[REVIEW] “Better At Weddings Than You”: A New Take on the Classic Pinoy Happily-Ever-After

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Full book cover of “Better At Weddings Than You”

When Mina V. Esguerra, the romance author of my teens, announced on Twitter that she was doing a blog tour of her new book, I knew I had to participate. But other than being an obvious fan of hers, something about her latest novel caught my attention – it was about weddings.

Daphne Cardenas is the best wedding planner around, and everyone knows it. That’s why her friend Greg hired her as an emergency replacement one month before his wedding—because he fears his fiancée Helen is falling for the guy they first hired for the job.

Aaron Trinidad is new to the wedding industry but years of conference planning and loads of charm make him good at it. Really good at it. Planning the wedding of his friend Helen should be easy, and it is. To be unceremoniously fired isn’t good for his new career, but the chance to learn from the best might be the silver lining.

Aaron and Daphne have chemistry, but there’s history with Helen that at least one other person considers a threat. Who’s the planner who can fix this impending disaster?

(Part of the Chic Manila series, but can be read as a standalone.)

I’m the kind of romantic that could obsess over wedding details and all the over-the-top lovey-dovey moments, even if it wasn’t my own. (A/N: I honestly love weddings so much.) I’ve also had a bit of experience organizing corporate events so I felt like I would empathize with Daphne (the main character) at least with how she does her work.

With that in mind, I signed up to get a copy and dived in the world of weddings, scrapbooks, and finding love in a job that involved a ton of tension and drama.

Expectations and First Impressions

Honestly, I was expecting this book to have the sweet familiar charm that weddings bring to a love story. I guess, with the many local and foreign teleseryes and movies that use weddings to resolve everything, it became normal to expect so much joy and pure goodness to come out of that one event. I thought that this book will use the concept of weddings like that too, but just accentuating a different angle of the drama (because weddings are great for those too).

But, a few pages in, I’ve already encountered such strong characters and immense (unspoken) tension. It didn’t feel like the usual wedding planning setup; it wasn’t overly sweet and cutesy to the point that you could already picture people walking down the aisle, but it wasn’t too serious,  dramatic and over-the-top either.

The tone of the first chapter set a mature urban mood that nudged me and said, “Hey, this isn’t your usual wedding chick lit. Hold on tight.”

Characters

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I don’t know if this is just me not reading as much as I did before, but I’ve never encountered a Daphne before. She isn’t the type of girl that needed to develop before she could truly fall in love. Yes, she still did need some learning to do about life and stuff (which she does throughout the story) but that didn’t mean she needed love to be able to tell her who she was. She could look in the mirror and recognize herself. She was a person, whole and self-assured, and she knows what she wants.

But, at the same time, she didn’t fit the archetype of a woman who was strong but reckless and violent, nor was she made to be intimidating just to fall putty into the hands of a man when she falls in love. She commands respect, not just because she’s beautiful, but because she’s good at what she does and she’s headstrong about her decisions.

It’s refreshing really, to be able to read her story and thoughts, because to do so can really be empowering to an extent.

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Aaron, on the other hand, took a while longer to figure out and like. He’s handsome, and I won’t deny it, very swoon worthy even from the start. He’s an industry newbie and is the kind of guy who’d be oblivious to his best friend liking him for years. But, his character felt familiar and new at the same time and it was hard to put a finger on how I really thought of him. (Mainly, I was trying to figure out why would I like him other than his dashing good looks.)

As the story progressed, Aaron felt like a classic boy-next-door who was always there when you needed him. Of course, that guaranteed pogi points already because 1) he knew exactly when to swoop in and 2) it was obvious that he, like Daphne, was also good and knew what he was doing.

But, he proved to be more than just that as a character, as he exposed his sentimentality in how he handled his work and in how he interacted with people in general. I felt like he was the kind of guy that understood and emphatized with people.

Also, and I think this is one of his best characteristics, he had an element of being “lost” in him, showing that he’s grown up but he still has a lot to learn and work hard in doing. It was a great balance to Daphne’s straightforwardness.

Setting

Oh Manila. You were perfect for this kind of story. There’s no place better to embody the drama and hectic-ness of wedding planning and falling in love in the most unlikely of situations than you. And because the author wrote you and the city life really well, everything fit in really well.

Plot

As I mentioned earlier, the story started off with a lot of tension already, especially with the interaction of the two main leads. But, as it went on, the story and the leads themselves became more relaxed and honest. (The story showed how freeing it can be to not give a shit.) And because of that honesty, their banters and interactions became more playful and enjoyable to read.

Even during the first chapter, things were already pretty steamy so I was really curious as to how sex was going to be used as a plot device for the book. To me, I think it was utilized greatly to show a shift in character among the leads. It was what allowed them to be raw and vulnerable which helped them to understand more of each other’s personality and us to get a sense of who they are without the bravado they’re all trying to portray.

The overall story flow for me was paced just right, allowing me to discover the characters and understand their decisions. The ending did feel a bit hurried though, but when I thought about it, it must be me wanting for more scenes of the leads being together.

(There were also empowering scenes for women that I really loved, mostly of Daphne sharing her philosophy on taking care of herself and dating. Kudos to Ms. Mina for this!)

Overall

As the title of this review suggest, I did experience a different take on weddings because of this story. It didn’t focus on the couple getting married and what the wedding would mean to them. It wasn’t the usual wedding story that I’ve grown up knowing either. Instead, the story showed how wedding planning is as an industry and what it takes to be a wedding planner.

And in the end, for me, the story was a reminder that when you allow yourself to get away from the hectic and the commotion, and just become honest with yourself, you can find a love that’s worth it. (And even when you can’t, all you need is one thoughtless moment, to be honest about what you really want and who you really want to love and fight for.)

Where do you get this book?

You can buy “Better At Weddings Than You” by Mina V. Esguerra on Amazon: bit.ly/chicmanila9 ($1.99 pre-order price until April 30, $2.99 starting May 1). Free on Kindle Unlimited.

About the cover: designed by Tania Arpa, photography by Alexandra Urrea. The photo comes from one of the shoots we did for #romanceclasscovers, our project to provide romance-cover photos with Filipino models. (More about that project here: instagram.com/romanceclasscovers)
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