Donna Alward wrote some of my favourite category romances and seeing her back in “category-form” was most welcome. Alward writes romance for adults and it was disappointing to see her venture into imaginery-royal-kingdom territory in her past few books. While previous books have consistently been bedroom-tame, I think the classic Harlequin romance line results in a good fit.
Best Man for the Wedding Planner is book one of a two-book series, linked by the eponymous wedding planner, Adele “Delly” Hawthorne and her photographer best friend, Harper McBride. I was also delighted to see Alward set Wedding Planner in some of the most beautiful places in western Canada, heck, setting it in Canada alone is unusual and it made me so happy! Moreover, Wedding Planner sees Alward return to some familiar themes and draw her signature adult, mature, responsible characters, who nevertheless still manage to surprise the reader with their honesty and vulnerability. Ne’er is there a stupid misunderstanding or the shackles of bad parenting as explaining EVERYTHING there is to understand about a character’s obstacles to loving and being loved. There’s also the angst that Alward loves to write so well and there’s plenty of it in Wedding Planner, as Adele confronts the “best man” to her latest wedding venture, Dan Brimicombe, the man she loved and rejected eight years ago.
Adele is in the thick of coordinating her client’s wedding details in the Banff-set Fiori Cascade Hotel (could it be Banff Springs?!) when Dan walks in as the groom’s best man. Adele and Dan are deeply affected by seeing each other again and we easily realize there’s a lot of history between them. As Adele thinks seeing Dan: “The man who’s heart she’d broken … and in the breaking of it, broke her own.” Sounds awful, sounds like no one won in whatever hand Adele had to play all those years ago. And it is a sad, anguished reason why she left Dan. As a matter of fact, the novel hinges on Adele’s reason for leaving Dan. As they interact during the wedding, and then seeing each other post-wedding to achieve closure, realize separately and then together they still love each other.
Alward builds a lovely, mature romance between two people who are obviously temperamentally made for commitment and fidelity, are eminently compatible, and yet have shrivelled emotionally without each other. A further note to say Alward sure can write an appealing date scene: Adele and Dan lunch, dine, ski, walk, talk, and share one delightful dog-sledding afternoon. It’s wonderful to read a romance where there is, even fraught as it is with working out past hurts, courtship.
Emotionally, the novel works on one level and is less satisfying on another. Suffice to say, without spoilers, that Adele’s reason for ending their relationship felt like a betrayal to Dan. There is no infidelity and Adele’s gesture is one of self-sacrifice. Also suffice to say that her past defines Adele and continues to stand as an impediment to being with Dan again. Dan’s anger, on the other hand, is understandable. Alward’s Dan is a great character, neither alpha chest-thumping, nor doormat. Once he knows why Adele left, Dan eases his way into forgiving her, working out his trust issues, and standing for trying to be together again. I especially liked how Adele and Dan admit to their shortcomings, don’t enter self-sacrifice territory, and work out a compromise for retaining the lives and careers they’ve built without giving up being together. In the end, Miss Austen and I found that Best Man for the Wedding Planner offers “real comfort,” Emma.
Donna Alward’s Best Man for the Wedding Planner is published by Harlequin Books. It was released on December 4th and may be found at your preferred vendor. I received a copy from the author.