There’s nothing better than reading outside on a summer day. Stretching out in the sun, basking in the breeze, a cool beverage within easy reach. I love relaxing this way with a lighthearted romance and getting lost in the pages. When I discovered that one of the tasks of the Ultimate Reading Challenge required me to read somewhere I’d never read before, I knew that choosing somewhere outdoors would be my best bet. But where to complete the challenge? I love my small town, but reading in one of our public parks didn’t scream “excitement”. Luckily, my family was planning a trip to Nova Scotia to visit relatives, so if I was ever going to read in an unusual spot, I figured it would be there.
Now before I get into today’s blog post, I think it may be helpful if I provide a more thorough explanation of what the Ultimate Reading Challenge actually is.
As you can see from this picture, each of these 25 envelopes are marked with a reading-themed challenge that I must complete in order to receive the reading-themed prize inside. (I could open them all at once, but where’s the fun in that?) Some of the challenges I have yet to complete include selecting and reading a book based solely on its cover design, participating in a book club, and reading a book that features an Indigenous person. Below are a sampling of the prizes I have already received by completing challenges. I won’t share any more in future in case some of you want to complete the Ultimate Reading Challenge yourselves!
The location I ended up choosing for the “read in a place you’ve never read before” challenge was the peak of Cape Smokey, found along the Cabot Trail on Nova Scotia’s Cape Breton Island. Located not far from the famous Keltic Lodge in Ingonish, this popular ski hill offers gondola rides to its peak during the off-season. The elevation is over 300m, so the views both as you ascend in the gondola and from the top of the mountain are incredible! It was from a viewing platform atop Cape Smokey where I decided to finish the final chapter of the book I’d brought up with me: The Royals Next Door by Karina Halle.
Piper Evans, a schoolteacher and anonymous romance novel podcaster, still feels like an outsider in the small island community she’s lived in for five years. Skeptical of a rumour that a British royal couple are looking to buy a house on the island, Piper is handed the proof when she finds a handsome royal bodyguard blocking her driveway. Having royalty as next-door neighbours is a big adjustment, but Piper’s frequent guidance in all matters of island life opens doors for fond friendships. Spending time with the royal couple also means spending time with their bodyguard, Harrison, whose tough exterior melts over time as Piper gets to know him better. Love’s burned Piper in the past, but there’s something about Harrison which convinces her that this time will be different. When they find themselves embroiled in a scandal and Piper’s job on the line, the two will have to battle their inner demons to determine whether their connection is strong enough to withstand the storm.
Even though they’re so predictable, romances are the way to go. Witty banter, the way the narrator feels when the love interest smiles at them, the satisfaction of the first kiss… a semi-plausible love story between a teacher and a royal bodyguard seemed too good to pass up. (Regular romances are good, but royal romances are ten times better!) The book drew me in immediately not just because I liked Piper’s character, but also because the book was set in British Columbia! (Not that I’ve ever been there, but it’s nice to see provincial representation in books besides Ontario and occasionally Nova Scotia.) This was the first clue as to the inspiration of this book, whose plot begins when an English prince and his famous, Black, American wife leave Great Britain to get away from the toxicity of the British media and the Royal Family. Sounding familiar? Having familiarity with the inspiration actually enhanced the reading experience. I felt like I was in on an inside joke with the author! This book’s royal couple are certainly similar to Harry and Meghan, but they maintain a degree of separation which allows them to exist in their own right.
In terms of the focal romance, I enjoyed the banter between Piper and Harrison because it didn’t feel too forced, but I didn’t enjoy Harrison as a character until closer to the end of the book. His backstory does a good job of explaining why Harrison is so guarded and committed to his work, but the “tough guy” trope isn’t one of my favourites. Speaking of backstories, another thing I liked about The Royals Next Door was how it normalized mental illness. Piper’s mother has two mental illnesses, so Piper’s life is often impacted by her mother’s highs and lows. In addition, Piper has Complex PTSD, a form of PTSD which affects a person’s sense of perception and self-concept as a result of repeated exposure to trauma. The book does a good job of informing the reader about the various mental illnesses presented and ensuring that they aren’t used to define the characters who have them.
Each of the characters in The Royals Next Door, from Piper and the royal couple to the supporting cast, demonstrated growth throughout this book and made an impression on my heart. I hope I’ll be able to spend more time with them in the upcoming sequel, The Royals Upstairs, which features side character James having a romance of his own whilst in the employ of the Norwegian royal family. One last thing of note: the sex scenes! There are at least three noteworthy (covers at least two pages) sex scenes in this book, as well as references to others that are shorter. They don’t impact the plot very much, so feel free to skip over them if you’re inclined to do so. Otherwise, read and enjoy!
Though The Royals Next Door wasn’t the book I’d initially chosen to read for this specific challenge (it was actually Red, White, and Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston, a different royal romance), I’m happy that it ended up in my hands. It brings a certain charm and emotion that makes it difficult to put down. It’s also fun to be in on the inspiration, kind of like I’m seeing inside the author’s mind! I’ll certainly read it again if given the chance. In the meantime, I’ll count down the days to the expected Fall release of The Royals Upstairs and learn what else author Karina Halle has up her sleeve. When I do, I’ll treat myself by taking my new book outside. Reading outside in the Summer is great, but there’s just something about the Fall which gives it a run for its money!