Overall Grade: ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️
Tropes: one night stand; surprise baby; neighbors to lovers; sports romance; angsty romance
“‘We all have darkness. People you see on the street, people you work with, people you love, people you hate. If there’s no darkness, then there’s no room for light. And when that darkness hits you, and it will, all that matters is that you keep going, one step at a time until you’re up and back on your journey.”
It’s been over a week, and I’m still thinking about Ilsa Madden-Mills’s Princess and the Player. I’m not certain what type of voodoo IMM conjures because every book I’ve ever read of hers has hit me in the solar plexus. She lays her stories in a bed of humor, crafting the initial chemistry of her characters that is instantaneous and combustible. It’s often littered with moments of spice and moments of chuckles. And this book has a smattering of the latter and a heap of the former. But what it really has is some soul-defining angst in it. I was thinking back over IMM’s books as a way to compare Princess…, and I think its angst level compares to her books such as Spider (my favorite), Dear Ava, etc. IMM intends to punch you in the gut, and it will do her readers well to have a box of tissues close as her hero, Tuck, and her heroine, Francesca, fall deeply in love with each other, while working through their own issues. Princess and the Player is a heart-rending composite of two people, broken down by their life choices, who find hope and light in each other, to their surprise.
Both Francesca and Tuck have been wounded by the people in their past. They are two sides of the same coin: different past circumstances, the same healed wounds. Thankfully, they have friends in the form of found families to help them through their difficulties. For Tuck, it’s Jasper; and for Francesca, it’s her roommates, Cece and Brogan. These characters, their friends, act as their guides, granting wisdom and protection as Tuck and Francesca work to become vulnerable with each other. While these two fall quickly into their physical pairing, it’s their emotional journey that acts as a slow burn. Their ability to become vulnerable with each other is the tension of this story. Both have been hurt, and they’ve built solid walls to protect their hearts. For me, their development to trust in each other is the driving force of their story. Honestly, Francesca is a hold-out, failing to reveal her biggest secret until almost the end, and it’s one of the main reasons you turn the page. IMM showcases her storytelling prowess as Tuck and Francesca unearth each other’s secrets like one would peel layers off an onion. And just like you do with an onion, each layer incites tears. The emotional gravitas of Tuck and Francesca’s story is deep and long and the best part of this book, in my opinion.
I’m not certain how Ilsa Madden-Mills weaves together her characters to make them so likable when you want to be angry at them. But she does this over and over and over again. It’s astounding how much I love her stories. She infuses life truths into her romances that resemble the experiences of her readers, so you “see” yourself represented in her characters even when they are professional football players or artists. There is something very special about Tuck and Francesca, and you will swoon while reading their epilogue because you simply can’t help it.
Princess and the Player is an absolute must read.
In love and romance,
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