Every time I think it’s not possible for Emily Henry to write a more pitch-perfect rom-com than the last (You and Me on Vacation, I’m looking at you), she goes ahead and proves me so wrong that I can’t even be mad about it because I’m too busy falling head over heels for her characters. Book Lovers – as the title suggests – is a story about two bibliophiles who discover that they have more in common than just their love of books.
Nora Stephens is a cut-throat, literary agent in New York City. Everything about her life is controlled, from her career and her appearance, to her apartment and her relationships. As Nora describes herself, she’s the “uptight, manicured literary agent, reading manuscripts from atop her Peloton while a serene beach scene screen saver drifts, unnoticed, across her computer screen”. She doesn’t have the time or energy to put into making a relationship last, which is why she’s become accustomed to getting dumped. She’s the woman men date before they find their happy-ever-after.
When Nora meets Charlie, a cantankerous editor with a gift for creating bestsellers, instead of bonding over their shared adoration of books, they instantly clash. Nora might be known as a shark in the publishing world but Charlie, who doesn’t even try to hide his disdain for the popular book written by Nora’s star author, is just as intimidating. Like Nora, Charlie is an uptight city slicker, so he’s the last person that she expects to see when she heads for an impromptu holiday with her sister in Sunshine Falls, North Carolina – a town straight out of a romance novel. Far from having the essential small-town experience complete with sexy lumberjacks and charming bartenders though, Nora keeps bumping into her exasperating nemesis. But there’s a reason both Nora and Charlie are so closed off to love and the idea of a happy ending – something they discover as they spend more time together.
This is the problem with small towns: one major lapse in judgement and you can’t go a mile without running into it.”
Not only is Book Lovers an entertaining romantic comedy, peppered throughout with Henry’s trademark quick-wit, but it’s also a story that will resonate with bookish readers, who can delight in all the literary chat between its protagonist and her enemy-turned-love-interest. As a bibliophile myself, there’s something irresistible about characters who share a passion for books. Whether they’re arguing over the plot points of a bestselling novel, analysing a work-in-progress manuscript, or wandering through the aisles of a bookstore, Nora and Charlie are kindred spirits – to each other and to anyone reading this book. The fact that they’d rather bicker and banter than accept they have anything in common only adds to the sizzling chemistry between them.
If you’re a fan of American shows like Hart of Dixie or Virgin River, you’ll find all the classic small-town elements in Book Lovers too – from squabbling townsfolk who pull together when the chips are down, to the typically attractive yet down-to-earth characters, to the recently arrived outsider who’s inevitably won over by the town. Yet there’s not a hint of Hallmark cheesiness about Henry’s story because its central will-they-won’t-they couple are so anti small-town romance. They’d both much rather be back in New York, but they feel obligated to stay – Nora because her sister is so intent on having the perfect summer, and Charlie because his parents need him. In that respect, Book Lovers is as much about family, the inability to forget past trauma, and the love between sisters, as it is about romance and books.
Book Lovers is a quintessential summer read that’s difficult to fault. It’s funny, charming, romantic and delightfully cynical in its central character’s perspective on love, whilst at the same time being packed with the kind of warm and optimistic feels that all the best rom-coms have. If I was to step into any contemporary book world, I’d be quite happy to visit Sunshine Falls. However, sexy lumberjacks and charming bartenders are, naturally, a prerequisite.
Book Lovers is published by Penguin on 12 May 2022