Have you ever wondered what it’s like to be on the other side of a romance novel? Emily Henry explores this idea in her third novel, “Book Lovers,” with a rivals-to-lovers plot of a literary agent and an editor–both confined to a month in a small town.
Protagonist Nora Stephens is the exact antithesis of the ageless, soft-spoken Hallmark woman. In fact, her story starts where those movies typically end. Addicted to work, her spotless, minimalist apartment and her Peleton, Nora has climbed her way up to lavish city life as an literary agent in New York. Her boyfriend, Grant — who is away on a business trip — dumps her over the phone for the daughter of a couple who owns a small inn.
This is the third time Nora has been dumped for “the small-town girl.” In other words, she’s the woman you would expect to get dumped in a Hallmark movie.
After the phone call, Nora begrudgingly makes her way to a dinner meeting with editor Charlie Lastra, whose critical demeanor and cutthroat editing make Nora’s job of soothing and guiding her author clients more difficult.
In light of all this, Nora’s pregnant younger sister Libby, plans a vacation to Sunshine Falls, the setting of a book by Nora’s client. On the plane ride there, the two sisters create a “small-town” checklist with activities like going on a date and saving a small business.
It isn’t until Nora visits the local bookstore that she realizes: Sunshine Falls is the hometown of the one-and-only Charlie Lastra and his mom owns the bookstore.
Nora creates a bet with Charlie: if she can finish all the activities on her small-town bucket list, Charlie must gift his apartment to Libby and her growing family. He agrees and the opportunity leads Nora to break her personal rules for her sister’s sake, especially for what she refers to as “non-vetted men” that she would never date in New York.
The pair begin to constantly run into each other at the bookstore and other places around town, with Charlie even saving Nora from a terrible date. The two bicker and argue, slowly working on Dusty’s new book together all while trying to deny the increasingly tense chemistry between them.
Henry’s writing — told from Nora’s point-of-view — is incredibly toned to Nora’s inner monologue that is eternally and book-slammingly frustrating . Charlie and Nora have a tender moment, then Nora’s phone rings and she is brought back to the reality of her all-consuming job. Charlie and Nora ignore each other because Nora is increasingly anxious about their deepening connection and does something brash to distance him.
The scenes are cute, and every time they interact it seems a resolution is imminent — but it never comes. It is a typical romance trope where everything could be solved if both parties simply sat down and discussed their feelings like the adults they are.
If this kind of conflict annoys you, don’t read this book or any book that is strictly romance. I keep picking up romances crossing my fingers that this miscommunication and avoidant trope will cease, and every time, I am disappointed.
It isn’t until roughly the last 50 pages that the reader is relieved of a confession, yet Henry has a talent for letting strings hang delicately as both Nora and Charlie face personal conflicts that prevent them from legitimizing their relationship, even after Nora returns to Manhattan.
Both the avid romance reader and the novice should pick up this book. Aside from Henry’s immersive setting and enthralling plot, “Book Lovers” tells a story about following your dreams, trusting family and finding where — or who — your true home is.