romance review: Book Lovers by Emily Henry
Overview: Nora is a literary agent so adept, focused, and successful that she's called "the shark" among her circle of literary colleagues. There might be just a touch of misogyny in that too. She's driven by work, looking to excel to find her sense of self and a financial security she never had as a child. A longtime book lover, Nora is also well versed in the tropes of romance and sees herself as the villain the romance novel of her life. She's always the cold, icey girlfriend the hero has at the start of the book that he leaves for the down to earth country girl. Having that image sure makes dating hard. While a trip to a small North Carolina town with her sister sparks a wild chain of events that makes her reconsider the meaning of family, sisterhood, love, and work, it's also a chance for Nora to heal and find herself away from all the noise. Overall: 5
Characters: 5 It's the characters that made this book for me. While I read about stereotypically "unlikable" women in literary fiction quite often, there's a different lens a romance can take on the characteristics and the thoroughly modern world also sharpens the reality. Nora is driven, strong, and decisive. She loves her career and makes that a priority in her life – right up there with her sister. She has all the characteristics that would be applauded in a man, no matter is marital or family status – but just makes her frigid and convinced she's not fit for a happily ever after. I related to Nora and her older sister anxieties born from being a little adult too soon, wanting to know and help and smooth over the family rough edges. I related to her passion for career and allowing that to boldly be her focus, and I relate to her feeling that she'd never find someone who understands her or doesn't want her to alter her priorities. It was cathartic to sit with a character who carried my own self image and felt set to the side by the world for coming off too "intimidating." And even as Nora gets her epic love story, I appreciate that Henry keeps her devotion to her career as passionate as ever and doesn't make her choose between the person she loves and the life she's built for herself because romance, too often, casts giving up everything for the guy as a winning prize.
The other central characters are Libby and Charlie. Libby is Nora's sister and her entire world. When their mom died when they were young adults. leaving them broke and scared, Nora stepped into the role of Libby's de facto mom, and while Libby grew up, got married quickly, and had kids, Nora never stopped feeling the need to do everything in her power to shield Libby from the outside world. As Libby and Nora embark on this North Carolina get away, they're forced to untangle some of the miscommunication knots that have formed between them over the years because even actions made solely from a place of love can still create hurt.
Charlie appears in the prologue as the editor Nora is pitching to that gives her a run for her money on being icy and calculating. Because this is a romance, it's pretty clear that you've just met the love interest that's poised on the enemies to lovers trajectory (fair warning, though, there's far more sparks and feelings from the start than there ever is animosity). Charlie has a similarly harsh reputation and is an editor at a New York publishing house. He's also hanging around the North Carolina town when Nora gets there, which allows them to reunite. I liked that Charlie is so much like Nora. So often, there's an opposites attract dynamic, but it's fun to see two people who are different versions of the same person find each other and realize that there are people with their shared disposition and harsh sarcasm. He's never looking for anything more than the chance to accept Nora with complete love and open arms.
Plot: 5 The book is entertaining and has good dynamics. I'm not much of a romance girl myself, so I really liked that the romance was simply one element of this story. I'd argue that the sister story between Nora and Libby is the more central plot line. The will they-won't they tension between Nora and Charlie more pulses in the background with other B plots like Nora's possible career change and Charlie's own difficult family dynamics. I think this just adds more shades to the story and further illuminates who these people are. Also, in the context of their total lives and personal baggage and struggles, it's easier to truly buy into the idea that Charlie and Nora could be endgame.
I do have to say that the plot seems to unravel a bit once you got past 75-80% like Henry had so much more time and plot she wanted to explore but had to suddenly go into cliff notes mode to fit it all into her remaining word count. This didn't change my feelings for the book, but I got a bit disoriented in time as we got closer to the end.
Writing: 5 I didn't honestly get the Emily Henry hype before this. I read People We Meet on Vacation in 2021 and thought it was a perfectly fine book but didn't get the massive amount of buzz around Henry's turn to adult romance from YA. Then the big Emily Henry article lit up the bookish internet, and I thought she had some interesting things to say in the piece. Wanting a lighter turn to shake up my reading during finals season, I decided to give this one a go and found myself so wholeheartedly connecting to this particular set of characters and the greater themes they were given to explore. Where romance tends to feel alienating to me – I've never dated anyone or had someone express any kind of romantic feelings towards me, it just feels so removed from my life – this felt comforting. Someone who has the traits that I like about myself that the world sometimes cast as unlovable didn't have to change or contort herself. She just managed to cross paths with someone who got it. It was a love story I wanted to root for. So maybe I'm totally biased in this one, but I found this to be just the book I was looking for.
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