Candidly Charming: Reviewing Duke, Actually by Jenny Holiday

by Theja Pk
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Last updated on April 12th, 2024

In this review, we’ll take dive into Duke, Actually by Jenny Holiday – the second book in the Christmas in Eldovia Series.

Book 2 is a charming friends-to-lovers romance between Daniella and Maximillian von Hansburg. They are best friends of the groom and bride, respectively, from the series opener, A Princess for Christmas.

Despite being marketed as a Christmas book, the minimal festivities make it a great read all year round. And you can even enjoy this book as a standalone without reading the series in order.

Duke, Actually – Jenny Holiday

4.2 out of 5
illustrated book cover of duke, actually by Jenny holiday showing a girl holding up a small dog next to a guy holding up a white sign with the book's title on it in red letters

GENRE: Contemporary romance
PUB DATE: November 16, 2021
TROPE: friends to lovers
TWs: parental abuse, alcoholism

A heartwarming, funny, and charming read in Duke, Actually that will make you feel like you’re sipping your favorite coffee on Christmas. Great for fans of Dirty Dancing and Love, Actually.

Characters
4 out of 5
Plot
3 out of 5
Writing
5 out of 5
Overall Enjoyment
4 out of 5
Narration
5 out of 5

Pros

witty banter

organic progression of relationship

charming characters

great character development

engaging plot and writing

lovely narration

Cons

miscommunication

3rd act conflict was out of character for FMC

rushed ending

first intimate scene didn't live up to the slow burn

Table of contents

Synopsis

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.

Characters

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.

Max

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

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).

Side Characters

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 loved seeing him and Max work together to strengthen their bond as brothers and encourage each other to step out of their comfort zones.

Plot

Duke, Actually is a delicious slow burn. I found myself looking for excuses to listen to the audiobook because I couldn’t wait for them to cross the line. There were too many sweet, tenderhearted and hilarious moments to even count.

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. 

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.

Writing

Holiday masterfully combined modern dialogues for Dani with a more posh dialect for Max. Listening to Max talk felt like watching Netflix’s Bridgerton. 

Narration

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. 

Conclusion

Holiday has crafted a heartwarming, funny, and charming read in Duke, Actually that will make you feel like you’re sipping your favorite coffee on Christmas time.

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.

Enjoyed this review? Then, add ‘Duke, Actually’ to your TBR. And if you have already read this book and have some thoughts to share, drop them in the comments below. I would love to hear them!

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