May the Best Man Win is the first book in Mira Lyn Kelly’s four-book series, The Best Men, in which a group of friends are at that time in their lives when many of their peers are making trips down the aisle, and are regularly asked to be part of those wedding celebrations as groomsmen. This book comprises a charming, sexy and funny (fr)enemies-to-lovers story that focuses on Jase Foster and Emily Klein who have known each other since high school, but who really don’t get along. Back then, Jase “like” liked Emily, and Emily “like” liked Jase, but his best friend, Eddie, asked her out before Jase could get around to it, and like the good guy he was – and still is – Jase backed off.
Since then, they’ve seen each other occasionally, mostly because their circles of friends have some overlap, and they have ended up being paired up in a few wedding parties, because as two of the tallest people in any given room – he’s six-feet-five, she’s five-feet-eleven in stockinged feet – they don’t risk dwarfing their partner. But they hate it. And each other. There’s a lot of history and baggage between them dating back to their high school days, as both of them blame the other for a significant incident in their pasts; and when they meet, they can barely be civil, although they do put on a show of amity for friends, family and wedding guests. But Jase can’t deny that he likes yanking Emily’s chain, and takes delight in getting a rise out of her.
When two of their closest friends announce their intention to tie the knot, Jase and Emily know they have another excruciating day to look forward to, and console themselves with the fact that it IS only one day… plus the rehearsal and rehearsal dinner the day before. But when the bride-to-be begs for help in selecting somewhere to have the reception, Emily and Jase end up scouting out venues and spending a little more time together than usual.
They still dislike each other, though. Yet they can’t deny there’s something that crackles between them every time they are together, and finally, they can’t ignore it any longer and mutually agree to – “just once – to see what it’s like” so they can get over this… whatever it is and get back to normal. Normal being that they’re not looking at each other and wondering what they look like naked. Only in Romancelandia does the idea of having sex with someone you are attracted to in order to cure you of that attraction seem like a good idea – but they’re both desperate enough to believe it might work, and soon, Jase and Emily are scorching pretty much every flat surface they can find on numerous occasions, even as they tell themselves – and each other – that this is absolutely the last time.
Before long, however, Jase realises that “just sex” isn’t enough for him anymore and that he wants a real relationship with Emily. But he isn’t quite sure how to go about it. There’s still a lot that needs to be resolved between them, and I liked that it’s Jase who finally takes the bull by the horns and starts THE conversation. Emily is skittish at first, but they both gradually come to understand the truth of what happened back in their high school days and to acknowledge that they both made mistakes. It’s an emotional scene, and the author handles it well, having them both look back with more mature eyes and Jase realising that he wants to be the sort of friend to Emily now that he wasn’t back then.
But even as things between them seem to be heading in the right direction, neither Jase nor Emily can shake off some of the trust and commitment issues that continue to dog them. I enjoyed the way in which the physical element of their relationship takes a back seat to the growing emotional one in the latter part of the book, although I can’t deny that Jase throwing a major “guy tantrum” towards the end caused me to lower my final content grade a little.
I read the ebook version of May the Best Man Win a few months back and enjoyed it sufficiently to want to listen to the audiobook, even though I’m unfamiliar with both narrators. Tad Branson has been reviewed here at AudioGals a couple of times, but Seraphine Valentine was an unknown quantity. As seems to have become the standard for contemporary romance, the male PoV sections of the book are narrated by the male narrator and the female PoV by the female narrator, although there’s one section near the end where Mr. Branson reads part of a chapter that is written from Emily’s PoV and I’m not sure why that is.
While both narrators give decent performances in terms of both narrative and dialogue, I preferred listening to Mr. Branson overall, as he seemed to be the more technically accomplished of the two. He differentiates well between the various male characters, and I liked his generally laid-back, humour-laced portrayal of Jase. His interpretation of Emily, by means of a slight raise in pitch and softening in tone is pretty good, and he does a reasonable job with the other female characters he narrates in his portions of the story, especially in achieving the right sort of world-weary, snarky tone for his wise-cracking, very pregnant assistant Janice. On the downside, Molly, an honourary “one of the guys” sounds a little overly-harsh, but that didn’t really bother me too much. He’s also good in the love scenes he gets to narrate, bringing an appropriate level of sexy to both description and dialogue. Unfortunately, I can’t say the same for Ms. Valentine; in the book, the first time Jase and Emily hook up is explosive, but there was no sense of urgency or heat to Ms. Valentine’s reading of the scene – or of any of the later sex scenes – and I felt like I’d listened to a damp squib rather than the fireworks I was expecting.
In terms of the other aspects of her performance, she differentiates fairly well between the female characters, and her portrayal of Jase is quite good, with a slight drop in pitch and the addition of a husky note to his speech working quite well to convey his attractiveness. But my biggest issue with her is the way she continually inserts questions into the text which aren’t there. For example, when she’s bemoaning her lack of sex life early on in the book, and her friend tells her to get herself a good quality vibrator and a Magic Mike DVD, Emily ponders:
“… but the fact that she’d gotten chills at the mention of Jase’s name – and not the prospect of Channing Tatum doing those incredibly erotic dance moves – didn’t bode well.”
What Ms. Valentine says is this:
“… but the fact that she’d gotten chills at the mention of Jase’s name (?) – and not the prospect of Channing Tatum doing those incredibly erotic dance moves ? – didn’t bode well.”
Or in one of the early sex scenes, what’s written is this: “And when his focus switched from her eyes to where he was thrusting inside her, the heat of that visual pushed her past any state of arousal she’d ever been in…”
But what you hear is this:
“And when his focus switched from her eyes to where he was thrusting inside her? the heat of that visual pushed her past any state of arousal she’d ever been in…”
I know there has been a trend over the last couple of decades for people to speak in questions, even when they are making statements – technically known as a high-raising terminal. “I went to the shop on the corner? And I bought some milk? And then I went home?” But. It. Drives. Me. Nuts. And while a narrator has to make judgement calls on their acting choices, they shouldn’t be inserting things into the text that aren’t there.
Of course, once you notice something like that, it becomes like an Elephant in the Room – you’re trying to ignore it, but deep down, you know it’s coming and you listen for it so that it becomes impossible to ignore. And I’m afraid that it did spoil my overall enjoyment of Ms. Valentine’s portion of the narration.
Ultimately, May the Best Man Win is an entertaining contemporary romance and will definitely appeal to those who – like me – enjoy snarky banter and a couple in desperate denial of the sparks that ignite whenever they’re in the same room. But if you have a choice between listening to it or reading it, I’d definitely go for reading. The audiobook version isn’t terrible, but I remember enjoying the story much more when I read it for myself.
Narration: Seraphina Valentine – C / Tad Branson – B –
Steam Factor: Glad I had my earbuds in
Genre: Contemporary Romance
Publisher: Blackstone Audio