Monday, 14 November 2022

CBR14 Book 45: "The Stand-Up Groomsman" by Jackie Lau

Page count: 368 pages
Rating: 4 stars

CBR14 Bingo: Funky (Mel makes Vivian feel very funky, in the bad way, when criticising her career choices when they first meet. There is later a lot of *funky bass line* when they finally get together). 

This was an ARC given to me by the author. It has not affected the contents of my review. 

Vivian Liao used to be a huge fan of comedian Melvin "Mel" Lee, and one of her hobbies was making fan art about him. Then she actually had a chance to meet him one evening, since her roommate is dating his former castmate and friend. Unfortunately, they don't seem to get along at all, and Lee spends quite some time questioning Vivian's career choices and values, deeply upsetting her. About a year later, Vivian discovers that her roommate is marrying her movie star boyfriend, asking Vivian to be one of the bridesmaids. There's only one problem. Melvin Lee will be the best man, and he and Vivian will need to spend a lot of time together. Her roommate Lindsay (the heroine of last year's Donut Fall in Love) is worried that it'll be too uncomfortable for Vivian, but she assures her friend that she'll manage just fine. 

This being a romance novel, Vivian manages more than just fine. After meeting Mel again after one of his comedy shows, and having a much nicer conversation with him, the two strike up a long-running messaging thread, and by the time the bachelor and bachelorette parties are being held in New York, they are in fact quite good friends, Mel's unfortunate social gaffe during their first meeting a non-topic between them. It turns out that they have a lot in common, like being bisexual Asians with difficult family backgrounds, and they frequently suffer from insomnia. Quite a few of their text changes take place in the early hours of the morning when they are both unable to sleep. 

As their friendship grows, so does their mutual attraction. By the time of the wedding, it's quite clear that Vivian and Mel want to jump each other's bones, and they just need to get through the ceremony and wedding feast before they can do the deed. Initially, Vivian is determined it will just be a one-night stand, but Mel convinces her that they should try giving a proper relationship a try. Since Vivian lives in Canada and Mel in the USA, it'll have to be a long-term thing, but they're both hung up on each other enough to give it a go. Unfortunately, Mel has never successfully managed to stay in a relationship long-term, and Vivian only has one previous serious relationship behind her, which ended terribly. Is it likely that they can ever have a happy ending?

A lot of Jackie Lau's romances are self-published, but this is her second one being released through a traditional publisher. Thankfully, I don't think there are really any major differences except the money backing the books. There's the really comforting portrayal of supportive friendships, both male and female. While that's not always the case, in this book, both characters are openly queer, and mostly accepted by their families anyway. There are meddling match-making relatives, at least on Melvin's side. There's excellent banter and a lot of descriptions of delicious food. Vivian is very open about not wanting children, and her previous relationship dissolved partially because she felt she pretty much needed to mother her boyfriend. Both protagonists have some serious baggage they have to work through before they can settle down together. 

Vivian comes across as cold and reserved to people who don't know her well, and because her parents expected her, as the eldest child, to step in and help take care of her younger siblings from a relatively young age, she didn't really get to enjoy a proper childhood and after her unsuccessful previous relationship, she's convinced that the only way she can be of value to anyone is for all the things she can provide for them. No one has ever really taken care of Vivian before, and she finds it incredibly difficult to believe herself worthy of such care and affection, afraid that it could never last.

Mel suffers from depression, and as a comedian, feels like everyone always expects him to be funny. His grandmother is determined to find him a partner, not really caring whether they're male or female, and keeps surprising him with crazy matchmaking schemes. Having never had a relationship last more than six months, he's also a bit wary, but he really thinks things could be different with Vivian.

Basically, if you've enjoyed Lau's romances in the past, there really is no reason why you won't like this one either. If this is your first thing you hear of her, this is an excellent place to start. While it's a follow-up to Donut Fall in Love, it works perfectly well on its own. 

Judging a book by its cover: I really like the yellow and pink colour scheme, even if it's yet another cartoon cover. It's also nice to see a hero who isn't tall, dark and chiseled. 

Crossposted on Cannonball Read

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