by Emily Henry
When the opening pages of a book demonstrate the writer’s deep fluency and familiarity with romance tropes, even by being extremely meta about it, it’s a signal for me that I can trust the book I’m reading to fulfill the expectations I have. If Book Lovers were a person, it would probably be wearing a t-shirt that read, “I am your catnip, Sarah,” and would politely ask if it could hug me.
Because this narrative simultaneously operates on a “telling me a story” level, and on a “people in the book are editing another book” level, and on a “this book knows exactly what kind of book it is” level, I felt extremely safe and welcomed. So I said yes to the hug. It was a very enthusiastic one.
Continuing with the “if this book were a person” motif, this novel would be friends with all the romance readers. The lead characters, especially Nora, reference romance authors, tropes, archetypes, and specific books, so if you like romance-specific literary cameos, dive on in. The warmth and affection for romance and the people who love it is palpable.
The story opens with Nora getting dumped while explaining to the reader that in the world of romantic comedy tropes, she is the icy, business-super-focused New York-loving person. What happens to them? They dumped by boyfriends who go to some rural or small town place, meet someone, and realize “what matters.” This is precisely what happens (and has happened before). And if that character archetype, that storyline and the subtextual politics of it bug you, well, this is a delicious and deliberate subversion of a lot of it. (See this Q&A with the author for more detail.)
Immediately after she is dumped, she has a lunch meeting with an editor, Charlie, and it doesn’t go spectacularly well. Nora is a literary agent, and Charlie has rejected a book Nora is very confident will sell. But she’s late, he’s surly, they annoy each other, and, well, we know where this is going. Eventually.
Once the story began, there were:
- flirty email and then text conversations (*chef’s kiss*)
- sisters who adore each other but have some secrets
- a small town based on a book series complete with punny names for business
- people for whom New York is a home that they love
- lots and lots and lots of highlighted text when I was done
I’d be curious to read this on a Kindle with the feature where you see what other people have also highlighted turned on. I want to see which of my favorites match other people’s.
There’s also a lot of plot (and I’m trying not to spoil too much here): Nora and Charlie are surprised to see each other in the same small town where Libby convinces Nora to go for an extended vacation, just the two of them. Nora and Charlie end up orbiting around one another closer and closer, as proximity, attraction, and professional work bring them together. There are several books within this book, and while I found myself skimming some of the scenes about the editing and development process, the conversations between Nora and Charlie are magical.
Another way in which this story plays with narrative is that some of the tensions between Nora and other characters, such as her sister Libby, are based on the simple fact that two people looking at the same situation will have very different interpretations and will build two extremely different narratives from the same moment. One of the lessons that Nora has to learn, for example:
…is that managing someone’s life so they experience few obstacles can deny them the chance to feel like the main character of their own life.
Even the title Book Lovers refers to many subtle and prominent details of this book, and I gulped the entire novel in one day, disappearing into a few pages when I was supposed to be doing other things (oops). I love stories that are about people being seen and loved and appreciated exactly as they are, that in some part are about bending or destroying expectations. As I said, there was some skimming on my part when the plot started to seem slow to me, especially as more and more characters were introduced and connected to the central relationships. I wasn’t invested in every storyline (and there were several!) but I was very invested in the romance between two individuals who love books as much as I do.
– SB Sarah
One summer. Two rivals. A plot twist they didn’t see coming…
Nora Stephens’ life is books—she’s read them all—and she is not that type of heroine. Not the plucky one, not the laidback dream girl, and especially not the sweetheart. In fact, the only people Nora is a heroine for are her clients, for whom she lands enormous deals as a cutthroat literary agent, and her beloved little sister Libby.
Which is why she agrees to go to Sunshine Falls, North Carolina for the month of August when Libby begs her for a sisters’ trip away—with visions of a small town transformation for Nora, who she’s convinced needs to become the heroine in her own story. But instead of picnics in meadows, or run-ins with a handsome country doctor or bulging-forearmed bartender, Nora keeps bumping into Charlie Lastra, a bookish brooding editor from back in the city. It would be a meet-cute if not for the fact that they’ve met many times and it’s never been cute.
If Nora knows she’s not an ideal heroine, Charlie knows he’s nobody’s hero, but as they are thrown together again and again—in a series of coincidences no editor worth their salt would allow—what they discover might just unravel the carefully crafted stories they’ve written about themselves.
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