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Saturday, February 11, 2017

Book Review: Royally Screwed (Book #1 in the Royally series) by Emma Chase

Right off the bat, I have to say that as someone who’s a huge fan of Emma Chase’s books, I was really excited about Royally Screwed and the Royally series as a whole ever since she first announced the series, and I’m very happy to say that I absolutely loved this book. That being said, while I’ve always thought that the overall quality of Emma Chase’s writing for the Tangled series was pretty good, in retrospect I do think that Chase’s writing for the series is somewhat uneven. Tangled (The book) is a very well written, and impressive debut novel from a first-time author; and in my opinion, it’s the best book in the series. Twisted was okay, and it did have some great moments, but it’s definitely not a great book, as far as I’m concerned. Tamed is definitely my second favorite book in the series, and despite the fact that Tied does include some great moments throughout the book, it’s still the weakest book in the Tangled series, in my opinion. When it comes to the Legal Briefs series, I didn’t think the first book, Overruled, was quite as good as Tangled (The book) was, but it was definitely better than the majority of the Tangled series. I felt like the Legal Briefs series pretty much only went uphill from there, making the series better than the Tangled series. That being said, while I don’t necessarily think that Chase topped herself yet again with Royally Screwed, I do think it’s the strongest first book that she has written for one of her book series.

The reason I’m beginning this review by mentioning my thoughts on the Tangled series is because one thing that I found myself thinking about a lot as I was listening to Royally Screwed on audiobook, was that I felt like Chase has really honed her craft if you compare her writing for Royally Screwed to her writing for the Tangled series. Much like Drew Evans from the Tangled series, the primary protagonist of Royally Screwed, Prince Nicholas Arthur Frederick Edward Pembrook, is definitely what I would describe as being a “lovable asshole”. However, compared to Drew, I felt like Chase did a much better job of creating the perfect balance of Nicholas acting like a real asshole at times, while also having him demonstrate a lot of great, redeeming qualities throughout the book as well; making him a very nuanced and lovable character.

When it came to Drew, I started out the Tangled series absolutely loving him, but by the end of the series, he had repeatedly pissed me off, and annoyed me quite a bit throughout the series, to the point where I ultimately simply just liked him a lot by the end of the series. I definitely didn’t love him as much as I did when the series began, especially due to how he was written at times in Twisted and Tied. Plus, he really pissed me off in “Holy Frigging Matrimony”. A big part of why I loved the Legal Briefs series even more than the Tangled series is because I ultimately loved Stanton, Jake, and Brent a lot more than I liked Drew by the end of the Tangled series. That being said, after reading Royally Screwed, I’d say that Nicholas is definitely my favorite out of all the male protagonists in Emma Chase’s books.

When it comes to how Chase handled Nicholas’ character development throughout the book, Nicholas’ interactions with Freddie (A boy that he befriended when he visited a boys’ group home for orphans at one point in the book) definitely stands out as one of my favorite Nicholas moments. After Nicholas finds out that Freddie and the other boys at the group home only get things like fruit salad for dessert, he arranged for Freddie and all of the other boys at the group home to go to Amelia’s (The restaurant that Olivia’s family owns, which is named after Olivia’s dead mother), so they could have some pie, which Amelia’s is known for. While I think it’s pretty safe to say that on some level, Nicholas did have ulterior motives for doing that, namely to impress Olivia and convince her to go on a date with him; I still thought it was pretty sweet that he did that, and I felt like Nicholas’ interactions with Freddie added some great depth to the writing for Nicholas.

Much like Nicholas, Olivia Hammond was also a great character that I thought was very well written for the most part. I felt like Chase did a great job of quickly and effectively introducing Olivia, and giving the reader a good picture of what her life is like in the chapter she’s first introduced in, which is chapter three. I immediately loved the relationship between Olivia and her younger sister, Ellie. That being said, while I thought that Olivia was a very well developed character, I have to admit that I was really confused about what the deal was with Olivia’s father the first time I read Royally Screwed. Based on the backstory for Olivia’s father that’s established early on in the book, I initially got the impression that Chase was trying to portray him as simply being emotionally distant, despite being physically present in Olivia and Ellie’s lives; and that he had pretty much emotionally “checked out” after Olivia’s mother died. (It was established that Olivia’s mother had tragically died after being mugged on the subway nine years before the events that take place in this book.)

As the book progressed, Olivia tells Nicholas that her father is an alcoholic at one point in the book, but not a violent one. I have to admit that it really bothered me that there’s never any interaction between Olivia and her father where she actually calls him out on his drinking. The closest Olivia comes to calling her father out on his behavior was when he tries to talk her out of going to Wessco with Nicholas, but even then, she was calling him out on the fact that he had emotionally “checked out” after her mom died, she didn’t call him out on his drinking during their argument. It’s established later on in the book that he had started going through the twelve steps of AA during the period of time when Olivia was staying in Wessco with Nicholas; but even after that, there isn’t really any actual acknowledgement of Olivia’s father having a drinking problem between the two of them. The confusing writing for Olivia’s father ultimately didn’t hinder my enjoyment of the book too much, but I still feel like Chase could have done a better job of making it clear what exactly she was going for when it came to the writing for Olivia’s father as a character in the book. Plus, Chase definitely could have fleshed out the father-daughter relationship between Olivia and her father just a little bit more, in my opinion.

While the main thing that drew me to the book Tangled was the fact that it was a romance novel that’s written from the guy’s point of view; when it comes to Royally Screwed, I really love the fact that Chase alternated back and forth between Nicholas’ and Olivia’s points of view throughout the book, rather than writing the book solely from Nicholas’ point of view. This is definitely one of Chase’s books where I felt like it was very important to get both of the main characters’ sides of the story, in order to really develop and flesh them both out as characters. I also felt like it was very smart of Chase to switch back and forth between Nicholas and Olivia’s points of view throughout the book in order to really develop the overall plot of the book as well.

Personally, I’m really glad that Chase wrote the chapter where Nicholas and Olivia meet each other for the first time (Chapter Three) from Olivia’s point of view. Nicholas and Olivia meet each other for the first time when Nicholas comes to Amelia’s with one of his friends, drunk, and initially offers to pay Olivia ten thousand dollars to have sex with him. When she turns the offer down, he offers her five thousand dollars simply to kiss him. While I’m glad that Olivia ultimately turned Nicholas down by shoving a pie in his face, and kicking both him and his friend out of the restaurant, I thought that Chase did a great job of showing the reader that Olivia’s financial situation with Amelia’s, and her family, was pretty bad to the point where there was a part of her that was tempted to accept the offer to sleep with him for ten thousand dollars. I really enjoyed Olivia’s brief internal struggle about whether or not she should sleep with him for money, and I thought that Chase handled it very well in terms of how that part of the book was written.

One of the things that I think makes Royally Screwed such a great book is the fact that while Chase definitely did an excellent job of portraying Nicholas and Olivia’s relationship as being very romantic and passionate, she also did a really good job of painting their relationship as being a situation that wasn’t entirely ideal. After all, since Nicholas is the prince of Wessco, his grandmother, Queen Lenora, was expecting him to marry a woman who also came from a royal family, and early on in the book, she told him that he needed to pick a girl to get engaged to within three months; so Nicholas and Olivia spent a large portion of the book thinking that their relationship pretty much had an expiration date. While that was definitely something that was on Nicholas and Olivia’s minds throughout the book, Chase thankfully didn’t beat the reader over the head with that fact too much when it came to acknowledging that throughout the book. Chase acknowledged that detail enough to convey that it was an important part of the plot, but she also didn’t fixate on it too much.

Personally, I really love the fact that the overall plot of Royally Screwed wasn’t entirely predictable. I figured that the book would have a happy ending, but I honestly didn’t know how Nicholas and Olivia would ultimately get their happy ending. Maybe other people saw the ending coming, but I honestly hadn’t really considered that as a possibility, so I was definitely surprised by the ending of the book. It’ll definitely be interesting to see how the couples in Royally Matched and Royally Endowed will be affected by the rules regarding who members of the royal family are expected to marry like Nicholas and Olivia were.

While Royally Screwed features a lot of really great moments between Nicholas and Olivia, my favorite moment between the two of them in the entire book is definitely the scene where they open up to each other at the end of their first date about things that I’m guessing that they most likely had never told any body else before. For example, Nicholas told Olivia that he hates that people bow down to him since he’s royalty, because he doesn’t think he always deserves to have people bowing down to him. Olivia admitted that she hates pie, which is apparently the main thing Amelia’s is known for, and that she also feels trapped working at Amelia’s. The writing for that scene as a whole is absolutely fantastic, and I felt like it provided some great character development for both Nicholas and Olivia.

For the most part, I’m really glad that Royally Screwed didn’t include a love triangle, mainly because I thought that the book already had plenty of interesting and engaging problems for Nicholas and Olivia to deal with throughout the book. Royally Screwed definitely wasn’t lacking anything by not including a love triangle in the overall plot of the book. As I’ve discussed in my reviews for the Legal Briefs series, I’m really glad that with the exception of Overruled, the Legal Briefs series didn’t contain any full-on, genuine love triangles, given the fact that the writing for the rivalry between Drew and Billy throughout the Tangled series is, in my opinion, the weakest aspect of the series in the grand scheme of things; that being said, there’s a small part of me that wishes that Royally Screwed had included a love triangle.

While I thought that Olivia was a very well written character, and I loved Olivia for the most part, it definitely bugged me that Chase portrayed her as being down on her luck in pretty much every way she possibly could be: It was essentially Olivia’s responsibility to run Amelia’s, which was established early on in the book as being in a lot of debt; it was pretty much her responsibility to raise her sister, Ellie, and her dad had pretty much checked out emotionally and developed a drinking problem after Olivia’s mother died, so she also has to take care of him whenever he gets drunk. In the aforementioned scene where Nicholas and Olivia open up to each other about very personal things, Olivia admits that one of the reasons that she hadn’t gotten the lock on the door of Amelia’s fixed is because she feels trapped in the life she has been living. The state of Olivia’s love life prior to meeting Nicholas was also described as being pretty pathetic, too. While I usually don’t think that somebody being in a romantic relationship automatically makes their life better, it would have been nice to see Olivia be lucky in at least one aspect of her life, and one of the ways I think Chase could have done that is by including a love triangle in this book.

One thing that I think Chase could have possibly done for a love triangle in Royally Screwed is have an ex-boyfriend or a long-time friend that has secretly always had feelings for Olivia come back into her life, and romantic feelings could develop between Olivia and the guy. Their relationship could have been portrayed as being much more easy-going and drama free compared to Nicholas and Olivia’s relationship. Ultimately, Olivia would realize that having to deal with all of the challenges and obstacles that come with dating Nicholas are worth it in the end, and that he’s the guy who’s truly in her heart. I feel like a scenario like that would have also really fit with the synopsis that’s on the back of the book, and what it alluded to in regards to Nicholas’ character arc throughout the book. Although, that’s just one possible scenario that I thought of in which I think a love triangle could have worked in this book.

In addition to Nicholas and Olivia both serving as great protagonists in Royally Screwed, the book also includes a variety of great secondary characters. My favorite out of all the secondary characters is definitely Nicholas’ younger brother, Henry, who was on quite a self-destructive streak throughout the book. I thought that the backstory behind what triggered Henry’s self-destructive behavior was ultimately very interesting and compelling. Personally, I loved the relationship between Nicholas and Henry, and I wish that Chase had included some more moments between them throughout the book, because I loved what we saw of their relationship so much. That being said, the parts of the book that featured Henry definitely got me excited for Royally Matched since he’s going to be the protagonist of the book.

Given the fact that Nicholas’ grandmother pretty served as an obstacle in Nicholas and Olivia’s relationship, I’m really surprised by how much I ended up loving her as a character. I just felt like all of Nicholas’ interactions with her were very entertaining, and I kind of wish that she had been featured in the book more, simply because I loved her so much.

It was established that the Royally series apparently takes place in the same “universe” that the Legal Briefs series takes place in, because Brent and Kennedy from the third book in the Legal Briefs series, Appealed, made a brief cameo appearance in the book. Nicholas and Olivia went to a party that Brent and Kennedy were throwing at one point in the book, and it was established that Kennedy was pregnant with twins. Naturally, Brent was classic Brent about that fact, and he bragged to Nicholas and Olivia about how he must have “Super Sperm” since they were having twins. Brent and Kennedy’s cameo in Royally Screwed was definitely an unexpected and wonderful surprise to me, and I really love that Chase decided to connect both the Legal Briefs series and the Royally series by including that cameo. Personally, I’d love it if Chase had characters from the Tangled series make appearances in future books in the Royally series.

I honestly don’t have too many complaints about Royally Screwed. The biggest complaint that I have about this book is definitely that I’m not a huge fan of the writing for the character Marty. Being bisexual myself, I was really annoyed by the fact that Chase wrote the character Marty in such a way that he really came across as if she was trying to fill an entire bingo card of clichés regarding gay men when it came to how Marty was written. Marty really came across to me as being flamboyantly gay and rather effeminate in terms of how he acted. At times, it was as if Chase felt the need to have Marty say something that would remind the reader that he’s gay in pretty much every scene that he was in, even though I don’t think that would be something that people reading this book would quickly forget if Marty didn’t repeatedly make references to the fact that he’s gay. It just got to the point where I felt like Marty’s sexual orientation defined who he was as a character. Plus, I felt like Marty was ultimately reduced to simply playing the role of the gay best friend that has been present in so many books in the romance genre and in romantic comedies, when it came to the purpose he served in the book.

Personally, I definitely would have preferred for Marty to have been written in such a way that he came across as being a very masculine guy who just happened to be gay; without Chase feeling the need to have Marty say something to remind the reader that he’s gay in pretty much every scene that he was in. Don’t get me wrong; Marty is ultimately a very likable character, and there’s nothing truly offensive about how the character is written. I just wish that Marty hadn’t been as defined by his sexual orientation as I felt he was.

The other complaint that I have about this book is that I felt like the whole thing with Olivia being told that she wasn’t allowed to take the necklace that Nicholas had given her at one point in the book when she was packing her things to go home, and she tried to take it with her, after she and Nicholas had a big fight created quite a few plot holes. Nicholas accused Olivia of revealing the fact that he had gotten a girl pregnant at some point in the past, and that the girl ended up having a miscarriage to the media in exchange for money. Nicholas and Olivia pretty much broke up, with Olivia saying that if he actually thinks that she would really reveal that information to the media, then she was going to go back home to her family. A woman who worked for Nicholas’ family told Olivia that she wasn’t allowed to take the necklace with her, because it was considered the property of the royal family, so Olivia left it in the bedroom that she had been staying in. When Nicholas went to talk to Olivia about their fight, and he saw that she had left without taking the necklace with her, he interpreted Olivia doing that as a final act of rejection on her part, so he decided to not go after her at first. That really left me with quite a few questions.

If Olivia had left with her and Nicholas being on good terms, and Nicholas knew that Olivia wanted to take the necklace with her, would the palace employee still have forbidden Olivia from taking it with her in that case? Should Olivia have technically been able to take the necklace with her since Nicholas had given it to her as a gift, and it was the palace employee who was wrong for telling her that she wasn’t allowed to keep the necklace? If that really is a policy that exists, why wasn’t Nicholas aware of that policy? Finally, if that really is a policy that exists and Nicholas is aware of it, why didn’t it occur to him that perhaps Olivia had wanted to take the necklace with her, but she had been told that she couldn’t take it with her? Ultimately, I just felt like the whole thing with Olivia being told that she couldn’t take the necklace with her, and Nicholas viewing Olivia leaving without the necklace as a reason not to go after her, as being a rather contrived way to prolong the drama during the final part of the book. I’m hesitant to reveal too much about where the large amount of money that Olivia’s family acquired actually came from, but I will say that that plot point left me with a few more unanswered questions in addition to the ones that I’ve already mentioned.

That being said, one of the many things that I really like about Royally Screwed is the overall pacing of the book, especially when it came to the few times throughout the book where something happened that made it look like Nicholas and Olivia’s relationship was over. I felt like Chase did a pretty good job of not dragging things out too long for the most part, which was definitely very refreshing to see. Sometimes I feel like authors who write books that are a part of the romance genre tend to drag the drama that exists in a couple’s relationship out way too long, and that can be incredibly frustrating at times.

All things considered, Royally Screwed definitely serves as a fantastic beginning to the Royally series. While I’ve always thought that Emma Chase was a fantastic writer, the overall quality of her writing for this book really left me thinking that she has really honed her craft, even more than I thought she did with the Legal Briefs series; and especially if you compare the quality of the writing for Royally Screwed to the quality of her writing for the Tangled series. Both Nicholas and Olivia are very well written characters that have great chemistry with each other. Nicholas’ character development was executed perfectly, in my opinion. While I do think that this book has some flaws, they’re all forgivable, as far as I’m concerned. I was definitely very excited about this series prior to this book’s release, and Royally Screwed definitely lived up to all of my expectations. I’m really anxious to see where the series goes from here.

That being said, my score for Royally Screwed is 10 out of 10.

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