Book Review

The Stand-Up Groomsman by Jackie Lau

The follow-up to Donut Fall in Love is an opposites-attract romance with a deeply introverted heroine and a larger-than-life hero. Although it can be read as a standalone, I enjoyed revisiting characters from the first novel. While I loved the romance, the depictions of the hero’s job fell flat, sometimes pulling me out of the story.

Quiet, reserved Vivian Lao is going to be a bridesmaid in her roommate Lindsay’s wedding to actor Ryan Kwok. As a result of being pulled into Ryan’s circle of famous friends, she gets to meet one of her crushes, actor/comedian Melvin Lee. Vivian and Mel’s first meeting does not go well. He mentions some of the fanart she made for his sitcom, Just Another New York Sitcom, which embarasses her and then he implies that she’s wasting her life working in finance when she could pursue her talents as an artist. Despite the rough beginning, Vivian and Mel are forced to spend time together as they’re both standing up in the wedding.

Vivian and Mel are still attracted to each other, and to his credit Mel realizes he was a jerk and works to restore himself in Vivian’s eyes. The real conflict comes not from their initial meeting, but from how different their lives and personalities are.

One thing I really enjoyed about this book is that Vivian is more than happy to have a job that supports her financially and she finds stable and interesting, but isn’t necessarily passionate about. She enjoys her art, but has no ambitions beyond posting it online to fan forums. I don’t read a lot of “being content with your life without pursuing The Big Thing” in contemporary romances. Often the heroine is working toward her dream job or opening a small business or trying to get ahead in her industry. There’s nothing wrong with that, but there’s also nothing wrong with liking your job, even if it’s not your passion, and enjoying your hobbies and not monetizing them.

Mel, in contrast, has spent years trying to get ahead as an Asian actor and comedian. He’s also openly bisexual and has broken barriers by discussing that in his stand-up routines (Vivian is also bi, but is not out). Mel is used to the hustle, to constantly perfecting his routine, to struggling as a performer. He’s also the class-clown while Vivian would prefer to stay in the background.

While this difference in personality and ambition provides conflict (he doesn’t always understand her reluctance to be social, she can find him to be “too much”), it also offers up some sweet moments. There’s a scene where everyone at a party is pressuring Vivian to do karaoke, and Mel, seeing her obvious terror at having to get up on stage, makes the moment about himself hogging the spotlight to spare her. I would rather have a Pap smear than do karaoke, so having someone take that bullet for me would be immensely sexy.

Another aspect of this book that I found compelling was that the hero didn’t have a perfect body. It’s never discussed in detail, but Mel references the fact that he has a much softer body than his co-star Ryan whose abs were a running joke in Donut Fall in Love. His weight and shape aren’t detailed, but as a reader I assumed he didn’t have the normal rock-hard body that romance heroes usually feature, and the cover supports this.

One aspect that didn’t work for me was that significant portions of the story are dedicated to Mel’s stand up and well… it just wasn’t funny. Part of how the reader gets into Mel’s head is through sections where he performs his stand-up routine, sometimes for audiences, sometimes more or less rehearsing. He talks about his sexuality, about dating, about his friends and family. The issue is there’s no laugh-out-loud humor to any of these scenes (or there wasn’t for me). The only part I actually snort-laughed at was when his grandma walks in to the comedy club just as he says the words “eating pussy.”

I understand humor is subjective, but I think the inclusion of Mel performing his stand-up fell flat because stand-up is something intended to be performed. By reading Mel’s routine we miss out on inflection, facial expression and body language, so all I got was essentially an observational monologue that was sometimes amusing, but not actually funny. I don’t think it’s a medium that translates well to the written page.

Because so much of Mel’s identity is wrapped-up in being famous for being funny, these sections pulled me out of the story. I had a hard time reconciling who I was told Mel is with what I read on the page.

Even with that, I really did appreciate a hero who wasn’t an underwear model and a heroine who was just allowed to be happy with her situation in life, not searching for something greater. The opposites-attract element was at times sweet (like the karaoke scene) and as Mel and Vivian begin to open up to each other, very satisfying. I would recommend this book with the caveat that the reader not expect it to be laugh-out-loud funny.

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The Stand-Up Groomsman by Jackie Lau

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  1. LisaM says:

    I had such a similar experience with this book. The standup routines read to me like pointed social commentary, but with the audiences described as laughing and reacting to the comedy, I felt distanced from that.

    KJ Charles said on Goodreads that this is a romance where the hero does most of the emotional work, and I did appreciate that. I also appreciate a plus-sized hero, there still aren’t enough of those (and I personally heard way too much about Ryan’s abs in the first book).

  2. Mikey says:

    “Another aspect of this book that I found compelling was that the hero didn’t have a perfect body.”

    Or as I like to call it, a body that actually is completely perfect, but in a squishy way. 🙂

    Jokes aside, as a dude I like to see this kind of things as well. As I’m sure we all know already, romance novels are an excellent barometer of what their readers actually want to fantasize about.

    Well okay, I realize that this isn’t always how it works–many a reader has had to settle for what’s been available. But my point is, if you see someone like yourself as the love interest in a romance novel, then you know there are people who like you for who you are.

    Concerning the stand-up comedy criticism, it makes me think of how a lot of stand-up these days is a sort of interesting lecture as much as it is comedy. Like one Hannah Gadsby special on Netflix. At one point, she’s near tears, telling the audience about when she was sexually assaulted. It’s a very good special, but I do think there should be some new word for that kind of show; one where comedy isn’t really the point all of the time.

  3. Taylor says:

    @Mikey, agreed. Nanette is AMAZING, it is so much more than “a stand up routine”. Anyone who hasn’t seen it, watch it (with the CW re. sexual assault).

  4. Mikey says:

    You know, I got curious about the comedy stuff, so I checked out the free online sample, and at one point the narration actually says “A lot of it was the delivery. If [Vivian] saw some of his jokes written down, maybe she wouldn’t even think they were funny […] but there was something about his charisma, his timing…” Kinda awkward to say. Maybe this is my confirmation bias talking, but that quote feels like a sort of apology, from the writer, for the jokes.

  5. Stasi says:

    I’m not too suprised about how the “comedy performance” landed. There was one scene in Donut Fall in Love that pulled me out of the story and felt out of place. Excited for another Jackie Lau traditionally published book and can’t wait to see what she does with her indie releases this year!

  6. JoanneBB says:

    Jackie Lau is basically an autobuy for me now, they’re usually pretty low angst and “nice” reads. So I will try this and just expect some comedy pain…

  7. Gwen says:

    I’m wondering how the standup might come across in a audiobook

  8. Lisa F says:

    Yep, this landed a B from me too; not my absolute favorite Lau, but still really good – and Jackie is 100 percent an autobuy for me too!

  9. Star says:

    Longtime Lau fans: how has her writing style evolved over the years? I tried one of her early books and had to DNF after a couple of chapters because there was just too much telling. It was sad, because I could see what she was trying to do, and I really liked what she was trying to do, but it felt like she needed to go a few more rounds of craft-polishing before she was ready to release, and unfortunately that’s not something I’m able to ignore as a reader. I would love to give her another try if her more recent works are more polished.

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