by Jackie Lau
Series: Chin-Williams #1
Also in this series: He's Not My Boyfriend
Publisher: Jackie Lau Books
Publication Date: September 25, 2018
I received an advance review copy of this book from Publisher. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.My rating:
Natalie Chin-Williams might be a cranky professor of climatology who thinks the world is doomed, but she believes in lasting love…just not for herself. She has a long history of failed relationships, plus the men she dates inevitably want children and she doesn’t.
Now thirty-six and single, Natalie expects endless comments about her love life when she attends her baby sister's wedding. Worse, weddings are always drama-filled disasters in her family. She needs emotional support to get through the weekend, so she enlists the help of her friend Connor Douglas, the dependable family doctor.
The wedding reception goes south when a drunk aunt announces a family secret that sends Natalie reeling and shakes her faith in love. Luckily, she has her long-time friend to lean on—a man she somehow ends up kissing. But there’s no way this could turn into anything lasting, is there? That’s impossible for her, especially now…
I’m a pretty big fan of Ms. Lau’s books. They tend to have a warm, comforting rom-com feel, while also not pulling the punches about more serious subjects (depression in Mr. Hotshot CEO, racism and postpartum depression in this book). And since it’s not a Jackie Lau book without food, we’ve got poutine, falafel sandwiches, Cheetos, quiche, and tortellini, to name a few!
Natalie is returning home for her younger sister’s wedding. Since Rebecca’s eleven years younger than her, Natalie pretty much helped raise her, and she has conflicting feelings about her baby sister getting married before her – not to mention, something bad always happens at family weddings. Natalie’s biracial – her father is Chinese and her mom is white – this is also where the wedding troubles start, as neither set of parents attended their wedding. Food poisoning, drunken grandma fights, a groom falling into the cake… weddings have a tendency to go wrong in her family, but she’s hoping for the perfect day for her little sister. But, knowing that’s probably not going to happen, Natalie decides to bring backup. Connor – her best friend since freshman year of college – agrees to go along as her just-a-friend date. When the wedding curse strikes again and a major family secret is revealed at the wedding reception, it’s a good thing that Connor is there for her to lean on… and stay in his hotel room… and, well, distract her…
“I’ll do it,” he said. “As long as you give me something in return.”
Oh, God. What was happening? Was Connor going to ask for sexual favors in exchange for being his date?
No, that was ridiculous. He’d never shown any interest in her in that way. Not when they were university students, not after he was divorced, and certainly not during his marriage. She was just imagining it.
“I need you to help me look after my niece,” he said.
Right. Connor would never want anything like that from her, and that was totally cool. Wasn’t like she’d ever had a crush on him. They were just friends.
I loved Natalie. She’s a climatologist – in her words, she “spen[ds] her days discovering over and over again that the world was fucked.” Connor describes her as “passionate and a bit prickly” which is pretty much spot on. She’s quite pessimistic, and tends to anticipate the worst that could happen, from wedding disasters to sabotaging her relationships. Somehow, though, she’s also a romantic. She wants someone to bring her flowers, to cuddle on the couch with, to go on hikes or ski trips…. something like her parents’ marriage. What she doesn’t want, however, is kids, and it seems any guy who’s interested in a long term relationship is also interested in starting a family. Natalie has numerous reasons for why she doesn’t want kids, and she’s just plain tired of having to defend herself to everyone who thinks that since she’s 35, her biological clock must be ticking. Connor has been her best friend since college. He had a crush on her back in college, but forced himself to get over it, and he’d been married and divorced since, and their friendship has continued pretty much interrupted. They go skiing and meet up for lunch frequently, so it seems perfectly reasonable for him to help her out when she decides she can’t face the wedding by herself.
“He knew exactly who she was, and despite that, he loved her. Because of that, he loved her.”
I have a definite thing for the hate-to-love trope, but, I find the friends-to-lovers trope can be just as angsty. The story is told from both characters’ POVs, and I loved the gradual realization they each had about their feelings for the other. After they become involved with each other, Natalie decides to treat it like holiday fling – nice while it lasted, but not something that should continue when they’re back home. A large part of that is that Natalie thinks Connor is like every other man she’s dated – that he’ll want kids. She’s worried that any relationship between them is doomed, and that the inevitable breakup will ruin their friendship. Connor, for his part, also doesn’t want kids, but thinks Natalie does. If anything, this was my least favorite part of the book – a simple conversation between the two would’ve saved them a lot of heartache, and while I understood the reasons why they both hesitated to have the “no kids” discussion, it didn’t work well for me.
It is downright refreshing to have a book where the heroine doesn’t want kids. Sometimes it feels like a wedding and babies (in the epilogue and in that order) have been made key components of the HEA, like not having them somehow makes the HEA “less.” There’s a lot of other issues covered in the book, many about respecting the choices of family members. Sometimes, out of love, we encourage people to do things the “right way,” the way that we think will make them happy, while ignoring what actually does make them happy, whether that’s being single and traveling the world, or choosing not to have kids, or quitting a high powered job to stay home with the kids. That family responsibility piece is also one of the best parts of the book. It was engrossing to follow along with all of the family drama (expected and unexpected), and I especially loved Ngin Ngin. Also, there’s a pretty good discussion on postpartum depression View Spoiler »(Natalie’s mom suffers from untreated PPD after having Rebecca, leaving Natalie to do most of the infant care for her first year of life) « Hide Spoiler which you don’t see much of in romance.
Overall, Ms. Lau has delivered once again, and I’m very much looking forward to the next book starring Natalie’s cousin, Iris. If you’re looking for a slow burn friends-to-lovers romance, with lots of family drama, and most especially, a prickly heroine who doesn’t want kids, this is the book for you!