By Joanna Shupe
Release Date: March 9, 2021
Series or Standalone: The Fifth Avenue Rebels #1
Links: Amazon – Barnes & Noble – Goodreads
This is a tough review for me to write as I really love Joanna Shupe’s books, but I did not enjoy this one.
Pitched as the Bachelor in the Gilded Age Newport, I thought this would be right up my alley as there tends to be a lot of heart aches and feelings in books of this type. As I was reading, though, I’d say this book is only very loosely Bachelor related. The story follows Harrison Archer, the black sheep of his family, who has returned back to New York from Paris after he was disinherited 3 years ago. Having amassed a fortune while he was away, he returns home to destroy his family, who are now broke and need him to marry an heiress to restore the family finances. When he finds his childhood friend who he was in love with, Maddie Webster, is still unmarried he decides to play along with his family’s scheme. Harrison asks Maddie to host a party in Newport to bring together all the eligible heiresses, though he only intends to win over one – Maddie.
Normally, I’d really enjoy a story like this one, however, I really did not like Harrison Archer. And it’s really hard to like a romance when you actively dislike the hero. He was so single-mindedly focused on destroying his family, to an extent where it felt a bit laughable. Everything he did was framed in that perspective. And yes, his family was arguably terrible, but he literally was willing to lie and ruin his relationship with Maddie to achieve his own goals. I also really did not like how he viewed himself as being entitled to Maddie’s feelings. He at one point says, “From the moment I heard you hadn’t married, I decided I would beg, borrow and steal to win you,” which I think was so supposed to be romantic, but really rubbed me the wrong way. He frequently acted as if he knew Maddie’s own mind better than she did; it came across as incredibly patronizing. Maddie even calls him out for acting like this (more than once!) and yet he still does it! As part of him thinking he knows what is best for Maddie without consulting her, he ends up constantly lying to her. He lies to Maddie about his original plan for the house party, he lies about his intentions to destroy his family, and he lies to Maddie when his family makes a threat against her safety. He sees nothing wrong with this, instead tries to justify it by saying it’s for her protection when literally EVERYONE around him is telling him he’s wrong and being an idiot. I was literally so frustrated and annoyed with him throughout the entire book and just cannot get behind a hero who acts like a dick to the person he loves.
When it comes to Maddie, I did like her, but not enough for her to save this book. I liked that she was a bit more independent than women of that era and was focused on being a professional tennis player. However, I also felt like I wanted more from her? I can’t really explain why but I thought she’d be more outspoken and bold than she ended up being. I did enjoy that she called Harrison on his bullshit and realized it was not a healthy relationship – and I wish she had stuck with the decision she made related to their relationship. In my opinion, she took Harrison back way too easily and the reasoning she had for why she pushed him away, that she was looking for a perfect relationship and judged him for falling short of perfect, felt like an out of left field excuse when he literally was lying and not listening or valuing her opinion despite claiming he loved her so much. I felt Maddie deserved so much better than Harrison (and she felt that way too at one point!).
One thing I did really enjoy was the secondary characters in this book, which bodes well for me liking the rest of the series as I’m sure they’re going to focus on some of those. I loved Maddie’s friend Nellie and I hope we get her story soon as I feel like she was the outspoken, bold woman I was hoping Maddie would be. She also seems like she has an interesting past and I want to dive into that. I also really liked Harrison’s friends – Kit in particular as he was not afraid to call Harrison on his bullshit. I’ll be excited to see who the next book focuses on and see what Shupe does with these secondary characters.
Finally, while this book is set in the Gilded Age in Newport, I didn’t really feel like it was. I don’t know what it was, but there just didn’t feel like there was enough splendor and high society in this book, which is shocking if you know Newport. It was missing that something special that I feel like you get with Shupe’s other novels set in this time period.
Overall, this one was not for me and I’m so sad about that. However, I still plan on checking out the rest of the book in this series as I think there is definitely potential for interesting stories when some of the secondary characters step into the spotlight. I’m still a fan of Shupe, and would highly recommend you check out her Uptown Girls series as that’s my favorite Gilded Age romance series.