The Accidental Newlywed Game
If I could package up my reaction to Jaci Burton’s The Accidental Newlywed Game in one word, it would be ‘unresolved.’ Just like so many of the characters in this third installment of the Boots and Banquets series, I have unresolved feelings about this story.
I am the only child of a single mother, and my husband and I have just one child. We can all fit in a sedan on a road trip. When you add in cousins and significant others, maybe we need to rent a third-row SUV. Our family is that small. So I process books about huge, nosy families with one of two outcomes – either I love them, or I hate them. In the case of The Accidental Newlywed Game, I both loved and hated it.
Honor Bellini is one of three sisters who, along with their parents, run a wedding planning business and vineyard. After a successful wedding conference in Las Vegas, Honor is happy to take advantage of the personal downtime she’s built into her schedule. Over margaritas in the hotel bar, she spots a man she’s known most of her life, Owen Stone, who, two years previously, broke off an engagement with her sister Erin. Owen is a craft beer brewer, and he’s also in town wrapping up an industry conference with a little R&R. The two are friends, despite the way he broke off his engagement with Erin, because the inciting incident that sparked his departure was life-altering.
Two years earlier, Owen was diagnosed with cancer, and it threw a zinger of a monkey wrench into his life. He was terrified of the diagnosis, uncertain of his future, and circling the emotional wagons to deal with his own shit. He discovered, too, that he didn’t really love Erin in the happily ever after kind of way, and bailed on her by email without divulging his health issue. Of course, it caused animosity with the whole tight-knit Bellini family, but once he disclosed the cancer, all ill will against him evaporated.
But not really. Honor and Owen catch up over dinner and drinks… and wake up married. Because, Vegas. What ensues is an elaborate cover up of great chemistry and the potential for their happily ever after. There’s a lot of cliché in this accidental marriage trope, like sneaking around, forcing attention on anything else in the room other than the one you’re yearning for, and struggling with the decision of whether to divorce or stick it out. Sticking it out is the clear choice, because there’s clearly love between Honor and Owen. But they can never get around the biggest, most distracting cliché – Erin. Erin who is now in love with, married to, and having a baby with her husband Jason (one of Owen’s BFFs).
The Bellini family interjects itself into every decision, every scene, every hopeful moment of romance. And Erin’s irrational anger overshadows every bit of conflict that Honor and Owen might have on their own. Erin had her time in the spotlight, to work through all her hurt, embarrassment, and dejection – in the first book! Too much time is spent rehashing Erin’s breakup and she winds up being portrayed as just a whiny, selfish bitch – well, it’s how she read to me. So much of the conflict in this third installment of the series is Erin’s.
The Accidental Newlywed Game starts off solidly, but once Erin discovers the relationship between Honor and Owen and every emotional ounce tilted toward her state of mind, Burton lost me. The conflict I wanted to discover between Honor and Owen never rises above a passing interest, and that’s a shame because I really loved Owen’s character. Had this been a true stand-alone story, with a minimal glance at Erin’s hurt feelings, Burton would’ve hit it out of the park. As it is, there’s just too much focus on the series rather than the story to carry it to any sweeping emotional pinnacle.