The Secret Bridesmaid

By Katy Birchall

What?” I laugh, as though his throwaway comment is not affecting me to the core. “I don’t just watch rom-coms. I like lots of films.” “Only the ones when you know there’s a happy ending,” he notes, taking a sip of his drink. “Any hint that things might not turn out as they should and you’d scarper.” He sees my expression and grins. “It’s not a bad thing!”

“Always doing the right thing. Never breaking any rules. Playing it safe.” She narrows her eyes at me. “Something tells me you’re afraid.” … Suddenly Daniel flashes into my brain, his stinging comments about my love of happy endings and lack of brazenness to pull off red hair echoing in my mind. Ugh. “You’re afraid to get out there and take chances.” She sighs, tilting her head at me sympathetically as she twists the knife in further. “So you hide behind your brides, no eyes on you.” “That’s not true,” I protest, glaring at her. It’s a bit true, though. Isn’t it? 

This was an engaging funny 4-star read right out of the gate (or should I say, from the first step down the aisle?) At one point I thought it just might be a 5-star chick-lit comedy but when something inevitable happened, it did not happen in the way I wanted it to, so it stayed a 4-star.

Sophy has carved out a successful career as a professional bridesmaid. This is like a wedding planner, but she acts more as a buddy and “girl Friday” to the bride. She is a confidant, go-fer, advisor, and troubleshooter. Her professional identity is a secret to everyone except the bride. She’s just a friend with a cover story of why no one else in the wedding party has ever heard of her before. Her goal is the happiness and satisfaction of the brides under her care, and Sophie is a master at it. It’s not only what she does but who she is.

When a satisfied client refers Sophie’s services to the mother of the bride of one of the first families in England to help her daughter with what is destined to be the wedding of the year, Sophie knows that much is riding on the success of the Bride-to-be’s big day and her experience leading up to it. Unfortunately, the bride, Cordelia, is a very difficult person at the best of times and does not want Sophie’s help. Just to give you an idea, Sophie is the only bridesmaid because Cordelia does not have any friends. With good reason. Her goal is to make Sophie’s life so difficult with outrageous demands that Sophie quits.

It is a great setup for comedy, family drama, relationship development, suspense, and romance. It mostly lives up to the promise. We learn that Cordelia is beloved and respected by some surprising people in her orbit, including the groom, despite her well-earned nasty reputation and nasty behavior toward Sophy. How can this be? So that’s intriguing. Another reason I enjoyed this book so much was Sophy. She is so funny and nice. And she is so good at her job, that despite some reprehensible behavior and tricks on the part of Cordelia, she just refuses to quit trying to make her happy. Of course, Sophy has some growing to do as well. She is too nice. She is too eager to please and be accepted by Cordelia. As Cordelia herself points out, she is a “goody-goody.” She finally is driven to the end of her rope and decides to give up. Something the reader wonders why she didn’t do 120 pages earlier. Her mother convinces her not to quit and reminds her why she is so good at what she does. When she takes her mother’s advice on how to turn things around it is a turning point. And could it be possible that Cordelia may have had an ulterior motive for putting Sophie through fresh hell? Sophie’s best friend Cara points out, “I hate to say it, but this Miranda Priestly bride of yours isn’t a complete idiot. She may have gone about it in a weird way,” she says, taking a sip of wine, “but she pushed you right into your spotlight, whether you wanted it or not.” She finally wins Cordelia over, but we know, this being the kind of book it is that disaster awaits before the happy ending is achieved. How all was made well and smoothed over was why this wasn’t a 5-star read for me. **Big Spoiler**

A scandalous secret that Cordelia shared with Sophie in confidence finds its way to the British press the next day. The family somewhat understandably thinks Sophie is to blame. But they persist in blaming her despite her assurances of innocence. They know she has proven to be a person of honor and has been unfailingly loyal and supportive in the face of extreme challenges. They know what a great person she is. They know what a “goody-goody” she is. And she has no motive. Their faith is only restored when the guilty party confesses (thanks to Sophie.) Ironically, the guilty party is someone that was discounted and forgotten about, which only serves to bolster British upper-class stereotypes. Cordelia was supposed to be different. So that, along with Sophie jumping at the chance to too eagerly resume her bridesmaid duties after their apology further weakened the book for me. **end spoiler**

 If this would have been handled more thoughtfully and less patly it could have reflected some real growth on the part of both Cordelia and Sophie. It was an entertaining and engaging book in many ways and I would recommend this book to any and all chick-lit readers who don’t need a romance front and center taking up most of the book. Rest assured, Sophie does find romantic love, but she is much too busy with Cordelia (and her other weddings) to give it too much of her time. It was so close to being a 5-star read, it is frustrating.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

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