by Alison Rose Greenberg
Publisher: St. Martin's Griffin
Publication Date: January 11, 2022
I received an advance review copy of this book from NetGalley. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.My rating:
It’s official: Zoey Marks is the cursed bridesmaid that no engagement can survive. Ten years, three empire waist dresses, and ZERO brides have walked down the aisle.
After strike three, Zoey is left wondering if her own ambivalence towards marriage has rubbed off on those she loves. And when her building distrust of matrimony culminates in turning down a proposal from her perfect All-American boyfriend, Rylan Harper III, she and Rylan are both left heartbroken, leaving Zoey to wonder: what is it exactly about tying the knot that makes her want to run in the opposite direction?
Enter Hannah Green: Zoey’s best friend, who announces that she’s marrying a guy she just met (cue eye roll). At a castle. In gorgeous, romantic Ireland, where Rylan will be in attendance, and Zoey will be a bridesmaid. It’ll be fine.
Okay, the woman definition of fine (NOT FINE).
Determined to turn her luck around, Zoey accepts her role and vows to get Hannah down the aisle—all the while praying her best friend’s wedded bliss will allow her to embrace marriage and get Rylan back.
But as the weekend goes on, Zoey is plagued with more questions than answers. Can you be a free spirit, yet still want a certain future? Can you have love and be loved on your terms? And how DO you wrangle a bossy falcon into doing your bidding?
First off, I’ve seen several places billing this as a second-chance romance. It’s most decidedly not; while Zoey’s romantic arc is a major feature of the book, it’s secondary to her own growth as a person.
Zoey is a self-proclaimed free spirit, perfectly content to be by herself. Her version of happiness is not having plans, not being tied down to anything, and the worst thing she can imagine is being permanently stuck with someone forever. But while she loves rom-coms, she’s never been in love herself – until Rylan. But when he wants what she can’t give him, they disastrously break up. Heartbroken and lost, she agrees to be the bridesmaid at her best friend’s wedding in Ireland, a wedding which her ex will also attend. But after watching three brides fail to make it down the aisle, Zoey’s decided that she’s the problem (oy, self-centered much?). Somehow, her fear of tying the knot is somehow subconsciously influencing her friends to have doubts. If she can get just one of her friends married, surely that will fix whatever’s wrong with her and she can say yes to Rylan happily. Fourth time’s the charm?
“I liked maps that didn’t lead to destinations. I was all about the journey, refusing to give intense thought as to where it would trap me.”
Zoey’s a complicated character. By that, I mean she’s a complete and utter mess (except for her career, of course, where’s she’s complete #bossbitch material). I vacillated between dislike and apathy for a good chunk of the book. She’s frequently self-centered, judgmental and rather shallow. So when she falls – hard – for her best friend’s cousin? Schadenfreude. Rylan may wear boat shoes, but he also owns an apartment in a brownstone that could frankly be featured in a Room and Board catalog and he seems to truly see and appreciate all of Zoey. While she’s prided herself on the fact that she’s always been upfront about her commitment to no commitments, with Rylan, she can’t quite get the words out. So when he proposes after over a year of dating? It’s a shock, but she should be able to finally say “yes” – if only for her curse. Frankly, I didn’t care much for Rylan, as he seemed fine with Zoey’s “quirkiness” until it clashed with his own expectations. Plus, his actions at the wedding – including showing up with a date who, it turns out, is clueless about his past relationship with Zoey – were so jerkish as to make him unredeemable to me.
There’s a lot of backstory that clogs up the pacing. The first 10% of the book covers Zoey’s first three attempts at being a bridesmaid, followed by the saga of her romance with Rylan. That part of the book was, well, aggressively fine. Sure, it was cute and everything, but as a romance reader, it just felt like it was missing something. It’s only during he second half of the book – once Zoey arrives in Ireland – that the pace picks up and I finally got engaged. There’s some truly funny bits (the Loch Ness monster had me laughing like a maniac) but what really kept me going was the train wreck-quality of watching all the messy characters interact. Because, while Zoey may be the messiest character in the book, the rest of the characters are all vying for second place. Hannah, a pinnacle of WASP perfection, has been Zoey’s best friend since they were tiny, and their friendship survived all of Zoey’s moves throughout childhood, despite their very different outlooks on life. They’ve been there through each other, thick and thin, but after a couple of truth bombs that could lead to marital issues down the line, Zoey’s determination to see Hannah walk down the aisle might not be the best thing for her best friend. Hannah’s future BIL, Ezra, who’s fresh off a divorce and deadset on convincing his brother that the marriage is a bad idea, is possibly the least messy, though he also gets points for being hilariously sarcastic.
Overall, 3.5 stars, rounded down to three, since it’s just aggressively fine. If you can get past the beginning, it’s a fun read, though most decidedly not a romance. Recommended if you like messy characters being their messiest at a destination wedding.