Always a Bridesmaid by Lizzie Shane

This RITA® Reader Challenge 2017 review was written by Neonails. This story was nominated for the RITA® in the Long Contemporary category.

The summary:

She’s all heart. He’s all business.

Parvati Jai knows better than to pin any romantic hopes on Max Dewitt. She may have had a crush on her best friend’s older brother since she figured out what boys were good for, but she’s looking for Mister Forever – not a workaholic entrepreneur with a romantic attention span that tops out at two weeks. Yet with her business failing, her newly-engaged best friend vanishing into a love bubble, and even her teenage niece announcing she’s getting married, Max becomes the one person she can rely on – and the idea of a little fling with him becomes even more tempting.

Max knows his little sister’s best friend is off-limits…until Parvati confesses she once had a crush on him and he can’t help seeing her in a new – and very intriguing – light. He’s never been good at letting people past his charming facade, but something about Parvati makes him want to let down his defenses.

But even if he lets himself fall for her, how can he convince a woman who knows all about his love-’em-and-leave-’em ways that he finally wants forever?

Here is Neonails’s review:

Have you ever read a book or watched a show, and after it’s over and someone asks you what you think, all you can do is scrunch your face, hunch your shoulders, and make a sound that sounds something like “Hmnghhhhh?”

So they ask you if that means you didn’t like it, you say “Mmmm no…” but when they ask if you did like it, you say “Mmmmmmmmmmmmmm nooo…”

And any attempts to properly explain yourself and your many feelings about the book/show/movie involve at least three rants and two flow charts, and always ends up looking something like this:

Charlie from It's Always Sunny ranting about the mail with a flow chart in the background

Anyone? No? Just me? Okay, great.

In other words: grab a drink, grab some snacks, and buckle up. Because I have lots to say.

I have some conflicting feelings about this book. On the one hand, I did enjoy parts of it, and I think it has some tropes and aspects that will really appeal to certain readers, but on the other hand, it left me feeling very “meh.”

But let’s not get too ahead of ourselves. The synopsis describes Parvati Jai, an Indian-American woman who is looking for her HEA, and has long since giving up on the childhood fantasy of Max Dewitt, her best friend’s older brother. While she’s on her journey to find The One, she’s also balancing her best friend’s fresh and fancy new engagement, which is where that whole “always a bridesmaid, never a bride” cliché comes in.

The novel is written in 3rd person past tense, for anyone wondering, and scenes tend to alternate between Parvati and Max’s perspectives.

Unfortunately, the synopsis buried much of the lead in my opinion. Parvati’s the youngest of five sisters, and every one of them—including her parents!—has married young, typically during or immediately after college. The real kicker is when, during her parents’ anniversary party, her eldest niece Katie, at a fresh 18 years old, announces she’s engaged to her high school sweetheart.

So with Parv’s best friend, Sidney, getting engaged—at a more reasonable/average 29-ish years old—this is just one more to add to the long, long list of weddings. This is a woman who has grown up with the memories of attending and/or participating in someone’s wedding on a fairly regular basis. I think it would be hard not to develop a bit of a complex over all that.

But it’s Parv’s relationship with her best friend that gave me the most confusion. Not because it’s bad—in fact, I really enjoyed Parv’s relationship with Sidney, from its growing pains to its resolution. It’s refreshing to see a story present a friendship as a true relationship, which is subject to the same miscommunications and resentments as a romantic one. That being said, Parv’s progression as a person and her friendship with Sidney was at least half—if not more—of the main plot. Now, that’s not a bad thing (women friendships FTW), but as I mentioned, that wasn’t what I was expecting from the synopsis.

To me, this is a story that contains three main relationship arcs: the first is Parv’s relationship with herself, in terms of accepting who she is and who she wants to be; the second is Parv’s relationship with Sidney, as they reach that uncomfortable stage of their friendship when things that used to always work just aren’t anymore; and finally, Parv’s blossoming new relationship with Max.

To me, the book spends the least amount of time on Parv’s romantic relationship with Max. Which, in many ways, is a good thing—because Parv has a lot of growing to do as a person. She’s kind of hard to like at times, because she’s very down on herself, particularly now that…

Show Spoiler
she’s nearly gone bankrupt trying to keep her coffee shop running and finally must admit that she can’t maintain it financially and has to close the shop. Much of the book is her dealing with and getting past this ‘failure’ and trying to figure out what she wants to do with her career from there

…in addition to her negative feelings about her personal and romantic life. Parv feels and reads very “young” to me, which I suppose makes sense because she is the youngest of five, but it often rubbed me the wrong way and felt very petulant and whiny.

Max is not without his issues, though. He has his own successful business, Elite Protection, which as one can guess from the title is an agency that specializing in protecting and bodyguarding the rich and the famous. He has a strained relationship with his father, Titus, a massive business magnate and something of a control freak.

When Max and Parv get together, it feels very natural, because it’s happened gradually as their friendship developed. However, when their relationship does hit a snag, it’s the exact opposite—it feels very contrived and cliched, and it’s resolved way too quickly for my tastes.

Also left unmentioned in the description/title/cover was the fact that, while this is the first in the start of a new series by Shane, it’s actually a spin-off of another series she’s written, Reality Romance, which itself is a series about a The Bachelor-type knockoff TV show. I suspected about a third of the way in but didn’t confirm it until the end of the book (which then listed the other series/books Shane has written). Fortunately, it doesn’t really impact the comprehension of the plot at all. But anyone who has ever jumped into a book in the middle of a series knows that sensation of seeing a carousel of characters being name-dropped to amuse longtime readers and kind of just feeling like “Oh, this is… this is nice, I guess?”

When I finished this book at the time, all I wanted was a second book about Candy. She’s far too much of a background character for my taste, which is a shame because she’s introduced as dressing to resemble Parker from Leverage (!!!) to better sell her role at Elite Protection, and that is an automatic gold star in my book. Fortunately, I just checked more recently and the second book in this Bouquet Catchers series is about Candy. Even though I was left feeling kind of middling about Always a Bridesmaid, I might need to pick this one up just because I liked the potential of Candy as a character.

As a last note, I am a very white, middle class privileged woman from New Jersey. I don’t personally feel comfortable passing judgment on the accuracies/inaccuracies involved with how Parv and her Indian-American family and heritage were presented. If someone has read the book and can, I strongly encourage you to please start a discussion in the comments because I would greatly appreciate further insight.

To me, all this middling is very B-, potentially C+. I’m sticking with B- because it was a nice, enjoyable read for anyone interested in a still-trying-to-figure-my-shit-out trope with a side helping of wedding trope.

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Always a Bridesmaid by Lizzie Shane

September 13, 2016

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