Book Lovers

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐.5
Author: Emily Henry
Genres: Fiction, Romance
Pub. Date: May 2022 (read May 2022)

It’s been almost 2 months now since I read this and I’m really regretting not writing a review about it then…

Emily Henry is quickly becoming an auto-buy author for me! I read People We Meet on Vacation and Beach Read earlier this year and am even debating reading some of her YA backlist. Of the 3 books I’ve read, I think Book Lovers might be my favourite! Beach Read had some definite flaws, but I really liked the friends to lovers aspect of People We Meet on Vacation. The plot of Book Lovers sounded a bit cheesy to me, but the story is so well crafted that I ended up loving it!

Nora Stephens is a literary agent for authors and has a tenuous relationship with Charlie Lastra, an editor who once passed on one of her biggest client’s bestselling book. Nora’s sister Libby convinces Nora to join her on a getaway to the small town in which her bestselling book is set, where they continually run into Charlie and learn the real reason why he passed on editing the book. But what Nora’s more curious about it why her sister really wanted them to take this trip and has a sneaking suspicion she won’t be very pleased when she uncovers the truth.

So the book has a pretty standard romance setting and plot, but what makes it stand out is the dialogue and characterization. First off, this is really a story about sisterhood, which is one of my all time favourite themes, and the romance that blooms during the sister trip is super organic and fun. Nora and Charlie have chemistry and I was really impressed with all of their banter. Emily Henry is quick witted and her dialogue is sharp. There’s no awkwardness and it’s a lot of fun to read. Like most enemies to lovers stories, Nora and Charlie are barely enemies, but I liked how quickly they become friends. There was an authenticity in easily sorting out your differences and acknowledging that your first impressions were misplaced.

I’ve said this of Henry’s other books, and it holds true in Book Lovers, that she is really great at bringing a strong dose of realism and depth to her romances. There’s always something going on in the story beyond just the romance and her characters are always realistically flawed, but in a way that is believable. Too many romances feature unrealistic men and while it’s nice to dream such a “perfect” man might exist, I like my love interests a little more nuanced.

What I liked about this one was that Nora and Charlie were very much the anti-heroes. Nora believes that she’s the high-powered, but lonely woman that always gets left behind in the city for the easy-going country girl, whereas Charlie’s the guy who always puts other people’s needs and happiness before his own. I loved that this book was basically in defense of all those women who like city life and pursue their careers over love. It’s about knowing who you are and what you’re willing to compromise.

As a side note, I’d also like to say that I loved that Nora was tall! I feel like almost all romances these days feature giant men and tiny women and I loved Henry’s exploration of height in a relationship and how little Charlie cared about it. The whole line about “there’s no such thing as a ‘too tall’ woman, only men who are too insecure to date them” had me swooning over Charlie! So I appreciate the realism since the average height for men and women is 5’9″ and 5’4″.

Then there’s a whole other element of this story that looks at Nora’s internalized guilt and responsibility. She’s taken on a lot of ownership over her sister’s happiness and this is very much about learning to let the people you love go. Letting them be responsible for their own success and happiness and being okay when your dreams don’t necessarily align with one another.

To conclude, I really liked it and read the entire thing over the span of 2 days. If you’re looking for a fun summer read, definitely pick up Book Lovers! 

Beach Read

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐
Author: Emily Henry
Genres: Fiction, Romance
Pub. Date: May 2020 (read Apr. 2022)

I read and loved People We Meet on Vacation earlier this year, so I was excited to pick up Beach Read this month. The two books together have firmly cemented Emily Henry as a “auto buy” author and I’m looking forward to her 2022 release, Book Lovers, coming out next month.

The two books are rated almost the exact same on Goodreads, but most people I know that have read both preferred Beach Read. I kind of wonder if it matters which one you read first (everyone seems to love their first pick), because as much as I liked this one, I did still like People We Meet on Vacation better. I feel like friends to lovers is an underdone trope (enemies to lovers seems very on trend these days, at least according to Booktok), so that’s why I liked People We Meet on Vacation so much.

I must conclude though that Emily Henry (or her publisher?) is not very good at naming her books. Beach Read and People We Meet on Vacation are both kind of misnomers to me, what are we actually going to get in Book Lovers? A book bonfire? But I guess I can overlook it because I love her approach to romance writing. Both are very much romance books, but they have a lot going on for them beyond just the romance. Plus the smut is limited, which some people will like and others won’t, but for me it just helps to present the book as more than simply a romance.

Anyways, let’s talk about Beach Read. It was quite emotional for what I thought was going to be a light read. Our protagonist, a novelist by the name of January, is reeling after the death of her father and the realization that he was living a double life. She decides to spend the summer in his secret beach house to write her next book while cleaning it out to sell. The problem is that she is a romance writer and with the disintegration of her relationship, along with the death of her father, she’s feeling a little low on inspiration.

Along comes Gus, another writer trying to pen the next great literary novel. The two decide to trade genres and Gus attempts romance while January makes a run at literary fiction. Of course drama ensues as the two get to know each other better and address the pre-conceived notions they had about one another.

I liked it – it’s fun and thoughtful, though ultimately a bit forgettable. I would love to know what kind of literary fiction these two are reading though (or Emily Henry is reading), because I read A LOT of lit fic, and nothing either of these two characters proposed sounded anything like lit fic to me. Gus’ cult family drama sounded more like mystery or horror, while January’s circus saga belonged somewhere in the historical fiction genre. But I guess they’re both literary in their own way, I just gravitate to contemporary lit fic I suppose.

On another note, it just about killed me when these two went off into the wilderness in street clothes. Thank goodness Gus knew what he was doing and brought a tent, but as an avid backpacker, it was high-key unbelievable to me that these two wouldn’t have spent a freezing, soaking wet night in the tent with only one blanket. Trust me, in reality it’s not quite the romantic scenario you’re envisioning. But I guess I live in a much colder climate, so what do I know?

Anyways, I’m going off on a lot of tangents because I don’t really have a lot to say about the book overall. It’s fun and sexy, it has emotional depth, but it didn’t sing to me the same way People We Meet on Vacation did. January and Gus are two complex individuals, but they did both have a lot of shit to work out, although I did like that it wasn’t a “ride off into the sunset” type of ending. I feel that Emily Henry’s romances have a strong dose of realism in them and I think that while this wasn’t quite as strong a novel for me, it’s what will keep me coming back to her books. 4 stars – a solid read, despite there being no actual beach reading to speak of in this book.

People We Meet on Vacation

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐
Author: Emily Henry
Genres: Fiction, Romance
Pub. Date: May 2021 (read Mar. 2022)

So many people told me to read Beach Read, but I just had a feeling this was the one for me. I’m still planning to read Beach Read, but after a slew of enemies to lovers books recently, I really wanted to read one about friends to lovers because I had a sneaking suspicion I would really like it. And I did!

This book is a lot more subtle than some of the other romances I’ve read, but it’s the one that felt the most real to me. Poppy was a more relatable character – as sexy as the enemies to lovers trope was in books like The Love Hypothesis and The Spanish Love Deception (and as compelling as those plots were) – I do really think this is the better book. Every person I’ve ever loved has been my friend first and there’s something so lovely reading about two people that genuinely like each other. 

People We Meet on Vacation is about two friends, Alex and Poppy, and their relationship over the past 12 years. They’ve been friends for a long time and even though they live in different cities, they’ve always taken the time to travel together once a year… until something happens on their most recent trip and they don’t talk for 2 years. Poppy realizes she misses Alex and invites him to take one more trip with her, to which he agrees.

This book is subtle and I liked that about it. It’s not as quick paced as some of the other romance books I’ve read because the present day storyline is constantly interrupted to return to one of their past trips. This slowed the pacing down initially, but as you progress further into the book, you realize this friendship is not quite the relationship you thought it was. There is just as much romance in the development of their friendship, because it never really is just a friendship. Just-friends don’t bring this kind of complicated conflict into your other relationships and you can’t help but root for these two people to be together. 

I say this is a subtle book because it is also very much about loneliness and allowing people the space to say and be who they really are. Poppy and Alex recognize that love isn’t always the most important part in a relationship. Relationships are also about making the space for your partner to communicate their needs and being willing to compromise on your life together. That two individuals still need to take the time to work on their own shit before they can be what the other person needs. I felt like this had a lot more maturity and that they had the kind of solid foundation that a successful relationship would be built on.

I also liked that both characters were well developed and flawed. I really think Alex is one of the strongest love interests. To talk about romance we must acknowledge that they are primarily written by women, for women, and so the men are often a bit more fantasy than most of the men I’ve met in real life. We read romance for the escapism of it – because we are human and we want to read emotional stories about people falling in love. But so many of the men are almost so perfect in their love for the protagonist they become caricatures. Alex felt very real, like someone I could honestly fall in love with myself. He’s quiet and a bit weird. He has anxieties and he’s afraid to put himself out there. He knows what he wants, but isn’t quite sure he deserves it and recognizes the ways in which he’s not willing to compromise. 

Likewise, Poppy is chasing after something she thinks she wants without realizing that it’s really that she’s running away from something instead. We’re sold this ideal and she thinks filling her life with travel and new people will make her happy – that it will compensate for the inadequacies she felt when she was younger. We all like to think our bullies go on to make nothing of themselves, but they are just flawed people too and we are only holding ourselves back by trying to prove ourselves to them later. If you make decisions based on the way you are perceived by someone else, you are still not living for yourself. Was it unrealistic that two friends could be so blind for so long? Maybe, but these two people wanted such drastically different things that I could believe it. 

It’s also a subtly sad book that made me reflect a lot. I really wasn’t sure if we were going to get a happy ending or not. I wish the author had dedicated a bit more time to the ending because she introduced several new themes in the last 50 pages about self care and compromise, that I really would have loved to see explored further. So overall I really liked this book, perhaps even more than The Love Hypothesis. I did rate that one higher because it was so compelling and I couldn’t put it down, but I do think this is the better story. The other books I read were that fun, all-consuming love, this was gentler, but it also felt a lot more real. It’s nice to get swept up in a love story, but it’s also nice to sink into one, and that’s what I feel like I did with this one.