Cancel the Wedding by Carolyn T. Dingman

I received this book for free from Publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Cancel the Wedding by Carolyn T. DingmanCancel the Wedding by Carolyn T. Dingman
Published by Harper Paperbacks on August 5, 2014
Genres: Contemporary, Romance
Pages: 416
Format: Paperback
Source: Publisher
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A heartfelt fiction debut that will appeal to fans of Emily Giffin’s Southern charm and Jennifer Weiner’s compelling, emotionally resonant novels about the frustrations of blood ties, Cancel the Wedding follows one woman’s journey to discover the secrets of her mother’s hidden past—and confront her own uncertain future.

On the surface, Olivia has it all: a high-powered career, a loving family, and a handsome fiancé. She even seems to be coming to terms with her mother Jane’s premature death from cancer. But when Jane’s final wish is revealed, Olivia and her elder sister Georgia are mystified. Their mother rarely spoke of her rural Southern hometown, and never went back to visit—so why does she want them to return to Huntley, Georgia, to scatter her ashes?

Jane’s request offers Olivia a temporary escape from the reality she’s long been denying: she hates her “dream” job, and she’s not really sure she wants to marry her groom-to-be. With her 14-year-old niece, Logan, riding shotgun, she heads South on a summer road trip looking for answers about her mother.

As Olivia gets to know the town’s inhabitants, she begins to peel back the secrets of her mother’s early life—truths that force her to finally question her own future. But when Olivia is confronted with a tragedy and finds an opportunity to right a terrible wrong, will it give her the courage to accept her mother’s past—and say yes to her own desire to start over?

Though I’m off to a grand start in terms of the amount I’m reading this year, I haven’t read too many books I’ve loved that weren’t rereads (obviously it’s great to love a reread, but it’s different). I’ve had Cancel the Wedding on my mental shelf of shame for several years now, because (confession time), I got a review copy of this book from the publisher. Presumably when it came out. In 2014. Yes, I know, I’m garbage, but I think we can all agree that I read as much as I can; sometimes it feels like I read more than that tbh. On the plus side, I was super late getting to it, but I loved Cancel the Wedding, so at least they get a super positive review of it now.

Cancel the Wedding has a bunch of super familiar tropes: the high-powered executive with a handsome fiancé who takes a trip only to discover that what she thought she wanted isn’t what she needs. I’ve read that frame of a story or watched it in movies many times. The challenge of being an author is making all these familiar tropes feel new by threading them together in interesting ways or flipping some tropes. Though I knew where the larger narrative was going, Dingman did manage to surprise me with the way certain plots resolved, always in a great way.

Fair warning: Cancel the Wedding relies heavily on miscommunication for its plot points. I know, I hate that too….but I think it worked in this book. Olivia travels to her mother’s hometown in Georgia on the anniversary of the mom’s death with the plan of scattering her ashes as her mom requested and learning a bit about her mom’s youth, about which she had been very tight-lipped. In that sense, the mother’s lack of communication triggers the entire book. Olivia, too, triggers drama in the book by failing to communicate, which, while not my preference, it does really feel authentic to where she is emotionally and not just like a plot point.

Olivia’s trip to a small town in Georgia is precipitated by her fiancé announcing a spot has opened up at their favorite venue for the wedding. For reasons she’s not ready to think about too hard, that makes her need to go to Georgia and leave her wedding ring behind. She takes her niece along, who also wants an adventure, by dint of being fourteen. Though the story focuses much more on Olivia’s emotional journey, Logan, her niece, does have a nice arc of finding acceptance and confidence in a milieu outside of the one she’s always known.

The two of them are stunned to discover shortly after arriving that the town of Huntley, her mother’s hometown, no longer exists, having been turned into a lake in the 1960s. Olivia and Logan set out to resolve the mystery of why Jane wanted half her ashes scattered on a particular grave, but the research turns up more and more mysteries. Along the way, they’re helped greatly by the local newspaperman, who just happens to be a total cutie Olivia’s age, Elliot.

Another trope that I’m not fond of as a general rule is cheating, and I’m gonna be honest: that happens here. It’s still my least favorite aspect of the novel without a doubt, but it didn’t kill my enjoyment like it sometimes would. Olivia’s in a relationship with another person in a demanding job (he’s a lawyer), and, though they don’t really fight, they lack passion. Olivia and Elliot banter and share a way of thinking about things that makes them click. Not wanting to break up with her fiancé over the phone and having trouble getting him on the phone, she delays. She also fails to tell Elliot about her fiancé, even though Elliot had been open about ending a relationship with his long-term girlfriend after meeting Olivia. Actually, I think Elliot’s hasty response is part of what scared Olivia; she thought what he did was crazy after knowing her for such a short time, and she’s not sure it’s wise to throw away her relationship for a crush.

Part of what saves a plot line that I usually loathe is the fact that Olivia’s voice is so strong, and I really related to her and felt like I understood her, even when I was shouting GIRL NO. Dingman also resolves many elements of this with minimal drama, rather than playing it up in typical fashion. View Spoiler » It also helps that through it all, Olivia is honest with her sister, who is saying all the ‘WTF are you doing’s that Olivia needs to hear. There’s a clear awareness that Olivia’s doing stupid things, which always helps me be understanding of the person doing the stupid things.

Cancel the Wedding is adorable. It’s one of those books where I fell in love with, not just the heroine, but the entire cast and the small Georgia town where it’s set. It’s like Gilmore Girls meets Sweethome Alabama, so what’s not to love?

Tl;dr – Review in a GIFfy:

I kept thinking this at Olivia

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