Review: Party of Two by Jasmine Guillory

Review: Party of Two by Jasmine GuilloryParty of Two (The Wedding Date #5) by Jasmine Guillory
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: contemporary romance, romantic comedy
Series: Wedding Date #5
Pages: 320
Published by Berkley Books on June 23, 2020
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Goodreads

A chance meeting with a handsome stranger turns into a whirlwind affair that gets everyone talking.
Dating is the last thing on Olivia Monroe's mind when she moves to LA to start her own law firm. But when she meets a gorgeous man at a hotel bar and they spend the entire night flirting, she discovers too late that he is none other than hotshot junior senator Max Powell. Olivia has zero interest in dating a politician, but when a cake arrives at her office with the cutest message, she can't resist--it is chocolate cake, after all.
Olivia is surprised to find that Max is sweet, funny, and noble--not just some privileged white politician she assumed him to be. Because of Max's high-profile job, they start seeing each other secretly, which leads to clandestine dates and silly disguises. But when they finally go public, the intense media scrutiny means people are now digging up her rocky past and criticizing her job, even her suitability as a trophy girlfriend. Olivia knows what she has with Max is something special, but is it strong enough to survive the heat of the spotlight?

My Review:

Once upon a time, a guy and a girl got stuck in an elevator together. He needed a fake date to his ex’s wedding, and she wasn’t interested in dating but thought he’d be fun for a fling, so “why not?” But the chemistry that began in that elevator led to their very own HEA – and four more lovely books – at least so far.

That was The Wedding Date, the author’s debut novel, which I still can’t believe. But when Alexa Monroe and Drew Nichols tied the knot, they started a chain reaction, one that is still going strong.

After stories about his best friend (The Proposal), her two best friends (The Wedding Party) and one of those same best friends and her mother (Royal Holiday), the series has come back around again.

Not to Alexa, but to her sister Olivia, meeting and clicking with a guy in a hotel bar in LA. He has a house in LA, but he has also had a plumbing disaster, hence the temporary hotel stay. She doesn’t have a house yet, but she’s looking for one. Olivia and her best friend Ellie are in the process of setting up their own law firm together because they’re both tired of working for big law firms, having no say in their work and no life outside it.

Ellie wants to have time for her husband and kids while still being able to do work that she loves. Olivia has been too busy climbing the ladder to partner to even have a life, and she’s ready for a life outside it – once the firm is off the ground, that is.

There is definitely a “meet cute” between Olivia and Max, that guy she meets in the hotel bar. But they don’t exchange last names, phone numbers or bodily fluids during that one meeting, so Olivia chalks it up to experience, albeit a good one, and gets on with her life.

Only to discover that the terrific guy she exchanged banter and chemistry with was the seriously hot junior senator from California, Max Powell. She never expects to see him again, but their meeting makes for a really EXCELLENT story.

Until they meet again, almost as accidentally as the first time. She knows she’s coming to hear him speak, but he has no idea she’ll be in the audience. She has little expectation that he’ll recognize her, and none that anything will come of this second meeting, but she’s just as surprised as he is when he finds her in the crowd.

This time they do exchange enough information to find each other. Or at least enough for Max to send Olivia cake instead of flowers, because that’s one of the many (many, many) things they talked about in that bar.

Cake leads to flowers, both lead to dates, dates lead to more dates lead to weekends spent in each other’s houses and outings with Max in a fairly lame disguise. But it’s enough. Until it’s not – at least for Max. Until Max wants to go public, and Olivia lets herself get pulled along for the ride.

While dating Max was fun, dating a famous senator is something else all together. And as much as Olivia loves him, it’s not something she can live with. She could live with Max just fine, but the reporters following them around and digging into every tiny detail of her past push her way outside her comfort zone.

To the point where she pushes Max out the door.

Escape Rating A-: The story of Party of Two feels a bit like the movie The American President crossed with the real-life story of Meghan Markle and Prince Harry (which was sorta/kinda touched on in Royal Holiday). Complete with all of the racist overtones and thinly veiled threats and insults that Princess Meghan has had to deal with. The stories do parallel more than a bit – at least on the surface.

But this felt like a story about opposites attracting, and as is wonderfully usually for this author, the ways in which they are opposite and the difficulties those differences lead them to felt organic and real. This is a romcom without a heinous misunderstandammit. Yes, they did need to work on their communication, but the problem isn’t simple and the fix isn’t either.

Max is rich, white and very, very privileged. While he has become aware of his privilege and is doing his best to both make up for some of the dudebro assholish things he did before he knew better and use his position to do some good in the community and in the world, he is still privileged in the way that only a white, rich, heterosexual man can be in America. And that perspective has shaped his personality in ways that, while not bad in and of themselves, clash directly with Olivia’s perspective of the world.

Basically, Max’s whole outlook is to leap and assume that the net will appear. Because in his life, at least so far, it always has. So he can be very impulsive, even in public situations, because so far at least his mouth hasn’t written any checks that his body can’t cash – or at least can’t cash with the help of his staff, his money, or both. This doesn’t make him a bad person, but it does make him speak or act before he thinks things through. Fairly often.

As a black woman, Olivia’s experience is very different. She’s never impulsive, because her entire life experience is that if she leaps, she will fall. The net will not appear for her and she will never get the benefit of the doubt. (This is true for women in general and is doubly or triply true – if not more – for her) Olivia goes through life with a Plan A, a Plan B, a Plan C and all the way up to Plan Z. She tries her best to never act before she thinks things through. She did that once in high school with what could have been catastrophic results. The results weren’t exactly catastrophic, but they were plenty disastrous and it took her years to get past them.

It’s not that Olivia and Max can’t have a relationship, in spite of Olivia being certain from the get-go that it can’t work. It’s not that they don’t love each other enough to make a relationship work. But they have a fundamental difference in how they see the world, and while they can work past that difference, it’s going to take compromise on both their parts. And it’s going to take talking about it openly and honestly to get there.

And that’s where they stumble. And it felt real and true to the characters and the story. Which goes back to why I love this series so much.

If you want to read a romcom that works deliciously for readers who don’t generally fall for romcoms, this entire series is a delight. You could start with this book, because it doesn’t rely on knowledge of the previous books in the series, but they’re wonderful and if you love one you’ll love them ALL!