Duke, Actually by Jenny Holiday Contemporary Romance November 16, 2021 by Avon Reviewed by Kate
Duke, Actually is an adorable follow-up to A Princess for Christmas. I will open with my main complaints, which are that I don’t love this cover (A Princess for Christmas is so much cuter) and I feel a better title would have been “Baron, Actually” but I do understand how that would not have been as enticing. And now that I’ve gotten that out of the way, we can start on my many compliments.
Overall, I liked Duke, Actually better than A Princess for Christmas. Whereas A Princess for Christmas was cute, I think it lives up to the definition of a Hallmark movie (fairly formulaic and fluffy). This is obviously not a bad thing, but Duke, Actually spans a longer time period than most Christmas-themed stories. I felt like this allowed the romance more time to grow, and the reader a slower pace to become more emotionally invested in Dani and Max’s relationship. Also, I do believe this can be read as a standalone, as there isn’t too much of the plot that relies on knowledge of events from A Princess for Christmas.
Duke, Actually takes place over the course of a year, from Christmas to Christmas. Dani is in the process of divorcing Leo’s second cousin, Vince, and Max, who was supposed to marry Marie before she fell for Leo, is visiting New York and wants to hang out with Dani. Dani is “post men” and refuses, until she realizes she could do with a date to her faculty holiday party since it will be the first time she has seen Vince in months, after he left her for a former student. This starts their friendship, and it grows from there, with Max and Dani making New Year’s resolutions together (him to get a job, and Dani to finalize the divorce and date).
Dani and Max’s relationship growth overtime was really adorable to watch. The progression feels like enemies to friends to lovers and I was all in for each step of the way. Their text message threads are gold, and were some of my favorite parts of the book. Both Dani and Max are smart and somewhat academic, and I love how they challenge and support one another as they get to know each other better.
Max is charming and I loved his willingness to just tell Dani that he liked her. Their friendship was sweet because they were both fairly honest with each other (until the end, when neither of them wanted to admit to the other they loved each other, of course) and it was satisfying as a reader to watch that grow as they realized they had feelings for each other. Additionally, the subplots of Dani’s divorce being finalized, and her attempts to date, as well as Max coming to terms with his familial relationships and becoming closer to his brother both felt like they added to the character growth and gave each of them more depth as they came to terms with the romantic relationship that neither of them had planned on.
Duke, Actually is sweet and fun, with a great relationship arc. If you’re looking for straight-up Christmas vibes, this book may not be the one you’ll want to reach for. However, there is some Christmas content and a titled gentleman from a made-up European country, so it still has those Hallmark feels, but with better payoff than a single kiss in the last frame.
Content notes: Max’s father is an alcoholic. There is a brief mention of Max’s father hitting him and his brother when they were children.