Book Review: Marriage of Unconvenience, by Chelsea M. Cameron
Marriage of Unconvenience, by Chelsea M. Cameron, is a cute, formulaic romance novel that is a quick and easy weekend or evening read. The summary on the back of the book leaves very little of the plot a surprise to the reader, though:
Lauren “Lo” Bowman is in a bit of a pickle. She needs money, like ASAP. She lost her job, the rent is due, and her car needs repairs. Problem is, the inheritance left to her by her old-fashioned Granny has one stipulation before she can collect: she has to be married.
Let’s just say suitors (of any gender) are not knocking down her door. And then Cara Simms, her best friend from childhood that she’s recently reconnected with, pours her heart out and confesses that she needs money to pay for grad school. Lo has a completely brilliant idea: they should get hitched.
Not married married. Like, fake married. All they have to do is play the part for the lawyers, get the money, and then get the marriage annulled. Easy as hell.
Well, it starts out that way, but being fake married feels a lot like being real married, and Lo is flipping out. She cannot be falling for her best friend. Can she?
Knowing what you’re reading can sometimes be nice if you’re looking for a book that will simply distract you for a few hours or a weekend. And although Marriage of Unconvenience has cute moments and some interesting characters, nothing that occurs in the book is a surprise, which I personally found a little disappointing. But before I dive into what I didn’t like about the book, let’s talk about what I did enjoy.
From the very beginning of this book, we have a strong independent character who challenges societal norms and has a strong emotional connection to all of her friends. Loren doesn’t see marriage as something in her future because she doesn’t need a piece of paper to tell someone that she loves them. She kisses her friend’s cheeks and consistently tells them that she loves them. She is the type of person that would literally give her friends her last dollar if it would help them out.
One of Loren’s best friends is Ansel, a trans-man who is one of the consistent side characters throughout the book and is a good counterpoint to Loren. He is friends with both Loren and Cara (and also a coworker of Cara’s). Ansel is brutally honest with Loren and Cara when he feels that they’re being unfair to their friend group by lying to them about their marriage and not trusting their friends with the truth behind why they got married (for Loren’s inheritance money). He’s also a confidant for both girls, without ever crossing a line of telling one what the other has told him.
I also really appreciate that Cameron has several characters with social anxieties and shows friends loving and accepting them regardless and still actively inviting them to things. They understand what triggers their anxieties, knows when they can push a topic of discussion and when to drop it, and know how to apologize sincerely when they push too hard. The reader sees this mainly with Loren and Cara’s friendship, but there are a few other side characters that we get to see this with as well. We also get to see relatively healthy communication between adults occur throughout the book. Loren and Cara check in with each other, and although they aren’t always truthful about their true feelings (because they’re unsure of what their feelings are themselves), they try to talk things through to ensure that the other isn’t mad at them. We also see the characters having relatively uncomfortable conversations and know when to ease up so that the other person doesn’t feel attacked or clam up and stop talking. I really appreciated that addition to the tight-knit friend group in the story.
Unfortunately, there was more to the story that I didn’t enjoy than what I liked about it. Even though Cameron does a good job of showcasing different types of people (LGBTQ+ individuals, introverts, extroverts, people with anxiety, etc.), I think there were too many side characters in the story. The book is from Loren’s perspective and there are several scenes where she simply lists off three to five people and only sometimes does the reader get any information about who those people are or why they’re important. Ansel and Loren’s parents are the only side characters that are somewhat well developed. Cara, the other main character, doesn’t feel fully developed, either; the reader is constantly reminded that Cara grew up with Loren and often was at her house because her parents weren’t great people, but the reader is never told why they aren’t great people or why Cara doesn’t have a relationship with them anymore. We know that she is working on going to grad school to become a physician’s assistant and that she likes spreadsheets, but not a lot else about her. She’s Loren’s beautiful best friend who she would do anything for but the story starts out with Loren explaining that they’d lost touch and were recently reconnecting. How Loren talks about Cara at first doesn’t make her sound like she’s Loren’s ultimate BFF.
Despite the story being from Loren’s perspective, in my honest opinion, Loren is the least interesting character. I think the story would have been more interesting and would have had more authentic moments of tension had it been from Cara’s perspective, as the story takes a turn from “friends to lovers” when Cara admits that she thinks she’s queer. Stressing about money for grad school, romantic feelings for your best friend since grade school, and trying to figure out one’s sexuality all at the same time would have made for a more interesting perspective to read and would have let the reader feel a lot more of the anxieties and tension throughout the story.
One of the main themes running through the book is money. Not having enough of it. Getting married to get more of it. Struggles of being single and trying to live in Boston, which is not a cheap place to live. Even though Loren talks about it consistently through the narrative, there’s never a moment in the story that I actually believed that Loren was tight on money or wouldn’t be able to pay her rent or that her finances were in a dire situation. She says that she’s worried about it, but the reader never gets to see those worries manifest in the narrative other than being told they’re there. Loren eats out with friends quite a bit, she buys rings for their friend proposals, and buys wedding dresses – all before Loren finds a new job or gets her inheritance. There was no tension built around Loren checking her bank balance to see if she had enough to go out and eat, there was no looking for loose change around her apartment, there were no evenings of staying in and eating unsatisfying ramen, or even moments when she’s out with friends and stressing over the prices on the menu.
Tension was something that this book needed more of and needed in varying ways. The reader gets moments of tension from Loren having a hard time around her attractive best friend. Lingering glances, noticing how pretty she is, how she feels with she touches her or when she notices that she’s started to touch her more. There’s tension built a tiny bit around Cara beginning to see a therapist after they get married, but it is rushed and I never felt the gut-wrenching anxiety that Cameron was trying to elicit when Loren was thinking that Cara was going to therapy because she’d done something to screw up their friendship/marriage. There wasn’t any tension that kept me interested in the plot or kept me turning pages, eager to see what happened next; part of that might have been from the formulaic plot (friends to lovers plot with a sex scene at the end) or it might have been because I wasn’t invested in Loren as a character.
Marriage of Unconvenience is a cute story. It gives you warm fuzzies and showcases some pretty spectacular and supportive friendships. For me personally, it wasn’t enough to keep me too interested or invested in the story or characters, but not all stories have to. Some stories can just be cute friends to lover stories. The humor in the story is smart, the references are very current, and it feels like a slice-of-life story that could be about a queer group of friends living in any big city (aside from the whole inheritance thing).
2 out of 5 Rainbows
Recommended Reader: Anyone looking for a quick read with lots of fluff. Would be great for a flight or a lazy morning.