the first time i'd ever heard of denise grover swank was when i read one paris summer which i had randomly requested on netgalley back in may. then i got a riffle email letting me know that the substitute was available to read for free and i figured i'd check it out. i'd really enjoyed one paris summer and the description for the substitute made it seem like something i would enjoy. and boy did i. this books kicks off the series about three childhood friends who'd made a pact when they were nine about getting married when they turned 30. a fortune teller had cursed them (though honestly i find this part of the story confusing, even after getting it summarized three times). the fortune teller tells them that they will have weddings that will end in disaster and that they will end up marrying their true loves, not their originally intended grooms soon after. so the whole pact and curse thing seem to happen at the same time, and it seems to be less of a curse and more of a premonition. but whatever, that the thread that connects all three stories, and the fortune teller proves to be right for all three girls (megan vandemeer, blair hansen and libby st. clair).
megan's story is told in the substitute. when her fiancé backs out of the wedding and megan is too overwhelmed by her overbearing mother to confess to what has happened and suddenly it is the weekend of the wedding and she still hasn't told anyone the truth. she meets josh on the plane flight from seattle to kansas city; and when she accidentally overdoses on dramamine and alcohol josh ends up mistaken for her fiancé. he doesn't rush to correct the mistaken identity when he realizes that megan's father is one of the partners in the engineering firm that has stolen an engineering design and patented it. so he tells megan that he'll play her fake fiancé until she's ready to tell her parents, intending to figure out how it was that megan's father's firm stole his plans. i'll be the first to admit that the whole premise is preposterous. but megan and josh have plenty of chemistry and megan's mother is crazy difficult. so in spite of how crazy the whole thing sounds you end up really rooting for them. we get introduced to megan's friends, blair and libby. and it's really hard to like blair. she's so antagonistic. she goes out of her way to insert herself between josh and megan. refusing to acknowledge that no matter how crazy the circumstances, what megan and josh found together was something real and lasting.
so it was actually kind of disappointing to realize that the player, the second book in the series, is about blair. this book is a second chance at love deal. garrett lowry broke blair's heart in law school--although really the misunderstanding is so stupid and blair is so over-the-top ridiculous and unforgiving that the truth is she mostly broke her own heart and pushed garrett to fill his broken heart with a string of casual hookups. because the truth is that garrett never stopped loving blair. and when they by chance find themselves stranded in the same phoenix hotel garrett knows he must try once more to win her back. for her part, blair is starting to question whether her plan to marry the safe guy is the right way to go about things. once they are in kansas city and realize that blair's fiancé is garrett's asshole cousin and that blair and garrett will be working the opposing sides of a divorce case there is not staying away from each other and the memories of their past. but blair can't help and view everyone with suspicion. she thinks that needing others is a sign of weakness. and while she has the emotional baggage of a messy divorce and abandonment issues from an absent father, she still is such a total bitch it's hard to understand why garrett is turning himself into knots for her. because she doubts him at every turn. to the point where it feels pathological. like how do you trust her when she finally admits that maybe she was wrong? because she never really stops being bitchy and even when she makes her grand gesture of love for garrett she's pushed everyone who loves her away. sure, she asks them to trust her. but at the same time, why won't she let anyone in? i had some issues with blair, obviously. but garrett was an amazing counterpart.
while i enjoyed the substitute in spite of it's preposterous premise, and i enjoyed the player in spite of blair, i loved the gambler. libby and noah are the perfect heroine and hero. they are perfect for each other. the gambler uses the old friends to lovers trope, but it works for noah and libby because they are both peter pan types who need to grow up before they can have a real relationship. and while i could have used a little less super drama right at the end--i think the story would have been better served by libby just trusting noah and them talking through their issues together--noah does get an emotionally satisfying scence with his brother josh that makes some of the pain worthwhile. the gambler was definitely my favorite of the three stories and that's all due to noah and libby. their attraction was obvious from the moment they met in the substitute and it was well worth the wait to see them get their happy ending.
one of the things i liked about the series as a whole is that from the get-go you know that the heroes love the heroines and they don't shy away from admitting this to themselves or to others. at the same time, i think i got frustrated by how hard they had to work to make the heroines take them at their word. maybe it's just me, but sometimes i think there doesn't need to be so much drama, there shouldn't need to be a big misunderstanding and big romantic gestures and makeup scenes. sometimes the more you get to know someone, the more you realize they are right for you. and just figuring out the life stuff is drama enough.