers attack, it’s John’s ridiculously handsome brother, Gabriel, who comes to the rescue. He saves Arden’s life, so he can’t be all bad…but he’s also a controlling jerk who treats her like an idiot. Now their parents are missing and it seems John, Gabriel, their kid sister, Maggie, and Arden are the only people left alive who aren’t bloodthirsty maniacs.

No one knows when—or if—the lights will come back on and, in the midst of all that, Arden and Gabriel are finding that there’s a fine line indeed between love and hate. How long can they expect to last in this terrifying new world, be it together or apart?

Review:

Mixed feelings about this one – it’s alright but not what it says on the tin.

I like how the first chapter hits the ground running.  Our apocalypse is introduced (cause unknown) and Arden and roommate John have to make their way to safety.  They get ambushed and there’s a fight scene that pulled me into the story immediately.  We meet the hero Gabriel, John’s brother. They make their way to the cabin and hang out.

For a loooooong time.

Food stocks are secure, there’s a generator if they really need it, boards are on the windows.  All they need to do is wait for… something?… to happen.  The apocalypse/romantic suspense vibe is replaced with a snowbound romance plot, with the unwelcome addition of Gabriel’s siblings thrown in. So we go from “fight all.the.things the world is ending, ahh!” to “let’s talk about our family relationship issues, shall we? It seems the world might be ending.”

Which would be fine, normally.  Cole shows the friction between characters to great effect and their relationships are thought out.  But the plot evolves in such a way that the mysterious Big Bad turns out to be not much at all, and the questions I had on page one were left unanswered.

Don’t get me wrong, there’s some great stuff in here.  A romance that is both interracial and intercultural, believable inner lives for the characters, and that great first chapter.  I was hoping the action-plus-romance would continue, but no luck there. Ah, well. I’m interested in reading Cole again – I see she has a civil rights era romance, ooo – but I’ll pass on the rest of this series.