Book Lovers

By Emily Henry

“You seem pretty pleased with yourself,” he says, “for a woman who just found out she was the inspiration for Cruella de Vil.” I scowl at him. Charlie rolls his eyes. “Come on. I’ll buy you a martini. Or a puppy coat.”

Mom and Libby liked the love stories where everything turned out perfectly, wrapped in a bow, and I’ve always wondered why I gravitate toward something else. I used to think it was because people like me don’t get those endings. And asking for it, hoping for it, is a way to lose something you’ve never even had.

I suspect that many romance authors put the word “book” in the title in order to increase their sales, so I vet a book set in a bookstore or involving novelists very carefully. This one was a no-brainer though because I enjoyed two of Emily Henry’s previous books, Beach Read and People We Meet on Vacation. I was immediately drawn in by the heroine, Nora, comparing herself to “the other woman” in a small town (read Hallmark) romance. That would be the hard-charging, cold and manipulative, career-oriented city-centric woman that the hero dumps for love and marriage with the sweet small-town heroine. Libby, Nora’s beloved sister, a happy but harried and exhausted mom, thinks that she and Nora need a reset in their lives. She, to get some rest and relaxation, Nora to re-examine her lifestyle and perhaps find love. Nora agrees to the plan because she cannot deny her sister anything. Libby decides to take her sister to a highly fictionalized (it turns out) version of the small town in the mountains of North Carolina in which one of Nora’s authors/clients set her recent best-seller (soon to be a major motion picture.) There, Libby presents a list of small-town romance cliches that Nora is to do (attend a festival, save a local business, etc.) before the end of their stay. Being a reluctant and slightly embarrassed Hallmark aficionado, I was hooked. Libby is trying to engineer the flipside of the Hallmark romance trope for Nora: The workaholic big city girl who finds love in the country and changes her ways. But that’s boring. Luckily, a fly in the ointment appears in the form of  Charlie, a city acquaintance of Nora’s who is kind of a male version of her and thus not suitable to force Nora out of her rut. Their initial antagonism, based on a past encounter and their mutual reputations, quickly leads to sharp and clever banter,  funny wisecracks, and lust.

The entertaining snark flows thick and fast, but I realized, around the 30% mark that nothing else was happening. Nora’s dates with the local swains don’t count because we know those are going nowhere. Her small-town adventures are just amusing window dressing. Nora’s growing lust for Charlie and vice versa is described over and over. Their personal relationship develops while working together on a new book. But it just didn’t seem to be going anywhere.  

Things did pick up a little over halfway when it became obvious that Libby, whom I came to like, was hiding something from Nora. Something not good. So the intrigue and mystery of that kept me going. Also getting a lot of pages are Nora and Libby’s childhood, the death of their mother, and how that molded their current dysfunctional relationship. Charlie’s past struggles with his family, and why Nora and Charlie, obviously made for each other, can’t have a sexual fling, let alone a long-term relationship, also get a lot of words.

In the end, it turns out that if everyone had just had frank and honest conversations with each other we wouldn’t have had a book. And why that didn’t happen didn’t make sense. And isn’t that just the ultimate Hallmark cliche? The bottom line is, that if this had been a TV romance movie, this would have been 5 stars. As a novel, it was maybe a shade over 3 stars. There were just too many times that, if this had been a movie, I would have been yelling at the screen, throwing the remote, and rolling my eyes. That’s fun when looking at a Hallmark, not so much in a novel.

According to Emily Henry herself, she wanted to portray what happened “after the credits” to the dumped city girlfriend who is joyless, ruthless, and as Nora is described, shark-like. We are told that is how Nora is, but we never see it. She is kind, nurturing, and patient throughout. Yes, she wants to go back to the city in the end, but she also has a lot of fun in the small town while she is there. So despite the fact that I enjoyed Nora, she was kind of a fail. I would have liked to see her being scary even if just in one token scene.

However, Libby’s secret and the big misunderstanding turned out to be a good one and really made perfect sense out of everything. I really liked the final chapters of the book, and the epilogue was one of the most charmingly written I can remember reading. It was very very well done. To sum up, the banter was good, the wisecracks were funny, Emily Henry is a good writer, the concept was great, I liked the characters with the caveat that we should have seen Nora’s “shark” side and we didn’t, the balance between the romance and the other threads was good, and the last 15% I enjoyed greatly. But see paragraph 4.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

July 3, 2022

People We Meet on Vacation

By Emily Henry

Sometimes I think that’s why we’re so drawn to each other. Because he’s used to being the steadfast big brother and I’m used to being the annoying little sister. It’s a dynamic we understand: I lovingly tease him; he makes the entire world feel safer for me.”

I really liked this romance mostly due to the male lead, Alex, and to a slightly lesser extent, Poppy. Alex is a very well-drawn and unusual character, especially for the role of a romantic hero. Emily Henry really brings both him and Poppy to life. Alex is uptight, careful, reserved, and responsible, while Poppy is gregarious, funny, and a little wild. Sounds like a typical opposites-attract dynamic but Emily makes them both so multi-layered, likable, and funny that it feels fresh. Both characters are grounded in their early life experiences and unusual family situations. Alex’s father checked out of fatherhood after the death of his wife and Alex was left to raise his three younger brothers. Poppy is from a loving but quirky family. Mom and Dad are sweet and folksy whose home is bursting at the seams because they won’t throw anything out. On a scale of 1 to 10, they’re about a 7 on the hoarder scale. She grew up feeling “less than” only wanting to escape her small Ohio town. She does so with a vengeance and very successfully.

She and Alex meet at the University of Chicago and become the best of friends. Poppy has a successful career in New York City, and Alex is a small-town high school teacher. But they meet once a year to go on vacation together. Their adventures make up the book as their relationship continues to develop during their early trips on a shoestring budget to Poppy’s luxurious and glamorous getaways courtesy of her employer, a travel magazine. We start in the present day after Poppy and Alex have had a mysterious falling out 2 years prior and have been incommunicado ever since. They are miserable without each other, at least we know Poppy is, and she takes the first steps to repair the relationship by suggesting another vacation, this time to Palm Springs for Alex’s little brother’s wedding.

The book is very funny, both witty and comic, and the friends to lovers trope is romantic and sweet. The happy ending is hard-won as the obstacles are real and understandable. It is not a case where soulmates are kept apart by a big misunderstanding or sheer stupidity. I liked another of her books, Beach Read but I found this one even better. I listened to this on Audible and the narration was terrific, particularly her interpretation of Poppy’s mother and father and of the taciturn but nurturing Alex, who only seems to come out of his shell around Poppy.**4 1/2 stars**

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

September 8, 2021

Beach Read

By Emily Henry

“If you swapped out all my Jessicas for Johns, do you know what you’d get? Fiction. Just fiction. Ready and willing to be read by anyone, but somehow by being a woman who writes about women, I’ve eliminated half the Earth’s population from my potential readers, and you know what? I don’t feel ashamed of that. I feel pissed.”

This was a very cute romance with a healthy dose of humor, banter, and a little drama. It was well-written and was interesting and engaging. I liked the heroine and I liked the hero even more especially after one of the reveals at the end. The premise was good and original: A successful romantic comedy writer is blocked because of revelations regarding her late beloved father not being the man she thought he was. And a “serious” fiction writer also blocked because…I forget why. But he still bears the scars from a very unhappy childhood. They knew each other in college where they were antagonistic towards each other because they are completely opposite personality types. Now they coincidentally live next door to each other on Lake Michigan. They decide to exchange book genres to try to get the juices flowing again. He will write a romance novel, and she will write a dark and serious novel without a happy ending.

This is where the book kind of lost it a bit for me. Both have a deadline and publishers who are anxiously awaiting their manuscripts. January continues to give her word that her book will be ready. I had a problem with the fact she wasn’t working on the expected romance her publisher and fans have been waiting for and lying about it. Her publisher (or is it her agent?) is putting her career and word on the line trusting that January will deliver. Presumably, it was the same with Gus, though we never get to see his struggles with writing a romance. Unfortunately. I just kept thinking about how I would feel if one of my favorite authors put her name on a sad tragic story with no hope, closure, or justice. It would be a betrayal. In the end, they had to stay true somewhat to their hearts. January’s daughter of circus freaks loses the love of her life but is given some hope at the end. And Gus’s lovers do escape from the cult even though they are killed by a meteor on their way out of town. But those are two books I would never want to read, by the way. Luckily, we are just given a synopsis of the plots. but if I had been their publishers or agents I would have been really really mad. I also would have felt used and betrayed if I had been one of the survivors of the real-life deadly cult that Gus interviewed for the research for the book. The serious literary treatment of my tragic devastating experience turned into a romantic comedy? I know the plot device is just kind of a McGuffin to keep the two together and an excuse to spend time and fall in love, but I just couldn’t get it out of my mind.


I also had a problem with January doubting Gus’s love at the end just because his almost ex-wife showed up unexpectedly. It just didn’t make sense after all that had happened and been revealed. It kind of showed, to me, that January was too needy and didn’t trust Gus or deserve him.**end spoiler**

 I think the book would have benefited from dual viewpoints. It was missing something that took this one down a notch. **3 stars out of 5 stars**

June 29, 2020