Nora Stephens has always had everything under control.
As a successful literary agent, Nora is known in New York publishing circles for her keen eye, strong relationships with her clients, and her most recent success: the world’s latest bestselling novel Once in a Lifetime, written by her client, author Dusty Fielding. But Nora’s personal life is much less rosy, with her growing distance from her beloved younger sister Libby, and a love life littered with men who never made it past the first date–or who left her, and New York, for someone easier to love.
When Libby invites Nora on a girls’ trip to Sunshine Falls, North Carolina, Nora pushes her discomfort back to say yes, and leaves behind her Peloton and NY apartment for her first vacation in a decade.
But when she bumps into unapproachable, black-clad editor Charlie Lastra in town—the same Charlie Lastra who turned down Nora’s offer to edit the Sunshine Falls-set novel Once in a Lifetime two years ago–she discovers that there’s more to him, and this vacation, than meets the eye.
It’s Always Sunny in Sunshine Falls
If Sunshine Falls sounds like it’s in the middle of nowhere, that’s because it is; its one claim to fame is the fact that it’s the setting of Once in a Lifetime, which has a movie tie-in on the way. But that’s exactly what Libby wants. “It’s how we’re both going to be transformed by small-town magic into more relaxed versions of ourselves!” she insists.
While Libby takes to Sunshine Falls’ laidback lifestyle easily, romantic enough to consider every situation an adventure and eager enough to insert herself into the community, Nora feels like a fish out of water; for example, Nora’s knowledge of literary tropes lets her know how things should go when she bumps into the most handsome man in town–but she still finds the entire situation too surreal to react like a normal person should. And it’s hilarious.
Of course, that makes black-clad, sarcastic Charlie a godsend. While Charlie is no stranger to Sunshine Falls, he’s just as much of a New Yorker as Nora is, becoming the reader’s insight not just into the town and its people, but also into how Nora isn’t an anomaly after all.
A well-written web of a story
While Book Lovers is supposed to follow Nora and Libby’s life-changing vacation, soon obstacles arise. Libby becomes suspiciously tight-lipped when it comes to her usually beloved husband; Dusty’s editor goes on maternity leave ahead of schedule; and Nora finds herself dealing with her attraction to Charlie.
There’s a lot to take in, but Henry is skilled at seamlessly weaving different plotlines together, while using misdirection to keep readers from figuring out where the story leads.
But the best parts of the book are when the characters get to talk to each other. I’m a sucker for dynamics where people are so in sync that their conversations are witty and smartass and affectionate all at once, and Henry delivers in Nora’s interactions with every single person.
And it’s especially clear that Nora and Charlie are electric together, uniquely suited to argue yet understand each other at every turn.
Of course it’s about love
Book Lovers is a romance novel, but it’s not just about romantic love. Nora loves her career nearly to a fault, and the details shown throughout the book make me respect everyone involved in publishing even more. Her love for New York is pragmatic but idealistic and childlike too, filled with nostalgia and hope. And at the story’s core is Nora’s love for her family, no matter how different they are from her.
Though Book Lovers isn’t an adolescent coming-of-age story, it ticks all the boxes on what makes those stories lovable: diving headfirst into new experiences, falling in love, discovering something that makes you see your life in a different light, and learning how to continue from there.
But at the same time, it doesn’t hold back on everything that makes a compelling romance novel: exciting twists and turns, enough sexual tension to fill a small-town café (or, as it turns out, library room), and a leading man who knows what he wants, even if life itself is endeavoring to get in the way.
Verdict: Check this book out (Get it?)
A delightfully self-indulgent romp through romantic and literary tropes, with whip-smart banter, lots of laughter, sugar and spice (so worth it!), and a whole lot of heart, Book Lovers is both a love story and a love letter to readers, writers, editors, agents, and beyond–everyone who brings words to life every single day to make our world a more beautiful, colorful place. ♦
Book Lovers is one of my favorite romance novels in years, and ranks among my favorite reads this 2022.
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