Tuesday 5 July 2022

CBR14 Book 15: "Book Lovers" by Emily Henry

Page count: 398 pages
Rating: 5 stars

You know in a lot of romantic comedies, the hero already has a girlfriend, but she's stern, and demanding and seems to have absolutely no feelings that don't revolve around her career and probably living in the big city? The woman who eventually gets left, so the hero can get with the charming, free-spirited, understanding and much more laid-back heroine of the rom-com?

Nora Stephens is that woman. She loves her life in New York City, she loves her Peloton bike, she loves her designer shoes and she really doesn't give a fig for the outdoors. However, the fourth (!) time one of her boyfriends goes out of town for a few weeks to small-town America, only to call her to let her know that they won't be back, because they've realised their careers in the big city are hollow and they need to do something completely different with their lives, she is understandably quite upset. That the break-up phone call happens right before she's about to have a very important business meeting, causing Nora to be late (she's never late) is possibly even worse. 

The meeting does not go well. Charlie Lastra, known in the publishing industry as the Storm Cloud, seems entirely uninterested in editing and publishing the book Nora is trying to pitch to him. Obviously, Nora feels rather triumphant two years later, when the book is a massive bestseller with a film adaptation in the works. However, she's also worried about her pregnant little sister, who seems utterly exhausted and has decided that she needs a break from her husband and two daughters, so she (Libby) and Nora will go away for a month to Sunshine Falls, North Carolina, which just so happens to be the setting of Nora's author's very successful novel. 

Nora's life is pretty much her work, where she is the most cutthroat literary agent in Manhattan, who will do anything for her authors, especially make sure they get excellent publishing deals, and Libby, the reason she works so hard in the first place. Raised by a single mother who came to New York to chase her dreams and frequently kept having them crushed while trying to make ends meet to support her girls, Nora and Libby were both devastated when she died. For a long time, they've only had each other, and Nora has worked hard her entire adult life to make sure neither Libby nor she ever faced the sort of difficult financial burdens their mother did. She can't really say no to Libby, even though she's unsure about a whole month away from NYC and the very long checklist of items her sister seems to want them to get through during that month (one of which includes saving a failing business). 

Nora is worried Libby is going to be disappointed with Sunshine Falls, which is a lot more run-down and deserted than the best-selling novel made it seem. Libby, however, seems perfectly happy to be there, it's Nora who's feeling like a fish out of water. Imagine her surprise when on one of her very first days in Sunshine Falls, she runs (literally) into Charlie Lastra, her grumpy publishing nemesis, and very quickly, they not only seem to have struck up a friendship but are pretty much constantly flirting via e-mail or text. Turns out one of the reasons Charlie passed on the novel is that he's from Sunshine Falls, and didn't really like the way his childhood home was romanticised in the pages of the book. Now he's back home, helping his parents (his father had a stroke and needs a lot of physical rehabilitation), running the family bookstore while his dad recovers, and working long-distance as an editor. 

While Nora and Charlie's first meeting may not have been the best, it's very quickly clear that they are two peas in a pod, and care deeply about most of the same things. They also have absolutely sizzling chemistry, but as they end up working together to edit the new manuscript for Nora's top author, they are both determined to keep everything professional. Not that Charlie seems all too pleased about Libby's plan that Nora just needs to become the heroine of her own small-town romance, and to do so, Libby wants her to go on dates with at least two of the locals. Of course, the first one seems deeply intimidated by how tall Nora is and how big her shoes are, while the other one turns out to be Charlie's cousin, and while he's got the good looks, charm, intelligence, and humour of a perfect small town leading man - Nora just keeps thinking about Charlie's scowl and prominent eyebrows. 

Nora can't stand not being in control of every situation and being in North Carolina has put her very much out of her comfort zone. She can't sleep well with all the silence of the countryside. To add to her worries, Libby is clearly hiding things from her, when in the past, the sisters have always confided in one another. Charlie Lastra is nothing like the men she's dated in the past, where she could keep her head cool when things inevitably imploded. She realises far too quickly that she's falling hard for him, and he keeps insisting that their flirtation, much as he clearly returns her feelings, is not leading to a HEA. 

While I in no way disliked People We Meet on Vacation, Emily Henry's last release, it felt rather disappointing to me compared to her first romance novel aimed at adults, Beach Read, which was one of those books I had trouble putting down and kept wanting to read more of, because I loved spending time with the protagonists so much. Well, I'm happy to say that I think Book Lovers is her finest romance yet, and it completely transported me. It's incredibly obvious from the very first chapter that Henry knows every romance trope there is, and she carefully sets out to deconstruct a lot of them over the course of this book. Making her heroine the supposed ice queen, the driven, career-obsessed and unashamedly ruthless (on behalf of her clients and/or her sister) woman is a beautiful touch. Having her dumped a whole FOUR times by selfish jerks who decide to follow their dreams with carefree waifs in small towns seems rather cruel, but it's only to highlight how absolutely perfect Charlie is for her instead. Her equal in exacting professionalism, another terror of the NYC publishing world, not only is he in no way threatened by Nora and her drive to succeed and her workaholic tendencies, he applauds them and makes her realise that they may not, in fact, be flaws. 

Charlie Lastra, raised in the beautiful North Carolina countryside, who always felt uncomfortable and out of place until he moved to the city, understands why stunning sunsets, hiking, and camping under the stars are not what Nora wants or needs. She wants to take care of her sister and if completing the rather ridiculous checklist is what Libby wants, then Nora will camp, bake and try to put away her phone at 5pm each afternoon to be "present" for her sister. Yet the only time she really feels comfortable is when she's trading notes with Charlie on the manuscript they're co-editing, or even better, fighting their growing attraction and stealing kisses where no one can see them. 

Like in Beach Read, grief and the processing thereof, play a major part in this story. While their childhood was far from ideal, Nora especially adored her mother and has internalised her mother's love of New York. Losing her while she was still barely a teenager and having to act as a guardian for her younger sister, while they were both processing their loss and emotions is one of the reasons Nora has become so emotionally closed off. Having to act as a parent for her sister made her think that she could never be the vulnerable one, and that starts taking its toll the longer she spends in Sunshine Falls. 

This book does a very good job of showing that people can want vastly different things, and neither of the options are bad ones. Wanting to live in a New York loft and have a career and never raise children of your own does not make you a soulless monster, nor does wanting to have multiple children and live in a big house in the countryside make you more worthy of love and happy endings. 

This book made me very happy and I heartily recommend it to anyone looking for a comforting spring read. The beautiful thing with romances is that even when it seems like the protagonists are never going to be able to find a way to make their relationship work (and things look pretty bad here for a while), there WILL be a satisfying happy ending eventually, in this case, one that made me grin like a loon.

Judging a book by its cover: Still not a fan of the cartoon covers (surely this trend must end sometime soon), but at least this is quite a cute one. The man and woman look exactly like Charlie and Nora are described and I love how absorbed they are in a book each, while also reaching out and sharing books between them. Any romance based around the love of books is probably going to work for me. 

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.

No comments:

Post a Comment