How you doin’, guys, gals, and nonbinary pals?
A couple of days ago, I shared the below tweet, asking if it was okay to comparatively review two books that handled the same trope.
Thinking of writing a comparative review of two romance books that did the fake dating trope. One did it exceedingly well. The other flopped entirely. Should I do it or is this mean? Help ya tita out!
— maligayang pask-HOE 🎄 (@yourtitakate) November 7, 2019
The consensus was that it was fine, but to avoid tagging the authors as the usual courtesy. I spent all of yesterday taking down notes, and I’m finally ready to publish this review! For today, I’ll be comparing the books Fix Her Up and A Prince on Paper, which both deal with the fake dating trope.
That’s not their only similarity, though. Both books also feature protagonists who get into the fake relationship to change people’s perceptions of who they are as sheltered and innocent. They both also handle themes of toxic family relationships.
But the difference is, while I absolutely adored A Prince on Paper, I struggled to finish Fix Her Up and was left dissatisfied and even somewhat angry at the end.
Read on to find out why!
Title: A Prince on Paper
Author: Alyssa Cole
Genre: Romance, Contemporary
Age Range: Adult
Nya 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.
Content warnings: Depictions of manipulative family members, sexual content
Let’s start off with the book that I liked, A Prince on Paper.
Y’all know how much I am an utter slut for Alyssa Cole’s books. I already went into this one with high expectations, having greatly enjoyed the previous two – A Princess in Theory and A Duke by Default. (Note that although A Prince on Paper is the third in Alyssa’s Reluctant Royals series, it still makes sense even if you haven’t read the first two!) And Alyssa, as usual, did not disappoint.
The premise of this book is pretty simple. Nya Jerami fled to NYC hoping to escape an overbearing father, but didn’t exactly get the glitzy, glamorous life or the sordid affairs she wanted. To make matters worse, her father is now in prison for being at the center of a plot to kill one of Nya’s best friends, Ledi, now the wife of the ruler of her homeland Thesolo. When she returns to Thesolo for the wedding, she does so with two weights hanging heavily over her: that of being a shy, sheltered, pampered girl; and the other being the daughter of a corrupt politician and murderer.
When Nya meets Johan von Braustein, stepbrother to the future king, she thinks he’s the answer to at least one of her problems. Embarking on a fake relationship with him (even if the sex is all too real) will get her the sordid affair she wanted in New York. Meanwhile, Johan, whose sibling the future king is facing a referendum in the country on whether the monarchy should even exist at all, thinks that having a member of such an infamous family on his arm would put the attention on him.
I think an important part of what makes a fake dating plot work is a semblance of believability. I have to be able to suspend any disbelief creeping up that two people would actually enter into such an arrangement. And in this book, I’m able to do exactly that. How so? It’s made quite clear that the fake dating arrangement is not the be-all and end-all of what either party wants. Nya wants to forget about her troubles for a while. Johan wants to take the attention of the press from his sibling. Both of them can do this some other way, but they choose this fake relationship anyway because they acknowledge that they’re attracted to one another.
Speaking of being attracted to one another. Whew, boy. Although the arrangement between the two is clearly only for their mutual aid, the sparks very quickly fly! From their initial encounter to every time they found themselves together, the tension just practically flies off the page. I’m pretty sure y’all know this already, but Alyssa Cole is brilliant at writing chemistry.
An important part of any relationship for me is making sure that the characters are on an equal playing field in terms of agency, and I’m happy to say that that was very much so the case with Nya and Johan. Nya, being sheltered, is a virgin, but it’s never made a big deal out of by Johan, and despite the fact that she’s a virgin, Nya owns her body and knows what she wants. Even outside of bed, great care is taken to make sure that Johan and Nya approach each other – and their relationship – from level positions, ensuring that neither has control or power over the other.
Let’s talk now about the main characters. First, Nya. You honestly just can’t help but root for her to finally break out of her shell. I think part of what makes her so damn likeable and relatable is her slow realization that her transformation to be internal rather thane external. In order for her to truly break free, she realizes that she has to break free from her own feelings of shyness and inadequacy first. Her independence, her newfound go-getting attitude, her strength of character, and the love she develops for Johan are all the more sweeter not only because those things are hard-won, but because she won them all on her own. Getting to sleep with a hot prince was just an added bonus.
Said hot prince was also a well-developed, well-rounded character. Johan – or JoJo, as he’s fondly called – is truly a bad boy for the ages. The kind that’s swoon-worthy because, while they take no shit and are suave and debonair, they also care about the people around them and don’t mistreat anyone. Personally, I think a lot of guys who want to come off as this cool badass need to take a lesson or two from Johan. As an added plus, he’s always super respectful of Nya and doesn’t shy away from apologizing when he’s wronged her. Let me also say, I loved that despite the fact that Nya’s initial motivation is wanting to change, Johan is attracted to her even before then without her changing anything fundamental about her.
Another theme that this book touches on is that of family issues. Both Nya and Johan have their own to deal with. For Johan, his problem is a lack of communication with his stepfather and half-sibling, which is addressed in the book by all three of them agreeing to work on it together and talking more. Best of all, Lucas, Johan’s half-sibling, eventually feels comfortable enough to come out as nonbinary. And although Johan and his step-father – especially the step-father – don’t understand much at first, they’re immediately willing to use Lucas’s pronouns and make the necessary adjustments to make them feel safe and loved.
For Nya’s part, her issue with her family is getting out from under the influence of her manipulative father. She eventually decides to stand up for herself and make it clear to everyone that no, she’s not a weakling completely under her father’s thumb. She discovers the lies her father told her that made her an obedient daughter, and she breaks free of this notion that she has to be the perfect child that will do anything for her father to make him happy. I was so glad to read the last scene where she visits her father in jail and puts him in his place in her own way, without relying on anyone else to confront of him. I was absolutely proud of her in that moment. It was the perfect way to end the story.
A Prince on Paper was a delightful read from start to finish, featuring concepts of agency, consent, and owning who you are and where you come from. Alyssa Cole’s books are always highly recommended, but this one is especially so!
Title: Fix Her Up
Author: Tessa Bailey
Genre: Romance, Contemporary
Age Range: Adult
Georgette Castle’s family runs the best home renovation business in town, but she picked balloons instead of blueprints and they haven’t taken her seriously since. Frankly, she’s over it. Georgie loves planning children’s birthday parties and making people laugh, just not at her own expense. She’s determined to fix herself up into a Woman of the World… whatever that means.
Phase one: new framework for her business (a website from this decade, perhaps?)
Phase two: a gut-reno on her wardrobe (fyi, leggings are pants.)
Phase three: updates to her exterior (do people still wax?)
Phase four: put herself on the market (and stop crushing on Travis Ford!)
Living her best life means facing the truth: Georgie hasn’t been on a date since, well, ever. Nobody’s asking the town clown out for a night of hot sex, that’s for sure. Maybe if people think she’s having a steamy love affair, they’ll acknowledge she’s not just the “little sister” who paints faces for a living. And who better to help demolish that image than the resident sports star and tabloid favorite?
Travis Ford was major league baseball’s hottest rookie when an injury ended his career. Now he’s flipping houses to keep busy and trying to forget his glory days. But he can’t even cross the street without someone recapping his greatest hits. Or making a joke about his… bat. And then there’s Georgie, his best friend’s sister, who is not a kid anymore. When she proposes a wild scheme—that they pretend to date, to shock her family and help him land a new job—he agrees. What’s the harm? It’s not like it’s real. But the girl Travis used to tease is now a funny, full-of-life woman and there’s nothing fake about how much he wants her…
Content warnings: Depictions of manipulative family members, sexual content
I cannot believe that this book was published in the year of Our Lord 2019. Did some early 2000s problematic as fuuuuck rom-com lose its script? Because here it is!
The premise sounded appealing. Travis is a former baseball Rookie of the Year whose career is cut short by a shoulder injury. Georgie is the youngest daughter of a prominent Long Island family whose day job is being a clown at children’s birthday parties
. They decide to enter into a fake relationship for two reasons: Georgie wants to be taken more seriously, both by the town and her family, and she figures dating a notorious womanizer will do that; Travis, on the other hand, is up for a job as an announcer, and thinks that having the town sweetheart on his arm will make the network see that he’s stopped his womanizing ways.
First of all, you can immediately see that their goals for fake dating are at odds with one another. Georgie wants to be taken more seriously by dating a womanizer, while Travis wants to be taken more seriously by dating a respectable girl. So, which is it? Because the town (that thinks of Georgie as a baby) and the network (that thinks of Travis as a drunkard and a sex-fiend) aren’t independent of each other. If reputation is that important to the network, Georgie is hardly going to be the only person they ask about Travis’s exploits.
Furthermore, unlike A Prince on Paper, I wasn’t able to suspend my disbelief enough to get fully immersed in the book. I truly believe that what makes a great romance is the ability to think that somehow, yes, this could happen in real life. I absolutely did not feel that way about Fix Her Up. Throughout the entire time Georgie was making her proposition to Travis, I kept rolling my eyes and thinking that this would never happen in the context of reality. There are literally a hundred different ways Georgie can make herself more ‘grown-up’ and get taken seriously by her family and the town. True, she does embark on some of them- or at least the external aspects of it: getting her own business address and website, and fixing up her wardrobe. But then she suddenly decides that all of that hinges on dating a man who is absolutely in all ways wrong for her? Sis, no.
And when the relationship starts up between the two, I literally felt myself being transported to the olden days of yore, back when possessiveness and jealousy were seen as attractive traits in your love interest rather than massive red flags prompting the strong female character to run in the opposite direction. Travis literally never thinks of Georgie as an independent thinking individual. He only ever thinks of her as ‘belonging’ to a man: her father, who helped raise him; her brother, who’s his best friend; and himself as her love interest. Don’t get me wrong – I love the whole moral kerfuffle that results when the love interest clashes with the main character’s family. But usually that sort of thing is handled with a discussion on how the main character doesn’t need permission from the men in her family to date whomever she pleases (for an excellent example, see the episode of Brooklyn Nine Nine where Amy Santiago handles her father disliking her boyfriend Jake Peralta). There’s absolutely none of that in this book, and in fact, it’s never addressed.
This entire notion of Travis thinking of Georgie in terms of being other men’s property leads to a phrase I hope to never, ever again in my entire life read. Ever.
With the screech of tires, they swerved onto the shoulder, and there he was. With a handful of little-sister tit.
LITTLE. SISTER. TIT.
I thought Georgie’s characterization was going to be this book’s saving grace. It starts out with her letting herself into Travis’s house and then throwing vanilla ice cream and rotten lo mein over him because he won’t stop moping about his ruined career and do something to make it better. I thought, Oh, she has spunk. Maybe she’s gonna give the misogynist – both Travis and her brother – a run for their money.
But that come to Jesus moment never arrives. Instead of acknowledging that her family is shitty and that there’s nothing wrong with being a clown (although she could stand to be a more business-minded if her party-planning business is ever going to fly), she continues to act like her brother and father are just looking out for her and that all Travis needs to clean up his act is the love of a good woman. Girl! Not in this day and age!
Travis is no better. The man literally calls himself Two Bats Ford because his penis is so big. What in the fuck kind of man actually embraces a nickname to do with the size of his penis? Not anyone that should be the love interest in a modern-day romance novel, let me tell you. And to add to the tally of points against Travis, he also sabotages a date that Georgie has with another man, and he doesn’t think of her as attractive until she gets a nice haircut, puts on makeup, and wears tighter clothes.
But surprisingly, Travis wasn’t even the man I hated the most in this book (although don’t get me wrong, I hated him a lot). Georgie’s older brother, Stephen, is an absolute prize. He literally doesn’t let his other sister, who has as much stake in their family’s house-flipping business as him, make any of the decisions on her own. He treats his wife like a plaything to be appeased with sex and occasional shopping trips. He looks down on Georgie’s business, her attempts to become a more mature person, and the friendships she develops with other women. And there’s no redemption arc for this asshole! He gets literally no comeuppance.
This book turned me into a seething pile of hatred and I deeply regret the $9.99 I spent on it.
Now, I wanna hear from you!
☕ Have you read either of these books? What did you think?
☕ What do you think of the fake dating trope?
☕ What are your fave fake dating romance books?