I just adore a good enemies-to-lovers romance. Everything about this trope gives me life—from the completely ridiculous reasons the characters hate each other, to the petty pranks, the wicked banter, the bristling sexual tension, and finally to the ANGST of surrendering to their “”worst enemy””… I could go on and on. I just love it. I love all of it. I lap all that up to fill the void in my soul.
But as much as I love the trope, I can also get very nitpicky about it in a way that I don’t get with other tropes, mainly because I want the elements to be done a certain way—i.e., The Hating Game (2016) way. I like a lot of banter, competitiveness, and sexual tension, plus a lot of steamy scenes and maybe a couple of pranks tossed in on the side.
While the books below aren’t quite The Hating Game, Mia Sosa’s The Worst Best Man is probably closer to how I like my enemies-to-lovers done. The Unhoneymooners was cute, but it wasn’t steamy enough for me. (My rule for a hate-to-love romance is that the strength of hatred should be proportional to the steaminess of the sex. While I have no way to quantify this, the proportion just felt off-kilter for this book.) Also, weirdly enough, I only started liking The Unhoneymooners during the “lovers” part, and was bored out of my mind during the “enemies” part.
Still, both were fun, breezy reads, a great way to pass the time during this quarantine.
THE WORST BEST MAN by Mia Sosa
Published by Avon on February 4, 2020
My Rating: ★★★★☆
It took me so long to write a review for this because I felt that it could have been a 5-star read for me, but it fell short somewhere—I just couldn’t put my finger on where. Now, I realize one thing that put me off going in was the complicated set-up. Since I’m impatient reader, I prefer romances where the characters meet each other within the first two pages, but here I had to sit through some backstory and watch a couple of coincidences take place before they get together. I had to suspend disbelief more than usual, which affected my enjoyment of the story.
The Worst Best Man starts three years before the actual story takes place. In the prologue, the titular worst best man, Max, discovers on the day of his brother Andrew’s wedding that his brother is calling the entire thing off—via text. Apparently, this realization was spurred by something Max said the night before, which Max can’t remember because he was completely foxed. Now, since Andrew is a douchenozzle, he just completely disappeared, so Max has no choice but to break the news to everyone. Everyone gets angry at Max and thinks it’s his fault—especially Lina, his brother’s betrothed. Things don’t end well between them.
Cut to three years later. Lina is invited to interview for a position as a sort of in-house wedding planner for a chain of hotels. This is a great opportunity for her wedding planning business, but there’s a catch: Cartwright, the one hiring her, sets up a sort of “audition” where she has to come up with a pitch and a proposal for their partnership. To help her with this pitch, Cartwright also hires a marketing firm, which happens to be the firm that Max and Andrew work for. Lina has to choose which of the brothers she’s willing to work with—the ex-fiancé who jilted her, or his brother, who supposedly caused said ex-fiancé to jilt her. Dun dun dun…
Okay, I’m likely blundering the details at this point, but see what I mean by the complicated set-up? So many things had to happen before they really started interacting. Also, that interview made zero sense to me. Having only been marginally exposed to the corporate world before jumping back into academia, I had no idea that things could work like that. It’s pretty wild.
Anyway, moving on. The set-up is actually just a minor complaint. There are a number of things that The Worst Best Man does VERY WELL, and here’s a list:
✨ I love Lina. I’ve noticed that a number of female protagonists in contemporary romance are portrayed as the Awkward and Insecure but Fun and Quirky Girl—looking at you, The Unhoneymooners—but not Lina. Lina is practical, organized, and assertive. She is described as being curvy but she is completely secure about her body, and is not “surprised” when Max appreciates her body. Her career is also treated seriously here, and not something just tacked on to her character.
✨ I also love Max. He’s very funny and alpha but also emotionally sensitive and caring. I know, it doesn’t sound realistic, but then again this is a romance.
✨ BED-SHARING. It’s the ultimate deus ex machina in romance—solve the sexual tension between the characters by giving them only one bed to sleep in. It’s delicious. I never get tired of it.
✨ The banter and sex scenes. Also the banter leading up to the sex. Some reviewers didn’t like the way there was too much talking during the sex, but it wasn’t an issue for me—in fact, I loved it. It was the perfect balance of playful and dirty.
✨ The vivid portrayal of Brazilian culture. Lina comes from a Brazilian-American family, and I liked how she touched on the pressures of being the child of Brazilian immigrants. I also loved how seamlessly Sosa weaved in details about Brazilian culture. (After reading the book, I had some serious cravings for Brazilian food.)
✨ This observation from Lina about women of color displaying emotions in the workplace (yes, it deserves its own bullet point): “A Black woman isn’t justifiably upset, she’s angry. A Latinx person confronts someone, they’re fiery or feisty. I don’t like raising my voice in public, Max. There’s too much baggage associated with it. A woman gets emotional in the workplace, she’s irrational and not fit for leadership. I was fired for being overly emotional in a male-dominated space.”
Bottom line: I liked The Worst Best Man, but I didn’t love it. I wanted so badly to love it, but I found the set-up complicated, and there was something about the progression of events that made it feel like the author was staging the scenes. Still, this was an excellent book. Don’t pay attention to its GR rating; just take my word for it. I’ll definitely be checking out more of Sosa’s works in the future.
THE UNHONEYMOONERS by Christina Lauren
Published by Gallery Books on May 14, 2019
My Rating: ★★★☆☆
I had a hard enough time suspending disbelief with The Worst Best Man, but it was nothing compared to The Unhoneymooners. I felt that the entire set-up was egging me to suspend my common sense. Here’s a number of unbelievable things that happen:
➤ The novel opens with the wedding of Olive’s twin sister, Ami. We learn that Ami is extremely lucky at life and that she won everything in her wedding from giveaways and contests, from the dresses of the bridesmaids to the “seafood buffet, a chocolate fountain, and multicolored roses spilling out of every jar, vase, and goblet”. I know influencers have a lot of clout, but seriously, in what universe is this even possible?
➤ Literally EVERYONE (i.e., 200+ guests) at the wedding party happens to get bad food poisoning from the seafood buffet AT THE SAME TIME—except Olive, who is allergic to seafood, and Ethan, her sister’s fiancé’s brother, who doesn’t like buffets. Of course.
➤ While in the throes of food poisoning, Ami insists that Olive and Ethan go on their honeymoon trip so that it wouldn’t go to waste. It’s non-refundable and impossible to rebook. There are a lot of logistical problems with this, but they’re solved because 1) Olive can just pretend to be Ami, and 2) Ami had only given her husband’s surname, so Ethan can take his place. It was just way too convenient, and I’m just not buying that security is so lax, especially for something free.
While I’m at it, here are a couple of other things I didn’t like about the book:
➤ I didn’t like Olive. Olive is your typical awkward, insecure, quirky girl with a penchant for oversharing. I’ve just about had it with this trope. On top of all that, she also uses her bad luck to explain every awful and contrived plot twist, like meeting her boss and bumping into Ethan’s ex during their fake honeymoon. NO. Just no. Olive’s already in her early thirties, so this kind of immaturity is intolerable.
➤ Ethan was kind of bland. He’s your typical straight white finance dude with abs. I’ve noticed that in a number of romance novels, we’re seeing a more diverse portrayal of women (e.g., Olive is curvy and from a Mexican-American family) but not necessarily men. It’s like being desired by a straight white finance dude—yes, the profession is also important—is still the ultimate validation of a woman’s attractiveness. The romances I’ve loved lately have refreshingly different portrayals of men, like Michael in The Kiss Quotient, who’s a Vietnamese-Swedish aspiring fashion designer; Leon in The Flatshare, a palliative care nurse; and Jas in Girl Gone Viral, a Punjabi-Mexican ex-Ranger and bodyguard. Don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against straight white finance dudes with abs, but I’d like to see other kinds of guys, too.
➤ I wasn’t feeling the enemies-to-lovers shtick. This is probably the only enemies-to-lovers I’ve read where banter isn’t the central feature of their relationship. What we have instead is Olive’s assuming that Ethan hates her, and Ethan supplying monosyllabic answers to her questions that confirm her assumption. It was boring. 25% in I had to stop and wonder why I was still reading the book.
Thankfully, the second half was much better. Once they got over the whole shoddy ruse of being enemies, the banter started flowing and there were a lot of genuinely laugh-out-loud moments. I can’t hate a novel that makes me laugh, which is the sole reason this still got three instead of two stars from me.
Bottom line: I know this turned out to be an overwhelmingly negative review, but I did enjoy the book eventually. If you liked the duo’s previous work Josh and Hazel’s Guide to Not Dating, I’d say this wasn’t as fun or steamy as that, but it’s still a pretty cute read.
What are your favourite enemies-to-lovers books or romance tropes? Let me know in the comments!
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