by Jenny Holiday
Publication Date: October 13, 2020
I received an advance review copy of this book from NetGalley. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.My rating:
From USA Today bestselling author Jenny Holiday comes a modern fairy tale just in time for Christmas about a tough New Yorker from the other side of the tracks who falls for a princess from the other side of the world.
Leo Ricci's already handling all he can, between taking care of his little sister Gabby, driving a cab, and being the super of his apartment building in the Bronx. But when Gabby spots a "princess" in a gown outside of the UN trying to hail a cab, she begs her brother to stop and help. Before he knows it, he's got a real-life damsel in distress in the backseat of his car.
Princess Marie of Eldovia shouldn't be hailing a cab, or even be out and about. But after her mother’s death, her father has plunged into a devastating depression and the fate of her small Alpine country has fallen on Marie’s shoulders. She’s taken aback by the gruff but devastatingly handsome driver who shows her more kindness than she’s seen in a long time.
When Marie asks Leo to be her driver for the rest of her trip, he agrees, thinking he’ll squire a rich miss around for a while and make more money than he has in months. He doesn’t expect to like and start longing for the unpredictable Marie. And when he and Gabby end up in Eldovia for Christmas, he discovers the princess who is all wrong for him is also the woman who is his perfect match.
This is a hilarious and self-aware ode to all of those campy and sweet Hallmark holiday movies, with the addition of sex in the woods and a lot of f-bombs.
In the two years since his parents died, Leo’s dropped out of college and is struggling to raise his eleven-year-old sister Gabby. He’s constantly worried that he’s doing it wrong – that not knowing what kind of pads to buy or how to braid her hair is going to irrevocably damage her. Leo’s a regular joe, juggling taxi driving with being his building’s super, a born-and-bred New Yorker who loves the Islanders and architecture. The last thing he expects is that the woman he picks up outside the UN at the insistence of his sister – “she looks like a princess!!!” – is a princess who’ll pay him $5k a day to drive her around NYC.
Marie’s not her mom – she’s not graceful, poised, perfect like her. She feels that in most aspects of her life, but most acutely in regards to her father, the king, who’s always been prickly but in her mother’s absence has become more angry and withdrawn from her and the day to day operations of the kingdom. Her trip to NYC is supposed to prove two things: that her work with the UN on the European refugee crisis is worthwhile, and that she’s capable of helping to shore up her country’s luxury watchmaking business. While things go well on the first front, the second is… not going well, though Leo and Gabby are proving to be a good distraction for taking her mind off that – in more ways than one. But nothing could ever come of a relationship between a princess and a cabbie, right?
“Christmas is big business in Eldovia. We have an annual Cocoa Fest on Christmas Eve day. Restaurants and pubs participate, and so does the palace. We make big cauldrons of different kinds of cocoa and serve them outside on the grounds.”
“Are you kidding me?” Gabby demanded.
Marie laughed. “I am entirely in earnest. And there’s a Cocoa Ball in the evening—though that’s not for children.” She wasn’t sure why she added that qualifier. It wasn’t as if Gabby, whose eyes had grown comically wide, would be around to be told she couldn’t attend the ball.
“Oh my god, you are from a fake Hallmark country,” Leo deadpanned.
This book has nearly every trope from a Hallmark Christmas royalty movie. There’s the snooty royal of a tiny alpine monarchy who just wants someone to love them for themselves and not their title, plus the salt-of-the-earth commoner who wants to show them how normal people live. They both tragically lost parent(s) around Christmas (why is this always a thing in the movies anyway?). There’s the stern butler/equerry/whatever who actually has a heart of gold. The aloof/heartless/sad king. The over-the-top “traditional” Christmas celebrations in Eldovia – Cocoa ball! Snow globe dude! Giant Christmas trees! – plus the stereotypical NYC sightseeing stuff (the Flatiron building! skating at the Rockefeller Center!) round it all off nicely. And then there’s the sex.
“If no one ever danced with the princess of Eldovia like no one was watching, it was safe to say no one ever talked dirty to the princess of Eldovia like no one was watching.”
Leo and Marie have great chemistry. While Marie’s prissy princess manner initially puts him off, Leo’s too much of a softie to not want to help her out, and once Leo realizes it serves the same purpose as his constant grumpiness, he’s pretty much a goner. Marie’s not sure what to do with someone who pays more attention to her as a person than a princess. The banter is hilarious, though I do think Leo was quite a bit kinder than I’d expect a NYC cabbie to be! For the most part, Marie and Leo communicate well with each other and it’s overall rather lighthearted and low conflict – perfect for a Christmas romance.
The side characters were well drawn as well. Gabby was just delightful, a good representation of that awkward tween state where they’re still full of childlike wonder but also gaining some of that teen awareness of the world. The MCs each had their own opposite-sex best friend (and who are obviously going to be a couple later in the series) who was the right mix of supportive and “get your act together”ness. There’s also a local Eldovian pub owner, plus a taciturn artisan. Sure, they’re all a bit true to trope, but the author knows exactly how to play to them perfectly.
Overall, this is just the sort of sweet and a little bit spicy Christmas romance that I love watching around the holidays!