REVIEW: The Worst Best Man by Mia Sosa
Dear Mia Sosa,
Lina Santos gets stood up on her wedding day by Andrew Hartley. The news of his defection is delivered by the erstwhile best man, his younger brother, Max. According to a text he received from Andrew, something a drunken Max said the night before resonated with him and he’s realised he’s not ready to get married. Max can’t remember what it was and feels terrible but there is little to do but tell Lina there will be no wedding. Max’s role in the debacle does not go unpunished.
Fast forward three years to the present day and Lina is offered a chance to compete for a prestigious job as wedding coordinator with a fancy hotel chain. The role would solve a number of problems and double her income. For added bonus points, she’d get to do more of the things she loves and have less of the headache involved with running her own wedding planning business. There are two candidates and the interviewer has decided to give each of them five weeks to prepare a presentation of their vision of the role, with the assistance of their very own marketing person.
Andrew and Max Hartley have recently started working for their mother’s successful marketing firm. Of course, they are the ones who are to assist the candidates.
Lina, on the hop and in a panic, keeps quiet about her previous connection to the Hartley men and chooses the lesser of two evils – Max – to work with.
At first Lina’s plan is to basically go it alone and keep far away from Max but her friends convince her that this might be an opportunity for some petty revenge on the man who managed to convince her fiance to ditch her on her wedding day. Lina is not usually petty but she thinks she might be interested in trying this time.
I have to say, some of the petty things Lina came up with didn’t seem particularly terrible. I mean, if someone were to try and torture me, it would be about withholding cake rather than making me eat a lot of it. Just saying. (Max is a man after my own heart in this respect by the way.) Max’s “revenge” didn’t make a great deal of sense to me I admit. It didn’t seem like a form of punishment. I ended up thinking of these things as just a convoluted excuse for them to spend time together. I don’t necessarily mean that you were convoluted. Rather that the characters were deluding themselves.
Fortunately, the pranking part of the book didn’t last super-long. Before much time passes, Lina and Max fall into a companionable working relationship and attraction starts to creep in. Oh dear. how could that ever work??
The reader learns fairly early that Lina didn’t have super-strong feelings for Andrew and that their marriage was more of a “sensible idea” than a love match. Lina prefers to avoid strong displays of emotion and feels this shows too much weakness. She has her reasons and they’re not all because women, particularly, women of colour (she is Afro-Latinx), are particularly criticised for any kind of emotional display. Lina is calm, composed and competent. That’s the image she wants to present to the world. With her family, she can relax and let her hair down but she doesn’t let her guard down outside of that small circle.
For his part, Max as the younger brother to the “golden” Andrew, has always felt like he’s competing and losing. It doesn’t help that his last serious relationship ditched him and on the way out said she’d wished she’d met Andrew first because he was the real catch. Max is struggling to make his own mark. He and Andrew are constantly working together and Max wants to stand on his own. The project with Lina is his chance to do that. His attraction to Lina raises questions in his mind about whether there’s any link in there to the rivalry with his brother but he can’t help himself. Lina is everything he admires and finds attractive in a woman. (He had been living in New York at the time when Andrew and Lina were dating and they had not met before the wedding if I have the right of it.) I related particularly to Max. I have an older brother and I know what he means.
As Max begins to feel all these pesky feelings of attraction to Lina, he calls on his best friend, Dean, to help him out. As he describes Dean:
He’s that friend you always find your way back to, the one who knows all your secrets and doesn’t give a fuck that you’re flawed, the one who’s seen your “before” pictures because he’s in them.
Like any good friend, Dean has an entire list of reasons why any kind of romantic liaison with Lina is fraught with risk and would be a Bad Idea. Max’s response is kind of adorable.
I agree with every point he’s making. Hell, he’s echoing the thoughts I had on the bike ride over. But I’d prefer a longer bulleted list. Pocket-size and laminated. A handy guide I can pull out if I’m ever foolish enough to let Lina take up too much of my mental real estate. “What else?”
As often happens when I’m trying to talk myself out of having that piece of cake I’ve been eyeing, Lina and Max look at each other with hungry eyes until the inevitable happens. While Max is open to a more lasting relationship from the first, Lina does not think this could ever work and proposes a fling. Max will take what he can get and, while he doesn’t exactly mount a campaign to get her to change her mind, he is hoping that the natural course of things will be that Lina will think he’s a bet worth making.
I really liked that when Max and Lina start having sex they are open and frank with each other about what they want and what they need to be satisfied.
“Max, I need your fingers.”
He growls against my ear and snakes his hand between us, his thumb grazing my clit.
“That’s it, yes,” I say, still rocking against him.
Sure, it was hot but it also gave me confidence in them as a couple because they weren’t afraid to communicate and didn’t play guessing games with one another.
The thing I struggled with was just the whole brother’s ex-fiancee/ex-fiance’s brother thing. The idea, in real life, of sitting across the dinner table with such a person and thinking “she had sex with him” or “she knows what his O face looks like” (for example) is something that I just can’t imagine being comfortable with. Maybe it says something bad about me but I’m not sure I can imagine not thinking something like that in such a circumstance and therefore, I kept getting caught up on it. The characters moved past it easily enough in the end and probably many readers will too but I couldn’t help some second-hand embarrassment about the concept. I don’t hold it against the book though. I knew what I was signing up for.
There were a couple of things which felt underdone; Max’s parents’ reaction to Lina and Max as a couple is one example. I was also curious about the other candidate for the wedding coordinator role. There were a few things dropped into the story about what Andrew was doing but they didn’t really seem to go anywhere. That said, the story was about Max and Lina and I’m contrary enough to know that adding in more about the other interviewee or Andrew probably would have interfered with the pacing of the book.
I adored Lina’s family. I loved the Tia’s and the cousins, especially Natalia. They were loud and loving and, hilariously, all up in each other’s business. I appreciated the depiction of the immigrant experience and Lina’s sense of obligation to her family’s sacrifices on her behalf, as well as their reaction to it.
Lina’s Brazilian cultural heritage was also showcased in the book and I had fun looking up videos of capoeira and the Sambadrome and finding out more about yummy Brazilian food (mmmm – brigadeiro).
I thought Max’s poem was awesome, very Mike Myers circa So I Married An Axe Murder. Brava.
I also liked the clever way you played with some of the tropes, dropping little teases here and there but not going in the obvious direction all the time.
Notwithstanding that the bulk of the book takes place in only five weeks, I believed in Lina and Max as a couple for the long haul. I’ll just stick my fingers in my ears and sing “la la la” when I start thinking about the whole Andrew/Max/Lina thing…!