By Rabbi Rachel Esserman
I don’t read many romance novels; the only ones I prefer usually include a large dose of humor. However, these rarely result in my thinking about the characters after I turn the final page. And, of course, the endings are easy to predict. Well, while that’s true for one novel in this review, it’s not for the other. However, I’m not going to reveal whether that applies to “Weather Girl” by Rachel Lynn Solomon (A Jove Book) or “Bad Luck Bridesmaid” by Alison Rose Greenberg (St. Martin’s Griffin) because that would spoil the fun.
There is a new sub-genre of romance novels – one where a main character suffers from a medical condition. That was true for the excellent “The Matzah Ball” by Jean Meltzer. (To see The Reporter’s review, visit www.thereportergroup.org/past-articles/feature-book-review/feature-book-review-stream/book-review-stream/off-the-shelf-looking-for-romance?entry=395006.) The character in Meltzer’s book had chronic fatigue syndrome. Ari Abrams, the narrator of “Weather Girl,” has inherited a tendency toward depression from her mother, with whom she has a complicated relationship. However, that does not prevent Ari from working as a weatherwoman, something she has dreamed of since she was a child. In fact, she feels lucky to be working with Torrance Hale, whose TV appearances made Ari choose the profession in the first place.
Most people who know Ari would never suspect she suffers from depression: When she talks to co-workers and friends, she always looks on the bright side and glues a smile on her face no matter how she is really feeling. That changes a bit when, during the station’s holiday party, Torrance has a huge public fight with her ex-husband, Seth, who is the station’s news director. Ari realizes that her dream job is turning into a nightmare. She and sportswriter Russell Barringer meet at the bar after the party and start plotting: they believe that Torrance and her husband still love each other and they scheme to reunite them. But their plotting has unexpected results: Ari and Russell start to have feelings for each other. Unfortunately, life is complicated: Ari is coming off a broken engagement and Russell ... well, you’ll have to read the novel to learn about his life.
Solomon does a wonderful job balancing humor and serious content, in addition to having enough plot twists to keep readers’ interest. There are explicit sex scenes, but they work well and make sense in terms of the plot, in addition to being fun to read. But it’s Ari’s character that makes the book work, especially when she reveals the reality of what living with depression means: “That’s the thing about depression. You can know it’s there, know it’s part of you, but you can go ages without seeing it. It lives with you, an invisible roommate, up until the time you start sinking, and then it sprawls itself across your couch and kicks its feet up on your coffee table and uses up all the hot water. Never pays its half of the rent, either.” These insights will have readers rooting for Ari to find her way at work and in love.
While Ari has a defined illness. Zoey Marks, the narrator of “Bad Luck Bridesmaid,” has a different lament. She’s three for three at weddings. Not just being a bridesmaid at weddings for three of her friends: the bad luck comes from the fact that none of the three friends actually made it down the aisle. Even though each marriage didn’t take place for a different reason, Zoey begins to feel she’s the common denominator and that no marriage that she is involved with – including one of her own – would work. That creates problems with her perfect boyfriend, Rylan Harper III. The two are deeply in love and he’s ready for them to commit to each other forever. So, why does Zoey say no to his proposal? Is the problem her unwillingness to commit to “ever after” with anyone or her fear of jinxing her own life? Zoey notes that “I am capable of experiencing love. But I was wholly stifled by the concept of an everlasting kind. I was stifled by love’s ultimate goal.” Although heartbroken after Rylan breaks off their relationship, she still can’t agree to marry.
That might change, though. When her best friend Hannah Green decides to marry after a whirlwind romance, she asks Zoey to be her only bridesmaid. Zoey can’t turn her down and decides that if Hannah goes through with the wedding, the jinx will be broken. However, there are several problems: the wedding is a destination wedding and Rylan, who is Hannah’s cousin, will also be there. Plus, not only does Hannah’s mother want Zoey to convince Hannah not to marry, the groom’s brother, whose wife cheated on him, thinks the marriage is a bad idea and wants to prevent it from happening. Zoey is caught between her desire for the wedding to take place and her worries about whether her friend should marry.
What makes “Bad Luck Bridesmaid” stand out is the realistic characters. The friendship between Hannah and Zoey is beautifully described: these two women love and support each other. The pain they feel when life doesn’t go the way they thought it would is clearly expressed in their discussions. Readers should note this novel also contains explicit sex, actually some really hot, explicit sex. But that’s used to shine a light on the character’s emotional lives and helps make this novel not your typical romance.