Take A Peek Book Review: The Unhoneymooners by Christina Lauren

“Take a Peek” book reviews are short and (possibly) sweet, keeping the commentary brief and providing a little peek at what the book’s about and what I thought.

Synopsis:

(via Goodreads)

Olive is always unlucky: in her career, in love, in…well, everything. Her identical twin sister Ami, on the other hand, is probably the luckiest person in the world. Her meet-cute with her fiancé is something out of a romantic comedy (gag) and she’s managed to finance her entire wedding by winning a series of Internet contests (double gag). Worst of all, she’s forcing Olive to spend the day with her sworn enemy, Ethan, who just happens to be the best man.

Olive braces herself to get through 24 hours of wedding hell before she can return to her comfortable, unlucky life. But when the entire wedding party gets food poisoning from eating bad shellfish, the only people who aren’t affected are Olive and Ethan. And now there’s an all-expenses-paid honeymoon in Hawaii up for grabs.

Putting their mutual hatred aside for the sake of a free vacation, Olive and Ethan head for paradise, determined to avoid each other at all costs. But when Olive runs into her future boss, the little white lie she tells him is suddenly at risk to become a whole lot bigger. She and Ethan now have to pretend to be loving newlyweds, and her luck seems worse than ever. But the weird thing is that she doesn’t mind playing pretend. In fact, she feels kind of… lucky.

My Thoughts:

Over the past year, I’ve become a fan of the writer duo known as Christina Lauren. Their books tend to be light and breezy, with lots of sass and romance, and The Unhoneymooners fits the mold. Olive ends up on an all-inclusive 10-day luxury vacation in Maui after the disaster of her sister’s wedding reception, and figures she’ll just grit her teeth and put up with Ethan’s company if that’s what it takes to enjoy some gorgeous beaches in paradise. Naturally, she and Ethan begin clicking in all sorts of ways, and before long they discover that their mutual dislike is founded on misunderstandings, missed cues, and some deliberate misdirection from an unlikely source.

Olive and Ethan are, naturally, totally adorable together, and their island escapades are silly and sexy. My quibbles with this book are around the unlikeliness and sheer ridiculousness of some of the set-ups for the plot. Ami’s obsession with freebies is, well, odd, and the fact that no one blinked twice about going along with her schemes is a little worrying. I found it really unlikely that Olive’s new boss — from back home in Minnesota — would show up at the exact same Maui resort as she did, and I just didn’t think her reasons for deception were all that convincing. (I’m also not convinced that his later decision to fire her for dishonesty based on something that happened in a casual setting prior to employment would really hold up, but hey, that’s me allowing my day job to creep into my book enjoyment!).

My main quibble with The Unhoneymooners, and with Christina Lauren books in general, is the tendency to create female characters with awesome professions and then never see them actually doing much in a work setting. Olive never makes it farther than the HR office in this book, and while we learn that she’s a virologist with a Ph.D., we mainly just see her awkward, ditzy self. Even when contemplating work and career, it’s not particularly serious or the topic of much discussion beyond a brief mention or two. Okay, yeah, this is a romance, so career is SO not the point, but still — I’d prefer to see these accomplished women doing what they’re great at!

That aside, the authors are great at building a mood, playing up passion and romance, and not being afraid to inject humor into any setting. In fact, humor and snark are really cornerstones of Olive and Ethan’s relationship here. and that’s part of what makes them so cute together. I also loved Olive’s big, over-involved, supportive family… and how could I not enjoy the hell out of a book that includes a passage like this one:

I stare up at him, hating the tiny fluttering that gets going in my chest because he knows the Harry Potter reference.  I knew he was a book lover, but to be the same kind of book lover I am? It makes my insides melt.

Sigh. Now THAT’s romantic.

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The details:

Title: The Unhoneymooers
Author: Christina Lauren
Publisher: Gallery Books
Publication date: May 14, 2019
Length: 432 pages
Genre: Contemporary romance
Source: Review copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley

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Book Review: Seating Arrangements

Book Review: Seating Arrangements by Maggie Shipstead

If you grew up in the 1980s, at some point you probably laughed your way through The Preppy Handbook by Lisa Birnbach:

The ultimate guide to all things pink and green.

I know my friends and I got countless hours of amusement from this tongue-in-cheek guide to living the preppy lifestyle… which also makes charming fun of those leisurely folks, hanging out at the club or by a picturesque beach, clad in pastel colors, Topsiders, and various and sundry items embroidered with whales or other sea creatures. It was a world we could envision, occasionally mimic, but never actually wanted to go to (and probably wouldn’t have been allowed in, anyway).

So when I read Seating Arrangements by Maggie Shipstead, I was immediately reminded of my youthful perusal of Fair Isle sweaters and matching headbands. While we merely observed the preppy phenomenon, the characters in this book actually live it! The clothes, the beach houses, the golf clubs, the casual approach to wealth, the unerring sense of what “our” type of people do — and what just isn’t done — it’s all here, in this amusing and occasionally touching tale of a family’s eventful wedding weekend.

The bride’s sister gives us a pretty accurate snapshot of the meaning of marriage in this slice of society:

Daphne and Greyson were perfectly suited, both for each other and for the institution of marriage. It was a match both appropriate and timely; they were two people joined by their desire to join. They were pleasant, predictable, responsible, intelligent, and practical, not full of fiery, insupportable passion or ticking time bombs of impossible expectations. What they had a was a comfortable covalence, stable and durable, their differences understood, cataloged, and compensated for. They were perpetuating their species.

And again, in describing the groom’s parents:

The Duffs went together like two shades of beige, bound by a common essence of optimism, narrow-mindedness, and self-satisfaction. Daphne and Greyson were the perfect next generation.

As father of the bride, Winn Van Meter is the family patriarch, rallying the troops at their Cape Cod island getaway for his beloved (and very pregnant) daughter’s wedding to the scion of another well-to-do family. As the various relatives and bridal party members assemble, socialize, drink heavily, eat lobsters, and generally get up to all sorts of questionable behavior, secrets are revealed, long-held beliefs are challenged, and some hard truths must be faced.

Winn himself is the central figure in the book, and is an interesting character. Grandson of a self-made man, he’s oh-so-afraid of being perceived as not fitting in. He’s got the wealth, sure, but he never quite manages to pull off the insouciant ease of the more established of his class. Consequently, Winn spends an awful lot of time worrying about appearances. He’s appalled remembering how his father sent him off to Harvard with a new gold watch, when what was really de rigeur for the boys of the ton was a shabby, “oh, this old thing?” type of timepiece. His island home is chicly disheveled, and he feels offended by a rival’s new, elaborate island home under construction, which simply shouts money and status. Winn views his rival Jack’s obvious affection for his developmentally disabled daughter as showing off, and even considers Jack’s son’s enlistment in the army to be social posturing.  He remonstrates with his daughters quite a bit about what’s done and what’s not done, to the extent that when his younger daughter has an emotional breakdown at the exclusive Ophidian Club, Winn’s first reaction is horror that the event happened at the club, not horror over his daughter’s pain and distress. Winn is desperate for membership in the private golf club on the island, and can’t quite accept that he’s just not up to snuff.

The overarching WASP-iness feels stifling at times. The stiff upper lips, the endless cocktails, the lobster dinners and tennis matches — it’s all such a regimented way of life, at least as it’s presented in Seating Arrangements. Characters fall into neat categories, for the most part: The drunken, oft-married and Botoxed aunt; the flighty blonde prep school roommate who’s all giggles and cluelessness; the older brother of the groom whose decadent ways have already started revealing themselves in a too-early paunch; the younger brother who claims to embrace Buddhism while not actually espousing any Buddhist practices. Then there’s Dominique, the Egyptian-born friend of the bride, with exotic looks and an exciting career, who ends up coming across as an all-wise outsider in a way that borders on ethnic stereotype.

It’s all rather funny, as well. Two of the groom’s brothers explain their clothing — a seersucker suit and pants with whales — as being “ironic” wardrobe choices. The family goes into a tizzy over how to handle a sick lobster. Various drunk people are constantly falling down, making a mess, and blundering through the house with abandon.

Relationships come together and unravel, and quite a lot of differing approaches to marriage and what constitutes marital bliss are contemplated in Seating Arrangements. The bride, Daphne, is probably the least fleshed out of the family members. We don’t ever get to know her, other than knowing that she’s blissfully in love and delightedly pregnant, practically buoyant with joy throughout the wedding weekend.

Seating Arrangements was an enjoyable read for me, but fits into my reading category of “I liked it, but I didn’t love it”. Perhaps it’s just that these characters’ lives are so foreign to me, or that so much of what Winn obsesses about can be described as “first-world problems”. The plot of Seating Arrangements is engaging and moves along nicely, and the writing is clever, but ultimately it didn’t feel like a very substantive read to me. I’d recommend this book as a good diversion, but don’t expect a deep exploration of the meaning of life.