TITLE: Duke, Actually (Christmas in Eldovia book 2 of 3)
AUTHOR: Jenny Holiday
GENRE: Contemporary Romance
PUBLICATION DATE: November 16, 2021
TROPES: friends to lovers, opposites attract
TWs: parental abuse, alcoholism
NARRATORS: Stacy Gonzalez
Duke, Actually is the second book in the Christmas in Eldovia series. It tells the story of Daniella, who is the best friend of the groom in book 1, and Max, who is the best friend of the bride from book 1. Even though it is marketed as a Christmas book, the minimal festivities make it a great read all year round. The best part? You can read this book as a standalone.
There’s a royal wedding on, and things are about to get interesting.
Meet the man of honor
Maximillian von Hansburg, Baron of Laudon and heir to the Duke of Aquilla, is not having a merry Christmas. He’s been dumped by a princess, he’s unemployed, and his domineering father has sent him to New York to meet a prospective bride he has no interest in. In the city, he meets Dani Martinez, a smart (and gorgeous) professor he’s determined to befriend before their best friends marry in the Eldovian wedding of the century.
Meet the best woman
Newly single, no-nonsense New Yorker Dani is done with love—she even has a list entitled “Things I Will Never Again Do for a Man”—which is why she hits it off with notorious rake Max. He’s the perfect partner for snow angels in Central Park and deep conversations about the futility of love.
It’s all fun and games until their friendship deepens into attraction and, oops…
Falling in love was never part of the plan.
I absolutely loved the MCs. Their witty banter was charming and funny, making it easy to root for their friendship to grow into something more. I appreciated how they supported each other in their healing journeys and pushed each other to become the best versions of themselves.
There is more to Max than what meets the eye. Sure, he’s a ladies’ man and ridiculously wealthy, but he’s also kind, considerate, and surprisingly down-to-earth. I loved his backstory regarding his insecurities because it was so realistic and made him much more relatable. And the way he kept Dani on her toes with his charming wit and humor was just hilarious and so fun to listen to.
Daniella is an English professor who’s going through a messy divorce. She’s smart, sassy, and authentic. Her relatable flaws, including her hesitancy to explore new relationships post-divorce, only made her more endearing. For most of the book, she was one of my favorite characters. However, I must admit that the third-act conflict left me slightly disappointed with her (more on that later).
SEBASTIAN, Max’s brother, really surprised me with how much he contributed to the story. He’s like the secret MVP that sneaks up on you. I absolutely loved seeing him and Max work together to strengthen their bond as brothers and encourage each other to step out of their comfort zones.
Duke, Actually has a slow burn that is perfectly paced to build the reader’s investment. I found myself looking for excuses to listen to the audiobook because I couldn’t wait for them to cross the line. Plus, multiple heartfelt, tender moments interspersed between lighthearted, funny moments made this book an absolute delight.
I loved the subplots with the Eldovian history and the mining companies and enjoyed learning about them. It added a lovely extra layer of depth to the story. And all the dirty dancing remakes were adorable.
Some serious issues are discussed in this book, like parental abuse and alcoholism, but the author deals with these matters sensitively and authentically.
What made me drop a star was mainly the 3rd act conflict. It was not in character with Max and Dani’s friendship. They had built such a strong foundation of healthy communication and trust that a conflict caused by a simple miscommunication felt a bit forced and unlike them. I got the impression that Dani was acting a bit immature, which didn’t really fit with her character up to that point.
Another reason why I couldn’t give Duke, Actually 5 stars because the ending seemed a bit rushed compared to the slow and steady pace of the rest of the story. Also, the first intimate scene didn’t quite live up to the buildup and anticipation.
Holiday masterfully combined modern dialogues for Dani with a more posh dialect for Max. Listening to Max talk felt like watching Netflix’s Bridgerton.
Gonzalez did a great job bringing these characters to life. And her British accent for Max was spot on and exactly how I’d imagine him to sound. I would definitely recommend this on Audible.
Holiday has crafted a heartwarming, funny, and charming read in Duke, Actually that will make you feel like you’re sipping your favorite coffee. Although there were a few miscommunication issues, and the ending felt rushed, I still recommend giving this book a try, especially if you’re a fan of Dirty Dancing and Love, Actually.
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