The Wedding Party by Jasmine Guillory – Reinventing the “Strong Woman” Trope in Romance

“Hey, friends!” Cuddle excitedly waved Xiaolong and Amina over to her reading rock, and they ambled over.

“I wonder what Cuddle has in store for us today,” wondered Xiaolong.

“Maybe it’s that delicious soup again! Remember when she made that? Mmm…” replied Amina.

When they arrived, Cuddle said, “I am reading the greatest book. It’s reminding me of one of my favorite movies a little, you know, Pride and Prejudice! ‘

Cuddle the otter, holding up a Pride and Prejudice DVD.With that, Cuddle promptly turned around, with her little brown tail sticking straight up into the air as she rummaged around in her collection, throwing knick knacks this way and that behind her, as if emptying Mary Poppins’ bag. She suddenly emerged head upright, with her paw aloft, waving a beige DVD back and forth triumphantly.

Xiaolong rolled her eyes, though she had a smile on her face that lended affection.

“Cuddle, if I have to see Matthew McFayden in the rain in that dang wet white shirt ONE MORE TIME…”

The Wedding Party. Jasmine Guillory. A badge at the bottom-left that says, 'Reviewed by Joce, The Quiet Pond'. In the centre is a image of Cuddle, the otter wearing a pajama hat.

Blurb:

Maddie and Theo have two things in common:

  1. Alexa is their best friend
  2. They hate each other

After an “oops, we made a mistake” night together, neither one can stop thinking about the other. With Alexa’s wedding rapidly approaching, Maddie and Theo both share bridal party responsibilities that require more interaction with each other than they’re comfortable with. Underneath the sharp barbs they toss at each other is a simmering attraction that won’t fade. It builds until they find themselves sneaking off together to release some tension when Alexa isn’t looking, agreeing they would end it once the wedding is over. When it’s suddenly pushed up and they only have a few months left of secret rendezvouses, they find themselves regretting that the end is near. Two people this different can’t possibly have a connection other than the purely physical, right?

But as with any engagement with a nemesis, there are unspoken rules that must be abided by. First and foremost, don’t fall in love.

Joce’s review:

Jasmine Guillory. Give me all her books. Give them to me now! After reading and loving THE PROPOSAL, I was highly anticipating the next companion novel in the series, called THE WEDDING PARTY – big thank you to Chelsea at Chelsea Dolling Reads for sending me this beautiful book.

This installment is about Maddie and Theo, both of whom are Alexa (the female protagonist of THE WEDDING DATE)’s best friends and who are in her wedding party. Maddie is a fashion stylist and is auditioning for a spot on a TV show similar to What Not To Wear while loving helping other women look and feel their best. Theo works with Alexa for the mayor, and is the head of an initiative to provide free and mandatory pre-kindergarten classes to schoolchildren. Their romance starts out hot and heavy, and they continue to hook up throughout the story while being simultaneously wooed by and annoyed with each other. From a prior interaction, Maddie believes Theo thinks he is above her because she works in fashion and therefore is a flighty and shallow woman, a notion which is totally destroyed later… but more to come on that!

The romance and sex aspects are similar to THE WEDDING DATE and THE PROPOSAL. There is a balance between explicit sex and fade to black scenes. This is one area that I honestly wish had been written a little differently, but that is only because I like my romance smutty. I like all the sex on the page. If that is not your personal preference, this would be a total non-issue for you. With regards to the hate-to-love relationship, the hate is based on misconception and presumption, and is more Pride and Prejudice-esque (but not a retelling, so don’t expect one!) than true absolute hate-to-love, as in THE HATING GAME by Sally Thorne. 

The writing style is straightforward and accessible. Jasmine Guillory writes in close third person perspective, alternating between Maddie’s and Theo’s points of view. If you have read THE WEDDING DATE, you will recognize that this book begins approximately two-thirds of the way through THE WEDDING DATE’s timeline, which I found a little confusing, because then in chapter 4, there is a ten month jump into the future. I actually think this would be less confusing had you not read THE WEDDING DATE beforehand, but it wasn’t an issue with comprehension at all, just something that I thought I’d point out. Carlos and Nik from THE PROPOSAL also appear in this book, but just briefly, whereas Alexa and Drew from THE WEDDING DATE are a major entity, and I loved seeing their story continue.

One of my favorite themes is the dismantling of the “strong woman” trope. A lot of times, I find especially in romance, women are portrayed as being “strong” only when they are kickboxing, or some similar hard-hitting sport, and work a white collar, male-dominant job – obviously not exactly those activities, but along the same vein. These characteristics are great, and women who participate in them are absolutely badass. However, when the only “strong woman” being presented is one who embodies only stereotypically masculine activities, jobs, and characteristics, that becomes problematic, as their strength is directly tied to being “like a man”. 

Jasmine Guillory presents Maddie as a strong, confident woman who works in a female dominant industry, fashion, working primarily with women. She watches Great British Bake Off and Say Yes to the Dress, both of which are reality TV shows often written off as vapid because they are judged to be first and foremost feminine. She takes pride in being able to lift other women up, and she is incredible. Maddie also has a great relationship with her mom, which I find so lovely. This is obviously not something that everyone can have, but I loved that it was included here.

Another theme discussed is the importance of clothing for both Theo and Maddie, as young Black professionals. Theo talks about his experience as a Black man not being taken seriously if he is not dressed immaculately in a suit, tie, and collared shirt; even when he is dressed immaculately, he has to work against so many layers of discrimination. Maddie also talks about her experience as a Black woman being belittled, ignored, and small, when wearing certain clothes – similar but also different compared to Theo’s experience. This discussion all ties into Maddie’s job as a stylist, and demonstrates that she (and Jasmine Guillory!) truly understands the weight and politics that fashion can carry. ** Please keep in mind that I am not a young Black professional and although I have experienced similar stereotyping as a young-looking Asian woman, my worldview is by no means the same so I am not speaking for them, but only what I read in THE WEDDING PARTY and have read elsewhere in ownvoices media.

Although this is not a huge theme, I noted the importance of safety. At the very beginning, there is conversation at the bar about safe drinking practices, and not driving after drinking. There is also a character who experiences a traumatic brain injury, or concussion, and part of the plotline is how this character recovers, including restricted nutrition, decreased activity, increased nausea and lack of coordination, difficulty converging the eyes, and much more. I appreciate this because although they were not happy about it, this character’s recovery was hastened in light of the emphasis on wellness.

With each companion novel, Jasmine Guillory shows that she is a mainstay in the contemporary romance genre. She writes romances that I wished existed when I was younger. She adds depth and difference with every book, utilizing different classic romance tropes, but also a growing sense of familiarity with the setting and the friend group.  I would love to hang out with them… where can I find these people?!

MY CONCLUSION: HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

Jasmine Guillory completely reinvents the notion that a “strong woman” has to abide by masculine models of strength in order to be respected and loved. She continues to make her mark as a romance author whose characters subvert what people like to call the “generic office romance”. As a resident of the San Francisco Bay Area, I highly appreciate all the small details and accuracies that are so true to everyday life here. The next book in the series can’t come soon enough!

Goodreads | Amazon | Book Depository


Is this book for you?

Premise in a sentence: A hate-to-love relationship blossoms between Maddie, a fashion stylist, and Theo, who is working on a campaign for mandatory, free pre-kindergarten in conjunction with the mayor – both of whom are Alexa’s best friends and are in her wedding party.

Genre: Adult contemporary romance

Trigger/content warning: Sex on the page (slightly explicit), traumatic brain injury/concussion

4 thoughts on “The Wedding Party by Jasmine Guillory – Reinventing the “Strong Woman” Trope in Romance

  1. A more flexible concept of “strong woman” sounds great! I have always felt uncomfortable with the tendency to apply the word “strong” only to women who act in traditionally masculine ways. That only strengthens the stereotypes feminists speak of breaking down, since it devalues the feminine and reinforces the idea that only the “male” way is good. Thank you for sharing about a book that takes a step toward portraying all kinds of strong!

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