💙 I read this for the Unapologetic Romance Readers' New Years 2018 Reading Challenge, for the category of: Animal Lovers' Romance. For more info on this challenge, click here. 💙
When I found out that this was a romance between a plus-sized woman of color and her best friend, I screamed. Even better, it's #OwnVoices Filipino rep and the hero is a veterinarian. This book was also on sale. Honestly, this was like the perfect storm of all possible outcomes to get me to want to read this book.
Martha is an accountant who has carried a torch for the first guy she's ever had sex with. It's the usual story - he's the good-looking boy who made her feel good about herself, and she's fallen under a spell of hero-worship. Even cuter, they first connected while they were both playing the leads in Hairspray (they like theater).
So naturally, her heart shatters when she finds out that this boy, who is named "Enzo," is going to be marrying the awful cousin who terrorized her about her weight and appearance when she was younger. Martha already feels so self-conscious and the thought of going stag to the wedding is a nightmare in and of itself, so she ends up roping her childhood friend, Max, in to accompany her to the wedding as a fake boyfriend. She doesn't tell him her scheme, thinking that she'll just avoid any questions and he'll be cool enough to play it off, but to her surprise, he plays the role a little too well.
There was a lot I really liked about this book. First, de Guzman really nails the insecurity of what it's like being plus-sized/overweight. Microaggressions/outright aggressions in the form of "helpful" advice or backhanded compliments? Check. Having difficulty finding clothes that fit well? Check. Feeling incredibly self-conscious about your body in certain situations? Check. Sometimes Martha feels very good about herself, but that attitude can shift throughout the day depending on who she's with, what she's doing, what she's wearing, and who she's comparing herself to. That also felt very accurate, and even though her self-loathing could sometimes feel uncomfortable, who hasn't had a bad day where they've been their own worst enemy? Society teaches us to be cruel to ourselves.
I also loved Martha's family. Even though they got on her case about her appearance, it wasn't done out of meanness (which can, ironically, make it hurt more, I think). They cared about her a lot in their own, weird way. And apart from those comments, de Guzman created a warm and loving atmosphere that also captures how kooky and annoying relatives can be. Even the horrible cousin, Regina, is actually not that bad. One of the revelations Martha has is how much Regina has grown up, and how some of her dislike for her comes from self-projection about her own self-loathing moments.
The hero was also adorable. Max, the real love interest, is a veterinarian and one of the first things he does in this book is go to a zoo for a calving giraffe, which he helps birth. How freaking cool is that? Both the hero and the heroine have dogs and are animal lovers (hers is named Bibi, his is named Wookie), and at the end of the book, he saves her dog after it ingests something poisonous. He's also thoughtful, charming, and zany - all of my favorite attributes in a beta hero. In case that wasn't enough, he loves to read. He's a mood-reader, picking books based on his mood, and Goodreads even gets a name-drop in this book (although not a very good one - Max things it has too many spoilers).
Also, the food descriptions. Oh my God, they were all so delicious-sounding. Even though it's the middle of the night right now, they gave me a pressing urge to get in my car and find a Filipino restaurant that serves tapsilog or a Taiwanese boba cafe for some delicious milk tea.
Things I didn't like? At one point, one of the characters' eyes is referred to as "chinky." I thought that was weird, since it didn't seem like it was meant to be offensive, even though some people would assuredly find it so. I also thought that Martha was very hard on herself, and even though it was well done, some readers might find it disturbing how often she fixates on the jiggling of her body or, when she's in a moment of emotional distress, how she immediately rushes into the bathroom to purge (note: she is not a bulimic character, but she does emotionally binge-eat). There's also this weird moment where one of her aunts announces that she will only receive her trust fund if she marries by age 27, which ends up serving as a call-back to an ending that I was not that fond of.
I was also kind of bothered by Enzo and Regina's relationship. Enzo confesses something pretty problematic to Martha, and then he and Regina end up married anyway. And we're just supposed to take it at face-value that there's a happily-ever-after without any sort of problems to follow? I know this is supposed to be a short, sweet romance, but with some serious issues broached, the length of this story actually creates a downside to the plot because too many things are resolved too neatly.
Overall, though, this was a pretty good book. As far as plus-size rep goes, this is one of the better books I've read, and the hero isn't a creepy jerk who sexualizes overweight people (unlike the heroes in some BBW erotic I have read). I loved that it was #OwnVoices and I really look forward to reading the other book I own by this author, a royalty romance called QUEEN'S GAME. YAS. <3
3 to 3.5 out of 5 stars