Desert Isle Keeper
Paper Princess is the YA brainchild of authors Jen Frederick and Elle Kennedy (both of whom write terrific and sexy NA sports romances), writing under the pen name Erin Watt – and I couldn’t put it down. The pace is fast, the characters are complex and the ending… well, I don’t want to give anything away. I read it in one sitting and was entertained the whole way through. I do think some of the subject matter and a scene or two are a bit mature for the YA designation, but mostly Paper Princess gets things just right. If you like your YA sophisticated, dark and sexy, this is the book for you.
Ella Harper is just getting by. Her mother (she never knew her dad) is dead, she strips at a nightclub to support herself, and she’s trying to get her high school degree. Things weren’t so great when her mom was alive – they moved frequently, her mom flitted from one bad boyfriend to another, and they were poor. But they had each other. Her slow death from cancer sucked any small amount of joy from Ella’s life and left her on the edge of homelessness and poverty, until one afternoon, everything changes. Ella gets called into the school office and is introduced to Callum Royal. Callum insists he’s her guardian now that both her parents are deceased, and he plans to take her to his home. Ella doesn’t believe him – why should she? She doesn’t know him, her luck in life is pretty much non-existent, and a strange man is telling her he’s going to take her away. The first chance she gets, Ella bolts.
Unbeknownst to Ella, Callum has been watching her and knows about her mother, her job at Daddy G’s, and her precarious existence. Callum is rich, determined and has no intention of letting her run away. In an awkward and creepy scene at the strip club, he surprises and then kidnaps Ella. He throws her over his shoulder and shoves her into his waiting car and when she tries to leave, threatens to turn her in to Child Protective Services. That threat alone convinces her not to run (yet). When he explains who he is and why he’s come for her, she agrees to accompany him on his private jet and travel to the Royal family mansion in the fictional town of Bayview, on the Atlantic Coast.
Ella’s father, Steve O’Halloran, was Callum’s business partner and best friend. Shortly before he died five months ago on a hang gliding trip, he entrusted Callum with a letter he said they would discuss when he returned. After Steve died, Callum forgot about the letter while he was dealing with complications from the accident and Steve’s widow. When he finally remembered, he discovered it was a deathbed confession from Ella’s mother to Steve, detailing the proof of Steve’s paternity and the perilous future Ella would face once she died. Callum immediately set out to find Ella. He tells her he will give her the letter, a generous monthly allowance, and a car – if she will stay as his ward until she graduates. She decides to trust him – for now – and travels with him to the Royal family mansion.
Ella soon discovers Callum has problems of his own. When they arrive at the house, he introduces her to four of his five sons. The boys, overtly hostile to their dad, are rude and dismissive of Ella, and clearly have no intention of welcoming her into the family. Each brother is more handsome than the next, and their obvious leader is Reed; he directs an insolent glare at Ella as Callum attempts to introduce her. Something seems to crackle in the air between them, and she stares back at him, refusing to back down from his challenging look. The brothers, following Reed’s lead, walk away without a word as Callum, still trying to put a good face on things, apologizes and assures her things will get better. She doubts it, but over the next few days, finds her thoughts frequently returning to the sexy and mercurial Reed. Things don’t improve when she starts classes at Astor Park Prep Academy; Reed, King of the school, makes it clear the Royals don’t like or want her, and her classmates keep their distance as well.
Before you worry I’ve given the story away, let me assure you, I haven’t. Only after Ella becomes a Royal does the story truly take off. Watt deftly balances Ella’s relationships in the Royal family, her attraction to Reed and life as a high schooler with Callum’s revelations about her father and what it means to be his sole heir. Twists, surprise reveals and deceptions abound until the abrupt and frustrating conclusion. The only thing readers know for certain when it ends is that nothing and no one in this story (except maybe Ella) are what they seem. A final surprise betrayal, just after O’Halloran’s will is read, sets up the climactic cliffhanger ending.
Paper Princess is wildly entertaining. The characters are dark, the plot complex and just when Ella feels safe, Watt introduces a new twist. If I have a complaint, it’s the extreme privilege of the wealthy Royals and the kids at Astor Park Prep – morals, scruples and kindness have no place in Bayview. Ella is a breath of fresh air and I felt like I understood her (it helps that the story is told from her PoV). Her street sense and background made her outwardly tough in the face of adversity, but inside she’s fragile and insecure. Despite being regularly burned by friends and acquaintances, she isn’t afraid to trust the people around her. This often misplaced trust gets her into tense situations, but it’s also one of her best qualities. I still don’t know what I think about Reed Royal. Initially, it’s difficult to like him – he’s arrogant, mean and hurtful to Ella. When he redeems himself, Reed becomes Ella’s fiercest protector and champion until…. well, you have to read the book to know what I mean. I can’t wait to see where the story goes next and how Watt ties all the disparate threads together.
Paper Princess brilliantly kicks off this new YA trilogy. Book two, Broken Prince, will be released at the end of July, and I can’t wait – though I expect I’ll need to re-read Paper Princess, just to keep all the loose threads firmly sorted in my mind.