I Love a London Boy

My love for Jasmine Guillory has been well-documented. (It may even exceed that of which I have for Emily Giffin at this point.) In my three previous reviews of Guillory greats, I’ve praised her female characters who have needs, are not afraid to have those needs met, and are multi-dimensional. She gives us real people with real problems rather than characters who society deems worthy of literature. You know who I’m talking about: the quiet, demure, modest, and white gals.

In her writing, Guillory seems to protest every wrong notion about women, and her fourth novel, Royal Holiday, is no different. Once again, Guillory gives us characters and a love affair not promoted enough in literature, especially chick lit: that of the middle-age love story. Sometimes it feels like in pop culture, we’re expected to no longer have wants and needs after marriage and children and once we reach the “ancient” age of 40. Hollywood, for example, has been criticized for years for its apparent ageism and sexism, though many female actresses have spoken up with eventual change hopefully on the horizon.

I don’t know how Guillory manages to fight a different female stereotype in every single book she writes, but I know she’ll keep doing it. And as someone who’s dreading turning 30 in less than 12 months (ridiculous, I know), she definitely puts me at ease with what’s to come in the next few decades.

Vivian Forest doesn’t get out much. As a single mom, she’s worked hard for everything she has, and she’s too busy taking care of others to take care of herself. So when her daughter, Maddie, receives an incredible opportunity to style a member of the royal family over Christmas, Maddie insists that Vivian come with her. She doesn’t even give her mom a second to reject the invitation before booking the flights.

Maddie is so busy working that Vivian has a lot of time to rest and relax and enjoy the royal grounds on which they are staying. She doesn’t expect — on day one nonetheless — to befriend the hunky private secretary to the queen, Malcolm Hudson. He isn’t just hunky though; he’s sweet, charming, and genuinely interested in Vivian. And he has that accent that makes women swoon.

Vivian lives in San Francisco, though, and she’s used to living her life on her own terms, especially after her marriage to Maddie’s father fell apart. She and Malcolm silently agree that the chemistry between them can’t extend past New Year’s Day, but Malcolm’s kindness and intrigue, along with Vivian’s newfound sense of adventure, may just be enough to keep the romance afloat between two continents.

“Cultural exchange was hard. Especially if it seemed like you both spoke the same language but really didn’t.”

Royal Holiday

I love that Guillory always writes with race as a theme — something we don’t see enough in chick lit. Whether it plays an active role or passive, it underlies all of the relationships. In Royal Holiday, both Vivian and Malcolm are Black, and reading about a Black employee of the royal family right after the Meghan Markle and Prince Harry interview made this a more poignant theme than perhaps Guillory intended when the book was first published.

The characters’ discussions on race occur slightly less than in previous Guillory books, and race plays a lesser role in the plot. But that doesn’t make it any less significant. In the beginning of their courtship, for example, Vivian bluntly asks Malcolm how many Black people the royal family actually employs. He responds that, while there are a few in the present day (though still less than there should be), he was at one point the only person of color. These subtle conversations have a contrasting effect, illustrating the magnified suffering and consequences of everyday — rather than overt — racism.

“She guessed it was just hard to push past how she was raised — it had been drilled into her head that nice girls didn’t talk about sex, didn’t want sex, didn’t even like sex. As much as she’d rejected those ideas once she’d gotten older, and had tried very hard not to pass those messages along to her daughter, it was hard to fight something she’d internalized so many years ago.”

Royal Holiday

A departure from previous novels, Royal Holiday‘s main characters aren’t quite so dense when it comes to understanding the other’s feelings or with knowing what they want. Maybe that’s because, for the first time, Guillory’s characters are in their 50s rather than their 20s and 30s. Vivian especially knows what she wants and needs and knows that Malcom is attracted to her. That confidence makes me like, appreciate, and respect her as a character and never has me wanting to pull out my hair like previous characters.

That’s not a criticism of past books. That constant tension moved previous plots along and kept me invested. It was just nice to experience a different set of characters with different faults. Vivian’s and Malcolm’s reservations are more of the practical kind. They do live 5,000 miles apart after all, which definitely means someone would have to uproot their life in a major way. Who could easily do that for someone they met over the holidays when they already have a settled life?

If anything, Malcolm is the weary one who’s unsure of Vivian’s feelings. And to see that coming from the man for a change made me desire him more. Am I holding a double standard by desiring that skepticism in a male but finding it slightly annoying in female characters? Yes, and it’s unfair. But, really, how could I not desire him?

“[I] was in love with Malcolm by the end of page 10,” writes Denny Bryce of NPR. Same same. “He’s a handsome Black man with a British accent — distinguished, well-respected, and admired by those who work with him and for him. (I kept envisioning a slightly older Idris Elba.)”

I mean, can you imagine? *Fans self.*

I enjoyed reading about age as a theme just as much as I enjoyed reading Vivian’s and Malcolm’s clear desire for each other. They have definite chemistry but also a deep connection that goes beyond their clear attraction. And if you were curious, there are plenty of sexy moments — just not to the steamy level as Guillory’s first three books.

To top it off, their relationship blossoms in less than two weeks in London, and my wanderlust was incredibly real while reading this book.

Guillory is now four for four with her novels. A day after finishing Royal Holiday I bought her fifth novel, Party for Two, and I’m anxiously awaiting the arrival of her newest book in July. If you were annoyed at my constant praise and mentions of Emily Giffin, then be warned because I don’t see my love of Jasmine Guillory dissipating any time soon.

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