playing the palace coverRating: 4.5 stars
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Length: Novel


Carter Ogden isn’t sure he’s meant for love, particularly after his latest boyfriend cheated on him. But that doesn’t mean his heart doesn’t flutter a little when he meets Edgar, Prince of Wales, while staffing a charity event. Carter can admit Edgar has long been the subject of his fantasies, especially since Edgar is an out gay prince, gorgeous, and next in line to the British throne. When Carter encounters Edgar preparing for a speech, he can’t help but offer some tips. Edgar is poised and elegant, but it is clear he also holds himself in such control he is unable to relax. The men have a bit of a moment before they are interrupted by all of Edgar’s assorted handlers, and Carter figures it will be nothing more than a dreamy memory. So he is shocked when Edgar reaches out, interested in seeing him again.

For an associate event planner from New Jersey, the idea that the gorgeous prince of England would want anything to do with him is hard for Carter to imagine. Yet, the men find a surprising connection with one another. Carter is able to offer some normalcy to Edgar, who has to live every moment of his life with thoughts for appearances and how he is representing this family. Both men have issues with trust, but are finding something special together. Yet, it is undeniable that their very different backgrounds are a roadblock. Carter seems to stumble into one PR nightmare after another. And when the pair move their tentative courtship over to England, the situation doesn’t much improve. Between disastrous public appearances, a disapproving queen, and the general impression that Edgar is far too good for Carter, things are not easy. Carter and Edgar have found something special, a love between them that neither expected. Now they have to figure out if their feelings are enough to build a future upon, or if all the outside conflicts are going to get in the way of their happiness.

I really enjoyed Playing the Palace and found it funny and entertaining, with a lot of heart. I think your feelings about this book are likely going to rest on whether the humorous style works for you. The book is told through Carter’s POV, and he is a bit irreverent, sort of a drama queen, sometimes over the top, and a little awkward. I found him a charming narrator and really enjoyed his voice. He is a great everyman guide to this crazy world in which he finds himself, a regular guy who somehow ends up rubbing elbows with the Queen of England and who can’t quite get out of his own way. Carter lives with quirky roommates, has a fairly insane family, and talks to his picture of Ruth Bader Ginsburg for guidance. I think what makes this all work, aside from the fact that I found Carter kind of delightful, is that there is so much heart to this story. Yes, Carter’s family is sort of meddling and a little bit crazy, but he loves them fiercely and without reservation. We see it on Edgar’s side too, as his staff have no problems poking fun at him, and his grandmother the queen gives Carter a hard time. But again, it is clear how much affection and caring there is among them all and that is what really rounds out the story and makes it warm and fun.

Here is an example in a scene that made me laugh. Carter and Edgar are traveling to England on the royal jet, along with Edgar’s brother and security detail. It gives a nice sense of Carter’s inner voice, as well as the interaction with Edgar’s staff.

A smiling, relaxed flight attendant offered us menus, angora blankets and a choice of warm cashews or—no, I stopped her right after the cashews and she said, “I’ll bring you a large bowl, and don’t hesitate to request refills.”

Edgar was observing this, entertained. “I should mention,” he told me, “that I find the use of this jet reprehensible and I’m advocating to end my family’s private travel entirely and to have this plane recommissioned for use in transporting medical services and emergency food supplies to nations in crisis.”

“I’m with you on that,” I said, but my words were garbled by my mouthful of cashews and my experimenting with the control panel, which governed a choice of first-run movies, a raised footrest and task lighting.

“But meanwhile, there’s something else I should bring up. There’s a private stateroom at the rear of the main cabin.”

We both nodded, like the gutter rats we were. We should be flying MRI machines, mosquito netting and surgical gowns to war-torn lands, but instead I followed Edgar down the aisle, passing Gerald, who was playing video rugby on his iPad, and James, who murmured, “Well, aren’t we the dirty little mile-high whores. Your Highness.”

We waved to Edgar’s security team, and Ian said, “I win the bet. It took the two of you under three minutes to head back there.”

“We’ll be viewing your activities on the stateroom monitors,” said Lucky, and then, “No we won’t. Unless there’s nothing on Hulu.”

“We’re glad you’re with us, Carter,” said Terry. “Unless we have to kill you.”

I called out to the flight attendant, “Extra cashews for everyone!”

The relationship between Edgar and Carter moves along fairly quickly. The men have a way of seeing each other and understanding one another that helps them form a real connection. But the reality of their situation is that there is more at play here than just the two of them. Edgar must always represent the family well, not to mention that their every move is monitored and cataloged in both the press and every person standing around with a camera on their phone. And Carter, being Carter, stumbles into more than his share of chaos and mistakes. Things are often on the absurd side, but definitely amusing, and I appreciated that Edgar stands behind Carter in pretty much everything. Even if it means standing up to his tough, often disapproving, and occasionally cock-blocking grandmother, the Queen of England. Of course, not all is easy, and conflict comes for the men at one point where sore spots are prodded for both of them. But I liked how these guys make such a good team. They are just both a lot of fun. Of course, Edgar has a lot more weight on his shoulders and so he can’t let go quite as much as Carter, but I loved that there is a playful side to him and that he opens up so much when he is out of the public eye.

So I be remiss not to address what many romance readers might be wondering, and that is potential similarities to one of the best known LGBTQ romance royal/commoner stories and breakout hit, Red, White, and Royal Blue. I’ll admit to wondering when I read this blurb whether the stories would feel similar, but let me assure you, that is not at all the case. The very basic concept of British prince paired with an American may be the same, but everything else about the books is totally different, from the characters, to the conflict, to the tone, to the plot.

Overall, I found this one to be just a lot of fun. I was caught up right away in Carter’s voice and found myself eager to keep reading right through to the end. If you are looking for a light-hearted, humorous story with a lot of heart, check out Playing the Palace.
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