I have been working through the Aspen Words 2021 longlist over the past 2 months and, while I’ve been loving the books, they are all (by definition due to the prize’s goal in recognizing authors/fiction about key social issues) a bit heavy and intense. So, I needed something a little lighter mixed in. Cue the contemporary romance. I’ve had this one on my radar for a little while and it was available as an audiobook through my library on Hoopla, so I went for it.
Lina, a wedding planner, was left at the alter three years ago. Ironic. But she’s tucked all her emotions about it away and has forged an incredibly successful career and an outwardly unflappable demeanor. When she is invited to apply for a position with a hotel group as their wedding coordinator, the new opportunity is exactly what she wants. However, throwing a giant wrench into her career and life plans, the marketing specialist she’s paired with to create her pitch is none other than her ex-fiancée’s younger brother, Max. The same younger brother who had a hand in her ex-fiancée’s decision to walk away from their wedding. So yea, working together on this project is going to be tough, but succeeding will both help Lina find the stability/upward mobility she wants in her career and give Max the chance to finally get out from under her brother’s shadow. Can they do it?
I loved the set up for this story. First, it was such a cool way to handle a job interview for such a hands-on and creative position. Maybe it’s common, but not as much in my field(s), so it was fun to read about. Also, the way Lina and Max were forced to work together from the start because it would benefit them both really lent a lot of reality and gravity to the forced proximity/workplace romance tropes this novel used. It was a situation that really required a lot of opening up and spending time together, in order to really get it right, and that made their interpersonal development wonderfully believable. Plus, it allowed my favorite part of their relationship, the true partnership aspect, to really shine. I am totally here for physical chemistry between MCs, but for something to really last, that more “mundane” side of things also has to develop, and seeing how it happened here really added quality and depth to their connection. On the flip side though, there was sometimes a little bit of a feeling that things between them (and some situations they found themselves in) felt forced. I can’t put my finger on it exactly, because I loved the partnership and the teasing/banter, but there was just something a little off for me that was enough to not allow me to fully invest in and fall for them as a couple. Also, and this is purely personal preferences, although I felt like they were truly into each other, the sex scenes just weren’t written to my taste, as far as language and vibe. Which sucks. But let me reiterate, is purely a personal preference – I’m sure other readers will have completely different reactions on this point. In the end, I still really enjoyed reading their story.
There were a few other things I want to mention. I loved the infusion of Brazilian food and culture and tradition and Portuguese into the story. These are the touches that take a novel to the next level and it was so fun to read. I thought Lina’s family (and I’ll include her assistant here, too) was awesome: hilarious and fiercely protective and supportive and that’s a vibe I can never have enough of. The way we see her internal struggles with expectations, as a daughter of immigrants, was also an aspect that added depth and value to the story. I enjoyed seeing Max’s soft sides. And though the “growth” there was a smidge too fast, the fact that he accepted Lina’s explanation of her emotional walls, and why they were so necessary, at face value and without question (in fact, with apology) is a great model. His friendship with Dean, the way they talked about actual psychological trauma of past relationships and his issues with his brother to make sure that he was into Lina for real and for the right reasons, was refreshing. I also thought the rivalry with his brother (the ex-fiancée, Andrew), was really realistic, especially in the depth/pettiness and the damage it caused. I liked it all the way up to the end, with Andrew’s final appearance in conversation with Lina, which seemed a bit forced/unlikely. But it is what it is. And last, unrelated at all to the story, but important nonetheless, I very much disliked the Max’s narrator-voice on the audio, which may have contributed to some of my larger issues with the novel, despite my attempts to overlook it.
Overall, this was fun and fast. I was totally entertained and it gave me the lighter “escapist” read I was looking for, but it’s not a new standout contemporary romance for me.