Friday, October 5, 2018

Sarah's Review: Not Another Family Wedding

Remember, since this is a Royal Pick, come back on October 25th for a chance to win an ecopy of your own!

Not Another Family Wedding by Jackie Lau
Publisher: Jackie Lau Books (September 25, 2018)
Series: Chin-Williams, 1
Genre: Contemporary Romance

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…

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Sarah's Review:

I was super excited to get an ARC copy of Jackie Lau’s Not Another Family Wedding to review before it was released on September 25th. I was delighted to read this story for lots of reasons: a biracial heroine who talks openly about being child-free, the friends-to-lovers trope, and, perhaps most of all, the main character is a self-described grumpy professor. (Full disclosure, while not on the tenure track, I teach and run a program at a university and perhaps can often be described as grumpy.)  I was practically licking my lips as I cracked open, metaphorically on my Kindle, this book.

Being single at family weddings can be the worst. Being in your mid-thirties while single at said family wedding is even more uncomfortable. Having a family where wedding disasters are the rule rather than the exception is just the cherry on top.

Natalie Chin-Williams is a tenured professor who does not want to go to her younger sister’s wedding alone. She is in a dating dry spell so she turns to her friend Connor, who she has known since freshman chemistry lab, to come with her. He needs some help with a weekend of babysitting for his niece, so it all works out quid pro quo. That’s what long time friends are for, right?

True to form, the Chin-Williams family learns a big secret at the reception and Natalie is rocked to her core. Natalie and Connor find comfort in each other and while it feels oh-so-right for them both, Natalie doesn't want to ruin a decades long friendship with Connor.

Natalie spends a lot of the book thinking about expectations. What she expects of her family, of herself, and her friendship with Connor. Jackie Lau weaves this internal exploration seamlessly into the plot of the story. Natalie and Connor are obviously a great fit, but Natalie has to work through her own thoughts of what it means to be 36, unapologetically child-free, and committed to a career that is important and means a lot to her. She says that she is happy being single, but still wants to fall in love, but deep in her core she doesn’t feel that she deserves the kind of relationship she wants. She talks a good game, but it takes her most of the book to believe it:

Natalie liked children.  In small doses. 
That was part of the problem of her dating life. The men who liked her always wanted children, and she didn’t. 
And she refused to compromise.

Her ideas of relationships and marriage are tied up in ideas of what she thinks others think of her choices, her own family’s dysfunction, and her decision not to have kids. Natalie says that she knows there are people who have happy, child-free relationships, but can’t even imagine being in one -- or talking to her family and friends, including Connor, about how important this is for her. It takes her own internal reflection for her to figure out her feelings for Connor and to fully accept that being child-free does not mean that she can’t have the life she wants. Natalie has to wholly own her life choices before she is comfortable admitting how well she fits with Connor...the romance genre demands a HEA afterall! :)

Jackie Lau wrote a great book. In fact, before I finished the first chapter I was tweeting about how much I saw myself reflected in this heroine! I give it a 4.5 out of 5 star review.

It is almost perfect. What keeps it from being perfect are the times where it felt like Lau was telling rather than showing me details. Connor feels like the character who protests too much about them “just being friends” since freshman year. He had a crush, she got a boyfriend, they’ve been platonic friends ever since. I can buy it, but he keeps talking about it. Also, we never learn from Natlie if she ever harbored a crush on Connor, but we hear a couple of times (see, doth protest too much) that he had a freshman crush on her. She got a boyfriend and he never told her his feelings, totally valid, but then all the talk about 17 years of friendship with nary a spark until right before she asks him to go on the trip and then at the wedding. He thinks about this sudden attraction several times in the story and it just feels like more telling the reader rather than showing the change in their relationship.

**spoiler alert**

Natalie had an abortion during her last relationship. I find the way Lau handled the abortion storyline refreshing and the topic of reproductive choice is always multifaceted and nuanced.  Natalie talks about this with Connor (eventually) but also with other members of her family. Though it is something she has kept to herself, when she does discuss it with others it is well written and an important part of this story, women’s stories in general, and a topic that should be woven into what we think about and talk about more often. From my own perspective in higher ed, I wonder about one aspect of the timing of Natalie's abortion. She is 36 years old with tenure...go her!!...and the abortion happened a couple of years ago. She probably would have been right in the middle of the tenure process (a beast of a time in her career) and that was not talked about as part of her reasoning. Not that it has to be. The decision to be child-free for whatever reason (and Natalie has plenty) is as valid as other reproductive choices, but women in academia have long had issues balancing families with teaching, research, publishing and other demands of being on the tenure track. While this balance is not unique to academics there is a unique role the tenure process plays on childbearing choices women make. This story would have been a great place to include a glimpse of that.

4 1/2 STARS! 

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Source: eARC

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Thanks for the review, Sarah! 


Until Next Time,

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