Marthese reviews The Princess Deception by Nell Stark

“Nothing about this situation was simple. Both she and Viola were trying to fool the other”

I’m not one for too much romance, but give me a queer royal romance and I will enthusiastically give it a try. I remember reading The Princess Affair by the same author and liking it and so I got a copy of The Princess Deception on Netgalley. The Princess Deception is the third book of the Princess Affair Series and I somehow skipped the second book, however, these books can be read on their own! There are cameos from the other books’ characters but you will still understand without having to read them.

The Princess Deception follows the Belgian royal Viola and Duke, an ex-soccer player turned sports journalist. This book is partially inspired by 12th Night (the Queerest play by Shakespeare)! Following an overdose by her twin brother Sebastian, Viola has the idea to impersonate her twin who the following day was launching the Dutch-Belgian bid to host the FIFA cup. Sebastian has a long way ahead to fight addiction, and Viola cannot let his work and passion be in vain.

Viola becomes Sebastian; but Duke soon realizes the deception. Duke feels an attraction to Viola as Sebastian but is still all set to uncover this deception. Duke has recently got a sports journalism job following rehabilitation from injuries that left her unable to play soccer; she needs a breaking story. Things have a way to come out though…and Viola keeps inviting her to meet.

The characters in The Princess Deception were fleshed out and complex. Viola is a very strong character. While usually artistic, she accepts the challenge that life had set her to act more political. She suffers from guilt for not realizing what her brother, who she loves gravely, was going through and doesn’t trust her instincts anymore. Indeed, she has a multitude of trust issues but fortunately, she has people surrounding her who help her move forward.

Duke self-develops as well during the course of the book. She needs to let go of her self-pity and reinvent herself while being proud of her achievements. While feminine and a sub, she still stands her ground most times.

Both Viola and Duke are self-aware and in tune with their emotions. They’re pretty mature at least until the big conflict starts. While both are emotionally attuned, they still manage to make a mess of their situation and they have to untangle it.

Towards the middle, I was a bit disappointed at each character in turn. There was a lot of self-pity and demands and anger and unhealthy behaviour. It still felt very real and semi-justified, if flawed.

This story takes place in many countries, it’s very much an international romance. One thing which I found strange, is that supposedly, this story takes place in recent times, yet Prague is said to be in ‘Czechoslovakia’. To me, this was a geographical inconsistency.

My one true pet peeve and dislike though was something that I had quite enough of. While it could be quite realistic, I’m fed up with characters that have sex in anger while still things are unresolved! Sex should not be a violent act; even with consent, it’s shady! It’s one thing is characters enjoy that play, it’s quite another to use it instead of having a proper mature discussion. In the end, things do get talked about and they do refrain from having sex until after the discussion – there was both plot and character progress there. Considering I only had this problem with the book, I’d say it’s a pretty good story!

I liked a lot of things, chief of which was the storyline (I love retelling!). The royal family closeness was very endearing and healthy. There were a lot of I love yous and the family dynamic was very supportive. I liked the background characters as well. While we didn’t see a lot of them, I still felt that each had a distinct personality. Thijs was probably my favourite background character. Both Viola and Duke had people acting as their family and support system – this was very nice and well handled.

The background information in the story was introduced quite smoothly and felt very natural. It also felt like a very feminist book. Unfortunately, lesbian books are not always feminist, even though you’d think they would be!

The conflicts were good. At first it was ‘to tell or not to tell?’ and later, it was all about moving forward and forgiveness. A lot of angst and suspense, but also fluffy and flirty moments.

The book got male-impersonation right. There was also a brief moment where a character was thinking of how complex sexuality it and I was glad to see that.

This book was well written. It had a good pace and kept me looking forward to continue reading. Seeing parts from both Viola’s and Duke’s perspectives made me emphasize with both. They both had a story not just a romance. I’d recommend this book to people that like romance, royalty, sport and good character writing.

Marthese reviews The Princess Affair by Nell Stark


“You deserve a princess, Kerry, but a princess who will hold your hand in public” – Harris

I admit that I am not much of a romance book reader, but this summer I was travelling and wanted to read something light that didn’t get me hooked, so I could drop it if I needed to. The Princess Affair, for being a romance story was quite good. I was in the awkward position of liking a few clichés but disliking others and I think that this book, did well with that.

This is a romance story between sporty, nerdy and American Rhodes scholar Kerry and Princess Sasha (Alexandra) from the house of Carlisle. The chapters varied in POVs between them. The Royalty factor is the cliché bit, but I have to admit that I could be a bit of a romantic and the idea of a royal romance story leaves me with a warm feeling. I wanted the story to be realistic; to be romantic because it was do-able and I think this book succeeded in that.

Princess Sasha comes off as pretentious and wild (“the princess seemed wild around the edges”) but there is more to her and she had depth, she’s not perfect but she’s human. Kerry is quite likable and I could relate to her a lot. Sasha and Kerry learned to see through each others’ masks and see the baggage the other one had. I liked the chemistry that the two women had together it seemed genuine. They also talk about their relationship and though at times there are misunderstandings they work for the relationship to work but they have trust issues. Sasha doesn’t think she can have a real relationship while Kerry doesn’t think Sasha will stay with a women for the long run.

A thing that I liked was that they did not have sex from the start; at first not for lack of trying but then they decide to take it slow so it was towards nearly the middle of the book when it happened. It was not insta-love although there was insta-attraction.

As usual, I have a tendency to like side characters. I liked Ian and Harris as characters and what they gave to the plot. I liked that they were gay and their friendship and working relationship with queer women. I also like how Ian warms up to Kerry while still being protective of his charge and how Harris helps Sasha and still being on Kerry’s turf. However, I didn’t particularly like Miranda. In her scene with Kerry in the club towards the end, she was less annoying but I still do not think she was redeemed from haven proven that she was not a good friend to Sasha.

The cherry on top was their trip to (North) Ireland. I was reading that bit when flying to (South) Ireland so that gave it more perspective for me.

In the end I love how Sasha stood up for herself and all she represented. How she stood up for gay rights (though I think she meant this as an umbrella term for queer people considering her previous comments) and learning (dis)abilities. I liked the tidbits of politics and architecture thrown in and media assumptions and affects. It has a good ending I think and worth a read if you want to read a queer women romance.

Anna M. reviews All In by Nell Stark


Nell Stark’s All In, published this month by Bold Strokes Books, is a sweet romance that involves high-stakes poker and Las Vegas. Annie Novarro, the self-styled “Nova” of online poker-playing, has a dilemma. When she loses almost all of her substantial winnings due to a federal crackdown on online gambling, she must either face facts and give up her career, or learn to hack it with live poker players. Unfortunately, playing poker with opponents who are in the same room requires a poker face, something that math whiz Nova hasn’t had to worry about in the past.

When Nova travels to Vegas to prep for and play in the World Series of Poker, she ends up staying at the Valhalla resort. Valhalla is also the workplace of Vesper Blake, a casino host who doesn’t plan to let her attraction to a laid-back poker player get in the way of her career advancement. Vesper has worked hard to get as far as she has as a host, and she’s eyeing the next level when a sexually aggressive client interferes–and brings the two women closer together. Will Vesper be able to put aside her ambition and realize that it’s not worth sacrificing everything for her career? Will Nova figure out how to put her skills to work when she’s playing against live opponents?

I found All In, like Stark’s The Princess Affair, to be a nice change of pace from a lot of the romances I read, in terms of setting. They both feature a very slowly developing romance and, in the case of All In, an interesting look behind the scenes of a Vegas casino. I’m not sure how much of the information about poker playing and casino hosting was factually accurate, but I was enjoying myself too much to care. The only part that troubled me was Vesper’s lack of contact with her family after the traumatic events of her teenage years.


I’d recommend All In to anyone looking for a sporty little romance with a good grip on character motivations. Do not read if descriptions of sexual assault are upsetting to you.


I am headed to Vegas for my first visit at the end of the month–we’ll see if it matches the picture Stark painted.


Allysa reviews Nevermore by Nell Stark and Trinity Tam

Nevermore by Nell Stark and Trinity Tam is the sequel to their previous vampire-and-shifter novel, everafter. When we last saw our protagonists, Valentine and Alexa, they had begun adjusting to life together as a vampire and a were-panther, and had taken down the vampire that forcibly turned Valentine. At the beginning of nevermore, Valentine and Alexa are living on different continents, Valentine interning close to home in New York while Alexa trains her were-panther abilities in a secret city in Africa. In everafter, Valentine decided to drink blood exclusively from Alexa, her lover, in order to delay her transformation into a full vampire, and is pursuing a career in microbiology in order to research a cure for vampirism. It is already difficult for the two to be so far apart when Valentine relies on Alexa’s blood for sustenance, but in the midst of their separation, they are caught up in a fight between sects of the supernatural community, with attacks coming from multiple directions.

There are fewer sex scenes this time around, but those that are included are just as hot as those in the first volume. Valentine and Alexa’s relationship faces new challenges, but nothing as severe as in book one. The plot in book two is more centered in the outside world the protagonists now inhabit, which is largely occupied by vampires and were-shifters but always encroached on by regular human society. I particularly like the scientific aspect of the story. In book one, we learn that vampirism and animal shifters are caused by a virus and a microbe, both of which exist as a group of subspecies. One of the problems faced by the protagonists in nevermore is a pathogenic disease that kills were-shifters, and threatens Alexa’s life. Valentine studies samples of this via electron microscope, working to find a cure. I enjoyed the explanation of the mechanism by which the pathogen operates: it takes a trope commonly seen in werewolf/shifter fiction and expands on it in a new and interesting way.

I found nevermore to be a solid, enjoyable sequel, and I was pleased to see that it improved in the areas I found weak in everafter, i.e. climax pacing and diversity of cast. This book expands the world somewhat, and answers some questions from the first book while creating plenty of new ones, so I am eager to see how the story continues to develop in this series. Among these new uncertainties, we as readers are brought to doubt whether Valentine’s monogamous blood relationship with Alexa can last. I suspect  that will be explored in the final two books, nightrise and sunfall.

Alyssa reviews everafter by Nell Stark and Trinity Tam

everafter by Nell Stark and Trinity Tam is an urban fantasy, vampire-and-shifter novel centered around a committed lesbian couple. Valentine is a rich, androgynous medical student whose parents are opposed to her lesbianism, and her girlfriend, Alexa, is a strong-willed, femme law student. They are in an established relationship at the opening of the novel; Valentine is preparing to propose to Alexa when she is attacked and turned by a vampire. everafter takes the science-fiction route to vampires and shifters: they are caused by a parasite and a virus, respectively. Valentine and Alexa work with both police and this universe’s secret vampire organization to track down the vampire who attacked Valentine, while simultaneously fighting to keep their relationship together through the challenges of vampirism, post-traumatic stress, and later the change Alexa goes through to better feed her lover.

What immediately impressed me about everafter is that it balances two strong-willed characters, two halves of a relationship, very successfully. Neither of the two is overshadowed by the other—both have agency in the novel, and they work as a team to face their challenges. Both Valentine and Alexa are distinct, well-rounded characters who carry the story together, and they are also seriously in love and lust with each other. The novel is well-peppered with sex scenes, most of which involve vampiric biting and blood-drinking.

While the world-setting for this story is not very divergent from vampire-and-shifter urban fantasy in general, I personally consider that a sub-genre, and thus don’t see this as a problem. My main criticism, story-wise, is that while the action rises and there is a pivotal fight at the climax, I was never very worried about the characters’ chances of survival. My other criticism is that while there is a single side character of color, besides her, the cast is fairly white, which is unrealistic, considering the novel takes place in New York City.

everafter is, overall, a strong story that I enjoyed reading, with full characters that you will want to see win their battles. It leaves some important questions unanswered at the end, which I hope to see resolved in its sequel, nevermore.